NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 November 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rupert's Resonance


The theory of "morphic resonance" posits that people have a sense of when they are being stared at. What does the research show?

By Michael Shermer

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to do a newspaper crossword puzzle later in the day? Me neither. But according to Rupert Sheldrake, it is because the collective successes of the morning resonate through the cultural morphic field.

In Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance, similar forms (morphs, or "fields of information") reverberate and exchange information within a universal life force. "Natural systems, such as termite colonies, or pigeons, or orchid plants, or insulin molecules, inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind, however far away they were and however long ago they existed," Sheldrake writes in his 1988 book, Presence of the Past (Park Street Press). "Things are as they are because they were as they were." In this book and subsequent ones, Sheldrake, a botanist trained at the University of Cambridge, details the theory.

Morphic resonance, Sheldrake says, is "the idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species" and accounts for phantom limbs, how dogs know when their owners are coming home, and how people know when someone is staring at them. "Vision may involve a two-way process, an inward movement of light and an outward projection of mental images," Sheldrake explains. Thousands of trials conducted by anyone who downloaded the experimental protocol from Sheldrake's Web page "have given positive, repeatable, and highly significant results, implying that there is indeed a widespread sensitivity to being stared at from behind."

Let us examine this claim more closely. First, science is not normally conducted by strangers who happen on a Web page protocol, so we have no way of knowing if these amateurs controlled for intervening variables and experimenter biases.

Second, psychologists dismiss anecdotal accounts of this sense to a reverse self-fulfilling effect: a person suspects being stared at and turns to check; such head movement catches the eyes of would-be starers, who then turn to look at the staree, who thereby confirms the feeling of being stared at.

Skepticism is the default position.

Third, in 2000 John Colwell of Middlesex University in London conducted a formal test using Sheldrake's experimental protocol. Twelve volunteers participated in 12 sequences of 20 stare or no-stare trials each and received accuracy feedback for the final nine sessions. Results: subjects could detect being stared at only when accuracy feedback was provided, which Colwell attributed to the subjects learning what was, in fact, a nonrandom presentation of the trials. When University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman also attempted to replicate Sheldrake's research, he found that subjects detected stares at rates no better than chance.

Fourth, confirmation bias (where we look for and find confirmatory evidence for what we already believe) may be at work here. In a special issue in June of the Journal of Consciousness Studies devoted to a fierce debate between "Sheldrake and His Critics," I rated the 14 open peer commentaries on Sheldrake's target article (on the sense of being stared at) on a scale of 1 to 5 (critical, mildly critical, neutral, mildly supportive, supportive). Without exception, the 1's, 2's and 3's were all traditional scientists with mainstream affiliations, whereas the 4's and 5's were all affiliated with fringe and pro-paranormal institutions. (For complete results, see Table 1 in the online version of this column at www.sciam.com)

Fifth, there is an experimenter bias problem. Institute of Noetic Sciences researcher Marilyn Schlitz--a believer in psychic phenomena--collaborated with Wiseman (a skeptic of psi) in replicating Sheldrake's research and discovered that when they did the staring Schlitz found statistically significant results, whereas Wiseman found chance results.

Sheldrake responds that skeptics dampen the morphic field, whereas believers enhance it. Of Wiseman, he remarked: "Perhaps his negative expectations consciously or unconsciously influenced the way he looked at the subjects."

Perhaps, but wouldn't that m ean that this claim is ultimately nonfalsifiable? If both positive and negative results are interpreted as supporting a theory, how can we test its validity? Skepticism is the default position because the burden of proof is on the believer, not the skeptic.

Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic (www.skeptic.com) and author of The Science of Good and Evil.

Alternative to Darwinism to be taught in Kansas schools


By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

Published: 10 November 2005

The contentious debate over the teaching of Creationism in US schools has received fresh fuel following a decision by officials in Kansas that strongly encourages teachers to teach an alternative to Darwinism in the state's schools.

The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt a new series of standards for the science curriculum taught in schools. Tuesday's vote will redefine "science" to say that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena; in short, science no longer means scientific. Students will be expected to know about alternative theories to evolution.

"This is a sad day, not just for Kansas kids but for Kansas," Janet Waugh of Kansas City, one of four dissenting board members, told reporters. "We're becoming a laughing stock not only of the nation but of the world."

The vote in Kansas took place against the backdrop of a national debate over whether alternatives to Darwinism should be taught in the nation's schools.

Challenges to the teaching of Darwinism have come largely from proponents of so-called Intelligent Design (ID) a theory that states that life is fundamentally too complex not to have involved a "supernatural" creator.

Critics of this theory say it is little more than a repackaged version of Creationism, which the Supreme Court decided in 1987 was a religious belief that could not be taught alongside evolution. While this ruling stands, current polls that suggest that up to 45 per cent of Americans believe that God made mankind in its current form at some point within the last 10,000.years.

The debate has taken new energy in recent years as the religious right has started to increasingly flex its political muscle. Earlier this year President George Bush sparked fresh controversy when he said he believed "both sides" should be taught in schools. "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," he said.

Opponents of ID believe that what happened in Kansas will be repeated elsewhere. "This action is likely to be the play-book for creationism for the next several years," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Centre for Science Education. "We can predict this fight happening elsewhere."

Indeed, Kansas is just one of several battlegrounds in the evolution debate.

In Dover, Pennsylvania, a judge is poised to rule on case in which a group of parents challenged the local school board which had insisted that pupils be told about ID. Ironically, on the same day that the Kansas school board voted to introduce ID, all eight members of the Dover school board were voted out in a local election.

Among the members who lost their seats were two of the most staunch proponents of ID. Bernadette Reinking, a retired nurse and one of the newly elected members of the board, told the New York Times: "I think voters were tired of the trial. I think they were tired of everything that this school board brought about and they wanted the change."

In Kansas, it is the local school boards rather than the state education board that mandates what will be taught to school students. However, the state education board decides what students are expected to know for state assessment tests. The new standards will be in effect starting in 2008.

Some educators fear there will be pressure to teach less about evolution and more about Creationism or ID. "What this does is open the door for teachers to bring Creationist arguments into the classroom and point to the standards and say it's OK," Jack Krebs, an Oskaloosa High School maths teacher, told the Associated Press.

The contentious debate over the teaching of Creationism in US schools has received fresh fuel following a decision by officials in Kansas that strongly encourages teachers to teach an alternative to Darwinism in the state's schools.

The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt a new series of standards for the science curriculum taught in schools. Tuesday's vote will redefine "science" to say that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena; in short, science no longer means scientific. Students will be expected to know about alternative theories to evolution.

"This is a sad day, not just for Kansas kids but for Kansas," Janet Waugh of Kansas City, one of four dissenting board members, told reporters. "We're becoming a laughing stock not only of the nation but of the world."

The vote in Kansas took place against the backdrop of a national debate over whether alternatives to Darwinism should be taught in the nation's schools.

Challenges to the teaching of Darwinism have come largely from proponents of so-called Intelligent Design (ID) a theory that states that life is fundamentally too complex not to have involved a "supernatural" creator.

Critics of this theory say it is little more than a repackaged version of Creationism, which the Supreme Court decided in 1987 was a religious belief that could not be taught alongside evolution. While this ruling stands, current polls that suggest that up to 45 per cent of Americans believe that God made mankind in its current form at some point within the last 10,000.years.

The debate has taken new energy in recent years as the religious right has started to increasingly flex its political muscle. Earlier this year President George Bush sparked fresh controversy when he said he believed "both sides" should be taught in schools. "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," he said.

Opponents of ID believe that what happened in Kansas will be repeated elsewhere. "This action is likely to be the play-book for creationism for the next several years," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Centre for Science Education. "We can predict this fight happening elsewhere."

Indeed, Kansas is just one of several battlegrounds in the evolution debate.

In Dover, Pennsylvania, a judge is poised to rule on case in which a group of parents challenged the local school board which had insisted that pupils be told about ID. Ironically, on the same day that the Kansas school board voted to introduce ID, all eight members of the Dover school board were voted out in a local election.

Among the members who lost their seats were two of the most staunch proponents of ID. Bernadette Reinking, a retired nurse and one of the newly elected members of the board, told the New York Times: "I think voters were tired of the trial. I think they were tired of everything that this school board brought about and they wanted the change."

In Kansas, it is the local school boards rather than the state education board that mandates what will be taught to school students. However, the state education board decides what students are expected to know for state assessment tests. The new standards will be in effect starting in 2008.

Some educators fear there will be pressure to teach less about evolution and more about Creationism or ID. "What this does is open the door for teachers to bring Creationist arguments into the classroom and point to the standards and say it's OK," Jack Krebs, an Oskaloosa High School maths teacher, told the Associated Press.

Much Ado About Little


November 10, 2005

The Kansas Board of Education adopted new science curriculum standards this week, and the new standards have generated a great deal of discussion and / or condemnation both in the MSM and on some of the better blogs such as Althouse. It is usually portrayed as the end of evolutionary teaching in Kansas and the start of a new curriculum comprised of Creationism. Curiously, very little is being said about the standards in Kansas itself. As a Kansan, I feel compelled to at offer an explanation for some of this.

For the record, the actual written standard contains the following:

We believe it is in the best interest of educating Kansas students have a good working knowledge of science: particularly what defines good science, how science moves forward, what holds science back, and how to critically analyze the conclusions that scientists make.

Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory. These curriculum standards reflect the Board's objective of: 1) to help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist on this topic, 2) to enhance critical thinking and the understanding of the scientific method by encouraging students to study different and opposing scientific evidence, and 3) to ensure that science education in our state is "secular, neutral, and non-ideological."

From the testimony and submissions we have received, we are aware that the study and discussion of the origin and development of life may raise deep personal and philosophical questions for many people on all sides of the debate. But as interesting as these personal questions may be, the personal questions are not covered by these curriculum standards nor are they the basis for the Board's actions in this area.

Evolution is accepted by many scientists but questioned by some. The Board has heard credible scientific testimony that indeed there are significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theory. All scientific theories should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered. We therefore think it is important and appropriate for students to know about these scientific debates and for the Science Curriculum Standards to include information about them. In choosing this approach to the science curriculum standards, we are encouraged by the similar approach taken by other states, whose new science standards incorporate scientific criticisms into the science curriculum that describes the scientific case for the theory of evolution.

We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion. While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement.

In addition to the above passage, the standards contain the following additional specific criticisms that I could find:

"The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendents of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by: i. Discrepancies in the molecular evidence (e.g., difference in relatedness inferred from sequence studies of different proteins) previously thought to support that view. ii. A fossil record that shows sudden bursts of increased complexity (the Cambrian explosion), long periods of stasis and the absence of abundant transitional forms rather than steady gradual increases in complexity. iii. Studies show that animals follow different rather than identical embryological development."

"Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial. These kinds of macroevolutionary changes generally are not based on direct observations and often reflect historical narratives based on inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence."

"Some of the scientific criticisms include: a. A lack of empirical evidence for a "primordial soup" or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere; b. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of protocells, and c. The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the earth first became habitable."

To be fair, the 100 plus page document contains mostly information on what knowledge students are expected to have, including lots and lots of evolution, but the above passages would appear to be the contentious ones. In addition, note that it is local school districts that determine the textbooks to be used and the specific curriculum to be taught, hence the degree of indifference of many people within the state. In short, nothing much will actually change.

A great many people believe the aforementioned language is an opening for a future debate on Creationism. They are correct. I have no doubt that we will see someone try to pass off Creationism under the guise of the approved criticisms. So what? As much as I have no doubt that someone will attempt this, I have no doubt that said Creationism would be rejected by the Board and the people that put them there.

A great many other people believe the aforementioned language is, or is at least a symbol of, an attempt to stop what has been an assault on religion by our public education system. They are also correct. Quite frankly, there is a barely disguised contempt for all things religious being displayed by far too many people in academia. Having said that, modifying the science curriculum really won't address the issue short of some discussion of religion in schools. A better forum might be a philosophical class devoted to religion and spirituality, but then again any such class in a public school would be quickly condemned, which is part of the problem.

It appears to me that the criticisms contained in the curriculum consist of two basic types, one type focusing on criticizing current conventions within the greater concept of evolution, while recognizing evolution exists, and another focusing on science as an explanation for life. The first type of criticism is technical in nature, and often put forth by scientists not as a justification for Creationism, but as a means to modifying evolutionary theory based on an ever expanding body of knowledge as to what is going on in the biological world. Such criticisms are not only justified, they are necessary if evolutionary theory is to continue to evolve itself to better explain the world around us. Their inclusion in the curriculum is not an endorsement of creationism. It's a recognition that scientific theories are rarely chiseled in stone.

It's the second type of criticism that is more interesting. Can science explain life? Is the question of the origin of life scientific or philosophical in nature? Darwin's title, The Origin of Species, was very well chosen. He didn't entitle his work The Origin of Life, and with good reason. His work, the work of those who followed, and evolution as a theory deal with how species came to be differentiated, not with how life came to exist in the first place. With that in mind, what is the appropriate position for public schools to take on the origin of life itself? The current position is a sort of "we have some theories, none of them can ever be proved, but we're sure it wasn't a deity." This is unsatisfying to say the least. Does ignoring religion, and religious explanations that everyone knows exist, benefit students? Or would students be better served by including a discussion on the origin of life, including religion, that leads to an appreciation of the issue as a philosophical one as opposed to purely a scientific one? I don't know. I do know that the Board of Education wrestled with these same questions, and the standards adopted represent a compromise. My real hope is that the standards will promote a more open debate, and maybe a discussion as to the limits of what science can and cannot explain.

Posted by BVBigBro at November 10, 2005 12:48 PM

Evolution and the Electorate


Published: November 10, 2005

Voters in Dover, Pa., came to their senses this week and tossed out almost the entire school board, which had tried to discredit the theory of evolution and steer students toward the theory of "intelligent design" - the idea that life forms are so complex that a higher being must have made them. Let's hope the voters in Kansas follow suit next year by ejecting several benighted members of the State Board of Education, which has just approved new science standards that open the way for supernatural explanations of natural phenomena.

The Dover schools are the first in the nation to require that attention be paid to intelligent design. Administrators read a brief statement to biology classes asserting that evolution was only a theory, that intelligent design provided an alternative explanation and that a book on intelligent design was available in the library. That roundabout effort to undermine the teaching of evolution has been challenged as unconstitutional in the courts, with a verdict expected by early January.

Meanwhile, Kansas seems to be veering once again toward supernatural science. Six years ago, the Kansas State Board of Education gutted its statewide science standards to eliminate evolution as an explanation for the development of humanity, and tossed out the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe as well. That madness was reversed the following year, when voters dumped three of the conservative board members responsible.

Now the current board has narrowly approved new science standards that leave evolution in place but add specific criticisms that schools are urged to teach. Most significant, the definition of science is changed so it is not limited to natural explanations.

The standards, which define the material to be covered in statewide science tests, won't take effect until 2007 at the earliest. That leaves time for the electorate to once again dump the board members responsible for this lunacy.

Televangelist Robertson warns town of God's wrath


By Alan Elsner Thu Nov 10, 5:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.

Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential conservative Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has a long record of similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements.

Last summer, he hit the headlines by calling for the assassination of leftist Venezuelan Present Hugo Chavez, one of President George W. Bush's most vocal international critics.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.

The 700 Club claims a daily audience of around one million. It is also broadcast around the world translated into more than 70 languages.

In voting on Tuesday, all eight Dover, Pennsylvania, school board members up for re-election lost their seats after trying to introduce "intelligent design" to high school science students as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

Adherents of intelligent design argue that certain forms in nature are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must have been created by a "designer." Opponents say it is the latest attempt by conservatives to introduce religion into the school science curriculum.

The Dover case sparked a trial in federal court that gained nationwide attention after the school board was sued by parents backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The board ordered schools to read students a short statement in biology classes informing them that the theory of evolution is not established fact and that gaps exist in it.

The statement mentioned intelligent design as an alternate theory and recommended students read a book that explained the theory further. A decision in the case is expected before the end of the year.

In 1998, Robertson warned the city of Orlando, Florida that it risked hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorist bombs after it allowed homosexual organizations to put up rainbow flags in support of sexual diversity.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ISU offers lecture against intelligent design


By William Dillon, Staff Writer 11/08/2005

Advocates against the use of intelligent design in science are speaking up once again at Iowa State University, this time through offering a lecture and honors class on the Ames campus next spring focusing on the controversial subject.

A lecture titled "Why Intelligent Design is not Science" will be Thursday, Feb. 2. The lecture, held through the ISU Lectures Program, will be presented by Robert Hazen, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Geophysical Laboratory who has spoken out against intelligent design publicly.

In the Sept. 2 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hazen, along with two of his colleagues, argue that intelligent design does not belong in science, calling it a rehashing of the fight for creationism in public education.

"The teaching of young Earth creationism, along with any other doctrine based on a miraculous creation of life, was prohibited in public schools not because the theory was proved wrong but because it simply is not science," the letter read. "It is, as the court in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education recognized, a religious doctrine, untestable by the techniques of science."

The letter goes on to dispute the claims of intelligent design, detailing the authors' understanding of why the possibility that an intelligent cause or agent had a hand in the makings of the universe should not, and could not, be considered in science.

Hector Avalos, an ISU associate professor of religious studies who led the efforts to bring Hazen to campus, said he and other colleagues at ISU who agree with Hazen's assertions wanted a forum that could educate the public on intelligent design, an issue many of them do not really understand at its heart.

"There is a degree of scientific illiteracy that is affecting our country," Avalos said. "I am afraid that illiteracy is going to cost us our leadership in science in the world if it hasn't already."

One benefit of having the forum in the spring, Avalos said, is its timeliness with the ruling of the highly-publicized intelligent design court case in Dover, Pa. Testimony ended last week in the case arguing whether the theory of intelligent design should be taught in the area's public schools. A ruling is expected by January.

It is uncertain whether proponents of intelligent design at ISU are planning a lecture of their own. Phone calls to Pat Miller, the head of the ISU Lectures Program, and Guillermo Gonzalez, the most vocal proponent of intelligent design on the ISU campus, were not returned by press time.

Also coming to the ISU campus next spring will be a honors-level seminar titled "The Nature of Science: Why the Overwhelming Consensus of Science is that Intelligent Design is not Good Science."

Avalos said the course was approved late last week.

The class is the brainchild of Avalos and two other professors at ISU who, last August, drafted a statement of the ISU faculty rejecting "all attempts to represent Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor." To date, the statement has garnered the signatures of 130 faculty members at ISU.

The same statement later was adopted by nearly the same number of faculty at the University of Northern Iowa.

The eight-week ISU seminar will cover the history of biological evolution and the more recent developments in intelligent design, according to the course outline.

"Comparing these two ideas by drawing from consensus views of those who study the natural world and the nature of science, the seminar will address why biological evolution is considered to be good science and why intelligent design is not," according to the course outline.

William Dillon can be reached at 232-2161, Ext. 361, or William.Dillon@amestrib.com

©Mid-Iowa Newspapers 2005

Tilghman blasts intelligent design


Kavita Saini and Mark Stefanski Princetonian Staff Writers

President Tilghman spoke out Tuesday against the teaching of intelligent design and said that Darwin's theory of evolution is a fundamental part of the scientific canon at a day-long symposium on the perception of science in the general public.

The event, held at Lewis-Thomas Laboratory and sponsored by the Department of Molecular Biology and the New York Academy of Sciences, was titled "Blurry Vision: Bridging the Gap Between Science and the Public."

Tilghman opened the symposium by addressing the "dramatic need for conversation between science and society" and encouraging young scientists to think about the societal implications of their work.

"It is the best of times and worst of times," she said. "The scientific questions being studied today are really fundamental ... [but] I can see a growing disconnect between what is happening in science and the way scientific information is being challenged and used by the public."

Tilghman cited global climate change, the future of NASA and the debate over the validity of evolution as the three most troublesome issues facing the scientific community today.

"There is a misunderstanding about the likelihood that the globe is in fact warming up due to greenhouse gases," she said. "The evidence is compelling but is being presented in the public domain as uncertain."

She added that NASA's strategy of "abandoning some of the most important telescope and satellite projects in favor of manned flights to Mars" clearly showed the difference between the goals of the scientific community and the administration.

Tilghman said it was "most troubling" and "shocking" that Darwin's theory of natural selection might be presented as "controversial" in schools. She said that intelligent design — which relies on the existence of a higher being to explain biological diversity — is "not a competitor for natural selection," but added that given the current administration's stated views on the matter, she doesn't see a change in policy coming.

Scientists should be proactive in upholding science, Tilghman said. "It's going to be the graduate students who will have to be the spokespersons for science going forward. Scientists have an important and unique responsibility to speak intelligently and clearly about what the science says and what it doesn't say."

In an interview following her remarks, Tilghman elaborated on this responsibility, urging young scientists to "engage in the political process, be prepared to speak out, to write to congressmen and senators and go to senior citizens' homes and high schools and talk about what science is really doing."

Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs Lee Silver reopened the symposium after a lunch break with a presentation about misconstrued science. He faulted both sides of the political spectrum for propagating "molecular theology" about genetically modified foods and cloning, among other things.

Panel discussions followed on topics including homosexuality, intelligent design and how the government and the media shape the perception of scientists.

