NTS LogoSkeptical News for 21 February 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon ,' by Daniel C. Dennett


The God Genome

Published: February 19, 2006
THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.

Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
By Daniel C. Dennett.
448 pp. Viking. $25.95.

The orthodoxies of evolutionary psychology are all here, its tiresome way of roaming widely but never leaving its house, its legendary curiosity that somehow always discovers the same thing. The excited materialism of American society — I refer not to the American creed of shopping, according to which a person's qualities may be known by a person's brands, but more ominously to the adoption by American culture of biological, economic and technological ways of describing the purposes of human existence — abounds in Dennett's usefully uninhibited pages. And Dennett's book is also a document of the intellectual havoc of our infamous polarization, with its widespread and deeply damaging assumption that the most extreme statement of an idea is its most genuine statement. Dennett lives in a world in which you must believe in the grossest biologism or in the grossest theism, in a purely naturalistic understanding of religion or in intelligent design, in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in 19th-century England or in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in the sky.

In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it. "By asking for an accounting of the pros and cons of religion, I risk getting poked in the nose or worse," he declares, "and yet I persist." Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts! He wonders whether religious people "will have the intellectual honesty and courage to read this book through." If you disagree with what Dennett says, it is because you fear what he says. Any opposition to his scientistic deflation of religion he triumphantly dismisses as "protectionism." But people who share Dennett's view of the world he calls "brights." Brights are not only intellectually better, they are also ethically better. Did you know that "brights have the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again Christians the highest"? Dennett's own "sacred values" are "democracy, justice, life, love and truth." This rigs things nicely. If you refuse his "impeccably hardheaded and rational ontology," then your sacred values must be tyranny, injustice, death, hatred and falsehood. Dennett is the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name; and in a new era of American obscurantism, this is not helpful.

Dennett flatters himself that he is Hume's heir. Hume began "The Natural History of Religion," a short incendiary work that was published in 1757, with this remark: "As every enquiry which regards religion is of the utmost importance, there are two questions in particular which challenge our attention, to wit, that concerning its foundation in reason, and that concerning its origin in human nature." These words serve as the epigraph to Dennett's introduction to his own conception of "religion as a natural phenomenon." "Breaking the Spell" proposes to answer Hume's second question, not least as a way of circumventing Hume's first question. Unfortunately, Dennett gives a misleading impression of Hume's reflections on religion. He chooses not to reproduce the words that immediately follow those in which he has just basked: "Happily, the first question, which is the most important, admits of the most obvious, at least, the clearest, solution. The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion."

So was Hume not a bright? I do not mean to be pedantic. Hume deplored religion as a source of illusions and crimes, and renounced its consolations even as he was dying. His God was a very wan god. But his God was still a god; and so his theism is as true or false as any other theism. The truth of religion cannot be proved by showing that a skeptic was in his way a believer, or by any other appeal to authority. There is no intellectually honorable surrogate for rational argument. Dennett's misrepresentation of Hume (and his similar misrepresentation of William James and Thomas Nagel) is noteworthy, therefore, because it illustrates his complacent refusal to acknowledge the dense and vital relations between religion and reason, not only historically but also philosophically.

For Dennett, thinking historically absolves one of thinking philosophically. Is the theistic account of the cosmos true or false? Dennett, amazingly, does not care. "The goal of either proving or disproving God's existence," he concludes, is "not very important." It is history, not philosophy, that will break religion's spell. The story of religion's development will extirpate it. "In order to explain the hold that various religious ideas and practices have on people," he writes, "we need to understand the evolution of the human mind." What follows is, in brief, Dennett's natural history of religion. It begins with the elementary assertion that "everything that moves needs something like a mind, to keep it out of harm's way and help it find the good things." To this end, there arose in very ancient times the evolutionary adaptation that one researcher has called a "hyperactive agent detection device, or HADD." This cognitive skill taught us, or a very early version of us, that we live in a world of other minds — and taught us too well, because it instilled "the urge to treat things — especially frustrating things — as agents with beliefs and desires." This urge is "deeply rooted in human biology," and it results in a "fantasy-generation process" that left us "finding agency wherever anything puzzles or frightens us."

Eventually this animism issued in deities, who were simply the "agents who had access to all the strategic information" that we desperately lacked. "But what good to us is the gods' knowledge if we can't get it from them?" So eventually shamans arose who told us what we wanted to hear from the gods, and did so by means of hypnosis. (Our notion of God is the product of this "hypnotizability-enabler" in our brains, and it may even be that theism is owed to a "gene for heightened hypnotizability," which would be an acceptable version of a "God gene.") To secure these primitive constructs and comforts against oblivion, ritual was invented; and they were further secured by "acts of deceit" that propounded their "systematic invulnerability to disproof." Folk religions became organized religions. The "trade secrets" of the shamans were transmitted to "every priest and minister, every imam and rabbi." Slowly and steadily, these "trade secrets" were given the more comprehensive protection of "belief in belief," the idea that certain convictions are so significant that they must be insulated from the pressures of reason. "The belief that belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism," Dennett instructs, "has led the devout to 'save' their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves." In sum, we were HADD. Here endeth the lesson.

