NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 January 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What Should We Think about Americans' Beliefs Regarding Evolution?


In interpreting poll results, we should be careful about their underlying meaning.

Lawrence S. Lerner

The 2005 Harris Poll #52, summarized on pages 56–58, is in general agreement with other polls taken over the years: Many or most American adults believe that the universe (or at least Earth's biosphere) was created by fiat of the God of the Old Testament in pretty much the form we see it today. In particular, they believe that humans are not related to anthropoid apes, let alone other forms of life. Not surprisingly, a fairly strong correlation between these beliefs and the respondent's education, religious and political affiliation, and geographic location is superimposed on this general consensus. But few respondents hold that evolution should not be taught in public schools, even if they do not believe in its validity. How does one understand these apparently contradictory attitudes?

In interpreting such polls, one must be careful about their underlying meaning. What does it mean to "believe" in evolution or creationism (or, for that matter, both at once)? Scientific thinking of any kind plays a very small role in the daily lives of most Americans. Since their beliefs on scientific matters have little or no bearing on anything they do, they feel free to "believe" whatever is convenient and comfortable. Because many persons have come to believe that creationist notions are consistent with other social, political, and religious views they hold, they will respond with creationist opinions when asked by a pollster.

Unlike scientists, the general public does not understand that belief takes no part in scientific thinking. It is always the preponderance of evidence that takes precedence over personal feelings, no matter how strong they may be. (As T. H. Huxley put it, "The great tragedy of Science [is] the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.") And scientists are well aware of how extraordinarily preponderant the evidence is in favor of evolution, including human evolution. What is more, the scientist whose work is in the life sciences finds the tools that evolutionary fact and theory provide absolutely indispensable to making any real contribution.

Unfortunately, most Americans have little or no idea of the mass of evidence that substantiates evolution. Thus, when an eloquent proponent of creationism who possesses apparent scientific credentials tells them that evolution is false, or inadequate, or blindly accepted dogma, they do not recognize him as a crank or a pseudoscientist or a religious polemicist.

Many scientists, philosophers, and theologians have written extensively about all the forms of creationism, from young-earthism to Intelligent Design Creationism. They have demolished the scientific pretensions of the creationists, demonstrated clearly their sectarian religious agendas, and exposed their ultimately political aims. But these exposés are not widely known to the general public. Not knowing that a creationist has contributed nothing to the science he claims to represent, they can give his statements equal weight with those of working scientists who actually contribute to the progress of the life sciences.

Even those persons who "believe in" evolution generally do so on flimsy grounds. Not long ago, a man whose contact with science was typical of the general public was doing some work for me. He assured me that he "believed in evolution." Knowing something about my work, he may have been trying to please me. But I cannot put much weight on his views in the matter.

Of course, most Americans have studied at least some science at the elementary-school and high-school levels. Most high-school students, indeed, have taken some sort of biology course. Have they learned nothing at all? My own experience in teaching university-level physics casts some light on this question. Students in the introductory level course soon find that much of what they must learn is counterintuitive. Very early, they are exposed to Newton's first law of motion, which asserts that a body on which no force is acting maintains the speed and direction of its motion indefinitely. But this conflicts with the experience they had that very morning while driving their cars to campus. To keep the car going at a constant speed, they had to keep a foot on the gas pedal, thus supplying force to the wheels. And when they wanted to slow down, they removed the foot and thus the force.

In the "real world," that is, objects on which no force is acting soon come to rest; force is required to keep them moving. The contradiction of Newton's first law is evident. Of course, the better students come to understand that the coasting car is not an example of an object on which no force is acting, and they reconcile the two experiences in a consistent manner. Certainly, all students who want to become physicists must do so. But an awful lot of students who solve enough homework problems to pass the course come to believe that the real world and the "physics-class world" operate according to different laws. It is their obligation, of course, to learn enough about the "physics-class world" to pass the course (and maybe to become computer engineers or physicians or X-ray technicians.) But they feel no need to reconcile that world with the one in which they drive their cars and generally live their lives. And many of them never do so.

I am sure that biology teachers can tell similar stories. One can see why citizens who don't "believe" in evolution are nevertheless quite happy to have it taught in schools. After all, the biology class is the realm of the biology teacher and the "biology-class world," and most citizens are perfectly happy to let that world have whatever laws it may have. They want their children to get good grades and do not think the results will have much bearing on their "real" lives.

Committed creationists, of course, dissent sharply from this view. They believe exposure to evolutionary ideas can lead a young person to all sorts of immoral views and acts, which they list in frightening detail. But such zealots are a small minority. Most Americans don't think that a little evolution will pervert their children. Still, they have no objection to having a little creationism taught in class as well. After all, it will keep the evangelical preachers happy and won't make much difference in their children's education. And it's only "fair" to give everyone his due.

Does this mean I am complacent about the results of the poll? By no means! I am deeply concerned about the extent of scientific illiteracy in the American public. I am certain that many small improvements in the process of education can improve matters somewhat. But I am not convinced that we can expect a radical change in the scientific literacy of the American populace any time soon. What is perhaps more important, and more useful, is to convince the public that creationism is religion masquerading as science, and that teaching religion as science is unhealthy for religion, for science, and for education in general.

Origins by court order


Science, and not a Pennsylvania school board or a federal judge, should trace our beginnings

Jan. 4, 2006 12:00 AM

The hotly worded federal court decision spanking a Pennsylvania school board for raising doubts about evolution sparked the usual fulminations by evolution advocates and its discontents.

That's unfortunate. In reality, the actions of the Dover school board and the court decision are both regrettable.

The trial record, at least as summarized in the decision of federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III, clearly indicates that a majority of the board wanted to require the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution in science classes. The muddled First Amendment jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court makes intentions, rather than just acts, legally relevant.

What the Dover school board actually did, however, fell far short of such a mandate. Instead, it simply required the recitation of a statement about the limitations of evolution as a theory, the identification of intelligent design as an alternative, and the citation of a book, Of Pandas and People, as explicating the alternative.

Importantly, there was no requirement that intelligent design be taught. In fact, evolution was to remain what was taught and tested in science courses.

The statement about the limitations of evolution was overbroad. But there's hardly a true threat of the establishment of religion in what the board actually did. The board was duly turned out by voters, which would seem a sounder remedy than stretching First Amendment prohibitions beyond recognition.

Jones, of course, decided otherwise. In the course of a desultory opinion, he found that there was no difference between creationism and intelligent design. Moreover, based upon the extensive expertise he professes to have acquired in the course of a six-week trial, he defined science and determined that the scientific claims of intelligent design were invalid, neither of which are exactly legal questions best decided by a single lawyer.

Jones actually ruled on the nature of theology as well. He determined that evolution "in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator." That's not necessarily so. Much of evolutionary teaching contends that life on Earth is the accidental and unplanned result of exclusively natural processes. That precludes life on Earth being the willed outcome of a Creator.

Although both intelligent design and creationism posit the existence of a Creator, their scientific and public policy positions are radically different. Creationism holds that God created the Earth and life on it pretty much as it presently exists only about 6,000 years ago.

Intelligent design accepts that the Earth and life are billions of years old, and that life has evolved through adaptation, mutation and natural selection. It even accepts some degree of common ancestry among species.

It simply finds the claim that all life evolved from a single organism not to best fit the available evidence.

Far from wanting to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools, the ID movement advocates that it be taught. Moreover, it does not support the mandatory teaching of intelligent design as an alternative. Instead, it wants a more circumspect presentation of evolutionary theory as well as acknowledgement of its scientific critiques.

Those critiques, such as that some of life exhibits irreducible complexity that cannot be explained by evolution, are fiercely rebutted by evolutionists. But the notion of circumspection shouldn't be controversial.

It is estimated that far fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of living organisms become fossilized. Evolutionists have sharp disputes among themselves about the particulars of even the humanoid branch of the tree of life, much less the continuum going back billions of years to the purported single organism that started it all.

Scientific speculation about that single organism, or how inanimateness sprang to life, is in its infancy. In the 1950s, a couple of scientists caused a stir by creating amino acids by electrifying a chemical mix thought to represent the Earth's early composition.

Of course, there is a long and unclear pathway between amino acids and sentient, reproducing organisms. Moreover, scientists now believe that Earth's early chemistry was different from that replicated in the 1950s and not conducive to the creation of amino acids through an electrical charge.

Perhaps one day scientists will create life in a lab and fossils, despite their paucity, will reveal a fuller and less contentious tree of life.

At present, however, what is unknown about the history of life remains vast and important.

Surely there's a way for that reality to be reflected in classrooms without violating the integrity of scientific inquiry or the freedom of conscience for believers and non-believers alike.

Reach Robb at robert.robb@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8472. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Ramdev's samples contained human, animal extracts: Ramdoss


January 04, 2006 22:26 IST Last Updated: January 05, 2006 01:36 IST

Health Minister Ambumani Ramdoss Wednesday confirmed that the samples of Ayurvedic formulations provided to the government by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat did carry "traces of human and animal remains", adding, the examination reports have been sent to the Uttaranchal government for proper investigation and further action.

Talking to reporters in New Delhi, Ramdoss said the two samples of Divya Pharmacy given by Karat were sent to various laboratories for their chemical analysis and DNA finger-printing and the report has confirmed that the samples did contain DNA of human species. Another sample contained dried tissue of animal origin, he said.

He said the matter has been referred to the Uttaranchal drug controller and if after proper investigation, Swami Ramdev was found to be guilty, action would be taken against him under the Drug and Cosmetics Act, which could include cancellation of license to manufacture the drug and even imprisonment of up to two years.

Ramdoss said there were issues concerning the labelling of the samples and the question of adulteration also.

However, the health minister acknowledged that the government had not collected samples of the drugs and it had merely got the samples given by Karat tested.

Admitted that it was the first time that the samples provided by an individual had been tested by the government, he said the government took action on Karat's request as she is an member of Parliament.

"We have referred the matter to the drug controller of Uttaranchal stating that as per the test reports, prima facie there is some violation. It is for the authorised agency to conduct the inquiry and take action if the allegations are found to be true. If necessary, it can also collect fresh samples from the so called ashram," Ramdoss said.

This is being considered significant in view of the controversy over the name of the pharmacy. Apparently, the samples provided by Karat had the label of Divya Pharmacy while the Uttaranchal government has said there was no pharmacy in this name. Instead there was one 'Divya Yoga Pharmacy'.

The samples given by Karat were sent by the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha to various labs including the National Centre for Characterisation and Composition of Material, Hyderabad, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, Department of Vetenary Pathology at Madras Vetenary College, Chennai and University of Animal and fisheries, Kolkata.

Admitting that proper testing and labelling of various formulations being manufactured under the Indian system of medicine were not being done by some manufacturers, Ramadoss said the government was taking many a measure for streamlining the system and ensuring proper labelling and good manufacturing practices.

"We are testing about 35,000 samples of both Indian system of medicine and allopathic -- every year and are planning to increase it to 100,000 samples. A national drug authority is being set up. A World Bank funded capacity building project is being undertaken for modernising the laboratories and training of experts," he said adding, streamlining the entire procedure would take about two to three years.

