NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 November 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Did U.S. help assassinate JFK?

A Temple University professor's new book says the evidence that it did is "conclusive."

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/local/states/pennsylvania/counties/chester_county/13252570.htm

Philadelphia Inquirer
November 25, 2005
By Patrick Kerkstra Inquirer Staff Writer

There are some subjects - and the web of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy is certainly among them - that most members of the academic establishment avoid as much as possible.

And then there is Temple University's Joan Mellen, whose new book, A Farewell to Justice , pins the murder on the U.S. government itself.

"Long live tenure," said Mellen, an English professor who has written an eclectic collection of 17 books.

Her latest, which was published last week, started out as a biography of Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney whose investigation of the assassination was dramatized in Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK.

But in her research on Garrison, Mellen soon became fascinated by the assassination itself. After eight years of work, in which she says she conducted 1,200 interviews, Mellen concluded that Garrison had it right, and that the CIA - with the help of other government agencies - orchestrated the assassination and worked to thwart the district attorney's investigation.

"Intra-government warfare caused the death of President Kennedy," she said. "The evidence is conclusive."

Mellen presents her evidence in a dense and highly detailed 386 pages, with 140 additional pages of careful citations and sourcing.

In a review of the book, Publishers Weekly praised it for bringing "an astonishing amount of information to light," but complained that the narrative "confuses an already bewildering case by shifting timelines, authorial voices and locations with seemingly little cause."

For her part, Mellen considers the book a work of serious academic scholarship - even though she is a creative-writing professor and not a trained historian.

"If it weren't scholarship, it'd be worthless," she said.

Mellen, who was tenured in the early 1970s, said she was "not ambitious" and was unconcerned about any damage the book might do to her scholarly reputation.

Thus far, at least, Temple has been highly supportive of her work, Mellen said. The university public relations department has promoted her book, and university president David Adamany wrote her a letter commending her work as a "public intellectual," Mellen said.

"The serious historians have run away from this case," she said. "They don't want the taint; they want to be in the mainstream."

But poll after poll has demonstrated that a large majority of Americans do not believe the Warren Commission's findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Despite that, the subject is "taboo" in most academic circles, Mellen said. It would also seem, if the reaction of publishers is any gauge, that the popularity of JFK assassination books is on the wane.

Mellen found no takers for her full 1,500-page manuscript, and only one - a specialist Virginia press called Potomac Books - for the whittled down version.

A Farewell to Justice will have to sell well if Mellen is to recoup the $150,000 of her own money she estimates she spent researching the book.

"It consumed my life, but I'd do it again," Mellen said. "It's my contribution to history."

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 610-313-8111 or pkerkstra@phillynews.com.

Evolution education update: Darwin on the cover of Newsweek; threats of antievolution legislation in Utah again; creationist lawsuit against the UC system in the news again

Darwin's visage appears on the cover of Newsweek, while antievolution legislation is threatened in Utah again, and the lawsuit against the University of California system continues to attract the attention of the media.

DARWIN ON THE COVER OF NEWSWEEK

A photograph of Charles Darwin in his old age adorns the cover of the November 28, 2005, issue of Newsweek, with the headline "The Real Darwin: His Private Views on Science & God." Within the magazine, in his article "Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Scientist," Jerry Adler takes the opening of the American Museum of Natural History's new exhibit on Darwin (on display from November 19, 2005, through May 29, 2006) as the occasion to review Darwin's life, work, and significance. "In part," he notes, "the fascination with the man is being driven by his enemies, who say they're fighting 'Darwinism,'" quoting the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson as observing, "It's a rhetorical device to make evolution seem like a kind of faith, like 'Maoism'." "But," Adler adds, "the man is, in fact, fascinating. His own life exemplifies the painful journey from moral certainty to existential doubt that is the defining experience of modernity."

Tracking the checkered reception of Darwin's work by the general public to the present day, Adler observes that "it's not surprising that, down to the present day, fundamentalist Christians have been suspicious of Darwin and his works." He subsequently describes how the AMNH's exhibit on Darwin, conceived "when the current round of Darwin-bashing was still over the horizon," now addresses "intelligent design" -- which "biologists overwhelmingly dismiss," he reports, "as nonsense." The exhibit includes a video in which Francis Collins -- the evangelical Christian who directed the Human Genome Project -- comments, "[intelligent design"] says, if there's some part of science that you can't understand, that must be where God is. Historically, that hasn't gone well. And if science does figure out [how the eye evolved] --and I believe it's very likely that science will ... then where is God?"

Accompanying the cover story is a feature by William Lee Adams exploring how "[t]he teaching of evolution continues to polarize communities." The article races from 1925, when John Thomas Scopes was prosecuted for violating a Tennessee statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools, to 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in the public schools violates the First Amendment; "intelligent design" is presented in the context of religiously motivated assaults on evolution education. Adams discusses recent controversies over evolution education in Pennsylvania and Kansas, emphasizing their political background and quoting NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott as commenting, "Evolution is not controversial in the field of science. It's controversial in the public sphere because public education is highly politicized." Such skirmishes, he concludes, are therefore bound to continue.

For Adler's article in Newsweek, visit:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10118787/site/newsweek

For Adams's article in Newsweek, visit:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10118750/site/newsweek

For the AMNH's website for its new Darwin exhibit, visit:
http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/darwin

THREATS OF ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN UTAH

Utah state senator Chris Buttars is at it again. Over the summer, he threatened to introduce legislation calling for "divine design" to be taught in Utah's public schools, then withdrew the threat after talking to the state superintendent of education, and then reinstated it in response to the adoption of a firm position statement on the teaching of evoution by the state board of education. In a November 15, 2005, post on the Utah senate majority's blog, Buttars wrote, "I'm asked on an ongoing basis if I plan to introduce a bill concerning the Utah State Board of Education's position on teaching evolution. The answer to that question is yes. I've opened a bill file and I'm currently working on the language. The bill text is not yet public and will remain private until I'm satisfied that 1) the intent of the bill is clear, 2) how it will be administered is also clear, and 3) it can withstand a court challenge."

Subsequently, the Deseret Morning News (November 17, 2005) reported that the bill is to be unveiled at the annual meeting of the Utah Eagle Forum, days before the Utah legislature convenes. Buttars was cagey about its exact content, telling the Deseret Morning News, "I have it 'confidential'" -- that is, shielded from public view -- "and it's 'prioritized.' That means it will be heard," but declining to say whether it would require the teaching of "intelligent design." Explaining that the bill's purpose was to challenge the state board of education's position on evolution, Buttars said that it might require the school board to revise its statement or require teachers to read a disclaimer about evolution: "We've got two or three different [things] we're looking at right now."

For NCSE's previous coverage of the threatened legislation in Utah, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=UT

For the story in the Deseret Morning News, visit:
http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,635161898,00.html

CREATIONIST LAWSUIT AGAINST THE UC SYSTEM IN THE NEWS AGAIN

As a lawsuit against the University of California system wends its way through the legal system -- with a hearing on a motion to dismiss the complaint to be heard in federal court in Los Angeles on December 12, 2005 -- the media is taking notice of it again. The suit charges the University of California system with violating the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. Creationism is involved, since the plaintiffs cite the university's policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books as "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community" in their complaint. One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs is Wendell Bird, a former staff attorney for the Institute for Creation Research.

"The case is being closely tracked by free speech advocates, public educators and Christian leaders who are concerned about the impact the case could have on state school admissions policies and the ability of some Christian schools to teach their core beliefs," wrote Matt Krasnowski in the San Diego Union-Tribune (November 23, 2005). Krasnowski interviewed a variety of experts for his story, including lawyers on both sides of the case, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center (who speculated that the plaintiffs might have a valid case), Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (who is worried about a subsequent wave of similar cases), and NCSE's Glenn Branch (who was quoted as saying, "I don't think the UC is insisting that incoming students accept evolution ... They want them to have a good understanding of it.")

In his syndicated column for the Sacramento Bee (November 23, 2005), Peter Schrag reviewed the recent controversies in Dover, Pennsylvania, and Kansas before reminding his readers that "California isn't immune" and describing the lawsuit in detail. (He notes that the preparers of one of the books at issue, Bob Jones University's Biology for Christian Schools, write in the introduction that they "have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second.") "Still UC is taking the suit seriously, concerned that it might compromise its right to set its admission standards," Schrag concludes. "More important, according to UC spokesperson Ravi Poorsina, is the worry that the suit will create an impression that the university doesn't welcome students from Christian schools, something that she says simply isn't true. It could also bring another fatwa from Pat Robertson."

For NCSE's previous coverage of the case, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/CA/393_university_of_california_syste_9_8_2005.asp
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/CA/279_creationist_lawsuit_against_uc_10_7_2005.asp

For the story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, visit:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/state/20051123-1631-cnsuc-lawsuit.html

For Peter Schrag's column in the Sacramento Bee, visit:
http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/story/13895998p-14734821c.html

REMINDER

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc Bill C-420 is dead but Tim Bolen thinks it's a victory for the health freedom movement.

http://www.bolenreport.net/feature_articles/feature_article015.htm

The ink isn't dry and the full edited version of the final debate on Bill C-420 at the Standing Committee on Health is not yet available, but Tim Bolen thinks it's a victory for their health freedom movement.

I think that his ability to communicate his position on issues like this speaks very well to how destructive his contributions have been to other activities of the health freedom movement Misinformation is just part of his game. Despite Bolen's failures over the years, he still continues to hammer out the usual stuff. I guess living in an isolated rented cabin in a national forest in southern California has not cramped his style one bit.

I even made it to his bolenreport twice in the last month. I am very honoured to be so acknowledged.