There are a number of things that must be said about this story. The first is that it is only a story. It is not based, in any strict sense, on empirical research. Dennett is "extrapolating back to human prehistory with the aid of biological thinking," nothing more. "Breaking the Spell" is a fairy tale told by evolutionary biology. There is no scientific foundation for its scientistic narrative. Even Dennett admits as much: "I am not at all claiming that this is what science has established about religion. . . . We don't yet know." So all of Dennett's splashy allegiance to evidence and experiment and "generating further testable hypotheses" notwithstanding, what he has written is just an extravagant speculation based upon his hope for what is the case, a pious account of his own atheistic longing.

And why is Dennett so certain that the origins of a thing are the most illuminating features of a thing, or that a thing is forever as primitive as its origins? Has Dennett never seen a flower grow from the dust? Or is it the dust that he sees in a flower? "Breaking the Spell" is a long, hectoring exercise in unexamined originalism. In perhaps the most flattening passage in the book, Dennett surmises that "all our 'intrinsic' values started out as instrumental values," and that this conviction about the primacy of the instrumental is a solemn requirement of science. He remarks that the question cui bono? — who benefits? — "is even more central in evolutionary biology than in the law," and so we must seek the biological utilities of what might otherwise seem like "a gratuitous outlay." An anxiety about the reality of nonbiological meanings troubles Dennett's every page. But it is very hard to envisage the biological utilities of such gratuitous outlays as "The Embarkation for Cythera" and Fermat's theorem and the "Missa Solemnis."

It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett's natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason. It portrays reason in service to natural selection, and as a product of natural selection. But if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else. (In this respect, rationalism is closer to mysticism than it is to materialism.) Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.

Like many biological reductionists, Dennett is sure that he is not a biological reductionist. But the charge is proved as early as the fourth page of his book. Watch closely. "Like other animals," the confused passage begins, "we have built-in desires to reproduce and to do pretty much whatever it takes to achieve this goal." No confusion there, and no offense. It is incontrovertible that we are animals. The sentence continues: "But we also have creeds, and the ability to transcend our genetic imperatives." A sterling observation, and the beginning of humanism. And then more, in the same fine antideterministic vein: "This fact does make us different."

Then suddenly there is this: "But it is itself a biological fact, visible to natural science, and something that requires an explanation from natural science." As the ancient rabbis used to say, have your ears heard what your mouth has spoken? Dennett does not see that he has taken his humanism back. Why is our independence from biology a fact of biology? And if it is a fact of biology, then we are not independent of biology. If our creeds are an expression of our animality, if they require an explanation from natural science, then we have not transcended our genetic imperatives. The human difference, in Dennett's telling, is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind — a doctrine that may quite plausibly be called biological reductionism.

Dennett is unable to imagine a fact about us that is not a biological fact. His book is riddled with translations of emotions and ideas into evo-psychobabble. "It is in the genetic interests of parents . . . to inform — not misinform — their young, so it is efficient (and relatively safe) to trust one's parents." Grief for the death of a loved one is "a major task of cognitive updating: revising all our habits of thought to fit a world with one less familiar intentional system in it." "Marriage rituals and taboos against adultery, clothing and hairstyles, breath fresheners and pornography and condoms and H.I.V. and all the rest" have their "ancient but ongoing source" in the organism's need to thwart parasites. "The phenomenon of romantic love" may be adequately understood by reference to "the unruly marketplace of human mate-finding." And finally, the general rule: "Everything we value — from sugar and sex and money to music and love and religion — we value for reasons. Lying behind, and distinct from, our reasons are evolutionary reasons, free-floating rationales that have been endorsed by natural selection." Never mind the merits of materialism as an analysis of the world. As an attitude to life, it represents a collapse of wisdom. So steer clear of "we materialists" in your dark hours. They cannot fortify you, say, after the funeral of a familiar intentional system.

BEFORE there were naturalist superstitions, there were supernaturalist superstitions. The crudities of religious myth are plentiful, and a sickening amount of savagery has been perpetrated in their name. Yet the excesses of naturalism cannot hide behind the excesses of supernaturalism. Or more to the point, the excesses of naturalism cannot live without the excesses of supernaturalism. Dennett actually prefers folk religion to intellectual religion, because it is nearer to the instinctual mire that enchants him. The move "away from concrete anthropomorphism to ever more abstract and depersonalized concepts," or the increasing philosophical sophistication of religion over the centuries, he views only as "strategic belief-maintenance." He cannot conceive of a thoughtful believer. He writes often, and with great indignation, of religion's strictures against doubts and criticisms, when in fact the religious traditions are replete with doubts and criticisms. Dennett is unacquainted with the distinction between fideism and faith. Like many of the fundamentalists whom he despises, he is a literalist in matters of religion.

