Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
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.
'GOD OF THE GAPS'
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.
A POLITICAL DEBATE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005 Posted: 11:04:19AM EST
A lawsuit filed in California claims that the operators of a University of California, Berkeley Web site that teaches about evolution has crossed the line by endorsing religious views consistent with the theory.
Jeanne and Larry Caldwell, of Granite Bay, Calif., object to certain parts of the Understanding Evolution Web site. In one instance the site links to doctrinal statements from various religions to show that "most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with evolution."
According to the complaint filed last month, the site works to "modify the beliefs of public school science students so they will be more willing to accept evolutionary theory as true." For the plaintiffs, this is an endorsement of certain religious views over others.
A lawyer for the Berkeley scientists who run the site out of the UC Museum of Paleontology department says that variations of the argument being made by the couple have been rejected before in courts.
"The courts in many cases have said evolution is a scientific idea and there is no prohibition on the government teaching a scientific idea even if it conflicts" with some people's religious beliefs, said Christopher Patti, the university counsel.
Recent court and school board action across the country over Intelligent Design being taught in public schools has reawakened the debate over evolution. However, the couple suing the university insists they're not proponents of intelligent design. They object to evolution being taught as fact, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
"Yes, I'm a Christian,'' said Jeanne Caldwell, "but I would not categorize myself as an ID proponent. I believe God created the world"
The National Center for Science Education, based in nearby Oakland, which helped develop and fund the site, says that the suit is an attack on science and evolution, according to the Mercury News.
"It is all part of a climate of hostility toward the teaching of evolution," said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the NCSE.
"Sometimes it is clear and overt,'' as in the suit, he explains. "But often it is more subtle, such as when teachers feel pressure from students or parents to play down, omit or compromise the teaching of evolution."
29 NOV 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink
The Age is one of Australia's oldest and most respected newspapers, but it is currently in the process of making a complete ass of itself.
They have now published their third pro-intelligent design opinion piece , this one by Professor Peter Coghlan. This in itself is not a problem. Intelligent Design, even though it is poor science and a front for Creationism, is an important public topic that needs to be debated and it is vital that major news services give voice to pro-ID writers.
But...The Age has allowed blatantly pro-ID pieces that contained errors, in one case serious errors of fact that were not corrected despite the editor being informed by several sources. The pro-ID piece mentioned above was published on November 23. Since then, there has been no counter-piece until today, November 29, when this appears in the letters page:
The advocates of intelligent design in or out of the science department have yet to show what is intelligent about the "design" of the universe that includes tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, etc.
That's it. Six days after Peter Coghlan's 1,000-word pro-ID essay, we get a 31-word response that has nothing to do with evolution.
Here is the letter I sent that was not published.
Professor Peter Coghlan may not understand why Intelligent Design should not be taught in high school biology classes. The answer is simple. Intelligent Design is not science.
Coghlan defers to Michael Behe, the biochemist who introduced the phrase "irreducible complexity." Michael Behe argues that flagella, the whip-like tails that many bacteria use to swim, are too complex to have evolved. Because flagella are made up of several subunits, and each subunit is critical to the function, Behe cannot understand how evolution could forge all these sub-units simultaneously into a working flagellum.
Coghlan believes that this is open to "refutation" and therefore scientific. (Actually the correct term is "falsifiable," or better yet, "testable." Rebuttal is for philosophers and debaters, not scientists.) But Intelligent Design is not testable. No experiment can determine whether any biological mechanisms were created by a higher intelligence instead of natural selection. The Discovery Institute is a Seattle-based organisation that claims to provide a scientific basis for Intelligent Design. It was formed in 1990; it supports seventeen research fellows; and it has awarded US$3.6 million to fifty researchers since 1996. In all that time, Discovery Institute researchers have not published a single experimental paper. They have not even designed an experiment. If Intelligent Design was experimentally testable, then one of those fifty researchers would have found a way by now.
When Michael Behe used flagella as an example of irreducible complexity, he seems to have been unaware that many bacteria go without components that he considers to be essential. And yet their flagella still wag. If the flagellum was truly "irreducibly complex" then it could not work without all of the subunits. Also, we now know that many of the subunits have other functions such as protein secretion. The flagellum was constructed by separate evolutionary processes that eventually merged rather than a simultaneous creation from nothing. Behe was wrong on both counts and bacterial flagella do not exhibit irreducible complexity. Behe made the same mistakes with clotting cascades and immune systems. If Intelligent Design was scientific, Behe and the Discovery Institute would have admitted their error and retracted their theory. Instead, they turn to other aspects of biology that are not well understood and claim that this new mystery is evidence of intelligent design. There is no experiment that will ever show them wrong. Ergo, Intelligent Design is not science. On cross-examination during the recent Dover trial, Behe admitted that astrology was a science by his own definition.
This is not the view of Rev. George Coyne, the Director of the Vatican Observatory. Being a Jesuit, Coyne believes in Intelligent Design as the root of Judaeo-Christian ethics, but Coyne knows the difference between a religious belief and a scientific theory. "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," he told reporters last week. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."
Amen to that.
As you can see, it was not inflammatory. I would not mind that this letter wasn't published except NO counter-opinions have been published in The Age beyond that irrelevant 31-word snippet. The story gets even more appalling if you read Ian Musgrave's letter that didn't published .
Last time I wrote in I was much less equanimous, but then the article I was responding to was far more irresponsible. I didn't expect to get it published, but I did expect the editor to issue some corrections. Of course, nothing came of it. The Age did print an anti-ID essay last time, but it was a broad generic piece that did not address the errors made. Those errors remain uncorrected two months later. So here is the previous letter that went unpublished, vitriol and all...
Mr Zwartz's article in favour of intelligent design (18/8) contains a number of errors. In consecutive order:
1. The evolution "debate" did not come out of science but was constructed ex nihilo by religious fundamentalists, and has been countered by scientists of many religious leanings; it is disingenuous to claim the debate has been "hijacked" by atheists.
2. Michael Behe is a Christian (a Roman Catholic, to be precise).
3. Intelligent design (ID) was not developed because of scientific findings; there has been to date one scientific paper supporting ID published in the scientific literature, and that was a review paper by a vocal creationist (Stephen Meyer) in a journal whose then-editor is also a vocal creationist (Richard von Sternberg). This paper was published in 2004; the Seattle-based Discovery Institute has been agitating for ID since it was founded in 1990. If ID arose out of scientific research, how come there is almost nothing to be found in the literature? And how come ID had an active political/cultural proselytising institute 14 years before the first pro-ID paper was published? Contra Mr Zwartz's assertion, that's not how science works.
4. Scientists believe in evolution not as a matter of faith but because of overwhelming evidence; when Darwin first published The Origin of Species, virtually every biologist in existence believed in intelligent design; within fifteen years, almost every one of those biologists had been swayed by Darwin's arguments and by the vast catalogue of evidence he had accumulated. Since 1859, further studies have only strengthened the evidence for evolution.
5. I suppose it is possible to find one somewhere, but I do not know of any scientist who believes that science "has or will have the answer to everything, and no other discourse is needed." Perhaps Mr Zwartz would care to furnish a reference for this fantastic claim?
6. Intelligent design is rejected by the overwhelming majority of scientists, not just among atheists but also among Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and indeed every stripe of religious belief except literalists and arch-conservatives. The famous essay "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" was written by Theodosius Dobzhansky, who was inspired to become a biologist after reading Origin of the Species as a 15-year-old boy. Dobzhansky had no difficulty reconciling evolution with his lifelong Russian Orthodox faith. Martin Gardner, the famous skeptic and strident critic of ID, believes in a non-Christian God and miracles. Scientists who reject intelligent design are not all atheists, are not all materialists, and are not, in Mr Zwartz's pathetic intimation, in need of psychological examination.
7. Richard von Sternberg, the editor who published Stephen Meyer's afore-mentioned article, was not hounded out of his job. Von Sternberg resigned from the position for reasons that had nothing to do with the paper (he says so himself) and he was continuing to act as managing editor until a replacement could be found. Indeed, he resigned in October 2003 and Meyer's paper was not published until March 2004. The journal has since disavowed the article on the grounds that it was published at von Sternberg's own discretion, without the usual review by associate editors, and on a subject that was outside that journal's field of expertise. Sternberg has publicly rejected this and states that he spoke to the right people and went through the proper procedures. Without having access to all the peer review commentaries, I am in no position to judge the matter. Neither is Mr Zwartz. I can however say that Meyer's paper was a farrago, and regardless of whether the procedures were followed or not, it should never have been published without major revisions.
8. It is extraordinary when conservative religious writers compare themselves or their favourites to Galileo. To remind Mr Zwartz of some history: Galileo was forced to recant his beliefs, even though they were demonstrably true, under threat of torture by church authority; in contrast, von Sternberg resigned from his editorial position for his own reasons and kept his scientific job as Research Assistant at the National Museum of Natural History despite causing his supervisor a great deal of trouble by claiming that he had been sacked from a position with the Smithsonian Institute that in fact he never held. Von Sternberg, sir, is no Galileo, although clearly he likes the comparison and fosters it at every opportunity.
9. Mr Zwartz is mistaken when he says "chance can not produce changes, you need cause and effect for that." Chance mutations and subsequent evolutionary changes have been documented so many times in the scientific literature that Mr Zwartz ought to be embarrassed by his statement. Chance also plays a key role in other fields of science, most notably statistical theory, thermodynamics, information theory, and quantum physics.
I do not understand how Mr Zwartz could make so many errors in such a short article unless his entire reading on this subject came from the most fervent of ID proponents. As he is The Age's religious editor, and I am sure he takes the responsibilities of both words in his title seriously, I refer Mr Zwartz to the first point of the Australian Journalist's Association's 1984 Code of Ethics , as well as to the Ninth Commandment and Proverbs 14:25 .
While The Age continues to refuse to publish corrections, it falls to the blogosphere to correct its editorial shortcomings. I wonder how long this behaviour will persist once Media Watch is back on air.
Sunday, December 04, 2005 BY BILL SULON Of The Patriot-News
David Napierskie is one of the Dover Area School District board members who lost their seats in last month's election to a slate of candidates opposed to the district's policy on intelligent design.
Now Napierskie wants the district to lose the policy before a federal judge can rule on whether it is legal.
Not that it matters. U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the six-week-long intelligent design trial that ended Nov. 4, plans to issue a ruling by early next month. Last month, Jones said the vote results "will have absolutely no effect on what I do -- zero."
Napierskie, who was appointed to the board in August 2004 to replace a leading intelligent design advocate, William Buckingham, will ask the newly elected board members to drop the policy when they take office tomorrow. Napierskie made a similar request last month of the current board after the election, but his motion died when it was not seconded.
In a letter to the incoming board and Superintendent Richard Nilsen, Napierskie said that after "consulting with independent legal counsel and others," he still believes the board can avoid paying legal fees -- which to date exceed $1 million -- if it rescinds the policy.
"The law is clear that a court cannot make a decision on a case that is moot," Napierskie wrote.
"I'm not sure where Mr. Napierskie got his law degree," said Witold Walczak, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented 11 Dover parents who filed the lawsuit against the district. "We disagree with that legal analysis."
Walczak said rescinding the policy at this point would be an inadequate gesture. He said that given the close school board election results -- fewer than 300 votes separated the 16 candidates -- there is no assurance a future board wouldn't try to reimplement the policy. On Friday, a York County judge ordered a runoff election for one seat after a malfunction was discovered at a polling place.
Walczak and other lawyers want Jones to rule not only on the school board's decision to adopt the intelligent design policy, but on whether intelligent design is science, as its supporters say, or repackaged creationism, as alleged by opponents.
Napierskie said in an interview that he formed his opinion on how to address the intelligent design case after consulting with a Carlisle lawyer and representatives of the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center.
The law center, a Christian firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., represented the district in the trial. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank, supports intelligent design and is critical of evolution, but opposed Dover's policy.
The policy, implemented last January, requires that ninth-grade science students be told that evolution is "not a fact" and that intelligent design is an alternative theory. The four-paragraph statement prompted the lawsuit by the parents, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Supporters of intelligent design say that an intelligent force, not natural selection, best explains the complexities of the universe.
Last December, lawyers representing the parents threatened a lawsuit if the district adopted the policy and warned they would seek reimbursement of legal fees if they won in court. The lawyers said they would drop the suit and not seek legal fees if the district rescinded the policy.
The district implemented the policy over the reservations of its solicitor, Stephen Russell, who in an e-mail to Nilsen said, "My concern for Dover is that in the last several years, there has been a lot of discussion, news print, etc., for putting religion back in the schools."
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited public schools from teaching creationism as science.
Asked why he waited until after he lost the election to voice his concern about the intelligent design policy, Napierskie said, "To be honest with you, I began researching it right before the election."
BILL SULON: 255-8144 or email@example.com
©2005 The Patriot-News © 2005 PennLive.com
Sunday, December 04, 2005
The book Henry Morris co-wrote in 1961 sought to use scientific processes to verify the words of the Bible.
By Kevin Miller 381-1676 New River Current
Scientists and Christian fundamentalists had been battling over Charles Darwin's theory of evolution for more than a century when, in 1961, the creationist crowd gained new ammunition for their arsenal.
It came from Henry Morris, a Virginia Tech engineer and department head, whose controversial book would help reshape the debate over evolution for decades.
