NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 January 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Science under attack from the Right


SF Alim 1/7/2006

Is the theory of evolution perfect? The Darwinian Theory of evolution, which provided an explanation for the origin of the different species in the animal kingdom, had an obvious bearing on the origin of man himself. But such explanation was instantly at odds with the traditional beliefs and the religious interpretation of life and its origin. The opposition of the clergy to the theory of evolution was more intense than what it was to the Copernican heliocentric model of the movement of the Earth and other heavenly bodies in the firmament that destroyed the geocentric Ptolemaic concept of the universe. Needless to say, the geocentric concept of the universe was more at home with the Biblical interpretation of the origin of the universe and that of man. The traditionalists and the clergy were, therefore, happy with the Ptolemaic view of the world. In a similar vein, the heavenly origin of man came under serious scrutiny with the appearance of the Darwinian concept of evolution. Unsurprisingly, after the Copernican model of the universe had pulled down man's heavenly abode, the Darwin's theory of evolution proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the scriptural worldview that man had no connection with stream of life on earth. Naturally, the reaction from the Right became more vigorous after this new theory about the origin of man again dispossessed him of all his divine inheritance.

It was about a century and half ago that the Darwinian theory of evolution was propounded. It was a time when the age of reason was at its pinnacle and hence science then dominated human thought, though technology, the daughter of science, was still in its early childhood. But after all these years when the scientific world is in the midst of a technological revolution, science has been growingly coming under fire from the Right. The new reaction against science is again being played out against the Darwinian theory of evolution. However, the anti-evolutionary discourse of the nineteenth century has also undergone a sweeping change in line with the revolution in technology. The fruits of scientific research is now being used to spread the negative propaganda against one of the keystones of modern scientific thought-the theory of evolution. And that is happening, of all places on earth, in America-the heartland of modern science and technology.

Unlike in the early stage of the evolution theory when the argument against the new concept appealed more to emotion born of faith than to scientific reasoning, the current trend is to question the validity of the evolutionary concept itself by demanding infallible evidences in support of the theory. If no such foolproof argument or evidence is available then the theory itself should be suspect. True, there are many ifs in the theory of evolution which have no immediate answer. But then what theory in any branch of knowledge is infallible? In fact, science itself is based on some basic assumptions which are accepted universally by all rational minds. Still the proof of the scientific theories' relative superiority over the alternative propositions available in the traditional beliefs is that they (the scientific theories) work and that the modern technological marvels have largely been due to those scientific theories, though they are not absolutely perfect as demanded by the their detractors on the Right. Now let us have a look at what is happening in the foremost country of the world where science has so far enjoyed its greatest patronage and witnessed its most phenomenal achievements. Peter Selvin, staff writer of the Washington Post, reported some six months back how the political Right has been organising a well-orchestrated campaign to replace the theory of evolution with the idea of intelligent design of life and the universe:

"Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution

The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian Theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.

The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial-in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution-it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.

They are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution. Sharing strong convictions, deep pockets and impressive political credentials-if not always the same goals-the activists are building a sizable network.

In Seattle, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls and media pieces supporting intelligent design. In Fort Lauderdale, Christian evangelist James Kennedy established a Creation Studies Institute. In Virginia, Liberty University is sponsoring the Creation Mega Conference with a Kentucky group called Answers in Genesis, which raised $9 million in 2003.

At the state and local level, from South Carolina to California, these advocates are using lawsuits and school board debates to counter evolutionary theory. Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio have approved new rules allowing that. And a school board member in a Tennessee county wants stickers pasted on textbooks that say evolution remains unproven.

A prominent effort is underway in Kansas, where the state Board of Education intends to revise teaching standards. That would be progress, Southern Baptist minister Terry Fox said, because "most people in Kansas don't think we came from monkeys."

The movement is "steadily growing," said Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution. "The energy level is new. The religious right has had an effect nationally. Now, by golly, they want to call in the chits."

Not Science, Politics

Polls show that a large majority of Americans believe God alone created man or had a guiding hand. Advocates invoke the First Amendment and say the current campaigns are partly about respect for those beliefs.

"It's an academic freedom proposal. What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism," said the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, who believes evolution alone cannot explain life's unfurling. "We are interested in seeing that spread state by state across the country."

Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards. Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record) (R-Pa.), a Christian who draws on Discovery Institute material, drafted language accompanying the law that said students should be exposed to "the full range of scientific views that exist."

"Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy," Santorum said in an interview. "My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had."

Although the new strategy speaks of "teaching the controversy" over evolution, opponents insist the controversy is not scientific, but political. They paint the approach as a disarming subterfuge designed to undermine solid evidence that all living things share a common ancestry.

"The movement is a veneer over a certain theological message. Every one of these groups is now actively engaged in trying to undercut sound science education by criticizing evolution," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It is all based on their religious ideology. Even the people who don't specifically mention religion are hard-pressed with a straight face to say who the intelligent designer is if it's not God."

Although many backers of intelligent design oppose the biblical account that God created the world in six days, the Christian right is increasingly mobilized, Baylor University scholar Barry G. Hankins said. He noted the recent hiring by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Discovery Institute scholar and prominent intelligent design proponent William A. Dembski.

The seminary said the move, along with the creation of a Center for Science and Theology, was central to developing a "comprehensive Christian worldview."

"As the Christian right has success on a variety of issues, it emboldens them to expand their agenda," Hankins said. "When they have losses . . . it gives them fuel for their fire."

Science had already faced its worst in the earlier centuries. But its onward march has never stopped. It is unfortunate that even in this twenty-first century science is again in the dock for the wrong reason. Though such attack on science will always remain a curiosity rather than a serious concern, the defenders of reason and knowledge will have to remain on guard all the same.

Evolution education update: January 6, 2006

As the New Year gets underway, things in Dover, Pennsylvania, are returning to normal, the panel hearing the appeal of Selman v. Cobb County declares that it was not misled by the lawyers in the case, and NCSE's Kevin Padian and Nick Matzke are pondering the backlash to the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Also, as my New Year's resolution, I plan to use the date, rather than a prolix description, in the subject lines of these updates.


With the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover rendered, the town of Dover, Pennsylvania, seems to be returning to normal. In its meeting on January 4, 2006, the Dover Area School Board voted 7-1 not to appeal the decision. The board also voted 8-0 to rescind the change to the district's ninth-grade biology curriculum, requiring that "[s]tudents will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design," that prompted the lawsuit.

The sole vote against appealing the decision was that of Heather Geesey, the only current member of the board to have been on the board when the change was enacted. Although Geesey initially supported the change, the York Daily Record (January 4, 2006) reported that she was silent during the vote to rescind it, and her silence was accordingly counted by the board's secretary as a vote in favor of the motion.

Geesey is the sole supporter of the change remaining on the board; eight incumbents on the board, all of whom supported it, lost in the November 2005 election. Due to a voting machine malfunction, however, it was not settled whether incumbent James Cashman lost his seat to Bryan Rehm, one of the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller, until January 4, when Rehm prevailed in a special election in the precinct with the faulty machine, the York Daily Record (January 4, 2006) reported.

In February, the board will consider a new revision of the district's biology curriculum, which the science department at Dover High School started to develop at the end of the last school year; "intelligent design" is not mentioned in it. Teacher Jen Miller told the York Daily Record that she was thinking about restoring lessons on evolution that she omitted in 2004, and was quoted by the Associated Press (January 4, 2006) as saying, "I will feel comfortable again teaching what I'd always felt comfortable teaching."

For NCSE's collection of information on Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/kitzmiller

For the York Daily Record's story about the board's vote, visit: http://www.ydr.com/doverbiology/ci_3370630

For the York Daily Record's story about the special election, visit: http://www.ydr.com/doverbiology/ci_3370547

For the Associated Press's story about the board's vote (via CNN), visit: http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/01/04/evolution.showdown.ap/


During the oral arguments in the appeal of Selman v. Cobb County -- the case in which the trial court determined that the evolution warning labels affixed to textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia, schools violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause -- Judge Ed Carnes took issue with the claim that a petition organized by a local creationist parent, Marjorie Rogers, affected the school board's decision to require the stickers, contending that the petition was dated six months after the decision. Carnes, one of the three judges on the panel considering the school board's appeal of the trial court's decision, went so far as to suggest that the ACLU's lawyer Jeffrey Bramlett might have misled the court about the petition.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (January 5, 2006), in a December 22, 2005, letter to the court, Bramlett apologized for a miscitation in the appellate brief and conceded that the March 2002 version of Rogers's petition was not in fact submitted into evidence during the trial. But he noted that two people -- the superintendent of the Cobb County schools and Rogers herself -- testified that the board was given the petition in March 2002, before it adopted the evolution disclaimers. The Journal-Constitution added that it published contemporaneous stories indicating that the petition was in play in March 2002 and that a reporter from the newspaper examined the petition at the offices of the school system.

In a ruling issued on January 4, 2006, the court took the unusual step of exonerating the lawyers on both sides for the confusion about the date of the petition, writing, "The attorneys on both sides might have been more careful in their advocacy relating to this issue, which would have assisted the Court. The Court, however, does not find that counsel misled it or attempted to do so. We issue this order to remove any implication that either counsel did." The ruling emphasized that it took no position "whether any findings by the district court about the timing of the petition were clearly erroneous, which is the governing standard of review; the time and place for announcing any decisions about that will be in the opinion this Court issues."

There are indications that the questions surrounding the petition may continue to play a role in the case, however. Despite the trial testimony and press reports, Linwood Gunn, the lawyer representing the Cobb County school board, told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that "I have my doubts" about the existence of the March 2002 version of the petition, and the court's interim ruling pointedly commented, "Parts of the trial record concerning the petition are puzzling." The Fulton County Daily Report, a legal newspaper, reported (January 5, 2006) that both Bramlett and Gunn "allowed that such a tendentious wrangle, in appeals, over basic facts of a case was unusual."

For the story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, visit: http://www.ajc.com/news/content/metro/cobb/stories/0105metsticker.html

For the story in the Fulton County Daily Report, visit: http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1136384632075

For NCSE's story on the oral arguments in Selman, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/GA/997_emselmanem_appeal_heard_12_16_2005.asp

And for NCSE's collection of information on Selman v. Cobb County, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/selman


In a new opinion piece on NCSE's website, Kevin Padian and Nick Matzke comment on the reaction of the "intelligent design" movement's de facto headquarters, the Discovery Institute, to the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Unsurprised by the torrent of vilification of Judge Jones, Padian and Matzke comment, "The fact is, the Discovery Institute took a terrible beating in this trial. 'Intelligent Design,' their main industry, which they have peddled relentlessly for over a decade as the Next Great Idea in science, was revealed as religion, not science at all. The DI's 'wedge strategy' was exposed and established as a crypto-fundamentalist Christian ideology of politics and social change."

They conclude, "Turn out the lights. The fat lady has sung. The emperor of ID has no clothes. The bluff is over. Oh sure, they'll continue to pump out the blather. ... But no one with any objectivity will take them seriously any longer as scientists. They had their fair chance, and they blew it." Padian is professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, curator of paleontology at the University of California Museum of Paleontology, and president of NCSE's board of directors; he testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Matzke is a Public Information Project Director for NCSE; he consulted extensively with the plaintiffs' legal team before and during the trial.

