NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 February 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted


DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies are being twisted to attack its beliefs.

By William Lobdell, Times Staff Writer

From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

"I've gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness."

For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error.

For those outside the faith, the depth of the church's dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn't sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland — and that U.S. history books were wrong.

Critics want the church to admit its mistake and apologize to millions of Native Americans it converted. Church leaders have shown no inclination to do so. Indeed, they have dismissed as heresy any suggestion that Native American genetics undermine the Mormon creed.

Yet at the same time, the church has subtly promoted a fresh interpretation of the Book of Mormon intended to reconcile the DNA findings with the scriptures. This analysis is radically at odds with long-standing Mormon teachings.

Some longtime observers believe that ultimately, the vast majority of Mormons will disregard the genetic research as an unworthy distraction from their faith.

"This may look like the crushing blow to Mormonism from the outside," said Jan Shipps, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who has studied the church for 40 years. "But religion ultimately does not rest on scientific evidence, but on mystical experiences. There are different ways of looking at truth."

According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an angel named Moroni led Joseph Smith in 1827 to a divine set of golden plates buried in a hillside near his New York home.

God provided the 22-year-old Smith with a pair of glasses and seer stones that allowed him to translate the "Reformed Egyptian" writings on the golden plates into the "Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

Mormons believe these scriptures restored the church to God's original vision and left the rest of Christianity in a state of apostasy.

The book's narrative focuses on a tribe of Jews who sailed from Jerusalem to the New World in 600 BC and split into two main warring factions.

The God-fearing Nephites were "pure" (the word was officially changed from "white" in 1981) and "delightsome." The idol-worshiping Lamanites received the "curse of blackness," turning their skin dark.

According to the Book of Mormon, by 385 AD the dark-skinned Lamanites had wiped out other Hebrews. The Mormon church called the victors "the principal ancestors of the American Indians." If the Lamanites returned to the church, their skin could once again become white.

Over the years, church prophets — believed by Mormons to receive revelations from God — and missionaries have used the supposed ancestral link between the ancient Hebrews and Native Americans and later Polynesians as a prime conversion tool in Central and South America and the South Pacific.

"As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi [patriarch of the Lamanites], whose sons and daughters you are," church president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said in 1997 during a Mormon conference in Lima, Peru. "I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude…. This is but the beginning of the work in Peru."

In recent decades, Mormonism has flourished in those regions, which now have nearly 4 million members — about a third of Mormon membership worldwide, according to church figures.

"That was the big sell," said Damon Kali, an attorney who practices law in Sunnyvale, Calif., and is descended from Pacific Islanders. "And quite frankly, that was the big sell for me. I was a Lamanite. I was told the day of the Lamanite will come."

A few months into his two-year mission in Peru, Kali stopped trying to convert the locals. Scientific articles about ancient migration patterns had made him doubt that he or anyone else was a Lamanite.

"Once you do research and start getting other viewpoints, you're toast," said Kali, who said he was excommunicated in 1996 over issues unrelated to the Lamanite issue. "I could not do missionary work anymore."

Critics of the Book of Mormon have long cited anachronisms in its narrative to argue that it is not the work of God. For instance, the Mormon scriptures contain references to a seven-day week, domesticated horses, cows and sheep, silk, chariots and steel. None had been introduced in the Americas at the time of Christ.

In the 1990s, DNA studies gave Mormon detractors further ammunition and new allies such as Simon G. Southerton, a molecular biologist and former bishop in the church.

Southerton, a senior research scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, said genetic research allowed him to test his religious views against his scientific training.

Genetic testing of Jews throughout the world had already shown that they shared common strains of DNA from the Middle East. Southerton examined studies of DNA lineages among Polynesians and indigenous peoples in North, Central and South America. One mapped maternal DNA lines from 7,300 Native Americans from 175 tribes.

Southerton found no trace of Middle Eastern DNA in the genetic strands of today's American Indians and Pacific Islanders.

In "Losing a Lost Tribe," published in 2004, he concluded that Mormonism — his faith for 30 years — needed to be reevaluated in the face of these facts, even though it would shake the foundations of the faith.

The problem is that Mormon leaders cannot acknowledge any factual errors in the Book of Mormon because the prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed it the "most correct of any book on Earth," Southerton said in an interview.

"They can't admit that it's not historical," Southerton said. "They would feel that there would be a loss of members and loss in confidence in Joseph Smith as a prophet."

Officially, the Mormon Church says that nothing in the Mormon scriptures is incompatible with DNA evidence, and that the genetic studies are being twisted to attack the church.

"We would hope that church members would not simply buy into the latest DNA arguments being promulgated by those who oppose the church for some reason or other," said Michael Otterson, a Salt Lake City-based spokesman for the Mormon church.

"The truth is, the Book of Mormon will never be proved or disproved by science," he said.

Unofficially, church leaders have tacitly approved an alternative interpretation of the Book of Mormon by church apologists — a term used for scholars who defend the faith.

The apologists say Southerton and others are relying on a traditional reading of the Book of Mormon — that the Hebrews were the first and sole inhabitants of the New World and eventually populated the North and South American continents.

The latest scholarship, they argue, shows that the text should be interpreted differently. They say the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small section of Central America, and that the Hebrew tribe was small enough that its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans.

"It would be a virtual certainly that their DNA would be swamped," said Daniel Peterson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, part of the worldwide Mormon educational system, and editor of a magazine devoted to Mormon apologetics. "And if that is the case, you couldn't tell who was a Lamanite descendant."

Southerton said the new interpretation was counter to both a plain reading of the text and the words of Mormon leaders.

"The apologists feel that they are almost above the prophets," Southerton said. "They have completely reinvented the narrative in a way that would be completely alien to members of the church and most of the prophets."

The church has not formally endorsed the apologists' views, but the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — http://www.lds.org — cites their work and provides links to it.

"They haven't made any explicit public declarations," said Armand L. Mauss, a church member and retired Washington State University professor who recently published a book on Mormon race and lineage. "But operationally, that is the current church's position."

The DNA debate is largely limited to church leaders, academics and a relatively small circle of church critics. Most Mormons, taught that obedience is a key value, take the Book of Mormon as God's unerring word.

"It's not that Mormons are not curious," Mauss said. "They just don't see the need to reconsider what has already been decided."

Critics contend that Mormon leaders are quick to stifle dissent. In 2002, church officials began an excommunication proceeding against Thomas W. Murphy, an anthropology professor at Edmonds Community College in Washington state.

He was deemed a heretic for saying the Mormon scriptures should be considered inspired fiction in light of the DNA evidence.

After the controversy attracted national media coverage, with Murphy's supporters calling him the Galileo of Mormonism, church leaders halted the trial.

Loayza, the Salt Lake City attorney, said the church should embrace the controversy.

"They should openly address it," he said. "Often, the tack they adopt is to just ignore or refrain from any opinion. We should have the courage of our convictions. This [Lamanite issue] is potentially destructive to the faith."

Otterson, the church spokesman, said Mormon leaders would remain neutral. "Whether Book of Mormon geography is extensive or limited or how much today's Native Americans reflect the genetic makeup of the Book of Mormon peoples has absolutely no bearing on its central message as a testament of Jesus Christ," he said.

Mauss said the DNA studies haven't shaken his faith. "There's not very much in life — not only in religion or any field of inquiry — where you can feel you have all the answers," he said.

"I'm willing to live in ambiguity. I don't get that bothered by things I can't resolve in a week."

For others, living with ambiguity has been more difficult. Phil Ormsby, a Polynesian who lives in Brisbane, Australia, grew up believing he was a Hebrew.

"I visualized myself among the fighting Lamanites and lived out the fantasies of the [Book of Mormon] as I read it," Ormsby said. "It gave me great mana [prestige] to know that these were my true ancestors."

The DNA studies have altered his feelings completely.

"Some days I am angry, and some days I feel pity," he said. "I feel pity for my people who have become obsessed with something that is nothing but a hoax."

ACLU wants TPS to bar creationism, intelligent design



The Ohio ACLU yesterday demanded that Toledo Public Schools cease any instruction of intelligent design or creationism.

The request came in response to an article in The Blade Monday in which some public school teachers acknowledged they included creationism or intelligent design when discussing evolution in the classroom.

The letter from Jeffrey Gamso, the legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, states that the teaching of creationism "is unconstitutional, as it violates the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state. We urge you to instruct the teachers of the Toledo Public Schools at once to cease teaching what is nothing but a veiled attempt to introduce religion into the classroom, under the guise of 'scientific theory.'?"

It appears the ACLU will get no fight from the school district.

"We intend to inform our teachers that they need to stick with the state standards," said John Foley, the district's chief of staff.

"We have sanctioned the state standards, which includes evolution as the scientifically proven theory" of how life developed, Mr. Foley said.

Superintendent Eugene Sanders was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Darlene Fisher, president of the Toledo Board of Education, said the district will send a reminder to those in charge of curriculum that all must adhere to the state standards.

"We've always followed state guidelines," Ms. Fisher said. Teachers who took up creationism arguments in the classroom were acting without school sanction.

But she said that a second notice probably will be circulated to cover the state Board of Education's decision yesterday to drop all mention of alternative theories to evolution from state science standards.

"Once we get the ruling of the new state change, we will send another letter to our teachers and curriculum chairs,'' she said.

Although the ACLU's Mr. Gamso declined to say what the organization would do if the teachers continued to include creationism in their science instruction, his letter to the schools suggested a lawsuit wouldn't be out of the question.

"The ACLU has successfully litigated a number of cases involving violations of the First Amendment by public school administrators, including the Dover School Board case," the letter stated.

The ACLU successfully challenged the Dover, Pa., school board's decision to make intelligent design part of the science curriculum.

Contact Jenni Laidman at:
or 419-724-6507.

Bill banning intelligent design draws national notice


Restricts teaching of intelligent design

By Judith Davidoff

Religious conservatives around the country are up in arms over a Wisconsin bill that would ban the teaching of intelligent design as science in the state's public schools.

Focus on the Family, the evangelical Christian advocacy group led by founder James Dobson, panned the legislation this week on its Web site.

"If you can't beat them, keep them from showing up for the game," the group opined. "That's the tack Wisconsin evolutionists and liberal lawmakers are taking in attempting to ban the study of intelligent design in public schools."

Baptist Press, the online wire service of the Southern Baptist Convention, based in Nashville, also was critical. It called the introduction of the bill by Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau "an unprecedented political move to protect evolution."

Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists who helped draft the Wisconsin proposal are contacting friends and allies in other states, hoping to curry the introduction of similar legislation around the country.

"We think what we've introduced is just a standard for science education and we would like it adopted nationwide," said Alan Attie, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who helped draft Berceau's bill.

Attie said the Baptist Press and other critics are misrepresenting the bill as banning intelligent design and creationism from the classroom.

"We're not planning to do that at all," he said. In fact, Attie said, the bill provides an opportunity to fully explore the question of what is science and how it should be defined. "We see this as a wonderful teaching moment," Attie added.

The proposal has been popular blog material since Berceau announced it last week. A search on Google's new blog search turned up 48 references to the bill.

William Dembski, one of the leading proponents of intelligent design, is offering a $1,000 award to the first teacher in Wisconsin who would challenge the policy by teaching intelligent design as science within a public school curriculum.

On his Web site, Dembski said Berceau's bill bodes well for proponents of intelligent design, which proposes that biology was shaped by an intelligent creator.

"I take this as a clear sign that we are winning," he said.

"Wisconsin may well be evolution's Waterloo," Dembski added.

Berceau said her office has received more than 50 phone calls and e-mails from all over the country about the bill and almost all have been favorable.

Berceau said only one person in an e-mail called her a "communist" and an "atheist."

"If the Christian right is interested, they're not calling me."

Gary McCaleb, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian law firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said in an interview that his firm would take a hard look at the legislation.

"Mandating a point of view and trying to enshrine your current science in law is, to me, just scientists begging for disaster," McCaleb said. "It's very problematic to have scientists trying to shut down the debate."

Attie said he and the other UW scientists backing the bill are doing just the opposite.

"We're trying to uphold standards for science education, but by no means do we want to stop discussion. We've very interested in discussing this issue at length, but we want truth in labeling. Intelligent design is religion and it's not science."

E-mail: jdavidoff@madison.com

Published: February 16, 2006

Technical questions and comments may be directed to The Capital Times Web editor Please state your concern in the subject line.

Copyright 2006 The Capital Times

Freelance writers retain the copyright for their work that appears on this site.