"For the healthiest relationship between scientists and the public, a discussion of the perception of scientists is necessary," graduate student Tim Weil said, opening the first afternoon panel.

Panel members decried the politicization of science. "In the situation we're in right now, science is in the service of power. People with M.D. and Ph.D. at the ends of their names — many of them are not scientists — are selected to give advice based on ideological agreement with the administration," journalist Esther Kaplan said.

Rutgers history professor David Greenberg said he mostly agreed, but added a cautionary note. "There remains a strong regard for scientists in the general public," he said. "Being a scientist does a carry a certain cultural authority with 100 years of regard behind it, as much as this countercurrent has existed."

The following panel discussed the disconnect between science and the media. Panel members, most of them journalists working for scientific publications, stressed that just as journalists don't always understand science, scientists don't always understand journalism.

The co-chairs of the conference's organizing committee, graduate students Weil and Jodi Schottenfeld, came up with the idea after a Wilson School conference on stem cells in April.

"The perception of science is in such a negative light right now — just look at politics," Weil said.

Greenberg said the topic was indeed timely and necessary. "One reason I was inclined to participate [in this symposium] is that it seems like an urgent subject these days," he said. "Science has been politicized and there's been an exploitation of the public's lack of understanding of science."

Though most of the attendees were faculty and graduate students, the conference also attracted roughly 10 students from Nutley High School in Nutley, N.J., who attended the symposium with physics and chemistry teacher Christine Polk.

"Science literacy is important. Instead of just learning in class, I thought of bringing [students] to see scientists in public," Polk said.

Her students liked what they heard.

"It was enjoyable because it took subject matter we learned in class and brought it into real-world situations," senior Charles Jones said. "I found it all very interesting, and learned how to look at results in a laboratory setting."

Intelligent design's place at the table


Intelligent design is the scientific pursuit of understanding patterns in nature, its proponents say.

By Julia C. Keller (November 9, 2005)

Humans have marveled at design in spider web geometry, sunflower seed spirals and the twists of snail shells, long before Fibonacci discovered his famous sequence or Pythagoras understood the golden rectangle. Cells divided their DNA before Leeuwenhoek ground lenses for microscopes. Snowflakes fell before fractals. Electrons clouded around nuclei before quantum mechanics. And the big bang exploded the universe into existence before astronomers could point their fingers, and later their telescopes, at the sky.

That the complexity of nature argues for a designer is not a revolutionary idea, said Ronald Numbers, a historian of science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Numbers added that for the general public, the concept of God's design in nature is a no-brainer. "Ninety percent of Americans are theists. They're able to draw on a huge reservoir in a popular belief of a designer God," he said.

William Paley topped off this reservoir with his 1802 publication of Natural Theology, culminating centuries of design argument based on everything from the properties of water to the engineering of insects. In his book, Paley describes finding a watch while walking through the country. Paley argued that studying the watch's interconnected mechanical parts would compel one to assume that an intelligent force designed it.

Modern intelligent design theory, or ID, however, takes the concept a step further, stating that science will prove that some aspects of nature are so specific, complex or functional — like the parts of a watch — that they must be the work of a designer.

But ID proponents find themselves swimming upstream against some rather vigorous scientific currents.

Mainstream scientists say ID is not a scientific concept because it relies on supernatural causes. Invoking a "designer" of nature necessarily implies theology, something which science is not equipped to comment on. Mainstream theologians have also dismissed ID's theological implications.

"From the point of view of the most prominent theologians today, not only is ID poor science, it's also poor theology," said John Haught, a Catholic theologian at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "To think of God as a designer is to diminish the divine mystery."

Though intelligent design theorists don't specify God as the designer, ID proponents like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe said they would simply like their ideas heard. "There is more than one way to view what science has discovered," said Behe. "The more science knows about nature, the more strongly it seems to point beyond nature for an explanation," he said.

The science game is rigged

Mainstream scientists operate with a framework of methodological naturalism — seeking purely natural explanations that do not make reference to a divine designer.

"We stick to natural causes in science because it works," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center of Science Education, an organization that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools based in Oakland, Calif. "Science is brutally practical. If it works we grab it, even if we don't like it much," she said.

"In science, you need to introduce hypotheses that are capable of being tested," said Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism in Amherst, N.Y. "It's a nontestable, nonempirical, nonfalsifiable hypothesis," said Kurtz of ID.

However, ID proponents say their attempts to scientifically understand the patterns in nature have been misrepresented at best and maligned at worst in the science domain.

"The ID argument requires that people that think methodological naturalism is intrinsic to science reconsider that," said Jay W. Richards a senior fellow at the bastion of ID — the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, based in Seattle. Evidence of design "when used appropriately, can be a part of the explanatory tools of natural science," Richards continued.

Scott and other scientists have said the scientific community has considered ID theory and rejected it as ineffectual.

"Science is exquisitely sensitive to the possibility and the certainty that error exists. All claims get reviewed," said Paul Gross, co-author with Barbara Forrest of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. "After exhaustive review, those claims that turn out consistently without substance are forgotten."

ID proponents charge the definition of science doesn't allow for claims outside of its stringent rules. "Design advocates would allow all hypotheses to be considered — not just those that are strictly materialistic," said Stephen Meyer, the director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

Kurtz disagreed that rules of science are arbitrary or intentionally designed to keep ID from making its case. "The methods of science have been proven to be enormously successful and are vindicated by their pragmatic consequences," Kurtz said.

Meyer countered that ID's claims "shouldn't be decided by a priori rules of science," he said, but rather, "the debate should come down to the evidence."

ID proponents represent a spectrum of ideological positions and some of them don't automatically discount the evidence for evolution, nor do they disavow Darwin's theories about random mutation and natural selection as a driving force of evolution.

"Effects that are one small step away from normal are possible in Darwinian evolution," said Behe, citing as examples the evolution of pesticide resistance and the mutations in the sickle cell gene that confer resistance to malaria. "But the real question is how much can be built up by Darwinian processes?" Behe said.

"We're not saying it's better if Darwin had never contributed to science," said William Dembski, also a senior fellow at the Center for Science and Culture and director of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's new Center for Science and Theology. However, he said of Darwinian evolution, "the proper scope of the theory has to be contracted in light of better evidence."

Show me the science

Scientific evidence for the designer behind intelligent design has been minimal, though the analysis of design in nature has been batted around for centuries. When James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin discovered the double helix structure of DNA — and the scientific community subsequently was able to point to a method by which Darwinian evolution could have arisen — the world was floored.

ID proponents point to the genetic information contained in a cell's DNA as too complex, organized and machine-like to have been produced by chance.

"Many researchers think that the question of origin of life turns on the origin of genetic information to build the first living cell," said Meyer.

Behe calls examples like DNA's compact, complex information "Cadillacs of complexity." The classic Cadillac most ID proponents drive may be the example of a bacterial cell's whiplike tail, called a flagellum, which it uses to swim.

"There's a part that acts as a propeller," said Behe, comparing the flagellum to an outboard motor. "There's a part that acts as drive shaft. There's a motor, which uses a flow of acid from the outside of the cell to the inside of the cell just like a turbine engine might be powered by a waterfall."

The bacterial flagellum's integrated and seemingly mechanical parts led Behe to coin the phrase "irreducible complexity"— a system dependent on all the parts working in concert to enable a function. Behe used the example of a mousetrap's parts — base, spring, catch, hammer and holding bar — to explain an irreducibly complex system.

"It's hard to see how tiny incremental changes can put together something like a standard mechanical mousetrap, and there's lots of thing like that in the cell," said Behe. "With irreducibly complex systems, it is extremely difficult to see how they can be approached gradually" in the framework of Darwinian evolution, said Behe.

However, scientists respond that not understanding the answer to a problem is different from not knowing it yet.

"Perhaps science can never satisfactorily explain how the flagellum could have been developed piece by piece," said Owen Gingerich, professor emeritus of astronomy and history of science at Harvard University in in Cambridge, Mass. "But, I don't believe we can ever be in a position to say that we have to give up because no explanation can exist," he said.

"If your basic idea is: 'If X can't be explained through natural causes — bacterial flagellum, for example — therefore, God did it,'" said Scott, "that leaves you a pretty thin scientific model to work with."

ID doesn't name the designer as God, nor does it comment on it, said Richards, who also co-authored the book Privileged Planet with Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer at Iowa State University. "What design theorists argue is that something about what the world is like provides evidence for design," he said. "It is a claim that you don't need to presuppose a theistic framework to see that."

But design implies an end function or telos, said Gingerich. "At its core, intelligent design is a philosophical way of saying that the universe is made with intention and purpose, something I strongly believe, and to strip theological implications from it would destroy its raison d'etre," he said.

On a wing and a prayer

"Whenever you try to account for where life came from, it has implications beyond just science," said Behe, but that doesn't mean that ID should address it. "I'm sure philosophers and theologians can cogitate about this in their own fields," he said.

Historically, however, the idea that design in nature points to God as the designer can't be divorced from the ID argument, said Haught, pointing to the natural theology of Thomas Aquinas as an example. "Everyone understands this to be God. Anytime you talk about design in natural theology, you talk about God," he said.

"I don't think arguments for design prove the existence of God," said Richards. "I'd say they've positive theological implications, and theologians ought to be willing to explore that."

Design and theology are not at odds, said Richards. "This isn't a highly eccentric position to take within the Christian theological tradition," he said. "At least theologically speaking, I would think the burden of proof would be upon the Christian who says there isn't such evidence or there can't be for some theological reason," said Richards.

Disavowing God as the designer stymies intelligent design proponents, said Ted Davis, a professor of the history of science at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. "Armed only with a generic designer," said Davis, "it is utterly impossible for them even to confront, let alone respond constructively to, the reality of a world that seems to so many to be so imperfectly designed."

On the other hand, calling God a designer "shrinks the notion of deity to a kind of a master engineer," said Haught. "It's to make the function or action of God that of coming down and stitching together amino acids capriciously," Haught continued. "That's fatal for theology," he said.

Science's description of the contentious issue of life's origins "doesn't say that life's been intelligently designed and it also certainly doesn't say that it hasn't," said Alvin Plantinga, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame University. "It's a complete mistake to think of evolution as unguided evolution," he said.

"Intelligent Design is being sold as an alternative to godless evolution, which is seen as a mechanical, purposeless scheme that has brought life — including intelligent, self-reflective life — into existence on the Earth," Gingerich said. "Science is neutral on the nature or existence of God. It is godless but not necessarily anti-God," he said.

ID's future

"The day that somebody produces evidence for intelligent design, I assure you that half the evolutionary biologists will be jumping on this the next day. Many of them would be happy to find out it was true," said Gross of the common misperception that all scientists are atheists. "We're not all rubber stamp products of poor Richard Dawkins."

However, Gross said, "The proof in the pudding is what there is to eat."

