NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 December 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, December 02, 2005


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Thousands--Not Billions

Evolution and many scientists have challenged the Biblical account of Creation for years, especially on the subject of the age of the earth. Now compelling new scientific research by the Institute For Creation Science challenges the primary basis for the conclusion that the earth is old. How do we know how old the earth is? Does science confirm what Scripture tells us already? Loaded with detailed animations, illustrations and photos, this documentary summarizes the findings and amazing discoveries of the Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (RATE) Project at the Institute for Creation Research. Also included are interviews with each of the ICR RATE team scientists. Subject matter is presented in an understandable and insightful manner, with thought provoking scientific and theological conclusions (Copies of both the video and the book will be available.) Additionally, Dr. Patton will present a brief report on the latest exciting archeological finds in Israel and will report on the continuing saga of our attempt to obtain thermoluminescent dates for the Mexican dinosaur figurines.

Bunky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, December 6th, 7:30 PM

University cancels creationism class


TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- A University of Kansas course devoted to debunking creationism and intelligent design has been canceled after the professor who planned to teach it caused a furor by sending an e-mail mocking Christian fundamentalists.

Twenty-five students had enrolled in the course, originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies," which had been scheduled for the spring.

Critics of intelligent design say it is merely creationism -- a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation -- camouflaged in scientific language.

Professor Paul Mirecki, chairman of religious studies, canceled the class Wednesday, the university said.

Mirecki recently sent an e-mail to members of a student organization in which he referred to religious conservatives as "fundies" and said a course depicting intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face."

He later apologized, and did so again Thursday in a statement issued by the university.

"I made a mistake in not leading by example, in this student organization e-mail forum, the importance of discussing differing viewpoints in a civil and respectful manner," he said.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Mirecki's comments were "repugnant and vile."

"It misrepresents everything the university is to stand for," Hemenway said.

The class was added to the curriculum after the Kansas Board of Education decided recently to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for public school students.

State Sen. Kay O'Connor, a Mirecki critic, said the university did the right thing.

"I'm glad they decided to listen to the public. The public response was so negative because of what seemed to be so hateful coming from the KU professor," said O'Connor, a Republican. "I am critical of his hatefulness toward Christians."

Evolution education update: Royal Society president slams "intelligent design"; a quartet of articles on evolution education; evolution education endorsed by the Biophysical Society; NCSE returns to the Grand Canyon

The president of the Royal Society criticizes "intelligent design" in his final anniversary address to the Society; four stories from around the country present a multifaceted look at the state of evolution education; the Biophysical Society decries attempts to teach creationism in any of its forms or to suppress the teaching of evolution in the public schools; and NCSE is returning to the Grand Canyon from June 14 to June 21, 2006 -- will you be able to join us?


Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society of London, criticized "intelligent design" -- which he described as a "disguised variant" of creationism -- in the course of his fifth and final anniversary address to the Society on November 30, 2005. His address was webcast and also posted in PDF form on the Royal Society's website. In the published version of his address, he wrote (pp. 21-22, notes omitted):


Today, however, fundamentalist forces are again on the march, West and East. Surveying this phenomenon, Debora MacKenzie has suggested that -- in remarkably similar ways across countries and cultures -- many people are scandalised by "pluralism and tolerance of other faiths, non-traditional gender roles and sexual behaviour, reliance on human reason rather than divine revelation, and democracy, which grants power to people rather than God." She adds that in the US evangelical Christians have successfully fostered a belief that science is anti-religious, and that a balance must be restored, citing a survey which found 37% of Americans (many of them not evangelicals) wanted Creationism taught in schools. Fundamentalist Islam offers a similar threat to science according to Ziauddin Sardar, who notes that a rise in literalist religious thinking in the Islamic world in the 1990s seriously damaged science there, seeing the Koran as the font of all knowledge.

In the US, the aim of a growing network of fundamentalist foundations and lobby groups reaches well beyond "equal time" for creationism, or its disguised variant "intelligent design", in the science classroom. Rather, the ultimate aim is the overthrow of "scientific materialism", in all its manifestations. One major planning document from the movement's Discovery Institute tells us that "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist world view, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions". George Gilder, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, has indicated that this new, faith-based science will rid us of the "chimeras of popular science", which turn out to be ideas such as global warming, pollution problems, and ozone depletion.


Lord May has won a number of international awards, including the 1996 Crafoord Prize for "pioneering ecological research in theoretical analysis of the dynamics of populations, communities and ecosystems". Between 1995 and 2000 he was Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the Office of Science and Technology. He became a member of the House of Lords in 2001 and was appointed to be a member of the Order of Merit in 2002. Founded in the 1660s, the Royal Society is one of the most prestigious scientific societies in the world.

For the webcast of Lord May's address, visit:

For the published version of the address (PDF), visit:

For the Royal Society's press release about the address, visit:


In the seemingly endless stream of articles on challenges to evolution education from across the country, recent stories from California Schools, New York's Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun especially deserve a read. Discussing such challenges in a variety of contexts -- how local school boards in California need to be wary of proposals that would compromise the teaching of evolution; how science teachers in New York cope with questions about creationism and evolution from students; what experts in science and science education think of teachers who are teaching creationism in their science classrooms; how one teacher in South Bend, Indiana, taught about creationism in order to explain the scientific strength of evolution -- these stories help to emphasize the multifaceted nature of the controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution in the public schools. (It is of course also gratifying that they also rely on the acumen and expertise of NCSE's staff and board of directors!)

In the winter 2005 issue of California Schools, the quarterly magazine of the California School Boards Association, Carol Brydolf writes, "Because overseeing is a major part of every school board's job, increasing numbers of school board members across the country are finding they have little choice but to enter the newest skirmishes in the decades-long battle over evolution." NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch is quoted as noting, "when school boards are involved, it's usually a bad sign"; Brydolf cites the just-concluded trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover as a case in point. Berkeley's Kevin Padian, who testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller and serves as president of NCSE's board of directors, is quoted as saying, "It may be appropriate for schools to teach about intelligent design, but it is not appropriate to teach students that intelligent design is science." Moreover, Brydolf notes, perhaps for the benefit of her readership of school board members, "Debates over the teaching of evolution can be expensive and counterproductive."

Writing in Newsday (November 27, 2005), Ellen Yan discusses how "intelligent design" presents a challenge to science teachers in New York. The story opens with Jack Friedman -- a retired teacher, the head of the New York State Council on Evolution Education, and a member of NCSE's board of directors -- coaching a group of middle school teachers about addressing the issue with their students: Friedman comments, "They didn't want to step on anybody's religion and have their parents come in and get them in trouble." Except for one piece of legislation, which died in committee in June 2005, New York is relatively free from organized assaults on evolution education. But Yan reports, "now and then, local public school teachers said, they've responded to questions on the issue from students and parents." Several teachers told Newsday about the various ways they have devised to handle such questions responsibly. Kudos to Friedman and his colleagues for helping them to prepare to do so.

In a carefully researched piece in the Baltimore Sun (November 27, 2005), Arthur Hirsch examines the other side of the coin: public school teachers who teach creationism in their classrooms. "There's a consistent, a significant number of biology teachers in public schools who are creationists," the University of Minnesota's Randy Moore told the Sun, a situation that Jay Labov of the National Academy of Sciences and Wayne Carley of the National Association of Biology Teachers both deplored. Reacting to a teacher who boasts of "teaching the controversy" in the sense recommended by the "ntelligent design" movement, NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch was quoted as saying, "Singling out evolution for special critical attention will have the effect of promoting creationism. ... And it's hard to avoid the conclusion that for [the teacher] it would be the purpose of the exercise." McGill University's Brian Alters, a member of NCSE's board of directors, told the Sun that even teachers who accept evolution still often feel pressure to avoid teaching it: "They feel guilt, or a certain amount of shame. But it's the easier route to take."

Finally, in his commentary in the Chicago Tribune (November 27, 2005), reporter Jeremy Manier describes how his high school biology teacher taught about creationism in order to emphasize the scientific strength of evolution, suggesting, "If more students could see the evidence presented that way, the dismal percentage of people who believe in evolution would skyrocket." To his surprise, NCSE didn't demur: "'Religious advocacy is what's forbidden, but acknowledging that there are religious controversies and objections around evolution is another thing,' said Glenn Branch, the center's deputy director. 'It would be perfectly acceptable for there to be a discussion of the fact that there are religious objections to evolution.'" Manier was refreshingly clear about the scientific status of evolution, writing, "On scientific grounds, any brand of creationism loses out to evolution." Also of interest in the same issue of the Tribune were commentaries critical of "intelligent design" by reporter Ron Grossman and Olivet Nazarene University biologist Richard Colling.

For the article in California Schools, visit:

For the article in Newsday, visit:

For the article in the Baltimore Sun, visit:

And for the three commentaries in the Chicago Tribune, visit:


On November 5, 2005, the Biophysical Society adopted a new statement on the teaching of evolution and "intelligent design." "What distinguishes scientific theories from these theological beliefs ["intelligent design" and biblical creationism] is the scientific method, which is driven by observations and deductions, leads to testable predictions, and involves the formulation of hypotheses that can be refuted," the statement says. "The Biophysical Society is strongly opposed to any effort to blur the distinction between science and theology by teaching or presenting non-scientific beliefs in science classrooms." The statement concludes, "Attempts to suppress or compromise the teaching of evolutionary science in the United States are misguided actions that will deprive our youth of a clear understanding of the scientific process, and of the scientific skills that they need to compete in a global economy: one that is increasingly driven by science and technology. Moreover, current efforts to disguise theology as science do a severe disservice to the scientific profession and to the people of the United States." The Biophysical Society, founded in 1956, is a professional, scientific society established to encourage development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics, with over 8,000 members worldwide.

For the full text of the Biophysical Society's statement (PDF), visit:


Seats are now available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From June 14 to June 21, 2006, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of Grand Canyon and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. We are taking only one boat, so seats are limited: call as soon as possible to reserve your place!

For further information on the Grand Canyon trip, visit:

For a summary of the article in The New York Times, visit:

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.


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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

Intelligent design foes abrogate liberty


It is puzzling why opponents of "intelligent design" insist with religious fervency that the wildly counterintuitive tenets of evolutionary theory be taught to public schoolchildren as incontrovertible dogma.

They want children to think that all species -- from mollusks to giraffes to men -- originated from some primordial ooze, and that we all have apes in our family trees, and that only the ignorant and unenlightened could think otherwise. They want to indoctrinate kids with ideas that seem like preposterous nonsense to many people, without even a caveat that there are alternative ideas.

Opponents of intelligent design insist that intelligent design is not science. They miss the point. Even if intelligent design is not a "science," it is, like evolution, a hypothesis that explains various natural phenomena. A scientist who tests the validity of the hypothesis of intelligent design uses the same scientific method as a scientist who tests the hypothesis of evolution (just as the scientific method has been used to test, for example, whether prayer has health benefits). It is irrelevant that intelligent design is a supernatural explanation while evolution is a naturalistic explanation. It is "unscientific" to assume a priori that only the naturalistic theory can correctly explain the data. This is especially true when the naturalistic theory happens to be so full of enormous gaps that it is scarcely more plausible than a bizarre fairy tale.

Opponents of intelligent design insist that evolution is entirely compatible with religion. But evolutionary theory directly contradicts the most basic religious beliefs of many people. When the state forces fundamentalist Christian students to recite evolutionary theory as "fact," it implicitly forces those students to deny their contrary religious beliefs. This is a blatant violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

Proponents of intelligent design do not seek to exclude mention of evolutionary theory in the schools. By contrast, opponents of intelligent design are ferociously intolerant of any attempts to expose students to alternatives to evolution. Christians and non-Christians alike who care about the Constitution should firmly resist this abrogation of liberty.

George Luce, Esq.

Academics consider "intelligent design" museum talk


Fri Dec 2, 2005 7:09 AM GMT

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A panel of academics took a cool look at the increasingly heated issue of evolution versus "intelligent design" on Thursday, variously holding up the latter as a cultural battle, a global phenomenon or even a brilliant marketing scheme.

The "Darwin's Legacy" discussion, convened in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History's exhibit on the naturalist who developed the theory of evolution, came as legal battles played out over the teaching of evolution and "intelligent design" in U.S. schools.

Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex they must be the work of an unnamed designer or higher power, as opposed to the result of random natural selection as argued by Darwin.

Policies that would promote teaching alternatives to evolution are being considered in at least 30 states, and the Kansas Board of Education earlier this month approved new public school science standards that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

In Dover, Pennsylvania, a local school board was ousted over its requiring that intelligent design be taught in classrooms, and a group of parents has sued saying that violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

In a broad-ranging discussion, the panelists agreed as often as they differed, with several noting that the debate over evolution and intelligent design was rife with paradox.