Ohio Board Boots Anti-Evolution Policy


By Constance Holden ScienceNOW Daily News

15 February 2006

The Ohio Board of Education has delivered another blow in favor of Darwinian evolution: On 14 February, the board voted 11 to 4 to rescind a policy passed in 2002 stating that public school students should be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The seemingly innocuous phrase "critically analyze" is used by promoters of Intelligent Design (ID) to avoid making any anti-evolution references that could be construed as religious. The National Center for Science Education called the vote a "stunning triumph" for Ohio students.

The policy in question was accompanied by a model lesson plan, issued in 2004, which suggested that teachers divide up classes for pro- and anti-evolution debates, says Ohio State University biology professor Steve Rissing. It is not clear whether this was actually done at any schools. But Rissing says the Discovery Institute, ID's main think tank, has trumpeted Ohio's standard nationally as "the right way to do it."

Observers say a variety of pressures led to the change. First was Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District, the recent Pennsylvania court decision knocking down a requirement by a local school board that students be informed about ID (ScienceNOW, 20 December 2005). Soon after, a group called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State alerted the Ohio board to comments by scientific advisers that contended that the "critically analyze" policy was creationist-inspired. There was also heavy lobbying of the board by scientists and the Ohio Citizens for Science. Even Republican Governor Robert Taft indicated that the policy needed to be reviewed.

Whether the vote marks progress for evolution or is only another swing of the pendulum is not clear. "I think it means the same old thing it always means. ... [Creationism won't disappear but] it's now going to submerge and go back into the anoxic layer of the swamp from which it came," says Rissing. Public opinion may be slower to change. As the Discovery Institute has pointed out, a recent poll in Ohio showed that two-thirds of the respondents still think both the "strengths and weaknesses" of Darwinian theory should be taught.

Related site

Ohio Citizens for Science

Courts, school boards and public opinion have made evolution a hot topic



February 16, 2006

UC San Diego biologist Ajit Varki doesn't want to debate evolution. Doing that, he said, would make people think there's something to debate.

For him, rejecting evolution is like trying to understand chemistry without the Periodic Table of the Elements or arguing that Earth is flat.

"Everybody can have their own view of faith and origins and so on," Varki said. "But when it comes to science, you've got to deal with facts."

Although researchers such as Varki embrace evolution, polls show that nearly half of the American public rejects it, prefering to believe God created humans at some point in the past 10,000 years.

So the national debate about the teaching of evolution carries on. In recent months, a convergence of school-board disagreements, court cases and public pronouncements by conservative legislators have again made evolution a hot topic in the American cultural landscape.

As controversies about evolution have erupted at public schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, California and elsewhere, President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and other political leaders have argued that evolution should be balanced with other views.

Acknowledging the high-profile discord, the American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold several panel discussions on evolution at its annual meeting, which began today in St. Louis. The association is the world's largest general scientific group.

The conference's focus on evolution follows the association's declaration in December that evolution-related discoveries in 2005 were the science world's "Breakthrough of the Year."

Also in December, a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for a school district in Dover, Pa., to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes.

Supporters of intelligent design argue that complexities seen in nature cannot be explained by evolution, which refers to a natural process of genetic changes that leads to new species over time. They insist that an intelligent designer brings about the phenomena, though their studies make no conclusions about the identity of this designer.

More than 150 years after Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, millions of Americans believe there's scant evidence for it. That alarms biologists such as Varki, who wonder how Americans can so readily disregard more than a century of scientific advancements.

"I know that a lot of scientists are very frustrated about it," Varki said. "On the other hand, I think for us individually to go out and try to deal with it is hopeless."

Resurgent interest

Many issues divide Americans, but evolution doesn't have to be one of them, some scientists and historians said.

Lost in today's polarizing debates about evolution is a recognition that many scientists are religious people and many religious people respect the value of science, said Naomi Oreskes, a historian at the University of California San Diego.

"Science is complicated and theology is complicated, but there's something almost primitive about the way this thing has gotten cast," Oreskes said.

Religion and science offer two very distinct perspectives of the world, but they don't have to be at odds, said Joshua Kohn, an evolutionary biologist at UCSD.

"The bigger issue here is what is and isn't science," Kohn said. "There's no scientist who's going to prove or disprove the existence of God. It's just a different realm."

The evolution debate has huge implications. At stake are decisions on how public schools should teach children about the origin of humans, religion's place in public life and whether Americans believe in the ability of science to describe the natural world.

Why does the question of how humans came to be still generate conflict in America, and why has it received greater attention in the past year? The answer has a lot to do with the nation's religious heritage, Americans' suspicion of authority and appeal for a sense of fairness, their unfamiliarity with science, and election politics, historians and social scientists said.

The Dover court decision was a mere "bump in the road" for people who aim to discredit evolution, said scholars who have studied the controversy. Proponents of intelligent design agree.

"We're getting more calls, more e-mails . . . (and) a lot more requests from students, especially college-age students who are looking at going into the sciences," said Robert L. Crowther, a spokesman with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle group that promotes intelligent design.

"Rather than be the nail in the coffin," Crowther said, "this decision and the whole trial itself has really ignited the issue."

Roots of tension

The United States is a predominantly religious country with tens of millions of people who believe deeply that God created human beings. But it also has a Constitution that calls for the separation of church and state.

"American society has always had a kind of uneasy compromise between a deep religious conviction on the part of the American people, and also a constitutional commitment to the nonestablishment of religion," Oreskes said. "I think those things have always lived in tension."

The evolution controversy also continues to be fueled by Americans' predisposition to question authority, Oreskes said. U.S. scientists displayed this trait in the late 19th century when they broke from European ideas of how science should be conducted.

"We had this wonderful anti-authoritarian attitude that made it possible for us to make new innovations and be more open-minded," Oreskes said. "Well, guess what? That comes home to roost, because it's not scientists in America who are anti-authoritarian, it's Americans in general."

Today, the science establishment is perceived by many as just another object of authority that's worthy of suspicion, she said.

While scientists have refused to speak with believers of intelligent design and creation science, politicians have long courted them, said Jon D. Miller, a professor at Northwestern University Medical School who studies the public's understanding of science. Miller is the organizer of "Science Under Attack," a Saturday session at the conference in St. Louis.

In his view, the struggle over teaching evolution in schools has been fueled largely by religious conservatives hoping to secure office in Republican-dominated states.

"There's a very pragmatic reason why these (debates) reappear, and it's not at all accidental that they appear right before major primary elections," Miller said. "These issues become in right-wing politics a very powerful tool, because it's a way of mobilizing a base. . . . It's a litmus test, and besides, it's kind of a throwaway issue. It doesn't really make any economic difference to anybody."

The tactic is hardly new in American politics, Miller said. For years, he noted, Democrats in the South exploited the politics of race to win elections.

By advocating that all sides of the human-origin issue be given equal time, Bush, Frist and other legislators appeal to Americans' sense of fairness and justice, social scientists said.

"It's a wonderful cultural trait, and I think having town meetings and participatory democracy – that's just wonderful, and it's completely irrelevant to science," said Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland. The nonprofit group works to preserve the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Scientific knowledge is not built on a sea of opinions, researchers said, but on an accumulation of evidence that supports or overturns ideas about how the world functions.

"People learned in second grade that science is observational, science is experimental, science is repeatable," Scott said. "They learn this set of characteristics someplace in junior high or high school, but they kind of miss the big picture."

Raising defenses

Nicholas Spitzer, a neuroscientist at UCSD, draws a sharp distinction between science and intelligent design.

"The thing that science does is it allows an experimental approach," he said. "The thing that intelligent design does is to take experiment off the table."

Proponents of intelligent design have said all they want is a fair hearing. Yet no organizer of the science conference in St. Louis contacted the Discovery Institute – the group that espouses intelligent design – to see if it wanted to participate in the discussions about evolution, Crowther said.

That's disappointing for Josh Norton, a UCSD senior and head of an intelligent-design club on campus.

"They're not objectively interacting with the argument," said Norton, a math and philosophy major. "We don't have anyone going to (the conference) to talk about intelligent design, and that bothers me."

Norton has had difficulty getting professors at his university to talk about the subject. He said one of them dismissed his request by saying, "there's nothing intelligent in intelligent design."

Norton added: "That's the most frustrating of all. I may have a false belief . . . but I wish someone would at least show me why."

At UCSD, which is known for its strength in science and engineering, faculty members are realizing they need to pay more attention to the controversy. Two years ago, a UCSD survey found that 40 percent of incoming freshmen to the university's Sixth College – geared toward educating students for a high-tech 21st century – do not believe in evolution, said the college's provost, Gabriele Wienhausen.

The university now requires students who major in biology to complete a course in biological evolution, Kohn said. The policy became effective with freshmen who enrolled last fall. Professors had discussed the change for years, he said, but the Sixth College poll made it more urgent.

"Our own faculty has gotten sensitized to the issue that there's a bunch of people that just don't get it," Kohn said.

He doesn't expect much progress in resolving the evolution debate anytime soon.

"I think there is a deep-seated desire to believe that humans are special, and that the Earth is our dominion rather than we're just another endpoint among all the other endpoints of evolution," Kohn said.

Call for Openness at NASA Adds to Reports of Pressure


February 16, 2006 By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Top political appointees in the NASA press office exerted strong pressure during the 2004 presidential campaign to cut the flow of news releases on glaciers, climate, pollution and other earth sciences, public affairs officers at the agency say.

The disclosure comes nearly two weeks after the NASA administrator, Michael D. Griffin, called for "scientific openness" at the agency. In response to that, researchers and public affairs workers at the agency have described in fresh detail how political appointees altered or limited news releases on scientific findings that could have conflicted with administration policies.

Some examples have been reported to senior scientists and administrators who are assembling complaints as part of a review of communications policies demanded by Dr. Griffin, who became administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in April. Others have been described or provided to The New York Times.

Press officers, who were granted anonymity because they said they were still concerned for their jobs despite Dr. Griffin's call for openness, said much of the pressure in late 2004 was placed on Gretchen Cook-Anderson. At the time, Ms. Cook-Anderson was in charge of managing the flow of earth science news at NASA headquarters.

In a conference call with colleagues in October 2004, the colleagues said, she said that Glenn Mahone, then the assistant administrator for public affairs, had told her that a planned news conference on fresh readings by a new NASA satellite, Aura, that measures ozone and air pollution, should not take place until after the election.

In an e-mail message yesterday, Ms. Cook-Anderson, who now works as a writer and editor for NASA through a contractor, said, "While I can't discuss these matters, I won't disagree with that description of what took place."

Mr. Mahone has since left NASA. He did not return several calls seeking comment yesterday. Dean Acosta, a political appointee who was then Mr. Mahone's deputy and is now Dr. Griffin's press secretary, said he had never pressed Ms. Cook-Anderson to cut back on news releases. "I was not part of any meeting that would have been party to that," Mr. Acosta said.

But archives of news releases on the NASA headquarters Web site show a sharp change in the number of such releases, to 12 in 2005 from about four dozen in 2004, a figure that had helped lead to the pressure to cut back. (The figures do not count routine announcements of events like satellite launchings.)

Dr. Griffin announced the review of communications policies after complaints last month by James E. Hansen, the agency's top climate scientist, that political appointees were trying to stop him from speaking out on global warming. After those complaints were reported in The Times, other scientists and press officers came forward with similar stories.

In a more recent example of possible political pressure at the agency, press officers and scientists cited an e-mail message sent last July from NASA's headquarters to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It said a Web presentation describing the uncontroversial finding that Earth was a "warming planet" could not use the phrase "global warming." It is "standard practice," the message went on, to use the phrase "climate change."

NASA officials said the intent was to use the most general term to describe climate fluctuations. But other public affairs workers and some scientists at the agency called it an effort to avoid mentioning that global temperatures are rising.

The e-mail message was written by Erica Hupp, a civil servant at headquarters. She did not reply to several requests for comment, but several people who work with her, and others who preceded her in managing earth-science news in the office, said this was a standing unwritten order from political appointees in public affairs.

"There was this general understanding that when something in this field was written about that it was to be described as climate change and not global warming," said Elvia H. Thompson, who recently retired from the same office.

Some efforts to delay or alter news releases on earth science involving the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were reported last fall by Rosemary Sullivant, a writer working for NASA, to an ethics group at the laboratory and to David Baltimore, the president of the California Institute of Technology, which manages the laboratory.

Ms. Sullivant declined to discuss the matter, but yesterday, Charles Elachi, the director of the laboratory, said he and Dr. Baltimore had conferred about the complaints and determined that while such activities had occurred, there was no evidence they were still going on.

