NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 October 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, October 14, 2005

Halting the advance of intelligent design


Opposition, Inc.
By Patrick Kennedy
October 14, 2005

This article is the final of a series of three installments exploring the theory of intelligent design.

Now that I have laid out why intelligent design, despite its increasing popularity, can by no means qualify as legitimate science, only one question remains: What is the best way to halt its advance?

After even the New York Times claimed that Darwinists had been put "on the defensive" this summer, challenges to the newly-fashionable theory have begun to emerge. In Dover, Pa., 11 parents have filed a lawsuit against their school board, which promotes the teaching of intelligent design and designates evolution as "just a theory." Add to this the individual efforts of respectable scientists to derail the dogma, and you have all the makings of a powerful counter-movement.

You would imagine that, by now, intelligent design doesn't have a leg to stand on, as far as its science is concerned. Its supporters are not a unified school of thought -- they aren't even in agreement on which pieces of biological history point to the intervention of a conveniently ambiguous "higher power."

If you want an idea how effective trials and rebuttals are on their own, remember that in 1987, the Supreme Court outlawed the teaching of "creation science" in public schools. But in a recent opinion poll, 45% of Americans were found to believe that human beings had always existed "in their present forms." Great results.

With medical and biological research, to which Darwin's discoveries are pivotal, promising to be the breakthrough fields of our century, the scientific community needs to engage society to refute intelligent design. This is a chance for academicians to reclaim the status of public leadership they held back in the 1950s and 1960s, when the determination and ingenuity of physicists and engineers inspired serious scientific education.

Superficially, intelligent design feeds the same vision of human purpose that creationism once did, and still does, in America. To the untrained eye, it is the perfect resolution of the conflict between religion and science -- but in fact, it is an insult to both.

I hate to disappoint all the ID aficionados who want to cast me as an amoral, anti-religious elitist. The truth is that there are few more questions more philosophically or spiritually fascinating than the existence of a God or creator and few moral systems more powerful than the Christianity that intelligent design and creationism unjustly claim as their own. To subjugate the intricacy of theological problems to easy and callow answers like "irreducible complexity" is not simply a distortion of science's ability to explain the natural world--it warps the very concepts of spirituality and morality that have guided scientists for generations.

The answer is not to merely knock intelligent design off our public school curriculums or pretend its supporters are completely powerless. I am not going to stand by and watch academia (or "ac-anemia," as one of my anti-evolution readers branded Johns Hopkins and the rest of higher education) get swift-boated by the intelligent design machine. Instead, if modern science is stressed as the embodiment of public service, intelligent design will never get the chance.

We need more scientists who will point out that an experimentally founded national biology curriculum is infinitely more valuable than "teaching the controversy," that the Bible is a powerful piece of moral literature and that Origin of the Species is a powerful piece of scientific thought.

It won't be easy for scientists to summon the moral and public force that they once held that luminaries like Salk and Einstein could command with ease. But the stakes were driven home to me this fall, when I learned that the Catholic school my siblings attend had imported new biology texts that critically downplay the importance of evolution in biology. To provide the best curriculum possible and give a sufficient picture of natural history, teachers had to fall back on older books and other sources. Even in the heart of liberal New Jersey, the cornerstone of modern biology is under silent assault.

Perhaps now the essential lesson of natural selection is more relevant than ever. When faced with a challenge to survival, one of two fates is possible: adaptation and proliferation, or extinction.

--Patrick Kennedy is a sophomore physics and writing seminars major from Watchung, N.J.

Scientist Urges Colleagues to Focus on "Unintelligent Design"


Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst Released: Fri 14-Oct-2005, 16:00 ET

The scientific community's failure to mount effective opposition against the intelligent design movement calls for new tactics, contends a veteran scientist. He will propose that his colleagues abandon religious and philosophical discussions and focus on evidence that he believes shows a clear lack of intelligent design.

Newswise — The scientific community's failure to mount effective opposition against the intelligent design movement calls for new tactics, contends University of Massachusetts Amherst geologist Donald Wise. He proposes that scientists abandon all religious and philosophical discussions and focus instead on evidence that he believes demonstrates a clear lack of intelligent design.

He will present his approach at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America on Monday, Oct. 17 in Salt Lake City.

Proponents of intelligent design believe the complexities of various anatomical structures cannot be explained by evolution, and are actually evidence of an intelligent designer. Wise and others believe this assertion is another version of creationism, re-cast to avoid being declared a religion by federal courts. He contends this claim of being non-religious provides an opportunity for the scientific community to mount an effective political campaign.

Wise advocates that scientists point to the "incompetent design" in the human skeleton. He asks, "What is so intelligent about our sinus drainage system, so clogged that they would embarrass a plumber?" He says that the human pelvis is tipped forward for convenient knuckle-dragging at such an angle that only by extreme spinal curvature can humans stand erect, a design defect that would flunk any first-year engineering student.

"We have to recognize that the Intelligent Design push is a very well-organized, effective political movement that's attempting to strike at the heart of science itself," says Wise. "Science should abandon the traditional methods of polite debate and start using the rules of rough-and-tumble politics.

"Science has operated as a muscle-bound giant," Wise argues. "That giant should focus his efforts on effective political tactics, resorting to the most effective weapon against those who think ultimate truth is on their side—namely undeniable facts served up with a sense of humor."

© 2005 Newswise.

Willy E. Gutman: Intelligent Design no excuse for faulty product


Published: Friday, October 14, 2005 Bylined to: W. E. Gutman

VHeadline.com guest commentarist Willy E. Gutman writes: Unable to shore up the absurd claims of creation "science" with empirical evidence, anti-Darwinists raring to inject creationism into America's science curriculum have devised a new slogan: "Intelligent Design."

Intelligent Design (ID) is the untested assertion that the universe, the living things that populate it and the ceaseless upheavals they endure are the result of an all-knowing, albeit paranormal, cause or agent, not a freehand process such as natural selection (evolution).

Most ID advocates publicly state that they are searching for evidence of sentient intent in nature, without regard to who or what the designer might be. In private, however, all unambiguously assert that the designer is the Christian God. [Note the accent on Christian. Forget the Yahweh the Jews invented nearly 6,000 years before the Christian Era and the Judeo-Christian deity the Muslims adopted and renamed Allah in the 8th century C.E].

Taken to its incongruous extreme, ID could one day be called on to explain that things fall not because gravity acts upon them, but because a higher intelligence consciously and deliberately pushes them down.

Planes crash, they will argue, and buildings collapse and empires rise and topple because these events are preordained by some inscrutable force.

The more vicious among them will insist that these misfortunes are in fact the result of wrathful retribution. A large array of phenomena are already similarly blamed on ID -- from war and hunger and disease to earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis -- damned be the laws of science.

Intelligence is defined as "mental acuteness," "the skilled use of reason and application of knowledge" and " the ability to think abstractly" (including the capacity to envision the consequences of one's actions).

Thus, ID presupposes two reciprocal attributes: The existence of a gifted (if unknowable) draftsman and an exceptional blueprint from which a useful and efficient prototype can be rendered.

Such inquiry-stifling premise unavoidably raises questions that, so far, ID has been unable to answer:

* What is smart about a creature that kills for pleasure and insists on procreating itself into extinction? What mental acuteness is displayed by corruptible beings who cling to rival and inflexible doctrines? What common sense is at play among mortals addicted to greed and violence? Why are we susceptible to pain and defenseless against the fury of disasters that ID insists are wrought against us "for mysterious reasons" by some capricious supernatural force? What knowledge is skillfully harnessed by entities powerless or brutishly unwilling to learn from their mistakes?

* Conversely, what measure of intelligence can be ascribed to a "maker" who inflicts or tolerates atrocities for "the good that comes from them"? What cunning and irreducible absolute orchestrates without apparent aim -- or turns a blind eye to -- the paroxysms that convulse his realm?

* What abstract reasoning inspires a creator to remain unmoved by sorrow and calamity and the ceaseless suffering of his own progeny? What justifies such dispassion? What superior wisdom endows itself with ostensible kindness and unkindness and allows itself to be perceived as possessing equal amounts of benevolence and evil, munificence and heartlessness, genius and folly, as circumstances dictate?

*What intelligent designer arms himself with an ego, gives himself a name by which others will know him in silent awe while their sobs are never heard as they weep and suffer and die forgotten because pain, by some outlandish verdict, is the pathway to salvation? What supreme entity is this, whose ear is inattentive and whose breast is unfaithful to the throngs who call on him and seek his succor?

* What Alpha and Omega unleashes scourges that enfeeble, jeopardize and often destroy the masterwork?

* What cruel despot decrees that his subjects will speak words not their own, that they will blindly obey the injunctions of his self-anointed envoys, tremble at their admonitions, mouth off supplications and jeremiads and recite words of indebtedness and veneration, all repeated ad nauseam, day after day, to a God who never shows his face, never bares his heart, never sheds a tear, never says he's sorry, a God who grants life and, with it, the fear of death? But God upon whom we turn for comfort, whose indulgence we seek for our offenses and whose wrath we invoke against our enemies, turns a stone visage to human misery and a deaf ear to our most heart-rending cries.