According to the minister, norms have been laid down and manufacturers have to certify that their herbal products do not contain heavy metals or any other harmful ingredients. The manufacturers confirming to GMP are given subsidy and they have to self-certify. If they are found to be violating the legal requirement, they have to pay for it, their licenses would be cancelled. They would be fined and even imprisoned.

Proponents insulting God


January 3 2006

Calgary Herald
Monday, January 2, 2006
Page: A10
Mark Milke

You wouldn't expect Christians to think of God as arbitrary, a trickster, irrational and unknowable. But that description is what some unwittingly promote when they argue in favour of creationism, or its newest cousin, Intelligent Design.

The pre-Christmas rebuke by a Pennsylvania judge to the newest attempt to hollow out science -- which concerns natural cause-and-effect relationships -- and replace it with non-testable speculation, was a Christmas gift of an opportunity for religious folk who are sympathetic to such theories. They should reconsider their sympathies and also consider how such beliefs undermine benign descriptions of God.

Intelligent Design claims that some aspects of the natural world are so complex, so "irreducibly complex" in the jargon of those who argue for it, that there must be an active designer. The theory's proponents do not claim the world is only several thousand years old as do old-style creationists; they do claim that evolutionary explanations are inadequate or false. In the words of Jonathan Witt, a fellow at the Discovery Institute (discovery.org), "an intelligent cause is the best explanation . . . for certain features of the natural world."

An illustration of this claim is the mousetrap. ID's proponents argue that if you remove one part, the trap doesn't work -- i.e., no spring equals no trapped mouse. Thus, there must be an intelligent designer who ensured all the proper parts exist and work together.

Take that concept and apply it to complex biological workings and consider an example offered up by one Intelligent Design proponent, Michael Behe. Behe notes that when an animal is cut, various proteins work together to clot the blood. According to ID theory, remove any one protein at any point in the process and similar to the mousetrap, the process cannot work.

Not so fast, argues Kenneth Miller, author of Finding Darwin's God and who testified at the Dover trial against Intelligent Design.

In one of his online rebuttals (millerandlevine.com/km/evol), the Brown University biology professor notes there are many examples of where an assumed critical component is absent, but the "mousetrap" yet works, including one that applies to the Behe example.

Dolphins lack a certain protein (Factor XII) "and yet their blood clots perfectly well," writes Miller.

When Pennsylvania Justice John Jones rebuked ID attempts to insert non-testable speculations into a science lab (instead of into classrooms which deal with religion or philosophy) the issue was not freedom of expression or equal time for another scientific theory. It was about what constitutes proper scientific theory.

Someone may claim that airplanes fly because an invisible man lifts them in the air. That's a theory, but it's not a scientific one; it doesn't deserve equal weight in a science class where the point is to discover cause-and-effect relationships between physical variables.

Just as unfortunate is what creationists and ID proponents implicitly hint about God, however unintentionally. Creationists who think the Genesis account should be taken literally play havoc with the God many claim to know: that he's trustworthy and compassionate.

A God who places fossils in rocks which look as if they've been there millions of years, to use one example, isn't reliable; he's akin to a capricious Greek deity who toys with men and women for sport.

Intelligent Design proponents argue their speculations are not on par with young-Earth creationists. Except that ID hypotheses are rejected by most scientists because ID theorists either don't take into account recent discoveries and developments in biology and other natural sciences, or worse, propose hypotheses that are political, religious or philosophical. They're worth considering on non-materialistic grounds; we can't scientifically prove love exists, but that doesn't mean it's an illusion. But assertions which are not testable and not falsifiable are unscientific by definition and by design; they don't deserve the label of a scientific theory.

There's a reason why Pope Benedict XVI holds to evolution's explanation for the diversity and development of animal life including human beings: first, because the evidence leads in that direction, and second, evolution -- which deals with rock-solid, cause-and-effect relationships among natural forces, is consistent with a higher being who is knowable and doesn't play games, i.e., the very God many opposed to evolution believe in. --

Mark Milke is author of the forthcoming A Nation of Serfs.

From Bacteria to Us: What Went Right When Humans Started to Evolve?

January 3, 2006 By CARL ZIMMER

Why, Michael Lynch wants to know, don't we look like bacteria?

Evolutionary biologists generally agree that humans and other living species are descended from bacterialike ancestors. But before about two billion years ago, human ancestors branched off.

This new group, called eukaryotes, also gave rise to other animals, plants, fungi and protozoans. The differences between eukaryotes and other organisms, known as prokaryotes, are numerous and profound. Dr. Lynch, a biologist at Indiana University, is one of many scientists pondering how those differences evolved.

Eukaryotes are big, compared with prokaryotes. Even a single-celled protozoan may be thousands of times as big as a typical bacterium. The differences are even more profound when you look at the DNA. The eukaryote genome is downright baroque. It is typically much bigger and carries many more genes.

Eukaryotes can do more with their genes, too. They can switch genes on and off in complex patterns to control where and when they make proteins. And they can make many proteins from a single gene.

That is because eukaryote genes are segmented into what are called exons. Exons are interspersed with functionless stretches of DNA known as introns. Human cells edit out the introns when they copy a gene for use in building a protein. But a key ability is that they can also edit out exons, meaning that they can make different proteins from the same gene. This versatility means that eukaryotes can build different kinds of cells, tissues and organs, without which humans would look like bacteria.

When explaining this complexity, most scientists have proposed variations on the same thing: natural selection favored it because versatility gave a reproductive advantage. But Dr. Lynch argues that natural selection had little to do with the origin of the eukaryote genome.

"Everybody thinks evolution is natural selection, and that's it," Dr. Lynch said. "But it's just one of several fundamental forces."

In a paper accepted for publication in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, Dr. Lynch argues that eukaryotes' complexity may have gotten started by chance.

Natural selection is the spread of genes as a result of their ability to raise the odds of survival and reproduction. But when the peculiar features of eukaryotes first arose as accidental mutations, Dr. Lynch argues, they were probably harmful.

Once an intron was wedged into the middle of a gene, a cell had to be able to recognize its boundaries in order to skip over it when making a protein. Some mutations to the intron made it difficult for the cell to recognize those boundaries. If the cell couldn't edit out the intron, it produced a defective protein. If natural selection had been strong in early eukaryotes, all introns would have been eliminated.

Evolutionary biologists have long recognized that natural selection is a matter of probability, not destiny. Just because a mutated gene raises the odds that an individual will reproduce is not a guarantee that it will spread in a population.

Think about flipping a coin. It has 50 percent chance of coming up heads or tails. If you flipped it twice, you wouldn't be surprised to get two heads. But you would be surprised if you flipped it 1,000 times and got 1,000 heads.

Likewise, natural selection works more effectively as populations get bigger. In small populations, it is not so reliable at spreading beneficial genes and eliminating harmful ones.

When natural selection is weak, genes can become more common simply thanks to chance.

The random spread of genes is known as genetic drift. Dr. Lynch argues that genetic drift is much stronger in eukaryotes than in prokaryotes. Several factors are responsible, including the bigger size of eukaryotes. Even a single eukaryote cell may be 10,000 times as large as the typical bacterium. Far fewer eukaryotes can survive in a given space than prokaryotes, leading to smaller populations of eukaryotes.

Dr. Lynch argues that early eukaryotes experienced strong genetic drift. Their population may have shrunk. Natural selection became weak, and genetic drift became strong. Genes that were slightly harmful to the proto-eukaryotes became widespread.

Although these changes may have been caused by genetic drift, they created opportunity for natural selection to create adaptations. Exons could be spliced to create proteins adapted for different jobs. Genes could be switched on in different places, to help build new organs. Complex multicellular organisms - like humans - could emerge.

Natural selection has produced useful adaptations in eukaryotes. If it hadn't, Dr. Lynch said, "we wouldn't be here."

Prokaryotes never got the chance to evolve this complexity because their populations were so large that natural selection blocked the early stages of its evolution. "There was one lucky lineage that became us eukaryotes," Dr. Lynch said.

Dr. Lynch dismisses claims by creationists that complexity in nature could not be produced by evolution, only by a designer.

"In fact, a good chunk of what evolutionary biologists study is why things are so poorly designed," he said. "If we needed a bigger genome, there would be a brighter way to build it."



The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 760 January 3, 2006 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

HOW DOES MATTER TERMINATE? That is, at the microscopic level how does nature make the transition from a densely packed material surface (the skin of an apple, say) to the nothingness that lies above? This issue is especially dramatic for collapsed stars, where the matter density gradient marking the star-to-vacuum transition can be as great as 10^26 g/cm^4. A new model, proposed by physicists at Los Alamos and Argonne National Labs, claim that the prevailing theory of what happens at quark-star surfaces is wrong. These quark stars are characterized by interiors which consist of quark matter from the center all the way to the surface. For quark matter to exist in the low pressure environment near the surface, matter containing nearly equal numbers of up, down and strange quarks must be preferred over neutrons and protons. Theorists have speculated about this possibility (often called the Strange Quark Matter Hypothesis) since the early 1980's. A star made in this way, a quark star, is thought to be the densest possible type of matter. Any denser than this, and the star must become a black hole. In the ordinary kind of matter prevailing in our solar system, matter consists of up (u) and down (d) quarks. A proton, for example, consists of two u quarks and one d quark. A neutron consists of two d quarks and one u quark. Converting u or d quarks to strange (s) quarks in neutrons or protons is typically unstable. In the high-density environment of quark stars, however, matter containing up, down, and strange quarks might be stable. The reason for this is that when thousands of quarks are together (unlike the ordinary twosome or threesome quark combinations we see on Earth in the form of protons, neutrons, and mesons) u-d-s matter is likely to be a more energy-efficient form of packaging than the u-d form of matter we have on our planet if the strange quark matter hypothesis is correct. This process really comes into play in collapsed stars, where strange quarks could roughen the surface of the stars. Such a surface, says Los Alamos scientist Andrew Steiner (asteiner@lanl.gov, 505-667-0673), can be compared to a liquid surface. On Earth liquid surfaces are generally flat. Because of surface tension, too much energy would be required to overcome the tension and form additional facets above the surface. At a quark star, by contrast, surface tension may not be large and the crust of the star could form extra surfaces, nugget-like objects without any undue energy cost. The positively charged quark lumps would be surrounded by a sea of electrons, as required to make the crust electrically neutral (see figure at http://www.aip.org/png/2006/245.htm ). Where did the electrons come from? They're left over from the atoms that were crushed in the collapse phase; some electrons are pressed into protons to make neutrons, but some would have survived. What would be the test of the hypothesis of an inhomogeneous termination at a quark-star surface? Again, the Los Alamos group is at odds with the prevailing model, which says that quark stars should be more luminous than neutron stars. Au contraire, they say. Just as foam on the surface of a water surface clouds our view into the water, so the quark bumps on an otherwise smooth surface at a quark star would enhance the scattering of photons and neutrinos, lowering the quark star's luminosity. (Jaikumar et al., Physical Review Letters; movie at http://t16web.lanl.gov/?section=highlights )

ART IN CRYSTALLOGRAPHY. Devoted to the amazing symmetries of atoms and the beautiful complex structures of molecules, crystallography has always had a naturally artsy side. Now the American Crystallographic Association (ACA) has begun an annual contest encouraging individuals to submit visual art depicting crystallography topics and explaining them in a caption. The winner of the inaugural competition, David Goodsell of Scripps, created "Blood 2,000,000X," a watercolor that reveals Y-shaped antibodies, UFO-resembling cholesterol molecules, and other well-known compounds in the vicinity of a red blood cell. Other entries included 'Poliovirus," a sculpture of the paralyzing pathogen's protein coat attaching to a receptor; and "Fracture," a mosaic of crystallized tuberculosis bacteria fracturing in a gel. Additional entries had titles such as "24 Detergents Upside Down," "Be Fruitful and Symmetrize," and "H to D Tango" (where H stands for hydrogen and D for deuterium). ACA plans to continue the competition at its upcoming meetings. (Images at http://www.aip.org/png/2005/244.htm; more entries and details at the Art in Crystallography website, http://www.hwi.buffalo.edu/ACA/HotNews/ArtEntries2005.htm)

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"Science and Nonbelief" just published

My new book "Science and Nonbelief" has just been published! (Including a nice chapter on paranormal stuff that skeptics'll enjoy.)