James Moore of Britain's Open University noted religion was not taught in U.S. schools, yet this was a "very religious nation." In contrast, fewer than 5 percent of adults attend church services in Britain, a Christian country where religious education is mandatory and there is no separation of church and state.


Florida State University Michael Ruse, author of "The Evolution-Creation Struggle," echoed that, calling America "a peculiarly religious country" which was also a "science powerhouse. How can it be such?" he asked.

Ruse suggested the answer lay partly in history, not least being the Civil War after which Southerners turned to the Bible, and evolution "was taken to represent everything about the North that they disliked."

The result, he said, was the "red state-blue state clash -- It's not science versus religion as such -- but very much a cultural clash that we've got in America today." Others concurred, saying that the schism was part and parcel of a broader cultural war over contentious issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control.

But the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Ronald Numbers viewed the phenomenon as a growing global issue, saying intelligent design had made significant inroads in Australia, throughout Latin America, in Korea and most surprisingly, Russian and even China, which remains a communist state.

"And it's not just a Christian phenomenon," he added, citing a Turkish education minister who pushed for intelligent design in schools, as well as inroads made within both Judaism and Islam.

Numbers said that at heart, the proponents of intelligent design "want to change the definition of science" to include God, an issue he predicted would end up in the Supreme Court.

"One of the most successful PR campaigns we've seen in recent years," he added, "is intelligent design."

Finally Edward Larson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1998 book on the Scopes monkey trials, held that the debate boiled down in the United States to what is being taught in high school biology classes.

In the only remark to draw applause from the large audience, Larson said the "problem is partisan officials trying to tell science teachers how to do their jobs," and for "blatantly religious motivations." He also noted that "so far, the issue hasn't affect scientific funding."

President George W. Bush, a vocal Christian, has stated he believes that intelligent design should be taught in classrooms alongside evolution, as has British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Opponents say it is thinly veiled version of creationism, the Bible version of human origins, which the Supreme Court barred from the classroom decades ago.

Prof. cancels intelligent design course


LAWRENCE, Kan., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- A University of Kansas religious studies professor has decided against teaching intelligent design as mythology two weeks after proposing it.

"I thought about it long and hard this week," Paul Mirecki told the Lawrence Journal-World, which said his comments on a listserv for KU's Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics were what ended it.

Mirecki said the continuing controversy over his e-mails pressed him to withdraw the course.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said in a statement: "I want to be clear that I personally find Professor Mirecki's e-mail comments repugnant and vile. They do not represent my views nor the views of this university."

The elective course had 25 students enrolled when it was canceled. Provost David Shulenburger says the course may be offered in the future, though not by Mirecki, the newspaper reported.

On the listserv, Mirecki reportedly referred to himself as "Evil Dr. P" and called fundamentalists "fundies."

Critics have questioned the use of tax dollars on the course. A Republican legislator called on Mirecki and Hemenway to appear before lawmakers to answer questions about the course.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Alleged 40,000-year-old human footprints in Mexico much, much older than thought


Public release date: 30-Nov-2005

Contact: Robert Sanders rsanders@berkeley.edu 510-643-6998

University of California - Berkeley

Berkeley -- Alleged footprints of early Americans found in volcanic rock in Mexico are either extremely old - more than 1 million years older than other evidence of human presence in the Western Hemisphere - or not footprints at all, according to a new analysis published this week in Nature.

The study was conducted by geologists at the Berkeley Geochronology Center and the University of California, Berkeley, as part of an investigative team of geologists and anthropologists from the United States and Mexico.

Earlier this year, researchers in England touted these "footprints" as definitive proof that humans were in the Americas much earlier than 11,000 years ago, which is the accepted date for the arrival of humans across a northern land-bridge from Asia.

These scientists, led by geologist Silvia Gonzalez of Liverpool's John Moores University, dated the volcanic rock at 40,000 years old. They hypothesized that early hunters walked across ash freshly deposited near a lake by volcanoes that are still active in the area around Puebla, Mexico. The so-called footprints, subsequently covered by more ash and inundated by lake waters, eventually turned to rock.

But Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and an adjunct professor of earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley, and his colleagues in Mexico and at Texas A&M University report in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature a new age for the rock: about 1.3 million years.

"You're really only left with two possibilities," Renne said. "One is that they are really old hominids - shockingly old - or they're not footprints."

Renne's colleagues are Michael R. Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University; Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales and Mario Perez-Campa of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History; Patricia Ochoa Castillo of the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology; and UC Berkeley graduate students Joshua M. Feinberg and Kim B. Knight. The Berkeley Geochronology Center, located a block from the UC Berkeley campus, is one of the world's preeminent anthropological dating laboratories.

Paleoanthropologist Tim White, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, is familiar with the "so-called footprints" and knows Renne well, frequently collaborating with him in the dating of million-year-old sediments in an area of Ethiopia where White has excavated numerous fossils of human ancestors. He is not surprised at the new finding.

"The evidence (the British team) has provided in their arguments that these are footprints is not sufficient to convince me they are footprints," said White, who did not contribute to the new work that Renne's group is reporting in Nature. "The evidence Paul has produced by dating basically means that this argument is over, unless indisputable footprints can be found sealed within the ash."

Renne determined the new date using the argon/argon dating technique, which reliably dates rock as young as 2,000 years or as old as 4 billion years. The British-led researchers, however, relied mainly on carbon-14 dates of overlying sediments. Carbon-14 cannot reliably date materials older than about 50,000 years.

The idea for another test that, it turns out, throws more cold water on the footprint hypothesis came to Renne one morning in the shower. Many rocks retain evidence of their orientation at the moment they cool in the form of iron oxide grains magnetized in a direction parallel to the Earth's magnetic field at the time of cooling. Because the Earth's field has repeatedly flipped throughout the planet's history, it is possible to date rock based on its magnetic polarity.

Feinberg found that the rock grains in the volcanic ash had polarity opposite to the Earth's polarity today. Since the last magnetic pole reversal was 790,000 years ago, the rock must be at least that age. Because the Earth's magnetic polarity changes, on average, every 250,000 years, the argon/argon date is consistent with a time between 1.07 and 1.77 million years ago when the Earth's polarity was opposite to that of today.

Moreover, Feinberg found that each individual grain in the rock is magnetized in the same direction, meaning that the rock has not been broken up and reformed since it was deposited. This makes extremely unlikely the possibility that the original ash had been weathered into sand that early humans walked through before the sand was welded into rock again.

"Imagine two-millimeter-wide BBs cemented together where they're touching," Feinberg said. "The paleomagnetic data tell us that these things did not move around at all since they were deposited. They haven't been eroded and redeposited anywhere else. They fell while they were still hot, which raises the question of the validity of the footprints. If they were hot, why would anybody be walking on them?"

The British researchers, funded by the United Kingdom's Natural Environment Research Council, have promoted their hypothesis widely, most prominently at a July 4, 2005, presentation and press conference at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition 2005 in London. The team, which includes Gonzalez as well as Professor David Huddart from John Moores University, also involves scientists from Bournemouth University, the University of Oxford and the Australian National University. They have yet to publish a peer-reviewed analysis of the footprints.

In all, the British team claims to have found 250 footprints - mostly human, but also dog, cat and cloven-hoofed animal prints - in a layer of volcanic ash deposited in a former lake bed now exposed near a reservoir outside Puebla. Its dating techniques returned a date of 40,000 years ago, in contrast to the oldest accepted human fossil from the Americas, an 11,500-year-old skull. This makes the rock "one of the most important areas in the study of early human occupation in the Americas and would support a much earlier human migration than is currently accepted," the team wrote.

One of the team members, Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth, was quoted on a Royal Society Web site as saying, "Accounting for the origin of these footprints would require a complete rethink on the timing, route and origin of the first colonization of the Americas."

Renne, Knight, Waters and the Mexico City archeologists visited the site at the Toluquilla quarry last year while collecting rocks from another anthropological site across the reservoir. Renne noted that the black, basaltic rock is very tough and is mined in slabs for building. Pre-Columbian Mexicans also constructed buildings from the rock, which they called xalnene, meaning "fine sand" in the Nahuatl language. Today, trucks headed toward the quarry routinely drive across the xalnene tuff in which the alleged footprints are found, and the rock itself is pockmarked with many depressions in addition to the alleged footprints.

"They're scattered all over, with no more than two or three in a straight line," which would be expected if someone had walked through the ash, Renne said. If the depressions were footprints, they could not have been made by modern humans, he noted, since even in Africa, Homo sapiens did not appear until about 160,000 years ago. Given the age of the volcanic rock and lacking other evidence of early human ancestors in the Americas 1.3 million years ago, the researchers wrote in their paper, "we consider such a possibility to be extremely remote."

Many paleontologists have withheld judgment on the alleged footprints, awaiting good geological dates, Feinberg said. "With this study, we're trying to nip any misrepresentation in the bud."

The research was supported by the Center for the Study of the First Americans, the North Star Archaeological Research Program and the Berkeley Geochronology Center.

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 2 Dec 05 Washington, DC


Who could disagree? This was the title of a statement issued by the father of Rachel Scott, one of the victims of the Columbine tragedy. The "bad science" Mr. Scott had in mind is evolution. Columbine Redemption, the organization he founded, is devoted to taking evolution out of our schools, and putting prayer back in. We note only the obvious point that the most violent conflicts in the world today, including that between Sunni and Shiite in Iraq, involve cultures on both sides that demand frequent prayers in school and teach the Genesis account of human origins.


It included, Creationism, ID and "other religious mythologies."

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

KU Prof Mocks Christians


December 2, 2005

by Steve Jordahl

Professor apologizes but his words betray a deep bias against Christians.

After being caught mocking those who believe in creationism or intelligent design, University of Kansas Professor Paul Mirecki has apologized and promises to teach a class on creationism that respects all points of view. But how much respect can Christians expect from the chair of the Religious Studies Department who is also the faculty advisor to the school's atheist club?

In an e-mail to campus atheists, Mirecki wrote of what he called "fundies," or fundamentalists, "this will be a nice slap in their big, fat, face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category of mythology." KU senior Amanda Tate says it's offensive but not surprising given the liberal bent on campus.

"That quote shows that he has a hidden agenda in doing this and that he wants to make the conservative fundamentalists mad."

As part of his penance Mirecki has apologized and taken the word "mythology" out of the class title. That's not enough to restore the confidence of Rob Crowther of the Discovery Institute.

"I'm very skeptical as to whether he can present Intelligent Design in an intellectually honest or balanced way."

State Representative Brenda Landwehr is calling for hearings. The Kansas legislature oversees the school's funding.

"I've made the request to have the Chancellor Hemenway from KU come in as well as the professor and explain their position and answer questions."

But no matter what their answers, Mirecki faces an uncertain future as Landwehr is calling for Mirecki to be fired. Several calls to Professor Mirecki went unanswered. In his apology he called the e-mail ill-advised and said "we must be able to discuss differing points of view in an open, fair and civil fashion."

Religion vs. science?


Friday, December 2, 2005

The controversy surrounding the Terri Schiavo case earlier this year surprised a number of well educated, middle-aged and older Catholics who had always been taught, from the days of Pope Pius XII (d. 1958), that no one is required to employ extraordinary means to stay alive.

Over the centuries, the concept of "extraordinary means" varied as medical technology evolved, but by the middle of the 20th century the term clearly applied to the use of a feeding tube to keep alive someone in a persistent vegetative state with no realistic hope of recovery.

A different type of Catholic, associated in one way or another with the pro-life movement and apparently unaware of this lengthy and consistent moral tradition, latched onto a talk given by the late Pope John Paul II to a group of visiting physicians in March, 2004. These Catholics interpreted the pope's remarks as if it were a definitive moral teaching on the Schiavo case, unequivocally favoring the continuation of life-support mechanisms.

Middle-aged and older Catholics have had a similar experience with regard to the current controversy over evolution-versus-intelligent design, the latter an updated version of creationism.

Catholics brought up and educated for the most part before Vatican II were taken aback when a prominent cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna and someone who had been frequently mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul II, published an op-ed column in The New York Times ("Finding Design in Nature," July 7) that purported to give the "real" Catholic position on evolution.

The problem was that the position offered by the cardinal seemed to represent a reversal of the Catholic moral tradition on the subject of evolution, and particularly the teaching of Pope Pius XII.

Even in one of his most doctrinally rigid encyclicals, Humani Generis (1950), Pius XII explicitly approved of dialogue on the subject of evolution between scientists and theologians. He acknowledged the existence of scientific arguments in support of evolution, and insisted that the Church is open to them so long as there is no retreat from the Church's traditional teaching that "souls are immediately created by God" (n. 64).

The Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (1965), also spoke approvingly of an evolutionary framework for understanding the human condition: "the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one" (n. 5).

In a 1996 address before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome, Pope John Paul II noted that the scientific case for evolution was growing stronger and that the theory was "more than a hypothesis."

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, chair of the Committee on Science and Human Values of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, cited the pope's remarks in assuring his brother bishops that "the Church does not need to fear the teaching of evolution as long as it is understood as a scientific account of the physical origins and development of the universe."

Catholic theologians also find the scientific arguments for evolution fully compatible with the view that God creates through evolution. They have clearly distanced themselves from creationist theories which are based on a literalist reading of Genesis.

Creationism and its updated form, intelligent design, are products of faith, not scientific evidence. Their proponents act as if the Bible, narrowly interpreted, is in the same genre as scientific data.

It was later discovered that Cardinal Schönborn's op-ed piece had been solicited by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a leading advocate for the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes, and that the article was subsequently submitted to The New York Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute.

More recently, however, another cardinal, Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, seemed to weigh in against Cardinal Schönborn's view. He spoke at a recent news conference about "the dangers of a religion that severs its link with reason and becomes prey to fundamentalism."

Another Vatican official, Msgr. Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project, Science, Theology and Ontological Quest (STOQ), reaffirmed Pope John Paul II's 1996 statement that evolution "is more than a hypothesis because there is proof."

Although Msgr. Basti agreed that the pope's statement before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was not doctrinally definitive, neither were John Paul II's remarks on life-support mechanisms which many in the pro-life movement seized upon in the Terri Schiavo case.

In the end, as Cardinal Poupard noted, the doctrine of creation is "perfectly compatible" with evolution.

Father Richard P. McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

The Discovery Institute, Intelligent Design and the Designer


Posted by Steve Verdon at 16:01

One of the things that continuously annoys me about the Discovery Institute (DI) and their representatives is the dishonesty when it comes to the designer in Intelligent Design (ID). The strategy of the DI is to maintain that the designer does not have to be the Christian God, nor does the designer even have to be supernatural. Case in point is William Dembski. Dembski argues that the designer does not have to be God,

In September, Jon Stewart's The Daily Show devoted several programs to the topic of evolution ("Evolution, Schmevolution — Who's Right, Who's Full of It"). What's more, I appeared on one of those programs (go here and here).

In those programs, Stewart & Co. had some lines that were not only funny but also memorable. The one that sticks out poked fun at ID: "We're not saying that the designer is God, just someone with the same skill-set." That line is now being reused on the debate circuit, with Eugenie Scott, for instance, deploying it this November at a debate at Boston University (go here).

Although the line is funny, it is not accurate. God's skill-set includes not just ordering matter to display certain patterns but also creating matter in the first place. God, as understood by the world's great monotheistic faiths, is an infinite personal transcendent creator. The designer responsible for biological complexity, by contrast, need only be a being capable of arranging finite material objects to display certain patterns. Accordingly, this designer need not even be infinite. Likewise, that designer need not be personal or transcendent (cf. the "designer" in Stoic philosophy).

This is completely dishonest given Dembski's previous work, writings and speeches. One need look no further than Dembski's Law of Conservation of Information. The bottomline of the Law of Conservation of Information (a new law of thermodynamics "discovered" by Dembski) is,

"In this section I will present an in-principle mathematical argument for why natural causes are incapable of generating complex specified information." [No Free Lunch, p. 150]

So, if nature cannot create complex specified information, then what can? The designer, who by the above quote must be outside of nature, or supernatural. At this point one might be tempted to argue for aliens, but this is not allowed by Law of Conservation of Information. If the aliens are also "complex specified information" then they too cannot arise naturally and must have their source outside of nature.

The reader might not be persuaded by the above reasoning in that one could argue that the aliens don't have to be complex and specified. However, lets look at another article written by Dembski, Searching Large Spaces: Displacement and the No Free Lunch Regress. In this article, Dembski argues that something as simple as a protein comprised of 100 amino acids is impossible to form naturally without the aid of an intelligent designer. Yet at the same time we are to believe that intelligent aliens formed naturally, developed some means to travel to our planet and start life here. Any reasonable person's Woo-Woo meter should be just about ready to break.

We can also turn to the Discovery Institute itself and look at their explanation of what ID is,

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Then there is this article from the DI website by Benjamin Wiker that argues that the universe itself was created for humans,

Since human beings arrive at the result of a long conspiracy of fine-tuning—not only in regard to the fundamental forces and laws, but also because of the elegant and precise fitness for life of the chemical elements such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen—cosmology is becoming not just biocentric but anthropic (from the Greek anthropos, human being). In contrast to Weinberg's dismal assessment, then, purpose is written into every part. The vast spaces above him are not hostile and pointless but point to the ground teeming with every manner of living thing below. And again, we human beings seem to be built in from the very beginning.


We have seen, then, that insofar as the latest, most comprehensive physics goes, the universe is far from pointless. As it turns out, it is biocentric, even anthropic—that is, it points directly to the realm of purpose. Far from biology being swallowed up by a reductionist physics, it appears that physics can only be properly understood in light of biology because the material parts studied by physics and chemistry can only be properly understood in light of the complex, biological wholes for which they are so supremely well-fitted

In short, saying that the designer "has the same skill set as God" is pretty much accurate. The designer isn't somebody who just tweaks the flagellum, the blood clotting cascade and a few other biological systems and then fades into the background. No, the designer is somebody who has to be able to create an entire universe (presumably from nothing) that is specially designed not even for life, but for human life. Sounds pretty much like some sort of divine being to me.

Crop of circles a signpost for Scientology


All religions have their sacred texts but Scientology goes to great lengths to ensure L.Ron Hubbard's wise words are not lost, writes Richard Leiby.

SECRET flying saucer base found in New Mexico? Maybe. From the state that gave us Roswell, the epicentre of UFO lore since

1947, comes a report from an Albuquerque TV station about its discovery of strange landscape markings in the remote desert. They're etched in New Mexico's barren northern reaches, resemble crop circles and are recognisable only from a high altitude.

Also, they are directly connected to the Church of Scientology.

The church tried to persuade KRQE not to air its report about the aerial signposts marking a Scientology compound that includes a huge vault "built into a mountainside", the station said. The tunnel was constructed to protect the works of L.Ron Hubbard, the late science fiction writer who founded the church in the 1950s.

The archiving project, which the church has acknowledged, includes engraving Hubbard's writings on stainless steel tablets and encasing them in titanium capsules. It is overseen by a Scientology corporation called the Church of Spiritual Technology. The corporation sent an official named Jane McNairn and a lawyer to visit the TV station in an effort to squelch the story, KRQE's news director, Michelle Donaldson, said.

The church offered a tour of the underground facility if KRQE would kill the piece. Scientology also called KRQE's owner, Emmis Communications, and "sought the help of a powerful New Mexican lawmaker" to lobby against airing the piece, the station reported on its website.

McNairn did not respond to messages requesting comment.

What do the markings mean? For a start, the interlocking circles and diamonds match the logo of the Church of Spiritual Technology, which had the vault constructed in a mesa in the late 1980s.

Perhaps the signs are just a proud expression of the Scientology brand. But there are other, more intriguing, theories.

Former Scientologists familiar with Hubbard's teachings on reincarnation say the symbol marks a "return point" so loyal staff members know where they can find the founder's works when they travel here in the future from other places in the universe.

"As a lifetime staff member, you sign a billion-year contract. It's not just symbolic," said Bruce Hines, who spent 30 years in Scientology but is now critical of it. "You know you are coming back and you will defend the movement no matter what … The fact that they would etch this into the desert to be seen from space, it fits into the whole ideology."

Scientology traces most of mankind's woes to an evil alien lord named Xenu, a galactic holocaust perpetrated 75 million years ago and the field of psychiatry. (The latter is a particular concern, as all of America now knows, of the actor Tom Cruise.)

The church maintains two other vaults, in California, to preserve Hubbard's materials and words, according to Hines and another former staff member who also quit a couple of years ago, Chuck Beatty.

"The whole purpose of putting these teachings in the underground vaults was expressly so that in the event that everything gets wiped out somehow, someone would be willing to locate them and they would still be there," says Beatty, who spent 28 years in Scientology. Some loyalists are given the "super-duper confidential" job of coming back to Earth in the far-off future, he adds.

Other religions preserve their sacred texts. Scientology leaders apparently just don't want to misplace theirs, and maybe this is why somebody put the giant circles on the scrubland. Because there's nothing worse than arriving from deep space, and not knowing where to park.

The Washington Post

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kansas Prof. Apologizes for E - Mail


November 29, 2005
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Filed at 12:33 p.m. ET

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- A University of Kansas religion professor apologized for an e-mail that referred to religious conservatives as ''fundies'' and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a ''nice slap in their big fat face.''

In a written apology Monday, Paul Mirecki, chairman of the university's Religious Studies Department, said he would teach the planned class ''as a serious academic subject and in an manner that respects all points of view.''

The department faculty approved the course Monday but changed its title. The course, originally called ''Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies,'' will instead be called ''Intelligent Design and Creationism.''

The class was added to next spring's curriculum after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in its standards for science teaching. The vote was seen as a big win for proponents of intelligent design, who argue 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 -- camouflaged in scientific language.

Mirecki's e-mail was sent Nov. 19 to members of the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics, a student organization for which he serves as faculty adviser.

''The fundies (fundamentalists) want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category mythology.''

Mirecki addressed the message to ''my fellow damned'' and signed off with: ''Doing my part to (tick) off the religious right, Evil Dr. P.''

During the weekend, Chancellor Robert Hemenway began a review of Mirecki's e-mail, which resulted in Mirecki's apology, issued Monday night. He called it ''an ill-advised e-mail I sent to a small group of students and friends.''

The university on Monday defended the teaching of a class on such a timely subject, but some legislators said withholding funding from the school remained a possibility.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the e-mail ''venomous,'' adding, ''He's not sorry he wrote it. He's sorry it became public.''

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

INTELLECTUAL CURRENTS: Intelligent Design Finds Few Sympathizers at HDS


Published On Tuesday, November 29, 2005 2:16 AM


Crimson Staff Writer

When Harvard was founded in 1636, the University was charged with educating ministers in creationism and other central tenets of Christianity.

Three hundred and sixty-nine years later, in the midst of a national debate about God's place in the classroom, even the University's divinity faculty—the heirs to that theological mission—reject the latest argument for God's role in creation: "intelligent design."

The national debate about intelligent design marks the latest front in the battle between proponents of teaching creationism and evolution in public schools. The century-old debate, which reached a pinnacle in the media with the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial", has surfaced anew with the emergence of intelligent design.

Intelligent design refers to the theory that while evolution can explain some natural phenomena, other aspects of life are too complex to be a result of randomized natural selection, and thus must have come from an "intelligent designer."

And while scientists—who have long been outspoken critics of alternatives to evolution—find themselves again embroiled in a defense of evolution, they have found an unlikely ally in this battle: divinity faculty.

Leading scholars on the issue at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) and other divinity schools say their faculties have almost no proponents of intelligent design.

Mark U. Edwards Jr., professor of the history of Christianity and associate HDS dean for academic affairs, says intelligent design is bad science and bad theology.

And Richard A. Rosengarten, who is dean of the University of Chicago's divinity school, says that "it would be the rare divinity school that would be sympathetic" to intelligent design.

Even though opposition to intelligent design can be found in classrooms of prestigious institutions, supporters of the theory are by no means uneducated.

The leaders of the intelligent design camp hold Ph.D.'s in biochemistry, philosophy, and mathematics and can be found on college and university faculties.

As a result, their rhetoric has taken on an academic tone that previous arguments for God's role in creation lacked.

The intelligent design debate most recently came to a head when the Kansas Education Board voted earlier this month to teach theories that challenge evolution in that state's high schools.

And the theory's champions continue to fight for curriculums nationwide and the opinion of the broader American public.

For now, Americans remain divided: according to an May 2005 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of respondents said they favored teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools.


Edwards, who has just finished writing a book about religion on campuses, says he sees intelligent design as a "sad" theological argument.

"It only invokes god when there is no natural explanation," Edwards says. "But science keeps coming up with explanations."

The tradition of invoking a "God of the gaps" has its roots in the creationism debates that predate even the 1925 trial of Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes.

"Intelligent design had its heyday in the 19th century when natural science was first introduced into colleges in the pre-Civil War era," Edwards says. "The intelligent design movement now is just a variant on the creationism debates."

Edwards says a bizarre twist of fate caused an alliance between science and religion.