Here is the link to the last debate:

http://www.healthwatcher.net/Quackerywatch/Legislation/Canada/HESA_BLUES-55.htm

You will note that Tim Bolen quotes James Lunney, the chiropractor and MP who introduced Bill C-420 many years ago. The hearings have introduced unqualified quacks and people who have no legitimate credentials to testify before their body. Trueman Tuck led that brigade of unqualified people who were brought to Ottawa to plead their cases.

You will get a big kick over reading the statements made by one of three chiropractors who sit on this committee, too. His name is Colin Carrie and he thinks that the NHPD has not done enough to protect the civil rights of Canadians.

The other chioropractor and former star of Bollywood, Ruby Dhalla, wondered if the NHPD had enough goal orientation to do the job properly.

I sent the following to the HESA committee after reading what Lunney actually had to say:

Mr. Lunney refers to a person who he calls Dr. Stephan Croft from Quebec City.

Who is this man? If he claims to be a naturopath in Quebec, they are not recognized by any legislation in that Province. In other words, if Croft calls himself a "Dr" he may be breaking the law.

Please have Mr. Lunney check on the actual title that Stephane Croft uses, his qualifications, and provide this to all of the committee members and the public. The committee has been visited by numerous delegates over the last year or so, and some of them have had fake credentials.

Now Mr.Lunney, at the 11th hour drags a "Dr." into his scheme of things and expects your committee to not really care about who he is, or what his qualifications really are. I looked up Stephane Croft name on Google and could not find any references to him at all.

So, what are his qualifications? Where does he really live? There is only one Stephane Croft listed in the phone book in all of Quebec, and he does not live in Quebec City.

What is the name of his company that makes the products that were cited in Lunney's statements?

Here is a resource about the licensing or regulation of Canadian naturopaths:
http://www.naturopathicassoc.ca/lb.html

My review of naturopathy and all of its pitfalls:
http://www.healthwatcher.net/Quackerywatch/Naturopathy/

HPRAC report to Minister of Health in Ontario. Go to Page 10 and read their conclusions. They call for regulations under the RHPA in Ontario:
http://www.hprac.org/downloads/naturopathy/Naturopathy-ReporttoMinister.pdf

Terry Polevoy, MD
938 King St. West
Kitchener, Ontario, N2G 1G4 Canada
519-725-2263 -- 725-4953 fax
http://www.healthwatcher.net - Consumer Health Watchdog

Former Canadian Minister Of Defence Asks Canadian Parliament Asked To Hold Hearings On Relations With Alien "Et" Civilizations Thu Nov 24, 7:00 AM ET

http://news.yahoo.com/s/prweb/20051124/bs_prweb/prweb314382_1

(PRWEB) - OTTAWA, CANADA (PRWEB) November 24, 2005 -- A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with "ETs."

By "ETs," Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada's Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."

Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."

Hellyer's speech ended with a standing ovation. He said, "The time has come to lift the veil of secrecy, and let the truth emerge, so there can be a real and informed debate, about one of the most important problems facing our planet today."

Three Non-governmental organizations took Hellyer's words to heart, and approached Canada's Parliament in Ottawa, Canada's capital, to hold public hearings on a possible ET presence, and what Canada should do. The Canadian Senate, which is an appointed body, has held objective, well-regarded hearings and issued reports on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage and medical marijuana,

On October 20, 2005, the Institute for Cooperation in Space requested Canadian Senator Colin Kenny, Senator, Chair of The Senate Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, "schedule public hearings on the Canadian Exopolitics Initiative, so that witnesses such as the Hon. Paul Hellyer, and Canadian-connected high level military-intelligence, NORAD-connected, scientific, and governmental witnesses facilitated by the Disclosure Project and by the Toronto Exopolitics Symposium can present compelling evidence, testimony, and Public Policy recommendations."

The Non-governmental organizations seeking Parliament hearings include Canada-based Toronto Exopolitics Symposium, which organized the University of Toronto Symposium at which Mr. Hellyer spoke.

The Disclosure Project, a U.S.– based organization that has assembled high level military-intelligence witnesses of a possible ET presence, is also one of the organizations seeking Canadian Parliament hearings.

Vancouver-based Institute for Cooperation in Space (ICIS), whose International Director headed a proposed 1977 Extraterrestrial Communication Study for the White House of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who himself has publicly reported a 1969 Close Encounter of the First Kind with a UFO, filed the original request for Canadian Parliament hearings.

The Canadian Exopolitics Initiative, presented by the organizations to a Senate Committee panel hearing in Winnipeg, Canada, on March 10, 2005, proposes that the Government of Canada undertake a Decade of Contact.

The proposed Decade of Contact is "a 10-year process of formal, funded public education, scientific research, educational curricula development and implementation, strategic planning, community activity, and public outreach concerning our terrestrial society's full cultural, political, social, legal, and governmental communication and public interest diplomacy with advanced, ethical Off-Planet cultures now visiting Earth."

Canada has a long history of opposing the basing of weapons in Outer Space. On September 22, 2004 Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin declared to the U.N. General Assembly," "Space is our final frontier. It has always captured our imagination. What a tragedy it would be if space became one big weapons arsenal and the scene of a new arms race.

Martin stated, "In 1967, the United Nations agreed that weapons of mass destruction must not be based in space. The time has come to extend this ban to all weapons..."

In May, 2003, speaking before the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Lloyd Axworthy, stated "Washington's offer to Canada is not an invitation to join America under a protective shield, but it presents a global security doctrine that violates Canadian values on many levels."

Axworthy concluded, "There should be an uncompromising commitment to preventing the placement of weapons in space."

On February 24, 2005, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin made official Canada's decision not to take part in the U.S government's Ballistic Missile Defence program.

Paul Hellyer, who now seeks Canadian Parliament hearings on relations with ETs, on May 15, 2003, stated in Toronto's Globe & Mail newspaper, "Canada should accept the long-standing invitation of U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to launch a conference to seek approval of an international treaty to ban weapons in space. That would be a positive Canadian contribution toward a more peaceful world."

In early November 2005, the Canadian Senate wrote ICIS, indicating the Senate Committee could not hold hearings on ETs in 2005, because of their already crowded schedule.

"That does not deter us," one spokesperson for the Non-governmental organizations said, "We are going ahead with our request to Prime Minister Paul Martin and the official opposition leaders in the House of Commons now, and we will re-apply with the Senate of Canada in early 2006.

"Time is on the side of open disclosure that there are ethical Extraterrestrial civilizations visiting Earth," The spokesperson stated. "Our Canadian government needs to openly address these important issues of the possible deployment of weapons in outer war plans against ethical ET societies."

Canadian Exopolitics Initiative
http://www.peaceinspace.net

Click here to send your letter to the Parliament of Canada requesting public "ET" Hearings
http://exopolitics.blogs.com/star_dreams_initiative/2005/10/the_senate_of_c.html

CONTACT NOW:
Toronto, Canada: Victor Viggiani, Exopolitics Toronto Symposium
Tel: 905-278-5628
http://www.exopoliticstoronto.com

Winnipeg, Canada: Randy Kitchur
Tel: 204-582-4424

Washington, D.C.: Dr. Steven Greer, The Disclosure Project
Tel: (540) 456-8302 (Office)
http://www.disclosureproject.org

Vancouver, Canada: Alfred Lambremont Webre, JD, MEd
ICIS-Institute for Cooperation in Space
Tel: 604-733-8134
http://www.peaceinspace.net

ICIS
Alfred Webre
604-733-8134
E-mail Information

Forbidden Archeology

Author: Richard L Thompson

From Our Editors
Over the past two centuries, researchers have found bones and artifacts showing that people like ourselves existed on earth millions of years ago. But the scientific establishment has suppressed, ignored, or forgotten these remarkable facts. Why? Because they contradict dominant views of human origins and antiquity. Forbidden Archeology is a call for a change in today's arbitrarily rigid mindset. Cremo and Thompson challenge us to rethink our understanding of human origins, identity, and destiny

From the Publisher
Over the centuries, researchers have found bones and artifacts proving that humans like us have existed for millions of years. Mainstream science, however, has suppressed these facts. Prejudices based on current scientific theory act as a knowledge filter, giving us a picture of prehistory that is largely incorrect.

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 25 Nov 05 Washington, DC

DARWIN: AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY OPENS NEW EXHIBIT.

In 1987, Norman Newell, a paleontologist at the AMNH, shared the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the AAAS for his early and persistent campaign to alert scientists to the threat posed by creationism to scientific education. At that time, the Louisiana "equal time" law was before the U.S. Supreme Court http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN87/wn021987.html. This week, with the Dover School Board ID case before a Federal Court in Pennsylvania, the AMNH opened an exhibit on the life of Charles Darwin, featuring a live specimen of the storied Galapagos tortoise. Corporate sponsors for such educational exhibits are usually easy to find, but the Darwin exhibit reportedly had to rely on individual donors and private charities for the $3M the exhibit cost. Although the ID controversy frightened off corporate donors, a Creationist Museum near Cincinatti, apparently had little trouble raising $7M for an exhibit featuring Adam and Eve.

THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
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


Friday, November 25, 2005

Professor of New Creationism Course Criticized for E-Mail

http://www.wibw.com/home/headlines/2014447.html

AP

Critics of a new course at the University of Kansas that equates creationism and intelligent design with mythology are angry at the professor who will teach the class.

They say an e-mail sent by the chairman of the KU religious studies department proves the course is designed to mock fundamentalist Christians.

In a recent message on a Yahoo listserv, Paul Mirecki said the course "will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category mythology.'' He signed the note "Doing my part (to upset) the religious right.''

