NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 November 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Phony Theory, False Conflict


'Intelligent Design' Foolishly Pits Evolution Against Faith

By Charles Krauthammer

Friday, November 18, 2005; Page A23

Because every few years this country, in its infinite tolerance, insists on hearing yet another appeal of the Scopes monkey trial, I feel obliged to point out what would otherwise be superfluous: that the two greatest scientists in the history of our species were Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, and they were both religious.

Newton's religion was traditional. He was a staunch believer in Christianity and a member of the Church of England. Einstein's was a more diffuse belief in a deity who set the rules for everything that occurs in the universe.

Neither saw science as an enemy of religion. On the contrary. "He believed he was doing God's work," James Gleick wrote in his recent biography of Newton. Einstein saw his entire vocation -- understanding the workings of the universe -- as an attempt to understand the mind of God.

Not a crude and willful God who pushes and pulls and does things according to whim. Newton was trying to supplant the view that first believed the sun's motion around the earth was the work of Apollo and his chariot, and later believed it was a complicated system of cycles and epicycles, one tacked upon the other every time some wobble in the orbit of a planet was found. Newton's God was not at all so crude. The laws of his universe were so simple, so elegant, so economical and therefore so beautiful that they could only be divine.

Which brings us to Dover, Pa., Pat Robertson, the Kansas State Board of Education, and a fight over evolution that is so anachronistic and retrograde as to be a national embarrassment.

Dover distinguished itself this Election Day by throwing out all eight members of its school board who tried to impose "intelligent design" -- today's tarted-up version of creationism -- on the biology curriculum. Pat Robertson then called the wrath of God down upon the good people of Dover for voting "God out of your city." Meanwhile, in Kansas, the school board did a reverse Dover, mandating the teaching of skepticism about evolution and forcing intelligent design into the statewide biology curriculum.

Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. It is a "theory" that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species but also says that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, "I think I'll make me a lemur today." A "theory" that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the "strong force" that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.

The school board thinks it is indicting evolution by branding it an "unguided process" with no "discernible direction or goal." This is as ridiculous as indicting Newtonian mechanics for positing an "unguided process" by which Earth is pulled around the sun every year without discernible purpose. What is chemistry if not an "unguided process" of molecular interactions without "purpose"? Or are we to teach children that God is behind every hydrogen atom in electrolysis?

He may be, of course. But that discussion is the province of religion, not science. The relentless attempt to confuse the two by teaching warmed-over creationism as science can only bring ridicule to religion, gratuitously discrediting a great human endeavor and our deepest source of wisdom precisely about those questions -- arguably, the most important questions in life -- that lie beyond the material.

How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.


'No Dover withdrawal for me,' intelligent-design trial judge says



Friday, November 18, 2005 BY BILL SULON Of The Patriot-News

When a diagram of a bacterial flagellum, shown repeatedly during the trial, appeared again on a courtroom screen near the end of the case, he said with deadpan wit, "We've seen that." He evoked laughter moments later when he noted that an offspring to the discussion could be called "son of flagellum."

In the final minutes of the trial, when a school board lawyer noted the biblical irony of the case drawing to a close on the 40th night of the 40th day, Jones assured him that the timing was coincidental and "not by design," prompting the spectators to burst into laughter, then applause.

"That just popped into my head," Jones said. "As I said it, I thought, 'this might be the perfect way to end this trial.'"

On rare occasions, Jones showed displeasure with what he was hearing from lawyers and witnesses.

"Don't insult my intelligence," he snapped at district lawyer Robert Muise when Muise suggested that a published article that was complimentary to one of his witnesses be admitted as evidence after arguing earlier against the admission of newspaper articles that he viewed as negative to the district.

Jones directed most of his anger and incredulity at school board member Alan Bonsell, who, under intense questioning from the judge, acknowledged he "misspoke" when he failed to fully answer questions from lawyers about how money was raised to buy a pro-intelligent design textbook, "Of Pandas and People."

"We had a couple of dustups," Jones said. He declined to comment when asked if Bonsell or others in the case would be charged with perjury.

Setting the tone:

Those few altercations aside, Jones said he was pleased with how well he and the lawyers got along during the trial.

"I've seen judges melt down and blow a gasket, and I've seen lawyers get to the point where they won't even talk to each other after a trial," Jones said. "A good judge sets the tone."

Lawyers from both sides praised Jones, a former state Liquor Control Board chairman who was nominated to the bench by President Bush and unanimously approved by the Senate.

"He was very fair to both sides," said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, which defended the district.

"I couldn't think of a better judge to spend six weeks in the courtroom with," said Witold Walczak, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented 11 parents opposed to the Dover policy. "The judge very much set the tone."

Jones said spectators and the media might have missed what he thought was a humorous part of the trial -- when he traded subtle glances with lawyers from both sides after certain witnesses testified at length about their particular field of expertise.

"I think there were times during the trial when scientific experts were on the stand, and they launched into really complicated testimony -- to the point where they became enraptured with a concept -- I would exchange brief knowing looks with attorneys from both sides," Jones said with a smile.

With those exchanges, Jones said, the lawyers knew it was time to step in with a new question.

Reading the papers:

Jones said he kept up with the media's coverage of the trial and found it to be "abundantly fair." He said he reads five newspapers a day -- his hometown paper, the Pottstown Mercury; the Wall Street Journal; The Patriot-News; the Philadelphia Inquirer; and USA Today. On Sundays, he adds The New York Times to his lineup.

Jones said his affinity for newspapers took root when he attended Mercersburg Academy, a preparatory school, where he worked as a sports editor and wrote a column called "Sideline Slants." He considered becoming a journalist before his interests turned to law.

Jones said other judges were critical of his decision to grant interviews with the media during the trial but he has no apologies for making himself accessible.

"I make sure never to discuss the merits of the case," he said. "The taxpayers pay our salaries. I'm trying to ratchet down the mystique of what we do. We should not give the impression of being holed up in an ivory tower, accountable to no one."

Keeping focus:

Jones, 50, said he maintains his energy through sometimes redundant testimony -- and through middle age -- by religiously exercising six times a week. Each weekday during the trial, he woke at 4:40 a.m., worked out on a treadmill, with free weights or with an elliptical trainer, and then drove an hour to Harrisburg to hear the case.

"Working out helps keep me focused," he said. "It clears my mind and gives me stamina. You need to stay on top of your game."

The judge said he could not help but notice the constant reminders that he was presiding over a significant case.

He saw the line of television trucks outside the courthouse and took note of the nearly 50 reporters, some from as far away as Italy, London and Germany, who covered the case. He noticed that one of the journalists was Matthew Chapman, a Hollywood screenwriter who covered the trial for Harper's magazine.

Chapman also is the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, whose research on evolution and random natural selection 150 years ago remains the bedrock of mainstream science today. Much of the district's case focused on criticism of Darwin's work.

Asked about Chapman's presence in his court, Jones said, "I think that added to the surreal atmosphere of this case."

BILL SULON: 255-8144 or bsulon@patriot-news.com

©2005 The Patriot-News © 2005 PennLive.com

Rethinking My Views on Intelligent Design


I've already applauded the Kansas Board of Education for their recent decision to teach intelligent design. Thanks to their innovative approach to teaching science, we no longer have to fear that our children will be taught heretical ideas like the earth revolving around the sun or that seafaring dinosaurs weren't created on the fifth day.

I felt that I was alone in my beliefs until I ran into the website of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster today. Like me, they strongly believe in teaching intelligent design theory. In an open letter to the Kansas School Board, they write:

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

They even provide scientific evidence to back their claims:

What these people don't understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

I've learned a lot since visiting their website. In addition to finally understanding how the world was really created, I also now know that "global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s."

I'd like to take this time to thank the brave people in each and every school system which has closed the door to scientific methodology. It is truly refreshing to be free of the burden of free thinking, objective reasoning and empiricism.

Update by Stephen VanDyke: As long as we're talking about funny creationism being taught, don't miss out on the Genesis Creation Museum. You'll learn that the T. Rex chased Adam and Eve out of Eden and see how children naivelly played with dinosaurs under a waterfall (and were quickly eaten, which is why they never made drawings or tools from dino bones).

Letter: Proof of intelligent design exists


Friday, 11/18/05

To the Editor:

In a featured article in the latest issue of Time magazine, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in physics, Eric Cornell, spoke out forcefully and self-assuredly against the scientific worth of intelligent design, the idea that the natural world, or any part of it, was deliberately made the way we find it today.

Many readers of this paper, secure in the faith that God created the world, may not care whether scientists are smart enough to know it. On the other hand, those who believe, as Dr. Cornell and many other scientists do, that intelligent design is a religious idea masquerading as science, will applaud him for speaking out "in defense of science." Nobody wants students in science classes confused by presenting religious beliefs as science.

Unfortunately, the idea that intelligent design is religious faith in disguise is simply wrong. It appeals to those with such faith, because it assures them their faith is in fact independently supportable by science. But when they intrude with their beliefs upon the scientific arguments for or against intelligent design, the faithful are as wrong as the scientists who dogmatically oppose it; Pat Robertson embarrassed and enraged many when he practically cursed Dover PA for voting out the school board members who inserted a statement in favor of design into their teaching requirements.

Pat Robertson and Eric Cornell--both readily given national exposure for their beliefs--are both wrong, and for the same reason: Intelligent design is not about "evoking the will of God" (Dr. Cornell's words) for a scientific explanation. Intelligent design is about the fact that one can today determine, scientifically, that the world was largely designed.

The real news is that this is possible because there is not merely a single, one-time design of everything in the world. Whatever you may believe about an original Creation of All, the fact is that there was, less than twenty thousand years ago, a deliberate redesign. According to the scientific evidence--of which mainstream scientists like Dr. Cornell are ignorant, and disdaining to learn--not only the Earth but the entire solar system was remade.

Mainstream scientists honestly think they are defending science against misleading religious dogma. They are themselves incompetent, and misleading, in their attacks upon intelligent design. They would soon learn this, if they would discriminate between actual religious dogmatists like Pat Robertson, and scientists with evidence in favor of design.

They complain that there are no articles showing evidence for design in the peer-reviewed literature, but that is because such articles are not allowed, by official fiat. Readers need to know that is simply an incompetent stand for a scientist to take: You may not be able to prove God, but you can demonstrate design of the world. I know. I've done it. And I am being suppressed, denied the opportunity to contribute knowledge that would stop the current war of words over design, and show how intelligent design can - and must (if you want students to learn the truth)- be presented in science class.

Dale Huffman


Man haunted by sex-hungry ghost seeks medium's help


Saturday November 19, 2005

A MAN sought the help of a medium after he got tired of a female ghost who wanted to have sex with him every night for the last 16 years, China Press reported.

The 34-year-old man from Kuala Lumpur, known only as Kelvin, said he felt very tired every night as the long-haired ghost would lure him into making love with her by appearing in different images.

"I have been having bad luck since she appeared in my dream. I have not been able to get married although I have had five girlfriends.

"My employers fired me because I could not concentrate on my work," Kevin said, adding that he had changed jobs at least 10 times.

Kelvin said his nightmare began when he was 18. He believed that the ghost had attached itself to him when he was at a research institute in Kepong.

When he sought help from a medium, Kelvin was told the ghost was that of a woman who committed suicide after a failed love 30 years ago.

A netherworld "wedding" ceremony was held and the medium burnt three paper dolls – representing the bridegroom, a driver and a maid, to accompany the ghost, the newspaper reported.

The medium also announced during the ceremony that the driver would receive a monthly salary of RM1,000 and the maid, RM800.

Sin Chew Daily reported that a group of people had set up a "lazy-man village" in a rural area in Guang Zhou where they could enjoy a relaxed lifestyle every day.

The group comprised those who did not want to face competition in work; had no interest in earning more money; and did not want to be hardworking.

The village, which now has nine families, came out with a set of rules on working together to farm and to rear livestock for food.