But why must we read literally in the realm of religion, when in so many other realms of human expression we read metaphorically, allegorically, symbolically, figuratively, analogically? We see kernels and husks everywhere. There are concepts in many of the fables of faith, philosophical propositions about the nature of the universe. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they are there. Dennett recognizes the uses of faith, but not its reasons. In the end, his repudiation of religion is a repudiation of philosophy, which is also an affair of belief in belief. What this shallow and self-congratulatory book establishes most conclusively is that there are many spells that need to be broken.

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic.

Creationists want your children


The Royal Society strikes back By Chris Williams

Published Tuesday 21st February 2006 11:59 GMT

The Royal Society has spoken out against the increasingly vocal UK creationism lobby, which it says seems to be gaining a foothold amongst university and college students.

Apparently, "the vast majority" of students at one London sixth-form centre are now fully paid-up members of the Adam and Eve club.

Royal Society vice-president Professor David Read told The Guardian: "Our education system should withstand attempts to withhold or misrepresent this knowledge in order to promote particular beliefs, religious or otherwise."

Leaflets distributed at London's King's College medical school during Islamic Awareness Week recently denounced evolution, saying God created mankind and everything else in six days. "It's not six Earth days," explained one unnamed student to the Guardian reporter.

God lives on Venus, perhaps, where a day is 243 Earth days, giving the Almighty about four years - plenty of time.

Geneticist and popular science author Professor Steve Jones will deliver a public lecture at the Royal Society in April entitled: "Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right".

Professor Jones is quoted in the Guardian piece: "It's a step back from rationality. Irrationality is a very infectious disease, as we see from the United States."

El Reg will be there, of course.®

Academics fight rise of creationism at universities


· More students believe Darwin got it wrong
· Royal Society challenges 'insidious problem'

Duncan Campbell Tuesday February 21, 2006
The Guardian

A growing number of science students on British campuses and in sixth form colleges are challenging the theory of evolution and arguing that Darwin was wrong. Some are being failed in university exams because they quote sayings from the Bible or Qur'an as scientific fact and at one sixth form college in London most biology students are now thought to be creationists.

Earlier this month Muslim medical students in London distributed leaflets that dismissed Darwin's theories as false. Evangelical Christian students are also increasingly vocal in challenging the notion of evolution.

In the United States there is growing pressure to teach creationism or "intelligent design" in science classes, despite legal rulings against it. Now similar trends in this country have prompted the Royal Society, Britain's leading scientific academy, to confront the issue head on with a talk entitled Why Creationism is Wrong. The award-winning geneticist and author Steve Jones will deliver the lecture and challenge creationists, Christian and Islamic, to argue their case rationally at the society's event in April.

"There is an insidious and growing problem," said Professor Jones, of University College London. "It's a step back from rationality. They (the creationists) don't have a problem with science, they have a problem with argument. And irrationality is a very infectious disease as we see from the United States."

Professor David Read, vice-president and biological sciences secretary of the Royal Society, said that they felt it was essential to address the issue now: "We have asked Steve Jones to deliver his lecture on creationism and evolution because there continues to be controversy over how evolution and other aspects of science are taught in some UK schools, colleges and universities. Our education system should provide access to the knowledge and understanding gained through the scientific method of experiment and observation, such as the theory of evolution through natural selection, and should withstand attempts to withhold or misrepresent this knowledge in order to promote particular beliefs, religious or otherwise."

Leaflets questioning Darwinism were circulated among students at the Guys Hospital site of King's College London this month as part of the Islam Awareness Week, organised by the college's Islamic Society. One member of staff at Guys said that he found it deeply worrying that Darwin was being dismissed by people who would soon be practising as doctors.

The leaflets are produced by the Al-Nasr Trust, a Slough-based charity set up in 1992 with the aim of improving the understanding of Islam. The passage quoted from the Qur'an states: "And God has created every animal from water. Of them there are some that creep on their bellies, some that walk on two legs and some that walk on four. God creates what he wills for verily God has power over all things."

A 21-year-old medical student and member of the Islamic Society, who did not want to be named, said that the Qur'an was clear that man had been created and had not evolved as Darwin suggests. "There is no scientific evidence for it [Darwin's Origin of Species]. It's only a theory. Man is the wonder of God's creation."

He did not feel that a belief in evolution was necessary to study medicine although he added that, if writing about it was necessary for passing an exam, he would do so. "We want to become doctors and dentists, we want to pass our exams." He added that God had not created mankind literally in six days. "It's not six earth days," he said, it could refer to several thousands of years but it had been an act of creation and not evolution.

At another London campus some students have been failed because they have presented creationism as fact. They have been told by their examiners that, while they are entitled to explain both sides of the debate, they cannot present the Bible or Qur'an as scientifically factual if they want to pass exams.