Until irrevocable proof of "Intelligent Design" is put forth, the concept will more likely be viewed as a clever stratagem cooked up by a new generation of Elmer Gantrys who hijack and exploit hopelessly bewildered spirits and subvert them with falsehoods that only blind belief can ever legitimize.

ID is not just an alternate theory explaining the advent of God 's most defective creation. It is a dangerous eccentricity concocted to exact faith by psychological extortion.

As for me, I am never more certain of my origins than when I look into the soulful eyes of a great ape. I find comfort and a sense of innocence -- long since lost -- in this genesis.

It is when I look at myself and examine my fellow Homo sapiens that I worry about the future of the human race.

This is one faulty product that cannot be recalled.

W. E. Gutman

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist on assignment in Central America since 1991. He lives in southern California. You may email him at WEG@bak.rr.com

Intelligent design yields confusion


By Letter to the Editor
Published: Friday, October 14, 2005

There are a few matters which should be clarified about the issues raised by Professor Charles Rice in his Oct. 13 Viewpoint column ["Evolution and the evidence of reason"] concerning the teaching of evolution, and the trial taking place concerning Dover, Penn.

As Cardinal Schoenborn recently said, "Without a doubt, Darwin pulled off quite a feat with his main work and it remains one of the very great works of intellectual history."

One could get the impression from Rice's essay that there is some connection with the current popular advocacy of so-called "Intelligent Design" and faith in one's Creator. This connection is something that its advocates have been trying to avoid. Several of them have made a point of saying that their concept of "designers" is indistinguishable from "space aliens," just to take one of their examples.

One could get the impression that there is a "controversy" in biology regarding "Intelligent Design." However, the scientific literature is next-to-nonexistent. Of course, as with every active field of study, there are areas of investigation. But the existence of open questions in biology, or any other science, does not add a bit of support to "design," or any other supposed alternative.

One could get the impression that, for that matter, that there is a "competing theory" of "intelligent design." As to the advocacy of "intelligent design," not only does it avoid any specification of "intelligent designers," it does not say exactly what it is that has been "designed," nor when, where, why, or how. And there is little prospect for any investigation into these, or any other, basic questions. Some of the advocates even accept much of evolutionary biology.

The only result of bringing up "intelligent design" for K-12 biology students would seem to be confusion. Confusion about biology, confusion about God and confusion about the relationship between science and faith.

If anyone is interested in the current case in Dover, I recommend reading the transcripts of testimony and other material which is being posted online at: http://www2.ncseweb.org/wp/. The testimony of John Haught, professor of theology at Georgetown, may be particularly interesting.

Tom Scharle
Class of 1960
Oct. 13

Intelligent design proponent an outcast at own university


Posted on Fri, Oct. 14, 2005


Associated Press

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Marginalized by his university colleagues, ridiculed as a quack by the scientific establishment, Michael Behe is thankful for the one thing that allows him to continue his work in relative peace: tenure.

As one of the nation's leading proponents of intelligent design, the mild-mannered Lehigh University biochemistry professor has sought to provide academic heft to a movement that seeks to change the way Darwin's theory of evolution is taught in public schools.

In papers, speeches and a 1996 best seller called "Darwin's Black Box," Behe argues that Darwinian evolution cannot fully explain the biological complexities of life, suggesting the work of an intelligent force. Mainstream scientists, including those in his own department, reject Behe's assertions as profoundly unscientific.

The debate has moved into a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, where Behe is scheduled to testify this week in a landmark case that will determine whether a public school district can include a statement about intelligent design in its biology curriculum.

"The fact that most biology texts act more as cheerleaders for Darwin's theory rather than trying to develop the critical faculties of their students shows the need I think for such statements," Behe told The Associated Press in an interview, his first public comments since the trial got under way last month.

In the court case, eight families are seeking to overturn a policy instituted by the Dover Area School District a year ago that says students must hear a brief statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution. The statement says Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to an intelligent design textbook.

Critics say intelligent design is merely "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" - a thinly disguised repackaging of the biblical account of creation, whose teaching in public schools was barred in 1987 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Advocates say the principles of ID were in development years before that ruling.

Behe, who is a practicing Roman Catholic, said his religious views do not color his work.

"I don't have a theological dog in this fight. I'm just trying to do my job as a biochemist," he said.

But Behe's own biology department recently distanced itself from him. In August, the department posted a statement on its Web site that says intelligent design "has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific." The faculty, the statement adds, "are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory."

Neal Simon, the department's chairman, said the intelligent design issue had become sufficiently public that the faculty felt the need to "actively and forcefully" condemn Behe's work.

"For us, Dr. Behe's position is simply not science. It is not grounded in science and should not be treated as science," Simon said.

While life on the academic fringes can be lonely, Behe finds community in an e-mail discussion group that he said has 500 members and includes like-minded faculty from universities around the nation. Most keep their views to themselves, Behe said, because "it's dangerous to your career to be identified as an ID proponent."

Indeed, campuses around the nation are rebelling against intelligent design. Earlier this month, the University of Idaho banned the concept from being taught in hard science classes such as biology, a move widely seen as a rebuke of university biologist Scott Minnich, a prominent supporter of ID. At Iowa State University, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez's support of ID prompted a fierce backlash among faculty.

Mainstream scientists "ascribe either diminished intelligence or evil motives or financial incentives or some less-than-respectable motivation to people who do not share their framework," said Behe, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates intelligent design.

The University of Pennsylvania-trained biochemist said he was a believer in Darwin when he joined Lehigh in 1985, but became a skeptic a few years later after reading Michael Denton's book "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis." He said he searched the scientific literature in vain for an explanation of how Darwin's theory accounted for the rise of highly complex cellular structures.

Behe's big idea, published in "Darwin's Black Box" and the one that catapulted him to academic fame, is irreducible complexity. It is the notion that certain biochemical systems are incapable of having evolved in gradual Darwinian fashion because they require all of their parts simultaneously in order to work.

Behe uses a mousetrap to illustrate the concept. Take away any of its parts - platform, spring, hammer, catch - and the mousetrap can't catch mice.

"Intelligent design becomes apparent when you see a system that has a number of parts and you see the parts are interacting to perform a function," he said.

Steven Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, said Behe "was the first person to develop an argument for design that challenged biological evolution." His book, said Meyer, "put the positive case for design on the map in a way that some of the (previous ID) work had not done."

Critics say Behe's views are unscientific because they can't be tested in a laboratory. They have attacked his arguments on logical grounds, too, arguing that systems that seem to be irreducibly complex could well have evolved through random mutation and natural selection.

"I think Behe truly believes that he has discovered something quite astonishing," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in public schools. "But no one is using irreducible complexity as a research strategy, and with very good reason ... because it's completely fruitless."

While it succeeded commercially with 235,000 copies in print, "Darwin's Black Box" was largely panned by academia, and Behe has long since stopped applying for grants or trying to get his ID-related work published in mainstream scientific journals.

But tenure has given him the academic freedom to express his views without fear of losing his job. Behe, whose wife has home-schooled their nine children, was given tenure before he began advocating ID.

"Because of the immense publicity that's mushroomed around this issue in the past six months, more people are getting emotional about the topic," Behe said. "And it's generally not on my side."

Lehigh University: http://www.lehigh.edu

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

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

Parent: School Doesn't Have Authority To Teach Intelligent Design


POSTED: 3:55 pm EDT October 14, 2005
UPDATED: 4:13 pm EDT October 14, 2005

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- One of the parents suing to have "intelligent design" removed from the Dover Area School District's biology curriculum says he fears his daughter won't be accepted by other students because of her views.

Steven Stough's 14-year-old daughter is enrolled in biology this year at Dover High School.

He testified Friday that she would probably ask to be excused during the reading of the statement concerning intelligent design unless the policy is overturned by the court.

Like other parents involved in the lawsuit, Stough said he believes intelligent design is bascially the same as Bible-based creationism and the school board overstepped its bounds when it approved the policy that requires the reading of the intelligent design statement.

Dover's school board voted a year ago to require students to hear a brief statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution. If you'd like to read that statement, click here .

Intelligent Design Preamble Text


POSTED: 3:10 pm EDT September 19, 2005
UPDATED: 3:16 pm EDT September 19, 2005

Here is the text of the statement on intelligent design that Dover Area High School administrators currently have to read to students at the start of biology lessons on evolution:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, 'Of Pandas and People,' is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments."

Parents fear intelligent-design backlash


Worries about effect on children voiced during federal trial

Updated: 9:27 p.m. ET Oct. 14, 2005

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A parent who is among eight families suing to have "intelligent design" removed from a school district's biology curriculum said he feared his daughter wouldn't be accepted by other students because of her views.

Steven Stough, whose 14-year-old daughter is enrolled in high-school biology this year in the Dover Area School District, testified Friday that she would probably ask to be excused during the reading of the statement concerning intelligent design — unless the policy is overturned by the court.