"The Genesis Flood," which noted evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould later called "the founding document of the creationist movement," sought to use scientific processes to verify the words of the Bible in order to counter the teachings of evolution and modern geology.
Although largely dismissed or ignored by evolutionary biologists and geologists, "The Genesis Flood" was an instant hit among Christian fundamentalists yearning for some evidence that Noah's flood, not billions of years of wind and water, may have sculpted the Earth.
Nearly 45 years later, "The Genesis Flood" is still in print, having sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Today's advocates for "intelligent design" can also trace at least some of their ideological roots to Morris and the book.
"Ideas can die because there is just no one to think about them," said Paul Nelson, a fellow with the Discovery Institute, one of the leading organizations promoting intelligent design.
"I love the fact that Dr. Morris kept alive dissent from Darwinian evolution."
Morris arrived in 1957
Born in Texas in 1918, Morris was a child when the world caught its first glimpse of the legal wranglings between creationists and Darwinian evolutionists during the circus-like "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Tennessee.
While raised in a Christian family, Morris did not accept the Bible as the literal, truthful word of God -- a central tenet of creationism -- until after college.
He spent the next several decades building a reputation as a scholar of hydraulics, which is the study of the movement of water and its applications to engineering.
But as a pastime, Morris delved into the Bible and its meanings. He joined Christian groups, gave spiritual counseling to students at the universities where he taught and wrote pamphlets or books espousing his literal interpretation of the Bible.
By the time Morris arrived in Blacksburg in 1957, he was a well-respected engineer and university administrator. He was also already working on "The Genesis Flood," which he co-wrote with a professor of theology, John Whitcomb of Grace Theological Seminary.
"I just didn't do leisure sports during my downtime like golf and fish," Morris said recently during a phone interview from his office in California.
"I spent my time writing."
Book backs great flood
Depending on whom you ask, "The Genesis Flood" is either a scientific approach to explaining the Bible or a religious text parading as science.
Using the Old Testament book of Genesis as a guide, Morris estimated the Earth to be between 6,000 and 10,000 years old -- a mere blip of time compared with contemporary geologists' estimates of 4.5 billion years.
But it is Noah's flood that dominates the book.
Some theologians reject the story of Noah as, at best, partially true, arguing that Old Testament writers intended the story as a fable or were merely documenting oral histories of an enormous local flood.
Morris and Whitcomb, however, contend that the Earth's geology bears the scars of a global flood.
Geologic features such as the Grand Canyon could be caused by massive flash floods rather than steady erosion over billions of years, they said.
The layers of fossils that geologists believe were laid down over billions of years could have been deposited in weeks or months as the least-fit creatures succumbed to the floods first or were sorted by the waters, the pair posited.
Even the dinosaurs may have made it onto the ark, which the authors estimated to have the carrying capacity of roughly 522 railroad cars, or about 35,000 animals.
Scientists rejected book
Evolution-minded scientists, both then and now, reject the book's findings as religious propaganda dressed up in scientific-sounding language.
Gould, a prolific author of evolution, poked fun at Morris' and Whitcomb's suggestion that dinosaurs may have lived side-by-side with modern man.
"No man keeps lithified company with a dinosaur, because we were still 60 million years in the future when the last dinosaur perished," Gould wrote in a 1982 critique of creationism and "The Genesis Flood" published in The Atlantic Monthly.
Even some conservative Christians and "progressive creationists" doubted the book's hypotheses.
Morris and Whitcomb anticipated a harsh backlash, particularly from the scientific community.
"We realize, of course, that modern scholarship will be impatient with such an approach," they wrote in the book's introduction. "Our conclusions must unavoidably be colored by our Biblical presuppositions, and this we plainly acknowledge."
But the authors saw just as many, if not more, assumptions and unproven leaps of scientific faith in naturalism as in creationism.
In fact, many of the arguments to evolution "are much farther removed from scientific actualities than our own premises," they wrote.
Regardless of the scientific criticism -- or perhaps partly because of it -- the book sold and sold well.
Although sales numbers for the book's first decade in print were unavailable, the publisher of "The Genesis Flood," Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, said the book has sold more than 140,000 copies since the mid-1970s.
Reaction sparse at Tech
Back in Blacksburg, the civil engineering department head's new book generated few waves, at least at first.
"The general reaction was pretty good, although I didn't convert too many of the faculty," Morris said.
He added: "The only ones who really made a fuss about it were in the biology and geology departments. They never did come to me with any arguments. Indirectly, I heard they were bad-mouthing it."
Morris' engineering colleagues respected his religious views because they never influenced his administrative duties, according to James Wiggert, a retired civil engineering professor who worked eight years under Morris.
Wiggert also contributed several chapters to a textbook by Morris on hydraulic engineering that was used in dozens of universities worldwide.
"He made no bones about his religion and his views of the flood, but he did not want to argue about it particularly," said Wiggert, who disagreed with Morris' creationist views.
"He kept his own counsel on it, unless he was pressed. And we respected Henry for it. He was a good administrator."
The success of "The Genesis Flood" made both Morris and Whitcomb celebrities in creationist circles.
Morris gave dozens of special lectures and commencement addresses at Christian colleges and seminaries throughout the country.
He also authored a weekly column for the Montgomery News Messenger newspaper titled "Here's Your Answer," in which he occasionally promoted creationism and derided evolution.
Morris' religious beliefs and extracurricular activities eventually began attracting more attention at Tech, however.
David West, a retired Tech professor specializing in evolutionary biology, occasionally fired off responses to Morris' newspaper columns.
Faculty in biology regarded Morris and his anti-evolutionist views as almost comical, dismissing him as another odd engineer. But they treated Morris with respect.
"I would say he was well-known and, in certain circles, was known as a crank," said West. "My view was that he was an engineer. He was not a scientist. To me engineers are different, that's all."
A new engineering dean, Willis Worchester, thought Morris' prolific writings and increasingly public persona were "too controversial."
At one point, Worchester and other administrators told Morris not to list his creationist work with his engineering publications on his resume.
"That seemed like kind of the handwriting on the wall that they didn't want me to stay there too long," Morris said. "I remember when I submitted my resignation, I think Dr. Worchester was happy about that."
Morris left Virginia Tech in 1970. During his 13-year tenure, the department rose to become one of the largest civil engineering programs in the nation. A pro-creationist church he helped found in Blacksburg, Harvest Baptist Church, still exists today. "I enjoyed my time" at Tech, Morris said. "I had good relations with the students and faculty, ... and I was very happy. I thought we had a fine school."
Morris debated professor
His career in Blacksburg over, Morris moved to California and turned his attention full time to promoting creationism through the Institute for Creation Research, an organization he helped found while still at Tech.
Over the next several decades, ICR would continue to promote its literal interpretation of the Bible through events, debates and a creation-science journal.
The institute eventually launched a graduate program offering master's level degrees in biology, geology and other fields with a creationist slant.
Morris traveled around the nation as ICR president for speeches and the occasional debate. The latter brought him back to Blacksburg in 1974, when he debated a young and rising paleontologist at Tech, Richard Bambach, before several thousand people in Tech's Burruss Auditorium.
Morris was a skilled debater -- something Bambach knew well and did not underestimate. He prepared by reading some of Morris' work and trying "to figure out what these people are about," Bambach said recently.
A religious man who served as an elder in his church, Bambach still objects to what he sees as creationists' attempts to portray all scientists as atheistic and unspiritual. He said it can be difficult to debate people who "just don't accept that we've learned anything in the past 2,000 years."
Nonetheless, he said the debate "went well" and that even ICR declared it a draw.
"Morris is a gentlemanly person, quite grandfatherly," said Bambach, who retired from Tech in 2000 and now works at the Smithsonian Institution.
"He was not aggressive or anything, and I tried to be quite calm as well."
He doesn't believe many hearts or minds were changed by it -- especially Morris'.
"He's in his world and I'm in mine," Bambach said. "You just have to acknowledge that people operate under different belief systems."
Book remains prominent
ICR remains a prominent voice of the creationist cause.
Now 87, Morris still serves as the organization's president emeritus while his son John, a Virginia Tech graduate, is the organization's president.
In their book, "The Creationist Movement in Modern America," Raymond Eve and Francis Harrold called ICR the "most influential and prestigious creationist organization."
"ICR staff members have provided the main intellectual structure of creationism; their publications and lectures played a crucial role in the growth of the movement in the 1970s and 1980s," the authors wrote.
"Many newer organizations in the movement have began under the inspiration of the ICR."
Undoubtedly, some of those organizations are now among the many fighting to include "intelligent design" in science classroom curricula.
To its supporters, intelligent design recognizes that science cannot explain the existence of life or all of the Earth's amazing biological complexity, such as the development of the eye. Such unexplainable feats indicate the hand of an intelligent designer, they say.
To many hard-core evolutionists, intelligent design is merely the politically correct reincarnation of creationism trumped up by religious zealots determined to sneak Christianity into the science classroom.
It's a battle being played out in courts and legislative chambers nationwide.
Intelligent design supporters, such as Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson, go to great lengths to draw distinctions between young-earth creationists like Morris and believers in an intelligent designer.
Morris and other creationists proclaim the literal accuracy of the Bible, while intelligent design advocates acknowledge the contribution of a higher being, Nelson said.
But that's not to say Morris has had no effect on the intelligent design movement.
Morris' work, Nelson added, "has provided a community of scientists who dissent from modern evolutionary theory."
"He's made a real difference in this debate," said Nelson. "Things would be quite different if Henry Morris had never lived."
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN December 4, 2005
TO read the headlines, intelligent design as a challenge to evolution seems to be building momentum.
In Kansas last month, the board of education voted that students should be exposed to critiques of evolution like intelligent design. At a trial of the Dover, Pa., school board that ended last month, two of the movement's leading academics presented their ideas to a courtroom filled with spectators and reporters from around the world. President Bush endorsed teaching "both sides" of the debate - a position that polls show is popular. And Pope Benedict XVI weighed in recently, declaring the universe an "intelligent project."
Intelligent design posits that the complexity of biological life is itself evidence of a higher being at work. As a political cause, the idea has gained currency, and for good reason. The movement was intended to be a "big tent" that would attract everyone from biblical creationists who regard the Book of Genesis as literal truth to academics who believe that secular universities are hostile to faith. The slogan, "Teach the controversy," has simple appeal in a democracy.
Behind the headlines, however, intelligent design as a field of inquiry is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for. It has gained little support among the academics who should have been its natural allies. And if the intelligent design proponents lose the case in Dover, there could be serious consequences for the movement's credibility.
On college campuses, the movement's theorists are academic pariahs, publicly denounced by their own colleagues. Design proponents have published few papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.
"They never came in," said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.
"From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don't come out very well in our world of scientific review," he said.
While intelligent design has hit obstacles among scientists, it has also failed to find a warm embrace at many evangelical Christian colleges. Even at conservative schools, scholars and theologians who were initially excited about intelligent design say they have come to find its arguments unconvincing. They, too, have been greatly swayed by the scientists at their own institutions and elsewhere who have examined intelligent design and found it insufficiently substantiated in comparison to evolution.
"It can function as one of those ambiguous signs in the world that point to an intelligent creator and help support the faith of the faithful, but it just doesn't have the compelling or explanatory power to have much of an impact on the academy," said Frank D. Macchia, a professor of Christian theology at Vanguard University, in Costa Mesa, Calif., which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the nation's largest Pentecostal denomination.
At Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical university in Illinois, intelligent design surfaces in the curriculum only as part of an interdisciplinary elective on the origins of life, in which students study evolution and competing theories from theological, scientific and historical perspectives, according to a college spokesperson.
The only university where intelligent design has gained a major institutional foothold is a seminary. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., created a Center for Science and Theology for William A. Dembski, a leading proponent of intelligent design, after he left Baylor, a Baptist university in Texas, amid protests by faculty members opposed to teaching it.
Intelligent design and Mr. Dembski, a philosopher and mathematician, should have been a good fit for Baylor, which says its mission is "advancing the frontiers of knowledge while cultivating a Christian world view." But Baylor, like many evangelical universities, has many scholars who see no contradiction in believing in God and evolution.
Derek Davis, director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, said: "I teach at the largest Baptist university in the world. I'm a religious person. And my basic perspective is intelligent design doesn't belong in science class."
Mr. Davis noted that the advocates of intelligent design claim they are not talking about God or religion. "But they are, and everybody knows they are," Mr. Davis said. "I just think we ought to quit playing games. It's a religious worldview that's being advanced."
John G. West, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, the main organization supporting intelligent design, said the skepticism and outright antagonism are evidence that the scientific "fundamentalists" are threatened by its arguments.
"This is natural anytime you have a new controversial idea," Mr. West said. "The first stage is people ignore you. Then, when they can't ignore you, comes the hysteria. Then the idea that was so radical becomes accepted. I'd say we're in the hysteria phase."
In the Dover trial, where intelligent design finally got its day in court, the movement faces perhaps the greatest potential for a serious setback.
The case is the first to test whether intelligent design can be taught in a public school, or whether teaching it is unconstitutional because it advances a particular religious belief. The Dover board voted last year to read students a short statement at the start of ninth-grade biology class saying that evolution is a flawed theory and intelligent design is an alternative they should study further.
If the judge in the Dover case rules against intelligent design, the decision would be likely to dissuade other school boards from incorporating it into their curriculums. School boards might already be wary because of a simple political fact: eight of the school-board members in Dover who supported intelligent design were voted out of office in elections last month and replaced by a slate of opponents.