I'm afraid that since it's a reference book, it's priced for libraries at $65. But I thought I'd let you know -- hell, maybe you can get your local library to order a copy. A university press will be looking at it to see if they want to release a cheap softcover version, but that would be at least another year or two down the road.

Here's more information:



Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Intelligent design debate continues on national level


By: Annie Hall Issue date: 1/3/06 Section: Campus

A Seattle think tank that questions the theory of evolution has assailed Ohio State's administration for violating the constitutional rights of graduate student Bryan Leonard.

The attack was leveled by the Discovery Institute, which defends "teaching the controversy" of intelligent design.

Believers of intelligent design maintain that the universe is so complex that it could not have been organized, and beings created, without the hand of some kind of "designer." They are not specific as to who or what that designer is.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled last month that the Dover School District cannot teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution because it is "a mere re-labeling of creationism," and not a science.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that creationism is a religious belief and cannot be taught in the public schools. The Dover decision applies only to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The Institute filed a public records request with OSU "seeking all documents related to Darwinist attacks" on Bryan Leonard, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education. The request was denied.

Following complaints by three faculty members, Leonard's research and the dissertation committee overseeing it were investigated by the school of teaching and learning. OSU refused to reveal the results of the investigation. The defense of his dissertation was postponed last June and has not been rescheduled.

Leonard's main dissertation research question is: "When students are taught the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution, do they maintain or change their beliefs over time? What empirical, cognitive and/or social factors influence students' beliefs?"

The Discovery Institute responded to what they called a blanket refusal of the public records request by pointing out that some of the documents requested had already been given to reporters last spring.

John West, associate director of the center for science and culture at Discovery Institute and chairman of the political science department at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian university established by Free Methodist pioneers over a century ago, called OSU's refusal "an outrageous response." He said he had been told by a Columbus Dispatch reporter that she had been sent the documents.

"This abuse of the (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) should concern every OSU student, not just those with unpopular views," West said. "They used FERPA to protect themselves when the Discovery Institute inquired, but they handed out the information to reporters last May."

In a statement, West said, "We are concerned that Leonard is being targeted for unfair and possibly illegal treatment because of his viewpoint about evolution, in violation of his First Amendment rights."

"It looks an awful lot like Leonard is being targeted for payback," West said after noting Leonard's work for the Ohio and Kansas Boards of Education. In Ohio, he helped prepare a controversial life-science curriculum for 10th graders adopted on a 13-5 vote by the state board of education. In Kansas, he testified in support of new science standards, including scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory, which were adopted.

In describing to the science committee of the Kansas Board of Education his teaching in the 10th grade classes at Hilliard-Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, Leonard said, "the way in which I teach evolution in my high school biology class is that I teach the scientific information, or in other words, the scientific interpretations both supporting and challenging macroevolution."

In response to questioning by Kansas officials, Leonard testified that he neither believed that "all of life was biologically related to the beginning of life," nor that "human beings are related by common descent to prehominid ancestors."

Upon learning of Leonard's testimony, three OSU professors - Brian W. McEnnis, a mathematics professor, Jeffrey K. McKee, an anthropology professor, and Steve Rissing, an evolution, ecology and organismal biology professor - signed a letter to Graduate College Dean Carole Anderson that said, "there is evidence that Mr. Leonard's dissertation committee has been improperly constituted and that his research may have involved unethical human subject experimentation.

"We note a fundamental flaw: There are no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution. Mr. Leonard has been misinforming his students if he teaches them otherwise. His dissertation presents evidence that he has succeeded in persuading high school students to reject this fundamental principle of biology. As such, it involves deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical."

The three professors also complained that, although Leonard's dissertation deals with the teaching of evolution, "no member of his dissertation committee is a science educator or an evolutionary biologist."

Anderson sent a copy of the professors' letter to Peter V. Paul, chairman of the school of teaching and learning, and told Paul in a cover letter that the letter from the professors "does raise some reasonable concerns about the composition of the (dissertation) Committee, and the likelihood that Mr. Leonard's dissertation will receive the kind of objective evaluation that the degree of Ph. D. requires." The cover letter also asked Paul to conduct an investigation as to the qualifications of the dissertation committee and the other "reservations" expressed in the OSU professors' letter.

In an e-mail to The Lantern last month, Paul, who was unavailable by phone, said he "did not have any additional, substantial information to offer on this difficult case." He said he had been told to refer all questions to the Graduate College's spokesman.

The Lantern made a freedom of information request last month to Anderson seeking "access to and a copy of the results of the investigation by the school of teaching and learning."

The request was denied.

Michael Layish, OSU's associate legal counsel, wrote to The Lantern that releasing the records would be in violation of the FERPA.

Leonard has been unavailable for comment to The Lantern by phone or e-mail for six months. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in December, 2002, he said Ohio's new science standards, upon which the curriculum was subsequently based, gave him the authority to teach ideas critical of evolution.

"The idea is to increase students' knowledge of evolution," Leonard said. "Showing them the controversies of evolution can help us achieve this goal. I've often found that students are more interested in the controversy."

Such questioning of the basis of evolution has aroused vehement objections in the academic community.

A June 10, 2005 article in the Inside Higher Ed online newspaper said "faculty critics have objected both to the idea that Ohio State appeared to be on the verge of awarding a Ph. D. for work questioning evolution and to the way Leonard's dissertation committee violated Ohio State rules.

"Beyond Ohio State, a blog for evolution scientists, 'Panda's Thumb,' has been publishing criticism of the dissertation defense and of the way the review committee was set up. Despite all the criticism, Ohio State officials stress that the decision to call off the dissertation defense was made by Leonard's dissertation advisor, not by university administrators responding to the controversy. Some scientists are questioning how Leonard came so close to a Ph. D. legitimizing intelligent design."

The Evolution of the Intelligent Design Debate in January's Science & Theology News


QUINCY, MA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 01/03/2006 -- The intelligent design trial in Dover, Pa. has come to a close, but it is only the beginning for conflicts between science and culture. This month's Science & Theology News looks beyond the Dover trial to explore how schools and other groups are pulled by competing concerns to reflect community values and to teach rigorous science.

Also in this issue:


Science & Theology News international editor Chhavi Sachdev and special guest editor William Scott Green break down the concept of altruism and motivations for kindness among humans.


Professor of biology Richard G. Colling discusses his different take on the intelligent design controversy, using randomness to unite evolution and creation.


Our January issue will appear online starting Jan. 2. Web-only highlights include:

-- Jan. 16: A multiverse package, featuring articles from our Science-and- Religion Guide to multiverse theory and a collection of previous coverage and columns from key players.

-- Jan. 30: An altruism package, including all of the month's Science-and- Religion Guide to altruism coverage, along with our previous reporting.

Visit STNews.org every day for new content. The Daily Dose, our daily digest of science-and-religion news, is now available as an e-newsletter. You can sign up for this and our other e-newsletters at STNews.org.

For more information about Science & Theology News and STNews.org, contact Marisa Connolly, marketing director, at mconnolly@stnews.org. Direct advertising inquiries to Jocelyn Godfrey, advertising director, at jgodfrey@stnews.org. To receive four free issues, visit https://www.sunbeltfs.com/forms/rh/freeoffer.asp?eid=E10605.

Science & Theology News is the monthly, international newspaper focusing on the cooperative relationship between science and religion. Founded in 2000 as Research News and Opportunities in Science & Theology and funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Science & Theology News has a circulation of more than 17,000 and an audience of both national and international readers. Visit us on the Web at www.stnews.org

Marisa Connolly
Email Contact

SOURCE: Science & Theology News

Christian Educators Decry 'Censorship' of Intelligent Design


Jim Brown & Jenni Parker Agape Press

A Christian educators group is expressing dismay over a recent court ruling its members feel censors Pennsylvania public school science teachers. Last week a federal judge ruled that "intelligent design" theory cannot be mentioned in biology classes in the Dover Area School District of Pennsylvania.

Formerly, the Dover district had a policy of informing students that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was just that -- a theory -- and that many gaps exist in the evidence supporting it. Also, Dover teachers had been teaching students that intelligent design, or ID, is an alternate theory of origins and encouraging them to keep an open mind.

Dover science teachers still taught evolution so students would be prepared for state proficiency tests. However, their practice of including instruction on the theory of intelligent design disturbed some parents and motivated the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the school district in court regarding the orthodoxy of its science curriculum.

After hearing the arguments, U.S. District Judge John Jones issued a 139-page opinion, ruling the Dover school board's policy unconstitutional and that intelligent design "is an extension of the fundamentalists' view that one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution."

Defending ID Science, Decrying ID Censorship

But Finn Laursen, executive director of Christian Educators Association International (CEAI), believes the judge is clearly confusing ID with creationism. While creationism is based on the Bible's account of origins in Genesis, Laursen asserts, intelligent design is "not a religious construct," but a scientific theory positing that "the unexplained complexity of life points to an Intelligent Designer, and anyone can draw their own conclusions about who or what that may be."

The CEAI spokesman says although faith may play into those individual conclusions, his group is not advocating religious instruction in public schools. It is simply "healthy education," he contends, to teach students about the controversy surrounding the theory of evolution.

Besides, Laursen points out, the judge's claim that ID is not science because it supposedly "relies on the unprovable existence of the Christian God" is a rubric under which evolution would also be disqualified, since Darwin's theory cannot be proven either.

In any case, the Christian educators' advocate insists that government has no business banning viewpoints in the classroom. He says Judge Jones "needs to heed Dover's recommendation to be open minded" and to allow all the available science to speak for itself.