Asked to describe the consequences she would suffer as a result of refusing to hear the statement, Stough said, "She's harmed by that because she's no longer part of the accepted school community."

Stough was among the last witnesses called to testify by the plaintiffs' lawyers in the landmark federal trial over whether intelligent design can be mentioned in public school science classes. Lawyers for the school board expect to begin presenting their case Monday.

Like other parents involved in the lawsuit, Stough said he believes intelligent design is essentially the same as Bible-based creationism and that the school board overstepped its bounds when it approved the policy that requires the reading of the intelligent-design statement.

"They have usurped my authority to be the one in charge of my daughter's religious education," Stough said.

Religion or science?

Patrick Gillen, one of the lawyers who represents the school district, asked Stough if his opinion of intelligent design would change if he could show it was based on science.

"If you were to show me valid testing that supports intelligent design, yes," Stough responded.

Dover's school board voted a year ago to require students to hear a brief statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution.

The statement says Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook called "Of Pandas and People" for more information.

The families contend that the policy violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

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

Education disrupted?

Another parent, Joel Lieb, testified that he would advise his 13-year-old son to leave class when the statement is read if the policy is in place when he takes ninth-grade biology next year.

But Lieb added that regardless of whether his son hears the statement, the policy will disrupt his education.

"Every second he's in class listening to it, or out of class protesting it, is a second he's not learning," Lieb said.

Scientifically inaccurate?

Kevin Padian, a paleontologist and professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. He said "Of Pandas and People" is scientifically inaccurate because it ignores evidence from the fossil record that demonstrates how life forms changed over time.

Additionally, Dover's intelligent-design statement confuses students about evolution and raises both religious and scientific questions, Padian said.

"I think it makes people stupid," he said. "It confuses them about things that are well accepted in science."

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.

© 2005 The Associated Press

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Professor: Teaching 'intelligent design' creates misconceptions


By The Associated Press 10.13.05

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A school district's policy to read a statement about "intelligent design" to high school science students creates misconceptions about evolution, a university professor testified yesterday in federal court.

"I can't think of anything worse for science education than to engender needless misconceptions," said Brian Alters, an associate education professor at McGill University in Montreal.

Alters was a witness for eight families suing to have the concept of intelligent design removed from the curriculum at Dover High School.

The families contend the policy promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

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 intelligent-design statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook called Of Pandas and People for more information. The science teachers have refused to read it to students, so administrators are doing so instead pending the outcome of the trial.

Alters called intelligent design a form of creationism that involves "breaking one of the ground rules of science" — the scientific method. Alters also said that reading a statement about intelligent design amounted to teaching.

"It's a mini-lecture. I'm not saying it's good teaching, but it's teaching," he said.

Robert Muise, a lawyer representing the school board, noted in his cross-examination of Alters that Pennsylvania's science standards call for students to "critically evaluate" scientific theories, including evolution. He asked Alters whether he thought that was a "valid educational objective."

"Yes, as long as one understands what it means in education," Alters said. "It doesn't mean you trash something."

Two Dover parents who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Cynthia Sneath and Steven Stough, also testified yesterday.

Stough said he called the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter to complain about the curriculum change in November, after the school district issued a press release about the intelligent-design statement.

"This was the thing that put me over the edge," said Stough, whose 14-year-old daughter is taking biology this year at Dover High School.

Sneath mentioned that her 7-year-old boy, the older of her two sons, has a strong interest in science.

"I depend on the school district to provide the fundamentals, and I consider evolution to be a fundamental of science," Sneath said.

The trial is in recess until tomorrow, when Stough is scheduled to resume testifying.

Earlier yesterday, the school's science department chairwoman, Bertha Spahr, was cross-examined on her prior testimony that the school's science teachers objected to the curriculum change the board approved in October 2004.

Spahr said the teachers agreed with the board's idea that they should point out problems with evolutionary theory and make students aware of other theories, but were opposed to mentioning intelligent design in class.

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being defended by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.

(For more information on the trial, see the York Daily Record's Web site .)

Birdlike dinosaur may force raptor revisions


Fossil find in Argentina leads scientists to reconsider evolutionary timeline

Jorge Gonzalez / Field Museum

The newly discovered Buitreraptor gonzalezorum has a long, thin snout that may have been used to catch primitive reptiles, like the baby sphenodontian in this artwork. Buitreraptor is reconstructed here with a plumage similar to that of primitive birds.

The discovery of a birdlike dinosaur in South America has paleontologists rethinking when, where and how one group of raptors evolved.

The rooster-sized dinosaur is called Buitreraptor (bwee-tree-rap-tor) gonzalezorum. It has a long head and long tail and winglike forelimbs. Its serrated teeth, shaped like steak knives, suggest it was a carnivore.

Buitreraptor is related to Velociraptor, the presumably cunning killer made famous by Hollywood. Both belong to a class of birdlike dinosaurs that ran swiftly on two legs and are called dromaeosaurs.

The new find suggests such raptors go back much further in time that previously thought.

New timeline

Until recently, dromaeosaurs had been found only in Asia and North America, and only in the Cretaceous period, which ran from 145 million to 65 million years ago. Evidence that they existed in the Southern Hemisphere has been mounting.

Wednesday's announcement of a well-preserved fossil represents the first definitive evidence that dromaeosaurs roamed South America. Here's why that's important:

About 200 million years ago, Earth had just one giant land mass called Pangea. Toward the end of the Jurassic period, it split in two. Laurasia eventually became North America, Asia and Europe. The other chunk, Gondwana, developed into the continents of the Southern Hemisphere and India.

Since dromaeosaurs had only been found in places that used to be part of Laurasia, scientists figured the beasts evolved into being after Pangea split.

But the Buitreraptor fossil in South America, which dates back 90 million years and closely resembles fossils from the North, means one of two things: Either dromaeosaurs existed when Pangea was intact, or the newfound Buitreraptor and its northern look-alikes evolved separately yet with remarkably similar results.

Odds being against such striking parallel evolution, paleontologists speculate that dromaeosaurs likely originated more than 180 million years ago, before Pangea broke apart.

The newly discovered fossil also shows that the creatures developed slightly different characteristics after they split up.

"Buitreraptor is one of those special fossils that tells a bigger story about the earth's history and the timing of evolutionary events," said Peter Makovicky, curator of dinosaurs at The Field Museum in Chicago. "It not only provides definitive evidence for a more global distribution and a longer history for dromaeosaurs than was previously known, but also suggests that dromaeosaurs on northern and southern continents took different evolutionary routes after the land masses they occupied drifted apart."

Odd duck

The Buitreraptor fossil was found in northwestern Patagonia, about 700 miles (1,120 kilometers) southwest of Buenos Aires.

The field research was led by Argentine paleontologist Sebastiαn Apesteguνa. The discovery is detailed in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Buitreraptor is an odd duck among dinosaurs. Its peculiarly long snout may have evolved to hunt snakes, mammals, and lizards that burrowed into the ground. Fossils of such critters found near Buitreraptor suggest that scenario.

The large, hollow wishbone of the dinosaur, along with its winglike forelimbs and birdlike pelvis, add more evidence to the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs, the scientists said.

An analysis of Buitreraptor also reveals it to be very similar to Rhonavis, which had been thought to be a primitive bird. The researchers now believe the two constitute a separate branch of the dromaeosaur family tree.

© 2005 LiveScience.com

Lie Detector's Shaky Story


The American military is using a new-fangled lie detector in Iraq and Gitmo -- despite Pentagon studies warning that the machine's chances of spotting the truth are worse than "flipping a coin."

Backers of voice stress analysis assert that liars leave hints of fibbing in their speech -- hints that can be decoded by computer algorithms. The official-sounding "National Institute For Truth Verification," a company marketing the machine, claims it has become "the truth verification device of choice in the law enforcement community... [and] is also being utilized by the US Department of Defense in the global war on terrorism." (original emphasis)

According to the company, its military involvement began in September, 2003, when it was invited to Guantanamo Bay, to help with "acquiring and validating much needed information from the foreign detainees... Success was immediate, when less than a week after the training a terror suspect who had alluded his interrogators for months admitted to terrorist links after being administered a CVSA [computer voice stress analysis] examination."

From there, company representatives moved to Baghdad, to train members of the Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Forces. "A terror suspect who had alluded his interrogators for months admitted to terrorist links," the institute claims. Again, this happened "less than a week after the training." Invitations to work with the Marines, U.S. Central Command, Army intelligence units followed shortly thereafter.

All this military interest comes a bit of a surprise. Because a 2002 study, funded by the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, found "dismal results" for voice stress analysis, "both in the system's ability to detect people actually engaged in deception and in its ability to exclude those not attempting to be deceptive," according to the lead researcher, Washington University psychology Mitchell Sommers. "In our evaluation, voice-stress analysis detected some instances of deception, but its ability to do so was consistently less than chance — you could have gotten better results by flipping a coin."