Penguins, the backdoor strategy


A political take on intelligent design

Soek-Fang Sim Contributing Writer

A specter is haunting America - the specter of intelligent design. Intelligent design proponents believe that life on earth is too complex to have arisen through evolution only and suggest that a higher power is responsible. Opponents dismiss it as religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. Is intelligent design just another scientific debate or is it something more? I believe it is a political project to introduce conservative values into public life and to do so not by winning the science debate but through mobilizing mass support.

If this had been another scientific debate about the true origins of mankind, it would not have fired the public's imagination. Scientists are used to being challenged and understand better than anyone else that science is not about finding out the truth but finding the best interpretation of available data. For the rest of us, what does it matter whether we arrived at our present human form solely through evolution or through a combination of evolution and intelligent design? What does it matter whether our evolution has been accidental or painstakingly planned?

The debate matters because the real arena of battle is not science but popular imagination. My worry is not that it will win the science debate but that it will drum up enough mass support to exert political pressures on schools and other institutions to admit conservative ideologies. Penguins, or specifically the documentary "The March of the Penguins," enter the picture here as the pop culture icon that intelligent design use to market it self to the masses.

But why do conservatives bother to drum up mass support? Aren't they already in power? The issue is, President Bush has the power to declare war but he does not have the political currency to change science curriculum or introduce moral values into schools. Because conservatives cannot win elite support for their moral agenda, they have to take the mass route.

If there is a ready mass, how are they to be mobilized? The film "The March of the Penguins" offers a handy solution. Our society today is one where images exert an inordinate amount of power. The abuses at Abu-Gharib would never have created the same political intensity without the images. And even though journalists had been telling us about hunger in Ethiopia for a long time, it was not until they showed us images that the world reacted. "The March of the Penguins" provides the same powerful tools to capture public imagination. The film follows the breeding behavior of emperor penguins and documents their long journeys in austere temperatures (at 70 degrees below zero). For the religious right, penguins exemplify self-sacrifice, marital fidelity and steadfast parenting in childrearing and are upheld as evidence of intelligent design.

It is important to keep both battles within our field of vision. If the battle is only a scientific one, intelligent design would not stand a chance. So far, the maximum damage it has done is to point out gaps in evolution theory. It has not been able to offer a genuine alternative.

However, as a political battle, there are already signs of success. The documentary is touted as the first movie (since the Passion of Christ) that conservative masses actually enjoy watching and, since its first screening in June, has become the second highest grossing documentary of all time (behind Fahrenheit 9/11). There are also ample signs of bottom-up pressures exerted by conservative masses on liberal strongholds: from parental demands for intelligent design to be included in school curriculum to the organization of biblically correct tours to natural history and science museums.

If intelligent design wins the political battle, it may actually begin winning the science battle in the long term. If parents succeed in pressuring school boards to introduce intelligent design into the science curriculum, the next generation will have less respect for scientific claims and see it just another relativistic, ideological (secular) interpretation of nature.

I do not care who wins the science battle and have no vested interest in evolution or intelligent design - if intelligent design is guilty of trying to transmit conservative values, evolution theory is equally guilty of justifying racism and colonialism. What I do care about is that this battle is won not through scientific argumentation but through mass mobilization.

*The documentary "The March of the Penguins" will be screened on 22 November at 7pm at the JBD lecture hall, followed by a panel discussion. This event is co-sponsored by Biology, Religious Studies, Political Science and Humanities, Media and Cultural Studies. All are welcomed.

Professor Sim is an Assistant Professor in International Studies. She wishes to thank students in her class, "Pop Culture and National Identity: Examining the Nation-State's Incursion into Everyday Life" (INTL 358) for the inspiring and thought-provoking discussions on intelligent design.

Why Fight Over Intelligent Design?


Friday, November 18, 2005 By Andrew J. Coulson

Supporters of the theory of human origins known as "intelligent design" want it taught alongside the theory of evolution. Opponents will do anything to keep it out of science classrooms. The disagreement is clear.

But why does everyone assume that we must settle it through an ideological death-match in the town square?

Intelligent design contends that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved naturally, and so must be the product of an unspecified intelligent designer. Most adherents of this idea would undoubtedly be happy just to have it taught to their own children, and most of my fellow evolutionists presumably believe they should have that right. So why are we fighting?

We're fighting because the institution of public schooling forces us to, by permitting only one government-sanctioned explanation of human origins. The only way for one side to have its views reflected in the official curriculum is at the expense of the other side.

This manufactured conflict serves no public good. After all, does it really matter if some Americans believe intelligent design is a valid scientific theory while others see it as a Lamb of God in sheep's clothing? Surely not. While there are certainly issues on which consensus is key — respect for the rule of law and the rights of fellow citizens, tolerance of differing viewpoints, etc. — the origin of species is not one of them.

The sad truth is that state-run schooling has created a multitude of similarly pointless battles. Nothing is gained, for instance, by compelling conformity on school prayer, random drug testing, the set of religious holidays that are worth observing, or the most appropriate forms of sex education.

Not only are these conflicts unnecessary, they are socially corrosive. Every time we fight over the official government curriculum, it breeds more resentment and animosity within our communities. These public-schooling-induced battles have done much to inflame tensions between Red and Blue America.

But while Americans bicker incessantly over pedagogical teachings, we seldom fight over theological ones. The difference, of course, is that the Bill of Rights precludes the establishment of an official religion. Our founding fathers were prescient in calling for the separation of church and state, but failed to foresee the dire social consequences of entangling education and state. Those consequences are now all too apparent.

Fortunately, there is a way to end the cycle of educational violence: parental choice. Why not reorganize our schools so that parents can easily get the sort of education they value for their own children without having to force it on their neighbors?

Doing so would not be difficult. A combination of tax relief for middle income families and financial assistance for low-income families would give everyone access to the independent education marketplace. A few strokes of the legislative pen could thus bring peace along the entire "education front" of America's culture war.

But let's be honest. At least a few Americans see our recurrent battles over the government curriculum as a price worth paying. Even in the "land of the free," there is a temptation to seize the apparatus of state schooling and use it to proselytize our neighbors with our own ideas or beliefs.

In addition to being socially divisive and utterly incompatible with American ideals, such propagandizing is also ineffectual. After generations in which evolution has been public schooling's sole explanation of human origins, only a third of Americans consider it a theory well-supported by scientific evidence. By contrast, 51 percent of Americans believe "God created human beings in their present form."

These findings should give pause not only to evolutionists but to supporters of intelligent design as well. After all, if public schooling has made such a hash of teaching evolution, why expect it to do any better with I.D.?

Admittedly, the promotion of social harmony is an unusual justification for replacing public schools with parent-driven education markets. Most arguments for parental choice rest on the private sector's superior academic performance or cost-effectiveness. But when you stop and think about it, doesn't the combination of these advantages suggest that free markets would be a far more intelligent design for American education?

Andrew J. Coulson is director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.

Copyright © 2005 Imaginova Corp.

Creationism debate turns to Grand Canyon


Saturday, 11/19/05



A couple of years ago, I made a trip to Grand Canyon to get away from it all, only to find there's no getting away.

The nation's most famous nature spot has become ground zero for the nation's fiercest cultural dust-up, the evolution-creationism debate. Soon after my visit, some plaques at an observation point, featuring verses from the Psalms that declare the majesty of God, got caught in the crossfire. They were ordered removed, but a pro-Bible furor got them reinstated, for now.

Every week, the awesome hole in the ground is subject to new controversy. The long-established age of the Grand Canyon, an estimated 2 billion years (with millions of years of erosion), is under attack by creationists who say the numbers are based on scientific prejudice.

A book by creationist author Tom Vail, Grand Canyon: A Different View, a popular purchase in the park gift shops, is under attack as irresponsible science. The book argues the canyon is only about 4,500 years old, the sudden result of Noah's flood in the Book of Genesis.

Is Grand Canyon a faith-based theme park that proves Young-Earth theories of biblical glory, or is it a 2-billion-year-old graveyard for creationist wishful thinking? Other nations seem to lack the talent for transforming their innocent natural wonders into high-anxiety spiritual battlegrounds. But then they have no Grand Canyon, with the scale and beauty to inspire such operatic conflicts.

My Grand Canyon encounter gave me a different take on the evolution-creation question. A bracing look into its depths, I discovered, delivers a blow to both sides.

During a daylong mule ride deep into the canyon, I went face to face with the ultimate power of the place — its silence, a silence deeper than I'd ever known, a pre-historic, pre-human quiet. That's when it hit me: In the creation-evolution debate, each side feels insulted by the opponent for secretly egotistical reasons of their own.

For example, what if the Grand Canyon is 4,500 years old? If so, then the Earth scientists are sunk. There's nothing left for them to figure out. The storyline of creation is taken out of their hands. The adventure is done. The Bible takes over. There's no great urgency to learning the details of Earth and sky, even though the Grand Canyon is 217 miles long, a mile deep and in some places 18 miles wide. Asked where God fit into his theories of the solar system, 19th century mathematician Laplace answered, "I have no need of that hypothesis." That famous boast is rendered nil.

But what if the Grand Canyon really is a couple of billion years old, on a planet 4.5 billion years of age? Then the geologic facts are an embarrassment to the religious ego: God didn't need humans for billions of years. God's vast time line knocks humans off center stage. The story of human salvation, in the scale of eons, becomes a late entry, merely thousands of years old, not millions. Four billion years of human silence — it's unimaginable, and intolerable. It means God did without us. We weren't needed, not yet. God was preoccupied or entertained otherwise, perhaps by the caw of the raven or the sharp red sunrises off the mesas.

After an exhilarating morning's mule ride half-way down into the canyon, we stopped for a box lunch on a long flat rock. A visitor showed up, a huge condor, who circled warily but kept peace with the deep quiet, as if continuing a vigil millions of years old. The Grand Canyon stillness is unnerving to gregarious humanity, but it is detoxifying, too. It offered a break from the world's bad news. It was the opposite of human explanations, excuses and hatreds.

One disputed Psalms plaque says: "All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You; they will sing praises to Your name" (Psalm 66:4). To the believer, this should hold true whether it's proclaimed in a four-minute church hymn or in canyon silence unbroken for nearly 5 billion years.

Students, parents fret as Kansas' new science standards take root


Posted on Sat, Nov. 19, 2005


Associated Press

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - With a 4.1 GPA and recognition from the National Honor Society, Sonia Arora is exceeding Blue Valley West High School's high expectations for the junior class. Her school, which looks out on the green-grey pastures and beige townhouses that ring Kansas City, regularly sends its graduates to some of the nation's most selective colleges.

But since the State Board of Education voted last week that public schools should treat evolution as a flawed scientific theory, Arora has started worrying that going to high school in Kansas could be a liability when she applies to college next fall.

"I can separate science and religion just fine. I mean, I'm Hindu and we have our own creation story. I believe in evolution, too," said Arora, 16, who dreams of pursuing a science degree at University of California, Berkeley. "It's just that now I don't know if colleges will think I know the difference."

On Nov. 8, Kansas became the only state to adopt educational standards that challenge key aspects of evolutionary theory. And at a time when the definition of science is being debated in classrooms and courtrooms across the country, parents and teachers are struggling to understand the decision's long-term effect on Kansas school children.

"There simply is no precedent for having something this controversial be approved at a state level," said Kathy Christie, a spokeswoman at the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit that advises politicians about education policy. "My guess is it will have far more implications for Kansas becoming a laughingstock. I'm just not sure every teacher will implement the standards with fidelity."

The new guidelines, which were in part drafted by advocates of intelligent design, defy mainstream science's view of evolution as well-established and instead express doubt about evolutionary theory.

For advocates of intelligent design, that signifies a major step toward broadening scientific debate.

"It's very clear that what they're including is the scientific criticism of Darwinian evolution," said Robert Crowther, spokesman for Center for Science and Culture, a program of Seattle's Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research. "We think this is a good outcome because students will learn more about evolution, not less."

What this means for Sonia Arora's college plans, however, is uncertain.