David Rosevear of the Portsmouth-based Creation Science Movement, which supports the idea of creationism, said that there was an increasing interest in the subject among students. "I've got no problem with an all-powerful God producing everything in six days," he said. He said it was an early example of the six-day week. Students taking exams on the subject should not be dogmatic one way or the other. "I tell them - answer the question, it's no good saying it [creationism] is a fact any more than saying evolution is a fact."

A former lecturer in organic chemistry at Portsmouth polytechnic (now university) and ICI research scientist, Dr Rosevear said he had been invited to expound his theories at many colleges and had addressed the Cafe Scientifique, a student science society, at St Andrews university, Fife. "The students clearly came expecting to have a laugh but they found there was much more to it. Our attitude is - teach evolution but mention creationism and let students decide for themselves."

Most of the next generation of medical and science students could well be creationists, according to a biology teacher at a leading London sixth-form college. "The vast majority of my students now believe in creationism," she said, "and these are thinking young people who are able and articulate and not at the dim end at all. They have extensive booklets on creationism which they put in my pigeon-hole ... it's a bit like the southern states of America." Many of them came from Muslim, Pentecostal or Baptist family backgrounds, she said, and were intending to become pharmacists, doctors, geneticists and neuro-scientists.


The doctrine of creationism holds that the origins of humanity and the Earth are recent and divine as related in the book of Genesis. Strict creationists believe Adam and Eve are the mother and father of humanity and God created the Earth in six days. Support for creationism in the UK has traditionally lacked real vigour but in the US a recent poll found 45% of Americans believed God created life some time in the past 10,000 years. Recently American creationists suffered a setback when Ohio's board of education threw out a model biology lesson plan which gave credence to creationism. Not all creationists believe in a strict six-day creation. Current scientific research suggests the universe is 13bn years old and humans are descended from ape-like creatures.

Scientists call on churches to fight 'intelligent design'


By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Published: 21 February 2006

American scientists have denounced the so-called "intelligent design" movement and are urging mainstream religious groups to help promote the teaching of the Darwinian theory of evolution in the country's schools.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organisation, has issued its statement in rebuke to 14 states that are considering legislation that would undermine evolution teaching.

The various bills, before legislatures in states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, either highlight alleged "disagreements" within the scientific community or encourage non-scientific alternatives to Darwin, such as intelligent design.

"There is no significant controversy about the validity of the theory of evolution," the AAAS said at its annual meeting in St Louis, which ended yesterday. "The current controversy about the teaching of evolution is not a scientific one."

Instead the group appealed for the help of mainstream religion in its quest, arguing that religion and science were not incompatible. Many religious leaders had stated they saw no conflict between evolution and religion, noted the AAAS. "We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view."

This latest attack on intelligent design comes months after a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled in favour of a group of parents who argued that Darwinian evolution must be taught as fact. School administrators had earlier sought to have intelligent design, which argues that nature is so complex that a creator must have had a hand in designing it, inserted into science curriculums. But Judge John Jones ruled that would have violated the constitutional separation between church and state.

His decision has spurred supporters of intelligent design. The state initiatives, said the AAAS, would weaken science education across the US. They threatened not just the teaching of evolution, but "a student's understanding of the biological, physical and geological sciences".

Gilbert Omenn, the group's president, went further. Teachers might be tempted to tell pupils that evolution was only a theory. "But evolution is a theory in the same sense that gravity is a theory." It was "a robust organising principle" and supported by "a large body of evidence from many converging fields." At a time when fewer American students were choosing science, "baby-boomer scientists are retiring in growing numbers and international students are returning home to work", Mr Omenn said. "America can ill afford the time and tax-payer dollars debating the facts of evolution."

But even George Bush has spoken out in favour of teaching intelligent design. But he did not specify whether it should be included in science or religion classes. AAAS and other groups reject the first, but have little problem with the second.

American scientists have denounced the so-called "intelligent design" movement and are urging mainstream religious groups to help promote the teaching of the Darwinian theory of evolution in the country's schools.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organisation, has issued its statement in rebuke to 14 states that are considering legislation that would undermine evolution teaching.

The various bills, before legislatures in states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, either highlight alleged "disagreements" within the scientific community or encourage non-scientific alternatives to Darwin, such as intelligent design.

"There is no significant controversy about the validity of the theory of evolution," the AAAS said at its annual meeting in St Louis, which ended yesterday. "The current controversy about the teaching of evolution is not a scientific one."

Instead the group appealed for the help of mainstream religion in its quest, arguing that religion and science were not incompatible. Many religious leaders had stated they saw no conflict between evolution and religion, noted the AAAS. "We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view."

This latest attack on intelligent design comes months after a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled in favour of a group of parents who argued that Darwinian evolution must be taught as fact. School administrators had earlier sought to have intelligent design, which argues that nature is so complex that a creator must have had a hand in designing it, inserted into science curriculums. But Judge John Jones ruled that would have violated the constitutional separation between church and state.