Advocates of intelligent design perceived the risk as so great that the Discovery Institute said it had tried to dissuade the school board in Dover from going ahead and taking a stand in favor of intelligent design. The institute opposed the Dover board's action, it said, because it "politicized" what should be a scientific issue.
Now, with a decision due in four or five weeks, design proponents like Mr. West of Discovery said the Dover trial was a "sideshow" - one that will have little bearing on the controversy.
"The future of intelligent design, as far as I'm concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case," Mr. West said. "The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
YOUR VIEWS 12/01 December 01, 2005
Last week, I wrote a letter concerning Travis Dunlap's column on Intelligent Design.
At the time, I didn't feel too bad about not using any evidence in my argument, considering Mr. Dunlap didn't use any evidence in his column, and I didn't have much time to research the issue. After some study, it seems to me that the main reason for the debate on ID is that most people don't understand the argument, Mr. Dunlap included.
The first issue that must be cleared up is how the argument is framed. This particular debate concerns whether ID is science and should be taught as such. This argument has nothing to do with truth or reality; it only has to do with what fits within the bounds of science. The argument against ID is a simple one. The "evidence" that ID offers only consists of counter-arguments against evolution. Counter-arguments are a very important part of science; this is how theories are refined and knowledge is gained. The problem is that simply because you make a counter-argument against a theory, it doesn't give you the right to insert another theory with no evidence to support this new theory. This is exactly what ID attempts to do. This type of argument is a logical slight of hand and is not acceptable within science. Until there is positive scientific evidence (not just negative counter-arguments against evolution) that can be presented to support it, ID has no place in the science classroom.
Again, let me emphasize that none of this proves or disproves either evolution or ID, it only shows that ID isn't a scientifically valid theory. Everyone, please examine the argument rationally, not emotionally, and leave the faith for philosophy and religious studies classes.
Computer science senior
December 01, 2005
Charles Krauthammer continues the assault on "intelligent design" in his Nov. 18, column, "Great men of science can also be men who believe." At first, I thought this article would be what the title suggested - proof that science and the Bible need not conflict. Indeed there have been many great men of science who also believe. What I got instead had little to do with these scientists and more to do with Krauthammer's disdain for those of us who believe. Which leads me to the conclusion that Krauthammer must be neither a scientist or a believer.
If Krauthammer were a scientist, he would know that there is as much science in intelligent design as in any other field of study. Biology does not suddenly become theology when studied by creationists, any more than monkeys become men by reading Darwin.
If Krauthammer were a believer, he would know that all truth is God's truth. God doesn't just "stand in the gaps," as Darwinian evolutionists like to say. He created the laws that scientists study. At best, we are simply thinking God's thoughts after Him.
When Krauthammer insults the reader's intelligence by using words like "fraud" and "farce," he does no service to this paper or to our community. Nor does he represent the truly great scientists who really do believe.
©The Mountain Press 2005
Reader Opinions: Read all 3 opinions
Jim Bendewald Dec, 01 2005
Intelligent design is not about proving the Bible to be true. Rather it is about showing that many issues in the universe point to an intelligent source instead of a natural source. For example there is order in the universe which provides laws such as gravity and theories such as Einstein's theory of relativity that are elegant and can be understood. Order comes from an organizer.
Another example is information. Whether the information is verbal, over the airwaves or written, information always comes from an intelligence source. Since information is a massless quantity how can any materialist explanation applied to information? Rather information like "order in the universe" points to an "intelligent design".
A more mathematical form of evidence for design is William Dembski's work on specified complexity. The more an item is both highly specified and complex (such as Mount Rushmore and DNA) the more likely these items were designed. Rock formations, clouds are examples of things formed by natural causes. To learn more about this go to www.creationevidence.blogspot.com
Therefore intelligent design points to an intelligent cause. This intelligence cause should not be ruled out simply because it is not a natural cause.
It is my opinion that intelligent design should be taught in schools intelligently, objectively and on the same playing field as evolution.
Jacob Brennan Dec, 01 2005
I wish only to correct you on one point of your letter, and by doing that the rest of the letter will take care of itself. You are incorrect in assuming that there is as much science in ID as evolution. Actually, there is no science in ID. ID's main premise is that there are some parts of "creation" that are just too complicated for there not to be a God. That involves a belief, not science. I am a believer, but I am sorry to say that there is no way to prove God. That is why believers have faith. Science and religion don't mix.
By JOHNNY J. BURNHAM, The Bristol Press12/03/2005
BRISTOL -- Many individuals are constantly struggling to win the battle with their health problems and are getting fed up with consistent failure. These individuals may find an alternative method in their fight when naturopathic physician Dr. Jonathan E. Goodman visits Bristol Central High School.
According to Georgianna M. Sloate, an active member of the BCHS wellness committee, Goodman will discuss easy-to-follow techniques to manage weight, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and natural ways for strengthening the immune system. There will also be a brief stress reduction technique demonstration.
Goodman will speak at Bristol Central, 480 Wolcott St., Tuesday at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Goodman is a licensed doctor of naturopathic medicine by the state Department of Public Health and serves as the director of Bristol's Solutions for Better Health. He received his degree in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. in 1999. He is currently an adjunct assistant professor in the College of Naturopathic Medicine at the University of Bridgeport.
Naturopathic.org states that the practice "combines safe and effective traditional therapies with the most current advances in modern natural medicine. Naturopathic medicine is appropriate for the management of a broad range of health conditions affecting all age groups."
A doctor practicing this medical genre uses air, water, light, earth, heat, food, herbs and other natural methods, natural medicines and natural remedies to diagnose and treat patients.
"I am not opposed to people seeing their regular doctor and I am not trying to detract from conventional medicine," Goodman said earlier this year speaking at the Southington Library in their "Natural Healthy Southington Series." "I am giving people the alternative, letting them know what I do and how I fit in as a piece of the health puzzle and I want to support people's health and serve as a complementary role to maximize people's health."
©The Bristol Press 2005
Posted on Sat, Dec. 03, 2005
'Biology: The Dynamics of Life' is: A) A way to sneak creationist teachings into science classes; B) A reasoned look at debate over the origins of life; C) Just a textbook; or D) All of the above.
BY NIKKI WALLER
A first-year biology text under consideration for Broward and Miami-Dade public schools is sparking debate over the role of religious faith in science class.
A biology and society unit in Biology: The Dynamics of Life includes a short passage about the belief that a supreme being created life on Earth.
The book brings to South Florida the national debate over intelligent design, which has become more than a skirmish in the national culture war. Intelligent design is the belief that life and the universe are too complex to have been created without direction from an intelligent being. The idea calls into question the scientific theory of evolution.
Page 388 of the biology text reads, ``common to human cultures throughout history is the belief that life on earth did not arise spontaneously. Many of the world's major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being.''
That passage, which appears beside discussions of meteorites and RNA, alarms some educators and leaders who say it opens the way to teaching creationism, which holds that a divine being, and not evolution, is responsible for man's existence.
A teacher's manual that accompanies the book suggests instructors organize an in-class debate on the origins of life.
''Once you start asking public school teachers to instruct on matters of religion in science classes, you're in trouble,'' said state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach.
''I fall on the side of evolution,'' said Bob Parks, a Broward School Board member. He admitted he had not yet seen the text or the passage, but said ``it appears this is another part of someone's political agenda.''
The book's publisher, Glencoe, a division of McGraw-Hill, says the paragraphs do not support creationism or intelligent design and contends the book adheres to mainstream theories of evolution.
''The only explanations and hypotheses regarding the origin of life that are actually taught in Biology: The Dynamics of Life are those that are consistent with the modern theory of evolution,'' said Glencoe spokesperson April Hattori.
IN SOUTH FLORIDA . . .
Members of Broward's High School Science Adoption committee are currently choosing two finalists from a group of six state-approved biology texts. The finalists will be named next week, and the district's biology teachers will spend several weeks reviewing the books. They'll vote on which to adopt early next year.
In Miami-Dade, Biology: The Dynamics of Life is one of two textbooks being considered for adoption next year, though the selection has not provoked great outcry among parents or teachers.
In Broward, the other five books in the running do not explicitly discuss creationist beliefs or intelligent design.
National groups that have staked a position against including intelligent design in the science curriculum praise Biology: The Dynamics of Life.
''This book is not presenting creationism in any form as a scientifically credible view,'' said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education.
Branch says the book is a far cry from the creationist-friendly text at the center of an ideological brawl in the Dover, Pa., schools. That book, Of Pandas and People, claims that life shows evidence of an intelligent creator.
''The people in Broward County who are worried or entranced by the possibility [The Dynamics of Life] is presenting intelligent design or creationism are, I think, mistaken,'' Branch said.
And, oddly, advocates of teaching creationism in science class love the book, too.
''When you talk about origins of man, you can't help but bring religion into the classroom,'' said Tom DeRosa, executive director of the Creation Studies Institute, a church-affiliated research group in Fort Lauderdale.
DeRosa believes the theory of evolution should be open to question in the classroom.
''The book is making an attempt to do that; it needs to be applauded,'' he said.
`NOT A BIG ISSUE'
Valerie Hinton, a member of Broward's biology textbook adoption committee, has taught biology at Coconut Creek High for 23 years.
Hinton says she would have no problem teaching from Biology: Dynamics of Life, so long as the discussion does not push beyond presenting creationism as a belief, not a scientifically tested theory.
''I would not make a big issue of it'' in class, she said.
Wayne Carley, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, says teachers should not present a lesson that calls evolution into question.
''Our position on intelligent design is that it should be stamped out and the people who promote it should be stomped on,'' he said.
Yet as national debate simmers over or whether intelligent design should be taught in school, students are likely to have questions about the origins of life.
Carley says these questions belong in social studies, philosophy or religion class.
In 2002, an earlier edition of the text was embroiled in controversy in Texas, when advocates of creationism wanted the state to adopt books that took a friendly view toward intelligent design. They saw Biology: The Dynamics of Life as one of two acceptable texts; Texas adopted 11 texts for first-year biology, with the Glencoe book among them.
Chad Finley, a third-year science teacher at Silver Trail Middle in Pembroke Pines, believes that the mere inclusion of a passage like the one found in Biology: The Dynamics of Life endorses some sort of controversy.
But Finley, who describes himself as a Christian with a firm belief in evolution, says his students are eager to learn about the debate over the origins of life.
''They love having fights in the class,'' he said.
By Associated Press Published December 3, 2005
TOPEKA, Kan. - A University of Kansas course aimed at trying to debunk 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.
Professor Paul Mirecki, chairman of religious studies, canceled the class last week, the school 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."
[Last modified December 3, 2005, 09:25:07]
Friday, December 2, 2005 2:24 PM CST
GALESBURG - Professor Martin Roth's philosophy course at Knox College this term, "Intelligent Design," combines evolution and design, in a study of an issue that is both thousands of years old and as current as today's headlines.
Roth says he designed the course, which began this week, to "look at intelligent design on three levels: as an argument for the existence of God, as an alternative to evolution in science, and in the context of the current debate over evolution and religion."
At the same time, the direction of the course will depend on something that Roth says he can't determine in advance - the interests of the students in the class. "It is a discussion-oriented class," Roth says. "I want to see what topics the students are interested in, what they pick up on, which directions they want to go."
Students in the course say they're seeking a clearer understanding of a topic that's generated a lot of controversy. Nora Nelson, a first-year student from Geneva, Illinois, is considering a biology major. "Anybody going into a career in natural science," she says, "should understand both sides of the argument."
Laura Villanueva, a junior from Chicago, feels that the popular conception of the debate is incomplete: "The media seem to oversimply the issue, and I want a better explanation."
Seven students are enrolled in the course, which meets three hours a day, three times a week during Knox's December Term, from November 29 through December 16.
Roth says that guest speakers in the class will include a member of the Knox biology faculty and a local clergyman. A leading spokesman for the Intelligent Design position, Phillip Johnson, will give two lectures at Knox in February 2006.
While evolution and intelligent design have been in the news recently, "intelligent design has a long history," Roth says. "The idea originated well before Darwin's work in the 1850s."
"You'll find the first expression of the design argument in Plato in ancient Greece," Roth says. "And one of the first direct attacks on design came in the 1750s, 100 years before Darwin, with David Hume's 'Dialogues concerning natural religion'."
A visiting assistant professor in the philosophy department, Roth has taught at Knox since 2003. His professional interests include philosophy of science and epistemology - the study of the nature and limits of knowledge.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 46 states and 43 nations. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Posted on Sat, Dec. 03, 2005
By LINDA MAN
The Kansas City Star
Amid simmering debate on whether intelligent design belongs in a Kansas classroom, one Missouri school district didn't shy away from a discussion Friday about evolution.
Instead, about 200 advanced biology students packed the auditorium at North Kansas City High School for the second of two days of Webcast lectures on what is becoming a national debate.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute was host of the series, and organizers estimate the number of teachers nationwide who signed up for the Webcast increased by 10 percent to 20 percent over last year.
"We knew it would be a hot topic, but we didn't do it in response of anything going on," said Dennis Liu, program director for educational resources at the institute. "The simmering (debate) encouraged us and caught our eye."
The lectures were planned a year in advance.
Susie Helwig, biology teacher and science chairwoman at North Kansas City High School, said the political atmosphere never affected her decision to air the lectures because they're designed to help students with end-of-the-year exams.