ID proponents may get their just desserts if the scientific community allows them to sit at the table, said Meyer. "We think design can open up questions that haven't been asked — even if it's only 10 percent," he said.

"By science's own hard labor we have come across all this unexpected complexity and intelligent design is an honest, straightforward attempt to account for what we've come up with," said Behe. "I would like people to relax a bit and realize that we're just trying to account for the world that we've discovered."

Whether or not that moves ID under the scientific umbrella may end up being decided by school boards, courts, the community and who's coming to dinner.

Julia C. Keller is science editor at Science & Theology News.

Intelligent Design beats Darwin


November 09, 2005

By Henry Cruz

"It's worse than the school yard drug dealer pushing crack to our kids," says my Aunt Madge yelling into the phone. She's a woman of science and Intelligent Design doesn't sit well with her.

"We're not in Kansas anymore," I respond dryly.

"This junk science will keep our kids dumb," Madge offers. "Intelligent design? Isn't that an oxymoron? -- there's no intelligence in religion."

"Let it go," I offer. "Kansas was always the retarded stepchild nobody talked about."

INTELLIGENT DESIGN, that oh-so holy theory that suggests we're so complicated a "higher power" had a hand in it (personally, I'm an uncomplicated guy with a foot fetish).

It's true; the state of Kansas approved new science for public schools that cast a doubt on evolution. Maybe the students found science so boring they needed a better plot (lots of tall tales in the good book).

A year from now they'll be singing the new Kansas state anthem (a little tune from the "Wizard of Oz"): If I only had a brain.

Well, God gets his front row seat in that science class. The fundamentalists have won and the "medieval mindset" is now "in."

Face it, the book of Genesis got an upgrade into scientific fact. Creationism and public schools are married now (fuck the separation between church and state that's so passe). Evangelicals should read the chapter that covers protecting our planet from human activities that cause global warming.

Genesis 2:15 justified it this way: "The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." -- and so far humans are doing a bang up job.

Since I'm not in Kansas (with the retards) I will offer my view here. If there was a Designer for all this why did he create this place and then let it go hell, so to speak. Was hurricane Katrina a part of that wonderful design?

Intelligent Design(ers) need to take their message down the hall to a different classroom; because religion deals with issues of philosophy, and does not constitute science (far from).

EVOLUTION is knocking on our doorsteps, consider the recent hurricane season, earth quakes, and the deadly avian bird flu. -- things are changing fast and it looks like humans are just in the way. And it will be science (not a prayer to Jesus) that saves us from extinction.

There I said it, I only hope someone is intelligent enough to understand it.

Now, let's all say a prayer for the special people of Kansas. Amen.

By Henry Cruz

KS Gov. concerned with intelligent design teachings


( Air Date: 11/9/2005 )

Governor Kathleen Sebelius says she`s troubled by yesterday`s Board of Education decision, which allows the teaching of creation in the public schools. The governor worries that Kansas might find greater difficulty in attracting high-tech employers to the state.

In her statement, Sebelius said that the board should concentrate more on strengthening science-teaching standards, not weakening them, and that stronger public schools ought to be the board`s mission.

Voters oust US school board that backed intelligent design


Polly Curtis, education correspondent
Wednesday November 9, 2005

The Pennsylvanian school board that is attempting to introduce the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution was yesterday ousted in local elections by anti-creationist campaigners.

All eight Republican members of the board, the body that sets education policy for Dover, Pennsylvania, lost their seats to Democrat challengers.

Two of the now ex-board members, chairwoman Sheila Harkins and Alan Bonsell, have testified in an on-going court case over the introduction of teaching alternative theories on the origins of the world, the New York Times reported.

A year ago the school board set a policy that required a statement to be read out to every 15-year-old biology student pointing out "gaps" in the evolution theory, suggesting intelligent design as an alternative and directing them to reading material in the library.

The theory of intelligent design argues that the world is too complicated to have evolved out of natural selection, as argued in evolution, and suggests there is some guiding force in the design of living things.

The board is being sued by 11 parents who argue that intelligent design is a repackaging of creationism, the Bible's version of how the world came to be.

The federal judge is expected to make a decision on the case in January. The judgment would still stand despite the board changes, although the incoming members could decide to change policy next year.

The winning candidates have either argued against the intelligent design policy or for a new focus of the education agenda in the district, which has been dominated by the row for the past year.

One winning candidate, Bernadette Reinking, told the new York Times: "I think voters were tired of the trial, they were tired of intelligent design, they were tired of everything that this school board brought about."

Another candidate, Judy McIlvaine, said: "We are all for it [intelligent design] being discussed, but we do not want to see it in biology class. It is not a science."

However, the ex-school board member David Napierskie, who lost his seat, told the Associated Press that the vote was not just about ideology.

"Some people felt intelligent design shouldn't be taught and others were concerned about having tax money spent on the lawsuit," he said.

Kansas backs intelligent design in science lessons


15:41 09 November 2005
NewScientist.com news service

The vote on science standards in schools was passed by 6 to 4 by the state's Board of Education. It is a victory for proponents of intelligent design, who helped draft the new standards. Intelligent design suggests that living creatures are too complex to have evolved without the influence of an intelligent designer.

The new standards will come into effect in 2007. The board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena. Other explanations, such as intelligent design, will now be permitted in biology lessons.

Religiously inspired material

The Kansas decision was announced as voters in Pennsylvania ousted eight out of nine members of an education board that had approved a similar policy in schools in the state's Dover district. The ninth member was not up for re-election. The new board members promised to repeal the policy.

The Dover district board members were ousted just days after the close of a federal lawsuit. Parents accuse the board of introducing religiously inspired material – intelligent design – into schools, in breach of the US constitution's separation of church and state.

Since 2004, schools in Dover have been ordered to read out a prepared statement on intelligent design in biology classes. The judge is expected to give his verdict by January 2006.

Fossil records
The Kansas vote marks the third time in six years that the Kansas board has rewritten the standards on the teaching of evolution. In 1999 the board eliminated most references to evolution, prompting Harvard University palaeontologist Steven Jay Gould to comment that it was like teaching "American history without Lincoln".

The new standards include a statement that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory. The standards do not dictate what will be taught in the state's schools – those decisions remain with 300 local school boards – but they will be used to develop student tests that measure how well schools teach science.

In anticipation of the Kansas board vote, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association has revoked permission for Kansas to use any of their copyrighted material in the state standards.

Critics argue that intelligent design is simply repackaged creationism that uses scientific language in order to evade a 1987 US Supreme Court decision. That decision banned the teaching of the biblical story of creation in science lessons in public schools.

Evolution, Creationism: Neither is fact


By Ryan Verona / Yucca Valley Wednesday, November 9, 2005 12:31 AM PST

In response to the contribution by Jerry Jackson in the Guest Soapbox, I have to say that it was refreshing to read an article placing the theory of evolution in its proper light as a theory and nothing more. For Bob Mullins, who touts himself as an archaeologist and Biblical scholar, to say "the fact of evolution is well established from the fossil records" is totally irresponsible.

However, an honest examination of both sides of the issue does not leave the theory (yes, theory) of Biblical creation as a reasonable alternative. The Bible is fraught with abstract and contradictory statements that require interpretation and mental gymnastics in order to defend it.

For example, the opening verses of the Bible state that one of the first things God created was light and he called it day, yet a few verses later in the very same chapter, Genesis verse 14 records that God did not create the sun, moon and stars until the fourth day. How was it possible for day and night to be occurring without a sun?

To add to the confusion, our sun is estimated at 4.5 billion years old, but the creation account only allows for approximately 6,000 years.

And then we have the account of the fall of mankind, where the Bible writer states that the snake would eat dust all of its days. Compare Micah 7:17 and Isaiah 65:25. This is not, as Mr. Jackson states, "scientific prose."

I do agree with Mr. Jackson that intelligent design is at work among us. Design does require a designer and life on earth is not simply a matter of survival. Yet alongside this symbiotic brilliance we find earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanos, tsunamis and a host of natural disasters that randomly wipe out the religious and non-religious in an instant. There are also the senseless acts of violence that leave theologians scrambling for explanations and interpretations on what the God of the Bible will and will not allow.

Also, when Mr. Jackson quotes the God of the Bible as saying everything was "very good," is he taking into consideration the dinosaurs? Wiped out by a cosmic eraser, they were not apparently "very good."

I conclude that evolution and the Biblical account of creation must be placed in the proper light: They are both at this time theories and neither should be taught as fact.

ID: Evolution of Creationism?


Written by Raymond Ballard Anchor Contributor

Tuesday, 08 November 2005

We came into being when God made a mistake, a mistake for sure when you think about us and who we are. Intelligent design is the 21st-century catch-word. Let's examine the origin of life from many perspectives: the scientific, the theological and the ridiculous (the last to tweak the readers who have not evolved enough to have a sense of humor).

The theory of evolution states that all life forms develop from primitive organisms. By way of chance mutations and natural selection, man was able to rise out of the prehistoric ooze and establish himself as new species.

So you might say a short fin becomes over years a primitive leg that could get the creature out of the swamp, and a rudimentary nose might develop into a big hooter that could lead them to the local Dunkin' Donuts.

Could you imagine such an elementary creature rising from the primal slime for the first time, erect unsteadily on its evolved vestigial fins, where he declares? "Hi, I'm Smith Flag-waver, and I wish to be your representative." Insurance, brokers, salesman and lawyers soon follow.

Science is not for the wusses. The scientific mind trades in truth, not sentimentality. It looks unblinkingly at the facts.

It is un-American to face uncomfortable truths when simple alternatives exist to scientific inquiry. Yes, for many it is more convenient to read the grand poetic story in genesis as a literal elucidation, rather than as a powerful bestiary.

This means that dinosaurs had to exist at the same time humans did. No credible evidence exists for that.

As it was, the Bible's explanation of life's origin was a hard sell to pass off as science in public schools, because it was plainly religion. Creationism, as it was called, had to evolve so that it would be the fittest theory to survive.

Creationism is now newly-emerged as intelligent design. It really should be called intelligent deception. It is basically the same thing, but more coy. The irony is that those who support intelligent design theory must think the rest of us are the monkey's cousin if we do not agree with them.

Intelligent design postulates that some things are so complex that we can not explain them, except in terms of an intelligent designer.

Geez, I wonder who that intelligent designer could be. Why did he not give us gills so we could survive under water?

Actually, I do believe in an intelligent designer. I believe the Lord moves in mysteriously ways. The really intelligent view is that evolution is his way of working the business of creation.

Remember the dinosaurs; they roamed the earth for millions of years then suddenly disappeared. They were magnificent beasts, such a waste of lizards. Maybe there is a Mrs. Almighty. She sees the designer stocking the earth with life and marking the boundaries of the oceans, and then in typical fashion decides in the blink of the eye that he is not doing job right.