To read Padian and Matzke's essay, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/127_discovery_institute_tries_to__1_4_2006.asp

And for NCSE's collection of information on Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/kitzmiller


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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

Evo-devo next big thing, not intelligent design


Jan. 7, 2006. 01:00 AM JAY INGRAM

It seems that scientists are taking the offensive in the controversial issue of evolution versus intelligent design. And it's none too soon.

Intelligent design (ID), the creationism of the 21st century, has grabbed headlines, as school boards across the United States considered adding it to high school science courses or textbooks, on the pretext that it represents an alternative to the Darwinian theory of evolution.

But the ideas are not alternatives. Of all the coverage of intelligent design, very little actually explored the differences between ID and science. Now, those crucial differences are being highlighted in recent articles in Science, Natural History and Skeptical Inquirer.

It really all comes down to evidence. A scientific theory, like evolution, stands or falls on the basis of the evidence gathered for or against it. ID claims to have collected evidence against evolution, but those claims — how can something as complex as this have evolved by random mutations? — are mere words. The proponents offer no detailed scenarios for the creation of complex living systems, except that some unidentified "designer" must have had a hand in it. But, there are no artist's initials, no trademark of creation, just the excuse that evolution couldn't have generated it.

Some of the flaws inherent in ID have already been exposed. If the designer was intelligent, then why do imperfections abound? As philosopher Daniel Dennett has pointed out, the human eye is built backwards, with the light-gathering retina positioned behind a meshwork of nerves and blood vessels. It's like watching your TV from behind. That awkwardness is perfectly understandable in terms of the gradual evolution of the eye of today from a simple patch of light-sensitive tissue, but by design? It seems not.

The fact is that nothing ID has suggested can be disproved, and by definition, that makes it unscientific.

But at the same time as ID stirs the same pot over and over, the science of evolution moves on. Science magazine selected dramatic evolutionary advances as its annual "breakthrough of the year." One such advance was a variety of studies showing just how easily a single species, anything from a bird to a fruit fly, can split into two, based on subtle signals that promote or inhibit mating.

Another was the sequencing of the chimp genome, an achievement that revealed that even though we only differ by about 2 per cent of our DNA, there are substantial differences in the way that DNA is arranged. The evolutionary history of our divergence from those chimps, about 6 million years ago, is written in these genomes, and will be read.

There is a new area of science that is shedding completely new light on evolution. It is "evo-devo," evolutionary-developmental biology.

Its combination of embryology and genetics has revealed the common ground between the shape and form of organisms as diverse as humans and fruit flies. As unbelievable as it might sound, the same tool kit of genes that directs the development of the fruit fly is used throughout the living world.

These are not the genes that dictate the structures of things, from the wings of the fly to the arms of a human, but are rather controller genes, which determine when and where in the embryo developmental events will take place.

The seven vertebrae in the backbone of a chick and the hundreds in a snake are controlled by the same set of genes. There was no need for someone to create a special set of snake-backbone genes.

The most remarkable thing is that most of these bodybuilding genes were in place long before the modern organisms that make use of them evolved.

The fact that the minute changes in the genomes of organisms can, over unimaginably long times, lead to the emergence of new species is difficult to grasp.

That doesn't make it wrong.

Evolution is moving ahead. Intelligent design is not.

One is science. The other is not.

Jay Ingram hosts Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel.

Law center that defended "intelligent design" ponders next move


By MARTHA RAFFAELE The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The legal fight over "intelligent design" in Pennsylvania is over, but will it resurface in another state?

Last week, the Dover Area School Board rescinded a policy requiring intelligent design to be mentioned as an alternative to evolution in high school biology class. It also formally severed its relationship with the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian-rights organization in Ann Arbor, Mich., by voting not to appeal a federal judge's ruling against the policy.

The vote came two weeks after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III determined that intelligent design - which holds that the universe is so complex it must have been created by an intelligent force - is religious and not scientific. Jones deemed the board's adoption of the policy in October 2004 an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

Richard Thompson, the law center's president and chief counsel, said the board's decision disappointed him.

"They stopped the game at the end of the fifth inning," he said.

Now, Thompson is turning his attention to the Gull Lake Community Schools in Richland, Mich., where administrators barred two middle-school teachers from teaching intelligent design after a parent complained in 2004. In April, he sent a letter to the school board president threatening to sue.

Thompson said he plans to meet with the teachers and discuss whether to follow through with litigation.

One of the teachers, Dawn Wendzel, said she cannot even define the concept for her seventh-grade students. If they ask her about it, she tells them it has nothing to do with science.

"As far as my academic freedom goes, that's being stifled," Wendzel said.

Gull Lake Superintendent Rich Ramsey said Jones' opinion reinforces the administration's view that intelligent design does not belong in science class.

"I don't think intelligent design ought to be banned from being talked about. It has value in the appropriate setting," such as a social-studies class, Ramsey said.

Jones' ruling directly affects only the Dover school board, whose composition changed after voters ousted a majority of incumbents who supported intelligent design in the November school board election. They were replaced with candidates who campaigned on removing it from the science curriculum.

But Eric Rothschild, the lead attorney for eight families who sued the school board, said the decision should motivate other school districts to think twice before enacting similar policies.

"Given the nature of the trial, which was a thorough inspection of the issues of intelligent design and opposition to evolution that is part of the intelligent-design movement, it should be powerfully influential and persuasive to other school districts exploring this issue," Rothschild said.

The new Dover school board still must contend with one item of unfinished business - paying the plaintiffs' legal fees, which their attorneys estimated will exceed $1 million.

During the board's Tuesday meeting, one resident suggested sending the bill to the Thomas More Law Center, saying it would be "poetic justice."

School board solicitor Stephen Russell, whom the new board has directed to negotiate the legal fees with the plaintiffs' attorneys, doesn't see that happening.

"I don't think they'll pay a penny of it," Russell said.

Martha Raffaele covers education for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. She can be reached at mraffaele(at)ap.org.

January 7, 2006 12:15 PM

©2006 Copyright Calkins Media, Inc

The Origin of Life? All in a Day's Work

For Some Scientists, It's a Race to the Start

By Joel Achenbach Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 8, 2006;

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. And He said: Let there be Chemistry.

And he looked upon the Chemistry and He saw that it was good. And then He said: Wait, we need more carbon. Also more water. Tap is fine.

Soon there was something new upon the waters of the Earth, this thing called Life. It oozed, multiplied, diversified. It learned to swim, crawl, even fly. Eventually a new form of life appeared, a creature large of brain, compulsively inquisitive, with an obsession for asking the really big, hairy, gnarly questions, such as: Where did I come from?

That's when things got really complicated.

* * *

There is a tendency to think of science as a series of established facts and consensual theories -- "a bunch of things we know, to be memorized," in the words of Robert Hazen, the science popularizer and researcher into the origin of life.

What Hazen will tell you is that science is actually a very human enterprise. It's full of unknowns and uncertainties, of raging controversies, of passions and prejudices. Of all the great unknowns, the origin of life is particularly daunting. Direct evidence of the origin is essentially nonexistent: It happened too long ago, in too subtle a way. There's no fossil of the First Microbe. If there were, some skeptical scientist would surely raise a ruckus, saying: That's just a blob of mud.

The field has attracted people with strong personalities. They argue. They grumble. They snipe. Their debates are much more intense, and more grounded in the rules of science, than the much-hyped debate about evolution and intelligent design.

They are wrestling with basic questions: What is life, exactly? Does it always require liquid water and those long Tinkertoy carbon molecules? Does life require a cell? Did life begin with a hereditary molecule or with some kind of metabolic chemical reaction? Where did life begin on Earth? Was there a single moment that could be described as the "origin of life," or did life sort of creep into existence gradually?

All that is very much in play. In the words of George Cody, an origin-of-life researcher, "No one knows anything about the origin of life."

At the risk of absurdly oversimplifying, there are two prominent schools of thought in the origin-of-life (OOL) community: The Millerites and the ventists.

The Millerites follow in the footsteps of Stanley Miller, the mastermind of the most famous experiment in the history of the field. In 1952, working under Harold Urey at the University of Chicago, Miller created a laboratory analogue of the young Earth. One five-inch-diameter flask held water, mimicking the primordial ocean, heated by a gentle flame. A larger flask held a mixture of gases -- methane, ammonia and hydrogen -- representing a hypothetical early atmosphere. Miller zapped the atmosphere with electricity (lightning). The next day he discovered that his clear "ocean" water had turned yellow, and a brown gunk had appeared around the electrodes. The simple experiment, repeated over many days, produced organic molecules, including amino acids, some of the building blocks of life.

This was a long way from making life in a test tube -- the simplest organism is vastly more complicated than anything in the Miller-Urey experiment -- but it set a template for the field of prebiotic chemistry. Miller made chemistry look like a powerfully creative force.

The ventists are apostates. They are blasphemers. Perhaps life didn't begin at the surface of the Earth, they say, but rather deep beneath the sea around a hydrothermal vent. Such geysers form along mid-ocean ridges, spewing hot water into a dark, cold, pressurized realm that teems with bizarre organisms, like giant clams and 6-foot tube worms. The ventists say the disequilibrium between the hot and cold water is a natural driver of interesting chemical reactions. This would be a good place to cook up organic molecules from which life could emerge and evolve, they say. Moreover, the deep hydrothermal environment would have been protected from harsh ultraviolet sunlight and the meteor bombardments common at the surface of the young Earth.

In other words, it's where we humans live, on the surface, that might be the truly exotic environment. Perhaps life's miracle is not that it learned to live at the bottom of the sea, but somehow in the sunshine.

* * *

On a knoll of bedrock on the edge of Rock Creek Park, tucked on a back street called Broad Branch Road, is a little scientific fiefdom called the Carnegie Institution. On the third floor of the Geophysical Lab you'll find the aforementioned Robert Hazen -- a proud ventist.

You may have read one of his 19 books (such as "Science Matters," written with James Trefil), or taken one of his science classes at George Mason University. Or maybe you've seen him play classical trumpet in a symphony orchestra. He's somewhat all over the place as scientists go. About a decade ago, after years as a crystallographer, studying rocks, he turned his attention to the origin of life.

The result is a new book, "genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin," a rambling tour of a controversial field. We learn about the theory of A.G. Cairns-Smith, that life began as clay. We learn about the Iron-Sulfur World of the German patent attorney and chemist Gunter Wachtershauser, described as quick to fire off an angry letter on legal stationery. We learn about the Protenoid World, championed by the late Sidney Fox, who cooked up in a lab tiny spheres that he thought possessed "rudimentary consciousness."

Amid all the chemistry are scenes of scientific rancor, as when Hazen describes a face-off between two scientists, Martin Brasier and William Schopf, over some alleged 3.5-billion-year-old fossils:

"As Brasier calmly outlined his arguments, the scene on stage shifted from awkwardly tense to utterly bizarre. We watched amazed as Schopf paced forward to a position just a few feet to the right of the speaker's podium. He leaned sharply toward Brazier and seemed to glare, his eyes boring holes in the unperturbed speaker."

Hazen writes that the origin-of-life field is "at times tarnished by questionable data, contentious debates, or even outright quackery."

Now you can see how all this might get a bit delicate given the current debate about intelligent design. Hazen knows that by exposing the backstage bickering on the origin of life, he may give ammunition to the critics of the scientific community: "Anything I say that shows any uncertainty or doubt, they will use as evidence that scientists are baffled."