He adds that when the natural sciences weren't taught in American colleges, some scientists justified their discipline by saying it provided evidence of the existence of God.

"The irony is now that the tables are turned," Edwards says.


Many leading advocates of intelligent design debates are far from uneducated. Michael J. Behe, one of the most vocal and prolific advocates of intelligent design, received a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in biochemistry.

He is currently a professor of biology at Lehigh University.

Consequently, the language of articles advocating intelligent design is often sophisticated, academic, even scientific.

Behe used language such as "irreducibly complex," "subcellular compartments," and "ultrasophisticated molecular machines" in an article in Natural History magazine.

Edwards attributes the academic bent of intelligent design's verbiage to the fact that scientific arguments are seen as more credible.

"They're paying homage to science," Edwards says. "They've got to have their own science and they're trading in that language."

But Behe says that the intelligent design argument is purely scientific and is in no way related to the creationism debates of the early twentieth century.

"Its an inductive argument. It uses logic which is normally used in science," Behe says. "It does not come form any scriptures or revelations from anybody."

However, Diane L. Moore, director of the program in religion and secondary education at HDS, insists that the arguments of intelligent design should not be given credence as an alternative to evolution.

"The proponents of intelligent design want to promote it as a theory, but it doesn't follow the basic claims of science," Moore says. "It's not something you can prove."

As a result, both Moore and Edwards agree that intelligent design should not be taught in a science classroom as an alternative to evolution.

"If you teach it in a science class you give it credence as an alternative scientific theory," Moore says. "Intelligent design is not an intelligent scientific theory."

But Moore says that intelligent design raises questions that could be answered in a social science classroom where issues of culture and philosophy could be thoughtfully addressed.

"Why are people so anxious about it? Why are there incredible debates in local school communities?" Moore says.


Behind the theological and scientific questions raised by intelligent design is a political issue. Moore says that a very specific branch of Christianity is shaping the relationship between science and theology.

"It's not about science or religion," Moore says.

Edwards says conservative evangelicals are responsible for the framing of the intelligent design debate.

"Evangelicals thrive on being embattled­—their identity is tied up into being attacked and their defending principles," Edwards says. "Being attacked by science only validates their position."

But Philip D. Powell '06, an Orthodox Christian, says he believes the intelligent design debate points to a larger desire to leave open the possibility for God in the universe.

However, like Edwards and Moore, Powell says evolution and belief in God are not mutually exclusive.

"In general I would allow for the possibility that God chose to use evolution for his main means of developing the world," Powell says.

"One should read the Genesis creation accounts in a largely figurative manner."

Edwards has a simpler explanation for the persistence of a contentious dialogue between science and religion.

"One quarter of the population is evangelical," Edwards says. "They aren't very sophisticated."

But Behe sees the issue as one of democratic representation.

"As a democratic country, even evangelical, unsophisticated people have a right to voice their opinions on how governmental institutions should be run," Behe says. "I find it distasteful to people look down their noses on people who want to participate in government."

—Staff writer Sarah E.F. Milov can be reached at milov@fas.harvard.edu.

Departmental Faculty Approve Intelligent Design Course

Posted Monday, November 28, 2005 :: infoZine Staff
Professor issues apology

Lawrence, Kan. - infoZine - In a meeting yesterday, faculty members of the University of Kansas Department of Religious Studies formally approved a spring semester elective course on intelligent design called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism."

In KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, special topic, elective courses must be approved by departmental faculty. Courses that are required for a degree, however, must be approved by the college's governing body, which is composed of faculty and students.

"Given the current national debate, it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a university-level religious studies class," said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor David Shulenburger.

The 3-credit-hour class will be a 600-level course, open to upperclass undergraduate students and graduate students. The course description, reading list and syllabus will be released publicly before classes start Jan. 20, 2006. Plans also call for making the course lectures available through the Internet.

The professor for the course, Paul Mirecki, an associate professor of religious studies, issued an apology today for an e-mail he sent earlier to a listserv as he was formulating plans for the course.

The full text of Professor Mirecki's apology

"I accept full responsibility for an ill-advised email I sent to a small group of students and friends that has unintentionally impugned the integrity and good name of both the university and my faculty colleagues. My words were offensive, and I apologize to all for that.

"I especially regret that the email betrays what I have consistently practiced in the classroom during my sixteen-year teaching career at KU: I believe that civil discourse is vital to a democratic society, and we must, especially in a university environment, be able to discuss differing points of view in a open, fair and civil fashion. I have always practiced my belief that there is no place for impertinence and name calling in a serious academic class. My words in the email do not represent my teaching philosophy or the style I use in class.

"I have assured the provost of the university that I will teach the course according to the standards this university rightfully expects -- as a serious academic subject and in an manner that respects all points of view."

Mirecki joined the KU faculty in 1989 and is chair of religious studies. He has a doctor of theology degree from Harvard University and is an expert in ancient Mediterranean cultures, languages and religions. He and a colleague found an ancient 5th-century manuscript in 1991 in Berlin's vast Egyptian Museum and verified it as an authentic early account of the teachings of Jesus ("The Gospel of the Savior"). The text is written in the ancient Egyptian language called Coptic and offered previously unknown conversations between Jesus and his disciples.

Related article in infoZine

Statement by KU Provost About Religious Studies Course on Intelligent Design

Article link: http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/11662/

Why Intelligent Design Flunks Science And Why It Will Also Fail in Court


Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D.

November 29, 2005

"Our creationist detractors charge that evolution is an unproved and unprovable charade," wrote the brilliant paleontologist and Harvard professor, Stephen Jay Gould, "a secular religion masquerading as science." Signaling that those charges are still part of a contentious discussion about the origins of life, Kansas's Board of Education just recently adopted new standards to question the validity of Darwinian theory and open the door to alternate explanations for the origins of life—most specifically, the concept of '"intelligent design."

Intelligent design is acknowledge by many observers to be the latest spin on the "creationism" concept that Gould ceaselessly attempted to debunk as a true science; to him, and to other mainstream scientists, the movement was an attempt to legitimize religious and Biblical explanations for life's origins with a scientific veneer. Frustrated by their defeats in court and inability to introduce creationism into schools as a viable, alternative theory to evolution, creationists disavowed religious sources for their philosophy and began to suggest that life began through the work of an intelligent 'designer,' a supernatural force responsible for the entire creation of the universe and all life within it.

The Kansas board's decision is one location where the challenge to evolution was successful, at least temporarily. In Dover, Pennsylvania, on the other hand, eight school board members who had worked assiduously to introduce intelligent design into biology classes were summarily voted out of office, an indication that the national debate on what is science and what is faith is far from satisfactorily resolved. One thing seems clear, though: with passions running high on both sides of the issue, the arguments seem destined for the Supreme Court, where evolution has been a regular topic since Tennessee's 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial and has had to answer charges by critics that it is no more of a hard scientific theory than creationism or intelligent design.

Unfortunately for ID's supporters, the Court has repeatedly seen attempts to introduce this pseudo-science into public school curriculums as an attempt to advance a religious philosophy in a realm where the state cannot condone such an intrusion, and which is specifically prohibited by the First Amendment's 'establishment clause.' The intellectual flabbiness of the ID theory is not even the issue which causes it to fail in litigation; what has condemned it more immediately is the fact that intelligent design chooses to challenge evolution specifically—the one area of scientific inquiry which many Christians feel contradicts fundamental Biblical dogma. The zeal to introduce an 'alternative' theory to evolution, one worthy of equal discussion in science classes, is coincidentally the very scientific theory that contradicts Christian faith, a detail that has not gone unnoticed by the Court.

Addressing this point in the 1987 Supreme Court case against the State of Louisiana for its attempt to insist that creationism be taught equally with evolution, the justices asserted that the effort to devalue the teaching of evolution was itself indicative of a veiled attempt to replace science with faith, that "out of many possible science subjects taught in the public schools, the legislature chose to affect the teaching of the one scientific theory that historically has been opposed by certain religious sects."

What was more, the Court has not historically been impressed with creationists' contention that their ideology was a scientific endeavor at all, merely because its adherents positioned it that way. In one 1977 case, Malnak vs. Yogi, for example, the majority of justices saw creationism for what it actually was: a religiously-based, quasi-scientific interpretation of how life was created and evolved. "Concepts concerning God or a supreme being of some sort are manifestly religious," the Court found. "These concepts do not shed that religiosity merely because they are presented as a philosophy or as a science."

Stung by their repeated defeats in introducing creationism as part of school curricula, supporters started to rework the way it was spoken about and described. The religious roots and basis for creationism, as well as specific references to God or a divine force, were sidestepped and not discussed. Articles of faith were transformed into science, unrelated to religious tradition or Biblical sources, and given the new name of 'intelligent design' with the hope that no one would notice the old barn with a new coat of paint. But the true sentiments of ID's supporters have been made clear on numerous occasions. The Court itself noted that Edward Boudreaux, an expert witness testifying on behalf of Louisiana in the 1987 case, had admitted in his testimony "that the theory of creation science included belief in the existence of a supernatural creator," and further noted that "'creation scientists' point to high probability that life was 'created by an intelligent mind,' that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of humankind."

That thinking is repeated in what has become the core 'textbook' of the ID movement, Of Pandas and People, published by the fundamentalist-supported Foundation for Thought and Ethics in Texas. Intelligent design supporters have urged school boards to include Pandas as a 'supplemental' science text, used in conjunction with the teaching of evolution, and claim quite specifically that "In biology, the theory that biological organisms owe their origin to a preexistent intelligence." Intelligent design," the book reaffirms, "locates the origin of new organisms in an immaterial cause: in a blueprint, a plan, a pattern, devised by an intelligent agent."

When and if the intelligent design controversy finds itself at the Supreme Court steps, the justices are likely to determine that the 'intelligent agent' mentioned by ID supporters is actually God, and that supporters' attempts to make the theory co-equal with evolution is yet another opportunity to challenge the orthodoxy of scientific thought about evolution. The Court has used what they term "a three-prong test" to determine whether the inclusion of creationism teaching amounts to a violation to the establishment clause of the Constitution.

The first prong, the Court has said, is that intelligent design instruction, if it is to survive legally, must have solely a secular purpose, that the primary intention of adding new theories of science to "teaching and learning" must not "be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma." That means that intelligent design adherents will have to prove that their approach to explaining the origins of life is based on hard science that it offers a substantial body of scientific knowledge, since "the Court found that there can be no legitimate state interest in protecting particular religions from scientific views 'distasteful to them,'" which has been the common and recurring theme of attempts by creationists to discredit evolution and dilute its use in schools.

Nor can the State inadvertently or directly advance or promote one religious view over another. While intelligent design supporters claim they are merely trying to advance an alternative scientific theory for students to consider in studying biology, the transparent attempt to deal with only the theory of evolution—the one part of science that seems to contradict the creation of life by the Divine—evidences the creationists' core intention: to promote a view, masquerading as science, that is consistent with religious faith. Even if the Court accepts the possibility that there may be factual merit to the intelligent design theory, the justices must still rule against the inclusion of theories which have at their base articles of religious faith. "Whatever the academic merit of particular subjects or theories," the Court wrote in the Louisiana case, Edwards vs. Aguillard, "the Establishment Clause limits the discretion of state officials to pick and choose among them for the purpose of promoting a particular religious belief."

The true intentions of the intelligent design fans, of course, are belied by their obsession with evolution as the one scientific theory they want to devalue and expel. They do not question, as skeptics have noted, theories of gravity or relativity or other scientific theories which are universally accepted as fact by thinking people. Parents and school boards who been content to watch decades of declining test scores in reading and math, are, however, obsessed with making sure that alternatives to the evolution 'theory' are made available to students, that the intelligent design theory is taught as a viable, though contradictory, scientific explanation of life's origins. In doing so they are attempting to insert a theory which the Court has specifically condemned, noting that attempts to include creationism instruction in curriculums "selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with . . . a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group."

"'Creation science,'" Gould wrote in 1988, "has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage — good teaching — than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?"

Richard L. Cravatts. Ph.D., a lecturer at Boston University, Tufts University, and Emerson College, writes frequently on social policy, housing development, law, business, and politics.

Scientific theories more than guesses



It is clear that there are significant public misconceptions about the debate on "intelligent design." Part of this ambiguity stems from a general misunderstanding of science - the roots of which are fodder for an entire series of opinion columns - and part of it is caused by the parties involved in the controversy.

There are two facets to this debate: One is political, and the other is academic. Neither concerns the validity or correctness of "intelligent design"; that is, of whether it is a plausible idea or not. The political controversy centers on the legality of teaching an inherently religious philosophy in public schools and whether that is constitutional. I will not dwell on the political situation, as I am sure that everyone has heard plenty from the media.