Another Defense Department study, from 2001, added, "no effect was seen in the CVSA data." A third, from 1996, agreed with Sommers that the device's results were "not significantly different from chance."

But just because the machines don't work doesn't mean they don't have some value as an interrogation tool. For those who believe in the omniscience of American hardware, a polygraph test can be absolutely terrifying. Hey pal, the machine says you're hiding something. Might as well confess.

"It's not science. It's not technology," Steven Aftergood, with the Federation of American Scientists, told me last year. ""But it's sometimes effective theater."

University of Arizona psychology professor John JB Allen recently added, "Guilty folks who believe the technique will unveil their evil-doings may confess to receive gentler treatment. But unfortunately, innocent individuals with few resources have also been known to confess under conditions of duress."

The case for intelligent design in the classroom


By Jonathan Wells
Special to World Peace Herald
Published October 13, 2005

SEATTLE -- A controversial theory called "intelligent design" has been very much in the news lately, especially in the United States.

In August, a journalist asked President George W. Bush about the growing debate over Darwinian evolution and intelligent design: "What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?" President Bush answered that the decision should be made by local school districts, but he added, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought... You're asking me whether or not people should be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

A U.S. federal judge is now being asked to decide whether a local school board acted unconstitutionally when it adopted a policy mandating that science students be told about intelligent design. In 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board decided that students studying Darwinian evolution should be informed that there is a competing theory called intelligent design (ID). Students are not required to learn anything about ID; they are simply told that there is a book about it in the school library, and they are encouraged to keep an open mind.

This was too much for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought suit to have the Dover policy declared unconstitutional. Some people are now comparing the 2005 Dover trial to the 1925 Scopes trial, in which the ACLU defended a teacher named John Scopes who had been accused of violating a state law prohibiting public schools from teaching that humans are descended from lower forms of life. But there is a huge difference between the two: In 1925 the ACLU went to court to permit the teaching of Darwinian evolution; now, the ACLU is suing to prohibit the teaching of anything but Darwinian evolution.

At the heart of the controversy is the theory of intelligent design (ID). What is it, and why is it stirring up so much trouble?

ID maintains that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than unguided natural processes.

Three things are noteworthy about this description of ID. First, design is inferred from evidence in nature, not deduced from scripture or religious doctrines. All of us make design inferences every day. ID attempts to formulate our everyday logic in terms rigorous enough to warrant inferences from the evidence in nature. This is clearly not the same as biblical creationism.

Second, ID does not claim that every detail in the world is designed. There is still room for chance and necessity. Furthermore, ID does not claim that design must be optimal; something may be designed even if it is flawed. Nor does ID purport to explain everything in the history of life.

Third, ID does not tell us the identity of the designer. Although most proponents of ID believe that the designer is the God of the Bible, they acknowledge that this belief goes beyond the evidence from nature.

Why is there a controversy between intelligent design theory and Darwinism? Darwin called his theory "descent with modification," and he argued that all living things are descendants of one or a few ancestral forms, and that the principal means of modification was natural selection acting on random variations. Darwin was convinced that this excluded design from living things. He wrote: "There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows." According to a modern textbook (Douglas Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology, 1998), the implications of Darwin's theory are that "biological phenomena, including those seemingly designed, can be explained by purely material causes," and "no evidence of purpose or goals can be found in the living world, other than in human actions."

According to Darwinism, living things may seem to be designed, but that design is just an illusion. In contrast, ID maintains that at least some design is real -- and that we can infer this from the evidence.

Some of the best-known evidence and arguments for ID come from the work of Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe. In his 1996 book "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," Behe quotes Charles Darwin himself: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Behe then asks: "What type of biological system could not be formed by 'numerous, successive, slight modifications'?" And he answers: "Well, for starters, a system that is irreducibly complex. By irreducibly complex, I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."

As the title of Behe's book indicates, the inner workings of the cell were a mystery (a "black box") for Darwin. Modern biochemistry, however, has uncovered many irreducibly complex systems inside living cells. According to Behe, not only do these pose a problem for Darwin's theory, but they also point to design: "Inferring that biochemical systems were designed by an intelligent agent is a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science. It comes simply from the hard work that biochemistry has done over the past forty years, combined with a consideration of the way in which we reach conclusions of design every day."

Behe describes several examples of irreducible complexity, including the bacterial flagellum and the human blood-clotting cascade. The bacterial flagellum uses a microscopic electric motor to drive a whip-like propeller at speeds up to 100,000 rpm. Several dozen interacting parts are involved, and the removal of any one of them causes the motor to cease functioning. The blood-clotting cascade uses many interacting enzymes to insure that blood will clot when it is necessary to stop bleeding from a wound, but not at other times. The absence of any one enzyme leads to serious disease or death -- as in hemophilia. According to Behe, these irreducibly complex features could not have originated through natural selection, but are best explained by intelligent design.

Critics of ID disagree. For example, Brown University biologist Kenneth R. Miller argues that an apparatus used by bacteria to secrete toxins could have functioned as an intermediate on the way to forming a bacterial flagellum. Behe and University of Idaho microbiologist Scott Minnich disagree with Miller, pointing out that the secretory apparatus probably originated after the bacterial flagellum. University of California at San Diego biologist Russell F. Doolittle has argued that the blood-clotting cascade is not irreducibly complex. According to Behe, however, Doolittle's criticism is based on a misunderstanding of the data. So scientists are actively debating the evidence for ID.

Some critics of intelligent design claim that it is not scientific because it is not testable and thus cannot be falsified. But since Miller and Doolittle (among others) claim that ID has been tested and proven false, this is clearly wrong. A theory cannot be both untestable and tested, both unfalsifiable and falsified.

Other critics of intelligent design claim that the designer had to be supernatural, therefore ID is inherently religious rather than scientific. But some ID proponents maintain that the designer does not have to be supernatural. And even if the designer were supernatural, ID in this respect would be no more religious than Darwinism; both have implications for theism. According to Richard Dawkins, by showing that design is an illusion Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist; on the other hand, by showing that design is real ID makes it possible for some people to be intellectually fulfilled theists. If the former is scientific, why isn't the latter?

So the controversy is scientific at one level, because it involves testing theories against the evidence. But at another level the controversy is also religious, because both Darwinism and ID can have implications for religion. It is this second level that provoked the ACLU to oppose ID in the Dover case.

Yet it makes no more sense to prohibit the teaching of ID because of its religious implications than to prohibit the teaching of Darwinism because of its anti-religious implications. A better way to deal with the controversy in public schools has already been proposed by the U.S. Congress in a report accompanying the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001:

"A quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

Jonathan Wells has a Yale Ph.D. in theology and a Berkeley Ph.D. in biology. He is the author of "Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong" (Regnery, 2000) and he is currently a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

US Intelligent Design Court Battle Continues with Disputed 'Expert Witness' Testimony


Last week's testimony in the federal court case in the US, to determine the constitutionality of intelligent design in the classroom focused on the validity of a philosophy professor at the University of Louisiana and her ability to testify as an expert witness

Posted: Thursday, October 13 , 2005, 11:30 (UK)

Last week's testimony in the federal court case in the US, to determine the constitutionality of intelligent design in the classroom focused on the validity of a philosophy professor at the University of Louisiana and her ability to testify as an expert witness.

Defence attorney Richard Thompson enters federal court in Harrisburg, Pa. The clash over whether 'intelligent design should be mentioned in school classes alongside evolution is being heard in federal court. The school district is being defended by the Thomas More Law Centre, that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

Despite vigorous insistence by the defense that University of Louisiana professor Barbara Forrest was not an expert in science, Judge John E. Jones III said she could be entered as an expert witness in Pennsylvania's Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case based on the studies she had done on the ID movement.

Since Sept. 27, the federal judge has heard arguments over whether the Dover Area School District can include "intelligent design" in its biology curriculum. The district has been accused by local parents (the plaintiffs) of introducing religion into the curriculum when it decided to include a brief statement on intelligent design at the beginning of a ninth grade science class.

During her testimony last week, Forrest spent a significant amount of her focus on the "wedge" strategy, a name used by intelligent design proponents to introduce the theory into the scientific and cultural debate currently dominated by evolution theory.

In one of her recent books, Forrest had argued that the Intelligent Design movement was succeeding through a public relations strategy rather than scientific contribution, eventually unifying the church and state.

In the book co-written with Paul Gross, a University Professor of Life Sciences at the University of Virginia, Forrest referred to intelligent design as a "Trojan horse" that would insert religion into science.

"I hope that the media will critically analyse Forrest's testimony and get our response to her allegations," said John West, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University and a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. "I would warn them to take what she says not with just a grain of salt, but with a shaker-full."

"The ACLU's entire case is built on misrepresenting what intelligent design is, and mischaracterising it as creationism so we're not surprised they called Forrest as a witness," added West, in statement released on Oct. 5 by the Discovery Institute.