His friend Harold Morowitz, another prominent origins researcher, says of Hazen, "He is walking into the middle of a lot of crossfires."

But Hazen has a broader agenda, which is to make science accessible to ordinary people. And perhaps, he seems to be saying, making it more human will help that cause. He doesn't flinch, unlike many scientists, from engaging in verbal battle with the proponents of intelligent design. He doesn't apologize for putting out a book with a title that, except for the fact that it's lowercase, is the same as a much more famous book by a much more revered Author.

"The word 'genesis' has a more generic content. It's everybody's word," Hazen says. "We have just as much ownership over the genesis story as they do, and wanted our story to be heard."

He believes that the universe is hard-wired for the emergence of life. "Emergence" is his buzzword, much more than "evolution." What he sees is inevitable progress from the simplest elements to more complex chemistry, then to life, then to consciousness, and finally to creatures who can comprehend the cosmos. "And if that isn't meaning and purpose, I don't know what is."

Is there a God who hears the prayers of human beings? "Science cannot say yea or nay to that," he says. "Science can't answer questions about faith and the nature of God."

But can religious people accept the scientific take on the cosmos?

"If you wanted to know if the universe has meaning and purpose, wouldn't you be better off studying the universe?"

* * *

Hazen is, at first glance, a prime candidate to represent the scientific view of life's origins. He's good-looking, articulate, passionate, and has collaborated in OOL experiments. He puts interesting samples into contraptions called hydrothermal bombs, and squeezes them at 4,000 atmospheres of pressure at 1,000 degrees Celsius.

But he's also a relative newcomer to a highly contentious field. Some of the old guard, the Millerites, have not welcomed Hazen any more than they've embraced the deep-sea-vent idea.

As Hazen writes, "Miller and his scientific cohort had staked their claim to a surface origin of life, and they seemed determined to systematically head off dissenting opinions."

The Millerites, Hazen reports, relentlessly attacked the theory that life could have begun at ocean vents, saying high temperatures would have destroyed amino acids. Miller called the vent hypothesis "a real loser."

To this day, the Miller camp won't budge.

"This whole hype on hydrothermal systems and everything is just bogus," says Jeff Bada, professor of marine chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego and the most prominent protege of Miller. "I think he oversells this." Bada questions an experiment that Hazen and his colleagues conducted in which they managed, in mimicking deep-sea pressures and temperatures, to create an important biomolecule called pyruvate: "I have some strong questions about whether that experiment is even valid. We haven't been able to repeat it."

Hazen denies overselling anything.

"Bada has for a long time felt he has enemies here. . . . It's been very strained. It's been very antagonistic."

Why is the field so contentious?

Hazen says, "I've heard it said that the less certain we are about a field of knowledge, the louder we have to shout to get our point across. Back when I was doing crystallography, no one shouted. And maybe that's why it was a little boring."

Nothing's ever dull in the OOL world.

Science as an enterprise has persisted and grown over the past half-millennium largely due to its ability to get things right -- eventually. Weak theories wither on the vine, starved for experimental support. Good theories thrive. There's a kind of natural selection at work; even the theory of evolution has evolved, and become stronger, as observation and experiment show how evolution works.

Hazen says, "Ultimately the truth comes out." But some questions are harder than others. Life began on Earth a long time ago, maybe as long as 4 billion years ago. Someone can always show how it could have happened, but as Morowitz puts it, "Will we ever know what happened historically 4 billion years ago? No."

And so the debate over the beginning will probably never come to an end.


Intelligent-design war evolves


State school board may revisit policy in light of ruling

Sunday, January 08, 2006 Catherine Candisky THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Opponents of Ohio's science standards are urging the state Board of Education to scrap the 3-year-old guidelines, arguing that they promote the teaching of intelligent design in highschool biology class.

Critics hope the board will reconsider the long-debated standards this week at its first meeting since a federal judge outlawed instruction of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in the Dover, Pa., school district.

"I think the ruling is a wake-up call to our board that we are out of compliance, at least in that judge's opinion," said Robin C. Hovis, a board member from Millersburg.

"I think it would be very unfortunate of us to subject the state of Ohio to costly litigation."

Behind-the-scenes lobbying involving those on both sides of the issue has intensified as Tuesday's board meeting approaches. Critics are hosting rallies tonight and Monday in Columbus as they push board members to adopt a resolution to remove the controversial provisions from the standards.

While Hovis and others say they support such a resolution, the board is clearly divided.

Board President Sue Westendorf, of Bowling Green, said members can bring up the issue but it's not on the board's agenda and she thinks there are more pressing concerns.

Plans for the board to be briefed on the Dover decision in executive session were scrapped after state attorneys advised Westendorf that because the state doesn't face pending or imminent litigation, there are no legal grounds for a secret meeting.

"I'm not sure this is something that needs to be addressed," Westendorf said.

Eric C. Okerson, a board member from Cincinnati, agrees.

"There are people committed to both sides of this issue. (The standards and lesson plan) were clearly a compromise, and I don't think a particularly offensive one."

Okerson said he doesn't think Ohio's standards contain the same flaws as Dover's.

"Ours is pretty innocuous . . . it does not mandate the teaching and testing of intelligent design," Okerson said. "The injustice is that it invites critical analysis of evolution, but it's not as egregious in my mind as i think the record in the (Dover) case."

Ohio's standards say students should be able to "describe how scientists today continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Also included is a disclaimer that the standards do not "mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design."

In a victory for opponents of teaching intelligent design as science, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III last month found that the Dover school board violated the U.S. Constitution when it ordered that students be taught the notion that life is so complex that an unnamed intelligence must have played a role.

Jones, in a 139-page decision, said intelligent design is not science but creationism, a religious theory, and that teaching it in public school violates the separation of church and state.

While the Harrisburg judge's decision can't be enforced outside the Pennsylvania district, critics of Ohio's standards say the state is inviting a lawsuit.

"The Dover decision is a clear message for school boards everywhere that you can't promote the teaching of intelligent design," said Joseph Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which joined the American Civil Liberties Union in suing the Dover board.

Americans United attorneys are reviewing documents obtained from the Ohio Department of Education that Conn said show Ohio's board, like Dover's, appeared intent on advancing religion in the classroom.

"It's premature for us to file a lawsuit. We've only gotten part of what we've asked for, but we see much of the same pattern of introducing religion through a backdoor means."

John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, said the Ohio standards that his group helped craft do not discuss religion or intelligent design. He said critics are trying to censor what students can learn about evolution.

"I really don't think that most people in Ohio support censorship," he said.

Whether Ohio's science standards can withstand a legal challenge is unclear.

The guidelines are "essentially a green light by the state to teach intelligent design," said David Goldberger, a professor specializing in constitutional law at Ohio State University's Michael E. Moritz College of Law.

"As a policy matter, it does cross the line because it invites the insertion of intelligent design, a religious re-interpretation of science, into the science curriculum. But the language standing alone is far too ambiguous to say that it would be struck down by a judge using the Dover ruling."

Supporters of Ohio's standards stress they do not mention intelligent design and merely call for the critical analysis of evolution. It's up to local school boards to decide what students are taught.

Critics say documents obtained from the Education Department show promoting intelligent design was the board's intent. The early drafts and reviews by department staffers and others reveal much debate about the validity of the standards and show many concerns were ignored.

One unnamed adviser who disagreed with the standards wrote: "Not the real scientific world. The real religious world, yes! The real world based on faith, yes! The real world of fringe thinking, yes."

Another department staffer wrote that information in the standards was wrong and misleading.

"The documents demonstrate this board had a religious intent and that board members who said they had no idea this was bad science lied. They had access to these reports and certainly had an opportunity to know," said Patricia Princehouse, an evolutionary biologist from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Opponents of the standards are hosting a rally at 7 tonight at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 93 W. Weisheimer Rd., and at 7 p.m. Monday at the Embassy Suites Hotel at E. Dublin-Granville Road and Corporate Exchange Drive.

School board members stay at the hotel and meet at the Ohio School for the Deaf, 500 Morse Rd.


Evolution education update: January 13, 2006

A new lawsuit over the teaching of "intelligent design" is on the horizon in Lebec, California. And as state legislatures began to convene for their new legislative sessions, there are already four antievolution bills filed, in Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah.


Eleven parents filed a lawsuit in federal court in California on January 10, 2006, in order to stop the El Tejon School District from allowing a course to be taught at its Frazier Mountain High School that promotes creationism. The parents, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, object to the course because it undercuts science education and violates the separation of church and state. In a declaration filed with the court, plaintiff Kenneth Hurst said the class "undermines the sound scientific principles taught in Frazier Mountain High School's biology curriculum" and is "an inappropriate attempt to bring religious teachings into the classroom and to evangelize students."

The course in question -- a four-week intersession elective -- was originally entitled "Philosophy of Intelligent Design" and since retitled "Philosophy of Design." In a description circulated in early December 2005, it was claimed that the course would "take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid. ... Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions." The syllabus of the course was originally dominated by young-earth creationist materials, and was then revised to include mainly "intelligent design" materials.

The plaintiffs' complaint in the case concludes that the teacher, Sharon Lemburg, proposed the course for overtly religious reasons. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times (January 12, 2006), Lemburg posed the question, "Did God guide me to do this?" and answered, "I would hope so." The Times also noted that Lemburg is the "wife of a minister for the local Assembly of God Church, which supports fundamentalist Christian tenets about creationism." American United's Barry Lynn commented, "It is all too clear that the teacher is seeking to persuade students that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific alternative. ... That's not constitutionally permissible or educationally sound. It must be stopped."

A hearing on the request for the temporary restraining order is scheduled for January 17, 2006. In the meantime, as with Kitzmiller v. Dover and Selman v. Cobb County, NCSE plans to provide extensive coverage of the Lebec case (officially Hurst et al. v. Newman et al.). To assemble such materials conveniently in one place, the section of the NCSE website that was devoted to Kitzmiller has been renamed "Evolution Education and the Law," and coverage of and materials relating to all three cases are now available there. In the future, NCSE hopes to expand Evolution Education and the Law to include other cases, both past and future.

For NCSE's Evolution Education and the Law, visit:

For American United's press release about the case, visit:

For the story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:


Antievolution legislation materialized in Indiana, but not in the form originally threatened by its sponsor. Representative Bruce A. Borders (R-Jasonville) introduced House Bill 1388 in the Indiana House of Representatives on January 10, 2006. Although Borders was quoted in the Indianapolis Star (November 2, 2005) as describing himself as "passionate" about "intelligent design" and declaring his intention to submit a bill making it a required subject in Indiana's public schools, HB 1388, if enacted, would only mandate that "[i]n adopting textbooks for each subject . . . the state board shall not adopt a textbook if the state board knows the textbook contains information, descriptions, conclusions, or pictures that are false."

The target of the bill is clearly the treatment of evolution in textbooks; Borders was quoted by the Star (January 11, 2006), as saying, "Many of the things that have been used to support macroevolution have been proven to be lies. ... It will take those out." Borders also acknowledged to the Star that his change in strategy was due to the December 2005 decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, which held that it is unconstitutional to teach "intelligent design" in the public schools." NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch commented that the fallback strategy of deprecating evolution "is increasingly going to dominate the creationism-evolution landscape" in the wake of the Kitzmiller decision.