The board will take the next two years to rewrite state achievement tests for students, replacing ones treating evolution as a universally accepted theory. Then, in 2008, school districts will evaluate whether their lesson plans should be tailored to include alternative theories, something scientists worry could open the door to the teaching of creationism, which was banned from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pro-evolution advocates have vowed they will elect school board members next year who could undo the recent vote before the new standards can influence student tests.

But Robert Hemenway, Chancellor of the University of Kansas, said that's not soon enough.

"People all across the world are questioning whether Kansas has a true commitment to scientific methods and basic modern biology. It has already made it more difficult to recruit faculty and top graduate students to our biological science programs," Hemenway said. "What the board has done is impose its religious beliefs on schoolchildren."

A few miles from Arora's high school, a group of rambunctious preteens from the Johnson County Christian Church's youth group was debating that question, too.

Mekahla Peterson, 12, said she wanted her classmates to learn more about intelligent design because she thought it would prevent fights.

Peterson, who said she walked out of her sex education class last year because the other fifth graders weren't mature enough to discuss the topic, shares her family's view that the new standards will teach her "both sides of the issue."

"Mekahla will be more prepared than students who only learn evolution," said her mother, Michelle Peterson. "She can go anywhere she likes for college, but I would be very disappointed if she wanted to go to such a liberal school as U.C. Berkeley."

Craig Martin, chairman of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Kansas, said in recent years he has noticed that more students are questioning the factual evidence behind evolutionary theory. While he is heartened by the pointed intellectual discussions, the debates prompted him to change the way he teaches.

"With the new standards, we're going to have to work harder to undo the damage that's been done," he said. "The undergrads are coming in with biased and improper backgrounds."

Overall, college admissions officers suggest the board's decision won't work against Kansas students. Those with top-flight grades and high ACT or SAT scores stand a good chance at cracking good schools, regardless of the evolution controversy.

"While colleges may have preferences for what students do, we have to live within what their schools offer," said Nanette Tarbouni, the director of admissions at Washington University in St. Louis. "We're not going penalize a student because they're from Kansas."

But for students like Arora, who dreams of going to Berkeley, it remains to be seen how the University of California's guidelines for what constitutes a college prep science class will view a Kansas education.

In August, the Association of Christian Schools International, which represents 800 Christian schools, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the UC system. The plaintiffs claim that the university violated the schools' constitutional rights by deciding their courses weren't college prep material, thereby discriminating against their students in the admission process.

"It's an issue of making sure that if students are going to take a science course, it needs to be at least comprehensive enough so they're learning material generally accepted in the scientific community," said Ravi Poorsina, a spokeswoman for the UC system. "We aren't trying to limit the scope or breadth of material that is being taught."

That hard work will fall to individual Kansas school districts, which are free to apply the guidelines as they see fit.

Jacque Feist, a high school principal in Dodge City in southwest Kansas, said she didn't think the new guidelines would prompt her district to make any "major changes" to the content of science classes.

And until the new assessment test is introduced in spring 2008, Arora's district will keep its current science curriculum.

"I'm glad I took biology already," said Arora, swiveling on her chair in her advanced placement biology classroom. "I lucked out."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

No disputes evolving yet on state standards


Friday, November 18, 2005

By Bob Holliday bholliday@pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON -- Twin City education experts don't know whether the Kansas controversy over teaching evolution in public schools will spread to Illinois.

"Only God knows," said Becky Shamess, administrator of Cornerstone Christian Academy in Bloomington, where students learn biblical creationism and hear evolution as theory.

The Kansas state school board recently approved public school science standards that cast doubt on the scientific process. The standards, effective in two years, open the door for alternative explanations for life.

Illinois state standards include the study of evolution.

Robert Bradley, a professor in the department of politics and government at Illinois State University, is troubled by the change in Kansas.

There's an important difference between a personal religious belief and "basically forcing it to be taught in a public school curriculum," he said.

David E. Smith, senior policy analyst with the Illinois Family Institute in northern Illinois, favors the Kansas action. But he doubts anything similar will happen in Illinois, at least in the near future.

"In this political climate, there's a minor chance of that happening," Smith said.

The Kansas decision was viewed as a victory for "intelligent design" advocates, but critics argued it was an attempt to inject God and creationism into public schools, violating the separation of church and state.

Intelligent design holds the universe as so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.

"I think the school board sees it as a way to sneak religion in," said Christopher Horvath, an associate professor of philosophy and biological sciences at ISU. "The overall problem is trying to mix religion and public education."

While discussion about intelligent design might be appropriate in social science classes, it's not appropriate in science classes, Horvath said.

He's heard of no attempt to bring the Kansas model here and neither has Alan Chapman, superintendent of Normal-based Unit 5 schools.

Ed Yohnka, communications director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the action in Kansas is an attempt "to open the door to creation sciences in classrooms" in violation of a constitutional prohibition against establishment of a state religion.

McLean County resident Jack Porter, vice chairman of the steering committee of the Central Illinois Chapter of the ACLU, will be watching closely as well.

"I'm a person of faith, but I don't expect that to be part of a science class," Porter said.

Crusade for the classroom


November 19, 2005

As intelligent design sweeps America, a court will rule for the first time whether it is science or religion; with profound impacts for education, writes Michael Gawenda.

IT WAS meant to be a regular monthly meeting of the Dover School Board, which oversees the small southern Pennsylvania town's high school, several local primary schools and a handful of preschools, in all about 2800 students.

In a town of about 16,000 people, most employed in local businesses serving the corn, soy and tobacco farms of the area, there are about 16 churches, most of them conservative evangelical denominations.

Last November, while Pennsylvania went to Democratic Party candidate John Kerry by a margin of about 10 per cent, Dover was overwhelmingly Bush country, an example of the Republican Party's conservative base, which many observers believe delivered George Bush his second term.

One small item on the board's agenda was the need for a new set of biology textbooks for the year nine science class at the high school. Most board members expected approval without debate for the purchase of the textbook the school had used for several years which, in one chapter, examined Darwin's theory of evolution. This chapter formed the basis of two half-hour lessons in the year-long biology course.

What happened next is unclear. After the meeting, most board members refused to answer calls from the media and most refused to respond to reporters from all over the world who, in the months after that board meeting in June, bailed them up on the streets of Dover.

What is clear is that the Dover School Board made a decision on that spring night in June which, six months later, led scores of US and overseas journalists to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, 35 kilometres north of Dover, to cover what was being billed as the 21st century's version of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

In 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, 24-year-old science teacher John Scopes challenged the state's law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in high schools and universities.

Scopes' challenge led to charges against him and to a court case which became a national and international sensation, and which in 1960 formed the basis of the movie Inherit The Wind with Spencer Tracy as the famous Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow, Frederic March as the populist lawyer and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and Anthony Perkins as Scopes.

In the movie, Bryan has a pyrrhic victory, having been ridiculed and exposed as a pre-enlightenment bigot by Darrow. Scopes receives a rap over the knuckles and the Tennessee laws forbidding the teaching of evolution were overturned, creationism was mocked and ridiculed, and science won a great victory.

At least that was godless Hollywood's view of the Scopes trial and aftermath.

According to historian Edward Larson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Summer of the Gods, his history of the Scopes trial, the millions of supporters of creationism did not see the Scopes affair as a defeat. "They withdrew from public debate because of the ridicule," he says. "But they did not abandon their faith. They set about constructing a separate subculture with independent religious, educational and social institutions."

Almost 80 years later at a press conference in Harrisburg last December, the gathered media were to hear from the theoretical heirs of both Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. And if opinion polls are to be believed, a majority of Americans are the heirs of Bryan: about 57 per cent believe humans were created by God in their present form; about 30 per cent support the theory that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced life forms. And 65 per cent said they approved of teaching creationism alongside evolution.

While it remains unclear exactly what happened at that Dover School Board meeting in June, this much is clear: The board voted to order its science teachers to read students a short statement that said evolution was a theory and not "fact" and that there were alternative scientific theories to Darwin, including intelligent design.

It was this decision by the nine-member education board in a small Pennsylvanian town that led to this widely reported press conference in Harrisburg. Surrounded by television cameras and reporters, Witold Walczak, head of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, announced the ACLU would fund a court challenge to the education board's decision on behalf of 11 Dover high school parents. Some of the parents spoke briefly at the press conference, which was broadcast live by CNN.

Christy Rehm, a 31-year-old mother of four children, two of them at Dover High School, said she had been assured by her pastor that she was a "good Christian". "We just don't believe that intelligent design is science and we have faith in ourselves as parents that we can do a good job teaching our children about religion," she said.

None of the education board members attended the press conference, but a group of protesters with banners that read "the ACLU censors truth" and "the ACLU is a communist front" stood silently behind Mr Walczak.

Nine months later, in the Harrisburg District Court, the leading proponents of intelligent design and some of America's foremost evolutionary biologists gave evidence in a six-week trial that ended last week with Judge John Jones reserving his decision.

It attracted worldwide attention and came to be known as "Scopes 2". This was the first legal test of claims by the proponents of intelligent design that it is science rather than religion, and the outcome of the case could have a profound impact on what is taught in science classes across America.

Neither the 11 Dover parents nor the school board members will have to pay the millions in legal fees, with the ACLU funding the parents and the Chicago-based Thomas More Law Centre, which describes itself as "the sword and shield for people of faith", funding the school board.

During the trial, Rick Santorum, the conservative Republican senator from Pennsylvania — who some in the party see as a potential presidential candidate — came out strongly in support of the Dover school board, saying that if intelligent design was not included in science teaching standards "many students would be denied a first-rate science education and many will be left behind".

And when President Bush was asked whether intelligent design should be part of the science curriculum in US schools, he replied: "I think students should be exposed to all sides of the argument. Both sides should be taught."

The star witness for the school board at the Harrisburg trial was Michael Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is a Seattle-based conservative think-tank which, through its centre for the Renewal of Science and Culture, has been the main intellectual home and financial backer of intelligent design.

Professor Behe wrote Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, a major text for intelligent design supporters. Contacted by phone, he sounds like a softly spoken scientist interested only in open scientific debate and frustrated that leading evolutionists are not prepared to debate him in open forums. "We are not close-minded," he says. "We welcome debate and robust questioning. That is all we ask."

But Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Science Education, says scientists are not prepared to debate Professor Behe or any other intelligent design supporters because intelligent design is not a scientific theory. "It's another way of saying God did it," she says. "It isn't a model of change. It isn't a theory that makes testable claims. There is no real scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is the major mechanism. There are scores of scientists of faith who accept that."

In the culture wars, intelligent design has become the weapon of choice of the conservative religious right in their quest to defeat the forces of secularism and the godless scientific materialism of Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection.

In essence, the proponents of intelligent design argue that the natural world is so complex and so intricate that it cannot be explained by evolution and that it is clear that the only rational explanation for the shape of the world and all its complexity is a process of conscious, intelligent design.

The small group of scientists which propagates intelligent design does not speak of creationism, god, genesis or faith, and some say they accept that evolution played a part in the "intelligent designer's" work. They argue that just who or what is the "designer" is not a question that science can answer. They insist intelligent design is science and not a matter of faith, it's a scientific theory just as evolution is a scientific theory.

Intelligent design was taken up by the religious right after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that the teaching of creationism in public schools was unconstitutional given that it was not science, but religion, a matter of faith, and so contravened the constitutional ban on teaching religion in public schools. Intelligent design, its proponents argued, was not creationism and so was not covered by the Supreme Court decision.

For the past five years across America, the proponents of intelligent design and their backers have waged a fierce campaign to get it accepted as a scientific theory. They have campaigned at local school board level, lobbied state legislatures and even members of Congress. There are moves in more than 40 states to include intelligent design in high school science classes.

This week, the state Board of Education in Kansas voted to rewrite science teaching standards so that students will be offered intelligent design as an alternative scientific theory to evolution. This reverses a school board decision in 2003 to reject its teaching in science classes which, in turn, reversed a 1999 decision to teach it alongside evolution.