According to West, creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Instead, intelligent design theory attempts to empirically detect whether the apparent design in nature observed by biologists is genuine design (the product of an organising intelligence) or is simply the product of chance and mechanical natural laws.

"The effort to detect design in nature is being adopted by a growing number of biologists, biochemists, physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science at colleges and universities around the world," said West. "Scientists engaged in design research include biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University and microbiologist Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, both of whom will testify for the defense, and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University."

In March, the Discovery Institute – a conservative Christian educational foundation – issued a statement countering assertions by intelligent design opponents that the goals of ID proponents were to supplant science with religion and turn the nation into a theocracy.

"Discovery Institute's Centre for Science and Culture does not support theocracy. We should not have to say this, but apparently we do," the Institute stated. "Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture rejects all attempts to impose orthodoxies on the practice of science as contrary to the spirit of the scientific enterprise."

One of the Discovery Institute's goals in supporting intelligent design is combating what it calls the "unscientific philosophy of materialism," by challenging neo-Darwinism and "cosmologies" that see the universe as self-existent and self-organising.

"It is in the context of our concern about the world-view implications of certain scientific theories that our wedge strategy must be understood. Far from attacking science (as has been claimed), we are instead challenging 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. We believe that this is a defense of sound science."

The case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is expected to run for another three weeks.

[Editor's Note: Francis Helguero contributed reporting from Washington, D.C, for this article.]

Joe Alvarez and Francis Helguero Christian Today Correspondents

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Catholic Cardinal Confirms RCC's Support for Theistic Evolution


By Jim Brown October 12, 2005

(AgapePress) - Just two months after he sparked controversy with a New York Times article that seemed to say the Roman Catholic Church no longer accepted the theory of evolution, a senior cardinal has reaffirmed the church's historic support for theistic evolution.

Last week Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called the theory of evolution "one of the very great works of intellectual history," and said he "see[s] no problem combining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution." He also said he has no problem with theistic evolution provided "the limits of scientific theory are respected."

For more than 100 years, the Roman Catholic Church has taken an open position on common descent, the theory that animals and plants are descended from a common ancestor. But as Pulitzer Prize-winning author and science historian Dr. Edward J. Larson notes, the Catholic Church teaches that the human soul was created separately, and could have been imparted into an evolved human body.

"The Catholic Church has held the line and maintained the position that the human soul is separate and that which creates humans as special, that which creates humans in the image of God, that that was a divine act," Larson explains.

Dr. Larson feels that the cardinal's latest comments clarify his Times column, which seemed to suggest the church backs intelligent design theory.

"One other thing that I've heard -- and I should qualify that this came to me from many different sources secondhand -- is that the story went around that the Archbishop didn't write this piece himself, but that rather it was written by the Discovery Institute for him," the author says. "The Discovery Institute is an advocacy group in America for the American version of intelligent design."

Larson says Cardinal Schoenborn's latest statement puts him in the "grand tradition" of the Catholic Church and in line with the beliefs of Pope John Paul II, who once told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that evolution was "more than an hypothesis."

Larson, who teaches at the University of Georgia, is the author of several books, including Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
© 2005 AgapePress

Prince: complementary medicine talk


07:54am 12th October 2005

What is RSS?

The Prince of Wales is to address a new doctors' group aimed at bringing together GPs who believe in the benefits of complementary therapies.

Charles will talk about the important role they can play in offering alternative treatments to patients in local surgeries, alongside conventional medicine.

Devised by the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Heath, the Foundation's GP Associates wants to unite like-minded doctors interested in using both orthodox and complementary medicine.

Last week, a study commissioned by the Prince, called for complementary therapies to be more widely available on the NHS and suggested this could lead to widespread benefits for the nation's health and the wider economy.

The report found that following a pilot where patients were treated with complementary and alternative medicines there was a 30% drop in the number of consultations with GPs and a saving in prescription drugs bills of 50%.

According to the Foundation, 50% of GPs now make complementary treatments available to their patients.

Charles will also reopen the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street, London.

The site had undergone a £20 million redevelopment.

Founded 150 years ago, it is Europe's largest public sector hospital offering alternative medicine alongside conventional medicine.

The Design Is Intelligent, But Is The Designer?


By Bree Katz
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Debate rages in Pennsylvania over the prospect of teaching Intelligent Design Theory, or IDT, in science classrooms as a nice balance to the theory of evolution. A high-stakes debate, to be sure, as it is being waged in a courtroom, where parties on both sides spend the money they could be saving for their children's college education in order to ensure that Righteousness in some form will prevail.

'Bologna!' cry the scientists testifying on behalf of the plaintiffs, parents and members of the board of education who believe that Darwin just might have had something going for him. Perhaps it's only the parents who cry bologna. Perhaps the scientists only seethe the word. Either way, the scientists want to know on what the IDT supporters base their theory. After all, to have intelligent design, one would need to have an intelligent designer. What kind of designer deliberately sets into motion a series of biomolecules that would ultimately come up with the less-than-phonetic spelling for "bologna"? It should be baloney, for the designer's sake! What kind of intelligent being would carefully handcraft a living, breathing human body teeny fiber by teeny tissue only to have it self-destruct later on earning millions by clobbering itself and other bodies of its ilk to death with only a football, hockey puck, or soccer ball as an excuse for the bloodshed?

Even worse, what kind of designer spends hours upon celestial hours fixing up the sensitive imaging system, that perfect model for the ideal camera, only to have it used absorbing the sight of other sleekly-modeled units happily ripping and beating chunks of exterior molding out of one another? In fact, what kind of genius sets up an elaborate electrical system that can be programmed to organize its surroundings into a coherent interface organizing bundles of green cotton with constipated-looking men on one side and pretty symbols shaped as "20", "50", even "100" for the high privilege of seeing finely-tuned instruments of precision instrumentally and precisely grinding one another into fine powder?

Why should we believe in this theory, bluster the scientists, when it would make so much more sense for a truly intelligent designer with such a keen interest in entropy to simply design more units of two low-level, easy-to-manufacture species, such as NRA members with SUV's and people who talk on their cell phones while reading the newspaper and driving, and shove them all together in an underground airport parking garage around Thanksgiving? And for this blessing, could we not give thanks year-round?

Ah, but the scientists' logic is based on nothing but logic. Their idea of "intelligence" only refers to that which could score at bare minimum a 790 on the SAT math section. How could they, these men and women who can never quite grasp that the filter goes in the pot before the coffee does, possibly understand that true intelligence means building on past mistakes, on trying different combinations, on trying and re-trying and re-trying the retrials to see if something else might finally work? How can they possibly understand that human beings, unlike the coffee machine, do not come with a set of assembly instructions? Do they not realize that perhaps, in our stage of being, we are that first cup make without that simple, key paper liner, so that the first cup contains a little water to go along with heated grit.

On the scientists' side, however, is the grit itself. No one would be dumb enough to drink much past the first sip; the coffee gets left with disgust on the countertop by the sink and, scientists being scientists, they find it hard to comprehend that one can simply pour out the mug's contents, put soap in the mug, and rinse to clean it. This important step being looked over, the contents usually take on a life of their own, literally: first the smell wafts over the kitchen area, then the fuzzy stuff rears its ugly head, then the shoots and leaves start bursting forth, then the next thing they know, they have their own little coffee bean tree providing shade from all the glare caused by fluorescent lights!

Of course, it is possible that the intelligent designer is actually many designers, elves who come into the scientists' kitchen area in the middle of the night and plant magical coffee tree-seeds. Unless the scientists have staked the matter out overnight while they had time off from detailing the similarities between the human brain and that of a chimpanzee, they can't possibly know for certain; until they do, perhaps it would simply be for the best to let the IDT camp have its cake and grow mold on it, too.

Professor says intelligent design breaks rules


Claims don't stick to scientific method, witness says during trial

Updated: 6:01 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2005

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A school district's policy to read a statement about "intelligent design" to high-school science students creates misconceptions about evolution, a university education professor testified Wednesday in federal court.

"I can't think of anything worse for science education than to engender needless misconceptions," said Brian Alters, an associate education professor at McGill University in Montreal.

Alters was a witness for eight families suing to have the concept of intelligent design removed from the curriculum at Dover High School.

Earlier Wednesday, the school's science department chairwoman, Bertha Spahr, was cross-examined on her prior testimony that the school's science teachers objected to the curriculum change the board approved in October 2004.

She said teachers agreed with the school board's idea that there are unanswered questions about the theory of evolution, but were opposed to mentioning intelligent design in class.

Talking about theory's gaps

The statement teachers must read says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook called "Of Pandas and People" for more information.

Spahr testified Wednesday that teachers were willing to talk to students about the gaps, but didn't want to address intelligent design.

The families contend the policy promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Intelligent design supporters argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the development of complex organic mechanisms or the rise of different species from common ancestors.

A form of creationism?

Alters, the professor, called intelligent design a form of creationism because it involves "breaking one of the ground rules of science" — the scientific method — and said that reading a statement about it amounted to teaching.