"If the educational community had held this position earlier in our culture, we might still be teaching students that the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the Earth," Laursen asserts. "But as new theories developed, the logical place to debate these things and discuss these things and study these things was and is in the educational community."

The executive director of CEAI says he is "greatly disappointed" over the court's ruling that information about intelligent design must be kept away from Dover students. He worries that many Christian teachers, perhaps even some members of his group, may now be hesitant to teach science that does not validate the theory of macroevolution.

"I don't think that's what the ruling said," Laursen remarks, "but I think that Christian educators in our public schools might misunderstand that ruling and withdraw from teaching all the science that's out there." He considers the recent court decision banning the mention of intelligent design in the Dover schools to be a serious blow to academic freedom as well as a case where "[y]et another activist judge has forced personal prejudices on the educational community."

Nevertheless, Laursen promises, CEAI will continue to encourage its members to "teach all the science available in the 21st century, whether it supports evolution or not." He says the group will also go on urging teachers to bring supplemental science data and information beyond the mandated curricula into their classrooms.

(c) 2005 AgapePress

A mutating controversy


Federal District Judge John Jones had a decisive, but, alas, probably not final, judgment on a controversy that is bubbling up in Ohio, Kentucky and states across the county: "The overwhelming evidence is that intelligent design is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory."

The supporters of intelligent design are persistent, though, and this much-watched Pennsylvania case that was decided recently will not be the end of it. But Jones' 139-page opinion is a valuable blueprint to other supporters of classic science who will be forced to fight this backdoor attempt to insinuate the biblical version of creation into the classroom.

The case arose when the Dover, Pa., school board voted to require science teachers to read a statement that implied that intelligent design had equal scientific validity with Darwin's theory of evolution, which, moreover, had "gaps" and "problems."

The board's order referred students to a book called "Of Pandas and People," which, the court learned, had been edited to replace "creationism" with "intelligent design" after an earlier unfavorable court decision.

The judge found that the board "consciously chose to change Dover's biology curriculum to advance religion," a decision, he said, of "breathtaking inanity" leading to an "utter waste of monetary and personal resources." Decisions don't get more definitive than that.

The voters of Dover issued their own verdict and, in November, ousted the intelligent-design supporters from the school board en masse.

Intelligent design holds that life is so complex that it must have been designed by some superintelligent force or being. As science, the proposition has the drawback of being unable to be tested or replicated in any meaningful way. And, according to a recent New York Times report, the intelligent-design movement may be running out of steam, having failed to attract academic support or peer-reviewed papers. And many leading theologians and religious scholars see no conflict between their faith and evolution.

Just as creationism mutated into intelligent design, many observers believe intelligent design will return in a new guise, perhaps as something called sudden-emergence theory. Creationism, thus, is changing in response to its environment; it is, in a sense, evolving in a Darwinian sort of way.

Publication date: 01-03-2006

A mystery no longer?


Posted on Tue, Jan. 03, 2006
By Ken McLaughlin
Mercury News

The Mystery Spot, for decades one of Santa Cruz's most alluring tourist sites, bills itself as a place where the laws of physics and gravity cease to exist.

At least one scientist has attributed the weird goings-on at the site to carbon dioxide seeping up through fissures caused by a landslide or earthquake. Flying saucer aficionados postulate that aliens once left strange metal cones deep below the earth. Others theorize that the bizarre phenomena are caused by a magnetic field, a hole in the ozone layer or an ancient meteorite.

But Bruce Bridgeman, a professor of psychology and psychobiology at the University of California-Santa Cruz, says the Mystery Spot isn't a mystery.

``Scientific psychology,'' he says, can explain all the illusions that visitors encounter there.

That's why Bridgeman uses the Mystery Spot to teach his students how the human brain works -- and deceives.

``The Mystery Spot is all about the power of perception,'' Bridgeman said as he recently joined three students on their first tour of the place.

The spot has been drawing tourists from around the world since 1940, a year after George Prather bought the property, located on a gradually steepening hillside about three miles northeast of downtown Santa Cruz. Tour guides tell this tale:

Prather wanted to build a cabin but became concerned when a surveyor's compass began going haywire. He built the cabin anyway, only to see it slide down the hill into a stand of redwoods -- where it sits today.

The cabin -- said to be at the center of a circular, 150-foot-diameter ``spot'' -- is the main attraction at the site. It is where, as tour guides put it, ``the force'' takes over. Balls appear to roll uphill, people's heights seem to magically change and kids literally climb the walls.

It is also the perfect place for Bridgeman to hold class.

``It would be too expensive to build a whole cabin, so it's cheaper to come down here and use this,'' he said with a dry chuckle. ``It's better than seeing something on a piece of paper or computer screen. The experience completely surrounds you.''

Bridgeman, 61, has been coming to the Mystery Spot since his two adult daughters were Girl Scouts.

Two decades ago, he started bringing his graduate and undergraduate psychology students, with the blessings of Mystery Spot owners.

Seven of Bridgeman's students took part in a formal experiment, the results of which he recently published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. The title of his scholarly paper: ``Influence of Visually Induced Expectation on Perceived Motor Effort: A Visual-Proprioceptive Interaction at the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot.''

In simple terms, it's called the ``size-weight illusion.''

The professor first became intrigued with the concept 10 years ago when a colleague in Germany showed him a weighted matchbox and a large, empty cardboard box of equal weight. When people pick up both objects, they almost invariably perceive the matchbox to be heavier simply because they expect it to be lighter than the larger box.

The same is the case with the 18-pound metal ball hanging from a chain in the Mystery Spot cabin.

The ball hangs vertically from the ceiling. But because the cabin is tilted at a 17-degree angle, the ball appears to be suspended at a gravity-defying angle.

That part is somewhat easy to understand. What's more of a mystery is why people who push the weight one way find it more difficult than pushing it the other way. Answering that question was the focus of Bridgeman's scientific paper.

It is the same reason the matchbox seems heavier, he said. When people push the weighted ball toward the ``visual vertical'' (the way people think the ball should naturally be hanging from the ceiling), they find it is much harder than it looks. So it feels more difficult than pushing the ball in the opposite direction, even though the physical effort is exactly the same, all seven of the students in the experiment found.

All this is important to the field of psychology because ``it shows the limits of one's perception,'' Bridgeman said. ``The essential role of expectation in perception applies to everything -- not just weighted balls in cabins.''

It also shows how the human brain evolved.

Bridgeman said humans almost always make mistakes when judging distances, slopes of hills or other aspects of the layout of the world.

``Perception is not as realistic as it seems,'' he said. ``The job of perception is not to give you an accurate view of the world but something that helps your survival. . . . When you meet a bear in the forest, it's important to run the other way, but the precise position of the bear isn't critical.''

The science of illusion has numerous applications in industry and product development. Just one example: By knowing exactly how the brain distorts reality, engineers can minimize illusions -- and accidents -- when designing roads, highways and cars. In fact, one of Bridgeman's former doctoral students is now a designer for Volkswagen.

Some of his current students, meanwhile, are still struggling with Bridgeman's research debunking ``the force'' at the Mystery Spot.

``It kind of takes the fun out of the place,'' said junior Lily Kuang, 20, one of the students who accompanied Bridgeman on the recent tour. ``The Mystery Spot is supposed to be cool and mysterious.''

But Steven Macramalla, a graduate psychology student, disagreed that the thrill was gone. ``I get what the professor is saying intellectually,'' said Macramalla, 36. ``But understanding the illusion doesn't diminish it. The effect is so darn strong. It's pretty fascinating.''

That kind of attitude suits the tour guides and managers at the Mystery Spot just fine. They argue that the spot works whether you believe in mysteries or believe in illusions.

``Bruce is one of the most educated and brilliant people I've ever known,'' said Randall Fertig, who has given tours for eight years. ``Still, just because you understand something doesn't mean you understand it.''

Contact Ken McLaughlin at kmclaughlin@mercurynews.com or (831) 423-3115.

Lebanon's top psychic won't talk about 2006

After predictions of violence came true and recent rumors erupted, he's staying low-key.

Michel Hayek

BEIRUT, LEBANON – A year after he predicted a rash of political killings and upheaval, Lebanon's most famous clairvoyant will not tell a jittery public what 2006 holds when he makes his usual year-end television appearance.

Thousands of Lebanese tune in every New Year's Eve to hear what Michel Hayek foresees, but the 38-year-old said he no longer wanted to be seen as the bearer of bad news.

"After all the clamor surrounding my 2005 predictions and the rumors that spread later in my name, I have decided not to announce my predictions for (2006)," Hayek said.

"What has troubled me most are the rumors. I don't want to be the reason people are afraid to go to the grocer or send their children to school."

A rumor spread by mobile-phone text messages and attributed to Hayek predicted mass bombings would tear apart central Beirut earlier this month. So scared were Lebanese, whose nerves have been worn by a string of such attacks, that many shunned Christmas shopping and Sunday strolls to stay home.

Hayek denies saying "something weird" would happen downtown that weekend, but many felt his predictions for 2005 had proved so uncannily accurate that any rumor was too scary to ignore.

Hayek predicted last December that "a major incident in downtown Beirut would shake the area for a long time."

In February, a truck bomb killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 22 others on the edge of central Beirut, sparking a wave of protests that paralyzed the area for weeks.

Hayek predicted the government would collapse, and it did. He predicted the currency would come under strong pressure but survive, and it did. He predicted the media would come under attack. Two journalists have been assassinated this year and one was badly injured by a bomb in her car.

Among the dead was publisher and lawmaker Gebran Tueni, whom Hayek actually named as a target of violence, along with a Cabinet minister and President Emile Lahoud.

Defense Minister Elias al-Murr narrowly survived an assassination attempt in July and Lahoud has been the target of a sustained campaign of political pressure to resign.

Not all Hayek's predictions have come true, but enough have to make him shun the limelight.

"Michel Hayek's star predictions transform the heart of Beirut into a desert at high noon," said the front page of Arab newspaper Al-Hayat on Dec. 18, shortly after Tueni's killing and at the height of the text-message prophecies of doom.

It said some businesses in central Beirut had even threatened to sue Hayek for ruining their normally busy weekend.

More than a dozen attacks have rocked Lebanon since Hariri's killing.

Many Lebanese blame Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon before it withdrew its troops in April, for the attacks.

"I do not believe anything he says, but people are on edge and are susceptible to anything," said housewife Siham Hammoud.

Haitham Khalil, 17, disagrees: "I believe him because all his predictions, or most of them, have happened."

Hayek first found fame in the mid-1980s, when he predicted the destruction of the U.S. Challenger space shuttle. He also said he foresaw the death of Princess Diana in a 1997 car crash.

He does not offer psychic services to ordinary people but has been predicting the future as a "consultant to firms in the United States, Britain and Australia" for eight years.

"It's not my fault that these things happen, I do not make them happen, I just see them," he said. "I wish all my predictions did not come true and all those people did not die. Nothing is worth the innocent blood that has been spilled."


Crystal ball for 2006 sees giant asteroid crash (or not)


Sat Dec 31, 3:18 AM ET

PARIS (AFP) - In 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor of California, Internet giant Google will suffer a setback -- and Brazil will hang on to the World Cup.