Just what all this chopping and changing has meant for Kansas science teachers, and 14-year-old high school students, is not known but Eugenie Scott says the teaching of science in America is in turmoil because of the assault on evolution by the proponents of intelligent design. The acting president of Cornell University, Hunter Rowlings, says the dispute between the vast majority of scientists and the proponents of intelligent design, most of whom are not scientists, is "widening the political, social, religious and philosophical rifts in US society".

A decision in the Dover School Board trial is expected in late December or early January. Both sides of this increasingly bitter debate, which is not really about science but about values, are impatiently waiting for Judge John Jones' ruling. Will he rule that intelligent design is just creationism dressed up as scientific theory or will he support the Bush view that this case is about "teaching both sides" of a debate between competing scientific theories?

We'll know soon enough. Meanwhile, last week, in an election for the Dover School Board, the eight members of the board who voted to force teachers to read that four-paragraph statement about intelligent design to their students were voted off it. They were replaced by people who wanted Dover high school science classes to ignore intelligent design.

Dry town deluged after desperate prayers for rain


By Richard Macey November 19, 2005

Six months ago the 1500 residents of Coolamon, 41 kilometres north-west of Wagga Wagga, faced the driest spell in memory.

After four years of drought the land was brown and dusty. Dams were empty, crops had failed and farmers were carting water and feeding stock by hand.

Refusing to be beaten, the residents took matters into their own hands. On June 4 they closed Cowabbie Street, Coolamon's main road, to stage the Drought-Breakin' Rain-Makin' Festival.

The Riverina Concert Band struck up a tune, Lions and Rotary chipped in with free food and the residents prayed.

"It was time to do something to lift the spirits," recalled an organiser and local businesswoman, Nicole Lucas. "A lot of farmers were affected by depression. There were about six suicides in the district."

No one knows if it was the praying, the town's willpower or just a coincidence, but a few days later it started raining. Coolamon had turned the corner.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the town should have expected 196 millimetres of rain in the first five months of the year. By June 1, only 86 had fallen. But during the second five months of this year the town was soaked by 320 millimetres, much more than the long-term average of 234.

"It's been a miracle," said the Mayor of Coolamon, Robert Menzies. "Up to June it was like a dust bowl. After four years of drought you started to wonder if things will change."

Now many farmers are preparing for their first worthwhile harvest in three years.

But recovery will take time. At the drought's peak, noted Wendy Jennings, who runs a farm with her husband, Stuart, canola crops were producing as little as 0.6 tonnes a hectare, compared with expectations of two tonnes. "It will take another five or six years to get back on top," she said.

Alan Brown, of the NSW Farmers Association, warned: "There isn't a crop in the bank yet." However, he agreed there was a mood of "guarded optimism".

Peter Inch and his wife, Lee, have opened a coffee shop, one of several new Coolamon businesses to open in recent months.

"The town had definitely pepped up," Mr Inch said.

"Business has been good, probably better than we expected."

George Tokley, a builder, said his business was "absolutely booming", thanks to a trickle of people from as far as Sydney looking for country homes.

"We are more or less booked out until the middle of next year," he said. "People love country living, and things look very inviting here because it's so green," he explained.

The council's corporate services manager, Gerard Bradley, estimated 25 homes had been built in the past year and said a new 36-block subdivision was being developed. "We have already sold about 21."

Vatican Official Refutes Intelligent Design


By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer2
November 18, 2005

The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design" isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate in the United States.

The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

His comments were in line with his previous statements on "intelligent design" - whose supporters hold that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.

Proponents of intelligent design are seeking to get public schools in the United States to teach it as part of the science curriculum. Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism - a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation - camouflaged in scientific language, and they say it does not belong in science curriculum.

In a June article in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, Coyne reaffirmed God's role in creation, but said science explains the history of the universe.

"If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly."

Rather, he argued, God should be seen more as an encouraging parent.

"God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity," he wrote. "He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves."

The Vatican Observatory, which Coyne heads, is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI waded indirectly into the evolution debate by saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.

Questions about the Vatican's position on evolution were raised in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

In a New York Times column, Schoenborn seemed to back intelligent design and dismissed a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis." Schoenborn said the late pope's statement was "rather vague and unimportant."

Friday, November 18, 2005

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 18 Nov 05 Washington, DC

Last week WN commented on the spectacle of televangelist Robertson calling down the wrath of God on a bucolic village in Pennsylvania. Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, which wound up testimony two weeks ago, turns on the issue of whether Intelligent Design is a scientific theory, as its proponents insist, or religion in drag. Several WN readers noted that this influential Christian evangelist has demonstrated that ID is religion. If Kitzmiller is appealed, as seems likely, WN urges that Robertson be called to testify.

A front page story in Monday's Wall Street Journal describes the spread of college courses questioning evolution. The driving force is the Templeton Foundation, which provides start-up funding for guest speakers, library materials, research and conferences. Between 1994 and 2002 Templeton funded nearly 800 courses. Over a 3-year period Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State collected $58,000 http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn060305.html. ID should be taught in college, but it should not be confused with science.

Earlier today, the Rev. George Coyne, the director of the Vatican Observatory said that "intelligent design" is not science and does not belong in science classrooms. This seemed to put the chief astronomer firmly on the side of Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture and orthogonal to Austrian Cardinal Schoenborn http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn070805.html, and perhaps to Pope Benedict XVI, as we saw last week.

A one year study, backed by NIH, found that the weight-loss drug Merida is more than twice as effective if accompanied by a program of diet and exercise. Why am I not surprised? This is, after all the Physics Plan, first proposed in WN six years ago: "Burn more calories than you consume and we guarantee you will lose weight," http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN00/wn022500.html. It is the only weight-loss plan endorsed by the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.
Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org

Darwin, Intelligent Design, and Science Education Print Mail


AEI Newsletter Posted: Friday, November 18, 2005

December 2005 Newsletter
Publication Date: December 1, 2005

The battle over the teaching of evolution erupted anew last August when President Bush remarked that alongside evolution, schoolchildren should be taught about "intelligent design" (ID), which holds that an unseen but intelligent force is behind the complexity of humanity. The Kansas Board of Education recently voted to require that students learn about intelligent design, and a federal court in Pennsylvania is considering whether discussing the theory in science classes violates the separation of church and state. Participants at an October 21 AEI conference considered the educational and judicial implications of the latest science war.

Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute, the leading proponent of ID, argued that there are many gaps in evolutionary theory and that since Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species is "one long argument" against true design in nature, students could not fully understand evolution without being allowed to discuss design. Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller responded that ID is pseudo-science and that unlike natural selection, it could not be tested because it invokes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena.

Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, contended that a belief in God does not conflict with natural selection theory. He criticized suggestions that evolution is a "mere hypothesis" and should be taught as just one of many theories of human origins. In dissent from many neo-Darwinists, Father Coyne argued that the evolution of the universe is not simply an unguided process of random variation. He concluded, however, that intelligent design cannot help in this pursuit because science and religion are "separate human disputes that must be distinguished."

Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University said that no one should teach wrong science or religion in the guise of science and noted that calls by ID supporters to "teach the controversy" are disingenuous because there is no controversy among mainstream scientists about evolution. John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network denied that ID inserts religion into the classroom any more than does evolution and asserted that omitting alternatives to evolution harms students.

Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University suggested that ID proposes questions about "the completeness of science without God," which is a religious, not a scientific, question. He contended that the issue goes to the core importance of teaching the scientific method and critical thinking and that the basic tenets of science are under assault.

Panelists debated whether the teaching of intelligent design violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause separating church and state. Steven Gey of Florida State University cited the Supreme Court's rulings in Epperson v. Arkansas and in Edwards v. Aguillard, both of which prohibited teaching creationism based on religious content. "Any kind of statement that politically mandates the inclusion of religious ideas into a science class" would be considered unconstitutional, he said, contending that ID is essentially creationism stripped of any explicit mention of God or Genesis. Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center argued that ID is not creationism, and just because a scientific theory has religious implications does not make its teaching unconstitutional.

The Discovery Institute's Washington office director Mark Ryland advocated that "if you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory."

Physics News Update 754

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 754 November 16, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein HYPER-ENTANGLED PHOTON PAIRS. Physicists at the University of Illinois have demonstrated for the first time the entanglement of two objects not merely in one aspect of their quantum natures, such as spin, but in a multitude of ways. Entanglement is the quantum affinity between or among particles (such as atoms or photons) in which the measurement of some property for one particle automatically and instantaneously determines the corresponding property of the other particle. Take the case of two photons entangled with respect to polarization, the orientation of the electric field associated with the photon. The photons, until detected, have no spin orientation; this is the principle of quantum indeterminacy. Indeed, both photons are said to be in a superposition of arbitrary -- but parallel -- polarization states. Consequently, each photon has a 50% likelihood of being measured to have any polarization state---e.g., +45 or -45 degrees. If now one photon's polarization is measured to be +45, then its entangled twin will surely also be polarized along +45 owing to the way the photons are made in this setup. One of the chief hopes of entanglement research is to exploit the superposition idea and the entanglement idea for performing unusually fast quantum computation. In the Illinois experiment, two photons, produced in a "down-conversion" process whereby one photon enters an optical crystal and sunders into two lesser-energy correlated daughter photons, are entangled not just in terms of polarization, but also in a number of other ways: energy, momentum, and orbital angular momentum (see http://www.aip.org/pnu/2005/split/721-3.html). Actually, the photon pair can be produced in either of two crystals, and the uncertainty in the production details of the individual photons is what provides the ability to attain entanglement in all degrees of freedom. Is it better to entangle two particles in ten ways or ten particles in two ways? They're probably equivalent, says, Paul Kwiat, leader of the Illinois group, but for the purpose of quantum computing or communication it might be of some advantage if multiple quantum bits (or qubits) of information can be encoded in a single pair of entangled particles. Kwiat (217-333-9116, kwiat@uiuc.edu) says that his lab detects a record two million entangled photon pairs per second with ample determination of numerous properties, allowing a complete characterization of the entanglement produced. (Barreiro et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article)

NORTH PACIFIC "BOING" ATTRIBUTED TO MINKE WHALES. Human singers send their voice into the supporting medium of air. Whales send their songs into ocean water. One particular song, a sort of fluttering echo, or"boing," sound first heard by human listeners in the North Pacific Ocean in the 1950s (and recorded by US Navy submarines) baffled scientists. Where was it coming from? Only now have the sounds been identified as coming from minke whales. Shannon Rankin and Jay Barlow, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service in La Jolla, California, have gathered hydrophone data in the body of ocean between Mexico and Hawaii and combined this with visual sightings of the marine mammals. Not only has the source been traced to minke whales, but the songs seem to be somewhat different on either side of a certain longitude. To the east, the boing sound is issued at a frequency of about 92 Hz and an average duration of 3.6 seconds. The west boing, by contrast, consists of a 135-Hz vocalization with a duration of about 2.6 seconds. The acoustic trace is both frequency modulated (FM) and amplitude modulated (AM). (Journal of the Acoustical Society, November 2005; numerous whale sounds, including the boing, can be accessed at http://swfsc.nmfs.noaa.gov/PRD/PROGRAMS/CMMP/accsurv.html)

QUANTUM SOLVENT. Scientists at the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany have performed high-precision, ultracold chemical studies of nitrogen oxide (NO) molecules by inserting them into droplets of liquid helium (see figure at http://aip.org/png/2005/240.htm). NO, Science magazine's "molecule of the year"for 1992, is important because of its role in atmospheric chemistry and in signal transduction in biology. A radical is a molecular entity (sometimes charged and sometimes neutral) which enters into chemical reactions as a unit. To sharpen our understanding of this important molecule and its reactions, it would be desirable to cool it down, the better to observe its complex spectra of quantum levels corresponding to various vibrational and rotational states. In the new experiment, liquid helium is shot from a cold nozzle into vacuum. The resultant balls, each containing about 3000 atoms, are allowed to fall into a pipe where NO molecules are lurking. The NO is totally enveloped and, within its superfluid-helium cocoon at a temperature of about 0.4 K, it spins freely. The helium acts provides a cold environment but does not interact chemically with the NO molecules. Because of this a high-resolution infrared spectrum of NO in fluids could be recorded for the first time. NO has been observed before in the gas phase, but never before has such a high resolution spectrum be seen in the helium environment. (Haeften et al., Physical Review Letters, 18 November 2005; contact Martina Havenith, martina.havenith@ruhr-uni-bochum.de; lab website at http://www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/pc2/helium_short_en.html)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

AUTO-SUBSCRIPTION OR DELETION: By using the expression "subscribe physnews" in your e-mail message, you will have automatically added the address from which your message was sent to the distribution list for Physics News Update. If you use the "signoff physnews" expression in your e-mail message, the address in your message header will be deleted from the distribution list. Please send your message to:
(Leave the "Subject:" line blank.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Doubt Is Their Co-Pilot


More Americans are shunning traditional religions and turning to upstart faiths such as Universism, whose sole dogma is uncertainty.

By Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It takes a certain amount of audacity to found a religion.

Ford Vox does not look audacious.

A tall, slightly stooped medical student, Vox speaks in a mumble and rarely lifts his eyes. But if he lacks confidence, that only makes him all the more qualified to lead his flock because Vox, 28, has created a religion for people who know only that they know nothing.

Universists might believe in God, or might not. (Personally, Vox thinks he does.)

The only dogma they must accept is uncertainty.

Relinquishing any hope of cosmic truth, Universists worship by wondering how we got here, and why, and what lies ahead.

From his base here in the Bible Belt, Vox has built an online congregation of more than 8,000 in the last two years. They meet in cafes and living rooms across the nation; they join online chats with scientists and theologians; they find profundity in admitting their confusion.

"We want to rework religion from within," Vox said.

It is a surprisingly common impulse these days.

In vast numbers, Americans are turning away from traditional religions. They're not giving up on God, but they are casting aside the rituals and labels they grew up with.

Conventional churches still have enormous pull. There are more than 300,000 Protestant congregations in the United States, and mega-churches can easily attract 8,000 worshipers on any given Sunday.

But the number of Americans who claim no religion has more than doubled in a decade. More than 27 million adults — nearly one in seven — reject all religious labels, according to the City University of New York's respected American Religious Identification Survey.

Even among committed Christians, restlessness is growing. Pollster George Barna, who works for Christian ministries, estimates that 20 million Christians have largely forsaken their local church in favor of discussion groups with friends, Bible study with colleagues or spiritual questing online.

"They want less of a programmed process and more of a genuine relationship with God," said Barna, who describes the shift in his new book "Revolution."

Vox hopes to offer one possible path in Universism.

Instead of hierarchy and ritual, his religion offers rambling chats about the meaning of life. Instead of a holy text, members put their faith in the world around them, trying to figure out the universe by studying it.

The go-it-your-own-way philosophy at the heart of Universism troubles Douglas E. Cowan, an expert in emerging religions at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. As he put it: "One guy worshipping a potato in a hotel room in New Jersey is not a religion."

True religion, Cowan said, gives structure and meaning to people's lives and elevates them above the humdrum of their daily chores.

He can't quite see how uncertainty does the trick.

Universists respond that he's missing the point. They're trying to build a religion that lets people find their own structure and meaning. Universists know they're on their own in the great journey of life — but they take comfort in meeting every few weeks to talk through what they've discovered along the way.

"We need a social structure that doesn't involve other people telling us what to believe," said E. Frank Smith Jr., 61, an early convert.

Vox has felt that way since he was 14 and a camper at a Christian summer program.

One of his counselors specialized in picking out — and raging against — the sins alluded to in Top 40 songs. Vox found himself wondering why he should listen to the church when he really preferred listening to Chris Isaak.

That disillusionment grew, and by college Vox had turned away from the Presbyterian church his family attended in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But he wasn't ready to abandon religion altogether.

Vox believes that humans are hard-wired for faith, as some genetic and neurological research suggests.

Also, he was lonely.

Vox missed the sense of community he found in church — and the feeling of spiritual uplift. He could have joined a book club. But in his senior year of college, he had an epiphany. Hobbled by back pain so severe he sometimes lost the will to live, Vox vowed to give his existence meaning by founding what he dubbed "the world's first rational religion."

Vox spent the next two years exchanging e-mails with other lost souls who helped him sketch the outlines of Universism.

"What if there were a religion that does not presume to declare universal religious truths?" Vox wrote in an online manifesto. "What if there were a religion that demands no blind faith in prophets or their writings?"

Vox wrote tens of thousands of words about this new faith for the faithless. For a guy devoted to doubt, he sounded pretty sure of himself:

"Universism seeks to solve a problem that has riddled mankind throughout history: the endless string of people who claim that they know the Truth and the Way." His religion, he wrote, would "dispel the illusion of certainty that divides humanity into warring camps." It would unite the world.

"It wasn't arrogance," Vox said. "I'm not a guru. I just feel that a lot of the things people believe in, they should be a lot less certain about."

Skeptics point out that Vox demands certainty about his own concept of truth — namely, that it doesn't exist. Russell D. Moore, dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, dismisses Universism as a bleak "parody of a church."

He adds: "It's very hard to create a sense of community around a nonbelief."

Universism also faces competition in recruiting the faithless, as several secular groups have stepped up their public profiles this year.

The American Humanist Assn., which has 7,500 members, is running a national ad campaign to persuade the public that atheists can be ethical, even patriotic. The Secular Coalition for America hired its first lobbyist to promote the separation of church and state. The Brights, an atheist civil rights group, has signed up 18,000 members.

Vox supports those efforts, but he doubts atheists will ever win the masses. They're too political. They don't inspire wonder. And in much of America, they're viewed as vaguely disreputable.

That's where Universism has an edge, nonbeliever James Underdown said with a hint of envy.

"You can tell someone you're a Universist and they won't know what the heck that is, but at least you're not a dirty atheist," said Underdown, who directs the Center for Inquiry-West, a Los Angeles institute for freethinkers

Now in his final year at the University of Alabama Medical School, Vox became too busy to continue leading his movement. This fall, he turned Universism — and its $2,200 bank account — to his friend Todd Stricker, an office manager who until recently would have described his religion as "nothing."

"I make no claims to be a spiritual leader," said Stricker, 25. "I'm just good at organizing."

Stricker met Vox at a political rally two years ago, when he was new to Alabama and seeking a support system. After long discussions, he decided to try Universism. He now spends much of his free time at his computer, helping people start chapters.

There are Universist groups in San Diego and in Denton, Texas, in Salem, Ore., Columbus, Ohio, and Rochester, N.Y. The Los Angeles-Orange County group is holding a bonfire and "big questions" discussion on a Corona del Mar beach this Sunday.

"The process of ordination is just having a nice chat with me," Stricker said. Worship itself is just as informal.

Because Vox and Stricker disdain religious authority, they're reluctant to set rules, aside from a few meek suggestions that meetings start with a reading of a thought-provoking text ("or maybe a guitar version of 'Kumbaya,' " Stricker said).

On a recent evening, 22 members of the Birmingham congregation gathered in a lounge at the Safari Cup coffee shop with little agenda but to talk.

John Earwood, a 60-year-old architect, worked the crowd, trying to promote a word he had coined: "afideist," meaning without faith.

Buster George, 52, a nuclear engineer, introduced his teenage daughter Rachel. "It ought to be illegal to take anyone to church until they turn 18 and can think for themselves," she said by way of explaining her interest in Universism. Her dad beamed.

The room crackled with intense orations on God, creation and eternal life. But it's a bit hard for Universists to sustain a good debate. Defending your own view, after all, makes you sound as though you're sure you're right. And in a religion dedicated to uncertainty, no one wants to be accused of that.

So meetings can devolve into a series of provocative statements without retort.

After Vox called the group to order, the conversation swung from abstinence to Woody Allen, from existentialism to Terri Schiavo and then to the poverty exposed by Hurricane Katrina.

"People are poor because they don't want to work," one woman asserted.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"Well, sometimes," a young man said, diplomatically. The conversation veered into the war on drugs.

After a meandering hour, Stricker redirected the group by reading a passage from a Tom Robbins novel that struck him as hilariously insightful. No one had much comment, so they settled down to a guest lecture on Albert Schweitzer, the missionary physician who rejected much of his church's dogma but promoted an ethic of love he said came straight from Jesus.

Kathleen White sat on the edge of her seat, her face rapt. An accountant in Huntsville, Ala., White, 36, came across Universism while trolling online.

Though she still believes in God the creator, White rejects much of her church's teachings: "A lot of what I was taught doesn't have proof to back it up, like life after death and heaven and hell," she said. "I don't want to take that all on faith."

She drove two hours to commune with strangers she figured would understand her struggle. But as she listened to an inconclusive discussion of morality, the downside of Universism struck her.

"Do y'all have any firm beliefs about anything at all?" she asked.

"Our only firm belief is that we're uncertain about everything," Earwood replied.

White looked unsettled.

"I don't think it will be enough to keep me coming back," she said. "It's kind of frustrating."

Chinese medicine outlets probed

Scores of traditional Chinese medicine stores in Britain's high streets are being investigated for selling illegal medicines, the BBC has learned.

Radio Five Live has discovered that 67 outlets selling Chinese medicines are under suspicion.

It is estimated that 6,000 stores across the country offer treatment for conditions ranging from eczema to the menopause.

But the industry, although growing in popularity, is largely unregulated.

At the Herb Garden store in Leigh on Sea, Essex, an undercover reporter from the Five Live Report was two weeks ago sold a herbal slimming pill and told it contained rhubarb and honeysuckle.

Tests showed it contained fenfluarmine - an illegal pharmaceutical considered to be so dangerous that it is banned in most countries worldwide, including the UK.

The owner of the store, Anna Yang, was prosecuted earlier this year for illegally selling the same drug.

She was fined £30,000 with another £20,000 in court costs.

The maximum sentence for selling an illegal medicine is two years imprisonment.


The BBC reporter was also sold two other prescription-only drugs - Danthron - a specialist laxative which has cancer causing properties and is only recommended for use with terminally ill patients, and Sibutramine - prescribed in cases of extreme obesity.

Ms Yang said that she was concerned about the BBC's allegations.

She said she was reliant on assurances from suppliers as to the contents of the products and had been in touch with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

She added that the products had now been withdrawn from sale.

Danny Lee-Frost, head of enforcement at the MHRA, said: "There are huge amounts of money to be made in this area.

"The main motivation is money."

He said unscrupulous traders were putting patient's lives at risk.

The BBC has learned that several practitioners are currently facing prosecution, and another 63 stores are being investigated.

David Woods visited Ms Yang in 2000 for acupuncture on his painful knees.

He said: "She said I should lose a bit of weight and it would help my knees.

"She said she had these new pills, really good pills and would I like some? So I said yes.

"It ended up to be the equivalent of a class A drug."

Heart problems

Since taking fenfluarmine David Woods has had a permanently damaged heart.

"My heart used to slow down and speed up. I honestly thought I was dying. I have nothing to thank her for. Nothing."

Dr Karl Metcalfe, a consultant physician at Southend hospital said he has treated nine of Anna Yang's former patients but fears there may be more as some people may not have reported symptoms to their GPs.

"For a medically qualified person to be issuing these drugs would be reprehensible.

"For a non medically qualified person to be doing it is well very alarming and quite clearly criminal."

Kidneys removed

In a separate case, Sandi Stay, of Hove, had to have both her kidneys removed after taking Aristochlia, a cancer causing herb which is banned across the UK.

Mrs Stay said she went to a Chinese medicine store and was given the herb to treat her psoriasis.

In her case the store which she claims sold her the drug was found not guilty because the jury accepted the store had taken measures to ensure its medicines did not contain Aristochlia.