Faced with this dreadful possibility, I will continue believing in evolution and intelligent design, thank you very much, because religion is religion, and science is science, and the twain shall never meet. Oh, yes, my friend, they must meet in our heart, but not in the science classroom.

(C) 2005 The Anchor

Kansas state board adopts pro-creationism science standards


www.chinaview.cn 2005-11-09 16:03:29

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 8 (Xinhuanet) -- The Education Board of US state Kansas on Tuesday adopted new science-curricula standards for the state's 445,000 public-school students that openly question the Evolution Theory of Charles Darwin.

The new standards, passed in a 6-4 vote after hours of sometimes hostile debate, are seen by most scientists and educators as a victory for creationism even though the regulations don't require that Bible teachings be presented, according to the CBS.

The newly approved regulations not only question the theory that all life has a common origin, they also rewrite the definition of science, holding that it is no longer limited to searching for natural explanations for natural phenomena.

Supporters of the new standards insist that their effort has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Darwin, saying that science classes present Darwin's theories as fact when plenty of questions exist about his findings.

Those opposing the new standards, though, cast them as a backdoor effort by creationists to introduce religious expression into the public classroom, especially the doctrine of intelligent design.

This intelligent design doctrine maintains that those facets of natural science that remain unexplained by Darwin should be attributed to an anonymous intelligent agent.

Advocates of this "theory" argued that Darwin's theory on natural selection and the formation of new species are pockmarked with logical holes. They advanced an alternative premise that the world is owed to "a profoundly formative intervention."

The concept of intelligent design has gained popularity among those questioning Darwin's veracity.

According to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank promoting the concept of intelligent design, four US states --Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Hampshire -- have preceded Kansas in requiring schools to present a critical analysis of evolution.

Kansas has over the years emerged as a key battleground in the debate. In 1999, a conservative faction on the State Board of Education managed to institute science standards that removed almost all references to evolution in the curriculum.

New standards, restoring evolution to its previous status, were adopted in 2001 when voters ousted the creationist bloc. But three years later an election gave conservatives the edge again.

Kansas isn't the only place where the Darwin debate is being waged. In Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties and 11 student parents sued the Dover Board of Education for requiring students be taught the intelligent design doctrine as an alternative to Darwinian theory.

After the debates closed last week, a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is set to adjudicate this case in December or next year.

Scientists and educators assert that evolution is more than a theory, and that the new standards in Kansas will prove an impediment to education.

"American children are consistently falling behind those of other nations in their knowledge and understanding of science," said Francisco Ayala, a biology professor at the University of California-Irvine. "We will not be able to close this gap if we substitute ideology for fact in our science classrooms."

Second opinion for alternative medicine


Story by James Njoroge Publication Date: 11/10/2005

Last month, Zambia's ministry of health put some 25 HIV-positive people on an unique experiment– a three month trial on herbal medicine to establish whether it can be used to treat the syndrome.

According to the country's minister for health, the trials will conform to World Health Organization guidelines. Last year in cognisance of the potential benefits from traditional, complementary and alternative medicines, the WHO released new guidelines on their proper use.

The guidelines are expected to assist national health authorities in developing countries wishing to give more legal latitude to the application of alternative medicine in their respective health systems.

According to WHO, at least 80 per cent of the population in the developing world depend on alternative medicine in their primary healthcare needs, this makes the medicine a cornerstone in the health care system especially in Africa and Asia.

Several African government have already adopted policy frameworks to incorporate alternative medicine in their modern healthcare systems. What is needed now to make the policies work is to provide the necessary infrastructure on the ground.

Kenya stands to benefit from medicinal plants in more ways than just curative. Already, albeit, with teething licensing problems, farmers in several parts of the country have started cultivating plants such as aloe and the Chinese wormwood for the export market. Unfortunately such farmers seem to have moved much faster than government agencies in ensuring that Kenya benefits from the new thinking.

Kenyans, closely associated with this sub-sector, may remember 2002 with nostalgia when the former Minister for Health, Prof Sam Ongeri, made a strong push for the inclusion of alternative medicine into the mainstream health care system. He is credited with the introduction of the traditional medicines Bill 2002 which is yet to be tabled in Parliament for discussion and subsequent action.

But for this Bill to serve for posterity, harvesting of these plants and their production practices must be the pillar of the proposed policy and legislation. Such must recognise their potential in creating wealth through the establishment of micro-enterprise.

Local processing and packaging of herbal products is an important means of strengthening micro-enterprise development and capturing value-added in what could otherwise be a low-revenue earning commodity industry.

Studies carried out by the UN Industrial Development Organization indicate that the sale of extracts rather than raw plant materials can increase the value of the product tenfold.

Consequently new thinking is needed to ensure continuous supply of the medicines used by the majority and also to ensure that benefits accrue to those communities involved at the primary stages of processing.

The fact that there is phenomenal growth in the use of herbal compounds by people living with HIV/Aids should be of concern to clinicians and policy makers. It is evident that patients will continue to access traditional healing systems, as it is important to local cultural values and beliefs.

Therefore, efforts should be made by mainstream health professionals to provide validated information to traditional healers and patients on the proper use of herbal remedies. This may reduce harm through failed expectations, pharmacological adverse events and unnecessary added therapeutic costs.

Efforts should also be directed at evaluating the possible benefits of natural products in HIV treatment. There are two main characteristics, which make herbal medicine an appealing form of health care. The first is the attitude taken by herbalists in treating patients, the "patient-centred" approach is at the core of the way herbalists treat.

During a consultation session, the symptoms and signs are analysed in the context of the complete physiology of the patient, and patterns of dysfunction are determined.

The second characteristic which makes herbal medicine different is the fact that plant extracts are still used, rather than isolated chemicals from the plants.

James Njoroge is a consultant with Institute of Herbal Medicine, email; insherbmed@yahoo.co

Evolution Slate Outpolls Rivals


November 9, 2005 By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

All eight members up for re-election to the Pennsylvania school board that had been sued for introducing the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in biology class were swept out of office yesterday by a slate of challengers who campaigned against the intelligent design policy.

Among the losing incumbents on the Dover, Pa., board were two members who testified in favor of the intelligent design policy at a recently concluded federal trial on the Dover policy: the chairwoman, Sheila Harkins, and Alan Bonsell.

The election results were a repudiation of the first school district in the nation to order the introduction of intelligent design in a science class curriculum. The policy was the subject of a trial in Federal District Court that ended last Friday. A verdict by Judge John E. Jones III is expected by early January.

"I think voters were tired of the trial, they were tired of intelligent design, they were tired of everything that this school board brought about," said Bernadette Reinking, who was among the winners.

The election will not alter the facts on which the judge must decide the case. But if the intelligent design policy is defeated in court, the new school board could refuse to pursue an appeal. It could also withdraw the policy, a step that many challengers said they intended to take.

"We are all for it being discussed, but we do not want to see it in biology class," said Judy McIlvaine, a member of the winning slate. "It is not a science."

The vote counts were close, but of the 16 candidates the one with the fewest votes was Mr. Bonsell, the driving force behind the intelligent design policy. Testimony at the trial revealed that Mr. Bonsell had initially insisted that creationism get equal time in the classroom with evolution.

One incumbent, James Cashman, said he would contest the vote because a voting machine in one precinct recorded no votes for him, while others recorded hundreds.

He said that school spending and a new teacher contract, not intelligent design, were the determining issues. "We ran a very conservative school board, and obviously there are people who want to see more money spent," he said.

One board member, Heather Geesey, was not up for re-election.

The school board voted in October 2004 to require ninth grade biology students to hear a brief statement at the start of the semester saying that there were "gaps" in the theory of evolution, that intelligent design was an alternative and that students could learn more about it by reading a textbook "Of Pandas and People," available in the high school library.

The board was sued by 11 Dover parents who contended that intelligent design was religious creationism in new packaging, and that the board was trying to impose its religion on students. The parents were represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and a private law firm, Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Vote by Kansas School Board Favors Evolution's Doubters


The divided panel urges that 'controversy' over the theory be taught. Science groups call it a bid to inject religion in the classroom.

By Nicholas Riccardi Times Staff Writer

November 9, 2005

TOPEKA, Kan. — The state Board of Education approved curriculum standards Tuesday that question evolution and redefine science to include concepts other than natural explanations.

The board, in a 6-4 vote, recommended that schools teach the "considerable scientific and public controversy" surrounding the origin of life — a dispute most scientists contend exists only among creationists.

National science groups opposed the measure, and critics contended it was an effort to inject religion into the classroom.

But its advocates said they were interested only in improving science.

"This is a great day for Kansas," board President Steve E. Abrams said. "This absolutely raises science standards."

The dissenters noted that some board members who backed the standards have been outspoken about their faith and have criticized evolution for being offensive to Christianity.

"I'm certainly not here to change anyone's faith, but I wish you were not changing science to fit your faith," board member Carol Rupe said to Abrams.

Added member Janet Waugh: "We're becoming a laughing-stock, not only of the nation but of the world."

Tuesday's vote makes Kansas the fifth state to adopt standards that cast doubt on evolution.

A trial is underway in Pennsylvania over whether teaching intelligent design — a concept that holds life is too complex to have evolved naturally — violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on state promotion of religion.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Assn. — two groups whose material comprises the backbone of Kansas' science standards — told the state in advance that they would revoke copyright privileges if the new standards were approved; the board said that its lawyers would rewrite the document to avoid any violation of the law.

The standards approved Tuesday are not binding on local school districts, and few have said they planned to revise their lesson plans. But educators said there would be pressure to teach intelligent design and creationism because the standards were the basis for statewide testing.

National science groups feared the vote would open the door to anti-evolution movements elsewhere.

"Intelligent design supporters and creationists will hold this up as a standard — go forth and do likewise," said Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a group that describes itself as a nonprofit "providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education."

Intelligent design advocates were ebullient Tuesday. "It's very significant for the students of Kansas," said Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank devoted to intelligent design. "Instead of just the evidence that supports evolution, they're going to see all sides."

Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have adopted standards that encourage questioning of evolution by local school districts.

Kansas' standards present the most explicit challenge to evolution.

Ohio has gone further than the other states by developing a lesson that teachers can use in the classroom.

This is not the first time Kansas has altered its standards to move away from teaching evolution. In 1999, the state approved standards that eliminated all references to evolution. Kansas became the butt of jokes on late-night television, the conservative majority on the board was swept out of office in the 2000 elections, and the anti-evolution standards were repealed.

Religious conservatives recaptured control of the Board of Education last fall amid a statewide campaign against same-sex marriage, and went to work on the new science standards.

This time, the standards make a nod to evolution. But they contend that several aspects of evolution that most scientists believe are settled fact, such as the concept that all living things are biologically related, have been "challenged." They also redefine science to allow for other explanations of events.