"It's a mini-lecture. I'm not saying it's good teaching, but it's teaching," he said.

It would be absurd to bring up the topic and not respond to questions from students, he said.

"It's something that shuts down any form of critical discussion. It's not science, anyway," Alters testified.

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press

Monday, October 10, 2005

Drawing a Line in the Academic Sand


In case any faculty members in the natural sciences at the University of Idaho were not sure whether "intelligent design" was fair fare in the classroom, a letter from the president to all employees and students Tuesday put an end to that question.

"Because of the recent national media attention on the issue," reads President Timothy P. White's letter, "I write to articulate the University of Idaho's position with respect to evolution: this is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences." The short letter goes on to allow for the teaching of "views that differ from evolution" in other courses, like religion and philosophy, but not as a scientific principle, which is "testable and anchored in evidence."

The president's letter noted that this view is consistent with the views of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and dozens of scientific societies.

Harold Gibson, an Idaho spokesman said that White was traveling and unavailable for comment. Gibson said that Eugenia Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which says it wants to keep "'scientific creationism' out" of the classroom, is speaking on campus soon, and White wanted the university's stance to be clear. Gibson said that if he were a faculty member interested in "intelligent design," he would actually feel better because of the letter. "It clearly states there is a place for teaching of views that differ from evolution, as long as they're in faculty approved curricula," he said.

The pro-"intelligent design" Discovery Institute, in Seattle, did not share his enthusiasm, saying that White is infringing on faculty members' rights to make decisions in their own fields of expertise. David DeWolf, a law professor at Gonzaga University and a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, said he is used to faculty members disavowing "intelligent design," but that "it's something quite different when the administrator who pays the salaries of the faculty members says in effect, 'You may not do this.'"

White is not the first university head to speak out in favor of evolution. Last week, Bob Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas, distributed a similar letter to employees highlighting "the attack on evolution … across America." He added that evolution, "the central unifying principle of modern biology," must stand as the prevailing scientific idea in order to "raise the level of scientific literacy among our citizenry because we face a critical shortage of scientists in the next two decades."

DeWolf called White's letter "naked viewpoint discrimination," and said the letter seems like a threat to any faculty member who goes against the grain of the scientific community. "I would hope that places like the [American Association of University Professors] would recognize this as an assault on academic freedom."

Jonathan Knight, director of the Office of Academic Freedom and Tenure at AAUP, isn't worried. "Academic freedom is not a license to teach anything you like," Knight said, noting that the letter says "views that differ from evolution may occur in faculty-approved curricula" outside the physical sciences. Knight said that the way to determine if something is scientifically grounded is "by what the community of scholars determines by decades of testing." He added that if a professor "wants to teach that the Holocaust did not occur following writing of David Irving folks in the history community would say that's not well grounded in historic facts."

Scott Minnich, an associate professor of microbiology at Idaho, will testify in coming months in a trial in Pennsylvania where 11 parents sued the Dover Area School District for instituting rules that encourage students to consider "intelligent design." Minnich will testify that the theory is legitimate science. Minnich said he thinks the university has "a right to oversight," and that "the president has a right to show the public that we haven't gone off the reservation here," he said. Minnich said he already adheres "to the rules" in his classroom, and only talks about "intelligent design" if a student raises a question. His concern about the letter is that it might be saying he can't even address questions. Minnich is meeting with White next week to get clarification. "I want to assure him that even if I am a proponent of 'intelligent design,' I'm not using this as part of my curriculum," Minnich said. "A few times students have raised questions, and I respond, and I state my viewpoint, and make it clear it is my viewpoint and not the consensus."

Patricia Hartzell, head of the Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department said she was a little surprised by the letter, because there didn't seem to be any debate among faculty members. She did note that a student evaluation last year said a lecturer who was just filling in for a semester "might have said something not quite in keeping with strictly an evolutionary background," but that it normally is not an issue.

Hartzell said that Minnich is "an excellent scientist, and he doesn't proselytize." She added that some faculty members might feel a sense of relief just to have the university's position outwardly stated, especially with what could be an impending media storm around Minnich when he testifies. "We've been careful to make sure people aren't going into the classroom saying, you've gotta' think about 'intelligent design.'"

— David Epstein

Evolution-only president has heart attack


University head forbids alternatives, stricken days later

Posted: October 10, 2005 1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2005 WorldNetDaily.com

Tim White

When University of Idaho President Tim White last week banned anything except evolution from being taught in science classes, he made national news.

He made local news in Idaho yesterday by having a heart attack – his third.

White's edict came as a University of Idaho biologist, Scott Minnich, a supporter of the "intelligent design" theory, was set to testify in a Pennsylvania lawsuit brought by eight families trying to have this theory, branded as a new form of creationism, dropped from a school district's biology curriculum. Minnich was asked to testify on behalf of the district.

Hours after White's letter reached students, staff and faculty on Tuesday, the Discovery Institute, a Seattle public-policy group that funds research into intelligent design, blasted the order as an unconstitutional assault on academic freedom and free speech.

"This (evolution) is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our biophysical sciences," White wrote. "Teaching of views that differ from evolution may occur in faculty-approved curricula in religion, sociology, philosophy, political science or similar courses. However, teaching of such views is inappropriate in our life, earth, and physical science courses."

Harold Gibson, a school spokesman, said the views of Minnich, a tenured professor in the school's College of Agriculture, didn't prompt the letter.

John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, said White's move restricting science curricula to discussions of evolution broadly restricts teaching anything that contradicts Darwin's ideas on the role of mutation and natural selection in the development of life – even by scientists not advocating intelligent design.

In addition, limiting classes where evolution alternatives can be discussed violates free speech protections, he said.

"He (White) is saying, 'If you're a teacher in philosophy, we may allow you to do this. But in science, it just doesn't cut it,'" West said. "In any other area, this would be preposterous."

Meanwhile, the university announced yesterday that Karen White, the president's wife, reports he heart catheterization performed at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.

A stint was inserted into his coronary artery and he is in serious but stable condition in the intensive-care unit.

White had been awakened by chest pains early Friday morning and was taken to Gritman Medical Center in Moscow. There, it was determined he suffered a heart attack and anti-clotting medication was administered. He was then transferred to Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Intelligent design's big ambitions


Posted on Mon, Oct. 10, 2005

Advocates want much more than textbooks.

By Paul Nussbaum Inquirer Staff Writer

The advocates of "intelligent design," spotlighted in the current courtroom battle over the teaching of evolution in Dover, Pa., have much larger goals than biology textbooks.

They hope to discredit Darwin's theory as part of a bigger push to restore faith to a more central role in American life. "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions," says a strategy document written in 1999 by the Seattle think tank at the forefront of the movement.

The authors said they seek "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

Intelligent-design advocates have focused publicly on "teaching the controversy," urging that students be taught about weaknesses in evolutionary theory. The 1999 strategy document, though, goes well beyond that.

That "wedge document," outlining a five-year plan for promoting intelligent design and attacking evolution, has figured prominently in the trial now under way in federal court in Harrisburg. Eleven parents sued the Dover school board over a requirement to introduce intelligent design to high school biology students as an alternative to evolutionary theory.

"The social consequences of materialism have been devastating... . We are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source," wrote the authors of the strategy plan for the Center for Science and Culture, an arm of the Discovery Institute and the leader of the effort to promote intelligent design. "That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a wedge that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points."

The center and the Discovery Institute, financed primarily by Christian philanthropists and foundations, have succeeded in putting evolutionary theory on the hot seat in many school districts and state legislatures. By sponsoring books, forums and research by a group of about 40 college professors around the country, they have made intelligent design a prominent player in the nation's culture wars.

Intelligent design holds that natural selection cannot explain all of the complex developments observed in nature and that an unspecified intelligent designer must be involved.

Its critics, including civil libertarians and the nation's science organizations, say intelligent design is not science, but creationism in a new guise. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that public schools could not teach creationism in science classrooms because it unconstitutionally promoted a particular religious viewpoint.

Advocates of intelligent design say it is a scientific, not a religious, concept based on scientific observations, though they acknowledge its theological implications.

And they say the wedge document was written as a fund-raising tool, articulating a plan for reasoned persuasion, not political control. Critics, they say, have an agenda of their own - to promote a worldview in which God is nonexistent or irrelevant.

"The Center for Science and Culture does not have a secret plan to influence science and culture. It has a highly and intentionally public program for 'challenging scientific materialism and its destructive cultural legacies,' " the center says on its Web site.

John G. West, associate director of the center, said last week that those destructive legacies have included such things as defense of infanticide, the notions that ethics are an illusion and morality merely a reproductive survival tactic, support of eugenics, and the over-reliance on psychoactive drugs to control behavior.

The center was founded in 1996, with grants from conservative Southern California billionaire Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., and the Maclellan Foundation, which says that it supports groups "committed to furthering the Kingdom of Christ."

The wedge document was written three years later and outlined a three-phase plan for advancing its goals: (1) scientific research, writing and publication, (2) publicity and opinion-making, and (3) cultural confrontation and renewal.