Dr. Elachi added that he had told public affairs officials at the laboratory that he wanted to know immediately about any future efforts to influence the tenor of science findings.

"I will contact headquarters and tell them that that will be an issue," he said.

The recent accusations of political interference appear to reflect an intensifying debate between a small but influential cluster of presidential appointees at NASA headquarters and longtime civil servants and career scientists dispersed at space agency research hubs around the country.

"The issue is where does science end and policy begin," said David Goldston, chief of staff to Representative Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee.

The subject is likely to come up today at a NASA budget hearing before the Science Committee.

A central point of division within NASA is how much "openness" is appropriate when such expressions conflict with administration policy.

Last Thursday, in comments at the National Space Club in Washington, Dr. Griffin said the agency must ensure that its scientists can speak freely on the implications of their work for policy — as long as they do not imply they are representing NASA.

Answering a question, he described a divide within the agency between those seeking "to enforce a line between what's true and what to do about what's true" and experts at NASA with strong personal views.

"Some folks don't wish to observe that line," he said, according to a transcript provided by a NASA official. "And if they don't, as long as people speak as private citizens, my attitude is, let me hold your coat for you. You can get into that fray and get beat up. You just can't label it as an agency position."

David R. Mould, NASA's assistant administrator for public affairs and a political appointee, said none of the appointees had brought a political agenda to the agency.

"We've received no marching orders from anyone," Mr. Mould said.

Warren E. Leary contributed reporting for this article.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Give-and-take deepens ID-evolution exchange


Feb 13, 2006

By Gary D. Myers Baptist Press

MARIETTA, Ga. (BP)--Evolutionist Michael Ruse posed the first question to Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski.

After the featured speakers at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum set forth their respective viewpoints, Ruse and Dembski then traded questions.

Ruse, the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and professor of zoology at Florida State and editor of the "Cambridge University Press Series in the Philosophy of Biology," asked Dembski, "If Intelligent Design is indeed a true scientific paradigm or research program, what results in science are you actually getting?"

Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher who is the Carl F. H. Henry Professor of Theology and Science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, began his response by noting that ongoing ID research focuses on explaining facts found in the biological world. ID proponents, he said, are trying to discover how best to explain what they observe –- either as a product of design or natural selection.

Discovery of new facts is not the goal of science, Dembski said. He quoted Nobel laureate William Bragg who stated, "The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them."

"I don't think the burden on Intelligent Design is to simply come up with new experiments or new facts," Dembski said. "There are ways of trying to make sense [of the facts]."

Dembski, for his first question, asked Ruse to clarify the seeming contradiction of using guided scientific experience to explain unguided, natural selection. Dembski read a passage from Ruse's book "Can a Darwinist be a Christian?"

"At the moment, the hand of human design and intention hangs heavily over everything, but work is going forward rapidly to create conditions in which molecules can make the right and needed steps without constant outside help," Ruse wrote. "When that happens ... the dreaming stops and the fun begins."

Dembski said to Ruse, "All the evidence at this point, is pointing to Intelligent Design bringing about these systems. Yet you seem to have this confidence that at some point you can just get rid of all this evidence for Intelligent Design and that these systems will be explained by natural forces. How do you come to that conclusion?"

"Obviously, I believe in intelligent design," Ruse replied. "I believe this computer was intelligently designed. I'm not denying that the world is as if designed. This is not our problem."

Scientific experiments require design and intelligence, Ruse agreed, and scientists work to simulate situations which they believe are natural.

Although experiments require the intervention of a scientist, Ruse said he believes the results can best be described by natural selection with no need for Intelligent Design.

Ruse then returned to his argument that Intelligent Design presupposes the Christian God.

"Are you seriously suggesting that some grad student on Andromeda is running an experiment and we're it?" Ruse asked. "Of course you're not. You're invoking God, and that's just not acceptable in science, and not necessary."

"So the grad student on Andromeda is more acceptable than God?" Dembski quipped.

Ruse said his problem with ID theory is the unnamed designer and the refusal to answer the "God question."

"I don't think you can keep it just hanging and simply say, 'Oh well, I don't have to answer that question,'" Ruse said. "I think that's cheating."

After they dialoged, the other conference presenters were given an opportunity to question the speakers. William Lane Craig, research professor at Talbot School of Theology, was the first to pose a question.

Craig said he is ready to follow the evidence to a conclusion, but found Ruse's evidence for natural selection lacking. Earlier in the evening, Ruse offered turtles and finches on the Galapagos Islands and the bird-reptile, Archaeopteryx as examples of natural selection at work.

These examples, Craig noted, fall within a "minuscule portion of the animal kingdom" -– vertebrates. He pressed Ruse for additional examples of natural selection.

"I think the evidence you gave in your opening talk was rather thin," Craig said. "What would justify the extrapolation to say that all the phyla [the animal classification of living organisms] have evolved by these mechanisms from a common ancestor?"

Many people accept Darwinism as plausible, Ruse responded; they have no problem accepting changes with a phylum but become hung up over the problem of common ancestry.

Good science, Ruse said, does not require the discovery of all the answers. He said that "many good problems" remain, but that research into these problems could yield naturalistic solutions.

"I've always said that naturalism, if you like, is ... an act of faith," Ruse said to an outburst of applause from the audience. "I would feel more comfortable saying it is a metaphysical commitment. I don't think metaphysical commitments are stupid."

Those who are not naturalists, Ruse claimed, have other "burning concerns" they deem more important than science. He suggested that Christians are motivated by fear of facing God after life, a concern that outweighs a commitment to science.

Martinez Hewlett, professor emeritus of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Arizona and adjunct professor of philosophy and theology at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, Calif., asked both men to explain their understanding of "cause."

Dembski said ID theorists posit an irreducible cause behind things. This irreducible cause, they believe, has intentionality and purpose. Dembski made a distinction between this irreducible cause (a designer) and material causes (natural forces).

Ruse addressed the causation question by bring up the issue of God again. He said ID theorists must choose to either bring the "whole issue of God" into science or to completely leave the issue out of science. Ruse accused Dembski of trying to "have it both ways."

Pointing to the causation theories of Aristotle, Dembski argued that one need not be a Christian to hold to Intelligent Design. Aristotle, he said, saw teleology (design and purpose) as something built into nature.

Ruse continued pressing Dembski on the issue -– claiming that ID proponents invoke God as the designer.

Dembski, openly acknowledging that he is a Christian, said the science of ID does not point out the nature of the designer. People from all faith and philosophical backgrounds, he said, are intrigued by ID theory.

Scientific naturalism, the dominant view in academia, is the only perspective that does not embrace "purpose" in the world, Dembski said.

Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum at NOBTS, called the dialog portion of the forum "a vigorous debate."

"This is in part what the Greer-Heard Forum was established to bring about -– open, respectful, serious, fair and uncompromising discussion on important issues," Steward said. "In our current cultural climate, many issues, including ID, are not typically discussed in this way. So we are happy to provide a forum for much-needed conversation.

"Often those on both sides want to cut to the chase -- one side saying, 'ID isn't science, it's just religion or creationism in a cheap tuxedo, so throw it out,' while the other side speaks as though it's a completed project and embraces ID entirely, even if they cannot state exactly what ID is or how it differs from creationism," Stewart continued. "I think both sides should give ID theorists time to do their work, state their case and then fairly evaluate it."


Audio recordings of the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum are available at www.greer-heard.com.

Panel rejects biology model


Tuesday, February 14, 2006 - Last Updated: 7:03 AM

Debate erupts over way evolution taught in 10th grade

BY CHRIS DIXON The Post and Courier

Columbia - The state Education Oversight Committee voted 10-2 Monday to reject standards for teaching evolution in 10th- grade biology classes and sent a proposed compromise to the state Board of Education that calls for adding critical analysis of the theory to the curriculum.

The panel voted against adopting language previously approved by the Board of Education, and the vote was made over the objection of Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, who sits on the committee as a nonvoting member.

But the decision could lead to a stalemate between the two panels over the controversial issue.

Tenenbaum has said the Board of Education already has adjusted wording in the standards in response to concerns presented by state Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville.

In a contentious debate, committee members Fair, Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, and Karen Iacovelli, a governor's business appointee, sparred with Tenenbaum over including the term "critically analyze" in state biology standards in sections that teach students about evolution.

Supporters of the current standards argue that they have been thoroughly vetted and approved by nationally renowned scientists and science educators and that the real motive of opponents is to discredit evolution in favor of religion-based teachings such as intelligent design. Opponents have argued that the standards do not allow for teaching valid criticisms and shortcomings in evolutionary theory.

The standards in place since 2000 have earned the state high marks among educators and the Fordham Foundation, an educational think tank highly regarded among many conservatives. The new additions are part of the regular five-year revision of state teaching standards.

While those in the committee meeting denied Tenenbaum's assertion that the injection of the term "critically analyze" into biology teaching was part of a religious agenda, the use of the term is generally associated with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that has advocated the replacement of "materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." One of it's strategies is "To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science."

While it has publicly disavowed the teaching of intelligent design in recent statements, the institute has staked out strong views in favor of critical analysis and even sent its Washington, D.C., spokesman, Logan Gage, to a Jan. 23 meeting of the oversight committee in Columbia.

He handed out a press release entitled: "South Carolina Has Historic Opportunity to Adopt Science Standards for Critical Analysis of Evolution."

During the meeting, Tenenbaum argued that the standards the Board of Education originally agreed upon were sound and that the state's evolution teachings had only recently come under attack after the Discovery Institute targeted the state's science curriculum.

She suggested that creation could legally be taught in the context of a history class and also argued that it would become very difficult for teachers to instruct evolutionary curriculum in a testable way.

"Critical analysis is very good, but by singling out evolution with critical analysis, you imply a controversy that does not exist within the scientific community," she said.

Committee members Fair and Walker said they were not pushing a religious agenda and took issue with Tenenbaum's claim that evolution was settled science. They also pointed to incorrect sections dealing with evolution in state textbooks as proof that critical analysis was a good idea.

"We're only teaching one side of evolution," Walker said.

"We're not asking for creationism or intelligent design. We're asking young people to learn what's right and wrong with evolution."

In voting down the standards, committee Chairman Bob Staton, a Republican candidate for state superintendent of Education, offered compromise language for Tenenbaum to take back to the Board of Education for approval.

Staton's proposed wording would mean that students themselves must be able to critically analyze evolution.

Under the wording previously approved by the Board of Education, students would have to understand how scientists use data to critically analyze the theory.

"We have been working at a compromise for months," Staton said, "and today we were able to hammer out one that will benefit our children instead of using the issue as a political football."

For her part, Tenenbaum said she was not involved in the compromise and it was too early to tell whether the Board of Education would approve the revised language when it meets in March or go with the standards that have already been approved.

"We've negotiated in good faith," she said, "and to get here and have everything subject to change without listening to input from the scientific community is very disappointing."

What it says

Standard B-5 as currently written:

The student will demonstrate an understanding of biological evolution and the diversity of life.


--B-5.1. Summarize the process of natural selection.

--B-5.2. Explain how genetic processes result in the continuity of life forms over time.

--B-5.3. Explain how diversity within a species increases the chances of its survival.

--B-5.4. Explain how genetic variability and environmental factors lead to biological evolution.

--B-5.5. Exemplify scientific evidence in the fields of anatomy, embryology, biochemistry and paleontology that underlies the theory of biological evolution.

--B-5.6. Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.

--B-5.7. Use a phylogenetic tree to identify the evolutionary relationships among different groups of organisms.

The compromise language worked out by the EOC says it would approve all the above indicators if the standard were rewritten to say:

The student will demonstrate an understanding of biological evolution and the diversity of life by using data from a variety of scientific sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Chris Dixon at cdixon@postandcourier.com or (843) 745-5855.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Paper refuting Benveniste's digital biological signals

Jacques Benveniste (died 2004) was a researcher who produced controversial results said to be supportive of homeopathy. In recent years he promoted the idea the biological signals could be converted to digital form and transmitted electronically. His web site describing these efforts is still up, though it appears to be inactive: http://www.digibio.com/

Here is the abstract of a paper of his reporting this type of effect:

Med Hypotheses. 2000 Jan;54(1):33-9

Activation of human neutrophils by electronically transmitted phorbol-myristate acetate.

Thomas Y, Schiff M, Belkadi L, Jurgens P, Kahhak L, Benveniste J.

Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale, (INSERM) U200, and Digital Biology Laboratory, Clamart, France. ythomas@ens.-fcl.fr

We report the transfer of the activity of 4-phorbol-12-beta-myristate-13-acetate (PMA) by electronic means. Neutrophils were placed at 37 degrees C on one coil attached to an oscillator, while PMA was placed on another coil at room temperature. The oscillator was then turned on for 15 min, after which cells were usually further incubated for up to 45 min at 37 degrees C before measurement of reactive oxygen metabolites (ROMs) production. In 20 blind experiments, PMA thus 'transmitted' induced ROM production. ROM were not induced when: (1) PMA vehicle or 4-alpha-phorbol 12,13-didecanoate (an inactive PMA analogue) were transmitted; (2) the oscillator was switched off; (3) superoxide dismutase or protein kinase C inhibitors were added to cells before transmission. These results suggest that PMA molecules emit signals that can be transferred to neutrophils by artificial physical means in a manner that seems specific to the source molecules.


Now we have a new paper in which his claims were tested:

FASEB J. 2006 Jan;20(1):23-8

Can specific biological signals be digitized?

Jonas WB, Ives JA, Rollwagen F, Denman DW, Hintz K, Hammer M, Crawford C, Henry K.

Samueli Institute for Information Biology, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314, USA. wjonas@siib.org

At the request of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, we attempted to replicate the data of Professor Jacques Benveniste that digital signals recorded on a computer disc produce specific biological effects. The hypothesis was that a digitized thrombin inhibitor signal would inhibit the fibrinogen-thrombin coagulation pathway. Because of the controversies associated with previous research of Prof. Benveniste, we developed a system for the management of social controversy in science that incorporated an expert in social communication and conflict management. The social management approach was an adaptation of interactional communication theory, for management of areas that interfere with the conduct of good science. This process allowed us to successfully complete a coordinated effort by a multidisciplinary team, including Prof. Benveniste, a hematologist, engineer, skeptic, statistician, neuroscientist and conflict management expert. Our team found no replicable effects from digital signals.


Apart from the negative results and the fact that Benveniste was involved in the planning, here are some points I thought were interesting:

1. There were some pilot studies conducted by Benveniste and his team. "A subgroup analysis of pilot phase data showed that all DTI [digitized thrombin inhibitor] effects ocurred when experiments were conducted by one member of Benvenite's team (Jamal Aissa) and that this usually occurred when using a split sample technique in which he interrupted the operation of the ABA machine to do manual plating followed by the automated plating. Two of the 16 experiments done only by the ABA machine (no interruptions) showed effects when Jamal was present. In three instances Jamal set up experiments and then left for the day. None of these showed DTI effect."

In the discussion, it notes "Prof. Benveniste died on October 3, 2004.

Before he passed away, however, he posited unknown interactions with digital signals that produce these effects and states that he observed similar experimenter variability in his laboratory (personal communication). He stated that certain individuals consistently get digital effects and other individuals get no effects or block those effects."

2. As noted in the abstract, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) thought that this line of investigation was worth funding a grant to the researchers.

Thomas J. Wheeler, Ph.D. tjwheeler@louisville.edu
Associate Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
University of Louisville School of Medicine

Alternative medicine reading and handouts:
NEW! 2006 updates being added.
Overview of CAM added 2/08
Chiropractic added 2/08
Herbs, mind-body medicine added 2/08
Eastern approaches added 2/08

Ohio school board sides with evolution

Intelligent design advocates call it 'sad day'


COLUMBUS - Marking a significant and hard-won reversal in the national culture war over the teaching of evolutionary theory, the Ohio State Board of Education on Tuesday voted 11-4 to remove language harshly critical of evolution from its science curriculum.

Opponents of the language said the "critical analysis" of evolution in the state biology standards opened the door to the teaching of intelligent design and other concepts challenging Darwin's theory and made the state vulnerable to litigation on constitutional grounds.

"I'm ecstatic. I think it's a win for science, a win for students and a win for the state of Ohio," said Martha Wise, a 28-year veteran of the board, who led the fight to delete the anti-evolution language from the science standards and an accompanying lesson plan.

Wise, who identifies herself as a creationist, said she had been subject to criticism from other creationists.

"How could I dare do something like this if I say I believe in God? I can do that because I believe there are two separate issues here. One is the teaching of good science. The other is the teaching of creationism - and I think that is important, too. But I think that should be taught in any other class or at church or at home ... not in science class," she said.

"This is a sad day for the students of Ohio," said Casey Luskin, program officer in public policy and legal affairs at the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank that champions intelligent design. Its mantra is "Teach the controversy," a controversy most scientists say doesn't exist.

"Unfortunately, the proponents of censorship won out by inflaming false fears that this critical-analysis lesson plan is the equivalent of teaching intelligent design," said Luskin, who attended the board meeting in Columbus.

But Barry Riehle, science department chair and physics teacher at Turpin High School, had a different view.

"Our biology teachers are going to be very happy about the vote," Riehle said.

"My biology faculty thinks intelligent design is a really nice philosophy, but it's not science. It's not testable."

In 2001, Riehle spoke against a request by some Forest Hills School District residents to include a supplemental intelligent design textbook in the science curriculum. The school board rejected the request.

Intelligent design, which some critics deride as "creationism lite," presents itself as a scientific theory positing that some complexities of life, yet unexplained by evolution, are best attributed to an unnamed and unseen intelligence.

While it makes no references to the divine, most of its adherents say they believe the intelligent designer is God.

Biological evolutionary theory, which is accepted by the vast majority of scientists, holds that all life on Earth, including humans, shares common ancestry and developed over millions of years through the mechanisms of natural selection and random mutation. The concept is repugnant to many conservative Christians because it conflicts with their belief that humans were specially created in the image of God, who provides purpose and direction to everything in the universe.

Patricia Princehouse, director of Ohio Citizens for Science and a biologist at Case Western Reserve University, said the deletion of the "critical analysis of evolution" lesson plan and anti-evolution language in the standards is effective immediately. However, she said, the board charged the achievement committee, formerly the standards committee, with recommending whether new language should be considered.

As a result, Princehouse said, members of Ohio Citizens for Science will continue to monitor board meetings for any sign that the former criticism of evolution may be reintroduced in a new form. "The one thing we learned about creationists is that they never give up," she said.

Critical analysis of evolution, which many consider a code term for creationism or intelligent design, is being considered by school districts around the country. On Monday, South Carolina's Education Oversight Committee voted 10-2 to recommend that theories other than evolution, such as intelligent design, be included in high school biology classes.

But the Ohio vote represented just the latest setback for the intelligent design movement, which gained currency after the U.S. Supreme Court banned creationism from public school science classrooms in 1987. In December, a federal court judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design is thinly veiled creationism and thus a religious belief. As such, he said, it breaches the Supreme Court's ban on teaching creationism and violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which is interpreted as the separation of church and state. The ruling is binding only in Pennsylvania, but is looked at by states and districts concerned about costly lawsuits.

Enquirer staff writer Cindy Kranz contributed to this report.




A Darwin descendant at the Dover monkey trial

By Matthew Chapman

Matthew Chapman is the great-great-grand­son of Charles Darwin. He is a screenwriter, director, and author ofT rials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir.

In the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, eleven parents sued to remove intelligent design from the curriculum. The defendants brought in some of the leading lights in the intelligent design movement to defend it as science and elucidate the gaps in evolution. The plaintiffs brought in experts on evolution to explain it and refute intelligent design.

That's the basic story, but if you think you know everything there is to know about this, you are wrong. Only I know the truth.

Dover lies a mere thirty miles from the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and the meltdown of its core and subsequent leak in the Seventies is responsible for the weird behavior now seen in the locals.

I have no evidence for this belief, and my lack of evidence is a matter of pride.

Having said that, I suppose I should declare my bias at the start. My great­great-grandfather was Charles Darwin.

This was not something 1 thought much about growing up in England. Evolution was fully accepted. Darwin was a historical figure. If I did think about my connection to him, it was only negatively. The pressure to succeed academically and the unlikeliness of doing so in comparison to my ancestor was such that I decided to turn my back on academia and pursue a course of willful ignorance. When I finally moved to Hollywood in the early Eighties, I had gone about as far as I could in that direction.

I then discovered that many Americans not only rejected the theory of evolution; they reviled it. I had come here in part because I never felt comfortable in England. I hated the snobbery and thought of America as being less weighed down by its past, more advanced. Sir Francis Drake might have been the first man to sail around the world, but it was an American who first set foot on the moon. Now here I was in the New World faced with a willful ignorance that went far beyond anything I had ever attempted.

True, I did not know much about evolution, but a quick study of the subject showed that 99 percent of scientists believed in it. Why would one doubt them? Did the pedestrian question the theory of gravity? Did the farmer who went to the doctor question his diagnosis? Why in this one area of science did non-experts feel compelled to disagree with those who clearly knew better?

Dover's population, with an influx of people who commute to nearby towns, is approaching 2,000. The Dover Area School District, however, covers a largely rural population of about 24,000, and Dover Senior High School has about 1,000 students.

In June of 2004, reporters Joe Maldonado and Heidi Bernhard-Bubb, working respectively for the York Daily Record and the York Dispatch, covered a school board meeting in Dover. Under consideration was a new edition of Biology: The Living Science, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine. The chair of the curriculum committee was Bill Buckingham, an ex-cop and corrections officer and self-confessed OxyContin addict. According to Joe and Heidi, he told the meeting that he was disinclined to purchase the book because it was "laced with Darwinism." He went on to say, again according to the reporters, that "it's inexcusable to teach from a book that says man descended from apes and monkeys." The separation of church and state, he continued, was "mythical," and he wanted a book that included views of creationism as well as evolution. When asked after the meeting what consideration he intended to give to other religions, he said, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such."

The following Monday, at another meeting, Buckingham apologized for his comments but went on to grumble that "liberals in black robes" were taking away the rights of Christians. Bill, who, from the record, seemed to be alternately menacing and self-pityingly apologetic, finally cried out, "Two thousand years ago someone died on a cross! Can't someone take a stand for him?" Fellow creationist and school board president Alan Bonsell, owner of a nearby radiator and auto-repair shop, supported Buckingham's ideas in a more reasonable tone, and conflict ensued. There were accusations of atheism and un-Americanism, and many tears were shed.

But Buckingham and Bonsell were undeterred and soon fixed on the intelligent design screed Of Pandas and People as the book they wanted the ninth-grade students to have in order to get some "balance" in their science education. There were votes and more votes (and more tears), and finally Pandas was voted out. But someone still wanted the book to be available to the students, and an anonymous donation of sixty books was made to the Dover High library.

It was eventually agreed that a statement would be read to the ninth-grade science students before they began studying evolution that read in part:

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

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

The science teachers refused to read this, so Superintendent Richard Nilsen and Assistant Superintendent Mike Baksa went from classroom to classroom and made sure every ninth grader got to hear it.

On December 14, 2004, eleven Dover parents, represented by the Pennsylvania ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the powerful Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, filed suit in Federal District Court in Harrisburg.

The Comfort Inn, where I stayed during the six weeks of the trial, is in downtown Harrisburg. It overlooks the Susquehanna River and a series of beautiful bridges that cross it. A cooling breeze blows off the river but never enters the hotel. The windows are sealed shut. Your climatic choices are limited to Off, Fan, Low Heat, High Heat, Low Cool, and High Cool. This became, to my mind, a perfect metaphor for the debate.

The case was a civil suit without a jury, so members of the press were given the jury box to sit in. Placed on one side of the modern courtroom, these were the best seats in the house, comfortable leather chairs affording great views of a screen upon which exhibits would be displayed. To our left was the witness box, and beyond it, the bench occupied by Judge John E. Jones III, a good-looking man of fifty. In front of him sat the clerk of the court and the stenographer. Right in front of us was the lectern from which the lawyers asked their questions. To our right were the spectators in the back of the court on two rows of uncomfortable wooden pews.

The plaintiffs made their case first. Seeking to keep the judge--a Bush appointee--engaged, both sides cut back and forth between the loftier theses and the human beings who drove them.

During the first two days of the trial, for example, Ken Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, co-author of the biology textbook now used at Dover High, and an expert on "the coupling factor on the thylakoid membrane," was followed by office manager Tammy Kitzmiller, a pretty, divorced mother of two, whose name was attached to the suit because one of her daughters was actually in the ninth grade.

I eventually got to meet Tammy and her teenage daughters. The daughters had numerous piercings in their ears. Tammy had a belly ring. I did not interview Ken Miller, but I suspect he does not have any piercings; however, if you read his testimony (available on the National Center for Science Education website), you'll get a pretty good overview of the nature and function of science. Like many of the plaintiffs' witnesses, Miller, a practicing Catholic, had no trouble believing in both evolution and God.