Fran Quigley, the executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, told the Star, "I can't imagine that the state board [of education] needs to be told by the General Assembly not to give false information to our schoolchildren." Obviously aware of Borders's purpose in introducing HB 1388, however, he added, "If this is an effort to run evolution out of the science curriculum, it fails to account for the fact that the scientific theory of evolution has been corroborated by hundreds of thousands of independent observations ... No persuasive evidence has been put forth in 150 years to contradict the theory of evolution."

House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis), who was previously enthusiastic about "intelligent design" legislation, telling the Associated Press (November 4, 2005) that "I think it's fair to allow and perhaps require students to be taught that there may be more than one explanation for the creation of the world," downplayed the legislature's current interest. Representative Jerry Denbo (D-French Lick), who drafted a bill of his own that would allow teaching "intelligent design," decided not to introduce it: "There's no hope," he told the Star. Back in November 2005, Governor Mitch Davis (R) already expressed his reservations about signing such a bill.

For the text of HB 1388 as introduced, visit:

For the story in the Indianapolis Star, visit:


House Bill 1266 was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 9, 2006. Dubbed the Missouri Science Education Act, HB 1266 would, if enacted, require public school science teachers in grades 6 through 12 to comply with a list of "best practices" in order "to support the truthful identity of scientific information and minimize misrepresentation while promoting clarity, accuracy, and student understanding." Evolution is singled out for special attention; the bill explicitly provides that "[i]f a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount."

The sponsor of HB 1266 is Representative Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155), who in 2003 introduced two bills calling for "intelligent design" to be taught in the Missouri public schools. HB 911 would have required that, "[i]f scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught and given equal treatment"; it also contained a provision that would have terminated the employment of teachers and administrators who failed to accord with the bill's dictates. HB 1722 would also have required "the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design". Both bills died in May 2004, when the legislative session ended.

For the text of HB 1266 as introduced, visit:

For NCSE's stories about previous antievolution legislation in Missouri, visit:


When the Oklahoma House of Representatives convenes on February 6, 2006, among the bills awaiting attention will be House Bill 2107, dubbed the Academic Freedom Act. If enacted, HB 2107 would provide:

A. Every public school teacher in the State of Oklahoma, shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning. B. No public school teacher in the State of Oklahoma shall be terminated, disciplined, or otherwise discriminated against for presenting scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning. C. Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student, in any public school shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific views. D. The rights and privileges contained in the Academic Freedom Act apply when topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins of life. Nothing in this act shall be construed as requiring or encouraging any change in the state curriculum standards for public schools. E. Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine, promoting discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promoting discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

The reference in (D) to "biological or chemical origins of life" is a clear indication that the bill is aimed specifically at evolution, as is the legislative finding that "existing law does not expressly protect the right of teachers identified by the United States Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories." HB 2107 was introduced by Representative Sally Kern (R-District 55).

For the text of HB 2107 (RTF), visit:


Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Senator Chris Buttars (R-District 10), was filed on January 4, 2006, and presumably will be taken under consideration after the legislature convenes on January 16, 2006. If enacted, SB 96 would direct the Utah state board of education to require "that instruction to students on any theory regarding the origins of life, or the origins or present state of the human race, shall stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct" and to "ensure that all policies and positions of the State Board of Education relating to theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race: (i) do not endorse a particular theory; and (ii) stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct."

SB 96 is the culmination of about half a year's worth of public antievolution statements by Buttars, beginning with his announcement of plans to introduce legislation calling for the teaching of "divine design" -- "Divine design," he told the Salt Lake Tribune (June 3, 2005), "doesn't preach religion ... The only people who will be upset about this are atheists." Perhaps in reaction, the Utah state board of education unanimously adopted a position statement on September 2, 2005, that described evolution as "a major unifying concept in science and appropriately included in Utah's K-12 Science Core Curriculum"; the policy statement would presumably have to be rescinded if SB 96 were to be enacted.

For the text of SB 96 as introduced, visit:

For NCSE's stories about Buttars's previous statements, visit:

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

Panel discusses intelligent design


Idea dismissed by U of L professors

By Christopher Hall Special to The Courier-Journal

The theory of intelligent design -- that organic life is too complex to have arisen solely through evolution and thus must have been designed -- has become a hot issue across the United States, and a Louisville church has begun looking at the topic to better educate its members.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania recently ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in the classroom as an alternative to evolution. President Bush last year endorsed teaching intelligent design along with evolution, and Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher encouraged the teaching of intelligent design in his State of the Commonwealth address Monday.

On Wednesday, Broadway Baptist Church on Brownsboro Road held a panel discussion with professors of ethics, history, biology and anthropology from the University of Louisville to examine the issue.

The Rev. Chris Caldwell, the church's pastor, said he and most members of Broadway Baptist are comfortable with the beliefs of their faith -- that God created the world and life on it -- but that they accept them as matters of faith, not science to be taught in the classroom.

The congregation holds dear the separation of church and state, he said, and generally agrees with the Pennsylvania judge's ruling that teaching intelligent design would abridge that separation.

Intelligent design can also be theologically limiting, Caldwell said.

"One of the risks in getting bogged down in the creationism or intelligent design debate is that we limit God's creative activity to one period in human history, and God continues to work as a creative God in history," he said.

The panel of U of L professors addressed the issue from a scientific and historical standpoint, and they came down firmly against intelligent design.

It's not surprising that there are gaps in the data supporting evolution, said panelist Michael Perlin, who has a doctorate in microbiology. No one knows everything about anything, he said, but there are ideas for which the evidence is so bountiful that they are accepted as scientific law, such as that the earth orbits the sun and there is gravity.

"There may be people who believe otherwise, but we don't teach those other ideas because there is no scientific basis for them," he said.

Evolution is another of those scientific facts, he said, and it is supported both by the fossil record and by observable micro-evolutionary changes, such as mosquitoes developing a resistance to the pesticide DDT.

The study of genetics, he said, also points to "a universal common ancestor" for all life on earth.

William Dembski, a professor of theology and science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and founding director of the school's Center for Science and Theology, is a vocal proponent of intelligent design.

Reached at his home in Riesel, Texas, Dembski countered that many proponents of intelligent design believe in evolution -- to a point -- and in a universal common ancestor. But he said some structures within cells are not explained by evolution theory, but only by the idea of a designer.

Nathaniel Armstrong, a member of the church who attended Wednesday's discussion, said he believes in God and the Bible and in much of the theory of evolution, and he doesn't find them contradictory.

He does, however, object to using the Bible to justify something that is not good science, he said

"The Bible is not science. It never was meant to be, and some people are trying to use that as science," he said. "The problem as I see it is that fundamentalists say it has to be taken literally."

End of the Year Psychic Predictions

By Gene Emery

There's 2005, and then there's the 2005 that never was but was supposed to have been, at least if you believed the psychics.

Their 2005 was supposed to be the year every major disease was cured, terrorists started World War III by shooting a nuclear missile into China, and world hunger ended when scientists developed a tasty crossbreed between a camel and an iguana.

That view of world events was prophesized a year ago by a blue-ribbon panel of psychics, prophets and visionaries assembled by the supermarket tabloid The Sun, according to Gene Emery, who has been tracking the accuracy of psychic predictions since 1979.

Emery, a writer for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, said the psychics and seers did just as badly this year as they have for every other year, not only predicting astounding events that never came true, but failing to forecast tragedies like the London terrorist bombs in July that were the talk of 2005. Psychic warnings to the people of New Orleans about Katrina would have been helpful too.

"It's amazing that people still take stock in psychics when their success rate is so close to zero," said Emery. "In fact, many tabloids such as the National Enquirer, that were once filled with predictions, seem to have given up reporting psychic forecasts. Their editors probably realized that the predictions do nothing but give publicity to people who can't live up to their claims."

For example, the psychics never foresaw the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, nor did any psychic issue a warning about the tidal wave that killed over 150,000 in southern Asia the day after Christmas. "It's hard to think of two events that reverberated around the globe as much as those did, yet the psychics never picked up on them," said Emery. "It's just more evidence that people who claim to have psychic powers really don't."

The Sun and National Examiner, however, continued to carry predictions.

For 2005, the Sun didn't even try to make their seers accountable. Instead, they lumped the predictions of living psychics together with dead ones like Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce, "probably so they can't embarrass the living ones," said Emery.

This "blue-ribbon panel" said a year ago that in 2005 there would be cures for just about every medical malady including Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, Alzheimer's, psoriasis, alcoholism, heart disease, arthritis, strokes, and obesity.

But they also said communications would be disrupted when Earth's magnetic field reverses, a California inventor would cause earthquakes in Los Angeles and San Francisco, NASA astronomers would find a ruined city on Mars, Israel and the U.S. would invade Syria and Iran, edible furniture (designed for couch potatoes) would have to be recalled because of a sanitation problem, and millions of dollars in divorce fees would be saved when disgruntled couples were allowed to play a new computer game where the loser dies in real life.

Some of the forecasts are less spectacular than they sound, said Emery. The Examiner features Tony Leggett, who is probably taking credit for predicting the death of John Paul II. But Leggett only predicted "a new Pope" in the Dec. 27, 2004 issue, not saying if would be by death or resignation. People, not just psychics, had been predicting the Pope's death for years. In addition, he said the new Pope would be from Italy. The big news was that Pope Benedict XVI was the first German Pope in centuries.

Leggett also couldn't decide whether "romantic drama ahead for Chelsea Clinton" meant marriage or a total breakup, and he predicted that container ships would be blowing up in ports on the East and West coasts.

Emery said the tabloids have been known to bend the facts a bit to try to give their psychics credibility. For example, the Examiner said Leggett correctly predicted five major hurricanes hitting the U.S. in 2004. But a check of National Weather Service records showed there were only four. Bonnie, listed as one of the five by the Examiner, never made it above a tropical storm.

"When you look at the forecasts with a critical eye, it's clear that psychics have no special powers," said Emery.

Not all forecasts for 2005 were made a year ago. Emery's files from 2001 show that in the Sun, Cayce predicted that "The long-anticipated massive earthquake along the San Andreas Fault in California will take place on June 17, 2005 at 7:18 a.m. The final death toll will equal 4,568,304."

Other things that were supposed to happen in 2005:

* "The government rolls out new rules allowing flying cars into the airways."

* "A plane crashes into the Egyptian pyramids."

* "Twenty astronauts sent on a Mars mission return to Earth and promptly resign from NASA to join the priesthood."

* "A new reality TV show is mired in scandal when it is revealed that a winning participant killed and ate one of the competitors."

* "NASA astronauts surveying a planned lunar colony find a Nazi flag planted on the dark side of the Moon."

Gene Emery manages the Massachusetts bureau of the Providence Journal, reviews computer software and video games, and frequently writes about science, medicine and technology.

To contact the author directly (mailto:gemery@cox.net)

Designers' attorney: Class not intelligent


Discovery Institute advises school district course's young-earth creationism illegal

Posted: January 14, 2006 5:00 p.m. Eastern

© 2006 WorldNetDaily.com

That a rural California school district's effort to craft a non-science course on origins, titled "Philosophy of Design," might be opposed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State comes as no surprise, but now an attorney for the Discovery Institute, the nation's leading think tank on intelligent design, is calling on school officials to scrap the course, saying its foundation in young-earth creationism is not shared by intelligent design theorists and will result in the class not passing constitutional muster.