William Dembski, director of the Center for Science and Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a leading intelligent-design advocate, argues that "virtually every discipline and endeavor is presently under a naturalistic pall.

"To lift that pall will require a new generation of scholars and professionals who explicitly reject naturalism and consciously seek to understand the design that God has placed in the world,"Dembski writes in his book, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology. "The possibilities for transforming the intellectual life of our culture are immense."

The wedge document calls the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God "one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization is built." It also says that thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud undermined the idea by portraying humans "not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry and environment."

The wedge document was highlighted in the Dover trial in Harrisburg last week. One witness, Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor who wrote Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, used the document to buttress her contention that intelligent design is creationism and that "it is essentially religious."

Defense lawyer Richard Thompson said the Dover school-board members had never heard of the wedge document when they changed the biology curriculum to include a mention of intelligent design.

The intelligent-design movement's activist approach has alienated some likely allies.

The John Templeton Foundation, of West Conshohocken, spends millions each year to explore and encourage a link between science and religion. But, except for a contribution to fund a debate forum in 1999, the foundation has declined to give money to the Discovery Institute.

Charles Harper Jr., senior vice president of the Templeton Foundation, said Discovery's involvement in "political issues" was troublesome.

"We want to advance real scientific research," Harper said. "Discovery Institute has never done - has never moved forward - any scientific research. On these deep issues, they've done absolutely nothing."

The push for cultural change has not distracted intelligent-design advocates from their core education mission: to change the way biology is taught.

The intelligent-design textbook at the heart of the Dover case, Of Pandas and People, is being rewritten and updated by Dembski and is slated for publication later this year by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, a Christian organization in Texas. It will be renamed The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

© 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources

Common Ground on Intelligent Design


The heads of the Universities of Kansas and Idaho recently declared in open letters that "intelligent design" is not appropriate material in science classrooms.

Proponents of "intelligent design" like to boast that scientists at secular universities back their views. But interviews with some of those professors suggest that even they go out of their way not to teach it in science courses.

Michael Behe, a Lehigh biology professor, is a proponent of "intelligent design." Behe has a disclaimer on his own site informing readers that his ideas are not endorsed by the university, and that, "in fact, most of my colleagues in the department strongly disagree with them." The department posted its own statement, identifying Behe as the "sole dissenter," and pledging "unequivocal...support of evolutionary theory."

Behe said he briefly makes some "skeptical noises" when the book in his biochemistry class talks about the origins of life. But otherwise, "we talk about gene duplication and protein evolution, but we don't deal with organismal evolution," he said, so there really is no jumping off point for any controversy.

Behe also teaches a freshman seminar called "Popular Arguments on Evolution." In that class, students read authors both in favor and against evolution by natural selection. The class is currently being reviewed by a faculty committee, and may be placed under a different department. Simon noted that Behe is a scientist, and understands that his feelings about intelligent design are not a pertinent topic in biochemistry, and thus are not treated as such in the classroom.

Robert Disilvestro, a professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, has a chance to express his support of intelligent design when he talks about electrolyte balance. Some textbooks note that electrolytes are balanced in humans the way they are because we evolved from the sea. "I pretty much just leave it out," Disilvestro said of a discussion on alternative theories of evolution.

Disilvestro, is, however, involved in a controversy over a graduate student. In June, Ohio State called off a dissertation defense by a graduate student whose work sought to legitimize intelligent design, and whose committee had the only two faculty members who have spoken in defense of intelligent design. Disilvestro was on the dissertation committee, and said he does expect the waters to be roiled when the university eventually figures out how to handle the situation. Disilvestro said he has never been pressured by his department as to what to teach, but that he does not see the discussion as an essential component of his class.

Earle Holland, senior director for research communications at Ohio State, said the departments trust their faculty members to "teach what is appropriate," and that a specific topic would only be addressed if someone made a complaint, which no one has. Holland added that, at a place as large as Ohio State, with great diversity among faculty members in every department, trying to control details of classroom instruction on any topic would be like "herding cats." Added Holland, "It's not a question of whether intelligent design should be taught. It's what role does it have in science instruction. People can believe what they want to believe, but testability and reproducibility … is dogmatically required."

As far as what is pertinent in the classroom, said Disilvestro, "there really isn't a controversy." Mark Failla, chair of the human nutrition department, said he would discuss it with Disilvestro if a student complained, "just as I would if any professor were making routinely political statements," Failla said, but he has not had to do so. "We're not talking about Darwin, we're talking about how molecules interact."

Failla said that, while in high schools teachers may discuss ideas about origins, university professors realize that "theory" does not mean the same thing to a scientist as it does "when most people say, 'I have a theory on that.'" He said that, "on the typical secular campus" professors realize that physical science classes are taught based on empirical evidence. "I just don't see scientists get hung up on this, even at Notre Dame."

He's right. "I think [faculty members] feel it's not a controversy. They believe evolution is a scientifically valid process, with a testable hypothesis," said Charles Kulpa, chair of biological science at the University of Notre Dame. "It hasn't been an issue here. If it comes up, it's up to the instructor to deal with it." Many people interpreted Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn's comment to The New York Times in July, that an "unguided, unplanned process of natural selection" was not "true," to mean that the Vatican no longer accepted the theory of evolution as compatible with Roman Catholic teachings. Cardinal Schoenborn has since distanced himself from the comment, but maintained that evolutionary theory cannot disprove the existence of a creator.

J. Michael Mullins, a biology professor at Catholic University of America, said, "There certainly has been no controversy here. Science is in the realm of science, and others things can be in the appropriate realm." Mullins said he thinks any notion that there is a controversy is just spillover from discussion in school boards and that "it simply hasn't been an issue here. I take a bit of time when I teach evolution for entering freshmen. I say 'Other ideas are not scientifically based, so they don't belong in our discussion.'"

Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Superior, said, like many of the biology professors interviewed, that the topics in a college science course are usually narrow enough that talk about origins is irrelevant. Seelke, a proponent of intelligent design, said he "has no compunction in using the 'D-word'" when I talk about a certain process." But Seelke said he recognizes that ideas about ultimate origins "are opinions," and that he thinks "it is appropriate to identify that this is my opinion, if the opinion differs from others."

The head of Seelke's department would not comment, but Seelke, who noted that he has tenure, said he has never felt pressured as to how to run his classroom. He does, though, think "it's hilarious that our department has gone on record supporting the [American Association for the Advancement of Science] view on intelligent design, that it shouldn't be taught. That's highly against the spirit of science. We don't vote on theories. They essentially either arise because of the weight of evidence or fall."

Failla, like the majority of scientists interviewed, including many of those who believe intelligent design is correct, said that it's hard to even pinpoint the controversy because ideas about creators are simply untestable and beyond science. "I'm just a dumb scientist," Failla said. "I don't understand these things. They're opinions."

— David Epstein

Help, lasagne's out to get me


Ben Macintyre

The viral spread of conspiracy theories can have dangerous - or literally lethal - consequences

CLOSE THE DOOR while you read this, and block the keyhole to make sure we are not being watched. This is just between you and me, but I think there is something fishy going on: the conspiracy theorists are out to get us, and they are plotting to destroy common sense.

The signs are everywhere, if you look hard enough. I recently received a message from a Turkish academic claiming, in all seriousness, that the bombings in Iraq are the work of American agents seeking to foment civil war. On the same day, the new Muslim chaplain of the New York Fire Department said he did not believe the 9/11 attack was carried out by al-Qaeda hijackers, and must have been the result of a conspiracy.

Throughout the universe, everyone is still reading The Da Vinci Code, a book claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is complicit in a 2,000-year-old cover-up of Biblical proportions. There is a genuine mystery here: how does such an unspeakably bad book sell so many millions of copies? Are people actually reading it, or is someone hoarding this rubbish in secret landfill sites in a plot to eradicate the world's trees, destroy the ozone layer, and thus boost the profits of a shadowy international consortium of sun cream manufacturers?

(Talking of ghostly patterns, I burnt a lasagne recently and when I washed the pan it left a profile silhouette of David Cameron. Spooky.)

The University of Derby has started a degree course, "Apocalyptic and Paranoid Cultures", to study this avalanche of unrestrained theorising in a credulous age. All the world is now a grassy knoll. Were the moon landings faked? Did the White Star Line sink the Titanic for the insurance? And who killed Diana: Prince Philip, Opus Dei or Fungus the Bogeyman?

The spread of conspiracy theory arises from a combination of spectacular gullibility and corrosive scepticism. Watergate blew a fatal hole in official credibility, but the authority of major media has simultaneously eroded. The proliferation of alternative news sources on the web and the ubiquity of ever more sophisticated advertising have spread the belief that we are constantly being hoodwinked, that things are never what they seem.

Conspiracy theories follow distinct patterns. The obvious, messy answer is rejected in favour of the sinister but simple explanation; the culture of conspiracy salves disappointment and insecurity, since it blames failure and pain on the unseen, untraceable "other". More than one fifth of all African-Americans, for example, believe that the CIA caused the Aids epidemic to destroy black communities. Almost all such theories are monological: anything that contradicts the theory can be absorbed and dismissed without undermining the basic conspiracy.