"I honestly did not think twice," she said. "Evolution is the glue that holds biology together."
Evolution, Helwig said, is about change. And evidence ranges from the avian flu to animal mimicry to resistant strains of bacteria.
Helwig said evolution should be separate from religion.
"We're mixing things that should not be mixed," she said. "In Kansas, they want the science teacher to teach creationism, religion. Religion is something that should be taught in the home by the parents.
"It's almost a laughingstock to say there's no such thing as evolution."
The lecture series, which began Thursday and ended Friday, briefly addressed Americans' perception of evolution and stated that almost half the population did not accept evolution as a fact despite 200 million years of fossil evidence.
The Kansas Board of Education recently adopted science standards that called for criticism of evolution. In 2005, lawmakers in 11 states proposed legislation that would have required criticism of evolution or included the teaching of intelligent design. Recently, some Missouri lawmakers considered legislation that would introduce intelligent design in the classroom.
Proponents of intelligent design believe that aspects of the natural world are so complex that they could only have been created by an intelligent being.
Despite Helwig's qualms, many of her students have no problem with introducing intelligent design in the science classroom.
"I think it's good to have different viewpoints," said David Blair, a senior at North Kansas City High School. "I think people mischaracterize it as a sort of religion."
Other seniors, such as Lauren Arthur, think discussion of intelligent design is an indicator of social change. "There's a swing toward more Christian ideas and an importance of religion," she said.
Candace Johnson, another senior, said politicians are driving the current intelligent design movement.
For scientists at the institute, there is no debate.
"Evolution is a fact," Liu said. "The word 'theory' is so commonly misunderstood. It's a big model and framework. Evolution is the framework for biological breakthrough — how genes change, how organisms change."
Paul Klawinski is a biology professor at William Jewell College. He fielded questions after the lectures. For Klawinski, intelligent design and evolution are incompatible.
"Evolution relies on observable phenomena: survivability, reproduction, mutation rates. All of these things essentially drive evolutionary change," he said. "It (intelligent design) assumes that a designer is responsible."
Is a designer responsible for creating the human appendix that, if ruptured, could be fatal? Klawinski asked rhetorically.
"Either the designer wasn't very intelligent or something else is going on," Klawinski said. "Evolution would be the something else."
Reach Linda Man at (816) 234-5905 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Sat, Dec. 03, 2005
A column by Kevin Leininger
Theory's uneasy merger of science and religion does neither one a favor.
In the beginning, God made heaven, Earth and everything on it, finally getting around to humans on the sixth day before resting on the seventh.
Plants, animals, fish and people developed all by themselves, over billions of years, from a single batch of genetic goop.
Lately, however, a third concept has dominated the who-made-us debate, a theory that goes something like this: Some generic Cosmic Force must have guided the origin of the species, creating order from chaos like a tornado assembling a truck from a pile of junk.
That's "intelligent design."
And, by trying to blend science with theology, it does a disservice to both.
Even though Plato, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers were writing about it hundreds of years before Christ's birth, intelligent design has only recently entered America's consciousness.
Just last month, for example, the state school board in Kansas approved guidelines that would allow for supernatural explanations for the creation of the universe. In Dover, Pa., however, voters ousted eight school board members who wanted to introduce intelligent design into the system's science curriculum. Newsweek magazine devoted a cover story to the two events, which just happened to coincide with the 170th anniversary of the voyage to South America that led Charles Darwin to write "The Origin of Species" in 1859, which fueled the God-vs.-evolution debate in the first place.
Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, communications director for the State Department of Education, said intelligent design has failed to gain wide support in Indiana, although legislators have begun to survey constituents' opinions about it. Jon Olinger, a member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board for 10 years, said the issue hasn't surfaced locally, either.
"Creation of the world probably takes all of three minutes in a 12-year curriculum," he said. "But, as a Christian, I don't think evolution necessarily eliminates intelligent design."
Neither do I. But the devil, pardon the expression, is in the details.
There is plenty of evidence that specific species evolve, for example – but no "missing link" evidence of one type of animal evolving into another.
The notion that God guides nature is not only biblical, but inherently American. St. Paul writes in Romans 1 how creation itself testifies to the existence of God – a theme Thomas Jefferson echoed in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote about creator-given rights and "the laws of nature and nature's God." But which god is that, exactly? Jefferson was a deist, not a Christian; and Paul certainly did not believe salvation could be found in a god revealed through wind and rain.
Such is the trap religious advocates of intelligent design have set for themselves: In an attempt to evade church-and-state prohibitions against teaching creationism, they have willingly obscured the name and nature of the God they claim to worship.
The Rev. Dennis Borchers, who teaches religion at Concordia Lutheran High School, will have none of it. Borchers considers intelligent design a "weak compromise" and said he teaches creationism and science without shortchanging either.
Some will scoff at that possibility, of course, claiming geological evidence makes the world billions of years old – far older than the "Bible-based" creation date of 4004 B.C. established by Irish Bishop James Usher in the 1600s.
Borchers resolves this not by turning Genesis' six-day creation account into an allegory, but through observational science. Volcanic eruptions can produce rock formations that appear to be ancient but obviously aren't, he said. Even so, science follows faith, not the other way around.
"If you can't accept Genesis, what do you do with the rest of Scripture?" Borchers asked.
For that matter, what do you do with the scientific method, which depends upon the ability to test hypotheses? Both science and religion seek truth, but only science seeks proof. Religion is content with faith.
God cannot be proved or disproved, so science that denies the possibility isn't science at all. It's dogma. But what kind of science says, "We don't know all the answers, so some supreme being must be responsible?" For that reason, Indiana's public-school guidelines require Earth sciences instruction to be "based upon physical evidence and subjected to experimental verification." Joanne Schafer, FWCS curriculum coordinator, said teachers can also talk about religious explanations for creation, so long as they devote equal weight to all faiths – a requirement so potentially time-consuming as to be unworkable.
Albert Einstein, the greatest physicist of them all, believed a "cosmic intelligence" designed the universe his work helped explain. But Einstein would not have considered this view religious or scientific.
Neither should we.
Kevin Leininger's column appears in The News-Sentinel every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Leininger has been with The News-Sentinel for more than 26 years, 11 of which were as an editorial writer. The column reflects his opinion, not necessarily that of The News-Sentinel, and discusses issues affecting Fort Wayne. To pass along ideas or feedback, contact him at email@example.com, or call 461-8355.
Reader John Neil Schuman is amused:
I saw a story on one of my local new channels today about Oprah Winfrey's favorite things for 2005. The item that made the top of the list was the Philip Stein Teslar Diamond Watch. Here is the description from her website:
PHILIP STEIN TESLAR DIAMOND WATCH
Every Philip Stein timepiece has integrated active Teslar technology designed to reinforce the human body's electromagnetic field with a natural earth signal associated with calm, meditation, relaxation and enhanced performance. Experience the Teslar effect and let yourself feel more relaxed, more rested and less tense. The diamond-faced watch has 50 diamonds; the changeable band comes in six colors.
A typically inane, pseudo-scientific mess of claptrap, designed for the wealthy ignorant. That's not all. It appears that this ludicrous item is also available at all Neiman Marcus locations, as well as at the www.philipstein.com site. Go there, and look at the illustration of this two-time-zone instrument, which is remarkable and unique in that it deals with international time zones that are 6 hours, 28 minutes, and 27 seconds apart! Surely that's an added sales feature, though it couldn't happen, even in Rangoon, Newfoundland, or Central Australia, where the time zones are a bit off-standard. The graphic artist who prepared this ludicrous illustration simply rotated the clock face through 180 degrees, to produce an impossible configuration.
A call to Neiman Marcus (phone number 566-6666 – is that significant?) brought the comment that the watch, to quote the sales clerk – is "supposed to do all these wonderful things." No further data was available on those wonders. The price range is from $595 to $2,600 – depending entirely on the number of diamonds. Gee, my watch doesn't have a single diamond….
Wrote Mr. Schuman:
I thought that you might find humor in this because I certainly did.
Be assured, we did. We handled this ludicrous thing more than two years ago at www.randi.org/jr/013103.html – do a search on "Teslar." The scam hasn't gotten any better, though.
Reader Ken Wolgemuth, of Thompsontown, Pennsylvania, assures us that we are correct in re-labeling The Learning Channel as "The Dumbing-Down Channel." Says Ken:
If an article from the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, describing a local "psychic" to be featured on The Learning Channel this Thursday, is to be believed (a big "if," granted), we have here an individual who located a murder suspect and has been given credit for that feat by the "skeptical" police, does not seek publicity or take money for her "psychic" assistance, and is now going public "because she wants to teach police officers how to use psychics properly and avoid scams."
The article, gushed out by reporter Monica Von Dobeneck, clearly states that "psychic witness" Jan Helen McGee helped police a murder that occurred 12 years ago. The facts are that Detective Paul Zechman was contacted by McGee shortly after the murder was announced in the media. She told him that she'd had a bad "psychic" dream about the killing; that was apparently all that Zechman needed to call her in for consultation.
The newspaper article says that McGee told Zechman that
…the killer was at a beach, probably Ocean City, Md., or Rehoboth Beach, Del. [He] called the police departments there and, sure enough, they found Robert Wise living in Arnold's stolen car at a shopping mall near Rehoboth.
Hold on. That's just one thing that McGee, in a long interview with the detective, came up with. Did she also suggest several other places? We're not told, but this guess – using the expected modifier "probably" – is singled out – because it was correct! And that's a 25-mile stretch of local beach. Note that the culprit was found living in a stolen car – obviously reported as stolen – and we don't know if the police set out to find that person as a result of being alerted by Zechman, or if Zechman merely had his man located because he was in the stolen vehicle. Bear in mind that police knew that Wise and the murder victim were acquainted, and Wise – locally known as a "beach bum" – was already strongly suspected as being the killer, but had simply not been located. This report presents matters as if Wise, right out of the blue, had been identified and located by means of McGee's powers.
District Attorney Deirdre Eshleman now says that Zechman didn't admit to her for several years that McGee had offered him any guesses. He'd told her only that "an anonymous source" had helped him. Does it not appear that Zechman is now recalling, selectively, what McGee told him years before – those points that now checked out! – and is choosing to attribute powers to her? We know, from other accounts of how "police psychics" have been credited with "hits," that often this is the case. Of course, if we had access to the tape recordings Zechman made of the interview, we would know. But we'll never have access to those tapes, I'll bet.
And, I'm struck by this sentence from the newspaper account:
[McGee] said she knew details of the case that surprised investigators, such as that Arnold had a collection of black rotary phones in his home.
We have to wonder, did McGee specifically say, "The killer has a collection of black rotary phones in his home," or did she mention – among dozens of other guesses – that she "saw" a black telephone somehow connected with this matter? The morphing of a generalized statement into an explicit one, often takes place in the re-telling. Certainly, if McGee did deliver her guess as stated above, I would have to take this very seriously.
McGee identifies with the celebrated prophet-without-honor of the Bible, found in Mathew 13. She says:
A lot of people are fearful or angry at psychics. But do you think angels and prophets died off after the Bible was written? Prophetic things have always been spoken of.
Reader Wolgemuth wants McGee tested by the JREF:
She says she "can no more prove her psychic abilities than someone can prove love." However, I suspect that you and your colleagues would have no problem developing a suitable testing protocol. Seems to me, she's a prime candidate for the JREF Challenge. Wouldn't you agree?
Yes, of course, Ken. But I rather think that McGee would want to reply on "The Dumbing-Down Channel" and local newspapers to support her claims, rather than actually having them looked into. As for that challenge to "prove love," I think we could come up with a testing procedure, and we most certainly could test McGee….
Detective Zechman defends his acceptance of these mind-boggling powers. Says he:
Police are [now] more progressive-minded and willing to use things they may not completely understand.
Zechman said he has referred McGee to other police departments, and that he and District Attorney Eshleman are willing to use her again. Yes, that department did something foolish and naïve, and they want others to get on their rickety bandwagon. That vehicle will lurch into view Thursday evening, just before this page goes up on the Internet. It will be interesting to see how the story is sold. I will welcome reviews from readers who saw it.
THANKS TO WALGREEN'S
Reader Patrick Purcell suggests that we again offer our kudos to Walgreen's Pharmacy. We applauded them for their withdrawal of the Trudeau book at www.randi.org/jr/081905time.html#18. They have just suspended four of their registered pharmacists in the St. Louis, Illinois, area for refusing to fill emergency contraception prescriptions, which would be in violation of state law. The pharmacists said they had religious/moral objections to filling such prescriptions, and that they want to maintain their right to refuse to dispense. Replied the Walgreen's spokesperson, "That is not an option."
"CREATIONISTS" CAN BE HILARIOUS
Danish reader Henrik Holde, in Copenhagen, has some observations:
I was just browsing Amazon.com and was recommended Richard Dawkins' most excellent book "The Ancestor's Tale." I have read it already, but thought that the customer reviews of it might reflect some of the evolution vs. creation discussions that seem to be almost anywhere. Well, they did – but I was positively surprised. I found that the creationist reviews of the book were typically rated as being unhelpful, e.g. 2 of 43, 1 of 63, 0 of 36 people finding the reviews helpful. One reviewer even claimed that it is stupid to even write a book like "The Ancestor's Tale," since the subject is already covered in the Bible!