Republican State Senators Karin Brownlee and Kay O'Connor of Olathe blasted Mirecki. Brownlee says his mockery of Christian beliefs is inappropriate, while O'Connor wonders why tax dollars are being spent to promote hatred.

Vatican wrestles with 'intelligent design'

http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/local/13252129.htm

Posted on Fri, Nov. 25, 2005

Interpretation is source of debate

BY STACY MEICHTRY

Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY — Ever since the Roman inquisition condemned Galileo for observing that the Earth revolved around the sun, the Vatican has held back from making sweeping challenges to scientific thought for fear of overstepping its bounds.

So it's understandable that Pope Benedict XVI raised eyebrows when he recently described the universe as an "intelligent project that is the cosmos." Not only did he echo the language of the intelligent design movement, he also waded into a controversy that has blurred the boundaries between faith and science in the United States and beyond.

The debate echoing through Vatican corridors these days, however, is whether the pope has given the Catholic Church's tacit support to intelligent design advocates and their ongoing campaign to debunk Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

"These allusions are fine, but I hope the pope doesn't take a stand," the Rev. George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, said in an interview.

Coyne, an astronomer and outspoken critic of intelligent design, said that Benedict "doesn't have the slightest idea of what intelligent design means in the U.S."

"Intelligent design in America is not science. It's a religious movement," he said.

But it is unclear if the Vatican's theological ranks share Coyne's criticisms.

In staunchly defending the scientific merits of evolution, Coyne has frequently crossed swords with Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, a former protege of Benedict and a prominent member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Schonborn has widely indicated he agrees with the intelligent design argument that life is too complex to have merely evolved through natural selection.

In an interview with Reuters published Sunday, Schonborn said state schools in Austria should permit science classes to mention the "intelligent project that is the cosmos," echoing Benedict's remarks.

"What I would like to see in schools is a critical and open spirit, in a positive sense, so we don't make a dogma out of the theory of evolution, but we say it is a theory that has a lot going for it but has no answers for some questions," Schonborn was quoted as saying.

Schonborn, who sits on the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, has said there are no plans to issue guidelines adding intelligent design to the curriculum at Catholic schools and universities.

But the cardinal has played a crucial role in introducing the intelligent design debate into Vatican discourse.

Last July, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, collaborated with Schonborn on an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that rebuffed as "rather vague and unimportant" remarks by John Paul II in 1996 that called evolution "more than a hypothesis."

The article also underscored the presence of "purpose and design in the natural world" and stated that Catholic teaching was "incompatible" with evolution "in the neo-Darwinian sense: an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection."

Schonborn's attack on "unguided" evolution appeared to resonate in Benedict's remarks on creation, which came in early November, one day after the Kansas Board of Education voted to adopt new standards that cast doubt on evolution.

"How many people are there today who, fooled by atheism, think and try and demonstrate that it would be scientific to think that everything is without direction and order?" Benedict said.

According to Coyne, these remarks do not indicate that Benedict believes in a designer God that is constantly "tinkering with the universe."

"He doesn't explain much of the science, but his reflections make it clear that he understands the universe is by its fundamental nature evolutionary," Coyne said.

Coyne and other prominent Catholic scientists, including Nicola Cabibbo, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, have dismissed Schonborn's criticism of "unguided" evolution as simply misguided.

They note that evolution is still compatible with religious conviction even though it functions according to laws that are random and directionless.

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger approved the 2004 document "Communion and Stewardship," which argues that "true contingency," or unpredictable events subject to chance, "is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence."

The paper also noted that the debate between evolution and intelligent design "cannot be settled by theology."

Schonborn has gone to great lengths to explain that his criticism of "neo-Darwinism" is not a challenge to science itself but an expression of deep concern felt by him and the pope over the spread of materialism, which claims that no reality exists beyond matter.

According to the Vatican, such views exceed the competence of scientific thought.

In early November, Schonborn's archdiocese released remarks from a lecture he delivered in October at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, announcing plans to make "creation and evolution" the theme of his upcoming catechetical talks.

Citing persistent "border violations" between the worlds of science and faith, Schonborn quoted Sir Julian Huxley who in 1959 wrote that "the evolutionary pattern of thought" leaves no "need or room for the supernatural."

"I am convinced that this is not a claim within the realm of the natural sciences, but rather the expression of a worldview," Schonborn concluded.

Mending relations between science and religion was the focus of a recent international conference held at the Vatican. Speaking to reporters, Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, found himself inundated by questions related to intelligent design.

"The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice," Poupard said.

Students join debate on intelligent design

http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/local/13252129.htm

Campus clubs set up to defend concept

By Lisa Anderson

Tribune national correspondent

Published November 25, 2005

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Dappled with autumn leaves, the manicured campus of an Ivy League university in upstate New York may seem far from the cornfields of Kansas or the rural towns of central Pennsylvania, but it represents the newest of these battlefields in the growing culture war over the teaching of evolution.

The national spotlight recently has focused on school boards in Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere that are grappling with calls for including intelligent design, a concept critical of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in science curricula. But a significant new front in this cultural conflict is opening in the halls of American higher education, spearheaded by science students skeptical of evolution and intrigued by intelligent design.

One of them is Hannah Maxson. A math and chemistry major at Cornell University, she founded an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club here this fall.

"In my opinion, both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution are science. Both have philosophical implications. Intelligent design implies the universe is somewhat directed. Darwinian evolution implies a naturalistic worldview," Maxson, 21, said.

Darwin's evolutionary theory, hailed as the cornerstone of modern biology by nearly all scientists, holds that all life on Earth shares common ancestry and developed through natural selection and random mutation. In science, a theory is generally a principle developed from facts rigorously tested over time.

Intelligent design, or ID, posits that there are complexities of life not yet explained by evolution that are best attributed to an unnamed and unseen intelligent designer. Opponents, including every major U.S. scientific organization, deride it as "neo-creo," or a high-tech version of creationism, the account of creation in Genesis in the Bible.

Cornell's IDEA Club is one of about 25 such campus organizations across the country, including a new club established at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The clubs operate under the auspices of the IDEA Center, founded in 2001 as a non-profit educational organization whose goal is "to promote intelligent design theory purely on its scientific merits," according to the organization's mission statement. The center provides clubs with organizational help, books, videos and primarily non-financial support, according to Casey Luskin, co-founder of the center and the first campus IDEA Club begun in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego.

He said the center, which has a budget of less than $10,000, remains separate from and receives no funding from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based advocate of intelligent design.

However, several institute fellows are on the center's advisory board, including such prominent ID advocates as William Dembski and Michael Behe, and Luskin recently became the program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

"We have done a lot with very little. I attribute that to the fact there are so many students out there who want to talk about this issue but are not given the opportunity in their classes," Luskin said.

David Masci, a senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., said, "As this issue has bubbled up into the national consciousness over the last 10 years, it makes sense that it would have a presence on college campuses."

God does well in poll

Masci pointed to a March Gallup Youth Survey of teens age 13 to 18. It showed that 38 percent believe "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years" and 43 percent agreed that "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process." Only 18 percent said humans developed over millions of years without divine guidance.

Such numbers are nothing new for Will Provine, a biological sciences professor at Cornell University. In his annual course on evolution for non-biology majors, Provine hands out questionnaires asking students' views on evolution.

Since he began the course in 1986, the number of students saying they believed humans came about due to divine direction--whether through creationism, intelligent design or simply God's guidance--has fallen below 70 percent on only two occasions, Provine said.

"I'm really thrilled to have everyone in the course, whether you're a creationist or not," said Provine, who identifies himself as an atheist. "If they are deeply religious, I don't try to change their minds. I just encourage them to sort it out."

He said he differs from most in the evolutionary biology field because he welcomes all views and ridicules none.

That kind of tolerance is too rare, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

"I think many of the scientific organizations have felt they had to demonize ID in order to win the argument. I think by ruling out ID in science journals and science discussions, they have given the impression that they are not willing to listen and really engage the other side," Haynes said.

Cornell student Maxson said it was such derision and lack of knowledge about intelligent design that led her to found her IDEA club, which quickly registered about 60 members.

"I was surprised at how much interest there was," said the junior from California.

She also was surprised at how much controversy ID is generating on campus.

On Oct. 21, about two weeks before Kansas redefined state science standards to include the supernatural and while a Pennsylvania federal court heard a landmark case concerning the constitutionality of teaching ID in public schools, Cornell's acting president devoted his entire state of the university address to an impassioned attack on intelligent design.

Calling it an urgent matter "of great significance to Cornell and to the country as a whole," Hunter Rawlings said, "The issue in question is the challenge to science posed by religiously based opposition to evolution, described, in its current form, as intelligent design."

He said bluntly, "ID is a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea."

Shocked by Rawlings' speech, Maxson shot back with a news release posted on the IDEA Club's Web site. She criticized Rawlings for his "blatant disregard for the facts concerning intelligent design" and for "blasting the emerging intelligent design theory as unscientific and religious in an unscrupulous, unknowledgeable manner."

Sitting over lunch in Cornell's wood-paneled Ivy Room restaurant on a recent rainy afternoon, the slight, soft-spoken Maxson said, "I expected it would be controversial in that some people would be down on it, but not controversial to the extent you would have the president of the university making a major speech on it."

But Rawlings is not the only academic leader to affirm evolution and oppose ID in recent weeks.

In September, Robert Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas, sent a letter to faculty and students in which he said, "The attack on evolution continues across America and compels me to again state the obvious: The University of Kansas is a major public research university. . . . As an academic, scientific community we must affirm scientific principles."

On Monday, the university's religious studies department announced a new course to be offered in the spring: Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.

In October, Timothy White, president of the University of Idaho, sent a similar letter to students and faculty saying, "I write to articulate the University of Idaho's position with respect to evolution: This is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences."