On the third day of testimony, Robert Pennock took the stand and was questioned by Eric Rothschild, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Rothschild is a man in his late thirties with a balding head shaved close. He has a deceptively cherubic face; but it's a dark face too, with the air of someone keeping a secret. One might imagine that as a geeky child he had encountered some bullying and was not about to let it continue into adulthood.

Pennock, an enthusiastic man with a beard, is a professor at Michigan State University. He has a B.A. in biology and philosophy and a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science. His primary appointment is in the College of Natural Sciences, but he's also in the Department of Philosophy, the College of Engineering, the Computer Science and Engineering Department, and the Graduate Program in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior.

He spoke of how evolution is "a great exemplar of the scientific method. It's a well-confirmed inter-linked series of hypotheses," and is useful not just in and of itself but as a way of learning how to think. "One needs to know it with regard to medicine, and even with regard to engineering applications .... So there's practical applications to evolution right now. You can get a job at Google if you know something about evolution."

We next received a lesson on the history of methodological naturalism, going back as far as Hippocrates, who refused to see epilepsy, then known as "the sacred disease," as divine possession but instead looked for natural causes.

This was followed by a critique of intelligent design with particular attention to William Dembski, a big cog in the movement. Pennock read from an article of Dembski's entitled "What Every Theologian Should Know About Creation, Evolution, and Design":

The view that science must be restrict­ed solely to purposeless naturalistic material processes also has a name. It's called methodological naturalism. So long as methodological naturalism sets the ground rules for how the game of science is played, IDT has no chance.

And later:

In the words of Vladimir Lenin, "What is to be done?" Design theorists aren't at all bashful about answering this ques­tion. The ground rules of science have to be changed.

Rothschild paused a moment and then said, "And I have to admit I didn't know until I read that that Vladimir Lenin was part of the intelligent design movement, but putting that aside ... "

Soon after this, he received an Internet proposal of marriage.

Pennock's cross-examination was by a man named Patrick Gillen, of the Thomas More Law Center, which had offered its services pro bono for the defense. This seemed like a logical inconsistency from the start. Run by Richard Thompson, a Catholic and former Michigan prosecuting attorney who made a name for himself by trying to put Jack Kevorkian in prison, its stated mission is "Defending the Religious Freedom of Christians," "Restoring Time-honored Family Values," and "Protecting the Sanctity of Life," which, as a biblical literalist myself, I take to mean defending such freedoms as the biblically mandated right to capture women in battle, shave their heads, lock them up for a month, rape them into matrimony (Deuteronomy 21:10), and then deny them the right to an abortion afterward.

All well and good, but if the defense thesis was that intelligent design was merely another scientific theory, what were these Catholic activists doing in court?

One of my chief defects is an inability to hate people I violently disagree with once I get to know them. In Gillen's case, my sympathy was ignited by the contrasts in his face. A tallish man in his mid-thirties, with a long head topped with thinning hair, he had excellent teeth, revealed frequently in a blazing grin; but from the middle of his nose up, he wore an _expression of extreme anxiety, his brows furrowed, his eyes filled with concern.

Before getting into Gillen's cross of Pennock, I should paint a brief portrait of the two legal teams.

On the plaintiffs' side, apart from Rothschild, a lawyer who up until now had spent most of his life in the corporate environment of reinsurance law, was another lawyer from Pepper Hamilton, Stephen Harvey. The third lawyer, Witold "Vic" Walczak, was from the ACLU. Now and then another lawyer from Pepper Hamilton, Thomas Schmidt, was used to cross-examine defense witnesses who were so clearly feebleminded or old that the sharp­elbowed style of the other three might actually render them unconscious.

Lending intellectual heft to this legal phalanx were Katskee and Matzke. Richard Katskee, a lawyer from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was an expert in constitutional law. Nick Matzke, from the National Center for Science Education, provided the science.

But the team did not end here. There were two legal assistants and the unsung hero of the plaintiffs' case, Matthew McElvenny, Technology Specialist, the faultless Wizard of Oz whose computer held all the necessary exhibits--drawings of bacteria, excerpts from books and articles, depositions, even news video--and projected them up on the screen.

As anyone will tell you who has covered a trial, sleep is the slyest and most persistent enemy, but when the Wizard of Oz was on, highlighting and scrolling without a single mistake, one inevitably perked up.

Here then was a team of highly skilled professionals operating in an atmosphere of frictionless amiability. Here was a collegiate machine.

On the defense side, one was reminded more of a dysfunctional family with a frequently absent father.

Richard Thompson, who, in profile at least, bore an uncanny resemblance to William Jennings Bryan, was the star, and it was hard to imagine that any case in the history of his Thomas More Law Center had ever been as important as this one. For the first few days, he attended court dutifully, once or twice cross-examining a witness in an odd combative style, often turning toward the jury box (filled with an unsympathetic jury of reporters), then turning back to point his finger at a witness to ask a question whose substance seemed to bear no relationship to the tone in which it was asked. Then he would sit down and rock back and forth in his chair, staring up at the ceiling as if contemplating weightier matters--and then he'd disappear for a week.

Next among the defendants' lawyers--though some say first among them--was Robert Muise. He is a tall, sturdy man, quietly resolute, with a faint Boston accent. Always willing to talk, as unfailingly polite as Gillen and Thompson, he seemed to be a tough guy underneath but worn down, becoming a victim. Perhaps this had nothing to do with politics and religion: he and Gillen, though both only in their late thirties or early forties, had seventeen kids between them, one nine, the other eight. Thompson, perhaps too busy pursuing Doctor Death, had produced a scant three.

For a while there was a legal assistant, but she went the way of Thompson. Sometimes it was nine against one, Gillen alone, smiling dutifully, fumbling for his own documents. By prior arrangement or out of simple human (humanistic?) decency, the plaintiffs' machinery was put at his disposal so that he could display his documents on screen.

Gillen began by asking Pennock questions designed to show that just because a theory (such as the Big Bang) confirms some people in their religious beliefs, it is not necessarily unscientific. Pennock quickly sliced this up into its constituent parts and disposed of it. People could believe what they wanted; that was neither his business nor particularly interesting: all that counted was the evidence.

Gillen now moved in on the Ancestor, a computer program that Pennock and three colleagues had designed to demonstrate natural selection. Self­replicating computer organisms are dropped into an artificial digital "life system." The "viruses," if you like, are then seen to mutate and develop, those that adapt best surviving, those that don't dying.

"They evolve things," said Pennock, waving his hands around, "where the programmer would think, 'Why, I would never have even thought to do it that way!'"

Gillen began to ask another question, but Pennock, leaning even farther forward in his chair, now bouncing with enthusiasm, was too full of gusto to be stopped. "And the other thing about it is--sorry, I get excited about this ... we can keep track of the full evolutionary history! So we have a complete fossil record, if you will!" He beamed at the courtroom, which responded with supportive laughter.

Gillen collected himself and pushed on, trying to extract the obvious: all this might be true, but if anyone looked at one of the resulting "organisms," he would actually be correct if he inferred that there was an intelligent designer behind it--four of them, in fact. Pennock would have none of it. Neither he nor Darwin was interested in who created the original organism (this, of course, was a tough concept for Gillen, who clearly had a pretty good idea who He was and had to bite his tongue not to mention Him by name), only in the mechanism of its development.

When court finished for the day, I asked Pennock if I could come and see these organisms, hoping that there would be some Pac-Man-like creatures to view, but was disappointed to be told that they do not exist in visible form.

I had only one problem with Pennock--and in fact with all the scientists who spoke: their use of unnecessarily obscure words. As if the science wasn't hard enough to follow, Pennock would use a word like "qua" instead of "as" or "by virtue of being." For example, he said, "Sometimes people will speak qua scientist, and sometimes they will speak about something from their own personal views." I found myself wondering if he talked to his wife like that: "Listen, honey, this place is a mess, and I'm not just saying that qua husband."

One night during the trial, a local preacher named Reverend Groves put on a show at the Dover firehouse that consisted of him showing a DVD entitled "More Reasons Evolution Is Stupid." The producer and star of the DVD is a man named Kent Hovind, an ex-science teacher, a.k.a. Doctor Dino, who owns a creationist theme park down in Pensacola, Florida. Hovind would throw up an aspect of evolution (that apes and man share a common ancestor, say), with the addition of enough complex-sounding science to make himself seem well-informed, and then dismiss it with the line "That's stupid!" or "I'm sorry, boys and girls, but that's not common sense, that's just stupid!"

When this endless clay-pigeon shoot was done, and the DVD turned off, a man named Burt Humburg, a medical resident at Penn State, calmly raised up a table-top document stand and started to defend evolution. Within moments, a woman, suffering from dental defects that would do an Appalachian proud, was standing in the middle of the hall shouting, "You've been brainwashed in college!" There were grunts and murmurs of agreement, and Burt, although he struggled on manfully for a while, was silenced. I would catch up with him later and find, increasing my admiration, that he was raised in some charismatic division of the church where they spoke in tongues but had been washed clean by the H20 of science and born again in reason.

A few days later I interviewed Reverend Groves for a documentary film I was shooting. A wiry little homo­hater in his late fifties, dressed in tightish pants and cowboy boots, he had an insinuating manner that belied his courage. Every Halloween he joins the parade in York, putting on one of those gruesome anti-abortion shows so beloved of the breed, smashing blood­filled dolls and displaying graphic photographs of aborted fetuses and so scaring the children that in 2002 he was actually arrested by the local police. He sued, however, on the basis of free speech, won, and is now a parade fixture, albeit at the rear.

By this time, it was public knowledge that I was an offspring of Darwin, and in the course of the interview it became apparent to me, really for the first time, how hated the poor old codger is. People such as Groves believe that Darwin marks a point in history from which materialism sprang, bringing with it Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, pot, sex, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, and everything else nasty in the world.

"The moral condition of America," said Groves, "is a result of taking steps away from the Bible and away from God over the past fifty to one hundred years, since evolution was introduced ... you cast yourself on the sea of nothingness as far as the moral code goes. And every man does that which is right in his own eyes, as the Bible said. And when you do that, you--it's like a moral free-for-all. And that's what's happened in America. We no longer have religious freedom in America, we have a religious free-for-all in America. America was not that way, was not that immoral when it stayed to its Christian roots originally .... And now we're in the purge, with the ACLU, with legal organizations such as that, to purge our whole society from anything Christian."

It occurred to me how lucky we are that Darwin lived such a dull monogamous life. Had he been an adulterer, his theory would be dead and buried. Or maybe not. Joseph Smith, a contemporary of Darwin's and the polygamous founder of the Mormons, simply stated that his "truth" was handed to him on a set of golden plates that then mysteriously disappeared. Perhaps if Darwin had done the same he'd have avoided all this controversy.

According to a recent U.S. poll, 54 percent of American adults now dispute that man developed from earlier species, which is a 10 percent increase since the last poll, in 1994. Scientists must bear some responsibility for this: they just don't seem able to provide entertainment the way the other side can. When did you last hear a scientist come up with anything as fun or contentious as man of God Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez? Why haven't we seen a man of science on TV asking Bush to explain why God, being such a great pal, gave him such lousy intelligence on the WMDs, or demanding an explanation for all the gaps and contradictions in the biblical record?

As Groves had shown no restraint in taking a whack at my ancestor, I felt no compunction in whacking back and asked him some of the questions Darrow asked Bryan at the end of the Scopes trial. Was Jonah really swallowed by a whale? Yes. How did Joshua "command the sun to stand still" when we know that the earth goes around the sun and that stopping it would be disastrous? That's what a miracle is. Were the six days of creation literal days, and how old is the earth? Bryan, when pushed, conceded that perhaps the six days could have been symbolic, and on the subject of the age of the earth pleaded a pathetic ignorance. "I have been so well satisfied with the Christian religion," Bryan said, "that I have spent no time trying to find argument against it." But Groves was made of sterner stuff. He was unashamed of a literal reading of Genesis and an earth that was only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. Carbon dating was nonsense. And that was that.

When I visited Groves in his cinder-block church, he had set up his own video camera to film me filming him. He told me it was just to keep a record of the event, and I did not object. At the end of my interview, he asked me if I was an atheist, and I replied that, no, I was an agnostic, believing that faith even in nothing was too much faith. I finished by observing how odd it was that a country as riddled with Christian faith as America has so little regard for its poor, sick, and imprisoned.

Two days later, two reporters told me they had visited the church in search of local color and found me booming from a TV on the altar, declaring my agnosticism to many gasps of horror. Apparently, the consensus was that I'd end up in hell, probably to find Great-Great-Grandpa sitting at the Devil's side.