Dr Mark Thursz, a consultant physician at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington said he had seen a huge rise in the number of patients being referred to him with liver failure or hepatitis after taking Chinese herbal medicine.

He said: "Many people believe herbal remedies are safe, but they should be seen in the light as conventional remedies in that they can adverse reactions.

"When you get a box of pills you get a long list of potential side effects.

"You don't get that with herbal remedies because practitioners try to make you believe they are safe."

Under current regulations Chinese medics are treated as shop keepers rather than traders, so in the same way a butcher prosecuted for selling bad meat would be allowed to continue trading so are they.

Dr Jidong Wu, of the Association of Traditional Chinese medicine is calling for tighter regulation.

He said "dodgy and fake" practitioners were damaging the image of Chinese medicine. Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/health/4429414.stm

Published: 2005/11/13 00:08:09 GMT


Intelligent design: What are opponents fearing?


Staff column by Travis Dunlap

November 17, 2005

Last week, Kansas was the first state to allow local school boards the option of teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom as an alternate theory to macroevolution.

It has since been called the world's laughing stock. Many feel parents will now put pressure on local school boards to require the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution.

These same people also say that Intelligent Design is a step toward bringing God into the classroom, which they claim is a violation of the separation of church and state.

The teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools has been a controversy for quite some time now.

I am not surprised that emotions were flared up once again last week, and I do not know of any other topic that has been so widely controversial in the public education system here in America.

There are many different aspects of this debate.

Some arguments appeal to science itself. These arguments claim that any alternate to the teaching of macroevolution is not scientific, and therefore should not be taught in science classes.

Other arguments that certain people make appeal to political fairness. People who argue political fairness say that teaching alternate theories to macroevolution in order to explain the existence of the universe brings God into the teaching, and since this country is supposed to operate in such a way as to not favor any one religion, alternate theories to macroevolution cannot be taught.

Another issue involves the question of who decides what is taught in public schools. Some argue the government should decide; some argue parents should decide; some argue teachers should decide.

Here's my question: What are we afraid of?

If those who are against the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution in public schools were not afraid, they would not mind putting science against science in an objective search for truth within the public schools. They are afraid, however.

If those who are against the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution in public schools were not afraid, they would realize that Intelligent Design refers simply to an intelligent designer, not a specific god of any specific religion or philosophy. They are afraid, however. In fact, the teaching of Intelligent Design could actually provide for less governmental favoritism.

If those who are against the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution in public schools were not afraid, they wouldn't mind parents having more of a say in what their children are being taught in their own state's tax-supported public schools. They are afraid, however.

Maybe those who are against the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution in public schools are afraid that when science comes up against science, macroevolution just might not hold up. Weaknesses in the theory of macroevolution might become glaringly apparent.

These are weakness such as missing links (all "missing links" that have supposedly been "found" have since been revealed to be flukes), the inability to explain the development of whales and birds, the inability to explain the development of love, creativity, abstract thinking or the fact that you are at this second looking at abstract, yet intentionally complex arrangement of black ink on a page in order to somehow garnish a meaning.

Maybe those who are against the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution in public schools are afraid that when alternate theories are taught, they themselves might have to be responsible enough to decide for themselves which of multiple theories taught is right.

Maybe those who are against the teaching of alternate theories to macroevolution in public schools are afraid that if parents get more of a say in their child's education, we might end up actually teaching good morals and healthy decision making habits that would make you feel guilty.

I, however, really don't think that it is any of those fears. I am pretty sure that the one and only fear is that if alternate theories to macroevolution are taught, it just might suggest the slightest possibility that there is an all-powerful and just God to which one day we will all have to answer.

That is a scary thought. If I were in that situation, I'd be scared as well, but as it stands, I have already been reconciled to that all-powerful and just God. You can be as well.

— Travis Dunlap is a percussion performance sophomore. His column appears every other Thursday, and he can be reached at dailyopinion@ou.edu.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

New entries for SKEPTIC Bibliography (creationism)


The Evolution Hoax Exposed
A. N. Field
1971, Tan; 104p. (Original: Why Colleges Breed Communists, 1941)
creationism:defense, creationism:history

An old (1941) creationist book that is interesting primarily because it gives a British rather than US-based anti-evolutionary view, and because it illustrates how little the "debate" between creationists and scientists have changed. Field gives a little of everything: selected scientific quotations against evolution, accusations of fraud, proofs that evolution is nothing but anti- Christian ideology, etc. etc. An interesting historical document.


By Design: Science and the Search for God
Larry Witham
2003, Encounter; vii+248p.
creationism:defense, religion:defense

Witham, a journalist, argues that science and religion are coming closer together. This is happening, apprently, because scientists in many fields are finding suggestions of divine design in the universe: in cosmology, the complexity and evolution of life, explorations of the mind and brain, and attempts to explain human spiritual life. Witham focuses on two main ways religious scientists and theologians have been supporting intuitions of design. One is the softer, more liberal approach, which is characterized by institutions such as the Templeton Foundation that try and make room for religion in science by promoting spirit- friendly interpretations of science. The other is the harder-edged approach of intelligent design proponents, who demand a revolution in science by proposing to overturn Darwinian explanations. Witham's characterization of the current state of science is inaccurate at best; the intellectual currents he describes remain marginal to science. Nevertheless, bringing science and religion together in dialogue is an attractive enterprise now, finding much popular and wider cultural support. Witham's book is a valuable survey of the self- perception of religious scientists and theologians who believe they are making progress.


The Wedge Of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism

Phillip E. Johnson

2000, InterVarsity; 192p.
creationism:defense, religion:defense

Another Phillip Johnson book on intelligent design and the evils of naturalism. It includes some clear and valuable discussions of the main preoccupations of intelligent design: the nature of mind and of information as much as biological evolution. Johnson places intelligent design in an explicity religious context, presenting it as a device to destroy naturalism and its pernicious influence in intellectual life. This, also, helps make sense of intelligent design by clarifying the broader concerns that drive the intelligent design movement. So, even if it is scientifically just about worthless, this is a valuable book that skeptics can learn a lot from.


Darwin's Proof: The Triumph of Religion over Science
Cornelius G. Hunter
2003, Brazos; 168p.
creationism:defense, religion:defense

An interesting book that falls in between the intelligent design and straight-creationist genres of anti-evolutionary literature. Hunter presents what he thinks are potent scientific arguments against evolution; many of these are variations on typical anti-evolutionary themes, though he emphasizes the complexity of molecular biology, in keeping with the more recent intelligent design style. More interesting are Hunter's excursions into philosophical and theological reasons to oppose evolution and support creation, including the parts where he accuses evolutionists of strongly relying on bad theological arguments to support evolution. Hunter may be partially correct: popular arguments for evolution do rely too much on intuitions of "bad design" in order to bring creationism into question. Still, that is hardly a fatal flaw in evolutionary science.


Strange Creations: Aberrant Ideas of Human Origins from Ancient Astronauts to Aquatic Apes
Donna Koss
2001, Feral House; x+253p., illustrated
crankery, creationism, creationism:history, newage, religion, UFO

A fascinating book, covering strange views of human origins. Creationism and allied beliefs is one of its main themes, but Kossy also brings in ideas from the UFO subculture about alien interventions at the dawn of humanity, notions of human degeneration over time, racist theories of origins, eugenics, and the Urantia book. She even discusses the Elaine Morgan's "aquatic ape" theory as a scientifically weak but popular view. Kossy's approach is skeptical but lighthanded; the book is more an entertaining guided tour through various forms of weirdness than a quasi-academic analysis. Even seasoned skeptics will likely come across some new notions, and the less expert can get a good introduction of the subjects with useful pointers to more in-depth material.

[ All reviewed by Taner Edis, bibliographer@csicop.org ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

South Park Takes on Tom Cruise, Scientology in New Episode


By Josh Hart Nov 16, 2005

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone will use their vehicle of Comedy Central's 'South Park' to spoof Tom Cruise and Scientology in Wednesday night's episode. The episode is titled "Trapped in the Closet."

A tease on Comedy Central's website has a reporter standing outside a house in South Park, "A lot of people here are hoping Tom Cruise will just come out - we're still not exactly sure why Tom Cruise is in the closet…"

This may be brutal.

Radar Online goes deep and grabs tons of info on the upcoming episode.

Parker and Stone are reportedly nervous about the blowback from the episode. "The duo set their crudely animated sights on Scientology and Tom Cruise—topics previously deemed "off limits" due to the actor's close ties to Comedy Central's sister company, Paramount Pictures," Radar reports.

According to a source who has read a draft of the script, it begins with Stan leaving a psychiatrist's office only to be hailed as a savior by the leaders of a strange, Scientology-esque cult because of his off-the-chart results on an E-meter-like "personality test." A group of Hollywood A-listers quickly gather outside Stan's house, we're told, with Tom Cruise somehow ending up stuck in a closet—leading a news crew stationed at the scene to report that Cruise's fans fervently want the actor to "just come out."


The unwanted cartoon cameo comes at an awkward time for Cruise. The actor recently canned his career-wrecking publisister Lee Anne DeVette, and has been trying to restore his image with help from Rogers & Cowan spin-masters Paul Bloch and Arnold Robinson. Comedy Central's parent company, Viacom—which also owns Paramount—might not be too keen either about seeing its studio's big-money Mission Impossible 3 star ridiculed yet again just when America had seemingly moved on from its obsession with his sexuality and Scientology ties.

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Nesheim)


Saucer Attack! Pop Culture in the Golden Age of Flying Saucers
Eric Nesheim and Leif Nesheim
1997, Kitchen Sink; 127p., illustrated

Full color illustrations (mostly magazine covers), mostly from the 1940s and 50s, with brief explanatory blurbs, covering important UFO themes and giving insights into the the pop culture of UFOs. An entertaining sourcebook that effectively conveys how much the flying saucer has become a part of modern mythology.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/

Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Web site has 'guide' for intelligent design


By Dave Ranney (Contact)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Step aside Dorothy and Toto.

A new Web site — www.KansasMorons.com — has the potential for stirring up more ridicule than Ms. Gale and her pooch-in-a-basket ever thought possible.

"We are a laughingstock," said Tim Miller, a Kansas University religion professor whose attention was called to the satirical site Tuesday.

"This is simply evidence of that," he said.

The site includes a six-page "Kansas Teacher's Guide to Intelligent Design" that cites 17 religions' takes on creation, all of which it presumes are now fair game in the state's classrooms.

A sampling:

• Babalonian (sic) Intelligent Design — "The god Marduk arms himself and sets out to challenge the monster Tiamat…

• Hmong Intelligent Design — "A long time ago the rivers and ocean covered the Earth. A brother and sister were locked in a yellow wooden drum."

• Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Intelligent Design — "The Flying Spaghetti Monster created all that we see and all that we feel, and the universe around us."

Preceding the guide is a mock introductory letter on State Board of Education letterhead that has conservative board member Connie Morris saying, "This learning package was also supposed to include a Ouija Board, candles, incense, and a Magic 8 Ball, but the budget wouldn't permit it. If I'm re-elected and not ousted by some fancy 'book-learnin' elitist, sexular-humanest,' I pledge to get you those things, God willing."

"Boy, somebody's been hard at work," said Jack Krebs, president of the Kansas Citizens for Science, a group opposed to adding intelligent design to the state's science standards.

Krebs, a math teacher at Oskaloosa High School, said he didn't know who was behind the site.

"Different people respond to ridiculous situations in different ways," Krebs said. "For some it's indignant outrage, for others it's humor — the only thing left to do is laugh at it."

Krebs compared the site to Comedy Central's television program "The Daily Show." Both, he said, show "it's easier to swallow the news with a dose of humor than it is to just swallow the news."

Thomas Fox Averill, an English professor at Washburn University and editor of the 2000 essay collection "What Kansas Means to Me," said the Web site underscores the growing notion that Kansas has locked itself into a not-so-desirable image.