The helpfulness of the neutral (as in non-creationist) reviewers has been rated far, far higher. Seems like Amazon shoppers are a clever bunch. I found the following review very, very funny – the person who wrote it must have a sense of humor that matches mine quite well – so put on your sardonic glasses and read:
This is a detailed and meticulous description of evolution and the history of biological life. Of its type, this is one of the most comprehensive and readable accounts available. Unfortunately Dawkins is operating entirely within the wrong paradigm!
Creation may be contradicted by facts, but facts don't necessarily add up to truth. Evolution itself is flawed on several counts, for example it cannot explain:
1) Why heavy fish, like whales, don't just sink to the bottom of the ocean
2) Why most trees are so much taller than necessary
3) How non-biological animals, like crocodiles and ostriches, came into existence
4) Why sharks haven't grown legs, moved onto land and taken over the world
5) The existence of invisible species that remain undiscovered
So go ahead and read Dawkins' lucid prose in "The Ancestor's Tale" – but remember there are some occasions when facts are wrong.
Regardless, I very much recommend the book!
GELLER – REMEMBER HIM? – SHOWS UP AGAIN
UK reader Jimmy Smith reminds us:
You will recall Uri Geller's brief appearance on "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" before the public voted him out. See your commentary 18 October, 2002, (www.randi.org/jr/101802.html). A presenter of the program gave this amusing little snippet to a fan site of his favorite football (soccer) team, www.nufc.com:
We also asked Ant if there had been any I'm a Celebrity Newcastle fans who had asked to be kept updated on how the team was getting on. Said he:
One of the script writers is a big Newcastle fan but we've not had a contestant yet. We're not allowed to tell them the football results anyway. When Uri Geller was on the program he asked us how Exeter had got on and we told him we couldn't say. He asked us to stare straight at him and after a few seconds he punched the air in triumph and said he could tell by reading our minds that they'd won. It was tough trying to keep a straight face, knowing they'd got beat 2-0...!
Reader David Novak, with yet more Geller antics:
Uri Geller's up to his spoon-bending antics again, this time in Geneva, Switzerland, at a conference between Israeli and Palestinian relief groups. He also said that he'd help the head of the Red Crescent – the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross – to stop smoking... I just hope that he didn't make any promises about using his powers to forge peace in the Middle East. With his record of how successful his "helpful powers" have been, he'd make the conflict last for another century.
Yes, the ubiquitous Geller showed up at the meeting, providing some comic relief; he went about bending spoons. The usually sensible Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, perhaps charmed by Uri, lost her official poise and waxed effusive over the circus. Said she:
Uri Geller did not just help break the ice with the skills that have made him famous – a considerable number of bent spoons line the road that led to this agreement. He has also played a pivotal role in helping everyone focus on the main objective and overcoming differences over secondary details at key junctures.
Folks, I just have a hard time grasping how a conjuror doing his table-to-table routine could possibly bring better understanding to a serious matter such as the interminable Israeli-Palestinian confrontation – unless Geller was such a pest that the assembled dignitaries rushed to an agreement so that they could all go home… Comments reader and friend Jim Oberg on this farce:
I can't help feeling like I've fallen through a wormhole into an alternate reality, because lord knows, the [conferees] couldn't possibly come to this realization on their own without the intervention of a phony psychic.
Jim's comment appeared – along with many other entertaining submissions – on /littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=18406_Phony_Psychic_Makes_Europeans_See_the_Light#comments. One other comment there, is:
Too bad Bob Keeshan [Captain Kangaroo] is dead. I'm sure Mr. Green Jeans, Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose would help as well.
MORE DRAMA DOWN UNDER
Last week, we told you – at www.randi.org/jr/200511/112505psychich.html#i6 – about the exchanges between Rod Bruce and Australia's "Better Health Channel" (BHC). Here's the follow-up. Rod heard from Ms. Douglas, BHC librarian:
Thank you for your email. Your comment or suggestion will be forwarded to the expert reviewer when the article is next due for annual review. If you have provided contact details the reviewer may choose to contact you.
Thanks again for your interest in the Better Health Channel.
And Rod answered:
Thank you for your reply. I must assume that you are now handling my correspondence on this issue, that was previously addressed to Ms. Williams (you are sharing the above email address).
You are saying that my suggestion will be not be addressed until an "annual review," at which time it will be forwarded to an "expert reviewer," who then may or may not choose to contact me. This issue is extremely important and I feel that action should not be delayed. After all, the health and safety of many people are at stake here. Will you please tell me the date of the proposed "annual review," and also the contact details for the "expert reviewer," so that I may expedite this. Otherwise, will you assist to expedite this important issue?
PS: Another relevant link for you can be found at – www.csmmh.org.
That link would take the BHC people to the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health web site, where the information presented should alarm them rather severely. We will keep readers updated on this ongoing drama!
NOW I BELIEVE
Reader Ed Graham was amazed upon opening his newspaper and finding this ad staring at him. Ed, like most of us, suffers from the delusion that singing – and preaching – must be done using vocal cords, but Evangelist Gary Wood can do both without vocal cords! For 33 years, this dead man has refused to recognize his condition, and brazenly carries on as though he were still alive. As Ed comments:
Gary Wood checks out on the web. He is real, and we all know that information found on the Internet is the absolute truth or they wouldn't allow it to be there. He is obviously a product of ID. How much more proof do you people need?
Well, ever curious, I checked out the Internet too, and learned, among other things, that Jesus Christ had given Mr. Wood twenty minutes of his personal consulting time in heaven, and that's what convinced me. Would a man lie about such an event?
To add to this miracle, I ask you to examine this photo of Preacher Gary Wood, and experience the wonder I did when I was unable to find a scrap of evidence bearing witness to the fact that when he died in the auto accident, his lower face was "completely destroyed." Ed, I don't need any more proof….!
Reader Patrick Carr, of Chicago, shows us – once more – that a polite complaint made to receptive and responsible persons can have important results. He reports:
Over the holiday weekend I saw two commercials on Chicago area cable-tv CLTV, for the "Q-Ray" bracelet previously featured in several of the commentaries, such as www.randi.org/jr/070403.html.
I can't say I'm surprised to see it being advertised again, but I did recall that the company manufacturing the things had been ordered not to make the type of claims that were all through these ads. In response I sent the following message to both CLTV and the Illinois Attorney General's office. I haven't yet received a response, but I only just sent the messages.
I'm a long time fan of your work and the website. When I was a child I, like many children, was convinced of the reality of Bigfoot, Nessie, Extraterrestrial visitors, etc. It all just seemed so dramatic and unusual. I remember reading Von Däniken in middle school and being AMAZED at all the "evidence" he was citing. Of course, over the years I became more aware of how tenuous that evidence was. The more I heard people say things like "could the Nazca lines have been..." the more I came to realize these people weren't – and still aren't – actually telling us anything we didn't know, they were simply asking leading and highly speculative questions that tugged at peoples emotions. Sure, that COULD have been a drawing of an "ancient astronaut," but much more probably it wasn't.
Once I started responding to those manipulative questions that way I found myself becoming more and more of a skeptic. At the same time I've realized that there's plenty to be awed by in nature, and to me, evolution, both of life and of the universe in general, is frankly stunning; all the more so for not having some sort of divine manipulation.
I still hope that one day we will have unequivocal proof of life on other planets and I'd love it if we could develop a way of visiting other stars that takes less than a human lifespan, but even if we don't I remain amazed at our world for what it is, not what I might sometimes wish it could be.
I apologize for rambling but I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your commentary. I always read it and the Straight Dope.
The next day, Patrick reported to me:
I've received two replies from the TV station in question. The first is quoted below:
This will acknowledge receipt of your email concerning the Q-ray bracelet ads that have been airing on CLTV. I want to personally thank you for taking the time to write it, and for bringing your questions to our attention. With respect to ads that might be construed as being deceptive, we take our obligations seriously.
I'm familiar with some of the allegations outlined in your email. From the cable station's point of view, what is relevant is whether or not this ad makes claims that cannot be supported or are deceptive. I have reviewed the videotape of this ad, and at the moment I don't feel it makes such claims. I'd also note that the manufacturer offers a 30-day refund (less shipping and handling) if the consumer is unhappy with the product.
I would be happy to discuss this further if you wish to give me a call. My direct line is [number].
I then sent him a message thanking him for his time and again stressing my concerns, and just now I've received the following message:
On further review, we have pulled this commercial.
So, as has occasionally been proven, tactfully and politely offering a complaint can get results.
Yes, Patrick, and we're all grateful to you for having taken this action. Our thanks are also extended to David Underhill of CLTV, a cable news station owned by the Tribune company. They reacted to this alert by looking further into the matter, and they did the right thing. Kudos!
A TV "CHALLENGE"
We received notice of a TV show titled " Britain's Psychic Challenge" which will be a one-hour program on Sunday, Dec. 4th. We're told that:
A panel of skeptical experts will attempt to discover the truth behind people's claims of psychic powers. Presented by Five's Trisha Goddard who will challenge psychics and skeptics and, with the help of a studio jury, will attempt to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Well, I need hardly remind my readers that science is never decided by a jury, and certainly not by a vote, only by the evidence; it's not a popularity contest. And just who are these "experts"? Well, according to Tony Youens, our man in the UK, one is parapsychologist Dr. Chris French, a careful researcher indeed, and another is a very competent magician named Philip Escoffy who has a website at www.thegreyman.com/philipescoffey_intro.htm. The third is an ex-police officer named Jackie Moulton; the UK TV series "Prime Suspect" was based on her work, evidently. See www.imdb.com/title/tt0098898/ for details.
The tests in the one already-taped episode were: "Body in the Boot," in which a live person was concealed in a car boot (i.e. trunk) and the experts had to decide in which one. Chris French reports that 3 out of 7 got this correct but he also said it was a sloppy test; we'll have more details anon. Next they went to what Tony thinks was Knebworth House: www.knebworthhouse.com/locations/locations.html. Here, they did a "psychometry" demo – reading "vibrations" from personal belongings – and by all accounts did pretty badly. The third "test," reports Tony, had no skeptical input and Chris French was very wary of their motives. He was told this was just a "bit of fun" – which should never be part of any such program, since if the "fun" produces positive results, it gets counted and reported, and if it bombs, it's never even mentioned – because it wasn't really a proper test, anyway.
We'll have formal reports on this event, from Tony, next week.
PERHAPS A MISUNDERSTANDING
Reader James Webster has written to chide me on last week's item at www.randi.org/jr/200511/112505psychich.html#i3:
I happened to see a BBC news report regarding the Fairy Rock mentioned in your article below is based on. It has to be said that Councillor Jeannie Fox had more than a twinkle in her eye when she claimed to believe in fairies, and followed up with "Doesn't everyone?" She may have even winked. However, she then quite clearly said to the reporter that the fairy story was simply an excuse, a useful rallying point for the village people who were very concerned about what they saw as unnecessary development.
It was a way of drawing attention to an environmental issue rather than a profession of belief, and it had the desired effect, as was demonstrated by the news coverage and the second thoughts expressed by the housing developers in reaction to the opposition from the locals.
It seems this is more an indication of a canny Scottish PR awareness than anything else!
And reader Caroline Macafee echoes Mr. Webster:
I receive links to your online newsletter, Swift, from the Humanist Society of Scotland. I think you do a very important job, though it's perhaps difficult for us in the UK to appreciate how threatened the Enlightenment seems to be in the USA. So perhaps you'll forgive me if I put in a word of defense for the people of St. Fillans. This is what I've written in my blog, the Lea Rig (http://fogbraider.blogspot.com):
I'm a bit torn today between support for James Randi, who does a terrific job debunking quackery and unreason, and my affection for folk tradition. He has an item on his online newsletter, Swift, about the people of St. Fillans, Perthshire, managing to save a local landmark from property developers by appealing, straight-faced, to the local tradition that it was the habitation of fairies. Which seems to me a very proper use of local history and tradition, really. Funnily enough, there's an article in this week's New ScientistTibet's mountain gods have a way of preserving nature, which shows that places preserved as sacred in Tibet are full of rare plants. I think these are rather benign cases of people's susceptibility to superstition being exploited.
Well, James and Caroline, I may have failed to see the tongues in those Scottish cheeks, and if so, I apologize to you and to the citizens of St. Fillans. Perhaps you'll forgive me when you consider that I regularly deal with medical boards who support the use of magnetic belts and homeopathy, school boards that want to teach that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, and educated inventors with impressive academic degrees who run on about "free energy" and "morphic resonance." Compared to those notions, I suppose, a belief in the wee folk pales somewhat….
HERE'S A SURE WINNER
While we're still in fairyland, reader Jon Davies, of the Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, tells us:
Hi James, after reading this in last weeks commentary – www.randi.org/jr/200511/112505psychich.html#i3I – I was intrigued to see what the "fairy stone" looked like. St. Fillans is not far from Glasgow and I might like to take a drive one day to see the little people....
Using Google images I came across this astonishing website: www.leyman.demon.co.uk
I thought perhaps David R. Cowan had not heard of the JREF so I very helpfully let him know of the million dollar challenge. Our email exchange was very short, as Mr. Cowan is obviously not in need of the cash and presumably wants to keep his latest discoveries a big secret.