His decision has spurred supporters of intelligent design. The state initiatives, said the AAAS, would weaken science education across the US. They threatened not just the teaching of evolution, but "a student's understanding of the biological, physical and geological sciences".

Gilbert Omenn, the group's president, went further. Teachers might be tempted to tell pupils that evolution was only a theory. "But evolution is a theory in the same sense that gravity is a theory." It was "a robust organising principle" and supported by "a large body of evidence from many converging fields." At a time when fewer American students were choosing science, "baby-boomer scientists are retiring in growing numbers and international students are returning home to work", Mr Omenn said. "America can ill afford the time and tax-payer dollars debating the facts of evolution."

But even George Bush has spoken out in favour of teaching intelligent design. But he did not specify whether it should be included in science or religion classes. AAAS and other groups reject the first, but have little problem with the second.

Scientists at Meeting Rally for Evolution


Staff and agencies 21 February, 2006

ST. LOUIS - Scientists at a large gathering in St. Louis didn't just defend evolution — they rallied in support of it.

"We are not rolling over on this," Alan Leshner, chief executive of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's too important to the nation and to the nation's children."

On Sunday morning, scientists announced the formation of the Alliance for Science, a new organization of scientists, scientific groups and supporters. The goal is to fight what they see as an assault on science from religious conservatives.

Earlier last week, a panel outlined tactics that public school teachers and scientists can take, including using the media, educating voters and going to court, if needed.

"I don't understand how you can have a discussion of intelligent design if you only invite critics," said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that supports scholars researching intelligent design. "That sounds like a monologue, not a discussion. I thought this was supposed to be science, not a pep rally."

"Most would be out of a job if they couldn't sell evolution to children," Willis said.

The debate has hit public schools across the country. In December, a judge in Dover, Pa., ruled that intelligent design "is not science."

Dozens of states are debating the issue. Missouri legislators have tried three times since 2003 to change how science is taught in public schools. Each ultimately failed, but another bill has been introduced this year.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com.

Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/21/science/sciencespecial2/21peti.html?_r=1&oref=slogin February 21, 2006 By KENNETH CHANG

In the recent skirmishes over evolution, advocates who have pushed to dilute its teaching have regularly pointed to a petition signed by 514 scientists and engineers.

The petition, they say, is proof that scientific doubt over evolution persists. But random interviews with 20 people who signed the petition and a review of the public statements of more than a dozen others suggest that many are evangelical Christians, whose doubts about evolution grew out of their religious beliefs. And even the petition's sponsor, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, says that only a quarter of the signers are biologists, whose field is most directly concerned with evolution. The other signers include 76 chemists, 75 engineers, 63 physicists and 24 professors of medicine.

The petition was started in 2001 by the institute, which champions intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution and supports a "teach the controversy" approach, like the one scuttled by the state Board of Education in Ohio last week.

Institute officials said that 41 people added their names to the petition after a federal judge ruled in December against the Dover, Pa., school district's attempt to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

"Early on, the critics said there was nobody who disbelieved Darwin's theory except for rubes in the woods," said Bruce Chapman, president of the institute. "How many does it take to be a noticeable minority — 10, 50, 100, 500?"

Mr. Chapman said the petition showed "there is a minority of scientists who disagree with Darwin's theory, and it is not just a handful."

The petition makes no mention of intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it is best explained as the design of an intelligent being. Rather, it states: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

A Web site with the full list of those who signed the petition was made available yesterday by the institute at dissentfromdarwin.org. The signers all claim doctorates in science or engineering. The list includes a few nationally prominent scientists like James M. Tour, a professor of chemistry at Rice University; Rosalind W. Picard, director of the affective computing research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Philip S. Skell, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Penn State who is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

It also includes many with more modest positions, like Thomas H. Marshall, director of public works in Delaware, Ohio, who has a doctorate in environmental ecology. The Discovery Institute says 128 signers hold degrees in the biological sciences and 26 in biochemistry. That leaves more than 350 nonbiologists, including Dr. Tour, Dr. Picard and Dr. Skell.

Of the 128 biologists who signed, few conduct research that would directly address the question of what shaped the history of life.

Of the signers who are evangelical Christians, most defend their doubts on scientific grounds but also say that evolution runs against their religious beliefs.

Several said that their doubts began when they increased their involvement with Christian churches.

Some said they read the Bible literally and doubt not only evolution but also findings of geology and cosmology that show the universe and the earth to be billions of years old.

Scott R. Fulton, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., who signed the petition, said that the argument for intelligent design was "very interesting and promising."

He said he thought his religious belief was "not particularly relevant" in how he judged intelligent design. "It probably influences in the sense in that it makes me very interested in the questions," he said. "When I see scientific evidence that points to God, I find that encouraging."

Roger J. Lien, a professor of poultry science at Auburn, said he received a copy of the petition from Christian friends.

"I stuck my name on it," he said. "Basically, it states what I believe."