If Earth doesn't get wiped out by a giant comet first, that is.

Maybe it will all come true and maybe not, but a legion of soothsayers -- from business gurus to Bible decoders -- is full of predictions for the year to come.

Some use elaborate computer programs like "Torah4U" to ferret out remarkably precise predictions allegedly hidden within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Torah.

One Website complete with diagrammed excerpts from Holy scripture, exodus2006.com, foresees the November re-election of Schwarzenegger along with the re-establishment of a military draft in the United States.

It also predicts that August 3, 2006 will be a blood-drenched day -- yet just a mere shadow of the calamity that will befall us in 2010.

Annie Stanton, one of countless psychics plying her trade on the Internet, predicts that catastrophe will come this year in the form of a massive asteroid crashing into the planet.

Another mystic seer, Anita Nigam from India, has extended her powers of the paranormal into another realm -- sports betting.

For a mere 50 pounds (88 dollars, 73 euros) a week, you can get her insights into the outcomes of English football's Premier League matches. World Cup rates are yet to be announced, but rumor has it she's keen on Brazil.

Bill Gray of Colorado University uses turbo-charged computer models that crunch data on global sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions to forecast the number and intensity of hurricanes that will hit the US each year.

Gray, whose track record is startlingly good, says 2006 will be no picnic -- 17 named tropical storms, nine hurricanes and five major, high-wind hurricanes, nearly twice the historical average in all categories.

Meanwhile "Wired" magazine co-founder John Battelle, whose crystal ball is closely watched by the Internet technology faithful, says "Google will stumble" due to a bad partnership or a legal setback.

He also predicts legislators in the United States and elsewhere will take steps to protect citizens against "the perils of unprotected Internet data mining" into their personal lives, including credit and health histories.

Like many of his high-tech colleagues, he thinks 2006 will be the year when mobile technologies plug into the Web -- so get ready for the first truly usable electronic newspaper.

Another widespread forecast: by the end of the year, there will be a one-in-three chance that you are making your phone calls, especially long-distance ones, over the Internet. For free.

With the possible exception of the Apocalypse, no single event inspires more fevered speculation that the Oscars -- who will be nominated, and who will win.

Odds-makers have cooled considerably on "King Kong" after the release of "Brokeback Mountain," but "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Jarhead" have loyal supporters too.

But even the most confident and qualified of forecasters are advised to recall Yale economics professor Irving Fisher's infamous assessment of the US stock market.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau," he said -- on the eve of the 1929 crash that sparked the Great Depression.

Judge's ID ruling fortifies separation of church, state


The lessons learned in a six-week trial that recently concluded in Dover, Pa., have ramifications on a national scale. This was a major test case to determine the scientific credibility of intelligent design - whose adherents claim that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source - in a public high school biology class.

What was decided by Federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III was a reminder that while science and religion need not be adversarial ideals, there does need to be segregation in the public classroom.

In his remarkably candid and eloquent opinion declaring that it was unconstitutional for the Dover school district to offer intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes, Judge Jones portrayed intelligent design, or ID, as advocating "a particular form of Christianity" that disguises religion with the cloth of science.

In essence, Jones saw that the school board members who voted to insert intelligent design into the biology curriculum had attempted a rhetorical sleight of hand to include the biblically based theory of creationism.

"To be sure, Darwins's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot render the explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," Judge Jones wrote in his ruling.

Questions surrounding the creation of the universe and the roles of science and religion to help answer the those mysteries will always be with us. Charles Darwin himself wondered about the major universal meanings that eluded the rigorous standards of scientific examination.

But we agree with Jones, a Republican appointed by President Bush, who said ID "should continue to be studied, debated and discussed," but it doesn't belong in the biology class because it's not science, but religion.

What happened in this Pennsylvania courtroom matters because it could happen here as a noisy but determined group of religious fundamentalist activists continue their assault on the constitutional wall separating church and state.

And we don't need to look far for a reminder that this is an ongoing struggle. A decade ago in Merrimack, some school board members pushed hard to have creationism included in the biology curriculum. Creationism has gone nowhere as a viable alternative in public education, but intelligent design has arrived as the Trojan horse with boosters not saying who might be the grand designer with a wink-wink and a nod-nod.

Judge Jones ruled both on the merits of the case, but also on the motives of the now-former school board members - voted out last month in local elections - who pushed the issue to the legal brink.

"The breathtaking inanity of the board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial," Judge Jones wrote. 'The students, parents and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

-Herald Sunday

Intelligent Design says there may be a 'Creator'


Saturday, December 31, 2005

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

I marvel at your editorial agreement with the ruling in Pennsylvania. Do you mean that it is wrong for a teacher simply to read a disclaimer that "evolution is not the only plausible explanation for the beginnings of life" or some such wording.

After all, evolution is only a theory. It would appear that in our misconstruing of our country's founding documents we now want to remove God utterly from the public domain, certainly not the wishes of the founding fathers. It is one thing to establish a particular faith or denomination, this disclaimer does neither. It only acknowledges that the world as we know it could have been created (the product of intelligent design) rather than evolving from lower forms.

But horrors, no, no, no, if it was created, then there must be a Creator, and we do not want there to be a Creator, because the next step in the logic is that we are accountable to Him. We must not teach our children that, it would defile their minds, perhaps even restrain them from fornicating, lying and doing drugs.

David E. Gregory Sr.



Fears over alternative medicine use


January 02, 2006

MORE than half of Australians use alternative medicines, wrongly believing a government agency has tested them before being sold, a study suggests.

The survey of more than 3000 South Australians found 52.2 per cent use complementary and alternative therapies, such as herbal remedies, aromatherapy and Chinese medicine.

Forty-eight per cent of participants wrongly assumed such treatments were independently tested by a body like the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

About half of those questioned took alternative and conventional medicines on the same day.

And 53.2 per cent failed to tell their doctor they were using alternative therapies, so could not be warned about potential side effects or drug interactions.

Women and people with post-secondary educations are among the highest users of the alternative types of drugs.

Self-prescribed vitamins were the most used products, followed by herbal medicines.

Researcher Alastair MacLennan and colleagues at the University of Adelaide expressed concern that large numbers of people surveyed wrongly believed what they were taking had been tested for quality control.

Researchers, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, said the TGA audited less than 1 per cent of alternative therapies currently on the market.

"Alternative medicine can prevent blindness"


Barrackpore | January 02, 2006 2:34:24 PM IST

Eminent opthalmologist Dr I S Roy has said that blindess could be prevented as well as treated effectively through alternative medicine.

He was addressing an award distribution ceremony at Kamarhati in North 24 Parganas on Saturday.

Dr Roy further said at least 20 per cent blind people could be cured through alternative medicines rather than by allopathic treatment.

He informed that at least 80 million people in India were suffering from blindness and the figure was likely to double by 2020 despite the launch of various health-care programmes by the government.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Stretching the Constitution to keep out intelligent design


By ANDREW CLINE Originally published January 2, 2006

Federal Judge John E. Jones III, a George W. Bush appointee, has ruled unconstitutional the referencing of intelligent design in public school science classes in Dover, Pa. He called it a "mere re-labeling of creationism" and said it amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Which raises a question: How intelligently designed are public schools in which intelligent design cannot even be referenced?

Unlike the Scopes case of 1925, the Dover case did not involve politicians yanking evolution from the classroom and replacing it with creationism. It involved a statement the Dover school board required biology teachers to read to their students:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is not evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments."

I disagree with the wording of that statement. But it defies logic to say it establishes a state religion. And in fact, Judge Jones does not conclude that. Under Establishment Clause jurisprudence, he doesn't have to.

In the 1984 case Lynch v. Donnelly, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor created a new standard that redefined the Establishment Clause. Government policies don't have to "establish" a state religion - as the Constitution requires - to be unconstitutional. They simply have to "endorse" a religious point of view. Justice O'Connor succeeded in rewriting the First Amendment, and Judge Jones used that rewrite to strike down the intelligent design statement.

As the Establishment Clause morphs into a general anti-religion clause and judges continue to strike down not the establishment of religion, or even the teaching of it, but the mere practice of pointing it out to students, it is easy to imagine a day when no reference to God, religion or spirituality will be allowed in school.

After all, the Dover school board did not replace evolution with intelligent design. The board made students aware of its existence and instructed them to make up their own minds. If that is unconstitutional, then surely it is conceivable that some ambitious parent could sue successfully under the Establishment Clause because a civics teacher quotes George Washington - "The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army" - or Abraham Lincoln - "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in."

Assuming, of course, that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are still taught in public schools.

The ruling moves us another step toward a place the Founding Fathers would not have recognized, a place in which religion and public life are kept rigidly separate.

Yet as much as champions of this ruling have gloated in the past two weeks, the struggle over science curricula, or religion in school, is far from settled. The heart of the Dover case really is not creationism vs. Darwinism. It is parents vs. government. As long as children are compelled to attend government-run schools, parents will fight over what is taught in those schools.

The real solution lies not in another court challenge to another curricular guideline, but in a more intelligent design of our public school system. When public education is financed by the government but provided in the private sector, and parents can choose the schools their children attend, these sorts of disputes will evaporate.

What we really are arguing about in these cases is who gets to decide what children learn in school. The more control we give to parents, the less control zealous school board members, or judges, will have.

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, N.H. His e-mail is cline@theunionleader.com.

Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun

Right to Teach Intelligent Design is Established by the First Ammendment


Monday, January 02, 2006

Dear Editor,

"Intelligent Design ban is based upon the violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation," so says an article in Wednesday's Dispatch of 21 Dec., '05. The term "separation of church and state" does not appear in the United States Constitution or in any ammendments. It is the figment of a badly confused legal mind within our judicial system. If a lie is told often enough, it is soon accepted as truth. Look at the First Amendment of the Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF." It could not be more clearly stated than that. Funny (really sad) how the judges are blind to that clause of the first amendment. The right to say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is guaranteed by this amendment. So is the teaching of "intelligent design" in the school classroom protected by the amendment as an act of "free exercise of religion."

Liberal, activist judges who have no comprehension of right versus wrong are seriously jeopardizing our constitutional rights and our own personal freedom. It is a serious situation with little relief or correction in sight.

Where in our current government are men of the character, integrity and honor such as our founding fathers, Washington, John Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln? Sadly, such men do not exist today.

J.G. McCormack, Gilroy

Judge rules intelligent design is not science


News January 10, 2006

In a closely watched case over whether intelligent design theory may be taught in science classrooms, a federal judge has ruled that ID instruction, because of its creationist roots, would violate the First Amendment ban on promoting religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled December 20 that the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district cannot teach ID as an alternate explanation for theories of evolution in science classes. ID proponents contend that an unspecified supernatural being accounts for the complexity of nature.

Jones said in his 139-page opinion that he "addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science." Jones said he concluded that "it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

The ruling was viewed as a setback for many Christian conservatives. "This decision is a slam dunk for supporters of evolution and a real defeat for Darwin's opponents," said David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The ID concept was termed disguised creationism by experts who testified on behalf of parents who had sued to thwart school board plans to introduce ID in science classes.