Their email exchange reads as follows. First, Jon wrote to Mr. Cowan:
I came across your website about standing stones, ley lines, dowsing etc...while looking for an image of the "fairy" rock at St. Fillans, Perthshire. I had read about the rock and the "discussion" between the building company and the locals on this website: www.randi.org/jr/200511/112505psychich.html#i3
My question to you is this: You are obviously confident about the actual existence of ley lines and dowsing as real phenomena which exist to be measured and demonstrated, therefore why do you not claim the million dollars prize money from the James Randi Educational Foundation and use it to considerably promote your interests? To claim the cash look here: www.randi.org/research/index.html
How fabulous would it be to take the million dollars? What an Earth-shattering and World-changing event that would be. I look forward to hearing about this on the 6 o'clock news......
He signed it, "Jon, rational human, enjoying living in the real World." A reply came from Mr. Cowan:
John [sic] if only the world was as simple as this! I don't believe for one moment that Randi would ever give a million dollars to anyone, no matter how conclusive the evidence. During my three-score years and ten on this planet I have met many people who steadfastly disbelieve even the most obvious of facts, no matter how simple.
As for the cost – I have spent some ten years without any income in writing and researching "Ley Lines and Earth Energies" – about 50-60 thousand pounds in lost wages. It is enough for me to bring this knowledge to the general public. I have been doing more research since this last book, and this is truly awesome. I don't think the general public is ready for the kind of revelations which I have recently uncovered – that will have to wait.
Jon Davies wrote Mr. Cowan:
Thanks for getting back to me.
I look forward tremendously to what you call "the kind of revelations which I have recently uncovered." Few people would be more thrilled than I if dowsing were proved to work. A whole new field of physical research would open up, the present-day laws of physics would have to be rewritten or at least expanded, the World could be a better place...
When these recently uncovered revelations come to light I presume you will then apply for the million dollars. If Mr. Randi, as you suggest, would still not hand over the money even with this new conclusive evidence – which I assume the new revelations would be – there would be a storm of protest worldwide. What better publicity for your ideas?
I look forward to hearing about your new revelations in the media and consequently the payment from the JREF of one million dollars.
Succinctly, Mr. Cowan replied:
Received e-mail with thanks.
And that was it. Closed, done, finished. This reaction is typical of dowsers, who are generally thoroughly self-deluded but yet doubt their own claims. It is they, not the skeptical community, who "steadfastly disbelieve even the most obvious of facts, no matter how simple." Unless he's lying to us, one million dollars could be in the hands of David R. Cowan, within one day's testing time, if he would only apply. We have representatives right where he's located, and he knows full well that the JREF is legally committed to paying out the prize money, but he prefers to pretend to believe that it would not be paid, and he uses that as his excuse for avoiding the facts. They all do.
Am I wrong, David Cowan? Prove it, and be much richer – I presume – than you are now. That £50,000-£60,000 would be pocket-change for you, David. Hello? Can you hear me….?
ANOTHER SECRET SUBTERFUGE REVEALED
Reader "Angel" confesses:
In last weeks commentary there was an e-mail titled "PSYCHIC SANTA?" I have a very similar story but I guess you could call it "Psychic Minnie?" I used to work at the Disneyland Resort doing character work. I would dress up in a Minnie Mouse costume and deliver "magical" experiences to everyone who saw me. The one thing that amazed people was when they handed me their autograph books. I would always write a personalized message to them including their name, and then sign "Minnie Mouse" at the end. They would read it and show their parents what I had done and they would tell me "This place really is magical." Little did they know that a few moments earlier they were calling their kids name to look up at the camera to take a photo.
Also, I am a student in Dr. Mark Duva's class at Cerritos College and we all really do enjoy reading the commentaries every week. It is the funnest homework I've ever had! Thank you for posting Dr. Duva's commentary, it was very exciting to see it!
P.S. I think Dr. Duva would be amazed if he got to see this e-mail with your comments!
That will never happen, Angel! Think you can manipulate me, do you? Hah!
CALLING IN HEAVY HELP
In Australia, the Queensland Roar football team's mediocre performance – they're in sixth place, with only 11 goals from 12 games this season – prompted those in charge to invoke specialized help and some "positive energy" from a Feng Shui expert. A natural thing to do. Well, "master" Tom Lo festooned the place with cane palms, flowers, photos and balloons, then brought a Chinese dancing lion into the locker room to work magic.
We have to tell you that the following weekend, the team were defeated again without scoring. This mystery is being investigated, even as we speak….
DOES THE CANADIAN PARLIAMENT HAVE TIME FOR ALIENS
See www.randi.org/jr/200509/092305northern.html#1 to refresh your memory about former Canadian Deputy Minister of Defense and later, Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister, Paul Hellyer, who is now asking the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics – by which he means, relations with "ETs," which he defines as, "ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth." Despite the fact that there is zero evidence to indicate that an extraterrestrial life exists – though that's not at all impossible! – and any life form would have to travel incredible distances under incredible conditions, to get here, Mr. Hellyer believes that we should treat this possibility with priority – even while we're trying to find out how to leave Iraq with dignity and style. In a speech at the University of Toronto, Hellyer has publicly stated:
UFOs are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head… I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something… The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalleled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied Minister of Defense, were never in-the-loop… The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the Moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide.
Doesn't Hellyer do anything to inform himself of the facts about Roswell, UFOs, and the proposed Moon base? But, aside from the incredible content of his speech, what has to get our attention is that Hellyer's speech was greeted with a standing ovation! Now, in my view, this misplaced enthusiasm may be based on the very wise 1967 United Nations decision that weapons of mass destruction – remember them? – must not be based in space.
We'll just have to stay tuned. So far, the Canadian Parliament is not rushing to clamber onto the UFO platform.
MORE WIND FROM WINDERS
We heard from Carl Moreland – see www.randi.org/jr/101703.html and do a search on "Moreland" – who tells us, in reference to our recent coverage of Dell Winders and the Omnitron device:
I see that you have pulled out the "Dell Systems VR800" I sent you a while back. The video you have of the test you did with Dell Winders probably came from me, as well. When I last asked, you did not recall the context of the video taping, but now you've possibly discovered that it was part of a documentary. If you can find out for certain, please let me know. In particular, I would like to view the remainder of the test, if it was taped, and would like to know the real results of the test. Dell has told me that he aborted the test after a few attempts because conditions had deteriorated, but insisted that he scored 6-of-8 times (not the 8-of-12 you reported) in a note from January 6, 1999:
As I mentioned, the survey process can take longer than it used to, and the interference can at times be a frustrating nuisance if you have a deadline and limited time to conduct tests or surveys. It doesn't cripple the MFD's ability to provide useful information, it just takes longer to maximize the accuracy of interpreting weakened signals. This is a problem I encountered in doing the Randi tests. The producer informed me (with Mr. Randi present), that I only got 6 tests correct of the 8 tests it took me 5½ hours to complete. The increasing interference made it difficult for me to evaluate the signals although Mr. Randi in his infinite scientific wisdom, made it authoritatively clear, that we were NOT having any solar interference. At least in my case, that shoots down theories of Randi's power of suggestion. I experienced lots of Solar interference that day.
Randi comments: we'll see, soon enough, when the video of that event is located, viewed, and summed up. The reference to "solar interference" was about the fact that there were no sun spots or flares reported at that period, though Winders manages to detect subtle forces that mere mortals cannot even imagine. Carl continues:
I've been in contact with Dell off-and-on for the last few years, and several times I've offered him my own $25,000 prize (limited strictly to treasure dowsing devices). Of course, he's refused every time, often citing the evil of James Randi as the reason he will never submit to testing again! Since I sent you the VR800, I have obtained a later model sold by Dell, called the "GS-Pro" (GS is for gold/silver). Guess what? Yup, it has dowsing rods. And his latest "microprocessor-controlled" treasure locator? Still has dowsing rods.
But even in the whacky world of treasure hunting, Dell is small potatoes. Check out www.treasurenow.com... look at the "Products" page... there are two legitimate metal detectors (the "Maxi-Pulses"), and a legitimate Earth Resistivity Meter (the "Mother Load Locator")... everything else is a DOWSING DEVICE. Click on the "Treasure Navigator" product... yes, really... that's a $20,000 dowsing device! Dowsing rods NOT shown... But, hey, at least it includes a GPS receiver so you won't get lost while dowsing.
Folks, that site actually does use the term, "Mother Load," several times…. Will someone tell them it's "Lode," please? Carl, again:
I own three of the devices shown on that page: The SiGo, the Mini Eliminator II, and the PPL. All dowsing crap. And, at the bottom of the Products page are two devices called the Raven and Thunder Stick. These are made by Jim Thomas in Texas, the fellow who sued me over my report of another of his dowsing devices, the "Quad." By the way, when I refused to settle out-of-court, he dropped the suit entirely, the day before the hearing was scheduled. What a spineless coward.
Anyway, the fellow who sells the devices on treasurenow.com is Bob Fitzgerald. Of all the dowsing devices on that page, the only one Bob actually makes himself is the PPL. Interestingly, it's also one of the only ones that is accompanied by actual performance claims. The first 6 devices on that page make no mention whatsoever that they can locate gold or silver, or otherwise do anything useful for the buyer. Is that Truth in Advertising, or what?
If you want to have a little fun, shoot Bob an email offering your prize if he can demonstrate that the PPL will locate gold, as he claims. I'll go ahead and spill the beans... Bob has a standard alibi: it only detects "long-time buried" gold. The gold must have been buried for at least several years. Yes, I know, science says that gold is entirely inert in normal conditions. But we're talking Long-Range Locators here, which, by necessity, redefine science.
Readers can see Carl's report on the VR800 at http://www.thunting.com/geotech/lrl_reports.html, with a complete schematic included. The actual electronics of the Omnitron that Carl sent to me are currently with Dr. Ian A. D'Souza, of Space Instruments & Electronics in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Ian is preparing an official circuit check, which I'm sure will agree with Carl's findings, showing that the circuitry is a sham.
Carl Morehouse, incidentally – as you'll see from the report above – is probably the world's leading authority on dowsing scams, particularly the electronic horrors such as the Omnitron. I'm happy to have his input on all such matters. Our formal challenge to Bob Fitzgerald – who we're told has a terrible temper! – will appear here next week.
Reader John Bush, who signs himself as a "ex-River Plaza kid who hung out in front of Chris's Delicatessen and the Fireman's Fair" – which stirs my memories of my years of residence in New Jersey – has a suggestion:
I have a marketing idea for Dell Winders. Why doesn't he just lower the price from $3500.00 down to $3.95, and market the Omnitron as an "Interference Detector," since he seems to pick up more interference than anything else? Also, based on my inspection of the photos you provided, it looks to me like it could be easily re-engineered to become the world's best meat thermometer. Something like that could sell for over $10.00 at Target, or over $100.00 at Brookstone.
Dell could become a rich man overnight, providing that he could squeeze his glue gun fast enough to manufacture millions of Omnitrons. I'm sure that if Superstore warehouses are selling Kevin Trudeau's book by the millions, there would be room for bubble-packed Omnitrons hanging from clip-poles throughout their stores.
Have fun at the Stardust. Isn't that where they filmed, "Mars Attacks"? Since Mars is so close now, I hope that they don't land again during your conference! The Luxor Pyramid has turned Las Vegas into a Space Magnet.
No, John, that was the Luxor Casino where the flop named "Mars Attacks" was filmed. The Stardust is now famous for being the venue for The Amaz!ng Meeting every January. And are you registered yet….? I spoke with U.S. astronaut Ed Lu today, and he's looking forward to answering audience questions about his adventures in orbit, aside from the minor suspension-in-space – levitation – that I'll put him through, live, right on stage, during the Meeting!
IN CONCLUSION…. Next week, you'll read about yet another silly weeping statue has the faithful all a-flutter, the challenge to Fitzgerald will be published, and we'll regale you with more "energized water." I'll bet you can hardly wait!
And if you haven't heard, the TAM 4 scholarship has provided funding for at least twenty people to the January meeting in Las Vegas! The "amazing" outpouring of generosity warms my heart, but there's still room for more. If you'd like to consider helping someone else get to TAM, please visit www.tam4.com/scholarship.html. Thank You.
Posted 11/30/2005 8:56 PM
The issue: Should public schools teach "intelligent design," the theory that the universe and its life forms are so complex that a higher cause must have been involved in making them? (Related: Read previous columns )
Bob: Cal, I'm going to stray from the consensus liberal line on the issue of intelligent design. The Dover, Pa., school board had a good reason to allow the teaching of intelligent design as a scientific alternative to Darwinism in the school system's science classes. Despite the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community that evolution is the sole explanation for all living things, these scientists have yet to prove the theory conclusively. Not only are there still gaping holes in the evolutionary chain from single cells to man, the science crowd hasn't come close to explaining why only man among all living things has a conscience, a moral framework and a free will.
Cal: What I find curious about this debate, not only in Pennsylvania, but in Kansas and throughout the country, is that so many scientists and educators are behaving like fundamentalist secularists. Only they will define science. They alone will decide which scientific theories and information will be taught to students. That sounds like mind control to me, Bob. If their science is so strong on the issue of origins, why not let the arguments supporting intelligent design into the classroom where it can be debunked if it can't be defended? You liberals are always accusing us conservatives of censorship. It sounds like your side has picked up the disease on this one.
Bob: One reason is that your side insists on making this debate about religion. I believe there is a good science debate here. Many people believe that the Christian community is using intelligent design as a backdoor for teaching creationism. If not, this issue would not be in the federal courts in a constitutional argument over separation of church and state. But there are a number of serious scientists who believe in intelligent design as a theory of evolution based on scientific argument.