Emphasizing that he has a "very high respect for people of faith," Cornell's Rawlings said during a recent interview that his speech drew a strong positive response from scientists as well as other university presidents.

"I think, perhaps, more academics will get involved in this debate, and I think they should. [Earlier] they didn't want to dignify intelligent design and, second, they didn't think they had to. They didn't take this seriously as a movement. But it is now gaining a place in many public schools, and that means we'll be dealing with the results for years to come," said Rawlings, noting that he welcomed the dialogue with Cornell's IDEA Club.

"These IDEA clubs are going to face a lot of opposition on college campuses, I would predict," said Haynes of the First Amendment Center, who is an expert on religious liberty and educational organizations.

"It's a very interesting idea, so to speak, because it's students saying, `Let's have the debate. If we can't have the debate in the classroom, then we'll do it ourselves.'"

That was Jaclyn Wegner's goal when she established the IDEA Club at the U. of I. this semester.

U. of I. student's opinion

"Just hearing about how the scientific community was handling [ID], it seems that a lot of people are being kind of closed-minded, and it's causing them to be discriminatory against scientists who even question Darwin's theory. That's what has driven me to start this club," said Wegner, 21, a senior from Frankfort in south suburban Chicago who is majoring in integrative biology.

Already, she said, a Darwin Club has popped up in response, headed by a friend of hers.

"That's really cool," she said. "We are going to try to hold events together. We are not competing. We're all interested in the same issues. We are just coming from different sides."

IDEA club chapters around the world

Armstrong Atlantic State University (Georgia)

Baraboo, Wis.

Boise State University (Idaho)

Braeside High School (Kenya)

California State University-Sacramento

Cornell University (New York)

Fork Union Military Academy (Virginia)

Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio)

George Mason University (Virginia)

Hillsdale College (Michigan)

James Madison University (Virginia)

Midwestern State University (Texas)

Myers Park High School (North Carolina)

University of Mississippi

Poway High School (California)

Pulaski Academy (Arkansas)

Seattle Central Community College

South Mecklenburg High School (North Carolina)

Stanford University (California)

Tri-Cities IDEA Club (Washington)

Ukraine

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, San Diego

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Missouri-Columbia

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

University of Oklahoma

University of the Philippines, Tacloban College

University of Texas at Dallas*

University of Victoria (British Columbia)

University of Virginia

Vanderbilt University* (Tennessee)

Wake Forest University (North Carolina)

Western Baptist College (Oregon)

Westminster College (Missouri)

*currently inactive

Source: Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center

lbanderson@tribune.com


Thursday, November 24, 2005

THE ILLUSION OF DESIGN

by Richard Dawkins

The world is divided into things that look as though somebody designed them (wings and wagon-wheels, hearts and televisions), and things that just happened through the unintended workings of physics (mountains and rivers, sand dunes, and solar systems). Mount Rushmore belonged firmly in the second category until the sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved it into the first. Charles Darwin moved in the other direction. He discovered a way in which the unaided laws of physics -- the laws according to which things "just happen" -- could, in the fullness of geologic time, come to mimic deliberate design. The illusion of design is so successful that to this day most Americans (including, significantly, many influential and rich Americans) stubbornly refuse to believe it is an illusion. To such people, if a heart (or an eye or a bacterial flagellum) looks designed, that's proof enough that it is designed.

No wonder Thomas Henry Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog," was moved to chide himself on reading the Origin of Species: "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that." And Huxley was the least stupid of men. The breathtaking power and reach of Darwin's idea -- extensively documented in the field, as Jonathan Weiner reports in "Evolution in Action" -- is matched by its audacious simplicity. You can write it out in a phrase: nonrandom survival of randomly varying hereditary instructions for building embryos. Yet, given the opportunities afforded by deep time, this simple little algorithm generates prodigies of complexity, elegance, and diversity of apparent design. True design, the kind we see in a knapped flint, a jet plane, or a personal computer, turns out to be a manifestation of an entity -- the human brain -- that itself was never designed, but is an evolved product of Darwin's mill.

Paradoxically, the extreme simplicity of what the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett called Darwin's dangerous idea may be its greatest barrier to acceptance. People have a hard time believing that so simple a mechanism could deliver such powerful results.

The arguments of creationists, including those creationists who cloak their pretensions under the politically devious phrase "intelligent-design theory," repeatedly return to the same big fallacy. Such-and-such looks designed. Therefore it was designed. To pursue my paradox, there is a sense in which the skepticism that often greets Darwin's idea is a measure of its greatness.

Paraphrasing the twentieth-century population geneticist Ronald A. Fisher, natural selection is a mechanism for generating improbability on an enormous scale. Improbable is pretty much a synonym for unbelievable. Any theory that explains the highly improbable is asking to be disbelieved by those who don't understand it.

Yet the highly improbable does exist in the real world, and it must be explained. Adaptive improbability -- complexity -- is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve and that natural selection, uniquely as far as science knows, does solve. In truth, it is intelligent design that is the biggest victim of the argument from improbability. Any entity capable of deliberately designing a living creature, to say nothing of a universe, would have to be hugely complex in its own right.

If, as the maverick astronomer Fred Hoyle mistakenly thought, the spontaneous origin of life is as improbable as a hurricane blowing through a junkyard and having the luck to assemble a Boeing 747, then a divine designer is the ultimate Boeing 747. The designer's spontaneous origin ex nihilo would have to be even more improbable than the most complex of his alleged creations. Unless, of course, he relied on natural selection to do his work for him! And in that case, one might pardonably wonder (though this is not the place to pursue the question), does he need to exist at all?

The achievement of nonrandom natural selection is to tame chance. By smearing out the luck, breaking down the improbability into a large number of small steps -- each one somewhat improbable but not ridiculously so -- natural selection ratchets up the improbability.

As the generations unfold, ratcheting takes the cumulative improbability up to levels that -- in the absence of the ratcheting -- would exceed all sensible credence.

Many people don't understand such nonrandom cumulative ratcheting. They think natural selection is a theory of chance, so no wonder they don't believe it! The battle that we biologists face, in our struggle to convince the public and their elected representatives that evolution is a fact, amounts to the battle to convey to them the power of Darwin's ratchet -- the blind watchmaker -- to propel lineages up the gentle slopes of Mount Improbable.

The misapplied argument from improbability is not the only one deployed by creationists. They are quite fond of gaps, both literal gaps in the fossil record and gaps in their understanding of what Darwinism is all about. In both cases the (lack of) logic in the argument is the same. They allege a gap or deficiency in the Darwinian account. Then, without even inquiring whether intelligent design suffers from the same deficiency, they award victory to the rival "theory" by default. Such reasoning is no way to do science. But science is precisely not what creation "scientists," despite the ambitions of their intelligent-design bullyboys, are doing.

In the case of fossils, as Donald R. Prothero documents in "The Fossils Say Yes" [see the print issue of Natural History in which this article first appeared], today's biologists are more fortunate than Darwin was in having access to beautiful series of transitional stages: almost cinematic records of evolutionary changes in action. Not all transitions are so attested, of course -- hence the vaunted gaps. Some small animals just don't fossilize; their phyla are known only from modern specimens: their history is one big gap. The equivalent gaps for any creationist or intelligent-design theory would be the absence of a cinematic record of God's every move on the morning that he created, for example, the bacterial flagellar motor. Not only is there no such divine videotape: there is a complete absence of evidence of any kind for intelligent design.

Absence of evidence for is not positive evidence against, of course. Positive evidence against evolution could easily be found -- if it exists. Fisher's contemporary and rival J.B.S. Haldane was asked by a Popperian zealot what would falsify evolution. Haldane quipped, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." No such fossil has ever been found, of course, despite numerous searches for anachronistic species.

There are other barriers to accepting the truth of Darwinism. Many people cannot bear to think that they are cousins not just of chimpanzees and monkeys, but of tapeworms, spiders, and bacteria. The unpalatability of a proposition, however, has no bearing on its truth. I personally find the idea of cousinship to all living species positively agreeable, but neither my warmth toward it, nor the cringing of a creationist, has the slightest bearing on its truth.

The same could be said of political or moral objections to Darwinism. "Tell children they are nothing more than animals and they will behave like animals." I do not for a moment accept that the conclusion follows from the premise. But even if it did, once again, a disagreeable consequence cannot undermine the truth of a premise. Some have said that Hitler founded his political philosophy on Darwinism. This is nonsense: doctrines of racial superiority in no way follow from natural selection, properly understood. Nevertheless, a good case can be made that a society run on Darwinian lines would be a very disagreeable society in which to live. But, yet again, the unpleasantness of a proposition has no bearing on its truth.

Huxley, George C. Williams, and other evolutionists have opposed Darwinism as a political and moral doctrine just as passionately as they have advocated its scientific truth. I count myself in that company. Science needs to understand natural selection as a force in nature, the better to oppose it as a normative force in politics. Darwin himself expressed dismay at the callousness of natural selection: "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!"

In spite of the success and admiration that he earned, and despite his large and loving family, Darwin's life was not an especially happy one. Troubled about genetic deterioration in general and the possible effects of inbreeding closer to home, as James Moore documents in "Good Breeding" [see November issue of Natural History magazine], and tormented by illness and bereavement, as Richard Milner's interview with the psychiatrist Ralph Colp Jr. shows in "Darwin's Shrink," Darwin's achievements seem all the more. He even found the time to excel as an experimenter, particularly with plants. David Kohn's and Sheila Ann Dean's essays ("The Miraculous Season" and "Bee Lines and Worm Burrows" [See November issue of Natural History Magazine]) lead me to think that, even without his major theoretical achievements, Darwin would have won lasting recognition as an experimenter, albeit an experimenter with the style of a gentlemanly amateur, which might not find favor with modern journal referees.