The judge agreed, saying that ID proponents "make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presumption is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general." Jones noted that scientific experts who testified said that evolution "in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect," Jones said. "However, the fact a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."

False judge makes mockery of case for 'intelligent design'


Jan 2, 2006 by Phyllis Schlafly

Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Jones issued his ruling, a 139-page rant against anyone who objects to force-feeding public schoolchildren with the theory of evolution, on Dec. 20. He accused parents and school board members of "breathtaking inanity" for wanting their children to learn that "intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Charles Darwin's view."

Contrary to most media coverage, the Dover case was not about whether Darwin's theory of evolution, as set forth in "The Origin of the Species," or the theory of "intelligent design" is correct or should be taught. The Dover school board did not propose to say intelligent design is scientific or valid, or even to decrease its teaching of evolution.

Students were merely to be read a brief statement asserting that "gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence," and that intelligent design provides an explanation for the origin of life that could be further explored by consulting a book in the school library. While not denying that those statements may be true (it is undeniable that evolution has gaps), the judge nevertheless permanently enjoined the school board "from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution" and from saying that the theory has gaps.

Jones exhibited his bias for judicial activism with public remarks that should have caused his recusal. Signaling that he would exploit the dispute, Jones boasted, "It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history. ... Even Charles Darwin's great grandson is attending the trial."

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge described Jones as a close friend and future candidate for governor. When questioned, Jones did not rule this out. Playing up to the New York Times in an article published days before his opinion was released, Jones made the silly boast that he reads five newspapers a day.

The New York Times reported that Jones was awe-struck that his case appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, and that he even bragged to his wife about it before buying a copy.

All that Jones told the New York Times is not yet publicly known, or what it told him, during his private interview with that newspaper during the trial. Jones' pursuit of the spotlight illustrates what is wrong with our judiciary today. He smeared "fundamentalists," impugned the integrity of those who disagree with him by accusing them of lying and issued an unnecessary permanent injunction.

Jones said that ninth-graders were referred to (although not assigned) a book called "Of Pandas and People" by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon ($24.95; 1993) published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, "a religious, Christian organization." Using guilt-by-association reasoning, he implied that books published by religious groups, or by people motivated by religious convictions, can and should be banned from public school.

He lashed out at witnesses who expressed religious views different from his own, displaying a prejudice unworthy of our judiciary. He denigrated several officials because they "staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public."

The atheist evolutionists would not have made such a big case out of the four innocuous paragraphs ordered by the Dover school board unless they were pursuing an ideological cause. They converted the trial into a grand inquisition of religious beliefs instead of addressing science or the statement to be read to students.

As the reader of five newspapers, Jones was surely aware that the Dover school board had already changed hands, indicating it would be dropping mention of intelligent design. Rather than admit that the case was largely moot, as a judge should, he resorted to judicial activism to make the case a cause celebre.

In an era of judicial supremacy, Judge Jones' biased and religiously bigoted decision is way over the top. His decision will ultimately hurt the evolutionist cause because it shows that the evolutionists cannot defend their beliefs on the merits; they can only survive by censoring alternate views.

Phyllis Schlafly is the President and Founder of the Eagle Forum.

Copyright © 2006 Copley News Service

Local science teachers consider debate of Intelligent design vs. evolution


By OSEYE T. BOYD oboyd@muncie.gannett.com

Central High School freshman Brianna English hasn't studied evolution in biology yet, but she has heard enough about the theory to know that it is a big part of science.

The information she already has on evolution hasn't affected her belief in God.

"I think it's just a theory -- like what scientists say," English said. "It doesn't make me change my mind about God or anything like that."

The old phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun" certainly rings true when talking about the intelligent design vs. evolution debate.

Challenging Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is certainly nothing new. In 1925, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., pitted anti-evolutionists against scientists. General science teacher John Scopes was fined $100 for teaching evolution. That ruling was later overturned by a higher court.

Just last month, a federal district judge banned a school district in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design in biology class.

Even with the latest court decision, don't expect the furor over intelligent design to end, however. Several Indiana lawmakers have surveyed their constituents about adding intelligent design to the science curriculum. Once the General Assembly convenes this year, Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, has shown interest in creating legislation in support of teaching intelligent design in public schools. The bill could have backing from Democrats and Republicans alike.

For scientists, the argument is not about science being anti-religion, but over whether intelligent design -- a belief that a higher power guided the development of living things -- should be taught in science class. Classes such history, religious studies or theology are better suited for intelligent design, some argue.

'I'm not a theology teacher'

"The main problem with intelligent design is not the concept; (it) is that it can't be (proven) in a scientific method," Roy Connor, biology teacher at Central High School. "We can't prove it. It's basically a faith-based acceptance. In science we try to come up with ... some way of proving that there's validity to that. I believe that there's probably a lot of biology teachers that might believe that that is a possibility, but until we can prove it scientifically it really doesn't belong in the science class.

"As a Christian I believe that God did design life," Connor added, "but on the other hand I'm a biology teacher; I'm not a theology teacher. I'm not teaching a faith. What I think that a lot of people have a hard time with is science is man's best attempt to solve things."

J. Brent Walker, an attorney, ordained Baptist minister and executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., monitors how the government handles religion.

"Nobody's trying to muzzle the teachers and have the theories of intelligent design excluded," Walker said. "It just has to be in the right context. I clearly affirm an intelligent designer. I call that person God."

English, the Central student, believes intelligent design should be taught in a class other than science because everyone thinks differently and the theory requires faith.

Science not absolute truth

Many times non-scientists believe science tries to answer questions about creation without including God in the equation. In science, the scientific method must be used to prove theories. If those methods can't be used, it's not science, Connor said.

"They don't understand what science is," Connor said. "I think too many times science is presented as the absolute truth, and I've always been taught that it's not."

Theories are constantly being proved and disproved in science. For instance, the theory of spontaneous generation -- life can come from non-life -- is no longer widely believed, but 17th-century scientists thought this possible, said Connor, science department chairman at Central.

Indiana science teachers follow academic standards set forth by the state. And those current standards are considered to be some of the best in the nation, according to a report card from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational nonprofit that advocates high education standards in Washington, D.C.

Experimental results

Pat Moses, a biology teacher and department chairman at Southside High School, sticks to what the textbook says, and teaches "what science can support."

"I personally believe that religion is just something you have to have within you," Moses said. "The science books will not sway you or change your beliefs. Science evolution provides experimental results. The only thing that we talk about in evolution is what can be tested. There are some things, I think, in evolution (that) can't be tested, and I think that's where religion comes in."

While the idea of one life form morphing into another over time stirs great debate, there is evidence that a specific species has changed over time, Connor said.

'Not attack on Christianity'

"It's not the case that just because you're a religious person that you have to reject or repudiate the teachings of science," Walker said. "It's not an attack on Christianity. It's simply an appreciation for the pluralism in America. This is not an Christian nation.

"There's not a word in the Constitution about Christianity. There is a sense, culturally, our founders came out of Christian religion -- most of them, not all of them. Some of them were deists. We have that sort of vague Christian structure. We sowed the seeds of that eventually from the very beginning (that) Christianity ought not be disadvantaged, but it ought not be privileged over other religions, at least not in government."

If proponents of intelligent design can prove their theory using scientific methods, Connor said he would support teaching it in the classroom.

Originally published January 2, 2006

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Evolution education update: The consequences of Kitzmiller?; Forrest discusses Kitzmiller on Science Friday; Kentucky Academy of Sciences denounces "intelligent design"; help wanted

The consequences of the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover are being pondered in Kansas, Georgia, and Ohio, and by Barbara Forrest on Science Friday, while in the Bluegrass State, the Kentucky Academy of Sciences takes a stand against "intelligent design." Plus: NCSE seeks candidates for the post of Education Project Director.


Especially in areas facing threats to evolution education, the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover is attracting editorial attention. Judge Jones ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach "intelligent design" as a supposed alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom, and identified "teaching about supposed gaps and problems in evolutionary theory" as a creationist strategy "that evolved from earlier forms of creationism." Kristi L. Bowman, a law professor at Drake University, told The New York Times (December 22, 2005), that although the decision is strictly a precedent only in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, "this is such a thorough, well-researched opinion that covers all possible bases in terms of the legal arguments that intelligent design advocates present, that I think any school board or state board of education thinking about adopting an intelligent design policy should think twice."

In Kansas, where the state board of education voted in November 2005 to adopt a set of state science standards in which the scientific status of evolution is impugned, the Lawrence Journal-World (December 22, 2005) commented, "Various testimony and statements made to and by board members on this issue support [the] contention that teaching intelligent design or creationism as an alternative to evolution in Kansas science classes is part of the mission behind the new standards." The editorial added, "Judge Jones has drawn a clear legal line between science and belief that may be the basis for litigation in Kansas. Or Kansans may keep this issue out of the courts by seeking -- as Dover, Pa., voters did -- a political resolution to the controversy and simply removing board members who are pushing to inject non-science into science classrooms."

In Georgia, where a ruling in the appeal of Selman v. Cobb County is expected shortly, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (December 22, 2005) applauded Judge Jones's decision, and commended it to the attention of "the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges, who are now weighing whether Cobb's evolution disclaimer stickers on high school science texts improperly endorse religion." The editorial concluded, "Like their counterparts in Dover, the Cobb board members are guilty of 'breathtaking inanity,' as Judge Jones so aptly described it. 'The students, parents and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources,' Jones said. So do the students, parents and teachers of Cobb County."

And in Ohio, where a creationist model lesson plan was approved by the state board of education in March 2004, the Cleveland Plain Dealer (December 22, 2005) noted that "If Tuesday's victory for opponents of intelligent design prompts them to follow through on a threat to sue Ohio education officials, taxpayers here could well suffer the expense and nationwide embarrassment of a lengthy trial. ... Ohio can afford neither the distraction nor the negative publicity such litigation would entail." A subsequent column (December 25, 2005) warned that Americans United for Separation for Church and State "has collected dozens of documents related to the development of Ohio's policy. Some are said to reveal ID-related roots in drafts of the plan, while others show fierce opposition to the plan from internal and external scientific experts."

For NCSE's collection of information on Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:

For the story in The New York Times (no longer freely available), visit:

For NCSE's story on the vote in Kansas, visit:

For the Lawrence Journal-World's editorial, visit:

For NCSE's collection of information on Selman v. Cobb County, visit:

For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial, visit:

For NCSE's story on the creationist lesson plan in Ohio, visit:

For the columns in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, visit:


Barbara Forrest appeared on Talk of the Nation's Science Friday on December 23, 2005, to discuss the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Forrest, who testified on the history of the "intelligent design" movement on behalf of the plaintiffs, told the show's host Ira Flatow, "I'm very happy about the judge's ruling. I'm not totally surprised because I noticed that all along the way, whenever he would issue rulings in response to motions, they were very thoughtful, very carefully done. And so I along the way, very early, developed a lot of respect for the way this judge was proceeding. I certainly did not try to second-guess him as to what the ultimate decision would be, but I think it really sets a benchmark for judicial excellence and integrity, especially with respect to this issue."