When I upbraided Groves about this--he had not told me I was to be used in this way--he shrugged off my objections and told me it had been "educational." He and his flock concluded that I had a different understanding of Christianity. Coming from Europe, mine was "more socialistic," while his was more concerned with "individual salvation."

The first defense witness, Michael Behe (father of nine), looks like the archetypal professor, bearded, vague, tweed-jacketed. Author of Darwin's Black Box, he is a biochemist and professor of biology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem, it turns out, is the birthplace of the _expression "irreducible complexity." Bethlehem!

Behe's shtick, if I may so characterize it, is largely to do with the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum. It is slightly more than this, but if you can understand the flagellum argument, you can understand it all.

Although the concept of irreducible complexity is sold as "brand new," it is in fact more "like new." It began with religious philosopher William Paley's 1802 argument about someone finding a watch and inferring that there had to be a watchmaker. The argument now also includes reaching the same conclusion while looking at Mount Rushmore or seeing "John Loves Mary" written in the sand.

The bacterial flagellum is, however, an amazing thing. Without a diagram, it's more or less impossible to describe. Behe had one, at which he pointed with a laser pointer. In fact, he pointed at everything with a laser pointer. Even when there was only text on the screen, often stuff he had written himself, a red dot danced distractingly across the words. Here he is describing the flagellum:

The bacterial flagellum is quite literally an outboard motor that bacteria use to swim .... This part here, which is labeled the filament, is actually the propeller of the bacterial flagellum. The motor is actually a rotary motor. ... It spins the propeller, which pushes against the liquid in which the bacterium finds itself and, therefore, pushes the bacterium forward through the liquid.

The propeller is attached to some­thing called the drive shaft by another part which is called the hook region which acts as a universal joint .... The drive shaft is attached to the motor itself which uses a flow of acid from the outside of the cell to the inside of the cell to power the turning of the motor, much like, say, water flowing over a dam can turn a turbine .... It's really much more complex than this. But I think this illustration gets across the point of the purposeful arrangement of parts. Most people who see this and have the function explained to them quickly realize that these parts are ordered for a purpose and, therefore, bespeak design.

I often encountered Behe outside the courtroom. He was a likable man, and when he found out I was a Darwin descendant he was delighted, stating later in a newspaper article that I was a friendly fellow and my presence in the courtroom was a comfort to him. But I could not get past two thoughts. If an intelligent designer had made the bacterial flagellum, it was logical to assume he had made everything else, and if he had, wasn't this by definition God? One day, I was having this debate with him when another man weighed in, suggesting that since complex machines like the space shuttle are designed by a team, wasn't it probable that the flagellum was also made by a team?

Behe smiled tolerantly and shrugged: he himself believed in a single designer, that was his personal opinion; we could believe what we wanted.

My second thought was that if you looked back at the history of science, you could point to any number of things that, given our knowledge at the time, seemed possible only through the intervention of God but that later turned out to have natural explanations even Behe accepted. I missed the point, he told me--and told Rothschild later during cross: the bacterial flagellum is not only complex, it is irreducibly complex. In other words, if you removed one element of it, none of the others had function, and so the whole could not have developed by natural selection but must have been abruptly created with all its parts in place. In this context, the mousetrap was often cited.

On the stand, Behe sat forward in his chair, earnest and concentrated. Only once did I see him lose his composure. This was when Rothschild revealed that Behe's own department at Lehigh had issued a statement saying it fully supported evolutionary theory and that

The sole dissenter from this position, Professor Michael Behe, is a well­known proponent of intelligent design. While we respect Professor Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

Behe put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair, smiling defiantly. He looked like a naughty child who had told his mother he'd seen a ghost and wouldn't budge from the story no matter what. I couldn't help wondering what Behe would be without intelligent design. The scientific community may despise him, but he is beloved on the other side. He gets invited to talk all over the country, and he has sold a lot of books.

Outsiders such as myself were in a froth of anticipation for the testimony of the pugnacious, OxyContin­addicted crusader Bill Buckingham.

By this time many of the plaintiffs had taken the stand and confirmed press reports of Buckingham's outlandish statements. They had been a diverse group, funny, angry, simple, complicated, intelligent, rich, poor, some eloquent on the Constitution, all but a few of them believers, but all having a clear respect for learning and fairness. A picture had slowly come into focus of an arrogant, brutish fundamentalist who would hold to his beliefs no matter what the consequences.

But when he arrived, walking with a cane, he seemed old, tired, and subdued. If, as Samuel Johnson said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," Buckingham was upping the ante with his lapel pin, an American flag wrapped around a cross. He had been through two stints of rehab to kick his addiction, and one wondered if another drug had been prescribed to keep him from making outrageous statements in court.

Knowing that Stephen Harvey was about to question him, one almost felt pity. Harvey, a prematurely gray-haired man in possession of the best suits at the trial--and a Republican, it would turn out--was a man whose considerable personal charm and boyish smile disappeared entirely during cross-examination and was replaced by a cold intensity that was almost frightening to behold.

Buckingham, a 1973 graduate of the Penn State Police Academy, had attended the FBI criminal-investigation school. Before he retired, he was a supervisor at York County Prison.

He testified in a low, mildly surly voice, a whine of self-pity always present underneath. He was unashamedly ignorant and utterly devoid of curiosity. He believed, he stated, in a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. He knew almost nothing about evolution except that "it's happenstance, it just happened," and soon revealed an equal ignorance of intelligent design. "I just know that it's another scientific theory that we thought would be good to have presented to the students."

Worse even than his ignorance were his lies. The most important part of his testimony, and the source of one of the most dramatic moments in court, was his contention that neither he nor board president Alan Bonsell had ever used the word "creationism" in the afore-reported school board meetings. They had been fixed on the scientific theory of intelligent design from the start. Their intent had never been religious. The reporters had lied.

"Now," Harvey countered, "it's your testimony that at neither meeting no one on the board ever mentioned creationism, isn't that right?" "That's true." "You're very clear on that point, correct?" "Absolutely, because it's just something we didn't do."

Harvey asked him if he'd mind looking at exhibit P-145. The Wizard of Oz tapped a few buttons and there was Buckingham being interviewed by a local TV news reporter outside a school board meeting at which the current biology book had just been discussed.

"The book that was presented to me," Buckingham said on the video, "was laced with Darwinism from beginning to end. It's okay to teach Darwin, but you have to balance it with something else, such as creationism."

Buckingham looked both irritated and put-upon, and claimed that "when I was walking from my car to the building, here's this lady and here's a cameraman, and I had on my mind all the newspaper articles saying we were talking about creationism, and I had it in my mind to make sure, make double sure, nobody talks about creationism, we're talking intelligent design. I had it on my mind, I was like a deer in the headlights of a car, and I misspoke. Pure and simple, I made a human mistake."[l]

During this testimony, if you looked to the back of the court you could see Bonsell, president of the school board, grinning as Buckingham screwed things up. It hardly seemed to matter to him. Their case could not be damaged. God was on their side.

The two local reporters, Heidi Bernhard-Bubb and Joe Maldonado, were called to testify to the truthfulness of their articles. A new lawyer for the defense, Edward White III, came forward to cross-examine them.

White is famous for defending anti-abortion activists who listed doctors' personal information, in the form of "wanted" posters, on an Internet site called the "Nuremberg Files." Three doctors listed on the site were killed in the Nineties, and at one time, I am told, there were "X"s over their faces. The site is now shut down, but if you search the web for Christians of this persuasion you can still find sites listing the names of the three murdered doctors.

White's face was not one within which I could find anything to like. In repose, his head was tilted back in petulant defiance. A superior sneer worked his mouth, and his eyes were arrogant and cold. But he was rarely in repose. Every few minutes, his hand would reach up to scratch his nose, then readjust his watch, his glasses, the knot of his tie; now a jacket-shrug, a chin-scratch, a neck-scratch, then back to the glasses, the tie, and this cycle would repeat two or three times before he settled. This was not a man at ease in his own skin.

When he cross-examined Bernhard­Bubb, White questioned the accuracy of her note-taking and suggested that since meetings sometimes lasted three hours, she might have missed things while going to the bathroom. He suggested as well that she had reason to distort her articles in order to please her editors.

Maldonado received even harsher treatment. A handsome man in his thirties, half Hispanic, tough looking, hair shaved close to his head, a fashionable goatee on his chin, Maldonado was polite in an almost military fashion--"Yes, sir," and "That is correct"--and indeed it was soon revealed that he had served in the Air Force for almost seven years. Like Bernhard-Bubb, he was only a part-time writer for the York Daily Record. The rest of the time he was the owner-operator of a sandwich shop.

White went through a brief version of his previously described preening ritual, then turned his contemptuous eye on the witness. "Your primary occupation is running the sandwich shop?" Maldonado replied that it was a toss-up between the sandwich shop and his writing. "You don't have any formal training though, correct?" "No, sir." "And freelancing, I know you love to write, but it's also a way to supplement your income, correct?" "That is correct." "And depending on where the article appears in the paper determines the amount of money you're paid per article, right?" "Yes." "So a front-page story gets you about $65?" "$67.50." "And then if it runs on a cover of one of the sections, the local sections, it's about $60?" "$62.50." "And then just your average story is around $50, right?" "Somewhere in that ball­park, yes." "And it is the editors who decide where in the newspaper your stories will run, correct?"

It was apparent where he was going with this line of questioning-­namely, that the York paper was biased against intelligent design, and therefore it was to Maldonado's economic advantage to lie in order to get his stories onto the front page. Objections were raised and sustained, and the line of questioning died.

There was something so moving to me in this exchange--the idea of a man running a sandwich shop and working a double shift as a reporter to "supplement" his income with $50 articles for the local paper--that I decided the very next day to pay him a visit.

PBJJ's, Maldonado's sandwich shop, is in the old Central Market in York, one of those cavernous spaces given over to stands selling crafts and bric-a-brac. Joe is rightfully famous for his "Mojo Chicken" sandwich. Hanging above the counter are two American flags. With him that day was the younger of his two sons, fourteen-year-old Jaryid. His older son, Alex, is at Penn State studying meteorology, and there was a jar on the counter for his college fund. Next to this was a book of poems Maldonado had written.

Jaryid had had open-heart surgery when he was seven months old, which caused some developmental delays. A couple of years ago, Maldonado and his wife, Julie, although appreciative of the teacher's efforts, could see he was suffering in regular school. "It was so much for him, it was just overwhelming to go from one subject to the other, and I never got the sense that he was mastering one lesson before he'd move on to the next one." So they took him out. By "supplementing his income" with the sandwich shop in the mornings and reporting in the evenings, Joe is free to devote every afternoon to educating his son.

Not only had Maldonado--the liberal reporter--been in the military ("I'm proud to say I served my country"); he had also spent his first year of higher education at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

As a Christian, he had been forced to think a lot about the issues raised by the trial. He told me that his faith was so deeply embedded in him, it was very hard to lose God from the equation. To him, the more significant question was whether intelligent design was "ready­-for-prime-time science." He spoke eloquently on the subject and referred to the fact that Darwin had spent over two decades collecting evidence before he presented his theory.

Before I left the shop, I bought a copy of Maldonado's book, which he inscribed, "And the Lord said, 'Let there be .. .' Where's the science in that? Joe." Later that night, I opened it with some trepidation and discovered that Joe wrote beautiful poems full of yearning and eroticism and a keen sense of sin. It occurred to me that perhaps Ed White had somehow got hold of a copy, and that when he said, "I know you love to write," he was toying with the idea of reading a few poems in court.

I also went to visit Bernhard-Bubb. She lives in the upper apartment of a nice house in York. She has two children, Ulysses and Bronwyn, both below school age. Here the liberal reporter was found to be a practicing Mormon. While studying at Brigham Young, however, she had been in a band, which she described as being a little like Franz Ferdinand. When her son, in order to impress the guest, started to say "Fuckie, fuckie, fuckie, fuckie," she remained unruffled. She was intelligent, funny, likable, and disagreed with her church on such issues as gay marriage.

Things are not what they seem. Or perhaps, more accurately, only on the outer edge do you find the authentic cliches, and when you find them, if you are me, those that you hate often turn out to be more poignant than repellent.

Heather Geesey, a school board member who supported Bonsell and Buckingham, fell squarely into the repellent category, however, without mitigation. I found her the most terrifying of all the witnesses. A woman who seemed to think--against all evidence--that everything she did or said was astonishingly cute and funny, she clearly relished being on the same team as "President Alan," as she referred to Bonsell, and grinned relentlessly throughout.