Casey Luskin, attorney for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, appeared before the El Tejon Unified School District Board yesterday prior to their closed deliberations on the planned "Philosophy of Design" class.

A suit has been filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of 11 parents who are seeking a temporary injunction to halt the four-week course in its second week. Fifteen students had enrolled.

The class was approved on a 3-2 vote in a Jan. 1 session during which board members had to vote up or down on the school's entire winter curriculum. The five-member board was divided when it was learned three speakers had been scheduled in support of intelligent design but none in favor of evolution. Of the two pro-evolution speakers invited, one declined in disagreement over the class topic and the other, Nobel laureate Francis Crick – co-discoverer of the structure of DNA – had died more than a year earlier.

Frazier Mountain High, where the course is being offered, is located in Lebec, a town of 1,285 in the mountains between the Central Valley and Los Angeles.

A description of the proposed course, sent to parents in December, said students would examine "evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

Although El Tejon Superintendent John Wright insists the class does not presume to teach science and is designed to let students debate the controversy surrounding different views of origins, Americans United, in its suit, asserts "the course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, 'intelligent design.'"

Luskin, speaking for the Discovery Institute, told the district Americans United was right – up to a point:

"From what I can tell, this course was originally formulated as if it would promote young earth or Biblical creationism as scientific fact," Luskin said. "Although I understand that the course has since been reformulated to remove the creationist material, a course description was sent out to students around Dec. 1 which described this course as promoting young earth or Biblical creationism as scientific fact. This is very concerning because courts have made it clear – specifically the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard – that young earth creationism is unconstitutional to teach as fact in public schools.

"Intelligent design is very different from young earth creationism. We at the Discovery Institute believe that intelligent design is constitutional to teach as a science. I understand that Americans United probably disagrees with that. But the fact is that this course originally mixed up intelligent design with the young earth creationist viewpoint. I want you to know that we support your efforts to present different views about biological origins in this philosophy course. We also applaud your efforts to remove the legally problematic creationist materials from the course. But the fact of the matter is that even if this course has been changed and improved, its past history as originally having been formulated to promote Biblical creationism as scientific fact makes this case legally problematic. Unless you get a very sympathetic judge, this course will be struck down as unconstitutional because of its problematic history."

Luskin's advice to the school board was to cancel the class for one year, reconstruct it as a philosophy course that all sides could agree is acceptable and offer it next year.

"There is a legal train coming at you and we can see it coming down the tracks," said the attorney. "If you do not cancel this course, and if you let this lawsuit go forward, you are going to lose and there will be a dangerous legal precedent set which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level. Such a decision would also threaten the scientific research of many scientists who support intelligent design."

Intelligent design scientists argue that certain biological structures exhibit evidence of design and cannot be explained by any Darwinian pathway articulated thus far. While design implies intelligence directing the process, as opposed to Darwin's dependence on time and chance, the theory's proponents say it is impossible to use their ideas to identify the intelligence from the evidence.

"Intelligent design is different from creationism because intelligent design is based upon empirical data, rather than religious scripture," Luskin wrote the board in a letter earlier this week, "and also because intelligent design is not a theory about the age of the earth. Moreover, unlike creationism, intelligent design does not try to inject itself into religious discussions about the identity of the intelligence responsible for life. Creationism, in contrast, always postulates a supernatural or divine creator."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Intelligent design


Genesis, Darwin or something in between? Governor's speech brings contentious debate to Kentucky

By Dan Hassert Post staff reporter

Kentucky law already lets teachers teach creation but doesn't mention intelligent design:

KRS 158.177 Teaching of evolution - Right to include Bible theory of creation.

(1) In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the creation of man and the earth, and which involves the theory thereon commonly known as evolution, any teacher so desiring may include as a portion of such instruction the theory of creation as presented in the Bible, and may accordingly read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation, thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.

(2) For those students receiving such instruction, and who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.

(3) No teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational religious belief. ...

Explain how humans came to be:

(a) God took six days to create us exactly as we exist today.

(b) Environmental influences guided our evolution from a single-cell creature by a biological process called natural selection.

(c) Humans developed through the deliberate direction of an intelligent force, because life is so complex that random influences could not have designed us.

The argument over human creation has spawned a national debate that has raged inside classrooms and courtrooms, across the Internet and throughout polls and state capitols.

Kentucky has been mostly an observer in that debate, but with 42 words near the end of a 41-minute speech last Monday, Gov. Ernie Fletcher cranked up the volume of discourse in the Bluegrass State.

Fletcher, who is both a medical doctor and an ordained Baptist minister, used his televised State of the Commonwealth address to encourage Kentucky's schools to teach a concept called intelligent design, (basically the answer "C'' above), a relatively recent movement derided by critics as creationism in disguise.

"This is not a question about faith or religion. It's about self-evident truth,'' Fletcher said.

The governor's endorsement didn't include a formal proposal and likely won't, since state law already specifically gives free rein to teachers to teach related creationism as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution (even though the responsibility for curriculum falls to local school councils). Spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said Fletcher would not be pushing to mandate the teaching; a Fletcher aide added that the governor was simply touting his beliefs.

"Part of the responsibility I have as governor is to use the bully pulpit, and that's what I did,'' Fletcher explained later.

But his comments reverberated around the commonwealth.

Scientists sent a letter of protest, rights groups threatened to sue if religious beliefs were promoted in the classroom, legislators weighed in carefully and observers dissected Fletcher's political strategy.

All agree - the debate is only going to intensify.

"What 2004 showed us is when religion and politics mix, they create a fiery blend,'' said Ryan Lee Teten, a political science professor at Northern Kentucky University.

Teten said Fletcher accomplished two things. One, he got a "pop'' from his conservative core, a must for a leader in trouble politically. And two, he floated a trial balloon. The governor is trying out issues to use for the coming gubernatorial campaign, and was able - with little risk to himself - to begin the process of figuring out whether intelligent design resonates in Kentucky.

While evolution as an issue doesn't carry the same weight as same-sex marriage, abortion, display of the 10 Commandments and flag-burning, it seems to be growing.

In Ohio, a motion to amend guidelines that critics say promote intelligent design in schools failed 9-8 after a contentious hearing before the Ohio Board of Education on Tuesday. Sponsors say they'll try again, and soon.

Ohio is one of only five states that require evolution to be taught critically - saluting both its scientific strengths and weaknesses, said Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, a leading intelligent design proponent.

A public school near Bakersfield, Calif., was sued recently for offering an elective class whose curriculum salutes both intelligent design and creationism.

A federal judge ruled in December that it was unconstitutional for a school district in Pennsylvania to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in biology class, saying it was a religious viewpoint. Intelligent design advocates recoiled at the judge's harsh denouncement and broad ruling.

Like Fletcher, Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently said he favored teaching intelligent design.

Periodic Gallup polls show as many as 38 percent of Americans believe that evolution was guided by God, although other polls register 18 percent (Pew Research Center) and 13 percent (NBC News). More than 40 percent believe in creationism.

What is it?

Intelligent design preaches the philosophy that the complexity of life points to the presence of an intelligent creator. Advocates insist that it's credible science theory based on observation and supported by recurring codes in natural structures, similar to those in computer software. They also claim serious doubt exists in the scientific community about evolution's credibility.

But science organizations scoff, saying science is solidly behind evolutionist Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. They call intelligent design creationism repackaged to get around a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed teaching the literal Biblical story of creation as science. They say they don't mind religious beliefs but object when faith tries to pass itself off as science.

Miriam Steinitz Kannan, who teaches microbiology at Northern Kentucky University, said the message that intelligent design conveys - that science is inadequate in explaining the natural world - is frightening. She compares it to suggestions that cancer and HIV are punishments from God.

"The moment we throw faith in there and tell students not to think, then we're in trouble,'' Kannan said.

She blames intelligent design and creationism in part for the shortage of scientists in the United States, saying bright students are turned off by what they learn at home and sometimes in school. She said few of her students arrive with a good grasp of evolution; worse still is that she has to "un-teach'' them, she said.

"The main thing we need to communicate to students is how science works,'' said Kannan, who is president of the Kentucky Academy of Science. "Scientists are constantly questioning and follow the scientific method. If you see a fact, you should be able to propose a hypothesis and that hypothesis should be testable.

"Here we're going backwards - starting with a fact and looking for an explanation.''

The academy - which boasts 700 members - sent letters outlining its position to legislators after Fletcher's speech. Its allies include groups that say teaching intelligent design violates the U.S. Constitution.

"The state should not be promoting one religious belief over any other religious belief,'' said Beth Wilson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kentucky, calling Fletcher "irresponsible."

Joseph Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said his group will sue if schools begin teaching intelligent design. "The governor would be advised to read (the Dover ruling) and stop giving bad legal advice,'' he said. Intelligent design belongs in a current events class or one on comparative religions, he said.

A non-issue

Complicating the issue, however, is a state law that specifically permits teachers in public schools to teach the Bible story of creation as an alternative to evolution, "thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.''

But state education officials say they know anecdotally few teachers do. Other than some classes on comparative religions, officials said they knew of only one teacher - at Lloyd Memorial High School in Erlanger - who teaches creationism in science classes. Biology teacher Jerry Gels told reporters this week he included the Biblical account of creation - and some from African, Asian and American Indian sources - alongside Darwin as a salute to his students' conservative backgrounds.

Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Board Association, said his agency has never received a single inquiry about intelligent design. He said the law allowing creationism to be taught seems to be in conflict with a more recent law that gives total authority to set curriculum to local site-based councils.

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said state curriculum guidelines simply don't mention the word "evolution'' but include its general concepts. "As far as educators go, it's been a non-issue,'' she said.

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Covington teach evolution combined with a less rigid form of intelligent design, said Lawrence Bowman, director of Catholic education and superintendent of schools. Catholics believe that faith and reason can co-exist: Provable scientific evidence doesn't mean that God didn't have an impact - he gave us free will and a soul, Bowman said.

"God is the 'prime mover.' He puts these things in motion and allows them to progress. Divine intelligence is imprinted on everything,'' Bowman said. "Whether he was involved step by step by step or not doesn't matter.''

Luskin said intelligent design proponents differ on that "step by step'' question. He said the Discovery Institute is aware of no systematic teaching of its tenets but knows of individual teachers who do so or fear they would be fired if they did.

Still, he said the institute would rather teachers who don't understand intelligent design - or lump it in with creationism - to avoid teaching it.

An official for Answers in Genesis, which is building a creation museum in Boone County, agreed. Creationism is a straightforward, literal interpretation of the Bible and grounded 100 percent on faith, and intelligent design advocates "want nothing to do with us,'' said Mark Looy, chief communications officer and vice president of outreach.

Looy shared Luskin's enthusiasm for Fletcher's stance. "Any time you encourage a teacher to teach two sides of a controversial issue, it's not only academically fair it (also) encourages critical thinking,'' Looy said.

What next

Luskin said the Discovery Institute does not want to mandate that intelligent design be taught because of confusion over its beliefs and because it would create a legal and political fight. The group instead wants states to pass academic freedom legislation to allay teachers' fears for their jobs and to require that evolution be taught critically, with its weaknesses pointed out, he said.

But it's unclear what will happen.