The other part of the debate, the academic angle, deals with whether "intelligent design" is actually a science. As Joseph Meert pointed out last Monday, the answer is a resounding "no." In his Wednesday column, Thomas Harrington correctly pointed out that a scientific theory is testable and falsifiable. What he failed to state, however, is that "intelligent design" does not meet these criteria. How do you falsify the hypothesis of the interaction of a higher being? By disproving the existence of God? That is not science. There is a reason that advocates focus on trying to discredit the neo-Darwinian natural selection theory rather than on testing. "Intelligent design" is a philosophy, not a science. Rather than explain the how, "intelligent design" actually deals with the why. I agree with Meert that it has an appropriate classroom setting - one that is a theology or philosophy class, not a science class.

The public should also realize what the "intelligent design" idea actually states. The concept does not refute evolution. A curious person needs only to refer to the Web site of the Discovery Institute, the primary institutional proponent for "intelligent design," to realize this. Evolution is, as defined by evolutionary biologist Douglas J. Futuyma, "...change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual." Advocates attempt to explain the cause for this change and attach purpose to it, not deny its existence.

They do not even fully reject natural selection, the driving mechanism behind neo-Darwinian evolution. They concede that genetic mutations do occur, causing change, but they contend that not all of these mutations are random.

As a scientist, I am disturbed by the general misconception that a scientific theory holds little credence. Last week, one editorial author stated that "evolution is as much of a theory as 'intelligent design,'" implying that evolution is still only a "lowly" theory. In science, it is an accolade for an idea to attain the level of theory, not a dishonor. A scientific theory is based on observations that have been subjected to and withstood numerous tests, including attempts at falsification. Statements such as "it's just a theory" equate a theory with a hypothesis. Relativity, the idea behind the splitting of atoms and nuclear energy, is "just" a theory. No one, however, debates its validity because it has been upheld through countless trials. It also does not challenge our concepts of creation, but I digress.

Lastly, I can only shake my head at Ashley Wills' claim that evolution is a "philosophy issue." In the science community, the occurrence of evolution is supported beyond debate. We have witnessed it happen before our very eyes with the annual formation of new viral strains. Further evidence has come from the fossil record, in which we have discovered impressive evolutionary sequences, for example, in horses and whales. In her column, Wills refuted evolutionary biology's status as a science. It is my hope that most people can realize that evolutionary biology and its related fields are science. Furthermore, I hope that people will understand fully the position they advocate.

Jonathan Hoffman is a graduate student in the Department of Geological Sciences.

Copyright © 1996–2005 Alligator Online and Campus Communications.

The Theory of evolution vs. intelligent design


2005-11-28 / Taiwan News / Edited by Tina Lee/Translated by Steven Marsh

Tsong Tien Tzou, Distinguished Professor, Institute of Physics, Academia Sinica, Member, Taipei Society

Before Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, Christians maintained that God created the myriad of beings, which included man. In 1859, Darwin made known his theory concerning the origin of species and the survival of the fittest based on the data he accumulated concerning evolution. His theory was widely accepted by scientists early on, but there are many religious figures as well as a small number of scientists who still have their doubts.

The United States constitution makes a point of separating church and state, so schools only teach the theory of evolution in science books. Many people who believe in creationism, however, have not given up promoting their views. They believe the ever-changing nature of the different species is hard for science to explain. This is why they have come out with their own theory known as "intelligent design" to contend with the theory of evolution. The creationists are saying that schools should base science curriculums on this theory or at least include it as an alternative.

The intelligent design theory implicitly acknowledges the Christian belief that the world was designed and created by God, which is in clear infringement of the spirit of the U.S. constitution. This is why many education bureaus in different states have not made the new theory part of their standard science curriculum. Despite the decisions, the issue, just as the question of whether school prayer should be allowed, is sparking heated debate throughout the country.

This past week, the Kansas State Department of Education passed a resolution six to four in favor of including the theory of intelligent design in its standard curriculum along side other theories of evolution. They also gave science a new definition, stating that the natural sciences were not limited to explanations of observable phenomenon. There were different reactions to the decision. Opponents felt that it would become the joke of the entire nation as well as the international community, but proponents said the decision would promote academic freedom and help reshape the current dogma held in educational circles. The Discovery Institute in Seattle praised the decision, because it felt unlike Darwinist views, students now would have more opportunities to study the evolution of species.

This controversy was not limited to Kansas, as similar debates took place in Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Authorities at a school in Dover, Pennsylvania have ordered biology teachers to point out that Darwin's theory of evolution is no longer an established fact. A group of students' parents have brought a lawsuit against the school, which should be ruled on sometime soon.

In August of this year, U.S. President George W. Bush praised the decision to allow the simultaneous teaching of the theories of evolution and intelligent design. Taiwan is a country of many religious faiths, but we are not as fixated on our religious doctrines as European and American nations. We don't have any problems with the separation of church and state; our problem is the overly superstitious nature of some people's religious leanings. The soul should be given over to religion, but the affairs of the secular world should be left to experts trained in scientific methods. One glaring example is that the sick should be treated by trained physicians so as not to bring harm to life.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife


Mary Roach
2005, W. W. Norton; 288p., illustrations
psi, survival

Roach investigates the more-or-less scientific explanations of life after death. And just because she has a fine sense of the absurd, she is quite at home writing about, and even visiting, the nutters who do not like our ignorance of the regions beyond death and have made it their mission to clear everything up. Humans have spent thousands of years wondering about what happens after death, and most religions have something to say upon the subject, but when we got to the scientific age it was time to start asking about the issue scientifically. A lot of silliness has ensued, much of it has amused Roach, and she has unflaggingly communicated her amusement to us in wisecracking prose that is just the right tone for such a subject. She discusses attempts to weigh the soul, Spiritualism, reincarnation in India, and similar topics. She is a generous interviewer, wide- eyed but not credulous. In fact, she applies a sensible skepticism to all her research, but comes to the conclusion that such a stance isn't much fun; when she jokes, "The debunkers are probably right, but they're no fun to visit a graveyard with," she is merely confirming that science is going to have little to say in affirmation of the issue, but we will keep wondering.

[ Reviewed by Rob Hardy, robhardy@earthlink.net ]

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

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Monday, November 28, 2005

Darwin on Trial


Issue of 2005-12-05 Posted 2005-11-28

This week in the magazine, Margaret Talbot reports from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. In January, the presiding judge, John E. Jones III, will render his verdict and decide whether Dover biology students will be read a four-paragraph statement casting doubt on the validity of Darwinian theory and endorsing intelligent design as an alternative. Here, with Daniel Cappello, Talbot talks about the case, the state of science, and what Americans believe about evolution.

DANIEL CAPPELLO: What first attracted you to the Kitzmiller case?

MARGARET TALBOT: For one thing, it was the first time that the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design in public schools was going to be tested, so I knew it was going to be an influential decision for the teaching of science in this country and for the ongoing negotiation between the courts and American fundamentalists. For another, I had a sense that there was a drama—a neighbor-versus-neighbor, even family-member-versus-family-member, debate about science and religion—taking place within this small Pennsylvania town. I hoped that the trail would open a window onto that, and it did. At one point, one of the plaintiffs testified that her teen-age daughter had come home from school one day, announced, "Evolution is a lie," and demanded, "What kind of Christian are you?"

What, briefly, is the history of the teaching of evolution? Most Americans know about the Scopes trial, in 1925. What are the other milestones?

Scopes was a young schoolteacher who volunteered to participate in an A.C.L.U. challenge to a law in Tennessee; the law forbade teaching that "man has descended from a lower order of animal." Scopes lost the case, and never appealed it beyond the Tennessee Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of the law but overturned Scopes's conviction on a technicality. But since then the courts, including the Supreme Court, have consistently held that laws forbidding the teaching of evolution or mandating the teaching of creationism side by side with evolution are unconstitutional—that they violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, because they breach the separation of church and state. The key Supreme Court decision in this area was Edwards v. Aguillard, in 1987, in which the Court overturned a Louisiana statute that mandated the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. Scalia wrote a sharp dissent, which is an indicator of how he might vote if an intelligent-design case ever made it to the Court.

And recently—as in a Cobb County, Georgia, case involving what you might call "warning labels" on high-school biology textbooks, which say that evolution is a theory, not a fact—courts have gone further, seeing such invitations to look askance at evolutionary theory as violations of the establishment clause. In that case, the U.S. District Court judge said that the stickers were tacit endorsements of a fundamentalist-Christian viewpoint, even though they did not mention anything explicitly religious.

What is at the crux of Kitzmiller—the validity of evolution or the legality of teaching intelligent design in schools? Or are those two issues impossible to separate?

I think the teaching of intelligent design in the public schools is what is at stake—is it constitutional or not. But, of course, in order to show that intelligent design is not good science, and therefore that it's unsound pedagogy to be touting it as an alternative to Darwinian evolution, it helps to remind people how broadly supported the theory of evolution is by recent developments across the sciences—in genetics, for example, as well as in paleontology. That was part of the case the plaintiffs' lawyers made—quite convincingly, I think.

How does the town of Dover compare to the rest of America, politically, religiously, and demographically?

It sounds pat to say it's a microcosm, but I think there's something to that. There's a joke about Pennsylvania, that it's Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with southern Alabama in between. Dover itself has fundamentalist-Christian elements, quite clearly, but it also has people who worry about the influence of fundamentalism, people—some of them quite religious themselves, some Republican, some Democrat, some college-educated, some not—who really believe in the separation of church and state, and really believe in promoting what they see as sound science education, which for them includes a thorough, not a reluctant or halfhearted, grounding in the theory of evolution.

In polls, Americans are divided on evolution. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, for instance, forty-two per cent of Americans said they believed that "humans and other living things" have "existed in present form only"—have not, in other words, evolved. This is an astonishingly high percentage, and one that obviously reflects American religiosity (and maybe the inadequacy of our science education). Forty-eight per cent said that humans and other living things had evolved over time (though only twenty-six per cent of those said that evolution was through natural selection; eighteen per cent said it was through guidance by a supreme being, and fourteen per cent didn't know). Dover was divided, too. Its citizens elected a school board that wanted to add intelligent design to the curriculum—and several of whose members were pretty open about their religious motives for doing so—and then they resoundingly voted the board out, on November 8th of this year, fed up, evidently, with how far the board had pushed this agenda, and how much they may have to pay in legal fees if the board loses. Some version of this drama could have taken place almost anywhere in America. I think part of what happens is that while many Americans will acknowledge, in a poll, say, that they personally have a spiritual view of how life on earth developed, some of them may have quite a different feeling when a religious interpretation is grafted forcibly onto a science curriculum.

Has any one of these factors in particular—politics, religion, age—been an indicator for which side of the case Dover residents come down on?

Interestingly, the division didn't conform neatly to any of these lines. One consistent division I noticed, and that I wrote about, was between people who read and trusted the very good local newspapers (nearby York has two, which is pretty unusual for a small American city these days) and those who just didn't trust them. The plaintiffs were the newspaper readers; the pro-intelligent-design school-board people were the newspaper rejecters.

Where does this notion of intelligent design come from? Is it merely creationism by another name, or not?

Some notion of intelligent design—that there are things in nature that are so intricately put together that they seem to bear hallmarks of design by a master intelligence—has been around for a long time. The most recognizable antecedent, perhaps, is the argument for the existence of God made by the Reverend William Paley in the early nineteenth century, in England; for him, the marvels of the human eye were proof of design by a supreme being.

But, in its modern form, it emerged in the nineteen-eighties and nineties as a legally palatable substitute for teaching creationism, which really had its last day in court with Edwards v. Aguillard, in 1987. The courts have made it clear that creationism cannot be taught in the public schools, but until now they have not addressed the possibility that something like intelligent design could be. There is a document called "The Wedge Strategy," which has been circulated on the Internet, which was apparently produced by someone at the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank based in Seattle. "The Wedge Strategy" came up at the trial, and has been extensively written about by Barbara Forrest, a historian of the intelligent-design movement. In that document, the movement's goal is said to be to "reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Some of the board members who voted in favor of mandating the teaching of intelligent design in Dover admitted to having no definition of what, exactly, it is. Did you get a sense of why they voted the way they did? Did they view intelligent design merely as a lesson in critical thinking or did they believe in it as a theory?

I would say there was a certain amount of, to put it delicately, disingenuousness in how they presented these arguments in court. Several of the board members said they thought they were promoting good pedagogy, critical thinking, the chance to learn about another theory, and so on. But at the board meetings, one of the members had said, for example, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for Him?" and "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such." There was evidence presented that they had started off wanting to teach creationism, before they latched on to intelligent design. And, as you say, they didn't seem to have a particularly sophisticated understanding—or, in some cases, an understanding at all—of intelligent design.