Dr. Lien said that he grew up in California in a family that was not deeply religious and that he accepted evolution through much of his scientific career. He said he became a Christian about a decade ago, six years after he joined the Auburn faculty.

"The world is broken, and we humans and our science can't fix it," Dr. Lien said. "I was brought to Jesus Christ and God and creationism and believing in the Bible."

He also said he thought that evolution was "inconsistent with what the Bible says."

Another signer is Dr. Gregory J. Brewer, a professor of cell biology at the Southern Illinois University medical school. Like other skeptics, he readily accepts what he calls "microevolution," the ability of species to adapt to changing conditions in their environment. But he holds to the opinion that science has not convincingly shown that one species can evolve into another.

"I think there's a lot of problems with evolutionary dogma," said Dr. Brewer, who also does not accept the scientific consensus that the universe is billions of years old. "Scientifically, I think there are other possibilities, one of which would be intelligent design. Based on faith, I do believe in the creation account."

Dr. Tour, who developed the "nano-car" — a single molecule in the shape of a car, with four rolling wheels — said he remained open-minded about evolution.

"I respect that work," said Dr. Tour, who describes himself as a Messianic Jew, one who also believes in Christ as the Messiah.

But he said his experience in chemistry and nanotechnology had showed him how hard it was to maneuver atoms and molecules. He found it hard to believe, he said, that nature was able to produce the machinery of cells through random processes. The explanations offered by evolution, he said, are incomplete.

"I can't make the jumps, the leaps they make in the explanations," Dr. Tour said. "Will I or other scientists likely be able to makes those jumps in the future? Maybe."

Opposing petitions have sprung up. The National Center for Science Education, which has battled efforts to dilute the teaching of evolution, has sponsored a pro-evolution petition signed by 700 scientists named Steve, in honor of Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist who died in 2002.

The petition affirms that evolution is "a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences."

Mr. Chapman of that institute said the opposing petitions were beside the point. "We never claimed we're in a fight for numbers," he said.

Discovery officials said that they did not ask the religious beliefs of the signers and that such beliefs were not relevant. John G. West, a senior fellow at Discovery, said it was "stunning hypocrisy" to ask signers about their religion "while treating the religious beliefs of the proponents of Darwin as irrelevant."

Discovery officials did point to two scientists, David Berlinski, a philosopher and mathematician and a senior fellow at the institute, and Stanley N. Salthe, a visiting scientist at Binghamton University, State University of New York, who signed but do not hold conservative religious beliefs.

Dr. Salthe, who describes himself as an atheist, said that when he signed the petition he had no idea what the Discovery Institute was. Rather, he said, "I signed it in irritation."

He said evolutionary biologists were unfairly suppressing any competing ideas. "They deserve to be prodded, as it were," Dr. Salthe said. "It was my way of thumbing my nose at them."

Dr. Salthe said he did not find intelligent design to be a compelling theory, either. "From my point of view," he said, "it's a plague on both your houses."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Over 500 Scientists Proclaim Their Doubts About Darwin's Theory, Scientific Dissent From Darwinism Continues to Grow, Say Experts


Press Release Source: Discovery Institute

Monday February 20, 6:30 am ET

The List Is Now Located at a New Website, www.dissentfromdarwin.com

SEATTLE, Feb. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Over 500 doctoral scientists have now signed a statement publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution.

The statement reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

The list of 514 signatories includes member scientists from the prestigious US and Russian National Academy of Sciences. Signers include 154 biologists, the largest single scientific discipline represented on the list, as well as 76 chemists and 63 physicists. Signers hold doctorates in biological sciences, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, computer science, and related disciplines. Many are professors or researchers at major universities and research institutions such as MIT, The Smithsonian, Cambridge University, Stanford, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Princeton, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, the Ohio State University, the University of Georgia, Purdue and the University of Washington.

Discovery Institute first published its Scientific Dissent From Darwinism list in 2001 to challenge false statements about Darwinian evolution made in promoting PBS's "Evolution" series. At the time it was claimed that "virtually every scientist in the world believes the theory to be true."

"Darwinists continue to claim that no serious scientists doubt the theory and yet here are 500 scientists who are willing to make public their skepticism about the theory," said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture. "Darwinist efforts to use the courts, the media and academic tenure committees to suppress dissent and stifle discussion are in fact fueling even more dissent and inspiring more scientists to ask to be added to the list."

According to West, it was the fast growing number of scientific dissenters which encouraged the Institute to launch a website -- www.dissentfromdarwin.com -- to give the list a permanent home. The website is the Institute's response to the demand for information and access to the list both by the public, and by scientists who want to add their name to list.

"Darwin's theory of evolution is the great white elephant of contemporary thought," said Dr. David Berlinski, one of the original signers, a mathematician and philosopher of science with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). "It is large, almost completely useless, and the object of superstitious awe."