"We're like California, Texas or Massachusetts in that we've become the instant adjective of choice," he said. "If somebody calls somebody a liberal, they don't call them a New Jersey liberal, they call them a Massachusetts liberal. When you think of a cowboy, you think of a Texas cowboy, you don't think of a Kansas cowboy."

Though other states have wrestled — and continue to wrestle with — the debate over intelligent design, the anti-evolution label has most noticeably stuck with Kansas.

"Ten other places can do the same foolishness we're doing, but you'll hear about it first when Kansas does it," Averill said.

State board member Sue Gamble, a moderate Republican, laughed out loud when she viewed the Web site Tuesday.

"OK, it's funny," she said. "But you know what? I really don't have time for sarcasm or anger. I'm trying to stay focused on providing quality education for Kansas kids and on making sure the board returns to its senses in 2006."

Four of the 10-member board's six conservatives face re-election next year.

Panel says intelligent design not scientific


By jeremy baron November 16, 2005

Drexel English and philosophy professor Stacey Ake is blunt when it comes to the theory of intelligent design.

"It is garbage," she said.

Ake was joined by Penn professors Michael Weisberg, Rogers Smith and Alan Kors on Monday for a panel discussion on intelligent design -- the theory that an intelligent creator must have guided the development of life -- as part of the Penn American Civil Liberties Union's Rights Week.

The panel began by asking who should dictate schools' curricula. Kors said that the political answer is that the "curriculum is set by who pays for the people who teach" -- the citizens of the school district.

Smith discussed the issue in its constitutional context. "School districts can authorize the teaching of intelligent design," he said, "but it depends on how they do it." If schools present intelligent design as a way to assert religious truth, then there is a constitutional violation, Smith said.

Citizens of Dover, Pa., recently voted out eight of nine school board members who supported mentioning intelligent design in classes, while the Kansas Board of Education upheld the teaching of intelligent design.

A group of 32 Penn professors, including Weisberg, a Philosophy professor, had previously sent a letter to the Dover school district's lawyer criticizing the district.

The panel reflected this criticism as it went on to attack intelligent design as an unscientific theory.

"Intelligent design is not a science; it's not anything close to science," Weisberg said.

"Religious ideologues [who] want to teach creationism" push intelligent design, he said.

Smith agreed. "We should try to find and teach the best science available, which is incompatible to teaching intelligent design," he said.

"It's a form of creationism, except that the creator is not named," Weisberg said.

Defenders of intelligent design argue that it fills perceived gaps in evolutionary theory. But this is incorrect, Ake said.

"There are profound gaps in physics," she said, pointing to discrepancies between classical and quantum physics.

"But do any of you doubt that your cell phone works? So much for the gaps," she said.

Kors closed the debate by saying that although there may be a limit to what science can explain, the place for questions raised by intelligent design is not the classroom.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

GOP tests intelligent design water


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Voters are polled on what to teach

By Mary Beth Schneider The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana House Majority Leader Bill Friend knew that just asking constituents about the teaching of intelligent design in public-school science classes could stir controversy.

"We were trying to see if this is a hot-button issue for people," said Friend, one of 36 Republican legislators who included the issue on a survey.

All they had to do was look at the national headlines.

In Dover, Pa., last week, all eight Republican members of the school board who had voted to require the teaching of intelligent design -- the belief that a supernatural hand guided the development of life -- were voted out of office.

The same day, intelligent-design advocates were cheering as the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to require students to study other theories and not just evolution.

"Are we more like Pennsylvania or are we more like Kansas?" asked Friend, of Macy. "That's what we're trying to find out."

Friend majored in biology and chemistry in college. To find proof that species change over time, he said, people need look no further than the seats at Wrigley Field, a tight squeeze for today's heftier Chicago Cubs fans than for those of 10 or 20 years ago.

He's also a Baptist Sunday school teacher who is, he said, a creationist at heart. "I've always found it hard to believe a zillion years ago we crawled out of a swamp," he said.

Friend sees intelligent design as "an excellent compromise," but he is uncomfortable with state-imposed mandates.

"Once we mandate certain curriculum be taught, where do you stop?" he asked.

At least one state lawmaker, Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, has said he would file a bill requiring the teaching of intelligent design in public schools if no other lawmaker does. People in both parties have said they would support the idea.

Friend, though, said the passage of any such bill is by no means certain.

"Historically, we change very slowly," he said of Hoosiers' own evolution on issues and laws.

Next year is an election year in Indiana, with all 100 representatives and half of the 50-member Senate on the ballot.

Asked whether the Pennsylvania voters' trouncing of the intelligent-design advocates might give Indiana legislators pause, Friend said, "I think it does have an impact."

Bill Blomquist, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said Indiana's politicians should be concerned.

"Look at the backlash when Congress and (Florida) Governor Jeb Bush decided to get involved with the Terri Schiavo case," he said, referring to the brain-damaged Florida woman who died after courts ordered that tubes supplying nutrition and hydration be removed.

Polls do show strong support nationwide for teaching a biblical version of the origins of life. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll taken in September found that 53 percent of Americans say they believe humans were created "exactly as the Bible describes."

State Rep. Ed Mahern, D-Indianapolis, thinks this is the latest in a series of "wedge" issues Republicans have used to ignite their base.

"This is their Pledge of Allegiance or Ten Commandments issue for 2006," he said.

There is no question, Blomquist said, that deeply held views can be fanned to boost voter turnout. But he pointed to the Pennsylvania vote as proof that such issues can be double-edged swords.

State Rep. Luke Messer, a Shelbyville Republican who is executive director of the Indiana Republican Party, said the issue is not politically driven. He said he doubted that in 2006 anyone would win or lose on the strength of intelligent design.

He and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, were among the 36 who quizzed constituents on this issue.

"My personal belief is there has to be a master designer who has placed life on Earth," Bosma said. "The question is, do we require that to be taught as part of the curriculum in science class? That's a tough question."

Just asking it doesn't signal agreement, he said, adding that the GOP legislative agenda next year will focus primarily on property-tax relief, government reform and other education issues.

In the short session that begins Jan. 4 in the House and, by law, ends March 14, "it will be tough for the (intelligent-design) debate to even occur."

Legislators are just beginning to get the results of their constituent surveys. Initially, they show strong support for including intelligent design in science lessons.

Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, said that of about 180 responses he received, 63 percent favored teaching intelligent design alongside evolution. Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, said an early tally showed 53 percent of his constituents who responded to his survey favor adding intelligent design to the curriculum.

Hinkle said he believes in God, Jesus and voting the will of his constituents. And he doesn't believe evolution is science.

But a bill adding intelligent design to the science curriculum might not get his vote.

"I'm not real sure we ought to be getting into this," he said. "I think government needs to get the heck out of education."

The vote in Dover was preceded by a federal lawsuit in which the parents of 11 students sued over the school board's decision to include intelligent design in the curriculum.

At least one Indianapolis mother said she'd do the same if Indiana's lawmakers take that route.

"I tell you, I'd be down there filing a lawsuit so fast if somebody began teaching my kid intelligent design," said Carol Reeves, a Butler University English professor whose 8-year-old daughter attends Indianapolis Public School 91.

Referring to intelligent design, she said, "This is not science."

Gary Belovsky, a professor of biological sciences at Notre Dame, said evolution is science and is not contradictory with faith in God. This month, he said, the Vatican reaffirmed Pope John Paul II's 1996 statement that evolution is "more than a hypothesis because there is proof."

There is no scientifically tested proof, and cannot be, that a greater power controlled the development on Earth, he said, adding that the Pennsylvania vote to keep intelligent design out of science lessons "warmed my heart."

He's frustrated, he said, that a debate that should have been settled a century ago still rages.

"This shouldn't even be an issue."

But at least some Indiana legislators disagree.

"The good thing is we're going to have a debate," Burton said. "I think that's healthy."

Pat Robertson Blows ID's Cover: 'Intelligent Design' Isn't about Science But about Putting God into the Classroom


by Andrew Bard Schmookler


It's not pretty, but at least it's honest

Maybe you've followed the controversy about the idea called 'Intelligent Design.' That's the notion that living organisms are simply too complex to have evolved merely by such natural processes as the biological theory of evolution describes, and that it's necessary, therefore, to postulate a designing Intelligence to explain the living systems we see.

Advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) have claimed that it's a scientific theory, a legitimate rival of the Darwinian theory, that warrants being taught in the science classes of America's public schools.

Critics of ID –and this includes almost all actual scientists who have weighed in on the matter– have declared that ID isn't science at all. Instead, they say, it is a way of sneaking religion into the public schools, an idea directly descended from the 'creationism' whose inclusion in the public school curriculum the courts have found to be an unconstitutional government 'establishment' of religion.

Now, in his latest fit of pique, Pat Robertson has blown the cover of ID.

The object of Robertson's ire on this occasion was the citizenry of the town of Dover, Pennsylvania. These people just recently voted to replace a school board that had mandated the teaching of ID in the local public schools with another slate of candidates opposed to putting ID in the science curriculum.

If something bad happens to you, Robertson said to the people of Dover, don't bother turning to God. He might not be there for you, he warned them, because "you just voted God out of your city."

So there it is. If rejecting the inclusion of Intelligent Design is to be understood as "voting God out," then surely it follows that what ID is about is bringing God in. Sounds like religion to me.

Which leads me to a question for all those Christians out there who have been militating for ID in the public schools. Did you already know what Pat Robertson seems to have known, that ID is about religion, and not science?

If the answer to that question is yes, I have another question for you. In your understanding of Christian morality, is honesty very important? Or does your Christian ethic say that the end justifies the means, i.e. that it's OK to lie about what you're up to, if what you're up to is making sure that children get indoctrinated with your religious beliefs?

But if the idea that ID is not about science, but about promoting your religion, comes to you as a surprise, then I wonder, would that discovery lead you to withdraw your demand that ID be taught in our public schools?

What Would Jesus Say? Church/State and the Golden Rule

ID is, of course, only one of the battlefields in an intensifying struggle over the issue of Church/State relations. We've had the Alabama justice with his monument to the Ten Commandments in the courthouse building. We've got people wanting to put prayer back into the public schools. We've got faith-based initiatives. Etc.

In all these cases, the people who want to instill aspects of their religion are members of America's dominant faith. That is, they are Christians. More than that, they are members of a large and dynamic movement within American Christianity. That is to say, they are the ones who have enough clout to be quite confident that if the wall of separation between Church and State gets torn down, it is their religion that will be backed by power and imposed on everyone else.

I wonder if they'd want that wall torn down if they were in the position of a small and vulnerable minority. Would they want it torn down, for example, it were Hindu and not Christian prayers that would be recited, and Hindu stories of creation and moral precepts that would be taught, etc.?

Actually, I don't really wonder. I feel sure that, if power in their society rested with Hindus, or Buddhists, or Muslims, these Christians who are so avid now to wed religion to political power would think the "separation of Church and State" a vital part of our American system of limited government and personal liberty.

And they'd be right.

America's Founding Fathers sought to erect that wall for a good reason. It is not because they were hostile to religion (though the Deism toward which many of our Founders leaned was a worldview rather different from what many Christian conservatives nowadays suppose in their declarations that the United States was founded as "a Christian nation"). No, it was not any aversion to religion but rather a love of peace and a respect for individual liberty.

Our Founders knew well the costs of allowing coercion and faith to marry. Europe had been through a couple centuries of the most brutal religious warfare. In their wisdom, America's Founders attempted to set up a society that would not recapitulate such bloody sectarian strife. And a vital part of their strategy was to keep government neutral in matters of religion.

And they also believed in the rights of individuals to find their own path in life, thinking it more suitable for the dignity of human beings that they be allowed to make their own mistakes than that they be compelled to hew to a path someone else had determined to be right.

The state is unique as a component of society. What makes it unique, as the political scientists have long said, is it's "monopoly on the legitimate use of force." Paying taxes for our public schools is not optional: our house can be forcibly taken from us if we refuse to pay our property taxes. The courthouse is not a church: we can choose not to attend a church, but if we are caught up in a legal battle there is only one courthouse, and its decisions get enforced.