Cross-examining her was ACLU lawyer Vic Walczak. Vic had the weary but pugnacious demeanor of a man who had devoted his life, for little pay, to defending the Constitution but knew that the only questions he would ever be asked related to the ACLU's defense of NAMBLA (the North American Man Boy Love Association) and the Ku Klux Klan.

He asked Geesey if she supported the teaching of intelligent design. "Yes." "Because it gave a balanced view of evolution?" "Yes." "It presented an alternative theory?" "Yes." "And the policy talks about gaps and problems with evolution?" "Yes." "Yes. You don't know what those gaps and problems refer to, do you?" "No." "But it's good to teach about those gaps and problems?" "That's our mission statement, yes." "But you have no idea what they are?" "It's not my job, no." "Is it fair to say that you didn't know much about intelligent design in October of 2004?" "Yes." "And you didn't know much about the book Of Pandas and People either, did you?" "Correct." "So you had never participated in any discussions of the book?" "No." "And you made no effort independently to find out about the book?" "No." ... "And no one ever explained to you what intelligent design was about." "No." This went on for quite a while, Geesey grinning throughout as if her ignorance was just the cutest thing, until finally, still smiling happily, she stated that she had relied on the curriculum committee--Bill Buckingham and Alan Bonsell--to make the decision. "And do you know whether Mr. Buckingham has a back­ground in science?" "No, I do not." "Do you know that in fact he doesn't have a background in science?" "I don't know. He's law enforcement, so I would assume he had to take something along the way."

So this was the genesis of the whole thing: an auto repairman appointed an OxyContin-addicted biblical literalist without a shred of knowledge to decide which books the kids should learn from, and a woman who had no curiosity about anything, even her own most deeply held beliefs, seconded the whole idea.

And unless one doubted two seemingly decent professional reporters and a host of other witnesses, she would happily lie.

Judge Jones had practiced law for several years before being picked by then Governor Tom Ridge to chair the state liquor-control board. He had thus far been fair and amiable and funny. One day an objection was raised as to the admissibility of a question put to a witness. A long debate followed with lawyers on both sides giving it their all. When Jones finally ruled the question legitimate, and it was asked again, the witness said, "I don't know." "After all that!" said Jones.

On another occasion when a witness was criticizing the press by saying he didn't pay much attention to people who bought "ink by the bucket," Jones caught my eye and raised his eyebrows.

Soon after this, I visited him in chambers, and he proved to be everything he appeared in court--civilized, thoughtful, and funny. He read extensively. He was more than polite, he was courteous, a gentleman, a man who seemed to treat everyone around him with equal respect. When I complimented him on his humor, he smiled briefly and expressed the hope that it helped relax tension, though he tried never to be cruel. As a lawyer he had experienced cruelty from the bench and was determined never to abuse his power in that way.

He never did while I was there, though Geesey seemed to test the limits of his patience. In her deposition, she had said that she could not remember when the words "intelligent design" had first been used at school board meetings. On the stand she was very clear that it was in June. Perhaps sensing trouble, Gillen asked her if there was anything that had come up since her deposition that allowed her to "date with somewhat more precision" when she first heard the term "intelligent design" being used. Geesey explained that what jogged her memory were two letters written to local newspapers, one of which was authored by her.

As she was about to leave the witness stand, Jones stopped her, saying he was confused. "So am I," responded Geesey in typical perky fashion. "Well," said Jones, "it's more important that I'm not confused than you're not confused." He pointed out that neither letter mentioned intelligent design. Eventually, Walczak was able to establish that she'd been shown her letter at her deposition and in fact had been questioned about it rigorously.

When contacted later about whether she had perjured herself on the stand, Geesey insisted that she had told the truth, calling the lawyers' attempts to discredit her "a big old lie."

Alan Bonsell took the stand a short while later. He is a good-looking, gum-chewing man somewhere in his late thirties or early forties. With the relaxed, entitled, slightly contemptuous manner of a politician or an athlete, he had, throughout the trial, which he visited most often in the afternoons, lounged on the uncomfortable pews, arms stretched out behind him, head back, the grin in place, the mouth chewing. He reminded me of George Bush, in that he exuded a confidence unwarranted by the facts. He had a degree in business management from York College, and I often wondered, and never concluded, whether he was a worse ideologue than Buckingham (because smarter) or just a man of similar personal faith trying to reach a managerial compromise between his friend's more extreme views and those of the rest of the board.

He had a habit of repeating the questions asked of him with added emphasis and a slight upward lilt on the last word or two. "Did I ever think about it? I think about a lot of things."

He admitted that his own personal views about the universe were based on the first two chapters of Genesis but said that at no time had he tried to get creationism into the science class. He believed evolution should be taught, but "when they don't include, you know, problems with it or gaps in a theory, I mean, and you teach it, it almost sounds like they're teaching it as fact."

When asked to come up with an example, he said he'd "seen things on different subjects of how bears turn into whales, you know, this was a natural scientific theory, which I just thought was absurd. There's also statistical things that I've read about how the statistical probability of life happening by itself was basically impossible." I couldn't help wondering what the statistical probability was of God's slapping it all together in six days.

One of the mysteries in the case (aside from who created the universe) was who had anonymously donated the sixty copies of Of Pandas and People to the school library. At various times, but most importantly in their depositions, both Buckingham and Bonsell claimed they had no idea who this could be. In court, however, Buckingham admitted that he had gone to his church and asked for donations in order to buy them. He had then given the money to Bonsell's father, who had bought the books and given them to the school.

Steve Harvey, who had the plum job of cross-examining Bonsell, now took him back to his deposition. It soon became abundantly clear that Bonsell knew--and had known at his deposition--the exact provenance of the books. He had lied under oath.[2]

The exact motivation for lying in the first place never became entirely clear to me, but whatever it was, it did not cause the judge to be happy. When Harvey had finished his cross, Judge Jones asked to see Bonsell's deposition, specifically the section about the donation of the books. He then proceeded to grill Bonsell about the inconsistencies: "The specific question was asked to you, sir: 'You have never spoken to anybody else who was involved with the donation?' And your answer was, 'I don't know the other people.' That didn't say, 'who donated.' That said, 'who was involved with the donation' ... now, you tell me why you didn't say Mr. Buckingham's name."

Bonsell stumbled, and Judge Jones became increasingly irritated. Why, furthermore, had Bonsell's father been used in the transaction at all? No clear answers were forthcoming. Bonsell was obviously rattled. He had come onto the stand for the early part of his testimony chewing gum. That had gone soon after Harvey started in on him. Gone too was the swagger and the backward tilt of the head. He walked rather humbly back to the pews.

Within an hour or so, both the pose and the gum were back.

Perhaps I'm naive, or perhaps I have forgotten something, but the Christianity I was raised on had a high regard for truth. How then to explain all this lying? Not just the smaller lies--who bought the books? was the word "creationism" used?--but the larger, insistent lies, the distortion of quotes, the denial of evidence.

Might it all indeed come back to Three Mile Island? The fruit of science, after all, is not just knowledge but technology. Is it because our technology has become so dangerous and baffling that knowledge itself must also be feared? Do the ignorant even recognize a distinction between one and the other?

Forsaken in the shadow of those monstrous cooling towers, perhaps Buckingham and Bonsell cannot be blamed for seeking whatever light and dignity is still available to them: belief in a God who loves them individually, God their father. Where we come from is who we are: I will not be mistaken for a Texan; they will not be mistaken for an ape.

One thing I know is that this small crusade in Pennsylvania was not a narrow assault on ninth-grade science education; it was a war on the scientific method and the value of evidence. What was being said, not just by Buckingham and Bonsell but by the President and countless others, is that when the evidence is overwhelming and you don't like it, ignore it.

What natural selection will ultimately do with all of us remains to be seen, but in the Dover school board election that took place shortly after the trial, it eliminated nearly all those who supported intelligent design. Only Heather Geesey, who was not up for reelection, survived. Bonsell got fewer votes than anyone.

On December 20, 2005, Judge Jones ruled that the defendants' intelligent design policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In a withering 139-page opinion, he found that the goal of the intelligent design movement is religious in nature, that intelligent design is not science and cannot be taught in Dover schools, and that the board's claimed reason for including intelligent design in the curriculum--solely because it was good science--was a "sham." In referring to board members, he used such words as "striking ignorance" and "breathtaking inanity." Additionally, he wrote that Buckingham and Bonsell "had either testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath on several occasions," and that "It is ironic that several of these individuals who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy." Amen.

When I returned to the Comfort Inn on the last day of the trial, I did not know that I had one more treat in store. Sitting outside the hotel was a man named Scott Mehring.

While covering this story, I was in the habit of asking anyone who looked interesting what they thought of the issues being discussed. Generally speaking, the answers were as limited and predictable as the temperature settings in my hotel room, with by far the largest group opting for the "Off" setting: "Don't know, don't care." But I thought I should ask one last person. Perhaps, finally, I'd find someone who had something new to say on the subject.

Mehring, of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is forty-eight years old, the onetime owner of a business that had something to do with performance cars. He wore a tight leather motorcycle jacket with no visible shirt underneath and had a Rod Stewart haircut. He liked to party, he told me, and was ready to go out and party hard, but because he'd lost his license for various reasons he had no car and his cab had not yet arrived. So, sure, he'd be happy to share his views with me. I took out my recorder.

"If you go back to the Big Bang," he said, speaking rapidly, "the elements, I'm not sure exactly what they actually were, but whatever the elements were--the atom, the neutron, the proton neutron, whatever it was that created the Big Bang--where did that stuff come from? Spontaneous generation is a dead theory--at one time they thought it was true--left a piece of meat on the ground maggots appeared, they thought the maggots came out of the meat, but actually they just came out to eat the food, so you can't say spontaneous generation created it .... Now if you believe in physics, you got the eleventh dimension--it's a new theory, the eleventh dimension-­and inside the eleventh dimension they say that there's an infinite number of universes. So my take is that if you die on the earth, we just somehow hop over to the eleventh dimension, and hop from universe to universe to universe forever inside the eleventh dimension. So that means the Bible could be right with everlasting life after we die. But, okay, the elements that started the Big Bang, if that was an intelligent designer? Then you've got another complication. If there was, like, one dude somewhere at the very top that created everything? Well, where did he come from? Who created him? And who created the God who created God? It gives me goose bumps. It's a loop, like in computer programming--it's an endless loop."

He paused and shook his head. His cab had arrived.

"If you think about this too much," he concluded, "you can go insane."

[1] Neither Buckingham nor his lawyers could be reached for comment. Later in the trial, the plaintiff's attorneys were able to shed light on what he was trying to hide: namely, that a conscious decision had been made to replace any mention of "creationism" with the phrase "intelligent design." Whether this was Buckingham's idea or Bonsell's--or in fact was suggested by, say, the Thomas More Law Center or The Discovery Institute, a creation-science "think tank"--is anyone's guess. Buckingham did admit on the stand, though, that he had received legal advice from both organizations at or around the time of the board meetings.

[2] Bonsell, of course, denied that he had lied about anything. Whether he or Buckingham or Geesey will be charged with perjury remains unknown.

Expose schoolchildren to intelligent design


John Meyer

I appreciate Rev. Hal Chorpenning's explanation and defense of his faith in his Feb. 8 Soapbox ("Evolution consistent with Christian faith"). I realize that evolution is compatible with many people's spiritual views, and in the diversity of our religious culture, I respect those views. However, it is important to recognize that Chorpenning's views do not represent a monolithic Christian understanding, or even those of the majority of Christians.

Over the past 30 years, polls have consistently revealed that most people question evolution. In 1972 and 1993, Gallop found that 91 percent and 82 percent of Americans respectively were creationists of some form, and 44 percent and 47 percent agreed with the statement, "God created man pretty much in his present form … within the past 10,000 years." A 1996 poll commissioned by the atheistic organization Council for Secular Humanism found that 46 percent of those with graduate or professional degrees disagreed with the statement, "Evolution is the best possible explanation of human existence." So many people, and many highly educated people, do not accept evolution as the best explanation for our existence.

Chorpenning affirmed Judith Hannah's (geosciences, Colorado State University) remarks that Christianity is simply faith-based stories with no connection to what is verifiable in our physical world. Many people are content with such a faith, but many others, including myself, are not.

Frances Schaeffer, one of the foremost Christian philosophers of the 20th century, wrote, "God has set the revelation of the Bible in history; what sense then would it make for God to give us a revelation in which the history was wrong? God has also set man in the universe which the Scriptures themselves say speaks of this God. What sense then would it make for God to give His revelation in a book that was wrong concerning the universe? The answer to both questions must be, 'No sense at all!'"