Both Senate President David Williams, a Republican, and House Speaker Jody Richards, a Democrat, said the matter was best left to local school boards. Several schools said they had no idea whether Fletcher's comments would inspire individual teachers to change their instruction.

So far, however, teachers seem to be against it.

Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, said he has received at least four letters from teachers who oppose any effort to impose intelligent design teaching on schools. He hasn't received any in support.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Intelligent Design is more persuasive than random chance


01/12/2006 Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — I suspect most of you have followed the news coming out of Pennsylvania about the federal judge who ruled against the teaching of the Theory of Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools. While the theory of evolution is deemed true science, the theory of ID is labeled right-wing fanatical religiosity, which has no place in the public marketplace. I must confess that I did not read the entire decision of the judge, but from the excerpts, it appears to me that he went a lot further than he needed to in condemning ID. If he opposed the theory as poor or inadequate science, all he had to rule was that the teaching of ID in public schools is prohibited. As I reflected on the decision, I began to wonder what was so wrong or obnoxious about the concept of an Intelligent Design. I then began to consider the alternative, as well as the true consequences of this ruling.

The first consequence, which I believe follows immediately from the rejection of ID, is the postulation of Unintelligent Design (UD), which is simply another way of saying Random Chance (RC). I have no difficulty accepting RC or UD when it comes to such things as stalagmites and stalactites, which are beautiful and intricate but clearly the result of pure chemical processes. These compositions of minerals, formed over thousands of years, are clearly explainable without the direct intervention of an Intelligent Designer, provided one leaves aside completely any consideration of the nature of minerals and the origin of the various atoms of which they are composed. When one attempts to leap from these combinations of chemicals and minerals to the spontaneous and purely random origin of microscopic life forms capable of some form of metabolizing and reproducing actions and further to the spontaneous generation of much more complex life forms, including, ultimately, living, breathing, metabolizing, thinking human beings, it is very difficult to conclude that all this is the result of pure RC or UD. The Court, however, disagrees.

There are, it seems to me, serious ramifications of this decision. For instance, the concept of love in any literature whatsoever should be prohibited in public schools. It is not, as is clear from the Judge's ruling, anything that can be scientifically verified. While many people claim to experience love, the truth is that in public schools no such claim is either verifiable or acceptable. Love must be the result of certain biochemical reactions in the brain and has nothing to do with choosing or deciding. For the public school model insists that man's reactions cannot really be any different from that of a chimpanzee or a dog. Those reactions may be more complex but certainly not of a higher order, for such an order would imply something supernaturally different about man, which, as we now know from a federal judge, is simply not at all scientifically verifiable and therefore somehow impossible.

This also implies that such spiritual concepts as courage, pride, loyalty, patience, kindness, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, piety, joy, sorrow, loss or excitement are really always the result of random biochemical reactions and, in any kind of analysis, mean absolutely nothing. The fact that millions of people experience and even choose to act (there is very little possibility that free will could be scientifically verified) is simply mass hysteria and has no basis in science. The fact that millions of people have had spiritual experiences of one kind or another must, of necessity, be simply the result or overactive chemicals in some portion of the brain. It is really amazing, when we consider things from the federal judge's vantage point, that there are laws about the proper disposal of human bodies. It makes no sense to treat these bags of chemicals with any more concern than we would treat a trash bag full of banana peels. We are, after all, only semi-permeable bags filled for the most part with water.

The truth is that there are many things that we know intuitively as human beings, which cannot be the subject of scientific verification or explained as purely RC or the result of UD. At the same time, it must be granted that it is also possible to misinterpret purely random events or events with purely natural causes as being supernatural. I suspect, trying to imitate the judge's reasoning, that the conclusion that cuneiform tablets, which seem to contain ancient writings, originate from some kind of ID may not be an acceptable hypothesis. Why should we believe that it took some form of intelligent life to create those tablets? It seems to me that the conclusion that they are the product of some human life form is a leap of faith that is hardly consistent with UD or RC philosophy. If it is possible and scientifically held that simple bacteria developed, as a result of UD and RC, with complex DNA strands that scientists can now unravel and read, then it stands to reason that the same folks must argue that the cuneiform tablets must have had a similar UD and RC origin. Clearly these, apparently ordered and intelligently designed tablets, must be nothing more than the natural results of erosion by wind, rain and sand over thousands of years. Isn't RC wonderful? See what it created. For myself, it seems to me that it is more reasonable to hold that these tablets were the result of a confluence of natural forces (RC) than to hold that life itself, and ultimately human, sentient life, was the result of those same UD forces.

Perhaps the issuance of this decision just before Christmas can serve as a wake-up call to all of us. What we celebrate with great joy in this season is precisely the fact that there is an Intelligent Designer, an Intelligent Redesigner, an Intelligent Creator, an Intelligent Re-creator, an Intelligent Redeemer, an Emmanuel.

We celebrate that He who created us sent, in the fullness of time, His own dearly beloved Son to show us that we are more than the mere sum of our biological parts. The world, in that generic sense of worldliness, denies the unique dignity of the human being, and make no mistake about it, the culture of death is precisely that culture that has a determined will (a spiritual concept) to undermine at every opportunity that unique dignity of the human person. If there is no ID, then man and all he does is merely RC. How sad that someone could hold such a low opinion of himself. Into the land of the shadow of death, a Light has come. Thank God. He has a better IDea.

Intelligent Design forum features Dembski & FSU prof


Jan 12, 2006 By Staff Baptist Press

MARIETTA, Ga. (BP)--An upcoming dialogue between a key Intelligent Design proponent and a Darwinian evolutionist from Florida State University reflects the fact that, "Our commitment to truth leads us to believe that we have nothing to fear from public discussion of important topics," said Robert Stewart, associate professor of philosophy and theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The 7 p.m. Feb. 3 dialogue between ID proponent William Dembski and evolutionist Michael Ruse is the featured event of NOBTS' two-day Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, to be held at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher, is the Carl F. H. Henry Professor of Theology and Science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; senior fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture; and author of numerous books on Intelligent Design, including "No Free Lunch" and "The Design Revolution."

Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and professor of zoology at Florida State and author of "Taking Darwin Seriously" and "Can a Darwinian be a Christian?" Ruse also is the founder and editor of the journal Biology & Philosophy and editor of the "Cambridge University Press Series in the Philosophy of Biology."

Steve Lemke, NOBTS provost and professor of philosophy, described Dembski as "the foremost advocate and architect of the Intelligent Design movement in the United States" whose writings "have given intellectual credibility to the ID perspective within the scholarly community."

Intelligent Design studies patterns in nature and, similar to forensic science or archaeology, uses empirical evidence to detect whether the pattern was set in place by design or by undirected natural processes.

Reliance on empirical evidence and testability distinguishes Intelligent Design from creationism and previous design arguments. Intelligent Design examines scientific data on its own merits, without presupposing either evolution or design.

"The Intelligent Design movement provides an intellectual framework which makes the affirmation of a created universe not only believable by someone educated in the perspective of modern science, but intellectually credible," Lemke said.

Intelligent Design, Dembski said, is establishing a proving ground in which faith and science co-exist with integrity.

"Advances in molecular biology make Darwin's explanation much harder to accept," he said. "There are patterns in nature that can only be explained by intelligence."

Dembski said that, although a century of biological research has failed to define the evolutionary pathways of building highly complex organisms from simple ones, science education presents no alternatives to evolutionary theory.

"Many Christian youth go off to college and then struggle with their faith. The apologetic value of ID is in defeating scientific materialism, the view that everything can be reduced to matter and explained by natural processes," Dembski said.

On Feb. 4, Christian apologetic authors William Lane Craig and Francis Beckwith also will address Intelligent Design at the Greer-Heard forum.

Craig, who will speak at 11 a.m., is research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at LaMirada, Calif. His topic will be "Evolutionary Theory and Naturalism."

Beckwith, who will speak at 2:30 p.m., is the associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University and the current vice president of the Evangelical Theological Society. His topic will be "Intelligent Design, Public Education, and the First Amendment."

"The non-Christian world needs to see educated, articulate believers who can dialogue on these issues and exhibit respect and courtesy to those with whom they disagree," Stewart said.

"Intelligent Design is not your father's 'old Earth creation science,'" he said "Even many who do not agree with its thesis admit as much. For this reason, it is likely the most significant challenge to the dominant Darwinian paradigm since Charles Darwin penned his 'Origin of Species.'"

Dembski also is scheduled to speak at the 10 a.m. Jan. 24 spring convocation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

"His visit should help to clarify the notion that Intelligent Design really is the intelligent position on this issue," said Midwestern President R. Philip Roberts.

Dembski also will speak at an apologetics conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 18-22.


For more information on New Orleans Seminary's Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, see www.greer-heard.com or contact Johnson Ferry Baptist Church at www.jfbc.org.

Intelligent Design more alluring than Darwin's Theory


MIL/Agencies, Jan 13, 2006. Saroul

California - A controversy between Darwin's theory and Intelligent Design is picking up storm. A group of 11 parents filed a suit against a California district school. The controversy looks to have been created just for opposition sake.

Dr. Raj Baldev, Cosmo Theorist from India, had first compared Darwin's theory with Intelligent Being in 1957, again in 1992 and then in 2003, 2005 and now in 2006. He gave this account in his book "Man Never Descended from Species" in 1957 and through articles in 1992 and 2005 and 2006.

Dr. Raj Baldev said, "There does exist a glaring controversy. Darwin's principle is convincing to a certain extent that species sprung up by natural selection but there is a grave error so far the descent of human being is concerned.

" Darwin or any of his successors did not fully succeed in establishing whether Man really descended from any known available species. Hence, it gave birth to both the ideas. Georgia and Kansas are also fighting similar battles over the controversial subject.

Some people like scientists think that everything has sprung up by mere chance and there is no higher force involved in it and they are wrong."

In United States, the people hold both opinions and they stick to their respective stands. The parents, who filed the suit, are against the theory of Intelligent Design and they moved the court and prayed to grant temporary injunction against the school restraining to halt the four-week class in its second week.

The parents had first pressurized the school authorities to stop teaching the Intelligent Design pleading that the course was against the U.S. Constitution. When they did not get favorable response, they filed the case in the court.

When the teaching of the specific course was not stopped, the group of 11 parents filed a suit against the El Tejon Unified School District and made its superintendent, the course teacher and school board members as the defending parties.

However, Superintendent John Wight, denied the charges clarifying that the "Philosophy of Design" was not being taught as science, rather it gave an opportunity to students to debate the controversial issue once for all, and it was a health and positive discussion.

The fact remains that the theory of the living things is so heterogeneous and multiple that it could not spring up at random but it must have been designed by a higher being.

AP reported by giving the source of federal lawsuit filed by parents of 13 students that Frazier Mountain High in Lebec had violated the separation of church and state while attempting to legitimize the theory of "intelligent design" by introducing it as a philosophy class.

"The course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, 'intelligent design,'" the lawsuit said. "Because the teacher has no scientific training, students are not provided with any critical analysis of this presentation."

The AP further reports that the suit was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, blocking Dover, Pa., schools last month from using science courses theory that living things are so complex they must have been designed by a higher being.

The five-member school board was divided when it learned about the class last month and discovered three guest lecturers were scheduled in support of intelligent design but none for evolution.