Thus, keeping the state out of the business of taking sides in religious matters is vital both to maintaining social harmony and to preserving human liberty.

But there's another basis, too, for good Christians in America today to deciding to relent in their quest to put the might of the state behind their own religious views. It runs counter to the core ethical teaching of the man they regard as Christ the Lord. Jesus taught: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. What could be clearer?

If you would not want a majority of Hindus to be able to mandate that your children would be indoctrinated with Hindu beliefs, then do not use your power, as a majority, to subject the children of Hindus (and Muslims and Buddhists and atheists and Unitarians and all the rest) to your beliefs.

As you would have others do unto you. What could be clearer?


Andrew Bard Schmookler has just launched his website – nonesoblind.org —devoted to understanding the roots of America's present moral crisis and the means by which the urgent challenge of this dangerous moment can be met. Dr. Schmookler is also the author of such books as The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (SUNY Press) and Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide (M.I.T. Press). He also conducts regular talk-radio conversations in both red and blue states. Schmookler can be reached at andythebard@comcast.net

Curriculum design as intelligent as flying spaghetti monsters


November 16, 2005

THERE are at least two big problems with the whole intelligent design versus evolution thing. The first is the way it's presented: ID versus E - as if both points of view are equally researched, equally scientific and equally based on, you know, old-fashioned stuff like material evidence.

Charles Darwin's case may not be incontrovertible, but at least he had a spot of university training, fossil foraging and exploratory boating behind his ideas. In fact, the bloke with the brainy-looking beard was so obsessed with scientific method he even adopted rigorous investigative techniques in his personal life.

In 1838, for instance, he gave some thought to the evolution of his marital status and compiled a list with columns headed Marry and Not Marry. After discovering there were more bullet points beneath the former, he headed off to propose to his Sunday school teaching cousin Emma Wedgwood but got distracted and revealed his theory of species transmutation instead (don't you hate it when that happens?).

The good news is that Wedgwood did eventually agree to become Mrs Survival of the Fittest despite her fear that Chuck's revolutionary beliefs about skate leeches, gigantic sloths and Galapagos finches would prevent their reunion in the afterlife. So far there's been no word on how this particular part of their union is proceeding.

The second big problem with intelligent design is that proponents race straight from "I'm not so sure about Darwin's theory" to "therefore the world is obviously the result of supernatural intervention by an invisible uber inventor". Talk about a leap of faith. Imagine moving straight from "I'm not so sure about Darwin's theory" to "therefore the world is clearly the work of a flying spaghetti monster whose chosen outfit is full pirate regalia"? Maybe it's true, but surely there should be a few provable steps between statement one and statement two before the theory is taught as science in high schools.

(Incidentally, to read more about the church of the flying spaghetti monster and worship of the noodly appendage, visit www.venganza.org where followers are promised the holy rewards of both a stripper factory and a beer volcano.)

Unfortunately many educational institutions are either unable or unwilling to accept that there's a difference between theories based in science and theories nested in theology or pasta. According to media reports this week, more than 100 Australian schools are teaching intelligent design as science, while a group called Campus Crusade for Christ has furnished up to 3000 schools with a free copy of an evolution schmevolution DVD called Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

In an ideal world, the logical response to such silliness would be to rise up in mirth. But Christians' insistence on putting the hard word on inappropriate areas of high school curriculums means evolutionists must take them seriously and argue on their terms. As a result we see the IDers raising the flagellum (a smarty pants propeller used to turbo bacteria), while the E squad respond with the box jellyfish (reported to have 24 eyes, four rudimentary brains and 60 not very intelligent anuses).

Biological tit for tat is very entertaining, especially given the widespread evidence of lesser-known design theories such as forgetful design (vestigial tails), bitchy design (thigh cellulite), whimsical design (cattle dogs that look like they're wearing eyeliner), holy-crap-I-drank-too-much-at-the-pub-last-night design (rising nausea), Benny Hill design (Kylie Minogue's bum) and incredibly freaking stupid design (competing religions whose followers continue revelling in bellicosity despite countless centuries of evidence proving this is absolutely bloody futile).

The trouble with the he said/she said approach is that it ignores the fact that evolution and intelligent design are totally different disciplines: one belongs in the science department while the other belongs down the corridor in the "why-are-we-here-and-what does-it-all-mean?" faculty. When contamination of these two areas occurs, logic is not the only loser. ID may look perfectly reasonable in a theology class, but in the harsh light of a science lab, it will draw inevitable comparisons with tea leaf sloshing, tarot card reading and flying spaghetti monstering.

So let's keep the pirate costumes and stripper factories at bay and corral Christians into the correct classroom.

Clarence Page: Keeping ID out of science classes


12:03 AM CST on Tuesday, November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON – Call me paranoid, but sometimes I think the mainstream media give maximum coverage to Pat Robertson in order to discredit him.

Or, at least, to discredit politically active TV evangelists who have enough connections to get their phone calls returned from the White House.

In addition to the syndicated national columnists who regularly appear on Viewpoints, we are offering readers more voices in this twice-weekly roundup, on Tuesdays and Fridays, of comments from the country's leading political commentators.

Either way, it hasn't worked. Robertson is still in business. His latest fatwa, delivered on The 700 Club, his daily Virginia-based television show, is directed at "the good citizens of Dover," a Pennsylvania town that Robertson says has "rejected" God.

Their sinful deed, Robertson says, was to vote out of office all of Dover's school board members who were up for re-election and supported intelligent design. That's the politically charged theory that challenges Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution, 80 years after John Scopes was found guilty of teaching it in public schools in Tennessee.

"If there is a disaster in your area," Robertson told Dover, "don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city. ... And if that's the case, don't ask for his help because he might not be there."

God could not be reached for comment. But Robertson said in a later statement, "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Ah, Dover. How dare you try to separate church and state! Who do you think you are? Baghdad? Kabul?

Ironically, Robertson's outburst actually refutes the claims that leading advocates of intelligent design, or ID, have been presenting. To get around constitutional concerns, they have insisted that the intelligent designer is absolutely not necessarily God.

It could be, say, "the force" as depicted in the film Star Wars.

Or maybe it could be the flying spaghetti monster, an ID theory created by Bobby Henderson, an unemployed 25-year-old slot machine engineer, in a probably not-serious open letter to the Kansas school board.

After bouncing around the Internet a lot, by the way, Henderson's theory has earned him a book contract ("The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," to be released in February) and a national cult of self-professed "Pastafarians" who preach the word of their "noodly master" as the one true religion.

Robertson will have none of that. He sees ID as precisely what its concerned critics say it is, a thin camouflage for creationism, the belief that the Bible's weeklong account of creation is all that our kids need to know.

ID advocates make much of the argument that evolution is "only a theory," barely mentioning that in science a theory is not a guess, but the result of rigorous observation and testing over time. ID theory, by contrast, is less a scientific theory than an assertion of one reason why some parts of life and the universe are too complex to have been created by chance and are best explained by an "intelligent designer." Whatever cannot yet be explained by science, in other words, must by default have been created by some higher intelligence.

That's an appealing idea, especially for those of us who believe in God. A Harris poll this summer found 55 percent of adults backed teaching intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. So did President Bush. "Both sides [of this dispute] ought to be properly taught," the president told reporters, "so people can understand what the debate is about. ... I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

But, appealing as ID theory may sound, it cannot be proved by the investigative methods of conventional science. It is, therefore, more a matter of faith than science, more suitable in my view for a history or social studies class than for a course in real science.

Proponents say introducing the ID debate will improve students' talents at critical thinking skills. Fine. But we don't need to confuse them by treating ID as Darwin's scientific equal. It is not.

Nevertheless, many people will try and try again. The Dover school board voted to require a one-minute classroom statement about ID in 9th-grade science classes. Parents sued. In the meantime, voters delivered their own verdict by voting out all consenting board members who were up for re-election. As a parent of a high school kid, I applaud their vote.

But Robertson can take solace that, on that very same day, the Kansas State Board of Education voted in new biology standards that challenge the very definition of science in order to shoehorn ID theory into it, reversing a 2001 decision that affirmed Darwin's theory after yet an earlier board voted to remove it two years earlier.

As I mentioned, ID advocates can be relentless. In some places, Darwin rises and falls with election returns. So does quality education. Our students can use your prayers.

Nancy Kruh: Evolution revolution


05:45 AM CST on Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It was just a local election in one tiny town, but three pundits perceive larger implications in last week's ouster of all eight incumbents from the Dover, Pa., school board. The battle for Dover's soul, of course, has been over the teaching of evolution; the losers were proponents of "intelligent design," an alternative origins-of-life theory that includes a creator.

Froma Harrop of The Providence Journal also counts among the losers the "GOP masterminds" who "have long tried to exploit the public's anger at the coarsening of our culture by pushing religion into the classroom ...

Balance of Opinion

In addition to the syndicated national columnists who regularly appear on Viewpoints, we are offering readers more voices in this twice-weekly roundup, on Tuesdays and Fridays, of comments from the country's leading political commentators.

Read the complete columns

Columns by writers of The New York Times require registration.

"The problem with this strategy is that few people fall for it," the columnist writes. "Situated in south-central Pennsylvania, Dover is no hotbed of liberalism. Many, if not most, of the voters who dismissed the school board would describe themselves as both conservative and Christian. All the folks wanted was to stop the activists from messing around with their kids' education."

Clarence Page's and Leonard Pitts ' enthusiasm for the election outcome is matched only by their astonishment over the Rev. Pat Robertson's subsequent warning to Dover: "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God – you just rejected him from your city."

In the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Page seizes on the irony that "Mr. Robertson's outburst actually refutes the claims that leading advocates of intelligent design, or ID, have been presenting. To get around constitutional concerns, they have insisted that the intelligent designer is absolutely not necessarily God." Obviously, the columnist writes, Mr. Robertson "sees ID as precisely what its concerned critics say it is, a thin camouflage for creationism."

Already bracing for an avalanche of e-mails arguing "the theory of evolution is just that, a theory," Mr. Pitts pre-emptively responds: "Scientific theory requires conclusions based on observable, replicable and predictable phenomena. ... Gravity once was 'just' a theory, but I don't hear anyone ... suggesting students be taught the 'alternative' theory that we are held to earth by invisible strips of Velcro."

The battle rages on, Mr. Pitts acknowledges, on other fronts. "At the same time voters in Dover were standing up for common sense," the Miami Herald columnist writes, "the Kansas State Board of Education was voting to adopt standards undermining the teaching of Darwin's theory. This is the latest step in the state's long, hard-fought campaign to turn out stupid kids."

Another school battle

Attending to another skirmish over education, David Brooks and George Will assess the No Child Left Behind measurements and find shortcomings.

"Most people think of human capital the way economists and policymakers do – as the skills and knowledge people need to get jobs and thrive in a modern economy," Mr. Brooks writes in The New York Times. "But skills and knowledge – the stuff you can measure with tests – is only the most superficial component of human capital. U.S. education reforms have generally failed because they try to improve the skills of students without addressing the underlying components of human capital."

Mr. Brooks describes these components in terms of character and socialization – for instance, "the ability to be trustworthy" and "the knowledge of how to behave in groups." To truly make a lasting difference, he writes, requires "human-to-human immersions that transform the students down to their very beings."

Mr. Will praises Utah for its "brio" in challenging federal standards for student achievement. "Many Utahans," The Washington Post columnist writes, "take umbrage at the idea that it is the business of Washington – a city that they think frequently embarrasses Americans – to make them embarrassed about themselves."

Instead, Utahans "believe that they have high community standards and that their public schools and universities ... adhere to them. They may be wrong, but they rightly think that, under federalism, it is their traditional right to be wrong."

Balance of Opinion is a roundup of commentary published in addition to the syndicated columns that regularly appear on Viewpoints. Nancy Kruh is a freelance writer in Dallas; her e-mail address is nancykruh@swbell.net.

Current News  News Back Issues

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