The board majority said that "supernatural" explanations would not be discussed in the classroom. "We're talking about the introduction of peer-reviewed science … not creationism," board member Ken Willard said.

Critics said Tuesday that the science the board was citing was an excuse to introduce religion into the classroom.

"This agenda is to have science taught as one particular segment of the Christian faith wants it to be," Missy Taylor, a deacon at her church in a Kansas City suburb, told the board. "As a Christian, I can say it's one particular segment, not mine and not that of thousands of Kansans."

Added Waugh: "Why not be honest and say it is a faith issue? … I personally believe in the biblical version of creationism, but I don't believe that my beliefs should be taught in a science class."

Luskin, however, said that criticism of evolution was good science and the fact that some conservative religious groups backed it was irrelevant. "Once you look at the data," he said, "you see the emperor has no clothes."

The board's action cited popular support in opinion polls as one reason it was changing the science standards to be critical of evolution. That drew approval from at least one constituent who watched the deliberation, Lee Hildebrencht of Manhattan, Kan.

"It's a step in the right direction," the 69-year-old retired postal worker said, adding that he believed in the biblical version of creation. "How is it possible we're descended from apes?"

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kansas State Board Votes to Teach Intelligent Design in Schools


Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The Kansas State Board of Education approved a proposal to teach intelligent design along with evolution as a scientific explanation of how life began.

The board voted 6 to 4 in favor of the guidelines, which say schools should teach that doubt exists about the validity of evolution, a theory that originated with British biologist Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century.

The debate about teaching intelligent design, which says life is too complex to have happened through evolution, has led to a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania and the introduction of legislation in Michigan. President George W. Bush told a group of reporters visiting the White House on Aug. 1 that the theory should be taught alongside evolution, according to Knight Ridder.

Board Chairman Steve Abrams and members John Bacon, Kenneth Willard, Kathy Martin, Connie Morris and Iris Van Meter voted in favor of the guidelines, said Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. The issue was raised by these members amid an effort to overhaul the Kansas school system that began in February 2001.

Janet Waugh, Sue Gamble, Bill Wagnon and Carol Rupe opposed it. The board members didn't immediately return e-mail requests seeking comment.

The move drew immediate criticism from Sebelius, a Democrat.

``This is just the latest in a series of troubling decisions by the Board of Education,'' Sebelius said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. ``If we're going to continue to bring high-tech jobs to Kansas and move our state forward, we need to strengthen science standards, not weaken them.''


Opponents of intelligent design, including the National Academy of Sciences and the National Association of Biology Teachers, say the theory is an offshoot of the Biblical story of creation in which God made the world in six days.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association said in a joint declaration on Oct. 27 that the Kansas board has specifically targeted evolution.

``The use of the word controversial to suggest there are flaws in evolution is confusing to students and the public and is entirely misleading,'' they said in a statement. ``While there may be disagreements among scientists about the exact processes, the theory of evolution has withstood the test of time and new evidence from many scientific disciplines only further support this robust scientific theory.''

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' office had no comment on the issue, said spokeswoman Susan Aspey. She said the board's decision was a local affair and the federal education department wouldn't get involved.

Setting Standards

The proposal before the Kansas board doesn't aim to promote intelligent design, according to documents on the education board's Web site.

``The curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticism of the theory,'' the proposal said. ``While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement.''

Wayne Carley, executive director of the 7,500-teacher National Association of Biology Teachers in Reston, Virginia, rejects the Kansas measure.

``They are undermining the education of their students,'' Carley said in a telephone interview. ``Intelligent design is a version of creationism and is clearly a religious doctrine and not a scientific principle, theory or even a hypothesis.''

The fight to inject intelligent design into science curriculum isn't going to stop in Kansas, said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education at a press conference today in Topeka. The conference was sponsored by the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, which describes itself as a group with 25,000 members that wants to combat the religious right, spokeswoman Jessica Smith said.

``This action is likely the playbook of creationism for the next several years,'' Scott said. ``We predict this fight taking place not only on the state level but on the local level as well.''

To contact the reporter on this story:
Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: November 8, 2005 18:15 EST

Intelligent design voted on by KS Board of Ed


( Air Date: 11/8/2005 )

After almost a year of debate, the Kansas Board of Education is voting today on new academic standards that would change the way the state`s public schools teach science. The board expects to approve the proposals today, since six of the ten board members endorse the teaching of intelligent design.

The theory states that the universe was created by a higher intelligence, such as God. Advocates say teaching that theory in the state`s public schools would allow students to receive a more balanced science education. Opponents, though, say that intelligent design is based on religion, not science.

Trial concludes: Fed. judge now weighing Pennsylvania Intelligent Design case


Nov 8, 2005
By James Patterson Baptist Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)-–Prohibiting students from learning about Intelligent Design would cheapen their educational experience, a lawyer for the Dover Area School Board said in closing arguments at the conclusion of the first federal court case testing the constitutionality of the concept in public education.

Patrick Gillen, a lawyer with the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., which is defending the Pennsylvania district, maintained that despite the widely held acceptance of evolution as fact in the scientific community, Intelligent Design is based on irrefutable empirical evidence. Schools have a constitutional right to offer students alternative theories on questions about the designs of humanity, Gillen told federal Judge John E. Jones III.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit contended that the Pennsylvania school district has no right to read a statement to ninth-grade biology students which emphasizes that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact" and "Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." They argue that the four-paragraph statement approved by the school board in October 2004 is a veiled attempt to teach religion in public school.

Eleven parents, in suing the district, have been represented, pro bono, by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Separation of Church and State and a Philadelphia law firm.

Jones, in reaching his verdict in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, will digest six weeks of testimony on complicated scientific material such as bacterial flagellum, blood clots and fossil formations. He has stated his intention to rule on the case by January, at the latest.

Both sides have said they will appeal if they lose, with the distinct possibility that the case may end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Intelligent Design posits that human life is so complex that it must have been designed by a higher intelligence but does not name a designer. When the Dover school board decided that students must be told about the existence of Intelligent Design along with other theories, some science teachers refused to implement the policy.

"The plaintiffs failed to prove that the predominant purpose of the curriculum change is to advance religion," Gillen said in his summation. Just because some of the board members who supported Intelligent Design had religious beliefs does not imply a religious belief inherent in Intelligent Design, he added.

Gillen emphasized that the new policy does not discourage the teaching of evolution, which students are required to learn by state law. It only sought a modest change that would expose them to alternative information.

"Obviously, [the plaintiffs] are looking at the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguilar, where the court in that case did look at the motivation of the primary legislative sponsors of the bill," Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Law Center, told Baptist Press Nov. 8. "They are looking at that case, saying that 'if we can show the religious motivation, then we'll be able to destroy Intelligent Design just based on the motivations of the school board members.'"

The York Daily Record/Sunday News reported last year that one school board member made the following statement during a Dover school board meeting when the science curriculum was discussed: "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" The plaintiffs contend this statement and others attributed to school board members indicate that they were motivated to change the policy by their religious beliefs.

"Its essential religious nature does not change whether it is called 'creation science' or 'intelligent design' or 'sudden emergence theory,'" Eric Rothschild, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, declared in his closing arguments. Rothschild had contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and offered the assistance of his Philadelphia law firm, Pepper Hamilton, when he heard about the dispute in October 2004. He is a member of the legal advisory committee for the National Center for Science and Education, an organization that supports the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

"The board imposed its religious views on the Dover community and commandeered the religious education of children and the Constitution," Rothschild charged.

Thompson, however, whose organization's stated mission is "to protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square," disagreed.

"Those comments by one board member cannot be attributable to other board members who did make religious statements, Thompson told Baptist Press. "In fact, one of the board members is a Quaker and she testified that evolution does not have any impact on her religious beliefs. You also had individuals who believed in creationism who voted against the new policy. This goes to the point we are making … that it is inappropriate, we believe, to merely look at motivation of board members. What they should be looking at is the policy, not the motivation of those who formed that policy.

"In this case, the purpose of the policy was merely to make students aware of an alternative theory to the theory of evolution," Thompson said. "The policy also has a clear secular purpose, which holds that students should be made aware that evolution is not a fact: It's a theory, that there are gaps in that theory and an alternative theory is Intelligent Design.

"I think that anyone who sat through that trial that objectively listened to the testimony of Michael Behe, this microbiology professor out of Lehigh University, and associate professor Scott Minnich" has to have been convinced about the truthfulness of Intelligent Design, Thompson noted.

Minnich was the last witness to take the stand before closing arguments began. He echoed Behe's earlier testimony that he had discovered scientific evidence of Intelligent Design, including "irreducibly complex" organisms such as the bacterial flagellum. Behe is believed to have originated the term "irreducibly complex," which describes organisms that would not function if any part of them was removed.

"We infer design when we see parts that appear to be arranged for a purpose," Minnich testified. Although Intelligent Design can be compatible with some people's religious views, the opponents of Intelligent Design try to link it with creationism to discredit it, he said.

Both Behe and Minnich are extremely credible in their fields of study, Thompson maintained. Minnich has a doctorate from Princeton University, was awarded a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and was one of the scientists that the United States sent to Iraq to hunt for signs that the regime had tried to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"Basically, both of these scientists stated that, looking at the empirical data, it is clear that complex biological systems could not have occurred by Darwin's theory of natural selection acting on random mutations," Thompson said. "And basically, their argument was they inferred design when they saw parts that appeared to be arranged for a purpose. They specifically mentioned the bacterial flagellum, which has 40 different parts. The flagellum does not have any value to the biological system, to the human body, until all of those parts are together at one time. So Darwin's theory that these parts slowly developed over billions of years as a slight modification improved the system has no logical bearing on what they see."

Monday, November 07, 2005

An Evolutionist's Evolution


November 7, 2005 By GLENN COLLINS

It may seem that the American Museum of Natural History is cruising for controversy in presenting "Darwin," the most comprehensive exhibition any museum has offered on the naturalist's life and theories. It is a time, after all, when the theory of evolution by natural selection seems as newsworthy as it was back in the days of the Scopes trial 80 years ago.

According to a CBS News poll last month, 51 percent of Americans reject the theory of evolution, saying that God created humans in their present form. And reflecting a longstanding sentiment, 38 percent of Americans believe that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, according to an August poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington.

An ongoing federal trial in Harrisburg, Pa., may determine whether a local school board can compel teachers to inform students about the theory of intelligent design - the idea that life on earth is too complex to have arisen through evolution alone. And though there is no credible scientific support for this position, President Bush, when asked in August about evolution and intelligent design, said that "both sides ought to be properly taught."

However, said Ellen V. Futter, president of the museum, the $3 million exhibition, which opens to the public on Nov. 19, was conceived three years ago and "is not a riposte, but a celebration of Darwin's life and his ideas, which are the cornerstone of modern biology." The exhibition illustrates the way in which evolution became the basis for modern biology, ranking its importance with the theories of relativity in physics, and plate tectonics in geology.