As for his major theoretical achievements, of course, the details of our understanding have moved on since Darwin's time. That was particularly the case during the synthesis of Darwinism with Mendelian digital genetics. And beyond the synthesis, as Douglas J. Futuyma explains in "On Darwin's Shoulders," [see November issue of Natural History Magazine] and Sean B. Carroll details further for the exciting new field of "evo-devo" in "The Origins of Form," Darwinism proves to be a flourishing population of theories, itself undergoing rapid evolutionary change.

In any developing science there are disagreements. But scientists -- and here is what separates real scientists from the pseudoscientists of the school of intelligent design -- always know what evidence it would take to change their minds. One thing all real scientists agree upon is the fact of evolution itself. It is a fact that we are cousins of gorillas, kangaroos, starfish, and bacteria. Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun. It is not a theory, and for pity's sake, let's stop confusing the philosophically naive by calling it so. Evolution is a fact.

RICHARD DAWKINS' DVDS & BOOKS available to Shop Skeptic

* Skeptic vol.3 no.4, Dawkins interview

* Skeptic vol.7 no.2, Dawkins on Genes

* Skeptic vol.10 no.3, Dawkins writes "A Devil's Chaplin"

* River Out of Eden (DVD)

* The Ancestor's Tale (DVD)

* The Blind Watchmaker (paperback)

* The Ancestor's Tale (hardback)

Visit Shop Skeptic at:

www.skeptic.com

eSkeptic is a free, public newsletter published (almost) weekly by the Skeptics Society. Contents are Copyright (c) 2005 Michael Shermer, the Skeptics Society, and the authors and artists. Permission is granted to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and acknowledgment.

Richard Dawkins, a world-renowned explicator of Darwinian evolution, is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, where he was educated. Dawkins's popular books about evolution and science include The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976), The Blind Watchmaker (W.W. Norton, 1986), Climbing Mount Improbable (W.W. Norton, 1996), and most recently, The Ancestor's Tale (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), which retells the saga of evolution in a Chaucerian mode.

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 755 November 23, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and Davide Castelvecchi

OPTICAL VORTEX---TRYING TO LOOK AT EXTRASOLAR PLANETS DIRECTLY. A new optical device might allow astronomers to view extrasolar planets directly without the annoying glare of the parent star. It would do this by "nulling" out the light of the parent star by exploiting its wave nature, leaving the reflected light from the nearby planet to be observed in space-based detectors. About ten years ago the presence of planets around stars other than our sun was first deduced by the very tiny wobble in the star's spectrum of light imposed by the mutual tug between the star and its satellite. Since then more than 100 extrasolar planets have been detected in this way. Also, in a few cases the slight diminution in the star's radiation caused by the transit of the planet across in front of the star has been observed.

Many astronomers would, however, like to view the planet directly, a difficult thing to do. Seeing the planet next to its bright star has been compared to trying to discern, from a hundred meters away, the light of a match held up next to the glare of an automobile's headlight. The approach taken by Grover Swartzlander and his colleagues at the University of Arizona is to eliminate the star's light by sending it through a special helical-shaped mask, a sort of lens whose geometry resembles that of a spiral staircase turned on its side. The process works in the following way: light passing through the thicker and central part of the mask is slowed down. Because of the graduated shape of the glass, an "optical vortex" is created: the light coming along the axis of the mask is, in effect, spun out of the image. It is nulled, as if an opaque mask had been placed across the image of the star, but leaving the light from the nearby planet unaffected.

The idea of an optical vortex has been around for many years, but it has never been applied to astronomy before. In lab trials of the optical vortex mask, light from mock stars has been reduced by factors of 100 to 1000, while light from a nearby "planet" was unaffected (see figure at http://www.aip.org/png/2005/241.htm). Attaching their device to a telescope on Mt. Lemon outside Tucson, Arizona, the researchers took pictures of Saturn and its nearby rings to demonstrate the ease of integrating the mask into telescopic imaging system. This is, according to Swartzlander (520-626-3723, grovers@optics.arizona.edu), a more practical technique than merely attempting to cover the star's image, as is done in coronagraphs, devices for observing our sun's corona by masking out the disk of the sun. It could fully come into its own on a project like the Terrestrial Planet Finder, or TPF, a proposed orbiting telescope to be developed over the coming decade and designed to image exoplanets. (Foo et al., Optics Letters, 15 December 2005; summary of articles related to optical vortex at http://www.u.arizona.edu/~grovers) FIRST STEPS TOWARD FUSION AT NIF. Laser pulses shot into a cavity can produce the conditions required to trigger nuclear fusion reactions, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California report. The finding was a crucial test of principle for Livermore's National Ignition Facility (NIF, http://www.llnl.gov/nif/project/index.html), the $3.5 billion machine now under construction and expected to start full operations in 2009. NIF will produce fusion reactions by focusing 192 powerful ultraviolet laser beams through small holes into the hollow interior of a gold cavity called a hohlraum. The laser light quickly heats up the cavity's inner walls, which generate x rays, in a few nanosecond-long bursts of energy more than 60 billion times as bright as the surface of the sun. The outer shell of a small capsule containing frozen deuterium and tritium placed inside this mini-oven will be heated by these x rays and rapidly expand, resulting in heating and compression of its core (to 1000 times its initial density) which will become as dense as the sun's center, triggering nuclear fusion.

During the first hohlraum experiments at NIF, a large team of physicists, engineers and technicians (contact: Eduard Dewald, dewald3@llnl.gov, 925-422-7087) used the four existing NIF laser beams to prove NIF's x-ray production capability. NIF was operating at just 1 percent of its full design energy, and the cavity contained no fusion materials. However, the x-ray flux inside the cavity---the amount of energy per unit area and per unit time---has been shown to agree with expectations, and is similar to those required for future fusion experiments. (Dewald et al., Physical Review Letters, 18 November 2005). Uncertainties over the continued funding of NIF seemed to be resolved in a recent House-Senate conference agreement over the 2006 energy bill (see FYI No. 162, November 11, http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/162.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: listserv@listserv.aip.org (Leave the "Subject:" line blank.)


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Peter Schrag: Creationism: It's not just in Kansas anymore

http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/story/13895998p-14734821c.html

By Peter Schrag -- Bee Columnist

Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Story appeared in Editorials section, Page B7

Pity the poor citizens of Dover, Pa. No sooner had they rid themselves of the embarrassment of a school board that tried to write intelligent design into its biology classes than Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson pronounced a fatwa on the whole town.

Woe to a community that votes out a board that squinted toward creationism and replaces it with a new one.

If some disaster befell Dover, said Robertson on his TV show, "Don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city." For the lawyers who had been trying to defend Dover's policy in a federal suit by arguing that intelligent design was not creationism and so did not represent an attempt to write religion into the science program, Robertson's statement couldn't have been very helpful. The suit will now probably be moot. But if there's another case challenging intelligent design, Robertson will make a great witness for the plaintiffs.

It was pure coincidence that on the very same day that the Dover board was dumped, the Kansas Board of Education took a big step in the other direction. Not only did it approve new science guidelines that invited challenges to evolution, but it wrote its own definition of science so that it would no longer be limited to natural explanations of natural phenomena. Where is Henry Mencken when we so desperately need him?

The new Kansas guidelines, as expected, came not in the name of religion but of free inquiry. One of the six members voting for the new guidelines said he was pleased to be "on the edge of trying to bring some intellectual honesty and integrity to the science classroom rather than asking students to check their questions at the door because it is a challenge to the sanctity of evolution." But why should students have to check their questions at the door, anymore than they'd have to check their questions about Santa Claus or where Cain's wife came from, or about what all those millions of creatures ate on the ark? They'd just have to learn that those questions have nothing to do with science.

Yet if everything's not up to date in Kansas, California isn't immune. Twenty years after creationists ran the last full-scale campaign to write their "science" into California's curriculum, Calvary Chapel School in Murrieta, the Association of Christian Schools International and six students hoping to go to the University of California are suing UC. The charge: that the university, in denying credit for some of the religiously oriented courses the students took and the texts they used, practices "viewpoint discrimination" and "hostility toward religion."

UC thus violated their First Amendment rights. "They are trying to secularize private Christian schools," the school's lawyer told the New York Times. The plaintiffs also contend that UC has no evidence that Christian graduates fare any worse than those from public schools.

UC requires applicants to have completed a sequence of courses - the "a to g" requirements - in English, math, the sciences, social studies and other fields. UC's faculty committee on admissions does not recognize certain Calvary Chapel courses as satisfying those requirements.

Among them are science courses using what UC regards "as primarily religious texts," something the books themselves acknowledge. One, "Biology for Christian Schools," published by Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist institution in Greenville, S.C., says its authors "have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second. To the best of the author's knowledge, the conclusions drawn from observable facts that are presented in this book agree with the Scriptures."

In expressly prioritizing religion over science, said UC, "a course relying on these texts as core instructional materials does not meet the faculty's criteria for the subject "d" laboratory science requirement." UC also rejects a course in "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" using a book called "American Classics for Christians" as not meeting its standards for an English course because students do not read whole works of literature. Whether such courses are any thinner academically than many of the nice-sounding public school courses on UC's approved list is a question that probably no one can answer.

UC officials point out that the university offered admission to 18 Calvary students in the past three years, that it recognizes most of Calvary's courses and that it has no interest in influencing what Calvary teaches. UC officials also point out that the university has accepted many of the school's science courses and that UC also allows students who haven't taken all the required courses to be admitted by exam alone.