You write that, in the years following the Scopes trial, the battle between evolution and creationism was fought not in courts but in the pages of textbooks, and that the books that minimized Darwin sold better. How is that being played out today?

Yes, one reason there were few court challenges for several decades after Scopes was that textbook publishers got very timid and omitted evolution from biology books. One contemporary estimate was that by 1930, seventy per cent of American high schools were not teaching evolution. And that continued pretty much until the early sixties, when public support for science in America was triggered by Sputnik and competitive anxiety about the Soviets. At that point, the National Science Foundation stepped in and funded an effort to get biologists to write biology textbooks and to put evolution back in. (This is a history that is discussed in a great book titled "Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Science and Evolution," by Edward Larson, who also wrote a fascinating history of the Scopes trial itself, "Summer for the Gods.") That, in turn, triggered the first legal challenges to evolution since the twenties.

Now, though textbooks certainly include evolution, a lot of public-school teachers feel that students and parents push them to include alternatives to evolution or even to omit it. In a survey taken last spring by the National Science Teachers Association, for instance, thirty per cent of the teachers responding—mostly high-school teachers—said they felt pressured to de-emphasize or drop evolution and related topics from their science courses—a disturbing phenomenon, I think, when you consider how central evolution is to understanding everything from the fossil record to the classification of species, from antibiotic resistance to the commonalities between the human and chimpanzee genomes.

Intelligent-design proponents also tout another approach to the issue, which is the "teach the controversy" movement. Can you talk about that a bit?

The Discovery Institute has been a big proponent of that language, which is subtler and perhaps constitutionally safer. The idea is not to say anything as blunt as, "Intelligent design is a good alternative," but, rather, to emphasize criticisms of evolutionary theory. It's funny, because a lot of people associate "teaching the controversy" with the left-wing academy, but now it's rhetoric associated mainly with trying to introduce doubts about evolution. It sounds kind of appealing—the free marketplace of ideas, let a thousand schools of thought bloom, that sort of thing. But most scientists don't like it, because they say there is no real debate over the fundamental validity of evolutionary theory, though there are certainly unanswered questions and debate about the relative importance of various mechanisms of evolution. As Steven Gey, a law professor who has written about the intelligent-design movement, said to me, "It's like saying we want to be able to teach that the earth is round, but also that it's flat, that it revolves around the sun, but also that the sun revolves around the earth. Science doesn't work that way. We know these things are wrong."

Intelligent-design advocates often present themselves as revolutionary thinkers who are going up against the scientific establishment, and they like to point out that a lot of people thought the big bang was a crazy idea, too. But as evolutionary scientists counter, Well, maybe you do have a revolutionary idea, but, if so, then do the experimental work to prove it, and publish that work in peer-reviewed journals, which the intelligent-design people have not done. Don't try to get it taught in high schools—even as part of a "teach the conflicts" approach—before you've done the science. "The interesting question is not whether revolutionary ideas occasionally win out in science" is how Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown, put it at a forum recently. "The interesting question is, How do revolutionary ideas win out? And the big bang won out because of scientific research, because Arno Penzias [and Robert Wilson] found the background radiation to the big bang. They completed the theory. They stitched it together. It is a predictive theory that said you ought to go out and find this in nature. Now, the curious thing is that the advocates of that theory did not try to get this injected into the curriculum. They did not produce pamphlets on how you could get the big bang taught in your school and avoid the constitutional questions. They did research. They won the scientific battle."

The trial isn't over, but the school-board elections seem to give some sense of the community's feelings about the issue. Evangelicals like Pat Robertson, who denounced Dover as having turned its back on God, aren't happy about this. Will the debate rage on forever?

Well, maybe not forever, but I don't think court rulings will quash it, either. It goes back to a very deep division in American history—between the Puritans, whose main objective in shaping this country was the desire to implant and live out their faith, and the side represented by Thomas Jefferson, for instance, the sort of Deist, Enlightenment figures who developed the metaphor of the wall of separation between church and state.

At one point, a British documentarian following the trial asked if America has a love-hate relationship with God. How does the rest of the world see a case like this? Or, for that matter, how has America perceived this case?

Well, many Europeans probably see it as another example of bizarre American exceptionalism. There were reporters from around the world at the trial. I met one young journalist from Italy at the Dunkin' Donuts in Harrisburg, and I couldn't tell whether he thought Dunkin' Donuts coffee or a trial about evolution was weirder. But I think there were some great, very American things about this trial, too—the really standup Doverites, grassroots rationalists, who took this case to court, though they stood nothing to gain financially and some were criticized as atheists when they weren't; the sensible judge, a Bush appointee and former state liquor-control chairman, with a great sense of humor, an impressive command of the precedent, and a genuine, if slightly bemused, interest in all the science. And the trial was a great, even thrilling, science lesson—civic pedagogy at its best.

UNLV teachers dismiss 'Design' theory


By: Laurel Thomas

The question over Intelligent Design and whether it is a viable theory to the creation of life has long been the subject of furor in schools, but the debate has not carried over to UNLV.

Some science professors at UNLV say Intelligent Design should be considered for debate but not necessarily taught alongside other theories.

Unlike Darwin's theory of natural selection and other theories of evolution, Intelligent Design is the theory that life is created and guided by a higher being. It is often challenged by the same religious groups who fight to keep the evolution theories from becoming part of a student's curriculum.

"Graduate students in evolutionary biology or advanced undergraduates should consider the topic with the goal being to examine the validity of its [Intelligent Design's] tenants," associate professor of biological sciences Steven de Belle said. "ID theories should be studied carefully and, if possible, hypotheses should be tested. If this cannot be achieved, then ID should not be included as 'science' in any science curriculum."

Stanley Smith, professor for the Department of Biological Sciences, agrees that science includes hypotheses that must be tested and proved or discarded.

"All science follows the scientific method, in which we make observations in nature, create testable hypotheses as to why we see patterns that we do and then conduct experiments that test those hypotheses," Smith said.

Smith said Intelligent Design should not be considered science, he said, because it "posits that certain biological phenomena in nature are too complex."

The Discovery Institute, an organization aimed at promoting ideas in technology, law, science and other fields, developed the Center for Sciences and Culture in 1996 in support of those who continue to develop Intelligent Design theories.

An article posted on the Discovery Institute's Web site claims that "the Center for Science and Culture is not attacking science or the scientific method. It is challenging the philosophy of scientific materialism and the false scientific theories that support it."

The institute also claims that Intelligent Design should not be considered controversial and is not a conspiracy as some opponents believe.

"Its roots stretch back to design arguments made by Socrates and Plato," said Jonathan Witt in his article on the institute's Web site.

Witt stated that the roots of the Intelligent Design movement in biology can be traced to the 1950s and 1960s with the movement itself happening in the 1970s.

Some professors still don't buy the Intelligent Design theory.

"It is not science," de Belle said. "The defining feature of the scientific method is lacking in ID," which includes making observations and testing hypotheses.

Smith agrees: "It says that we cannot explain things and therefore must simply accept that some higher intelligent source made it."

"ID belongs in a theology class, or possibly a political science seminar that is examining the role of religion in our political and educational system," Smith said.

Though biology and other science professors feel that the Intelligent Design theory is not "science," many believe in that higher being or creator that Intelligent Design insists upon.

"Many scientists are truly spiritual people with faith in some higher power," de Belle said. "Their science does not make them unfaithful and their spirituality does not interfere with their ability to be good scientists."

Copyright © 2005 The Rebel Yell

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Scientology office at UB Commons sparks criticism of campus administration


By MARK SOMMER News Staff Reporter 11/26/2005

Dalene Aylward of UB's Campus Ministries Association is "very concerned" about Scientology's offfice on campus.

A controversy has erupted at the University at Buffalo over the Church of Scientology's obtaining an office in The Commons, a privately operated space on the North Campus in Amherst near the Student Union.

UB contends it has no say in who rents space, and that it has an obligation to be tolerant of all views. Critics contend the administration is abrogating its responsibility to protect students by permitting a group some consider a cult to have a staging ground to recruit students.

The Church of Scientology is not recognized on campus by Student Affairs, and it's not one of the 30 religious organizations - each with a religious adviser - in the Campus Ministries Association.

"I am very concerned about their presence on campus," said Dalene Aylward of the UB Campus Ministries Association and a senior academic adviser. "I am concerned they will take advantage of students who do not know what they are getting into, do not know the financial costs that are involved or the history behind the organization."

Matthew Schwartz, an active member of Hillel of Buffalo, said, "We shouldn't allow anyone with cult-like tactics to put students in danger. I think the university has an obligation to protect its students, and if it fails to do so, it should be held accountable."

Representatives of the church, founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and known for its anti-psychiatry stance, declined to comment.

Dennis Black, vice president for student affairs, said the publicly funded school has "no say" in who First Amherst Development leases space to in The Commons.

As an example, Black said, alcohol and credit card solicitations are allowed there but not on the rest of campus.

"It's a private, commercially owned enterprise," Black said.

Black acknowledged allowing office space to the Church of Scientology has aroused concerns among some.

"This is a group that some view as a cult, or cult-like, so clearly it's a concern," said Black.

He said the administration plans to talk to the Church of Scientology "about the concerns that have been addressed, and about our unwillingness to tolerate lawless behavior. We will make it clear the community has standards, and those standards will be monitored and enforced."

On the other hand, Black added, "as a university, we are open to lots of messages. Some of them are repugnant to us, some are offensive, some are challenging, but in the marketplace of ideas we cannot get involved with viewpoint discrimination."

The controversy has been fueled on campus by articles in the Spectrum, the UB student newspaper.

"We have had about 10 letters to the editor, almost all of them negative and citing whether it's a cult," said Evan Pierce, Spectrum's managing editor. "That's significant, because we usually don't get that big of a reaction to anything we write.

"We have been unable to find any student initiative in bringing this group on campus. When we've asked [Scientology officials] to put us in touch with students involved, they have been unable to do so."

Students expressed mixed views over whether Scientology should be allowed to maintain an office on campus.

"There are other church groups on campus, and they should be able to represent their views as well. Especially if they are paying for their space," said law student Jeff Hulet.

Freshman Stephanie Sharpe agreed. "I find Scientology very interesting. I think it's a cult, and I know I would never get involved with them - I think it's more like absurd - but I think if people want to do it, they should be able to do it."

Law student Ray Walter disagreed.

"Any publicly funded institution has a responsibility to the public at large. It would have a responsibility if the Ku Klux Klan wanted to rent out a space."

Benjamin Obletz, president of First Amherst Development, said he wasn't aware of any complaints.

Rich Dunning, a former Buffalo church staff member who left the Church of Scientology in May 2003, said students are one of the organization's prime targets.

"They pursue students because they think they are at a crucial point in their lives," Dunning said.

"You're having a bad time in your life as a young adult and you're trying to find your way through it - hey, we can help you study better or get through financial troubles or other hardships that you have," he said, in his description of its approach.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

Intelligent design a Trojan horse, says creationist


November 27, 2005

KEN Ham should be on the same side of the street as proponents of intelligent design. After all, he's in opposition to the atheistic view of science as an explanation for the world we see. He, like many people in the intelligent design movement, is a Christian.

But intelligent design advocates probably won't thank Australian-born Mr Ham for articulating what many of them try to avoid saying. That is: for some, the intelligent design movement is essentially a stalking horse for religion and, in the US, a way of getting around the separation of church and state to get into schools and influence children's education.

He says some Christian intelligent design people believe that, if they "can get students to begin to question atheism", that may be a way to get them to listen to the Bible.

Because of rulings of the US Supreme Court "their hands are tied".

"If you mention the Bible, they are going to say that contravenes the separation of church and state.

"Therefore some people are trying to find a way around that."

Mr Ham is one of the leading proponents of creationism in the US.

He arrived from Australia in 1976 and established the Answers in Genesis ministry in 1994. It is devoted to propagating the idea that the Bible, and in particular its first book Genesis, is literally true, right from the first line: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

Answers in Genesis, which has been promoting Christian rallies in Canberra and Geelong this weekend, is building a $25 million museum in Cincinnati which tells history as it occurred in the Bible, adding dinosaurs and a few other things along the way. As the museum's website says: "Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all."

Mr Ham says much of the scientific evidence of evolution comes from the assumptions that scientists make, but if you come to the evidence with different assumptions, you get quite different answers.

He says many Christians are now grabbing on to the intelligent design argument "thinking that solves the issue of the separation of church and state to get things into schools".

"If those people get themselves on school boards, fine.

"We don't oppose them. Simply because, for me, and for us in the biblical creation movement, we say, well let them fight the evolutionists, the atheists, and keep fighting issues of naturalism and so on, that's fine."