"Since Darwin's life is an adventure story that reflects the scientific process," Dr. Futter added, "the show is a cerebral and physical exploration, an attempt to humanize science through an understanding of Darwin's life."

The exhibition will consist of more than 400 artifacts, specimens and documents, including at least 100 lent manuscripts and other objects, 159 models fabricated by the museum's workshops, 74 specimens from the museum's collections and nine live animals. Though created and designed at the museum, the show received conceptual advice and financial assistance from four institutions that will present the exhibition after it closes in New York on May 29: the Museum of Science in Boston, the Field Museum in Chicago, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Natural History Museum in London.

"We see the exhibition as an important part of our Darwin bicentennial," said Robert M. Bloomfield, head of special projects at the Natural History Museum in London. The show will arrive there in late 2008, "a harbinger of our celebrations," Dr. Bloomfield said, referring to elaborate plans to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth in 2009, which is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking book "On the Origin of Species."

Michael J. Novacek, senior vice president and provost of the American Museum of Natural History, said that "our hope is to make it emphatically clear just how important Darwin's work is to modern science, and to what we and other scientists do in everyday life."

Referring to the museum's curatorial, research and academic faculty of 200 scientists, "the work of most of them is essentially based on Darwin's work," Dr. Novacek said. None of the staffers believe in intelligent design "or at least they haven't declared it," he said. "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

He added, "Some of the current reactions to Darwin's work are the same as they were when 'Origin' was first published."

The exhibition mentions intelligent design not as science, or as a theory to be debated, but as a form of creationism, which offers the biblical view that God created the earth and its creatures fully formed within the last 10,000 years. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that creationism is a religious belief that cannot be taught in public schools.

Dr. Novacek said that "we are welcoming everyone to the show," adding that "we will be prepared to respond to questions." The museum's docents and public-education staff are being trained on how to respond to challenges to the exhibition.

Niles Eldredge, the exhibition's curator, said, "We might change some minds." But Dr. Novacek added: "We respect people's beliefs, and conversion is not necessarily our goal. We hope that every visitor will have a clearer idea of what Darwin did and, for that matter, what science means."

The show was envisioned as the next in the museum's series on thinkers, explorers and scientists, following its exhibitions on Leonardo da Vinci, Ernest Shackleton and Albert Einstein. The 6,000-square-foot Darwin exhibition has been assembled not only from the museum's collections but also from those of Cambridge University, the Darwin family and Down House, where the naturalist spent the last 40 years of his life.

The exhibition is presented as a chronological journey to South America and the Galápagos Islands and as an internal journey that changed the way Darwin viewed the world and himself. "We'd like visitors to follow Darwin's life, to see what he saw, and understand how he came to his ideas," Dr. Eldredge said.

The exhibition "has the crown jewels," Dr. Novacek said, referring to Darwin's original specimens, manuscripts and notes. "Many of these haven't been together since they were on the H.M.S. Beagle," he said, referring to the 90-foot ship that carried Darwin on a voyage from 1831 to 1836 to South America and the Galápagos, an isolated chain of volcanic islands off the west coast of South America.

Visitors who approach the exhibition through the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians will come across two live 13-year-old, 50-pound specimens of Geochelone nigra, the Galápagos tortoise that offered Darwin clues for his evolutionary theory. Later in the gallery, they will discover a five-foot-long live green iguana and a terrarium housing six live Ceratophrys ornata, horned toads.

Inside, the very first exhibit is the magnifying glass that Darwin used to examine his specimens.

The show will offer an overview of human evolution through the rich fossil record. It will also demonstrate how Darwin's work gave rise to modern biology with cutting-edge displays on genomic research, DNA research and evidence of the latest scientific update of the taxonomic tree of life.

Dr. Eldredge has been an important participant in this work. In the 1970's he and Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard University paleontologist who died in 2002, developed the theory of punctuated equilibria in evolution: the notion that transitions in species take place periodically - during intense periods of activity - and not necessarily as part of a steady, gradual process.

On display will be a rare manuscript page from "Origin," one of just a few known to exist. (Fun fact: Darwin never used the word "evolution" in the first edition, though the book's last word is "evolved.")

Also on view will be some of Darwin's most famous notebooks, written from 1837 to 1839, especially Page 36 in Notebook B, where he sketched the world's first evolutionary tree of life. "That's the equivalent of seeing E=mc2 in Einstein's papers," Dr. Eldredge said.

Also on display is the original text from Notebook D that shows the eureka moment when Darwin first described natural selection.

From the Beagle voyage, the exhibition offers Darwin's original pistol, his telescope and his Bible. There are also 33 of the beetles, butterflies, moths and flies Darwin collected, and his rock hammer, used on geological excursions.

In one exhibition, area visitors will see a five-foot-tall reproduction of a famous geological outcrop, the Hutton Unconformity in Scotland, which has an 80-million-year gap in its rock record. This helped demonstrate to Darwin that the earth was much older than the 6,000 years posited by many creationists.

The museum also offers a meticulous recreation of the room at Down House where he wrote "Origin," presenting Darwin's original cane, work table and specimen boxes.

The significance of Darwin's ideas "has grown," Dr. Bloomfield said. "For example, at this moment we're looking at Asian bird flu and where it's going. If not for Darwinism, we would be ignorant of the mechanism of that flu, and how it changes over time."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Riled by Intelligent Design

November 6, 2005 Campus Headlines


AN astronomy professor at Iowa State University, Guillermo Gonzalez, has become a lightning rod for the national debate on intelligent design and a polarizing figure on campus this semester.

It began last summer when the Smithsonian Institution discovered it had inadvertently agreed to sponsor an anti-evolution documentary. The film was based on the 2004 book "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery," for which Dr. Gonzalez was co-author. In it, he argues that the rare conditions that make the earth habitable indicate that it was designed by a higher power. The sponsorship was withdrawn, and a $16,000 contribution was returned.

Fearing that Dr. Gonzalez's ideas would reflect poorly on the university, more than 120 Iowa State faculty members, representing 7 percent of the total, issued a statement urging the university to "reject efforts to portray intelligent design as science."

The statement, drafted by an associate professor of religious studies, Hector Avalos, was published in the campus newspaper, The Iowa State Daily. Dr. Gonzalez, in a letter to the editor, called the petition a "power grab" and "an attempt to silence talk of intelligent debate by definitional fiat."

Iowa State's president, Gregory Geoffroy, has asked the faculty senate to organize a forum on how, or whether, to teach intelligent design on campus. Meanwhile, Dr. Gonzalez shared his ideas at a forum at the University of Northern Iowa, which issued a protest petition of its own.

The debate has played out in the letters and opinion column of the student paper, which at its peak in September was receiving 20 letters a week - including one from the American Association of University Professors, which expressed the concern that, with external pressure to debate and teach creationism, academic freedom was at stake. Some letters are excerpted below.

"My impression on campus was that the balance was slightly in favor of intelligent debate not being taught," says Thomas Barton, the editor in chief. "The letters were about 50-50."


Pro-Evolution 'Biggies' Tell Kansas to Get It Right ... or Else


By Jim Brown and Jody Brown November 7, 2005

(AgapePress) - Two national pro-evolution groups are lashing out at the state of Kansas, trying to bar the state from using science education curriculum developed by an intelligent design think tank.

The Kansas Board of Education is looking at adopting science standards that would teach students more about evolution, including some of the scientific challenges to the theory. That plan has angered the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), which have threatened to deny Kansas use of their science standards and copyrighted education materials.

In an October 26 letter to the Kansas Department of Education, NSTA president Mike Padilla says the majority of the state's proposed standards "could proudly serve as a model for other states to emulate," but that there are errors regarding the theory of evolution.

"[T]he standards, as currently written, will result in Kansas students being confused about the scientific process and ill-prepared both for the rigors of higher education and for the increasingly technological and scientific challenges we face as a nation," the NSTA letter states. "Specifically, the ... standards fail to recognize the theory of evolution as a major unifying theme of science and the foundation of all biology."

For that reason, says NSTA, it has asked the Kansas State Board of Education to "refrain from referencing or quoting" NSTA standards.

Rob Crowther is with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank. Crowther says what the National Academy and NSTA are doing is "ridiculous."

"The state of Kansas would like to adopt a definition of science that simply says science is a systematic method of investigation that uses observation, hypothesis, testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument, and theory-building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomenon," Crowther explains. "This [definition] is almost identical to the definition of science in over 40 states across the country."

Nevertheless the two groups, Crowther asserts, are "bullying" the state into dropping the proposed revisions because they do not want students to learn about the scientific challenges to Darwinism. He says he finds that "really strange" because "a state [is] trying to do the right thing by their students -- and then here come groups making political statements by withholding materials because they don't like the viewpoint expressed."

As a result, the Discovery Institute spokesman says, students in Kansas are not going to get the full story about evolution and Darwinism -- "and that's really a shame," he adds.

A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Education says the board will likely approve the proposed science standards that include teaching scientific challenges to Darwinian theory. The board is to vote on the changes tomorrow (Nov. 7). Nothing would have to change immediately in what is taught, notes the Wichita Eagle, because the state science test will not change to match the standards for two years.

© 2005 AgapePress

Intelligent Design Trial Complete: Plaintiff's Lawyer Says School Board Lied


11/07/2005 09:39 PM

The first case testing the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design as science is in the judge's hands. In closing arguments the defense called it, "the next great paradigm shift in science." Dishonest and unscientific, said the plaintiff.

They lied, said the lawyer, when they said they did not make religious declarations at board meetings and when they said they knew not about the ordering of an intelligent design "textbook," though a parent of a board member did the ordering.

The judge was upset when a board member testified about the book order.

They also lied when they said their purpose in changing the curriculum had nothing to do with religion, the lawyer said. The defense said the primary purpose was not religious.

Intelligent Design Grounded in Strong Science


By Gailon Totheroh
CBN News Science and Medical Reporter

CBN.com – SEATTLE, Washington - The Dover, Pennsylvania school board is on trial in the state capitol. Their crime? They wanted to tell high school students once a year that evolution is only a theory. They also wanted to mention an alternate theory: Intelligent Design, or ID.

That was too much for some parents. They sued, claiming ID is religious and therefore illegal in school. The judge will decide the case in the next few weeks.

So is ID really just religion in disguise? Do both biology and astronomy support ID? And who are these people promoting ID?

To answer those questions, we went to the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the major proponents of ID.

Dr. Stephen Meyer is the head of Discovery's Center for Science and Culture. He says to ban design theory as mere religion is wrong.

"And in fact," Meyer said, "it's a science-based argument that may have implications that are favorable to a theistic worldview, but the argument is based on scientific evidence."