Still UC is taking the suit seriously, concerned that it might compromise its right to set its admission standards. More important, according to UC spokesperson Ravi Poorsina, is the worry that the suit will create an impression that the university doesn't welcome students from Christian schools, something that she says simply isn't true. It could also bring another fatwa from Pat Robertson.

About the writer:

Peter Schrag can be reached at Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852-0779 or at pschrag@sacbee.com.

Intelligent design backers criticize KU course title

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/13237625.htm

Posted on Wed, Nov. 23, 2005

Use of 'mythologies' questioned

By LAURA BAUER

The Kansas City Star

Months before a University of Kansas religion course is even taught, its title has riled some who say the school is acting the spoil sport in the evolution debate.

The course, "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," will be offered next semester. The goal, university officials say, is to open students up to the many cross-cultural stories of how the world was created.

Those in the intelligent design camp believe it is just KU's way of degrading the concept. Intelligent design is the belief that some aspects of nature show evidence of being designed by a creator.

"All of a sudden, just from the title, intelligent design is being put in there with mythology," said Bruce Simat, an associate biology professor at Minnesota's Northwestern College, who testified on behalf of intelligent design at Kansas hearings in May.

"I think it's reactionary. I think it's defensive. I think they are unwilling to study intelligent design head-on."

For months, Kansas has been embroiled in controversy over what the state should teach its children in the science classroom. Earlier this month, the state board of education adopted new standards that allow for nonnatural explanations and cast doubt on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The course title is not meant to offend any religion or belief, KU Provost David Shulenburger said Tuesday. He explained in a written statement that "myth" and "mythology" are common in the academic study of religion.

The course will accommodate as many as 120 students. They will be introduced to many different creation stories and be able to make up their own minds on what they believe, university officials say.

What worries John Calvert, an attorney and managing director of Johnson County's Intelligent Design Network, is whether the course instructor will be educated in the science behind intelligent design.

"… People will be misled and buy the lie," Calvert said. "But the public is going to see what's going on. We're not all fools. Misinformation has a finite life."

But some, in addition to faculty members at KU, think the class is a good thing.

Boo Tyson of the Mainstream Coalition said she likes that the topic is being taught in a religion curriculum.

"It may be right way to go about this. Let's have this discussion in religion classes," Tyson said. "I don't think creationism or intelligent design belongs in a science classroom. I think it's a sign of weak faith to try to prove your faith."

Tyson said that after the course, students should be able to decide for themselves where they fall in the debate.

The nonpartisan coalition, based in Johnson County, works to maintain the separation of church and state.

Shulenburger said the course allows the university to fulfill its obligation to the community and students.

"My concern is that our faculty feels free to go to their disciplines and teach from them on any subject," Shulenburger said. "Regardless of the controversy associated with it."

To reach Laura Bauer, call (816) 234-7743 or send e-mail to lbauer@kcstar.com.

Intelligent Design Resource at STNews.org

http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/516318/

Source: Science & Theology News Released: Wed 23-Nov-2005, 08:00 ET

Libraries Science News Keywords

INTELLIGENT DESIGN, SCIENCE, RELIGION, SCIENCE & THEOLOGY NEWS

Contact Information

Available for logged-in reporters only

Description

The Science-and-Religion Guide to intelligent design is a resource for journalists, students and other researchers writing about ID with the tools they need to better understand the key issues at the crux of science, religion and health.

Newswise — The intelligent design trial in Dover, Pa., has brought the question of "Is intelligent design science?" to the forefront of public discussion. Science & Theology News tackles this complicated question in part five of our Science-and-Religion Guide, available at our Web site, http://www.stnews.org. The Guide is a resource designed to arm journalists, students and other researchers writing about intelligent design with the tools they need to better understand the key issues at the crux of science, religion and health.

Science editor Julia Keller and guest editor Owen Gingerich, professor emeritus of astronomy and history of science at Harvard University, break down the theory of intelligent design through interviews with intelligent design proponents and opponents, including Guillermo Gonzalez Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, Paul Gross, Paul Kurtz, Ernan McMullin, Eugenie Scott and more. The Guide also includes a glossary of key terms, a Who's Who of the intelligent design debate, a timeline of the theory and a comprehensive list of resources for more information. The Science-and-Religion Guide to intelligent design can be found here: http://www.stnews.org/guide.php?guide=Intelligent%20Design, and is also available as a downloadable PDF.

For more information about Science & Theology News and STNews.org, please contact Marisa Connolly, marketing director, at mconnolly@stnews.org. Please direct advertising inquiries to Jocelyn Godfrey, advertising director, at jgodfrey@stnews.org. For subscription information, contact Jennifer Doxsee at jdoxsee@stnews.org, or take advantage of our free, no-obligation trial subscription to the print edition. To receive four free issues, visit https://www.sunbeltfs.com/forms/rh/freeoffer.asp?eid=E10605.

Science & Theology News is the monthly, international newspaper focusing on the cooperative relationship between science and religion. Every issue features science-and-religion research reports, interviews with respected scholars and reviews of influential books, and each article includes analysis of science and its correlation with spirituality. We also publish the most accurate and complete calendar of future events and conferences in the field. Founded in 2000 as Research News and Opportunities in Science & Theology and funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Science & Theology News has a circulation of more than 17,000 and an audience of both national and international readers. Visit us on the Web at http://www.stnews.org.

© 2005 Newswise.

TALES FROM THE EVOLUTIONARY WAR

http://www.sdcitybeat.com/article.php?id=3782

No place for unanimity

County school officials consider the future of intelligent design in the classroom

by Pat Sherman

"The clearest evidence of our evolution can be found in our genes. But evolution is still being fought, ironically by those whose own DNA proclaims it—in the schools, in the courts, in textbook publishing houses."

—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

If leading the country into a baseless war and courting the contempt of a majority of the "free world" is truly the "hard work" our president says it is, then it should have surprised no one when George W. Bush gave props to the Almighty for the toilsome task of creating the universe from naught (and in less than a week—talk about time management).

In yet another nod to Christian conservatives, Bush has urged adding "intelligent design" to the public-school curriculum—a theory that nature and biological structures are so complex that they must be the handiwork of a certain "on the ball" being.

The Bush camp received a cane lashing on Election Day as voters in Dover, Pa. booted out eight of nine school board members who decided that ninth-graders should be told intelligent design is a viable alternative to evolution (a verdict in a lawsuit related to the brouhaha is currently pending). That same day, however, natural selection took a step back into mud when the Kansas Board of Education approved new science standards that question Charles Darwin's evolutionary teachings.

As the primordial ooze and God juice ebbs and flows in provincial pockets of the country, school board members in San Diego and surrounding communities say the rancorous issue is a long way from winding up on their packed agendas. A random sampling of board members' attitudes on intelligent design garnered responses from candid to cagey, with a few as difficult to decipher as the genetic code of ostrich DNA. Most said they would defer to California education standards for the teaching of natural science, which allows for evolution-only education. In September, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell defended California's standards from efforts to inject intelligent design into science curricula, saying intelligent design would be "a blow to the integrity of education in California… because religious beliefs are based on faith, and are not subject to scientific test and refutation."

Though she does not serve on a school board, newly elected Poway City Councilmember Merrilee Boyack serves her spiritual conscience when it comes to public education.

The Mormon mother and "life coach" has for years e-mailed an annual laundry list containing "items of concern" to a group of "informed parents" in the Poway Unified School District. This year, Boyack urged parents to let teachers know about their "strict moral values" and deep religious beliefs, and to ask that teachers honor those convictions by disclosing anything taught in the classroom that might be an affront to those values.

"Pay attention to Social Studies & History Classes," Boyack advised parents earlier this year, recounting a paper her son wrote on "early man" in which he added the footnote, "And I do not believe one single word of what I have just written. I think this is all ridiculous and that God created man in His image."

"Make sure your children know what you believe so they are not swayed," Boyack told parents.

Speaking with CityBeat, Boyack said she is not opposed to evolution being taught at school, but in her home, the creation myth reigns.

"I believe that God created the earth in seven time periods, and I don't buy the argument that we evolved from monkeys," Boyack said with a whimsical chuckle. "My biggest question that I always ask people that believe in evolution is, 'Where's all that middle stuff right now?' To me that's a big hole in that theory.... Why isn't there continual evolution? Where are the species that are half-ape, half-human that are still evolving?

"I asked those questions when I was a girl studying science and no one had good answers for me," Boyack said. "I don't mind [evolution] being presented as a theory, but when they say that this is absolutely the way things happened, then I get concerned."

Boyack said she sees no signs of intelligent design being implemented in the Poway district, pointing instead to the all-Christian Grossmont Union High School District Board as fertile ground for the premise to crop up in a syllabus.

Indeed, Grossmont board member Priscilla Schreiber said she would "absolutely" support the teaching of intelligent design in her district, which currently includes two schools with Bible-study groups, Granite Hills and Grossmont.

"As Christians, we would love to have that debate and that discussion in our classrooms, so it's not always a one-sided [issue]," Schreiber said. "But there's always the separation of church and state, which is obviously a perpetration of an interpretation that was never in the founding documents of our Constitution.

"I think it has a place in our schools, but that's nothing that we're even looking at. We have way too much to deal with."

Schreiber also said she likes the idea of returning to the days when the Ten Commandments were posted in the classroom.

"I believe that those values are good enough for the public arena," she said. "I just don't know why people are so afraid of our own heritage and our own roots, maybe because they don't want the accountability of God."

Schreiber, who is active in Sonshine Haven, a Santee-based children's ministry that provides after-school programs to disadvantaged kids, is following the cases in Pennsylvania and Kansas "to see how they achieve that and some of the consternation that that brings." She believes in literal translation of the Bible without any concession for the evolutionary process.