Cal: Exactly right, Bob. And many of them have advanced degrees from the same universities from which the evolutionary scientists have graduated. And what about some of the greatest names in science — men like Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Johannes Kepler and Galileo? Charles Darwin was a devout Christian as a young man, but his religious views — like his scientific ones — "evolved" as he got older. By the time he wrote The Origin of Species, he was as good a practical secularist as any non-believer. Was the later Darwin smarter than the combined wisdom of those scientists who believed the universe did not come into existence by chance but had a creator behind it? Readers can Google "scientists and intelligent design" for the names of many more scientists who believed someone was behind what we see in the sky with our eyes and beyond through a telescopic eye.
Bob: Good, now you're talking science, not theology.
Cal: But I doubt the secular fundamentalists and their judicial friends will ever allow this debate to occur. That's why I support, for this reason and many others, pulling conservative and Christian kids out of public schools and placing them in private or home-school environments where they can get a real and truthful education.
Bob: Cal, if you encourage Christian believers to take their kids out of public schools, then it's likely intelligent design will never get a fair hearing and forever be seen as Biblical creation only. That's not fair to those who want competing theories to Darwin introduced as a scientific debate, not a theological food fight.
Cal: Fair point, Bob, but the primary responsibility of parents is to their children. If they are teaching them one thing at home and in their place of worship, and they are subsidizing with their taxes the teaching of conflicting views — which are taught as truth in the government schools — they are undermining the very things in which they believe. School choice would settle a lot of this, but those politically beholden to the National Education Association aren't about to allow parents the freedom to choose where to educate their kids.
Bob: Some public school systems may well be hostile to Christian dogma, but most are looking at intelligent design as a church-state issue, and until told otherwise by the federal courts will continue to keep the debate out of science classes. You can't blame them. Nearly the entire school board in Dover was defeated over this very issue in the last election. Pulling Christian kids from public schools only helps the "Darwin only" science crowd.
Cal: Scientists have accepted theories in the past that proved to be wrong. Science is supposed to be about openness to competing ideas. But the very people who want to impose evolution as the only scientific explanation for life on the planet violate this basic tenet of science when it comes to intelligent design.
Bob: True, but these scientists will say the overwhelming body of evidence supports evolution, and no other theory comes close. Well, of course it doesn't because no other theory has been studied seriously. This crowd has a vested interest in proving Darwin correct, and anything else is dismissed out of hand. This from the same scientific community that for years believed the universe was shrinking. They have since discovered the Big Bang and now believe the universe is expanding.
Cal: You're making my point, Bob. Science advances by considering all theories and evidence, not by conspiring to teach only one to the exclusion of others. This is Flat Earth Society thinking.
Bob: But if this debate continues to be viewed as an attempt by fundamentalist Christians to get their beliefs into the public schools, then intelligent design will never get a fair hearing, and it deserves one. The scientists who view intelligent design as a science, not a dogma, believe that the smallest building blocks of life are so complex that they couldn't simply evolve from amoebas. That's about as far as I can go in my understanding of all this.
Cal: What has been set up is a false premise: that the Bible and science are in conflict and that nothing in Scripture can be tested scientifically. That is just not true. But when God asks Job — "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" — the question should make scientists humble about their certainties concerning the origins of the earth and of human life.
Bob: There you go again mixing science with the Bible. We both want to see intelligent design introduced into the scientific debate. Can't we leave the Bible out of this while we're trying to convince the public that this is a debate about science? It's a means-ends issue, Cal.
Cal: Some Christians are trying to water down what they really believe for the wrong reasons. It would be better for them to exit the government schools so they can teach their beliefs without compromise. For those who remain — like you — and want intelligent design taught alongside evolution, why not have a series of televised debates so the public could make up its own mind?
Bob: That's a start. The scientific community has gone out of its way to depict intelligent design as a religious view. Most people have no idea that serious scientists believe there is a strong case for intelligent design. These scientists have been denied a forum, and a series of public debates would be educational and give the intelligent design researchers a chance to tell their side.
Cal: Surely C-SPAN would carry the debate if the scientists were prominent enough. Anyone opposing the debate would be rightly labeled a censor and anti-academic freedom. That should make the liberals choke. Sound like a good idea to you, Bob (except the part about choking liberals)?
Bob: I'm all for it. I just wonder if the Darwinists will show up.
Cal: Maybe we can offer them some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage.
Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckelis a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.
By Seth Shostak
posted: 01 December 2005 06:37 am ET
If you're an inveterate tube-o-phile, you may remember the episode of "Cheers" in which Cliff, the postman who's stayed by neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night from his appointed rounds of beer, exclaims to Norm that he's found a potato that looks like Richard Nixon's head.
This could be an astonishing attempt by taters to express their political views, but Norm is unimpressed. Finding evidence of complexity (the Nixon physiognomy) in a natural setting (the spud), and inferring some deliberate, magical mechanism behind it all, would be a leap from the doubtful to the divine, and in this case, Norm feels, unwarranted.
Cliff, however, would have some sympathizers among the proponents of Intelligent Design (ID), whose efforts to influence school science curricula continue to swill large quantities of newspaper ink. As just about everyone is aware, these folks use similar logic to infer a "designer" behind such biological constructions as DNA or the human eye. The apparent complexity of the product is offered as proof of deliberate blueprinting by an unknown creator—conscious action, presumably from outside the universe itself.
What many readers will not know is that SETI research has been offered up in support of Intelligent Design.
The way this happens is as follows. When ID advocates posit that DNA—which is a complicated, molecular blueprint—is solid evidence for a designer, most scientists are unconvinced. They counter that the structure of this biological building block is the result of self-organization via evolution, and not a proof of deliberate engineering. DNA, the researchers will protest, is no more a consciously constructed system than Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Organized complexity, in other words, is not enough to infer design.
But the adherents of Intelligent Design protest the protest. They point to SETI and say, "upon receiving a complex radio signal from space, SETI researchers will claim it as proof that intelligent life resides in the neighborhood of a distant star. Thus, isn't their search completely analogous to our own line of reasoning—a clear case of complexity implying intelligence and deliberate design?" And SETI, they would note, enjoys widespread scientific acceptance.
If we as SETI researchers admit this is so, it sounds as if we're guilty of promoting a logical double standard. If the ID folks aren't allowed to claim intelligent design when pointing to DNA, how can we hope to claim intelligent design on the basis of a complex radio signal? It's true that SETI is well regarded by the scientific community, but is that simply because we don't suggest that the voice behind the microphone could be God?
In fact, the signals actually sought by today's SETI searches are not complex, as the ID advocates assume. We're not looking for intricately coded messages, mathematical series, or even the aliens' version of "I Love Lucy." Our instruments are largely insensitive to the modulation—or message—that might be conveyed by an extraterrestrial broadcast. A SETI radio signal of the type we could actually find would be a persistent, narrow-band whistle. Such a simple phenomenon appears to lack just about any degree of structure, although if it originates on a planet, we should see periodic Doppler effects as the world bearing the transmitter rotates and orbits.
And yet we still advertise that, were we to find such a signal, we could reasonably conclude that there was intelligence behind it. It sounds as if this strengthens the argument made by the ID proponents. Our sought-after signal is hardly complex, and yet we're still going to say that we've found extraterrestrials. If we can get away with that, why can't they?
Well, it's because the credibility of the evidence is not predicated on its complexity. If SETI were to announce that we're not alone because it had detected a signal, it would be on the basis of artificiality. An endless, sinusoidal signal – a dead simple tone – is not complex; it's artificial. Such a tone just doesn't seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes. In addition, and unlike other radio emissions produced by the cosmos, such a signal is devoid of the appendages and inefficiencies nature always seems to add – for example, DNA's junk and redundancy.
Consider pulsars – stellar objects that flash light and radio waves into space with impressive regularity. Pulsars were briefly tagged with the moniker LGM (Little Green Men) upon their discovery in 1967. Of course, these little men didn't have much to say. Regular pulses don't convey any information—no more than the ticking of a clock. But the real kicker is something else: inefficiency. Pulsars flash over the entire spectrum. No matter where you tune your radio telescope, the pulsar can be heard. That's bad design, because if the pulses were intended to convey some sort of message, it would be enormously more efficient (in terms of energy costs) to confine the signal to a very narrow band. Even the most efficient natural radio emitters, interstellar clouds of gas known as masers, are profligate. Their steady signals splash over hundreds of times more radio band than the type of transmissions sought by SETI.
Imagine bright reflections of the Sun flashing off Lake Victoria, and seen from great distance. These would be similar to pulsar signals: highly regular (once ever 24 hours), and visible in preferred directions, but occupying a wide chunk of the optical spectrum. It's not a very good hailing-signal or communications device. Lightning bolts are another example. They produce pulses of both light and radio, but the broadcast extends over just about the whole electromagnetic spectrum. That sort of bad engineering is easily recognized and laid at nature's door. Nature, for its part, seems unoffended.
Junk, redundancy, and inefficiency characterize astrophysical signals. It seems they characterize cells and sea lions, too. These biological constructions have lots of superfluous and redundant parts, and are a long way from being optimally built or operated. They also resemble lots of other things that may be either contemporaries or historical precedents.
So that's one point: the signals SETI seeks are really not like other examples drawn from the bestiary of complex astrophysical phenomena. That speaks to their artificiality.
The Importance of Setting
There's another hallmark of artificiality we consider in SETI, and it's context. Where is the signal found? Our searches often concentrate on nearby Sun-like star systems – the very type of astronomical locale we believe most likely to harbor Earth-size planets awash in liquid water. That's where we hope to find a signal. The physics of solar systems is that of hot plasmas (stars), cool hydrocarbon gasses (big planets), and cold rock (small planets). These do not produce, so far as we can either theorize or observe, monochromatic radio signals belched into space with powers of ten billion watts or more—the type of signal we look for in SETI experiments. It's hard to imagine how they would do this, and observations confirm that it just doesn't seem to be their thing.
Context is important, crucially important. Imagine that we should espy a giant, green square in one of these neighboring solar systems. That would surely meet our criteria for artificiality. But a square is not overly complex. Only in the context of finding it in someone's solar system does its minimum complexity become indicative of intelligence.
In archaeology, context is the basis of many discoveries that are imputed to the deliberate workings of intelligence. If I find a rock chipped in such a way as to give it a sharp edge, and the discovery is made in a cave, I am seduced into ascribing this to tool use by distant, fetid and furry ancestors. It is the context of the cave that makes this assumption far more likely then an alternative scenario in which I assume that the random grinding and splitting of rock has resulted in this useful geometry.
In short, the champions of Intelligent Design make two mistakes when they claim that the SETI enterprise is logically similar to their own: First, they assume that we are looking for messages, and judging our discovery on the basis of message content, whether understood or not. In fact, we're on the lookout for very simple signals. That's mostly a technical misunderstanding. But their second assumption, derived from the first, that complexity would imply intelligence, is also wrong. We seek artificiality, which is an organized and optimized signal coming from an astronomical environment from which neither it nor anything like it is either expected or observed: Very modest complexity, found out of context. This is clearly nothing like looking at DNA's chemical makeup and deducing the work of a supernatural biochemist.
Intelligent Design and Evolution at the White House
Teach Evolution: Leave No Child Behind
Intelligent Design: An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution
© 1999-2005 Imaginova Corp
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 2, 2005; A01
JERUSALEM -- Down the slope from the Old City's Dung Gate, rows of thick stone walls, shards of pottery and other remains of an expansive ancient building are being exhumed from a dusty pit.
The site is on a narrow terrace at the edge of the Kidron Valley, which sheers away from the Old City walls, in a cliffside area the Bible describes as the seat of the kings of ancient Israel.
What is taking shape in the rocky earth, marked by centuries of conquest and development, is as contested as the neighborhood of Arabs and Jews encircling the excavation. But the Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar believes the evidence she has uncovered during months of excavation and biblical comparison points to an extraordinary discovery.
She believes she has found the palace of King David, the poet-warrior who the Bible says consolidated the ancient Jewish kingdom around the 10th century B.C. and expanded its borders to encompass the Land of Israel. Others are doubtful.
"There is sometimes a reality, a very precise reality, though maybe not all true, described in the Bible," Mazar said. "This is giving the Bible's version a chance."
Mazar's find is emerging at the nexus of history, religion and politics, volatile forces that have guided building, biblical scholarship and war in this city for millennia. Even before the findings have been assembled in a scientific paper, the discovery is prompting new thinking about when Jerusalem rose to prominence, the nature of the early Jewish kingdom, and whether the Bible can be used as a reliable map to archaeological discovery.
Only a small fraction of the structure has been exposed. But it is yielding rare clues to the early development of Jerusalem, long debated within Israel's university archaeology departments.
Some archaeologists believe Jerusalem was no more than a tiny hilltop village when it served as David's capital. The discovery of a palace or other large public building from David's time would strengthen the opposing view that he and his son, Solomon, presided over a civilization grander than the collection of rural clans some historians say made up the Jewish kingdom.
Whether David was a tribal chieftain or visionary monarch matters deeply to the Jewish historical narrative -- the story of a single people, once ruled by kings, and later dispossessed of its homeland until the modern state of Israel was created nearly 2,000 years later following the horrors of the Holocaust.
Palestinian leaders, who also claim Jerusalem as their capital, dismiss the ancient story as politically useful fiction. But given the palace's location on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, its discovery could be used to bolster the Israeli claim to the East Jerusalem neighborhood and increase Jewish settlement in the area.