It is further reported by AP that an initial course description sent to parents in December said it would examine "evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

The El Tejon district's Board of Trustees approved the course 3-2 with a revised syllabus in a Jan. 1 session, during which board members had to vote up or down on the entire winter session curriculum.

Those in favor of Intelligent Design must go through the book titled "Two Big Bangs Created the Universe" (Formed in Eternal Space), Chapter IV "Science vs God", a scientific explanation rather than philosophical.

Calif. Sets Stage for First Intelligent Design Legal Battle


Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 Posted: 8:24:51PM EST

A California school is being sued for teaching an elective philosophy class on intelligent design that criticizes evolution, and is being asked to stop the class because it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The suit in federal court filed on Tuesday states that the separation of church and state is being violated by Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, a rural town about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Intelligent design theory holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they point to an intelligent designer.

"The course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, 'intelligent design,'" the suit stated. "Because the teacher has no scientific training, students are not provided with any critical analysis of this presentation."

The case in California is the state's first involving intelligent design. It follows a prominent federal case involving a school district in Dover, Pa., where a judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, but a form of creationism and should not be taught in science classes.

The El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees approved the course at Frazier, called "Philosophy of Design," to be taught for one month at the beginning of the year. Attorneys believed the course could survive if a court challenge came since the class contained the word "philosophy," according to the Los Angeles Times.

The teacher of the class is Sharon Lemburg, who is a special education instructor and wife of an Assemblies of God minister. The Pentecostal denomination holds a strong position on creationism, believing in the literal 7-day creation of the earth by God.

The course description of the class, which students and their families were told about, says that "the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

The Superintendent of the School district in California said last week that the "Philosophy of Design" course was not being taught as science in order to give the students the opportunity to debate the issue, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, one of the main proponents of Intelligent Design who opposed the Dover ruling has suggested that the intelligent design course being presented in California change its course materials or the name of its elective philosophy class.

"The title and nature of this course are problematic and appear to misrepresent the content of the course and intelligent design," wrote a Discovery Institute attorney in a letter sent to the El Tejon Unified School District.

The letter urged the school district to "either reformulate the course by removing the young earth creationist materials or re-title the course as a course not focused on intelligent design."

The Discovery Institute maintains that intelligent design is science, has nothing to do with biblical creation, and bases itself only on empirical evidence to support it from which design is inferred.

However the liberal group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which also helped argue the Dover case, asserts that the theory promotes biblical creationism, making it an unconstitutional injection of religion into the public school.

The federal case is Hurst v. Newman, 06-00012.

Intelligent Design Proponents Distance Themselves from Creationists


Wayne Adkins

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By Wayne Adkins January 12, 2006

The Discovery Institute, an organization which bills itself as "the leading organization supporting scientific research into intelligent design" is seeking to distance itself from creationists. Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute wrote a letter to John W. Wight, Superintendent of the El Tejon school district in California seeking to change the title or content of a class. The district is facing a lawsuit filed by parents over a course titled "Philosophy of Design" taught by Sharon Lemburg, the wife of a local minister.

According to Luskin's letter "the course inaccurately mixes intelligent design with young earth creationism or Biblical creationism. Moreover, it appears that more than half of the course content deals with young earth creationist materials." Luskin urged the school's superintendent to "either reformulate the course by removing the young earth creationist materials or retitle the course as a course not focused on intelligent design."

The concern of Luskin and his fellows at the Discovery Institute is that intelligent design will be equated with creationism. He tries to explain the difference to Mr. Wight this way; "Intelligent design is different from creationism because intelligent design is based upon empirical data, rather than religious scripture, and also because intelligent design is not a theory about the age of the earth. Moreover, unlike creationism, intelligent design does not try to inject itself into religious discussions about the identity of the intelligence responsible for life. Creationism, in contrast, always postulates a supernatural or divine creator. Thus the U.S. Supreme Court found that creationism was religion in 1987 in the case Edwards v. Aguillard."

The reason the ID crowd wants to avoid this association is that teaching creationism is illegal as Luskin notes. After a scathing rebuke by Judge Jones in Dover last year for trying to sneak intelligent design into science classes there, intelligent design advocates want to take every opportunity to paint their idea as science and not as creationism. But it should be noted that among the senior fellows and fellows for whom there are biographies on their site, they boast more theology degrees than chemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, biochemistry or physics. The only degree more widely represented than theology among them is philosophy. But they don't want the courts to think they are advancing any religious ideas.

Of course, most observers make that connection anyway. When Pat Robertson told Dover residents not to call on God because they had voted God out of their town he was making a direct connection between intelligent design and creationism. When one of Dover's school board members advocating intelligent design said "2000 years ago someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" he was making a direct connection between intelligent design and creationism. Although the Discovery Institutes official line for intelligent design is "science can't identify this intelligent designer" senior fellow Michael Behe admits he thinks it is God.

The fact is, intelligent design is a thinly veiled attempt to legitimize creationism and import it into public schools as science. What I find hilarious about the Discovery Institute's letter to Mr. Wight is that Casey Luskin makes the assertion that "Under the current formulation, the course title "Philosophy of design" misrepresents intelligent design by promoting young earth creationism under the guise of intelligent design." That is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. Intelligent design proponents are trying to misrepresent science by promoting intelligent design under the guise of science.

Intelligent design is creationism. Refusing to name the creator doesn't change that. It only demonstrates how disingenuous its advocates are.

Intelligent design: religion or science?


By: MARILYN H. KARFELD Senior Staff Reporter

Religion, education, law and, above all, politics have played a role in shaping Ohio's science curriculum, said panelists at a Temple Emanu El forum this week on the constitutionality and instructional value of teaching intelligent design in biology class.

Late last month, a federal judge barred the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pa., public school biology classes, ruling that it unconstitutionally endorses religion, specifically Christianity.

On the strength of that decision, critics of an Ohio master biology lesson, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which encourages students to examine alternate theories to evolution, vowed to challenge the lesson. In court, if necessary.

This week, they watched as the Ohio Board of Education (OBE) voted 9-8 to keep the controversial lesson. Most scientists oppose the lesson because they say it uses concepts straight out of intelligent design literature and allows a pseudo-scientific rehash of creationism to creep into high-school biology classrooms.

Two board members were absent, including Cuyahoga County representative Virgil Brown Jr., who voted in the past to delete the lesson, said Patricia Princehouse, Case Western Reserve University evolutionary biologist. She's hopeful that the full board will vote next month to eliminate the lesson.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which helped sue the Dover school board, says it will next turn its attention to the Ohio lesson plan with an eye to litigation, Princehouse said. The watchdog group sought an injunction yesterday against a California high school that is teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory, but doing so in a philosophy class.

The Ohio model lesson has similarities to the Dover intelligent design policy struck down by Judge John E. Jones III, said civil rights attorney Avery Friedman, one of four panelists at Temple Emanu El.

Ohio's lesson is "creationism by stealth" and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and will "certainly result in federal litigation," said Friedman. "Ultimately, the OBE and individual defendants will lose." He said taxpayers would end up owing millions of dollars to satisfy the judgment.

Noting that Jones is a church-going "staunch conservative Republican appointed by President George W. Bush," Friedman said his decision "while not binding, will without question be used by other federal courts because of its lucidity and impartiality."

In Pennsylvania, teachers were required to read a statement informing students that evolution was a theory, not a fact, with significant gaps it could not explain. It referred students to Of Pandas and People, an intelligent design textbook.

Intelligent design posits that life is too complex to be explained by the random, natural selection of Darwinian evolution and thus must be the work of a supernatural higher being or force.

One judge should not decide whether or not to teach intelligent design, countered panelist Chris Matthews, a geneticist who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio State University and supports the teaching of intelligent design. "There's been a very deliberate and calculated attempt to paint true scientists on one side of the debate and religious fanatics on the other."

Matthews accepted evolution until several years ago, when his work led him to recognize that "life is dramatically more complex than I ever realized before."

About 300 Ph.D. scientists have signed a scientific dissent from Darwinism, he said. They are relatively few, he claims, because scientists who dare to stand up and question Darwinian evolution are attacked, demoted from teaching posts, and nearly fired from their jobs.

"Teaching the controversy has no risks to people on the side of the truth," said Matthews, who insisted he does not advocate teaching religion in public schools. "We're teaching theories as fact that are very speculative."

Random mutations do occur, concedes Matthews, but they lead to diseases and disadvantages. "I have yet to see a mutation cause a beneficial change."

OBE member Brown was also a panelist. He does not believe that intelligent design is science, he said. "I do not believe it belongs in the science classroom. I do believe it is a proper subject to be taught, maybe in a history, philosophy or religions-of-the-world" class.

In 2002, the OBE revised its science curriculum standards to include the statement that scientists continue to critically analyze evolutionary theory. Politics, Brown said, played a major role.

The OBE prepares and administers proficiency exams based on the curriculum benchmarks; members voted to include a disclaimer saying the evolution standard does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.

"The board had to fashion some resolution that could pass," Brown said. "We wanted to make it clear that we aren't teaching or testing intelligent design. That was a concession that allowed the majority to vote in favor of" the science standard.

Furthermore, he said, the standards are voluntary for local school districts and teachers.

"It's amazing that 85 years after the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee, that we're still considering challenges to evolution to be a critical issue in education," said panelist Jerry Graham, a retired social studies teacher at Shaker Heights High School.

The debate is not really about science because a review of the scientific literature shows there is not much controversy about evolution, said Graham. "Should geography classes teach the flat earth controversy? There are Holocaust deniers, so in my history class should I teach the controversy that the Holocaust never took place?"

The furor over intelligent design "is a political question," he added. "I'm greatly concerned about the attempt to blur separation of church and state." Intelligent design is just one more salvo in the battle to bring religion into the public arena, said Graham.

A fundraising letter sent by Phillip E. Johnson, emeritus professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley and a co-founder of the Discovery Institute, a major promoter of intelligent design, indicates teaching good science is not the motive, Graham noted.

"Our ultimate goal is to affirm God and defeat Darwinism and promote an idea that is consonant with Christianity ... to shape public policy in accordance with conservative Christian philosophy and get it into our schools," Johnson wrote.

Sharing his own experience in biology class, a tenth-grade student in the audience said he accepts evolution of living organisms. But, like Matthews, he disagreed with the evolutionary theory that the first living cell developed eons ago from non-living matter. No material presented in class examined this theory.

"The first primordial cell can't be seen or proven, yet we accept that as science," he said. "Why not accept the opposite view that non-living matter could never form living matter?"

The inadequacy of science education in America is a very grave concern, Graham said. A Pew Foundation poll found that 25% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. Less than 10% know what a molecule is. And 40% of Americans say we should substitute creationism for evolution in biology classrooms.

California lawsuit opens new front in battle over 'intelligent design'


By Robert Marus Published January 13, 2006

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Opponents of "intelligent design" theory have opened a new front in the battle over the controversial theory, filing suit against a California school district that teaches intelligent design as philosophy rather than science.

On Jan. 1, the district's board of trustees voted to allow teaching of an elective course called "Philosophy of Design" at Frazier Mountain High School in the town of Lebec, located in the mountains about 65 miles north of Los Angeles.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit Jan. 11 in federal court on behalf of 11 parents in California's El Tejon Unified School District, saying the course is not simply teaching intelligent design but teaching it from a specifically religious viewpoint.

A course description, which was given to district parents in December, said the class would "take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid…. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."