Source: The Sun-Herald

Intelligent Design


November 26, 2005


EDITORIAL, Nov 26 (VNN) — This is a reply I sent to the Sydney Morning Herald in response to an article about Intelligent Design, a controversial topic in Education systems both here in Australia as well as the US. The article was by Neil Ormerod, who is a professor at the Catholic University of Australia and published Nov 15th.

I just read Neil Omerod's article How design supporters insult God's intelligence. I'd like to offer a radically different philosophical and cultural perspective on this debate. Having studied the Vedic scriptures such as Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam extensively from a bona fide spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I believe the western tradition relies too heavily on mental speculation to delve into matters which by definition lie beyond the purview of mundane logic.

Especially intriguing was the argument about the fundamental nature of chance - that God must be intelligent enough to use statistical causation as a means of producing deterministic outcomes. This logic is the logic of God as the supreme clockmaker - he has created the universe, and then left it more or less to its own devices. In contrast to such an idea of a detached creator, the Vedic description, given by Sri Krishna Himself in Bhagavad-Gita, is that not only is He the supreme energetic source of all manifestation, but that he intimately controls the minutiae of His creation. In the Vedas this is called simultaneous oneness and difference. In essence, God is one with his creation, at the same time He retains His individual identity as the Supreme Being.

The material creation is described in Bhagavad-Gita as being composed of two types of God's energy. Firstly, the material elements of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego are considered the separated energy of God. Secondly, the living entities are described as God's apara prakrti, or superior, internal spiritual energy, which are qualitatively the same as the Lord, despite struggling with the inferior material nature. In any case, all these energies emanate from the supreme and are under his complete control, Lord Krishna clearly states, This material nature is working under my direction. (Gita 9.10)

Mental speculation, intellectual and logical research and so on may be useful tools to understand innumerable material topics, however they are useless in the comprehension of the absolute truth and the real nature of His creation and energies. Lord Krishna empowers His authorized representatives and disseminates the transcendental truth in bona fide revealed scripture which can only be understood by submissive reception of their enlightened message.

Endless argument and disputation between philosophers over the point of the existence or non existence of so called intelligent design is missing the real point - being that the absolute exists in complete independence of any puny mundane belief system or speculative intellectual process, and that the only real method of comprehension is to surrender to the Lord with faith and love, in a spirit of service. Lord Krishna describes in the Gita that an individual who adopts this approach will be enlightened by the Lord Himself - To those who are constantly devoted and worship me with love I give the understanding by which they can come to me. (Gita 10.10)

Evolutionary theory, various watered down creation arguments and other convoluted ideas such as Mr. Ormerod's, are all more or less expedient means of minimizing the incomprehensible power of the Lord. Make no mistake, according to the Vedas, He controls everything right down to the tiniest movements of the tiniest objects. Not a single thing happens by chance. To acknowledge chance, the idea that God was somehow separated from his creation and therefore leaving events and outcomes to some type of statistical probability would have to be accepted. According to the Vedas, this is a misconception, as much as it is a misconception to reject reincarnation or the understanding that the soul in all living creatures is of the same type and nature.

Furthermore, mainstream theologians tend to be ephemeral at best on the question of the form and pastimes of God. The tendency to this type of formlessness or impersonalism is the antithesis of the Vedic paradigm, where the form, nature and pastimes of the Supreme Lord are clearly and extensively delineated. Instead of the form of God being described as a divine mystery of faith- (in other words, we don't know), you can walk into any Hare Krishna temple and immediately become acquainted with the form of the Lord.

When we say God, the term is actually a job description. The Vedas tell us that God has a name, form, qualities, pastimes and associates. He has everything we have, but to an infinitely greater and more sublime degree. After all, if everything we perceive in the mundane sphere is an emanation from the absolute truth, then clearly everything must also be possessed by the absolute truth. We have a form, pastimes and associates, yet we have the arrogance and audacity to deny the same of Krishna.

Finally, whether one accepts the Darwinian theory of evolution or not, common sense dictates that a Supreme intelligence is at work in the creation. An unlimited number of brilliant scientists, working without time restrictions with an unlimited budget, cannot create a single mosquito. To argue that the simplest of the Lord's creatures came about via random events or chance and that no superior intervention and design was involved is simply the nonsense of fools and rascals.

Stoka Krishna Das
Stephen Weir
International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Murwillumbah NSW
0402 459199

Intelligent Design is not scientific theory


By GENE LYONS Saturday, November 26, 2005 1:05 AM PST

To me, the most heartening election result this November took place in Dover, Pa. 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.

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 a 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 the 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 creationist textbook called "Of Pandas and People" (Foundation, 1993) 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."

Professor Barbara Forrest, whose book "Creationism's Trojan Horse" (Oxford, 2004) 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 re-titled "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 a second time.

See, you can call a zebra a hippopotamus if you like, but that doesn't make it third cousin to a blue whale. From a purely scientific standpoint, the trial's highpoint 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.

The scientist who fared worst on the witness stand was Michael Behe, a biochemist from Lehigh University and author of the best-selling book "Darwin's Black Box" (Free Press, 1998). Surrounded by stacks of books and journal articles dealing with the evolution of the human immune system, a mystery his book argued "scientific literature has no answer" for, Behe was reduced 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.

(Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).

Intelligent design front quiet so far locally


There is harsh rhetoric in other quarters, but Minnesota's new standards that govern the teaching of evolution are settling in more quietly.

Dan Wascoe and James Walsh, Star Tribune

Last update: November 26, 2005 at 6:24 AM

Is life on Earth the natural product of evolution? Or can its complexity spring only from some supernatural power or intelligence?

And how much of that debate belongs in high school classrooms?

The questions have stirred bitter political battles this fall in Pennsylvania and Kansas.

How about Minnesota?

"I have detected nothing," said Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

Indeed, despite a flare-up in Minnetonka's school board campaigns this fall, the hot-button education issue called intelligent design appears barely lukewarm in Minnesota.

But as school districts continue to apply the state's new standards for what should be taught in science classes, it's anybody's guess whether the debate will heat up. In the Minnetonka campaign, school board candidates were asked during public forums their views about teaching intelligent design -- the belief that life's complexities cannot be explained by evolution alone.

News reports said all candidates opposed teaching it in science classrooms; some said it would be more appropriate in a philosophy course.

Board Chairwoman Erin Adams, reelected this month, said a community discussion over intelligent design and evolution will occur in coming months as the board tweaks its science standards to fit the state's.

One likely participant is David Eaton, a Minnetonka school board member who has written in favor of intelligent design in the Star Tribune and helped write a minority report on the state's standards. The report argued for informing students about "how scientists continue to critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

"I'm not saying intelligent design should be mandated," Eaton said. "School boards should definitely give guidance to the teachers, but at some point you have to trust the professionals. You don't want to micromanage them."

Ed Hessler, executive secretary of the Minnesota Science Teachers Association, said he is wary of statements by intelligent-design proponents.

"They've gotten to the point where they keep religion out of it," he said. "They're very clever about it. They refer to 'critical analysis' [of evolution theory]. They use a lot of that coded conversation."

State rules have 'wiggle room'

Last week the Kansas Board of Education approved new guidelines that require teaching doubts about evolutionary theory, amid much public outcry. This month, voters in Dover, Pa., ousted eight school board members who had mandated teaching intelligent design in high school.

The election in Dover changed the debate, said Paul Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and an opponent of intelligent design. "There's a lot of political backpedaling right now among the intelligent-design groups," he said. "They're being very, very cautious."

The new Minnesota standards specifically include evolution issues. But they also do not forbid talk of intelligent design.

Some observers cite the new language as evidence that Minnesota is more willing to accept intelligent design. Beth Aune, director of academic standards and professional development for the Minnesota Department of Education, said, "You read into it what you want to read into it."

The push by some parents and others for possible alternatives to evolution theory was the reason the state's new science standards have a little "wiggle room," said Rep. Karen Klinzing, R-Woodbury, a former social studies teacher and a supporter of intelligent design.

If science teachers don't want to talk about intelligent design, social studies class is an acceptable alternative, Klinzing said.

"Just looking at it as a teacher, we're doing more of a service to the students by wording [the standards] the way we did," she said. "It was definitely an effort at compromise."

What's happening in class

Local school boards can advise schools how to apply the state standards, but they might not have the last word.

Two Minnesota biology teachers say they have done surveys and interviews with students and teachers showing that religion-oriented creation ideas are being discussed in class by some of the state's biology teachers. They also say some teachers don't teach evolution, to avoid pressure from parents and others.

The two, Randy Moore, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, and Karen Kraemer, a biology teacher at Willmar High School, are strong advocates of teaching evolution and rejecting the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in science classes.

Kraemer said the survey results, which are not scientific, do not prove that teachers who talk about creationism try to convert students to that point of view. Moore said the subject "doesn't belong in a science class" in the first place.

Teachers and principals around Minnesota said debate over intelligent design has not popped up at board meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

Occasionally, a parent will raise the topic with a teacher. Or a student will ask in class why intelligent design is not being taught, said Leo Geraets, longtime biology teacher in Marshall, Minn.

"But it's never really gone beyond that," he said.

Dan Wascoe • 612-673-4436 James Walsh • 612-673-7428

Copyright 2005 Star Tribune

Proposed Religion Class in Kansas Labels Intelligent Design as 'Mythology'


Saturday, Nov. 26, 2005 Posted: 10:45:04AM EST

The intelligent design theory is going to be studied at the University of Kansas next semester, but not in the way advocated by supporters of the alternative to the evolution theory.

The course, to be offered by the university religious studies department, is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies" and will explore intelligent design as a modern American mythology.

"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," said John Calvert, an attorney and managing director of the Intelligent Design Network in Johnson County, Kan., according to the Associated Press. "That's the reason for this little charade."

Paul Mirecki, chairman of the university religious studies department, however insisted that intelligent design, like creationism, is mythology.

"It's not science," Mirecki said, according to AP. "They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

Although the majority of science organizations have not accepted intelligent design as a valid scientific theory and many critics say that it is creationism in disguise and does not have scientific evidence to support it, "ID" proponents say that their arguments for the theory are based solely on observable evidence from nature. They also insist that the theory does not rely on the biblical account of creation in Genesis. It states that certain aspects of nature are so complex that they could not have come about by evolution alone, but that the evidence points to an intelligent designer, although they say that science cannot identify who or what that is.

Earlier this month, the Kansas State School Board voted 6-4 to teach students that there were doubts about Darwinian evolution theory.

"We can have an opportunity to have critical analysis of evolution. Prior, it was taught as dogma," said School Board Chairman Dr. Steve Abrahms, after the Nov. 8 vote, according CBS affiliate KWCH.

Although local school boards must still decide how science is taught in the classrooms, the vote was seen as a major victory for proponents of intelligent design.

The issue of what should be taught in Kansas schools has been shifting back and forth depending on the makeup of the state school board. In 1999, the school board sought to introduce the controversy over Darwinian evolution into the curriculum; in 2000, new board members took the opposed teaching it; and the current board, elected in 2004, is supporting the new standards.

In regards to the latest issue, University of Kansas Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor David Shulenburger said, "Teaching about controversial topics is a role all universities play, and the current debate over intelligent design certainly qualifies."

"We would be remiss to ignore it," he said in a statement released on Tuesday by the University of Kansas. "We believe it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a religion class. This class will study intelligent design and creationism along with other explanations of human origins that come from various religions and belief systems."

Despite Mirecki's comments on Tuesday to AP, stating that "the KU faculty has had enough" of claims that intelligent design is a science, Shulenburger claimed the topics and titles of courses in religious studies are not intended to promote or debunk any particular beliefs but instead encourage students to explore religion and its place in the world.

Joseph Alvarez

Science deals another blow to 'design'


Saturday November 26, 2005 By Doug Martin

To the editor:

The six-week trial is mercifully over and now we await a verdict that will generate much ado about precious little. Regardless of how the judge decides, evolution will still be science and Intelligent Design will still not be.

On the day Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District began in the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa., (Monday, Sept. 26), The Washington Post ran a full-page article titled "Analysis of Chimp Genome Affirms Science of Evolution."

A month before the article appeared, scientists announced they had "determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee" and that the genomes of the chimp and the human are 96 percent identical.

One of the characteristics that distinguishes science from all other disciplines is the ability of its practitioners to make testable predictions and non-obvious discoveries based on evidence and knowledge.

Using evidence from earlier research on the DNA of humans, canines and mice, and applying a mathematical formula developed from evolutionary theory, scientists were able to predict with remarkable accuracy the number of harmful mutations they would find in the chimpanzee DNA.