"It takes more faith to believe in what the evolutionists believe," she said. "It's like a tornado or hurricane whipping through a dump site and depositing a Boeing 737."

Grossmont school board Vice-chair Evelyn Wills, also a Christian, was more guarded with her words, saying she doesn't know enough about intelligent design to form an opinion. "Even though I support creation versus evolution, right now, unless the laws are changed, you'd have a problem there," Wills said. "But I do have a problem with the letter of the law…. If I could choose both of them, that would be ideal."

George Gastil of the Lemon Grove School District board said he would not support adding intelligent design.

"My feeling is that we would go with what our biology teachers were saying," Gastil said. "You have science classes and you rely on the scientists. What do we know about science, unless we happen to be scientists? … As a general rule, you trust the people that know the area. I think we'd want to go with what leading biologists and geologists and other folks are saying."

While most board members claimed not to be versed on the issue, Gastil said he is familiar with the concept of intelligent design.

"If there is any validity to it, I think it has a long way to go," said Gastil, whose father was a geologist. "There's really no reason to doubt carbon-14 dating and all these other things. Pretty responsible people have been doing this over a long period of time and the results are pretty consistent with each other."

Dianne El-Hajj, a Santee School District board member, agreed that evolution is sound science. "I think there would be support for considering the issue; I don't know if there would be any support for adopting it," El-Hajj said.

Penny Halgreen, president of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District board, said she'd be willing to consider adding intelligent design, but only after the board and staff researched the curriculum. La Mesa-Spring Valley board Vice-chair Rick Winet believes intelligent design should be afforded equal class time.

"I'm a Christian, and I believe in creation," Winet said. "It is something that I believe should be taught in parallel with what we are presently teaching."

San Diego Unified School District trustee Luis Acle, currently running for the District 8 City Council seat, said declining student achievement and enrollment, coupled with increasing employee benefits, trump any concerns about the possible inclusion of intelligent design.

"I don't know how it would be brought before the board, whether it would be brought as a resolution, as a consideration for curriculum or as a lawsuit," Acle said. "I think that the matter right now is probably in the early stages of debate, as far as I have seen in our local school board."

Fellow trustee Katherine Nakamura said she stands by evolution.

"I was raised Protestant, but I'm married to a Buddhist," Nakamura said. "I believe in a higher power and yet, I believe the study of science needs to stand alone. Evolution is evolution. To me it's undeniable."

Nakamura said teachers are ill equipped to discuss religion with students.

"Our mostly highly trained professors at universities grapple with issues of theology from a multi-faith perspective…. I would have trouble having my children being taught intelligent design when they come from a multiethnic background. Is it Christian? Is it Buddhist? Is it Jewish? Is it Hindu? Is it Muslim? Whose version of intelligent design is it?"

Lakeside Union School District board member Twila Godley, a grandmother of three Lakeside Union students and bookkeeper who volunteers at her church, said, "My personal beliefs and my position as a school board member are two different things. I do believe that God did create the earth and is the inventor of science, so I don't think that there is any contradiction between the two."

Godley added, "I certainly believe if it comes up for a discussion in a classroom that the teachers and the students can broach the subject and discuss it as an issue."

Asked if he believes the teaching of the Christian-Hebrew creation myth would add balance to discussions of Cro-Magnon Man, fellow Lakeside trustee Harold Hilliker said, "I'd rather not get in the middle of that one. I will follow the standards."

In 1993 the Vista school board's nearly unanimous support for teaching "creation science" led to the recall of two board members. At the time, the Christian-fundamentalist majority included John Tyndall, an accountant at the Institute for Creation Research in Santee. Current Vista school board trustee Steve Lilly said there might be some room for intelligent design in a social-studies course.

"I would not be in favor of adding intelligent design as part of the science curriculum," said Lilly, a retired dean of education at Cal State San Marcos. "If there are other courses, in the social-studies area, in the civics area, where it's discussed as a social issue, then that's a different thing, and that certainly would be appropriate."

Fellow Vista trustee Stephen Guffanti referred to an article authored last year by a science teacher in his district. In the article, the teacher sought to defend his belief in evolution.

"He demonstrated that he didn't really understand evolution," Guffanti said, affecting a cynical tone of voice. "Now, if a science teacher doesn't understand evolution, then what are the odds that the children will understand evolution? Evolution generates a lot of heat in political circles and it doesn't seem to be understood by almost anybody who argues for it or against it….

"I would love to see somebody stand up and say, 'OK, here's evolution. It's survival of the fittest with genetic mutations that generate new species'—something just that simple," Guffanti said. "Because once they say that, just look at the numbers and you'll begin to realize that that doesn't work out very well."

Though Guffanti said be believes Darwin's theory "has its uses," pressed as to whether he believes an intelligent designer was afoot 6,000 years ago, he said, "If you were not a newspaper reporter, I would answer your question…. In a normal school district, where the teachers union isn't throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars into political campaigns, I'm sure there's freedom of speech, but it's not that way in Vista."

11/23/05

© 2003-2005 Southland Publishing

Controversy Surrounds Scientology And Kabbalah

http://wcco.com/topstories/local_story_327092957.html

Nov 23, 2005 8:24 am US/Central

Dennis Douda Reporting

(WCCO) Minneapolis Both Scientology and Kabbalah have seen an increase in followers since Hollywood stars started talking about religion.

Scientologist Tom Cruise was criticized when he bashed Brook Shields after she used prescription drugs for post-partum depression.

Madonna has been criticized by the Jewish community for her affiliation with the Kabbalah Centre, a place many Orthodox Jews said is more interested in making money than teaching traditional Jewish mysticism.

From Hollywood to Nicollet Mall, people across the nation are showing more interest in what followers of both Scientology and Kabbalah believe.

"Scientology is perhaps unique among religions in that we don't have a specific pattern or doctrine of worship," said Minister Brian Fesler with the Church of Scientology.

Fesler said science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded Scientology in 1954. You can be of any faith and still practice Scientology and apply its principles.

The goal of Scientology is to become "clear", meaning to erase the part of your mind that stores painful experiences of your past so that those memories don't influence your future decisions.

To become "clear", a person undergoes counseling sessions called "Auditing."

Fesler explains "Auditing" as, "I ask you questions, in order for you to answer, you look back earlier in your life and discover things about yourself that you hadn't thought about."

An auditor uses a device, called an e-meter, which claims to measure people's painful experiences.

When WCCO-TV tried it, it did not work. The auditor told WCCO-TV the device may not have worked because it was cold out and also that tight clothing and other things can affect the meter.

In addition to running the e-meters, the church's staff helps people with courses to become "clear".

"They claim it may cost someone, to progress though all the levels as they are established now, that it may cost them $300,000 or more," WCCO-TV's Dennis Douda told Fesler.

"Yep, um ... I don't know the exact number, it could be that high, I just don't know," said Fesler.

The issue of charging fees for enlightenment is also one of the chief criticisms of another religious institution: the Kabbalah Centre.

"They have capitalized on something that is very intriguing to Jews and non-Jews alone and they know it," said Rabbi Simeon Glaser with Temple Israel, where he teaches traditional Kabbalah courses.

Kabbalists study the hidden meaning in things like the Hebrew alphabet on a search through the Torah to find God's true essence. Traditional Kabbalah courses can be far different from what is taught at the Kabbalah Centre.

"You may commune with something that is bigger than yourself, but it isn't going to get you the full essence of what the Kabbalah can teach," Glaser said.

Aside from charging what some say are shockingly high fees for courses, the root of the controversy surrounding the Kabbalah Centre is whether someone, like Madonna who is not Jewish, can effectively study the Kabbalah.

"She's limited in what she can take from it, as are many people who find their way to it, the Hollywood types," Glaser said.

Glaser said Kabbalah is about more than the now-fashionable red string bracelets.

"The red thread is related to a thread that was wrapped around Rachel's tomb and had mystical significance and it's supposed to protect us, but that's a talisman, a superstition, that is maybe meaningful to some people, but it really doesn't have anything to do with what the essence of Kabbalah is all about," said Glaser.

The Kabbalah Centre has no local branch, but offers classes online. Traditional Kabbalah courses are taught at the Temple Israel.

The Church of Scientology holds regular services at its Minneapolis church.

© MMV, CBS Broadcasting, Inc

The Grandeur of Evolution in a New Exhibition Called 'Darwin'

http://us.f603.mail.yahoo.com/ym/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=8556_9688074_479010_1893_154871_0_93149_616477_523941188&bodyPart=3&tnef=&YY=48321&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&VScan=1&Idx=0

November 19, 2005

Editorial Observer By VERLYN KLINKENBORG

In the summer of 1868, Charles Darwin and his family visited the poet

Alfred Tennyson and his family on the Isle of Wight. The visit - and the visitor's ideas - troubled Tennyson. "What I want," he later told a friend, "is an assurance of immortality."

This was an astute remark. Many of Darwin's readers, then and now, have tried to find ways to reconcile a divine creator with the clearly secular implications of Darwin's theory of evolution. As often as not, the effort is less a search for a first cause than a plea for assurances of immortality. Tennyson recognized that Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," which was published in 1859, offered no such promises.

What bothered Tennyson wasn't merely the possible loss of eternity. It was also the central observation that underlies Darwin's theory: the fact, first noticed by Malthus, that every species on the planet, including humans, produces far more offspring in each generation than nature can support. Coming as late as we do - nearly a century and a half after Darwin's "Origin" - we have the luxury of seeing at a glance what Darwin saw: that the pressure of so much excess population is a harsh but efficient test of the value of accidental variations in any species.