Other prominent signatories include U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell; American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow Lyle Jensen; evolutionary biologist and textbook author Stanley Salthe; Smithsonian Institution evolutionary biologist and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Biotechnology Information Richard von Sternberg; Editor of Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum -- the oldest still published biology journal in the world -- Giuseppe Sermonti; and Russian Academy of Natural Sciences embryologist Lev Beloussov.

Source: Discovery Institute

Science panel aims at evolution



February 20, 2006, 3:37 PM EST

ST. LOUIS -- Emboldened by recent successes, researchers, clergy and teachers assembled at a national science conference said they're taking the offensive in the pitched battle over teaching evolution in American classrooms.

At the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here, panelists described how the anti-evolution Intelligent Design movement has changed its tactics in response to recent legal defeats as more than 140 educators from the St. Louis area gathered for an interactive forum on defending and expanding evolution instruction in the classroom.

Intelligent Design holds that life in all its forms is too complicated to have arisen by chance and thus requires the intervention of an unnamed supernatural designer.

On Sunday, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) told the assembled K-12 science teachers that attacking evolution in the classroom "risks the validity of science across the board," and announced three new legislative initiatives to promote research and science education, while the teachers received kits to help them with their classroom instruction.

Organizers of the new Alliance for Science separately announced their goal of bringing together teachers, scientists and clergy "to heighten public understanding and support for science and to preserve the distinctions between science and religion in the public sphere," while coordinators of the Clergy Letter Project announced their success in gathering signatures from 10,000 clergy for an open letter in support of teaching evolution.

"Science is absolutely neutral with regard to religion," said the Rev. George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory. The Clergy Letter Project, though, hopes to send the message that science and religion are far from incompatible.

AAAS also released a statement denouncing the anti-evolution bills pending in 14 states, including New York's Assembly Bill 8036, which explicitly calls for K-12 students to receive instruction "in both theories of ID and evolution."

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said other bills contain more coded language arising largely from the anti-evolution movement's legal defeat in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, in which District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled in a strongly worded 139-page decision in December that the Pennsylvania school board's pro-Intelligent Design stance promoted religion and was therefore unconstitutional.

"As a legal strategy, Intelligent Design is dead," Scott said. "That does not mean that Intelligent Design is dead as a very popular social movement."

On Monday, the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture Discovery Institute -- a Seattle-based Intelligent Design think tank -- hit back with a new release announcing that more than 500 scientists have publicly expressed their doubts over Darwinian evolution.

"From our point of view, Intelligent Design is not a legal strategy, it's a scientific theory," said center spokesman Robert Crowther in a telephone interview. "It's a robust theory and we're getting more and more interest in it all the time."

In the past, Scott said, anti-evolutionists proffered the argument that balancing evolution with Intelligent Design was only fair. Now, she said, the movement's arguments are de-emphasizing their own alternative -- with its implicit understanding that a supernatural designer must be involved -- and tending toward euphemisms such as "sudden emergence," or "creative evolution," and focusing on the "flaws," "controversy," or "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution.

By attacking evolution's credibility, Scott said, opponents hope to raise enough doubt in the minds of students that they will embrace Intelligent Design as a viable alternative on their own.

At a Stony Brook University lecture earlier this month as part of the university's Darwin Day observance, Scott said Intelligent Design's concept undermines science because it subverts the agreed-upon scientific method.

"How do you put God in a test tube or keep him out of one?" she asked.

Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said in an interview that the best way to counter Intelligent Design is to show what's behind the "scientifically bogus" concept.

Those opposed to teaching evolution, he said, would like to portray the fight as a controversy between liberals and conservatives. But the strong legal decision by Jones, a life-long Republican recommended by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), has undermined that strategy, Miller said.

Even so, teachers gathered in St. Louis said they often feel uncomfortable when teaching evolutionary concepts in public school classrooms. A survey commissioned by the National Science Teachers Association found that nearly one-third of 1,000 respondents said they felt pressured to include creationism, Intelligent Design or other non-scientific alternatives to evolution in classroom instruction.

Jennifer Miller, a biology teacher from Dover, Pa., said she and other teachers at the high school banded together in the face of enormous pressure from the school board at the height of the controversy there.

"It was really the first time I had felt uncomfortable in my own classroom," she said in an interview. Later, in a video presentation for the assembled teachers, she concluded, "I couldn't live with myself if I didn't stand up."

Some scientists cast doubt on Darwin


More than 500 scientists have signed a statement publicly expressing skepticism about the theory of Darwinian evolution.

The statement reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

The list was published by the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that, among other things, promotes intelligent design and represents evolution as a "theory in crisis."

Intelligent design posits life is too complex to have been created by evolution and an intelligent designer must have been responsible. Most of its proponents are affiliated with the Discovery Institute.

David Berlinski, a signer of the statement and a mathematician and philosopher with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, said: "Darwin's theory of evolution is the great white elephant of contemporary thought. It is large, almost completely useless and the object of superstitious awe."