I couldn't agree more. Historic, orthodox Christianity is based on the premise that God has communicated Truth through a book, the Bible. The Bible speaks of a Creator, an Intelligent Designer.

It seems reasonable that a scientific examination of the world could find evidence of intelligence and design if that is truly life's source.

That is exactly what many scientists are finding today.

Those who say that the creationist or intelligent design movements have no real science are uninformed, or are simply trying to mislead. There is an ever-increasing volume of good research and writing being done by those who see evidence of intelligence in the world. I invite readers to visit discovery.org for an overview of work from the intelligent design movement; or visit icr.org or answersingenesis.org for works and writings by creationists. You won't be disappointed.

I also affirm the statement Chorpenning made as he closed: "I claim with strong conviction that God is the source of life and Creator of the universe." But for me, I need more than unverifiable faith-based stories for those strong convictions. So I welcome the fact that science is increasingly verifying that blind chance is not sufficient to explain this world. People from many faiths will find this research relevant and encouraging.

As the pastor who sponsored John Morris' visit regarding scientific evidence for a Creator, I was very pleased with what he shared. As a service to both the scientific and the faith communities, we hope to bring more speakers on this subject. Controversy in science has never been bad.

I think we can all agree that in the areas of science and faith, open-minded engagement rather than censorship is the best way to seek truth.

John Meyer is pastor of Summitview Community Church in Fort Collins.

Originally published February 15, 2006

Dembski, in Kansas, explains cells as Intelligent Design 'icon'


Feb 15, 2006

By Cory Miller Baptist Press

Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski sets forth his challenge to Darwinian evolution to an audience at the University of Kansas.

LAWRENCE, Kan. (BP)--Amid the debate in Kansas over a controversial vote by the state's board of education to allow criticism of evolutionary theory in schools, Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski addressed an audience of 1,500 at the University of Kansas on the "Case for Intelligent Design."

Dembski, a noted mathematician who is the Carl F.H. Henry Professor of Science and Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was sponsored by KU's Campus Crusade for Christ with support from area churches and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.

Dembski began his presentation by acknowledging the contribution Charles Darwin and his theory have made to the scientific community, while also noting one of the theory's weaknesses.

"Darwin is a great man. Darwin's theory is a great idea. His mechanism of random variation and natural selection is a milestone in intellectual history," Dembski said. "It fundamentally changed our conception of history. And yet it's not the whole story."

Although the theory explains many small-scale changes that organisms have undergone over time, Dembski noted that "it has difficulty explaining large-scale changes."

Darwin, writing in the late 1800s, did not foresee the technological advances in molecular biology of the last 30 years that have allowed scientists to look into the single cell -- something Dembski compares to an "automated city" -- and see its complex engineering and design.

"Evolutionary theory provides an important window into natural history," Dembski said, "but it no longer functions as a complete organizational package for biology. It needs to be supplemented."

Dembski said Intelligent Design -- "the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence" -- can provide a more comprehensive framework.

Explaining Intelligent Design, Dembski compared it to building a rocket or baking a cake and commented on the design process that goes into doing both.

"Often we don't see that whole process taking place," he said of the design and manufacturing process. "What we're confronted with is the product at the very end."

Intelligent Design, he said, asks whether or not a designer can be inferred from that end product.

"Did that product arise as a result of design or is it the result of a purposeless material process?" he said. "Was this the result of intention or accident?"

He said scientists and observers at SETI -- which stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and made famous by Hollywood movies like "Contact" in 1997 -- do the same thing when discerning radio signals from outer space.

What is seen as perfectly reasonable in many fields, like SETI, has become the cause of great controversy for Intelligent Design, Dembski said, because of the theological implications of the universe having a designer.

"If there is real intelligence behind biology, that would be unevolved [intelligence]," he said. "Then very quickly the G-word [God] comes to the fore."

The most compelling evidence for Intelligent Design, Dembski noted, is the cell's "bacterial flagellum" -- a bi-directional, motor-driven propeller inside the cell that can spin up to 100,000 r.p.m. and change direction in just a quarter turn.

"In Darwin's day, the cell was basically a little blob of Jell-O enclosed by a membrane," Dembski said. "That's why Darwin didn't write about the origin of life; he wrote about the origin of species." The problem was determining how complexity and diversity of life came into being, at a time when most thought single cells were very simple, Dembski said.

"Now you look inside the cell with what we know and you find a world of information processing, storage retrieval, high-tech, high-efficiency, nano-engineered motors," Dembski said. "You need engineering to understand what's going on inside the cell."

There's little comparison to the complexity of the cell, Dembski noted.

"Name your most complicated human artifact -- the supercomputer -- it is dwarfed by even the simplest cell."

Evolution, Dembski said, with its theory of evolving process and slow changes cannot account for the bacterial flagellum's intricate design.

"What needs to happen if you're going to tell an evolutionary story is you have to tell a story of gradual change and at each point there has to be some sort of selective advantage," Dembski said. "The evidence is just not there that these processes can do the sort of design work that I am pointing to."

The bacterial flagellum -- which has become the "icon" of Intelligent Design -- has pointed to serious issues within evolutionary theory's viability, Dembski continued.

"What we're talking about is a pervasive failure [in evolutionary theory] to account for systems like this," he said. "These systems have to be explained because this is where nuts and bolts biology takes place.

"If we're not explaining complexity at the biochemical level, then we have not explained life."

Addressing frequent criticism that there are theological influences behind Intelligent Design, Dembski noted that the same can be said for evolutionary theory.

"I would put it to you also that there are theological implications to evolution -- not that it's implications for God, but against God."

Acknowledging that Intelligent Design often gets mixed together with creationism, Dembski pointed out that there are clear distinctions between the two.

"Creationism is always about the source of being of the world -- where did everything come from," he said. "Intelligent Design is content to look at patterns in an existing world and say, 'Do they point to an intelligence?' but it doesn't get you to a source that's behind everything."

Just as a carpenter, he said, fashions and cuts wood into furniture, the carpenter is not also responsible for the wood itself.

"That's what a doctrine of creation does," he said. "Intelligent Design looks at patterns in nature and [discerns whether there's] good evidence that there's intelligence behind it."

Dembski said he sees Intelligent Design's theological role more "in a negative sense of clearing out the intellectual rubbish that has been bequeathed on our culture through materialistic, atheistic worldview. But it doesn't give us a positive theology.

"If you want a positive theology," he said, "study theology."


Audio recordings in MP3 format of the event can be found online at: http://www.mbts.edu/Resources/.

Intelligent design loses vote


Posted on Wed, Feb. 15, 2006

State school board acts 11-4 to drop lesson about challenges to evolutionBy Carrie Spencer GhoseAssociated PressCOLUMBUS - The Ohio school board voted Tuesday to eliminate a passage in the state's science standards that critics said opened the door to the teaching of intelligent design.

The Ohio Board of Education decided 11-4 to delete material encouraging students to seek evidence for and against evolution.

The 2002 science standards say students should be able to ``describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.'' It includes a disclaimer that the standards do not require the teaching of intelligent design.

The vote is the latest setback for the intelligent design movement, which holds that life is so complex, it must have been created by a higher authority.

In December, a federal judge barred the school system in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. The judge said that intelligent design is religion masquerading as science and that teaching it alongside evolution violates the separation of church and state.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Board of Education directed a committee to study whether a replacement lesson is needed for the deleted material.

The vote was a reversal of a 9-8 decision a month ago to keep the lesson plan. But three board members who voted in January to keep the plan were absent Tuesday. Supporters of the plan pledged to force a new vote to return the material soon.

``We'll do this forever, I guess,'' said board member Michael Cochran, a Columbus lawyer and supporter of the lesson plan.

Board member Martha Wise, who pushed to eliminate the material, said the board took the correct action to avoid problems, including a possible lawsuit.

``It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about science,'' said Wise, an elected board member representing northern Ohio.

In approving Wise's motion, the board rejected a competing plan to request a legal opinion from the attorney general on the constitutionality of the science standards.

The state's science lesson plan, approved in 2004, is optional for schools to use in teaching the state's science standards, which are the basis for Ohio's graduation test. Although schools are not required to teach the standards, districts that do not follow the standards put students at risk of not passing that part of the Ohio graduation test.

The Pennsylvania court decision against teaching intelligent design does not apply in Ohio, but critics of state standards say it invites a similar challenge.

Wise said other events since the ruling made removing the standards even more important. Earlier this month, for example, Gov. Bob Taft recommended a legal review of the standards.

In addition, members of a committee that advised state education officials on Ohio's science curriculum said the standards improperly single out the theory of evolution and could lead to the teaching of religion.

Board member Deborah Owens Fink, who voted against eliminating the lesson plan, said it is unfair to deny students the chance to use logic to question a scientific theory. She said scientists who oppose the material are worried that their views won't be supported.

``We respect diversity of opinion in every other arena,'' said Owens Fink, an elected board member

Darwinists Bully Ohio School Board Into Censoring Teaching of Evolution, Says Public Policy Expert


COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- "This is an outrageous slap in the face to the vast majority of Ohioans and Americans who want students to hear the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory," said John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture. "Most people want students to learn the evidence critical of Darwinism, as well as the evidence that supports it, rather than just teaching Darwin's theory as if it were sacred dogma."

According to reports, Ohio's state board of education today asked a sub-committee to craft new language for the state's science standards, replacing the requirement that students learn "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." "Darwin-only activists are dumbing down the teaching of evolution and stopping science learning," said Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute. "This is nothing more than a gag order on science, a dogmatic approach to education that restricts students from learning about evolution."

"Who would have thought that simply questioning and analyzing a scientific theory would be banned in schools anywhere in America," asked Luskin. "Are we now going to enter an age when there is an outright ban on saying anything against Darwin or his theory? Unfortunately it looks as if Darwinist censorship of science is spreading."

In the wake of a Judge's ruling last year banning intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania schools, activists opposed to teaching the controversy about Darwinian evolution have used the threat of lawsuits to pressure the board to repeal state science standards and the model lesson plan, "Critical Analysis of Evolution."

"The ruling in Dover banning intelligent design clearly has no relevance for Ohio," said Luskin. "Ohio is not teaching intelligent design, making this a completely different issue. That was merely a ploy for Darwinists to keep students from learning about the evidence challenging Darwin's theory." Ohio's "Critical Analysis of Evolution" model lesson plan was created to implement a benchmark in the Ohio state science standards. The lesson plan does not discuss religion, and explicitly says it does not include intelligent design. Created with input from a science advisory committee that included teachers, science educators, and scientists from across Ohio, the lesson plan was defended by a number of scientists in public testimony before the state board of education adopted it in 2004.

"This completely flies in the face of what the vast majority of Ohioans want according to a Zogby poll released earlier this week," said Luskin. "That poll showed 69% of people in Ohio want students to learn both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinism."

SOURCE Discovery Institute
Web Site: http://www.discovery.org

Issuers of news releases and not PR Newswire are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content. Terms and conditions, including restrictions on redistribution, apply.

Copyright © 1996-2006 PR Newswire Association LLC.
A United Business Media company.

Praise for Why Intelligent Design Fails

"This book is a readable and devastating scientific analysis of intelligent design creationism. . . . Unlike ID's proponents, these authors have done the real science that deflates the claims of intelligent design. Their work deserves the respect of everyone with a say in what is taught in public school science classes."--Barbara Forrest, co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design

"A terrific book that explores, fairly and openly, whether proponents of ID have any scientifically valid gadgets in their toolbox at all . . . Accessibly written throughout and an invaluable aid to teachers and scientists."--Kevin Padian, professor and curator, University of California, Berkeley, and president, National Center for Science Education


Is Darwinian evolution established fact, or a dogma ready to be overtaken by "intelligent design"? This is the debate raging in courtrooms and classrooms across the country.

Why Intelligent Design Fails assembles a team of physicists, biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and archaeologists to examine intelligent design from a scientific perspective. They consistently find grandiose claims without merit.

Contributors take intelligent design's two most famous claims--irreducible complexity and information-based arguments--and show that neither challenges Darwinian evolution. They also discuss thermodynamics and self-organization; the ways human design is actually identified in fields such as forensic archaeology; how research in machine intelligence indicates that intelligence itself is the product of chance and necessity; and cosmological fine-tuning arguments.

Intelligent design turns out to be a scientific mistake, but a mistake whose details highlight the amazing power of Darwinian thinking and the wonders of a complex world without design.

About the Author:

Matt Young is senior lecturer at the Colorado School of Mines and a former physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He is the author of No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe and two other books. Taner Edis is an associate professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and the author of The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science.

Current News  News Back Issues

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