Responding to a question about the influence of the Kitzmiller decision, Forrest said, "You have to hope that it sends a very strong message, and I think undoubtedly it will to some school boards and maybe even most of them." But, she added, "one of the things that we know from the history of creationism and the religious right in general is that they tend not to pay attention to court rulings. ... The good thing about Judge Jones's ruling, though, is that it didn't leave the intelligent design creationists much room to morph. What creationists usually do ... in response to their losses in court is that they change themselves into something a little bit different, but I don't think they have much room to do that after Judge Jones's ruling."

Asked by Flatow whether she would be testifying in future court cases, Forrest replied, "Oh, I would expect so. I guess right now, you know, I'm looking to the next occasion when I might have to put, you know, what I have learned to use. And I expect that this will not be the last time." Ohio, Kansas, and Gull Lake, Michigan, were all mentioned as possibilities. Ending the segment, Flatow wished Forrest a good holiday season, to which she answered, mischievously, "And as we say now, Merry Kitzmas." Forrest is Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of NCSE's board of directors; with Paul R. Gross she wrote Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004).

To listen to the segment on-line, visit:

For NCSE's collection of information on Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:

For information on Creationism's Trojan Horse, visit:


The Kentucky Academy of Science expressed its opposition to "attempts to equate 'scientific creationism' or 'intelligent design' with evolution as a scientific explanation of events" in a press release dated December 22, 2005. "Teaching faith-based models implies that these views are equivalent alternatives among scientists. These models mislead students as to what is considered the scientific method," the Academy wrote, adding, "The KAS fully respects the religious views of all persons but objects to attempts to require any religious teachings as science in public schools." The Academy's statement is timely: according to a story in the Kentucky Post (December 27, 2005), legislation allowing the teaching of "intelligent design" is likely to be introduced in the state legislature in the 2006 session. The Kentucky Academy of Science, founded in 1914, is an organization that encompasses all the accepted scientific fields. The 700-member-strong organization encourages scientific research, promotes the diffusion of scientific knowledge, and unifies the scientific interests of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

For the Academy's press release, visit:

For the story in the Kentucky Post, visit:


The National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization that defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools, seeks candidates for the post of Education Project Director.

The EPD's duties will include developing materials pertaining to evolution education for print and web; representing NCSE to the education community, in print and in person; serving as liaison between NCSE and professional education societies; speaking to the press about issues involving evolution education and challenges to it; counseling teachers, administrators, parents, and others facing challenges to evolution education.

Candidates should have either extensive experience as high school science teachers or advanced degrees in science education or, ideally, both. A scientific background, especially in biology or geology, is a plus, as is a record of involvement in or understanding of the creationism/evolution controversy. Excellent communication skills, both written and oral, are necessary. Travel may be required. Full-time permanent position with medical benefits in Oakland, California, to start as soon as possible. Salary commensurate with experience and competitive with similarly sized non-profits.

Send c.v., brief writing sample, and the names of three references to NCSE, either by mail to NCSE, 420 40th Street, Suite 2, Oakland CA 94609-2509, by fax to (510) 601-7204, or by e-mail to epd@ncseweb.org. No calls, please. Materials must arrive by January 15, 2006, to be considered. NCSE is an equal opportunity employer.

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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

With best wishes for the holiday season,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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

Bush: Educators, not politicians, should craft science curriculum


Posted on Fri, Dec. 30, 2005 Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As the state begins to update it's science standards for students, Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that educators - not politicians - should decide how they're crafted and whether "intelligent design" should be a part of it.

Despite his own personal belief that God created earth and all life on it, the Roman Catholic governor said he will leave science curriculum to education experts.

"The standards should be created by educators, not politicians," Bush said. "It's not my job."

Bush added that evolution should "absolutely" be part of science teachings, but he said there are gaps in the theory and he personally would want science teachers to allow discussions about creationism.

"What I would hope would happen is that science teachers would not feel compelled to exclude opening children's minds up to the fact that other people - a lot of people - have different views about the creation of life. I think that would be a healthy thing to have children understand, that it's not either/or, that it's not one way or the highway," Bush said.

The Department of Education plans to revise Florida's science standards, which haven't been updated in nearly a decade, Bush said. The revision isn't expected to start before 2007. Bush, who can't seek re-election because of term limits, will leave office in January 2007.

Reject faith-based science in S.C. schools


Posted on Fri, Dec. 30, 2005

State senator pushes inclusion of intelligent design in curriculum


Special to The Observer

With unplanned irony, the S.C. Education Oversight Committee will meet the day after Charles Darwin's birthday to decide whether to approve high school standards for teaching evolution. The standards were ready for approval a month ago but were delayed by state Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, who wants the State Board of Education to include the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

Fair would serve S.C. students better by carefully reading Judge John E. Jones III's opinion in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District. Handed down Dec. 20, the judge's 139-page opinion is a model of considered, logical thought. The plaintiffs had argued that the school board's requirement that teachers read a disclaimer about evolution and refer students to sources touting intelligent design as a credible alternative was a ruse for bringing religion into the science classroom. The judge agreed. Some of the judge's harshest words were for school board members who lied under oath and contradicted their own testimony that religion was not their primary motivation for introducing intelligent design in the Dover schools.

Supernatural, not scientific

Intelligent design, a belief that life is so complex that it must have originated from a supernatural source, is not science, Jones ruled. Science seeks to understand the natural world by observation and experimentation. Because intelligent design requires supernatural intervention -- something that cannot be tested or observed -- it doesn't meet the definition of science.In his ruling the judge traces the history of intelligent design and concludes that it is "creationism relabeled." After the Supreme Court's 1987 decision that teaching the biblical account of the creation in science class was unconstitutional, creationists devised an end-run around the ruling by replacing the term "creationism" in their literature with "intelligent design."

Jones also mentions the "wedge strategy" by the Discovery Institute, which openly declares its intent to redefine science as theistic and to promote evangelical Christianity in major institutions such as education. "This isn't really, and never has been, a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy," Phillip Johnson, one of the institute's founders, wrote in an early mission statement.

Johnson's comment proves the "teach the controversy" rallying cry is a sham. Proponents of intelligent design have not subjected it to scientific tests but have spent their energy conducting a public relations campaign to sway skeptics to be "open minded" to criticism about "gaps" in evolutionary theory.

`Gaps' don't disprove theory

Scientists do not dispute these "gaps" -- one of the tenets of science is that its conclusions are tentative, that further examination and experimentation may provide a more detailed or a different interpretation of data. "Gaps" in knowledge do not prove a particular theory wrong. Instead, such points of debate drive science forward. Asking students to weigh a scientific theory against something that is not science is as meaningless as comparing apples and oranges. Science class is the wrong venue for studying intelligent design.

Fair is unconvinced.

"This case hasn't settled anything," he said, adding that although he had not read the Pennsylvania ruling, he was offended by it because it questioned the motives of the board members because they were Christians.

Yet Kenneth Miller, whose testimony incisively and systematically refuted the claims of intelligent design proponents, is a scientist who has publicly written about his belief in "a divine intelligence." In his ruling, Jones wrote that supporters of intelligent design "make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false ... that evolution theory is antithetical to the belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general."

Clergy back evolution

As of this week, more than 10,000 clergy members have signed "An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science," in which they state that "the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as `one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance. ... We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge."

And perhaps with a bit of planned irony, the organizers of the Clergy Letter Project are encouraging their signers to preach about or lead discussions of science or evolution on Sunday, Feb. 12 -- Charles Darwin's birthday.


Observer columnist Kay McSpadden is a high school English teacher in York, S.C. Write her c/o The Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308 or by e-mail at kmcspadden@comporium.net.

Institute lacks credibility



L.E. Phillips quotes me, in my letter on the age of mankind, as saying "no credible scientist believes in creationism or the theory of intelligent design." Not true: I said no credible scientist believes in a young Earth.

Gary Hardin criticizes me for not saying what is misleading about the textbook disclaimer. However, that has been well covered and the Advertiser limits us to about 250 words a letter. Then Hardin seems to chastise me for my addressing the Advertiser's statement on the age of mankind. However, I disagreed with the Advertiser on that issue.

Both Phillips and Hardin imply that there are plenty of scientists who are creationists. Hardin refers to an online paper by a D. Russell Humphreys, Ph.D. I found that article and it appears to have been published by the Institute for Creation Research.

The fact is that creationists have made almost no imprint in the actual scientific literature with regard to evolution. The Discovery Institute does not so much present any theory of intelligent design as it merely revives old attacks on Darwinian evolution and pretends they are new. The Creation Research Institute that Hardin seems to think so much of is a bad joke.

Jim Cargal

In support of Christianity and teaching intelligent design


Published: December 29, 2005 11:03 pm

In regard to the scientific evidence the evolutionists have as to fossils, all fossils man has ever found could be laid on a billiard table, with room to spare.

There is no fossil record of any animal and definitely none concerning man, showing either came from anything other than their own kind, man from man, lion from lion, monkey from monkey, etc. The facts do not lie. Look in the mirror. Do you really think the eye you are looking out of and into just happened by chance? Is the earth tilted at just the right angle to sustain life? Is the amount of oxygen in the air just exactly the right amount for life? Is the sun just the right distance to ensure life will go on? Do you really believe these things just came about by chance?

Maybe you should check out the real scientific evidence. Even Darwin had grave doubts about his theory of evolution, mainly because of the lack of fossil evidence.

Donald E. Carper


Design intelligent thinkers through education system



Friday, December 30, 2005 1:08 AM PST

Regarding Judge Jones' decision in the Dover, Pa. intelligent design case (Register, Dec. 21), I would like to pose a question: What's wrong with making students aware of differing interpretations of the distant past, along with their attendant difficulties and problems? The answer is: absolutely nothing.

Actually, it is simply a normal part of a well-rounded education to be informed in a neutral setting of the various viewpoints current in any particular discipline. That is how students learn how to think (if indeed that is our goal), rather than what to think. To fail to expose students to the real discussions and controversies going on in society is to practice indoctrination rather than education.

It is not the role of government in a free society to advocate particular beliefs or to impose them on the citizenry through the government education systems, as is being done today with evolution. In a free society, free people make personal decisions as to what they will believe based on their upbringing, their assessment of the evidence, and their overall worldview. This all presupposes honest, objective discussion and interaction, recognizing that we all have our preferences and biases. That's part of being free -- you get to decide for yourself. In a tyranny of whatever form, however, government decides what beliefs are acceptable and permitted, and excludes all others.

It's worth remembering that freedom of religion was one of the major motivations behind the formation of this nation. What freedom of religion has meant in America is that government is not free to advocate beliefs, not free to indoctrinate, not free to control or try to control thought. That's what we mean by "America."