The excavation, on land owned by a private organization that has been moving Jewish settlers into the Arab neighborhood, is being funded by a Jerusalem research institute that promotes policy to strengthen Israel's Jewish character and by a wealthy American Jewish investor.
Prof. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology said Mazar's interpretation should be understood as the latest in a series of "messianic eruptions" designed to bolster the image of David as a ruler of an important civilization, an idea that has lost currency in recent years in part because of Finkelstein's writing against it.
"That is why you are seeing this interpretation, to counter that momentum against it," said Finkelstein, co-author of the book "The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts."
"It's an important find, and I'm not underestimating it," he said. "But from what she has found to the palace of David is a big distance."
The Bible as Record
For two centuries, historians in Germany, the United States and Israel have debated the value of the Bible as an authentic record of events. Biblical archaeology emerged as a way to explore the Old Testament through discoveries on the ground. It attracted renowned scholars and adventurers to the Holy Land, but also a number of evangelical Christians and religious Jews who appeared intent on proving the Bible true.
Those who draw on the Bible, such as Mazar, argue that it should play a central role in archaeological discovery because it is the only document from that time. But in recent decades the most accepted view has been that the Bible is more myth than history, particularly its books recounting events that happened centuries earlier, like those relating to David.
The Bible's rich account of David's life has made him one of its most identifiable figures. Slayer of Goliath, a pious and treacherous king, author of psalms, David consolidated the northern kingdom of Israel and Judah around the year 1000 B.C. into a single political state under his rule. After defeating the Jebusites, he made his capital in Jerusalem, at the time a walled settlement of about a dozen acres.
Although excavations in the West Bank have produced important finds dating to that time, Jerusalem has yielded relatively little evidence of its importance, and rapid development has overwhelmed much of the city's rich buried history.
"This place was always thought of as being a lost cause," said Amihai Mazar, a renowned Hebrew University archaeologist and Eilat's second cousin, who is working closely with her. "Now we see there is a chance for new evidence."
Eilat Mazar, 49, hails from Israel's archaeological elite. Her grandfather, Benjamin Mazar, headed excavations in the 1960s and '70s of the earthen platform Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, which they believe to be the site of the first and second Jewish temples. Muslims also hold the site sacred as the Noble Sanctuary, from which they believe Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Mazar, a widowed mother of four, is an ebullient presence in sturdy shoes and slacks, her blond, wind-blown hair falling over the tops of her gold-rim glasses as she walks the perimeter of her dig. "I excavate with the Bible in one hand," she said during a recent tour of the site, fenced off and mostly covered in preparation for the rainy season. "But I do not give up even the least bit of technical excavation or research."
Her quest began with an essay she wrote for a 1997 edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review. Mazar stated that a "careful examination of the Biblical text combined with sometimes unnoticed results of modern archaeological excavations in Jerusalem enable us, I believe, to locate the site of King David's palace."
She essentially drew a map to the palace using the Bible and two nearby excavations carried out by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon and the Israeli archeologist Yigal Shilo, who was once her mentor. Digging in the 1960s, Kenyon found massive stone walls near a rough-hewn, stepped structure running up the side of the valley. On the valley floor, Kenyon uncovered Phoenician capitals -- the tops of columns -- that suggested a monumental building may have stood above.
David's palace, according to the Bible, was built by workers sent to him by the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre. Mazar also used passages from the Books of Samuel to trace David's steps to a site adjacent to Kenyon's excavation.
But despite her detailed pitch in a journal archaeologists say is a bridge to wealthy American Jews interested in Israel's history, no one offered to fund the idea. "The lack of interest, I think, was caught up in politics," Mazar said.
Mazar joined the Shalem Center, a research institute in Jerusalem whose policy journal promotes "Ideas for a Jewish Nation." The center is now helping fund the project, which Shalem's president, Daniel Polisar, estimates will cost $1.1 million in its first phase. The center's chairman, Roger Hertog, vice chairman of Alliance Capital Management and part owner of the New Republic and the New York Sun, pledged $500,000 of his money.
In a telephone interview, Hertog said, "These were people who had done as much work as possible without actually putting a shovel to the ground." Asked if he contributed in the hopes of enhancing the Jewish claim to East Jerusalem, Hertog said that it "was not the most significant" reason.
"All of history is used politically," Hertog said. "If something wasn't found, that would have been used. If something is found, that will be used. This is one of the most contested pieces of geography in the world, and there have always been arguments about it. Whether or not this will be used -- and I'm sure it will be -- it should also be critiqued in a meaningful way."
'A Fantastic House'
Mazar began digging in February. Within weeks, she had uncovered the remains of rooms -- including pools probably used as ritual baths -- from a Roman building dating to the time of Herod, in the 1st century B.C. Those rooms rested on bedrock in places, leaving little underneath to use in evaluating her finds.
But in other parts of the cramped site she discovered the remains of massive older walls underneath the Roman structure, running toward the rim of the Kidron Valley.
Dating the finds is always difficult. An error of even 40 years can place buildings in significantly different eras. The task is especially hard when there is no identifiable floor running between walls. Mazar has yet to find one.
A building's age is commonly fixed by what Mazar calls a "chronological sandwich," comparing material above and beneath an identifiable stratum to set the range of dates. Even without a floor, Mazar believes she has enough evidence to date the building to the 10th century B.C.
Pottery found in the one-foot layer of fill below the stone walls dates to the 12th and 11th centuries B.C. In one small room above that layer, Mazar discovered 10th-century B.C. pottery free of any material from another period. Amihai Mazar, who has excavated ancient settlements near Bethlehem, said that while scant, the sample was among the finest from that time found in Jerusalem.
"This was not just a house, but a fantastic house," Eilat Mazar said of the remains, which would have stood just outside the city walls at the time. "This would have been an intellectual step for a new king to build his palace here, a statement of his vision to expand the city."
In one room, Mazar also found a bulla, or seal, roughly dating to the 6th century B.C. It bears the words, written in ancient Hebrew, "Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi." The name Jehucal is found at least twice in the Book of Jeremiah. The find suggests the building was used, in one form or another, for centuries. "We're left with the assumption that this is the palace," Mazar said. "It fits so well with the history. We're not forcing it into anything."
Finkelstein, who is in charge of the excavation in northern Israel where the Bible says the battle of Armageddon took place, visited Mazar's dig a few months ago. The 56-year-old scholar, tall and voluble with a salt-and-pepper beard, has often argued with colleagues whose reliance on the Bible he finds misguided.
He believes all buildings described in the Bible were built more recently than Mazar and others believe, perhaps by a century. The interpretation would mean that Jerusalem developed into a thriving, fortified city well after David and Solomon. But Finkelstein said Mazar's find appeared to show that Jerusalem, while perhaps not important during David's time, began emerging as an important city earlier than he previously believed.
"This is the missing link we have been looking for. It represents the first step in the rise of Jerusalem to prominence in the 9th century," he said. "Why does it have to be the palace of David? Once you bring that in you sound like something of a lunatic."
Seymour Gitin, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, said it was too soon to know precisely what Mazar had found. But, he said, "if this can be proven to be 10th century, it demolishes the view of the minimalists," referring to those who dismiss the unified monarchy as a petty kingdom or even as mythical.
"This find is so unusual that to really understand it she needs to keep digging," Gitin said.
With only a tenth of the building uncovered, Mazar intends to. But there is little room to expand in this place where the Bible has brought her, surrounded by Christian, Arab and Jewish houses and the Kidron Valley falling away to the south, the direction from which David arrived from Hebron three millennia ago.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 30 November 2005 01:00 pm ET
In July, British researchers dropped a bombshell by reporting the discovery of 40,000-year-old human footprints in a layer of volcanic ash in central Mexico. The finding was highly controversial because it challenged the traditionally accepted view that humans first arrived in North America around 11,000 years ago after crossing the Bering Strait, a land bridge that once connected Russia and Alaska.
In a new twist, other scientists have performed their own dating of the volcanic ash and obtained wildly different results.
Using palaeomagnetic analysis—a technique that looks at the Earth's magnetic field during past geologic time—and a radioactive dating technique called argon-argon, the team concludes the ash is actually 1.3 million years old.
Sylvia Gonzalez, a geoarcheologist from Liverpool John Moores University, and colleagues, found the purported footprints at the bottom of an abandoned quarry near Cerro Toluquilla, a volcano located near the Mexican city of Puebla. Gonzalez claimed there were about 269 footprints, made by both animals and humans.
"If these really are footprints, and they were made 1.3 million years ago, that would be absolutely revolutionary," said Paul Renne, a geologist at the University of California, Berkeley who was involved in the new dating.
Humans are not thought to have even been around 1.3 million years ago. According to most scientific estimates, modern humans didn't begin appearing in Africa until about 200,000 years ago. If the markings really are footprints, then it would mean one of two things: either humans appeared much earlier than previously thought or the footprints were made by an early ancestor of humans like homo erectus.
Renne thinks both possibilities are extremely unlikely. So where does that leave things?
Man, cow or machine
After visiting the site, Renne believes the markings are not really human footprints at all, but rather impressions left by machines or animals that have passed through the quarry in recent times.
"You have to remember this is a public area," Renne said in a telephone interview. "Vehicles drive across it, you can see tire tracks on the surface. There are cows and other animals grazing nearby."
Gonzalez told LiveScience that she and her colleagues will reply to Renne's findings formally in a scientific paper, but said that one possible reason for the large discrepancy in dating may be due to the mixed nature of the volcanic ash.
"There are very different particles in there," Gonzalez said. "This ash has got a very particular mineralogy that is very difficult to date."
Top 10 Missing Links
Footprints in Mexico Create Scientific Stir
Oldest Walking Human Ancestor Said Found
Jogging Separated Humans from Apes
'Hobbit' Brain Reconstructed
Nicholas Bakalar for National Geographic News
December 1, 2005
A 150-million-year-old fossil of Archaeopteryx, long considered the oldest bird, may put to rest any scientific doubt that dinosaurs—specifically the group of two-legged meat-eaters known as theropods—gave rise to modern birds.
Until recently, the crow-size specimen was housed in a private collection. It is now owned by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis.
The fossil is the ninth example of Archaeopteryx known to science. (A tenth specimen of a winged dinosaur from a closely related genus also exists.) All ten fossils were found in a limestone deposit near Solnhofen, Germany.
The latest specimen is among the best preserved. It is a slightly broken skeleton in a single slab of pure limestone, showing clear wing- and tail-feather impressions.
The skull is the only Archaeopteryx specimen that reveals a bird's-eye view of the species' upper head surface.
"The skull of the new specimen is the best preserved one of an archaeopterygid," said Gerald Mayr, a lead study author and prehistoric bird expert at the Senckenberg Institute for Research in Frankfurt, Germany.
"[It] presents important new details of the skull morphology [shape and function] of the earliest known bird," he said, "showing also that the skull of Archaeopteryx is much more similar to that of nonavian theropod dinosaurs than previously thought."
Joel Cracraft, curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History and adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York, believes the paper presents a very convincing case.
"This pretty much puts the final nail in the coffin for all those people resisting the idea that birds are related to theropod dinosaurs," he said. Cracraft was not involved in the study.
Of Feet and Toes
The animal's feet, both of them perfectly preserved, attracted the researchers' particular attention.
Archaeopteryx, the fossil shows, had a hyperextendible second toe. Until now, the feature was thought to belong only to the species' close relatives, the deinonychosaurs. (The name means "fearsome claws." The deinonychosaur Velociraptor wielded switchblade-like examples of these talons in the movie Jurrasic Park.)
Contrary to all previous reconstructions of Archaeopteryx, the hind toe of the new specimen is not completely reversed to form a "perching" foot as it is in modern birds.
The researchers believe that the fully reversed hind toe in other Archaeopteryx fossils shifted during preservation and never existed in the live animal.
In the new fossil, the foot looks more like that of the four-toed foot of Velociraptor and its other nonwinged theropod relatives. The specimen clearly lacks a reversed toe.
Because Archaeopteryx lacked this stabilizing toe, it almost certainly did not habitually perch in trees.
Mayr, the study author, notes that the discovery that Archaeopteryx did not have a reversed toe "may also be important for future interpretations of its way of living."
Cracraft agrees. "The thing that's really nice about this paper is the whole discussion of the position of the first digit on the foot, which previous specimens suggested was reversed," he said.
"If their interpretation of that first digit is correct, that it's forward and not reversed, then that suggests that Archaeopteryx was much less arboreal [tree-dwelling] than previous interpretations, and that it was more a terrestrial predator."
The shape and articulation of other bones of the new specimen also help tie Archaeopteryx to the theropods.
The bones of its hind legs, for example, have played an important role in the dispute about bird ancestry. The new Archaeopteryx specimen shows a clearly visible hind leg bone structure that is identical to that of theropod dinosaurs.
Archaeopteryx, therefore, is closely related to the theropods. This in turn means that theropod dinosaurs are the ancestors of the modern birds that followed Archaeopteryx.
The find, according to Mayr, "not only provides further evidence for the theropod ancestry of birds, but it blurs the distinction between basal [the earliest] birds and basal deinonychosaurs," their fearsome-clawed ancestors.
"I do think that the question of a theropod ancestry of birds can now be considered settled once and forever," Mayr said.
A paper describing the fossil appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.
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