But perhaps these ID experts are not really reputable?

Mayer stated, "These are people with serious academic training. They are Ph.D.s from very, not just reputable -- but elite -- institutions. And they are people doing research on the key pressure points in biology and physics, and so their arguments are based on cutting-edge knowledge of developments in science."

So what is the evidence from researchers like biochemist Dr. Michael Behe, a Ph.D. graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute?

He is an expert on a special kind of bacteria called flagella. Inside the bacteria are exquisitely engineered 'inboard motors' that spin at an amazing 100,000 revolutions per minute.

Darwin said that such complexity must have developed piece by piece. Behe said that is bunk. All the pieces must be in place at the same time or the motorized tails would never work.

Darwin's gradual theory has no good explanation for that -- ID does.

Behe makes the case for ID in a video called "Unlocking the Mystery of Life." The video's narrator declares, "A thimbleful of liquid can contain four million single-celled bacteria, each packed with circuits, assembly instructions, and molecular machines..."

"There are little molecular trucks that carry supplies from one end of the cell to the other," Behe explained. "There are machines that capture the energy from sunlight, and turn it into usable energy."

ID experts say the more you know about biology -- and some of the weird creatures like this island lizard -- the worse it gets for Darwinism.

Consider the workings of the genetic code. That code produces all kinds of molecular machines, plus all the other components of life. ID advocates say that to believe those components are just Darwinian accidents takes a blind faith in the creativity of dumb molecules.

So with growing evidence of ID, isn't Lehigh University proud of this cutting-edge scientist who teaches there—and wrote the 1996 bestseller "Darwin's Black Box?" Hardly.

In August, all the other (22) biology faculty members came out with a political statement on the department's Web site. They stated that "Intelligent design has no basis in science."

But they cited no evidence, and made no references to any scientific research.

Dr. John West, a political scientist at Seattle Pacific University, is senior fellow at Discovery Institute. He says these political responses to scientific issues are getting nasty.

West remarked that "hate speech, speech codes, outright persecution, and discrimination is taking place on our college campuses, in our school districts, against both students and teachers and faculty members."

In fact, universities are evolving into centers for censorship. Five years ago, Baylor University dismissed mathematician Dr. William Dembski from his position, primarily because he headed a center for ID there.

This September, the University of Idaho banned any dissent against evolution from science classes -- a slam on university biologist Dr. Scott Minnich, a noted supporter of ID.

"The school seems to be confusing where it's at," West said. "Is it in Moscow, Idaho, or the old Moscow, Russia? ...in issuing this edict that…no view differing form evolution can be taught in any science class."

And at Iowa State University, more than 100 faculty members have signed a petition against ID -- an apparent political attempt to intimidate ISU astronomer Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez because he writes about ID.

Gonalez is, in fact, co-author with philosopher Dr. Jay Richards of "The Privileged Planet." Both scholars are also connected with the Discovery Institute.

The book and related video argue that astronomy also shows evidence of design. For instance, the earth has numerous aspects just right for our existence.

Gonzalez explained, "...We find that we need to be at the right location in the galaxy...that we're in the circumstellar habitable zone of our star (correct distance from the sun)...that we're in a planetary system with giant planets that can shield the inner planets from too many comet impacts...that we're orbiting the right kind of star -- it's not too cool and not too hot."

These are just four of 20 some characteristics of earth that make our planet unique -- right for life, right for discovery by human science.

Richards said, "So you have life and the conditions for discovery happening at the same places. That, to us, suggests that there is something more than a cosmic lottery going on. That sounds like a conspiracy rather than a mere coincidence. So that to me is a tie-breaker in the question."

And there is more -- the finely-tuned underlying rules of the universe-- or physical constants. One of them is gravity. But what if gravity were not constant?

A film clip from Privileged Planet says: "Imagine a machine able to control the strength of each of the physical constants. If you changed even slightly from its current setting, the strength of any of these fundamental forces -- such as gravity -- the impact on life would be catastrophic."

In plain terms, a bit more gravity would mean any creature larger than the size of a pea would be crushed into nothing. And a little less gravity would mean that the Earth would come unglued and fly off into space.

But Darwinism has been maintaining that advanced life is easy to produce all over the universe.

"Almost everything we've learned in the area of astrobiology suggests that, 'Look, this is just not going to happen very often' -- now that might be sort of depressing for script writers for sci-fi movies, but that's where the evidence is taking us," Richards said.

Despite the attacks on ID, Meyer said the design interpretation of the evidence is exposing Darwinism as a theory in crisis:

"I think we're reaching the critical point where Darwinism is going be seen as simply inadequate," Meyer asserted, " -- and therefore the question of (intelligent) design is back on the table."

Just as this city of Seattle has all the earmarks of ID, so does nature, except that nature is infinitely more intricate.

Pennsylvania intelligent design trial winds up


Judge will rule by year-end
By Lucy Sherriff
Published Monday 7th November 2005 11:46 GMT

Lawyers in the Dover Intelligent Design case brought their arguments to a conclusion on Friday, leaving Judge John Jones to decide whether or not the teaching of intelligent design in public schools is allowed by the US constitution.

In Dover, Pennsylvania, 11 parents are challenging in court the local school board's decision to allow intelligent design to be taught in science classes.

Intelligent design holds that some living things are too complex to have arisen through natural selection, as suggested by the Darwinian theory of evolution. It states that there must be some intelligent agent involved in their creation.

The parents argue that intelligent design is a thinly veiled cover for creationism, and is covered by the constitutional ban on the teaching of religion in public (state, for those in the UK) schools.

In closing, the parents' lawyer Eric Rothschild said that the policy had been introduced by members of the school board with a religious agenda.

He also accused witnesses for the defence of lying in their testimony that religion was not a motivating factor in introducing intelligent design to the school. He also said that they lied when the told the Judge they didn't know a text book expounding the principles of intelligent design had been bought for the school with money raised in a church.

One witness, former school board member William Buckingham, had testified that he hadn't meant to advocate creationism in a television interview, describing himself as a deer in the headlights.

Rothschild argued that Buckingham knew exactly what he was doing during the interview, saying: "That deer was wearing shades and was totally at ease", Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the defence argued that intelligent design is a "legitimate educational objective", and described it as "the next great paradigm shift in science".

Attorney Patrick Gillen said that while the individual members of the school board were religious, they were not trying to push a religious agenda.

Judge John Jones says he wants to have made his ruling by the end of the year, early January 2006 at the latest.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Vatican issued a statement warning against ignoring scientific reason, saying that by doing so, religion risks turning into fundamentalism. Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture said:

"The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future."

He also argued that religion could act as the conscience of science, citing the atomic bomb and the possibility of human clones as scientific ideas devoid of ethics. ®

Related stories
Brit-based sociologist testifies in Intelligent Design trial (25 October 2005)
Intelligent design debate hits Aussie news stands (21 October 2005)
Creationism and evolution can co-exist, says cardinal (5 October 2005

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Kansas evolution vote nears, scientists fight back


Friday, November 4, 2005; Posted: 9:34 a.m. EST (14:34 GMT)

LAWRENCE, Kansas (Reuters) -- At the new "Explore Evolution" museum exhibit in Kansas, visitors pass a banner showing the face of a girl next to the face of a chimpanzee for a lesson on how the two are "cousins in life's family tree."

They can also study DNA under a 4-foot-tall double helix model, peruse fossil record research, and examine how advancements in treating modern-day diseases require an understanding of the evolution of cell structures.

Curators of the exhibit, which opened Tuesday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, hope their work provides a counterweight to the anti-evolution sentiment sweeping their state and the country. Sister exhibits, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, are opening in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan.

"People just don't understand how science works. We need to better inform them about what science is," said Teresa MacDonald, director of education for the university's Natural History Museum, which opened the exhibit on Tuesday.

But on November 8, state education officials in Kansas are poised to do what many scientists see as just the opposite.

Led by a conservative Christian chairman who says evolutionary theory is incompatible with the biblical account of God's creation of life on earth, the Kansas Board of Education plans to insert questions about the veracity of evolution theory into statewide teaching standards.

The action has outraged scientists across the nation and both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have refused Kansas' request to use their copyrighted material.

The Kansas board made a similar, but more aggressive effort to weaken evolution instruction in 1999. But a public backlash ultimately led to the reversal of those actions.

Evolution under attack

Now, the new Kansas standards, which outline what teachers should teach and test on, leave evolutionary principles in the curriculum but insert phrasing that encourages students to question their validity. The standards also delete certain text about how science is defined.

"The stakes are high," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. "If Kansas gets away with it ... I anticipate that in every state where science standards are up for revision, we are going to be fighting another battle."

Efforts to undermine evolution instruction have also been seen in Michigan, Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere.

And one key case was being tested in court this week in Pennsylvania, where a group of parents sued the Dover Area School Board because teachers had been ordered to tell biology students that the theory of evolution is not established fact.

The Pennsylvania school officials introduced students to an alternative theory known as "intelligent design," which holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, such as God, rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.

Intelligent design, or ID, proponents have also been active in pressing for the changes in Kansas, but school board members there stopped short of including intelligent design ideas in the state standards.

"ID is making enormous progress," said John Calvert, a Kansas City lawyer and ID proponent. "Is it going to happen overnight? No. Is it going to happen? Yes."

Calvert said museum exhibits such as the one in Lawrence are flawed because they ask visitors to believe humans evolved randomly, with no specific purpose or design by a higher power -- a theory polls show a majority of Americans do not believe.

But evolution supporters say religion has no valid role in a science class.

"This is all based on establishing a theocracy within our system," said Sue Gamble, a member of the Kansas School Board who opposes changing the science standards. "We said we didn't want to do that when we established our country. This should not be happening."

Copyright 2005 Reuters.

Institute Warned School District


Published Saturday, November 5, 2005 WASHINGTON

The Discovery Institute, a leading proponent of intelligent design, says it warned a Pennsylvania school district now in court that it shouldn't implement a policy on the controversial concept because it could be found "somehow unconstitutional."

Mark Ryland, director of the Discovery Institute's Washington office, said that he met with Dover Area School District representatives before the district implemented a curriculum change on intelligent design. He said that he "advised them not to institute the policy" but that they "didn't listen to me."

Ryland addressed the American Enterprise Institute on Oct. 21, the same day that Dover Superintendent Richard Nilsen testified in Harrisburg, Pa., at a landmark federal trial on the district's policy. It requires that a four-paragraph statement on intelligent design be read to ninth-grade students at the start of a science unit on evolution.

With Nilsen on the stand, lawyers representing parents opposed to the policy unveiled an e-mail the superintendent received last August from the district's lawyer, Stephen Russell.

Russell said the district would have a difficult time winning a case because of the appearance that the policy "was initiated for religious reasons."

Current News  News Back Issues

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