Intelligent design theory has been offered by a handful of respected biologists -- and endorsed by many conservative religious leaders -- as an alternative to naturalistic theories of evolution. It posits that some biological structures are too complex to have evolved merely by the process of natural selection; instead, they are evidence of a super-intelligent designer.

But many biologists and moderate religious leaders have condemned ID as inextricably linked to creation science, which they say is more about theology than science.

In December, a federal judge agreed with them, ruling that a Pennsylvania school district's practice of endorsing ID in high-school biology classes violates the Constitution's prohibition on government establishment of religion.

However, several of the practice's critics said, at the time, they had no objection to ID theory being taught in philosophy or humanities classes.

But AU leaders said the California case is different, because the course is weighted toward a fundamentalist Christian view of the origins of life.

"Religious Right activists are looking for every opportunity to proselytize students into their doctrines. The so-called 'philosophy' course in Lebec is the latest maneuver in a long line of misguided schemes," said AU's executive director, Barry Lynn, in a press statement on the lawsuit.

"This situation has nothing to do with academic freedom or teaching critical thinking, as school officials contend," Lynn continued. "This is a clear case of government promotion of religion, and it violates the U.S. Constitution. Public schools serve children of many faiths and none, and the curriculum should never single out a particular religious viewpoint for preferential treatment."

The course was conceived by Sharon Lemburg, a special-education teacher who is also married to an Assemblies of God minister.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lemburg feels a divine calling to teach the course. "Did God guide me to do this?" she said, in an interview with a reporter from the newspaper. "I would hope so."

Lemburg began teaching the month-long course Jan. 3.

The lawsuit is Hurst v. Newman.


Robert L. Park Friday, 13 Jan 06 Washington, DC

Since 1991, http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN91/wn042691.html , WN has followed the strange case of the "hydrino," tiny hydrogen atoms in a "state below the ground state," according to Randell Mills, M.D., author of The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Quantum Mechanics. We haven't heard much about Mills and his company, BlackLight Power, since they lost a patent appeal three years ago http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN02/wn090602.html . But with the start of the new year, Dow Jones Newswires ran a story about deep-pocket financial gurus that are backing BlackLight. A retired head of energy banking at Morgan Stanley commented that physicists are "hostile" to Mills ideas. Bob Park, was the only physicist quoted. Sure enough, he was hostile. "Park represents an entrenched physics establishment that fears losing billions in funding and having its work discredited," Mills explained.

Who thought it would? In Dover, the issue was that intelligent design was misrepresented as science. So why not misrepresent it as something else? In Lebec, CA, a course on the Origins of Life is listed as Philosophy, but it's still intelligent design. The Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, CA is suing the University of California for not giving credit for courses with a "Christian viewpoint." At Calvary Chapel, that's everything but mathematics. In Ohio, they don't bother to disguise it. The Board of Education voted to keep a controversial biology lesson, Critical Analysis of Evolution, that tells students to examine "alternate theories of evolution." Lamarckian perhaps? In a fundraising letter, Discovery Institute founder Phillip Johnson dropped all pretense, "our ultimate goal is to affirm God and defeat Darwinism...to shape public policy in accordance with conservative Christian philosophy and get it into our schools."

The NIH funding bill, signed into law on 30 Dec 05, contains a measure inserted by Richard Durbin (D-IL) to prevent political interference in scientific decisions. There are some 1,000 federal advisory panels that examine science issues, such as safe drinking water standards. In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences had found that nominees to these panels were often questioned about their political affiliations and voting history. The new law makes it illegal to ask such questions of nominees, however, it provides no penalties if the ban is violated.

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

Report to Our Readers

The Center for Inquiry's Impact Increases In Spite of Dangerous Challenges

by Paul Kurtz, Chairman

We are pleased to report that the Center for Inquiry - Transnational continued its rapid growth in 2005. Our point of view is rather unique. We are defenders of science, reason, and freedom of inquiry in every area of human interest. We wish to develop the public appreciation for the methods of science and extend them wherever possible. We are also committed to secular and humanist values.

Many institutions in modern society are surely interested in science. Unfortunately, many of these institutions are narrowly specialized. Very few have been willing to advocate the general naturalistic perspective of science or to explore its dramatic implications for ethical and social values. The truth of the matter is that we are surrounded by dominant religious and ideological viewpoints that are rooted in tradition or power, and not committed to rationalism, skeptical inquiry, or humanist ethics.

The Center for Inquiry publishes two flagship magazines, Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry - plus fifteen other magazines, journals, and newsletters. It has established some thirty Centers for Inquiry or Communities in the world, with others in various stages of development. CFI is thus exerting strenuous efforts to expand its public impact.

The intense Culture Wars now being waged in the United States unfortunately are fulfilling the warning expressed in the "Secular Humanist Declaration," published in the first issue of Free Inquiry magazine twenty-five years ago, that the Moral Majoritylater the Christian Coalition and still later the Religious Right - would seek to seize political power in America, using the Bible as its weapon. Alas, this prediction is coming true, though many in the public are now becoming aware of the dangers. The Culture Wars have broad ramifications, for the principles at issue are at the center of a global struggle with other forms of fundamentalism. These include attacks on science, secularism, and humanist ethics; the injection of conflicting views of God in the public square; and the war with Islam.

To read the entire report,visit

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Calif. Sets Stage for First Intelligent Design Legal Battle


Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 Posted: 8:24:51PM EST

A California school is being sued for teaching an elective philosophy class on intelligent design that criticizes evolution, and is being asked to stop the class because it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The suit in federal court filed on Tuesday states that the separation of church and state is being violated by Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, a rural town about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Intelligent design theory holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they point to an intelligent designer.

"The course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, 'intelligent design,'" the suit stated. "Because the teacher has no scientific training, students are not provided with any critical analysis of this presentation."

The case in California is the state's first involving intelligent design. It follows a prominent federal case involving a school district in Dover, Pa., where a judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, but a form of creationism and should not be taught in science classes.

The El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees approved the course at Frazier, called "Philosophy of Design," to be taught for one month at the beginning of the year. Attorneys believed the course could survive if a court challenge came since the class contained the word "philosophy," according to the Los Angeles Times.

The teacher of the class is Sharon Lemburg, who is a special education instructor and wife of an Assemblies of God minister. The Pentecostal denomination holds a strong position on creationism, believing in the literal 7-day creation of the earth by God.

The course description of the class, which students and their families were told about, says that "the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

The Superintendent of the School district in California said last week that the "Philosophy of Design" course was not being taught as science in order to give the students the opportunity to debate the issue, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, one of the main proponents of Intelligent Design who opposed the Dover ruling has suggested that the intelligent design course being presented in California change its course materials or the name of its elective philosophy class.

"The title and nature of this course are problematic and appear to misrepresent the content of the course and intelligent design," wrote a Discovery Institute attorney in a letter sent to the El Tejon Unified School District.

The letter urged the school district to "either reformulate the course by removing the young earth creationist materials or re-title the course as a course not focused on intelligent design."

The Discovery Institute maintains that intelligent design is science, has nothing to do with biblical creation, and bases itself only on empirical evidence to support it from which design is inferred.

However the liberal group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which also helped argue the Dover case, asserts that the theory promotes biblical creationism, making it an unconstitutional injection of religion into the public school.

The federal case is Hurst v. Newman, 06-00012.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 761 January 11, 2006 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

BEST DIRECT TEST OF E=mc^2. Albert Einstein's formulation of how matter and energy are equivalent is an important enunciation of the principle of conserved energy. As far as we know, it is at work at the moment an atom bomb explodes, when the fissioning of uranium is exploited for making commercial electricity, or when an electron and positron annihilate inside a PET scanner. A new experiment---conducted by scientists from MIT, Universite Laval, Florida State, Oxford, NIST, and Institut Laue-Langevin---keeps careful account of both matter mass and electromagnetic energy for a process in which ions of sulphur and silicon absorb neutrons, transforming them into new isotopes as they emit gamma rays. In this transaction Einstein's equation is shown experimentally to be true at a level of 0.00004%, a factor of 55 better than the previous best test. (Rainville et al., Nature, 22/29 December 2005.)

EXTRASOLAR PLANETS IN BINARY STAR SYSTEMS were, at first, unexpected since it was thought that the presence of a second or even third star would disrupt the formation of a planet in the first place. But then why have 30 such exoplanets been found in double and triple star groupings? Moreover, some of the planets detected reside in systems where the companion stars are not far away but actually rather close in---tens of astronomical units (one AU equals the Earth-Sun distance) or less. At this week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Washington, DC, Alan Boss argued that the presence of a second star, far from disrupting the formation of planets around the first star from diffuse matter, can actually enhance the enterprise. Boss, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution, said that the cross-gravitational forces operating in a multiple-star system can in some cases, through the process of shock heating, trigger a faster development of dense spiral arms in which gas and dust clumping can lead to planets. Since an estimated two thirds of all stars in the Milky Way reside in complex groupings, Boss asserted that a theory allowing for matter agglomeration in such places would greatly increase the number of suitable targets for exoplanet hunters. (Images at http://www.dtm.ciw.edu/boss/ftp/binary/ )

EXTENDED RED EMISSION (or ERE), a mysterious astronomical effect in which regions of diffuse red light are observed in planetary nebulae and in the galactic halo, comes from nanodiamonds in space. So say Huan-Cheng Chang and his colleagues at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. At the AAS meeting, they reported the results of a recent experiment. As they suspected that ERE was analogous to the operation of a fluorescent lamp---where ultraviolet light is converted into visible light when it strikes a coating inside the lamp tube. In the experiment, nanometer-sized diamonds, first filled with defects by hitting the diamonds with a powerful proton beam, then heated to a temperature of 800 C to create conditions roughly matching those of space. When yellow and blue light was shone on the nanodiamonds, ERE-type luminescence resulted. The diamonds presumably would have been made in the vicinity of carbon-rich stellar zones. One example of such emission, in the proto-planetary nebula HD 44179, also called "The Red Rectangle,"can be seen at http://www.iras.ucalgary.ca/~kwok/aas207/ . Further discussion of the Red Rectangle was provided by Boston University astronomer Kenneth Brecher (see http://lite.bu.edu/vision/applets/Lightness/Pyramid/Pyramid.html )

SHOCK-PRODUCED COHERENT LIGHT. Physicists at MIT and Livermore National Lab have discovered a new source of coherent radiation distinct from traditional lasers and free-electron lasers; they propose to build a device in which coherent photons are produced by sending shock waves through a crystal. The result would be coherent light resembling the radiation issuing from a laser; but the mechanism of light production would not be stimulated emission, as it is in a laser, but rather the concerted motion of row after row of atoms in the target crystal. The passing shock front, set in motion by a projectile or laser blast, successively excites a huge density wave in the crystal; the atoms, returning to their original places in the matrix, emit light coherently, mostly in the THz wavelength band. Although sources of coherent light in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum have developed in recent years, it is still a difficult task. The next step will be to carry out an experimental test of the shock-wave light production. This work will be performed at two national labs---Livermore and Los Alamos. According to Evan Reed (who moved from MIT to Livermore, reed23@llnl.gov) the first likely application of coherent radiation will be as a diagnostic for understanding shock waves. The radiation should provide information about shock speed and the degree of crystallinity (Reed et al., Physical Review Letters, 13 January 2006)

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