At the same time, tolerance of conspiracy theory allows fantastic speculation to occupy equal, and sometimes more space than the rational view. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the strange world of Shakespeare "authorship studies", the pointless debate over whether the Bard was really someone else. This week saw a new candidate emerge: Sir Henry Neville now joins Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as the supposed mystery author of the greatest works in English or any other literature.

The identity issue originated in Victorian intellectual snobbery, the assumption that a man educated at a provincial grammar school could never have amassed Shakespeare's learning. Yet the evidence in Shakespeare's favour remains overwhelming. Testimony from numerous contemporaries shows that the actor and playwright from Stratford wrote the plays; there is no direct evidence to suggest the authorship of anyone else. To accept that Shakespeare was an impostor requires belief in a cover-up of inconceivable complexity. There is no mystery author. Let's get over it, and then get on with enjoying the fruits of genius.

The same lopsided debate exists in the battle between creationists and evolutionists in the US. As with Shakespeare's authorship, most experts and scholars have reached a consensus on the origin of the species; those who believe something else challenge this and, more dangerously, insist that their views be accorded the same academic standing. On a more disturbing level, if we allow the denial of evolution in the classroom, should Holocaust-deniers be given a platform, rather than being dumped in the cesspit of pseudo-history where they belong?

Questioning accepted verities based on evidence is the mark of a healthy society; but to do so on the basis of wishful thinking, paranoia or the ingrained belief that what is self-evident cannot be true is not only a waste of time, but potentially lethal. Left unchecked, conspiracy grows viral.

The scourge of polio, for example, has revived due to a single, spreading conspiracy theory. The disease had been almost eradicated when, in 2003, a deadly rumour took root in Muslim northern Nigeria: the theory, inspired by a fundamentalist Islamic doctor, claimed that the Americans were lacing polio vaccinations with a sterilising agent that would render women infertile. Despite assurances from the World Health Organisation, some Muslims began refusing to administer the vaccine to their children. The falsehood spread to India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. This summer, 16 countries who werer thought to have stamped out polio reported fresh outbreaks of the devastating disease.

There is less to conspiracy theory than meets the eye. Shakespeare was Shakespeare; polio vaccine works; Elvis is gone; and a David Cameron-shaped stain on the pan is a sign from God to go out and buy more Fairy Liquid. Look at anything for long enough, and you detect a pattern. For months I have been searching for the hidden meaning — or, for that matter, any meaning at all — in The Da Vinci Code. And now I have found it. "The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown" is an anagram of "Odd cheat; now binned by vicar". Which just goes to show . . . absolutely nothing.

Witnesses say historic theater is haunted


Author: Carly Farrell Publication Date: 2005-10-07

AMERICUS — According to encyclopedia.com, the definition of a ghost is, "...a spiritualistic manifestation of a person or object in which a form not actually present is seen with such intensity that belief in its reality is created."

The Rylander Theatre in Americus has such a spirit according to at least two residents of Americus and Kathleen Walls' book, "Georgia's Ghostly Getaways."

"We don't know who the ghost is," said vice-chairman of the Rylander Authority, Kent Sole. "My theory is that (he) was a former manager. (It) doesn't do anything in the theater — mostly stays in the lobbies and in the office area. It's a friendly ghost."

Sole went on to explain that the spirit's main concern is the safety of the building; the ghost primarily makes sure that doors are locked.

"You can be in the theater by yourself and turn around and the door's been locked where it had been unlocked, and (there have been times) when the certain door can only be locked with a key," Sole explained.

"He'll also come up behind you and put his hand on your shoulder," Sole said.

Sole, in fact, experienced this at one point after the Rylander reopened in 1999. The theater closed in 1951 and sat vacant behind office buildings until 1995, when a local car dealership owner decided, after he realized what a significant part of the early 20th century the Rylander Theatre was, to invest in renovating the facility.

"He likes to make sure the theater is safe — he's always behind you. I was alone in the theater," Sole explained, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

When Sole turned around, no one was behind him or around him — Sole, in fact, realized, after searching the building, was sure that he was the sole individual in the Theatre at the time.

"To turn around, and not know what it is — it's an eerie feeling," he said.

Brooks Nettum, managing director of the Rylander Theatre, has also experienced the entity.

"Sometimes, I'll go to unlocked doors, and they'll be locked, and I don't think that I have locked them," Nettum explained. "I go to work at 6:30 in the morning when it's still dark, and no one else is here. I'll hear something. Every now and then I'll look over my shoulder — I can't put my finger on the feeling, but it's something like how the book 'A Widow for One Year' (by John Irving) describes (the feeling) — it sounds like someone who's trying not to make a sound. Every now and then, I'll look over my shoulder."

Nettum made it more clear by saying that sometimes, it is more of a feeling of a silent presence.

"But," Nettum explained, "it's not an evil feeling."

Although Walls' book does not tie down specific people who have experienced the phenomena, she does mention that people have experienced particularly cold spots in the theater itself, indicating to the spirit-friendly a specter is present. Also, Walls mentions that the lights, at times, flicker.

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."

Gov. Bush oddly evasive on evolution


Posted on Sun, Oct. 09, 2005



Jeb Bush, the self-styled straight-talking education governor, is having trouble speaking clearly about one of the hottest education topics these days: evolution.

Bush isn't sure if the religiously inspired ''intelligent design'' concept belongs in public school science classrooms.

''I don't . . . I don't know,'' he said Thursday. ``It's not part of our standards. Nor is creationism. Nor is Darwinism or evolution either.''

He's wrong about that: Evolution is required. The Sunshine State Standards want high school students to understand ``how genetic variation of offspring contributes to population control in an environment and that natural selection ensures that those who are best adapted to their surroundings survive.''

Bush blamed his education commissioner, John Winn, for telling him that evolution wasn't in the standards. Winn's department didn't return phone calls.

It's no shocker Bush blamed an error on an underling -- politicians often do -- or that he got one fact wrong; after all, the governor's wires are bound to short-circuit once in a while, considering the way he devours and discusses massive amounts of policy, news and legislation.

What's tough to figure is Bush's waffling -- or this circumlocution: ''I like what we have right now,'' he continued. ``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.''

Of the candidates who want to succeed Bush in 2006, the two Democrats, Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, said intelligent design belongs in religion -- not science -- class. But Republican state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher doesn't oppose it in science class, a spokesman said. Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist couldn't be reached.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who chairs the state House Education Council, said he supports teaching intelligent design, which posits that life on the planet is so complex that something other-worldly must have guided it.


Baxley guessed Bush will come out in support of intelligent design, just like the governor's big brother, the president. ''I don't think he wants to be pushed into a box over it,'' Baxley said. ``He probably wants this, but it's not the right time.''

Next year, Baxley said, the issue is bound to surface when the state revisits its education standards. Commissioner Winn has, so far, refused to discuss the subject publicly. However, Florida's new K-12 chancellor, Cheri Yecke, has told newspapers she wouldn't make intelligent design an issue.

Yecke, a conservative think-tank contributor, caused a stir in 2003, when, as Minnesota's schools chief, she wanted a science-standards committee to consider mentioning alternatives to evolution, according to press reports. The language making it easier to teach intelligent design derived from Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum's failed amendment to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.


Whether it's Santorum or Baxley, proponents say intelligent design fills in evolution's gaps and should be taught to broaden kids' perspectives -- a type of postmodern all-things-are-equal viewpoint that conservatives once decried.

Now liberals and moderates are close to arguing against this inclusive approach. Intelligent design is an evolved form of creationism that doesn't posit an Earth-created-in-six-days model.

The debate is playing out in a courtroom in Santorum's state of Pennsylvania, where the Dover Area School Board required intelligent design in biology class.

Eight families sued, saying the policy unconstitutionally mixes church and state. Echoing the overwhelming majority of scientists, one teacher testified last week that the concept is not scientifically valid and doesn't belong in science class.

In Florida, your tax dollars are already paying for students to learn Bible-based creation concepts at a number of private religious schools that take former public school students who are poor, disabled or undereducated.

Using public money for private schooling is a cornerstone of Gov. Bush's A Plus education plan, which has been declared unconstitutional in every Florida court. It now awaits a Florida Supreme Court decision.

Some wonder whether there's a contradiction in Bush's push to spend hundreds of millions of tax money on the high-tech Scripps Research Institute for science while also funding religious schools that question one of biology's basic tenets.

When asked about this, Bush was again uncharacteristically evasive.

''That is so loaded. That's like, you've already written the article, why do you want me in it? It's not fair,'' Bush told a reporter when asked.

So that's a ''no'' then?

''No, that's nothing,'' Bush said. ``That's no comment. The governor refused to comment. That's what it is in the article: The governor refused to comment.''

When will he?

Marc Caputo is a reporter in The Herald's Capitol Bureau.

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