We can say, with Thomas Huxley, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!" But, of course, Darwin did not simply think of it. He prepared for years to be ready to think of it when he did. It is one thing to see the logic in evolution, as stated on the page. It is something entirely different to have pieced together such an astonishingly powerful theory - a word that, as scientists use it, means an explanation of the facts as we know them - from the details of nature itself.

The new exhibition called "Darwin" at the American Museum of Natural History portrays the making of the man and the scientist, and it reminds us how well and how fully evolution explains the life around us. It also captures the way Darwin's theory opened an entirely new window in the human imagination.

It is possible to say, in fact, that humans did not begin to understand their place in nature until 1859. I found myself wondering, oddly, what it must have been like to be alive at such a revolutionary moment. But we live in a moment that is no less revolutionary. "Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound," Darwin wrote. In our time - the DNA era - the mechanisms of those laws have been revealed in ways that Darwin could only dream of, and in ways that confirm the essentials of his theory beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This exhibition is useful, too, in reminding us that the controversy over evolution - over a true understanding of the human place in nature - has been more or less constant since 1859, though it has reached a peak of political absurdity only in our own time. The basic objections to evolution - the ones trumpeted by the proponents of so-called intelligent design - are essentially the ones Darwin described in the sixth chapter of "Origin." They have been given a new language, and new examples have been adduced. But Darwin did a surprisingly good job of forestalling his critics. He showed that most of the objections to his theory, then as now, were based on a misunderstanding of the evidence or the nature of his argument, or were owing simply to the fact that so much remains to be discovered about the workings of life on Earth.

One comes away from this exhibition with a reawakened sense of Darwin's characteristic honesty and his extraordinary powers as an observer, qualities that are as much an attribute of the scientist as of the man.

Darwin presented the strongest, most detailed argument and evidence for evolution that he could. He also carefully presented the strongest objections to his theory that he could. Under a century and a half of close examination, his theory has grown more and more solid - with refinements, of course. Under the kind of scrutiny that Darwin bestowed on himself, the notion of intelligent design vanishes in a puff of smoke like the bunkum it is.

"I do not attack Moses," Darwin once wrote, "and I think Moses can take care of himself." But the problem is not Moses, or Jesus or God. It is humanity itself. To the extent that the furor over evolution represents a cultural crisis in America - and only in America - it is a crisis of credulity, not faith, a crisis rooted in neglect and ignorance.

To lose the assurance of immortality is a serious thing, if it were ever ours to have. At the end of the "Origin" Darwin famously wrote, "There is a grandeur in this view of life." There is also an apologia in that phrase. He knew how hard it would be for us to see ourselves truly.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/19/opinion/19sat4.html?th&emc=th

There's hope for the republic yet

http://www.ardemgaz.com/ShowStoryTemplate.asp?Path=ArDemocrat/2005/11/23&ID=Ar01901&Section=Editorial

Gene Lyons

To me, the most heartening election result this November took place in Dover, Penn. There, citizens in a Republican town in a traditionally Republican congressional district voted to replace virtually the entire local school board with moderates running as Democrats.

Although the tally was close, with fewer than two percentage points separating some contestants, it was also decisive. Every incumbent Republican lost; every Democratic challenger won.

Partisanship, however, had little to do with it. Essentially, the election served as a referendum on "intelligent design," a religious idea disguised as a scientific theorem and foisted upon schoolchildren in biology classes. In October 2004, the old school board voted to require district science teachers to make their students "aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of [biological ] evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design."

In consequence, the district found itself caught up in a costly, embarrassing and at times deeply farcical civil trial in a U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. Brought by eight families who objected to having their children inculcated with fundamentalist religious dogma in a public school, the lawsuit won't be decided formally until January 2006, when the judge, a GOP appointee, has promised his ruling.

Based upon the evidence, however, there's little doubt it'll reprise the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 ruling forbidding what was then called "creation science" from being taught in Louisiana schools as an unconstitutional establishment of sectarian religion. Flogged in the newspapers and on TV (as opposed to refereed scientific journals) by an outfit calling itself the Discovery Institute, intelligent design—ID for short—supposedly represented a new frontier in scientific thinking.

Instead, judging by excellent coverage given the trial in Pennsylvania's York Daily Record and elsewhere, ID got exposed as biblical fundamentalism in a badly fitting lab coat.

Lest you suspect exaggeration, ponder this sentence from a creationist textbook called "Of Pandas and People," cited in the Louisiana case: "Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator, with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc."

Here it is again from a post-1987 edition of the same book, purchased by the Dover School Board: "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, etc."

Not much additional research appears to have been done.

Professor Barbara Forrest, whose book, "Creationism's Trojan Horse," is crucial to understanding this latest effort to confuse the realms of faith and reason, provided the court with an excerpt from the manuscript of a forthcoming textbook retitled "The Design of Life." It states that "sudden appearance means that various forms of life began abruptly. . . ." Well, I'll spare you from reading the identical sentence three times.

See, you can call a zebra a hippopotamus if you like, but that doesn't make it striped. Speaking of which, from a purely scientific standpoint, the trial's high point may have come when Cal-Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian gave the court a compelling seminar in the extensive fossil record linking hippos and whales. Contrary to "Of Pandas and People's" standard "missing link" argument that denies the existence of such "transitional species," there's an ever more abundant record demonstrating how land-dwelling and sea-going mammals evolved from common ancestors over eons of time in response to environmental change.

Did God put it there to confuse us? Or maybe Satan's responsible. But enough sophomoric humor. The scientist who fared worst on the witness stand was Michael J. Behe, a biochemist from Lehigh University and author of the best-selling book, "Darwin's Black Box." Surrounded by stacks of books and journal articles dealing with the evolution of the human immune system, a mystery for which, his book argued, "scientific literature has no answer," Behe was reduced to rhetorically dismissing works he obviously knew nothing about.

Even journalists are expected to read books before reviewing them.

Attorneys for the complaining parents also appear to have had a grand time taking Behe systematically through "Of Pandas and People," repudiating one creationist nostrum after another. Indeed, his version of ID seems to boil down to the idea that God created the first living cell several billion years ago, placed it on the primordial earth, fixed himself a bowl of popcorn and sat back to enjoy the show.

Maybe he did. Asked what "mechanism" the designer used, Behe offered none.

In short, ID not only fails to qualify as a scientific theorem, it's not even a hypothesis. It's the equivalent of a 3 a.m. dormitory bull session about The Meaning of Life.

The good news is that whatever Americans may tell pollsters about evolution when it's falsely equated with atheism, when circumstances force them to think seriously, the majority reaches the right conclusion.

Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

This story was published Wednesday, November 23, 2005

THE MISSING LINK

http://www.sdcitybeat.com/article.php?id=3784

UCSD, USD alum-lawyer says I.D. advocates are underestimated
by Pat Sherman

Casey Luskin founded the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Club (IDEA) at UCSD in 1999 as an outlet for students interested in discussing the burgeoning theory of intelligent design. Today, there are more than 20 such clubs on campuses across the country.

Luskin, currently working as an attorney with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design, helped write amicus briefs on behalf of the Dover Area School District board in the pending case in Pennsylvania.

Opponents say "intelligent design," like its predecessor, "creation science," is a term coined to cloak creationism in scientific jargon to circumvent a 1987 Supreme Court decision that prohibits teaching of creation on an equal level with evolution.

Luskin, an avowed Star Wars fan and Christian who obtained a bachelor's degree in earth sciences from UCSD and a law degree from USD, defended the demarcation of the terms.

"It can really blow your mind when you find out that intelligent design is not the way our critics have said it is," Luskin said. "Intelligent-design theory stops short of trying to identify the designer, whether the designer was the God of the Bible or Yoda or Yahweh or whatever you want to believe."

The theory also falls in line with many principles of evolution, he said.

"We're a lot more savvy than people give us credit for," Luskin said. "Natural selection is very real, and it absolutely happened. But many of the examples we have of natural selection do not really tell us how new biochemical pathways form or how these really complex microbiological machines, how those things originate."

As a geologist, Luskin also concedes that the earth is older than the typical 6,000-year life span offered by creationists.

"If you want to know how old the earth is, go ask a geologist," Luskin said. "I happen to be a geologist. I have absolutely no problem with the earth being 4.54 billion years old."

11/23/05


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Univ. of Kansas Takes Up Creation Debate 2 hours, 2 minutes ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051123/ap_on_re_us/intelligent_design_course;_ylt=AjhEHSzLGK_Lk9ayKn56i4dvieAA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/22/AR2005112200606.html

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Creationism and intelligent design are going to be studied at the University of Kansas, but not in the way advocated by opponents of the theory of evolution.

A course being offered next semester by the university religious studies department is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."

"The KU faculty has had enough," said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.

"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

Earlier this month, the state Board of Education adopted new science teaching standards that treat evolution as a flawed theory, defying the view of science groups.

Although local school boards still decide how science is taught in the classrooms, the vote was seen as a major victory for proponents of intelligent design, which says that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.

Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism — a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation as the handiwork of God — camouflaged in scientific language as a way to get around court rulings that creationism injects religion into public schools.

John Calvert, an attorney and managing director of the Intelligent Design Network in Johnson County, said Mirecki will go down in history as a laughingstock.

"To equate intelligent design to mythology is really an absurdity, and it's just another example of labeling anybody who proposes (intelligent design) to be simply a religious nut," Calvert said. "That's the reason for this little charade."

Mirecki said his course, limited to 120 students, would explore intelligent design as a modern American mythology. Several faculty members have volunteered to be guest lecturers, he said.

University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Monday said he didn't know all the details about the new course.

"If it's a course that's being offered in a serious and intellectually honest way, those are the kind of courses a university frequently offers," he said.


Current News  News Back Issues


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