Frankly, I can't think of any reason why government in America should insist that evolution is the only acceptable understanding of origins. That is taking sides in what amounts to a religious dispute about the proper interpretation of evidence of the past. In such a matter, why should government advocate the views of one party of Americans against the views of another party of Americans? In a free society, why should government be in the origins business at all? It's an unavoidably religious topic.

Unfortunately, Judge Jones apparently doesn't understand the foregoing, and he decided that even a brief mention of intelligent design violates "the constitutional separation of church and state." But does it, really? It's a good question, because there is no mention of "separation of church and state" in the Constitution (let me know if you find it), so I guess it's one of those doctrines that can mean whatever the judges want at the moment. But if as your basis for a Constitutional decision you appeal to something that's not in the Constitution, the decision is fundamentally flawed from the outset. It should make us suspicious. What is in the first Amendment, though, is the requirement that the government do nothing to "prohibit the free exercise" of religion. This is in the Constitution because the American people value religion and value freedom of religion and don't want government telling them what they are supposed to believe. In a free society, government has other jobs.

The judge reveals his personal bias when he says that design "violates the centuries old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation." That's the philosophy of materialism, the belief system behind evolution; everything must have a natural cause. In other words, design is not permitted even if it is a good explanation; it is ruled out before looking at the evidence. But real science investigates reality without deciding the results ahead of time. So the judge's decision imposes his philosophy rather than the law. The real reason for the ruling is that design violates the philosophy of materialism, but there is no law against it.

Personally, I believe that getting life out of a mud puddle spontaneously purely by chance is plain impossible; it never happened. That's why there is no evidence. But since there is no evidence for this foundational evolutionary belief, it's not science, it's just a belief. If someone wants to choose that belief freely, fine, it's a free country. But government should not be advocating a particular belief at taxpayer expense to the exclusion of others.

So what's the solution? Simply teach the known facts, but in government institutions don't insist on or advocate a particular interpretation of the past, whether evolution or creation. Leave the students and the citizenry to make up their own minds.

(Protz lives in Napa.)

Intelligent Design: Skeptical Thoughts about the Skepticism


by Gordon Brumm

Never learned much biology. . . . But as time went on I came to understand that the accepted principles of a field of study contain, along with the true and profound, a certain amount of enshrined obtuseness bordering on stupidity. (The professions of academia and journalism are the chief examples in my catalogue, but there is no reason to believe that the sciences are exempt.) So there may be some advantage in looking at the Intelligent Design controversy from the outside.

When I looked at the controversy I expected to see the biologists and other scientists mounting impeccable arguments against Intelligent Design. After all, they claim to occupy the intellectual high ground, defending reason and science against the blind dogmatism of religionists. But I was disappointed. The scientists' arguments in some cases were shaky, and the scientists often seemed to expect the lay person to agree with their arguments simply because they came out of the mouths of scientists. In addition, a few objections to their position occurred to me independently, and I found no answer in what I heard. So I still have my doubts and skeptical questions, and these are what I will lay out in this column and the next one. I welcome good answers, if any are forthcoming.

I have no religious stake in the controversy. My only interest is clear and critical thinking, and I don't want to see one dogma attacked in the name of another.

First, a plague on both houses:

Evolution vs. natural selection. Evolution is one thing; natural selection is another. Evolution is the parade of the species through time, each species growing in some way out of what went before. Natural selection is the supposed means by which evolution comes about -- a process in which random mutation causes some slight change in a few individuals of a species and this change allows the individuals to thrive in its environment (nature "selects" these newcomers over their rivals) and eventually constitute a new and different species. Again, evolution and natural selection are two different processes, and the evidence that counts for one is different from the evidence that counts for the other. The evidence for evolution lies in the fossils of past species. The evidence for natural selection, as I understand it, lies mainly in the observable change in species in response to changes in their environment.

Furthermore, , Intelligent Design is compatible with evolution. (I.e., evolution could have been accomplished through Intelligent Design.) So the battle is not between Intelligent Design and evolution, but between Intelligent Design and natural selection.

That is why I am astounded and appalled to find evolution and natural selection thoroughly confused by those on both sides of the controversy. Generally, "evolution" is used to refer to both evolution and natural selection, with no effort to distinguish between the two, and no recognition that different kinds of evidence are relevant to the one and the other. So whether by intention or not, the evidence for evolution is used to support natural selection, or vice versa. The media follow along. For example, a recent article in The New York Times Week in Review spoke of "intelligent design as a challenge to evolution," and in several other places opposed evolution to Intelligent Design. (There are exceptions, to be sure. For example, Edward O. Wilson got it right when he spoke of "evolution by natural selection.")

To my mind, evolution is established fact, beyond any doubt. Not so natural selection. The basic question is: What has caused evolution? Is it natural selection? Or Intelligent Design? Or something else?

All of my comments and questions, therefore, refer to the battle between Intelligent Design and natural selection (not evolution). I begin with a claim that opponents of Intelligent Design see as settling the dispute once and for all, at least in the educational arena.

-- Intelligent design is not and cannot be science, because science is concerned solely with natural, observable events, not the supernatural. This is probably the scientists' most sweeping contention. It is clearly false, though the scientists might have a point behind the point.

Science is the fruit of scientific method, so we must take a close look at what the scientific method is. It begins with a hypothesis – a statement, or principle, that generates observable and specific predictions. If the predictions turn out to be true, the hypothesis itself is considered to be true (i.e. verified), and becomes part of established knowledge. If the predictions turn out to be false in whole or part, the hypothesis itself is thereby falsified. When a hypothesis is verified it is often accorded the status of a law. The term "theory" may apply at any stage of verification. (Thus to say that evolution is "just a theory" means nothing and betrays an ignorance of scientific method. The significant question is not what label is applied, but only the degree to which the hypothesis, law or theory has passed the test of verification.)

For example, the law of gravity states that all bodies attract one another. That, along with subordinate principles that specify how strong the attraction is, generate predictions about falling bodies. One of these is that freely falling bodies on the surface of the Earth will accelerate downward at a certain rate (32 ft. per second/second, if I remember correctly.) This prediction can be verified by observation, that is, we can look at freely falling bodies, measure their rate of acceleration, and determine whether the prediction is true or not. As a matter of fact, the predictions have turned out to be true. Thus the law of gravity has been verified. It is part of our body of knowledge.

But please note that the law of gravity itself is not an observable event, not part of nature. It is a principle, an idea. It resides, if anywhere, in the minds of those who think about it. The observables are the bodies falling at a certain rate in accordance with gravity, not the law that explains their fall.

The same holds true for an Intelligent Designer as explanation for the evolution of the species. One could formulate a hypothesis about the Intelligent Designer and draw predictions from it; if these predictions turned out to be true the Intelligent Design hypothesis would be acceptable as proven science. Of course, the Intelligent Design hypothesis would be different from the law of gravity in that the cause it appeals to would be a supernatural entity, rather than an abstract principle as in the case of gravity. But what of it? The sole function of science is to explain observable events. How the observable events are explained – as long as the explanation is adequate and consistent – is irrelevant. To exclude any possible explanation from consideration before it is tested is simply bad science.

What would an Intelligent Design hypothesis look like? (There might be a classroom exercise here.) It would of course assert that an Intelligent Designer exists and would generate predictions about the Intelligent Designer's effect in the world. These predictions would have to concern the future, not the past (otherwise they wouldn't be predictions), and for all practical purposes they would have to be general in form. Here's a rough possible example: "An all-powerful Intelligent Designer exists and has designed all the species so that every living creature enjoys complete happiness." To test the predictions generated by this hypothesis we would need a definition of "complete happiness" in terms of specific observable events. This is a tall order, but it's no more a challenge than the science of psychology faces (thus behaviorism). In any case, the point is irrelevant because on any conceivable definition of happiness, the hypothesis is false. But it gives some idea of what an Intelligent Design hypothesis might look like.

To my knowledge, no Intelligent Design proponent has formulated such a hypothesis, much less tried to verify it by testing its predictions. And in the absence of such an effort Intelligent Design remains only incipient science, or pseudo-science. But the mere fact that such an effort hasn't succeeded (or even been tried) doesn't mean that it couldn't be tried and couldn't be successful. Intelligent Design is not inherently or essentially unscientific.

But here's the point behind the point: It might be that intelligent design advocates don't care about predictions of observable events, because they just presume that an intelligent designer has caused all evolutionary changes. If that is the case, the Intelligent Design theory surely is unscientific, for its advocates are substituting their religious beliefs for the scientific method. So we need to be clear about what Intelligent Design advocates claim.

So far they seem to be content with the argument from irreducible complexity, which holds that living organisms are so complex that they couldn't possible have arisen through natural selection. This, as far as I can see, is not an effort to propose a hypothesis and test it; rather, it's an attempt to knock down someone else's hypothesis. Furthermore, the scientists seem to be doing pretty well in refuting it. In any case, it refers to the realm of observables, and can't be counted out as inherently or essentially unscientific.

Here are two more arguments made on behalf of natural selection:

-- If we abandon the doctrine of evolution through natural selection, we abandon the basic framework of all biology. This seems to be an extravagant claim, but even if it is true, so what? So much the worse for the basic framework of all biology if it must rely on a blind (should I say religious?) faith in evolution through natural selection.

Furthermore, it has become a truism that science advances through "paradigm shifts," the old framework being abandoned in favor of the new – e.g., the Newtonian paradigm replacing the Aristotelian. If this is true, then the true enemies of science are those who cling without justification to the old paradigm.

-- We see natural selection occurring all around us, as seen in the evolution of viruses and bacteria under attack by medications. This is true. When we take medication to combat viruses or bacteria – and especially when we stop taking the medication before we should -- some of these pathogens survive the medication Perhaps a random mutation serves to protect them, though I don't see how anyone can tell, and since the surviving pathogens are better suited to the environment than their fellow organisms, they survive and thrive. Thus we have a new strain that is resistant to our medication.

But what does this have to do with the evolution of species? The battle of the bacteria may offer us a rough illustration of how natural selection works, but it offers little if anything by way of proof. For we have one particular type of situation – and an artificial one at that, in which the agent of selection and evolution is introduced by human agents. (Ironically, human agents in this case play a role somewhat analogous to that of the Intelligent Designer.) To take this as evidence for a process of natural selection occurring in radically different environments, thousands or millions of years ago, involving quite different kinds of organisms, is a gross overgeneralization.

In the next issue I will bring up a few more questions and questionable points, including the story of the manipulated moth.

12.54 PM / 30th December 2005.


Robert L. Park Friday, 30 Dec 05 Washington, DC


"It is ironic that these individuals, who so proudly touted their religious convictions in public would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy." From the Jones opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover school Board.


The journal Science, made an inspired selection this year. But what really motivated all the work that has gone into showing how evolution works? Is there one great motivator out there?


In the 150 years since Darwin published his brilliant insight, there has never been another year like this. Books on evolution are tumbling out of the presses; networks are making TV specials; natural history museums are racing to create Darwin exhibits. All because one organization was able to come up with catchy phrases like "only a theory" and "a design must have a designer." The Discovery Institute deserves an award, they made it happen.


Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org

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