John West, a director at the Discovery Institute, the Intelligent Design think tank, was asked to cite examples of ID's testable predictions. He could offer only one. "In 1998, an ID theorist, reckoning that an intelligent designer would not fill animals' genomes with DNA that had no use, predicted that much of the 'junk' DNA in animals' genomes will someday be found to have a function," which, in fact, some have. Impressive, except for the annoying suspicion among scientists that "more than 90 percent of human DNA" has no determinable use, but is merely "the flotsam of biological history." Still, there are quite a few loose ends to tie up.

Considering this accumulation of pesky genetic detritus, wouldn't it be reasonable to conclude that a serial bungler and not an intelligent designer is the universe's real mover and shaker?

Of course, if the Discovery Institute were to reformulate its "theory" to comport with the evidence, the support of the Christian right would quickly evaporate, as would lay curiosity, media attention and, most critical, lucrative revenue sources, such as philanthropic foundation grants and corporate and individual contributions.

So now that geneticists, biochemists and evolutionary biologists have hammered yet another nail in ID's coffin with the sequencing of the chimp genome and subsequent testable prediction about harmful mutations, isn't it time for the directors and scientists at the Institute to finally pull the plug on their patient?

It's obvious that the only evolutionary phenomenon about which they are qualified to speak occurred in the late 1980s when the butterfly of Intelligent Design emerged from the caterpillar of creationism after the Supreme Court banned the latter from public schools. But is this an example of metamorphosis or survival (albeit temporary) of the less unfit?

Doug Martin
Middletown, Md.

Reader Comments:
From: wschauer

11/26/2005 19:52
Mr. Martin, you should educate yourself on the latest findings regarding "Junk DNA" (try Google). You will find that the ID theorist 1998 prediction was correct. Here are excerpts from a Forbes.com article titled "Treasures in the Trash" - http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2005/1212/092.html ... "But researchers are now finding this junk DNA, overlooked for decades by geneticists, may actually not be junk at all. They are finding hints of an enormous and previously unimagined command-and-control apparatus that regulates what our 25,000 genes do and how the body is assembled." ... "The new view of junk DNA overturns 50 years of dogma in molecular biology." ... "A better guess is that a huge 40% to 70% of the whole DNAsequence is dark DNA with secret powers, posits Peter Andolfatto, a fruit-fly geneticist at UC, San Diego."

By evolution or design?


Article Last Updated: 11/26/2005 03:40:32 AM

Focus on trial judge: "I'll rule as I see fit," declares Judge John E. Jones III in closely watched intelligent design case

By Bill Sulon Religion News Service

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Both sides of a federal trial on intelligent design expect that Judge John E. Jones III will rule on whether the school board in Dover, Pa., violated the First Amendment when it adopted a policy on intelligent design.

But beyond that, all bets are off.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based proponent of intelligent design, wants the judge to limit his ruling to the school board's actions. Opponents of the policy want a broad ruling, one that addresses not only the board's decision but also the issue of whether intelligent design is science or a new term for creationism.

Jones, who plans to rule by early January, would not say if he intends to issue a narrow or broad decision, but said he was aware of the potentially historic significance of his verdict.

Asked if he will rule on the board's decision and intelligent design, Jones hesitated a moment and said: ''I really shouldn't get into that area. That could be interpreted as getting to the merits of the case.

''I'll rule as I see fit,'' he said earlier this month in his chambers at the U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg. ''We'll go through a lot of drafts to make sure we got it right. I welcome the opportunity to write this decision. I've been given the opportunity to preside over one of the most important trials [on the] First Amendment and the Establishment Clause.''

That clause bars government from forming a religion or favoring one religion over another. Opponents to the Dover policy said the board was motivated by religious beliefs, specifically Christianity, when it approved a one-minute statement - read to ninth-graders at the start of a science unit on evolution - in which evolution is described as ''not a fact'' and intelligent design is mentioned as an alternative explanation of the origin of life.

Eight board members who favor the policy were voted out of office Nov. 8 and will be replaced in December by eight others who oppose mentioning intelligent design in science class, but not necessarily in other classes. Jones said the election results will have ''zero'' impact on his ruling.

Experts on both sides of the case said it might be difficult for Jones to address the board's motivation without speaking to the issue of whether intelligent design is science or creationism, but that the easiest and potentially least significant ruling would be one that does not address intelligent design.

''All you need to do is look at the issues raised in this trial to see that this case reached far beyond Dover,'' said Witold Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented 11 parents opposed to the school board's policy. ''This trial didn't just involve the local board. We put intelligent design on the witness stand. We obviously would prefer a broad ruling.''

The Discovery Institute wants Jones to limit his ruling to the school board's actions. The institute said it opposes the Dover policy and teaching of intelligent design in class, but that it would be unconstitutional, under First Amendment free speech rights, to order teachers not to talk about it.

''If he finds that the board had no secular purpose, there's no need to go on - everything else is extraneous,'' said John G. West, a senior fellow and program associate director at the institute. ''If he gets into the broader question of whether he thinks intelligent design is scientific, that would be a setback.''

Judge to rule on schools' policy


Saturday, November 26, 2005 By Bill Sulon RELIGION NEWS SERVICE


Both sides of a federal trial on intelligent design expect that Judge John E. Jones III will rule on whether the school board in Dover, Pa., violated the First Amendment when it adopted a policy on intelligent design.

But beyond that, all bets are off.

The Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design based in Seattle, wants the judge to limit his ruling to the school board's actions. Opponents of the policy want a broad ruling, one that speaks to not only the board's decision but also the issue of whether intelligent design is science or a new term for creationism.

Jones, who plans to rule by early January, would not disclose whether he intends to issue a narrow or broad decision, but said that he was aware of the potentially historic significance of his verdict.

Asked whether he will rule on the board's decision and intelligent design, Jones hesitated a moment and said: "I really shouldn't get into that area. That could be interpreted as getting to the merits of the case.

"I'll rule as I see fit," he said earlier this month in his chambers at the U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg. "We'll go through a lot of drafts to make sure we got it right. I welcome the opportunity to write this decision. I've been given the opportunity to preside over one of the most important trials (on the) First Amendment and the Establishment Clause."

That clause bars government from forming a religion or favoring one religion over another. Opponents to the Dover policy said that the board was motivated by religious beliefs, specifically Christianity, when it approved a one-minute statement - read to ninth-graders at the start of a science unit on evolution - in which evolution is described as "not a fact" and intelligent design is mentioned as an alternative explanation of the origin of life.

Eight board members who favor the policy were voted out of office Nov. 8 and will be replaced in December by eight others who oppose mentioning intelligent design in science class, but not necessarily in other classes. Jones said the election results will have "zero" impact on his ruling.

Experts on both sides of the case said that it might be difficult for Jones to speak to the board's motivation without speaking to the issue of whether intelligent design is science or creationism, but that the easiest and potentially least significant ruling would be one that does not deal with intelligent design.

"All you need to do is look at the issues raised in this trial to see that this case reached far beyond Dover," said Witold Walczak, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who represented 11 parents opposed to the school board's policy. "This trial didn't just involve the local board. We put intelligent design on the witness stand. We obviously would prefer a broad ruling."

The Discovery Institute wants Jones to limit his ruling to the school board's actions. The institute said that it opposes the Dover policy and teaching of intelligent design in class, but that it would be unconstitutional, under First Amendment free-speech rights, to order teachers not to talk about it.

"If he finds that the board had no secular purpose, there's no need to go on - everything else is extraneous," said John G. West, a senior fellow and program associate director at the institute. "If he gets into the broader question of whether he thinks intelligent design is scientific, that would be a setback."

Richard Thompson, the president of the Thomas More Law Center, the Christian firm retained by Dover to defend its policy in court, said that he welcomes the opportunity for the judge to rule on intelligent design.

Representatives of the law center and the Discovery Institute said they believe that intelligent design is science, but the two organizations have been at odds since last year on how to deal with the Dover trial. Two advocates of intelligent design withdrew from the Dover case before the trial, and Thompson said that the Discovery Institute tried to persuade two other experts, university professors Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, not to testify, but both did.

West said that the dispute arose from the law center's insistence that no outside lawyers represent the experts - all of whom are affiliated with the Discovery Institute - during depositions in the Dover case.

Plus, West said, "We did not have confidence" in the law center.

Walczak said he believes that the Discovery Institute appears to have distanced itself from the Dover trial partly because the timing does not conform with the organization's "wedge strategy," a document leaked to the Internet in 1999 and later dismissed by the Discovery Institute as an "early fundraising proposal" that has become a "giant urban legend."

According to the strategy, the five-year goal was to "see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory." The 20-year goal is to see intelligent design "as the dominant perspective in science."

Walczak said that the Dover case is taking place "too early in the process" for the Discovery Institute.

"None of their work is peer-reviewed in science journals," Walczak said of intelligent-design proponents. "This trial is the first careful scrutiny intelligent design is getting outside of a political forum."

During the trial, witnesses testified about intelligent design's religious roots and of how the word "creationism" was systematically replaced with "intelligent design" in draft versions of the pro-intelligent design text "Of Pandas and People."

Other witnesses testified that school-board members spoke of the need for prayer in class and for creationism to be taught equally with evolution.

For advocates of the Dover policy, "This is not a good case for writing the history of intelligent design," Walczak said.

Believers flock to 'crying' Virgin Mary


By Juliet Williams, Associated Press Writer | November 26, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --Carrying rosary beads and cameras, the faithful have been coming in a steady stream to a church on the outskirts of Sacramento for a glimpse of what some are calling a miracle: A statue of the Virgin Mary they say has begun crying a substance that looks like blood.

It was first noticed more than a week ago, when a priest at the Vietnamese Catholic Martyrs Church spotted a stain on the statue's face and wiped it away. Before Mass on Nov. 20, people again noticed a reddish substance near the eyes of the white concrete statue outside the small church, said Ky Truong, 56, a parishioner.

Since then, Truong said he has been at the church day and night, so emotional he can't even work. He believes the tears are a sign.

"There's a big event in the future -- earthquake, flood, a disease," Truong said. "We're very sad."

On Saturday, tables in front of the fenced-in statue were jammed with potted plants, bouquets of roses and candles. Some people prayed silently, while others sang hymns and hugged their children. An elderly woman in a wheelchair wept near the front of the crowd.

A red trail could be seen from the side of the statue's left eye to about halfway down the robe of concrete.

"I think that it's incredible. It's a miracle. Why is she doing it? Is it something bothering her?" asked Maria Vasquez, 35, who drove with her parents and three children from Stockton, about 50 miles south of Sacramento.

Thousands of such incidents are reported around the world each year, though many turn out to be hoaxes or natural phenomena.

The Diocese of Sacramento has so far not commented on the statue, and the two priests affiliated with the church did not return a telephone message Saturday.

The Rev. James Murphy, deacon of the diocese's mother church, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, said church leaders are always skeptical at first.

"For people individually seeing things through the eyes of faith, something like this can be meaningful. As for whether it is supernatural or a miracle, normally these incidences are not. Miracles are possible, of course," Murphy said. "The bishop is just waiting and seeing what happens. They will be moving very slowly."

But seeing the statue in person left no doubt for Martin Operario, 60, who drove about 100 miles from Hayward. He took photos to show to family and friends.

"I don't know how to express what I'm feeling," Operario said. "Since religion is the mother of believing, then I believe."

Nuns Anna Bui and Rosa Hoang, members of the Salesian Sisters of San Francisco, also made the trek Saturday. Whether the weeping statue is declared a miracle or not, they said, it is already doing good by awakening people to the faith and reminding them to pray.

"It's a call for us to change ourselves, to love one another," Hoang said.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Couple Sues Operators of Evolution Site


Sat Nov 26, 4:29 PM ET

BERKELEY, Calif. - A California couple has sued the operators of a University of California-Berkeley Web site designed to help teachers teach evolution, claiming it improperly strays into religion.

Jeanne and Larry Caldwell of Granite Bay say portions of the Understanding Evolution Web site amount to a government endorsement of certain religious groups over others because the site is partly funded through a public money grant from the National Science Foundation.

In the lawsuit filed last month, the Caldwells contend the site is an effort "to modify the beliefs of public school science students so they will be more willing to accept evolutionary theory as true."

The plaintiffs are not proponents of "intelligent design" — a theory that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher intelligence — but they object to the teaching of evolution as scientific fact, Jeanne Caldwell said.

The site is run by UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and paid in part by a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Two university scientists and a foundation official were named as defendants.

An attorney representing the Berkeley scientists said the courts have repeatedly rejected the argument that teaching evolution in itself is teaching a religious idea.

On the Net:

Understanding Evolution: http://evolution.berkeley.edu

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