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Sunday, February 19, 2006


"Some things have to be believed to be seen." --Ralph Hodgson

One of the most ubiquitous rhetorical devices used by "Intelligent Design" (ID) theorists in support of their ideas is the argument from analogy with human designs and endeavors. These analogies have been many and varied, ranging from the rather fanciful "bulldozer on Jupiter" metaphor to comparisons of ID with scientific disciplines such as SETI and criminological forensics. I recently ran across two instances of such a device, one in the first paragraph of William Dembski's testimony submitted to the recent Texas textbook hearings,

Real life SETI researchers have thus far failed to detect designed signals from distant space. But if they encountered such a signal, as the astronomers in Sagan's novel did, they too would infer design.(1)

Dembski has elaborated on this analogy,

To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist well-defined methods that, based on observable features of the world, can reliably distinguish intelligent causes from undirected natural causes. Many special sciences have already developed such methods for drawing this distinction -- notably forensic science, cryptography, archeology, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Essential to all these methods is the ability to eliminate chance and necessity.(2)

Use of examples such as these is obviously calculated to give design theory, and particularly Dembski's "Explanatory Filter," an air of significance and legitimacy. As noted by philosopher Robert Pennock,

In a clever rhetorical move, they frequently quote the late astronomer and SETI pioneer Carl Sagan to show that even a confirmed skeptic such as he admitted that such investigation is scientifically legitimate.(3)

Evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliuscci points out that even if the analogy is considered accurate, Dembski's point is undercut by the fact that natural causes can produce results that make a determination of "Intelligent Design" extraneous from a scientific perspective.

Dembski is absolutely correct that plenty of human activities, such as SETI, investigations into plagiarism, or encryption, depend on the ability to detect intelligent agency. Where he is wrong is in assuming only one kind of design: for him design equals intelligence and, even though he admitted that such an intelligence may be an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, his preference is for a god, possibly of the Christian variety. The problem is that natural selection, a natural process, also fulfills the complexity-specification criterion, thereby demonstrating that it is possible to have unintelligent design in nature.(4)

It is reasonable to assume that there may be some who will be swayed by the ID analogy with scientific disciplines like SETI. Therefore, it is the specifics of this analogy that need to be refuted in order to expose its vacuity.


Dembski clearly believes ID will stand up to, and benefit from, a methodology-level comparison with forensics, cryptography, archeology, and SETI. Unfortunately, the analogy is only useful regarding ID if one understands certain assumptions inherent in these disciplines. With this understanding, however, it becomes clear that the comparison of ID with operational science is flawed.

The problems with the analogy can be subtle. What is needed as a foundation is an understanding of what William Dembski calls the Explanatory Filter (EF), which he describes as proceeding in three stages:

At the first stage, the filter determines whether a law can explain the thing in question. Law thrives on replicability, yielding the same result whenever the same antecedent conditions are fulfilled. Clearly, if something can be explained by a law, it better not be attributed to design. Things explainable by a law are therefore eliminated at the first stage of the Explanatory Filter.

Suppose, however, that something we think might be designed cannot be explained by any law. We then proceed to the second stage of the filter. At this stage the filter determines whether the thing in question might not reasonably be expected to occur by chance. What we do is posit a probability distribution, and then find that our observations can reasonably be expected on the basis of that probability distribution. Accordingly, we are warranted attributing the thing in question to chance. And clearly, if something can be explained by reference to chance, it better not be attributed to design. Things explainable by chance are therefore eliminated at the second stage of the Explanatory Filter.

Suppose finally that no law is able to account for the thing in question, and that any plausible probability distribution that might account for it does not render it very likely. Indeed, suppose that any plausible probability distribution that might account for it renders it exceedingly unlikely. In this case we bypass the first two stages of the Explanatory Filter and arrive at the third and final stage. It needs to be stressed that this third and final stage does not automatically yield design -- there is still some work to do. Vast improbability only purchases design if, in addition, the thing we are trying to explain is specified."(5)

To simplify, the EF is an attempt to distinguish between cause by law (necessity), cause by chance, and cause by design; which reduces still further to a choice between undirected natural processes (necessity and/or chance) and some form of intelligent design.

The problems with Dembski's Explanatory Filter are many and have been documented in various books and websites, especially his probability calculations as applied to biological systems and the utility of ideas he here hints at in the third stage of the Explanatory Filter, e.g. specified complexity. For the purposes of discussing the value of an analogy between ID and SETI (and other sciences), however, we can accept for the moment the legitimacy of the EF. It is my intent to demonstrate that the analogy fails because, first, in ID the distinction drawn between necessity/chance and intelligence is a terminus, it is the goal and the end of the process. In forensics, cryptography, and archeology this distinction is merely an expedient without which the science itself would not take place. Second, although Dembski wishes to paint ID with a coat of science borrowed from these disciplines, the methodological locus between the two is not analogous. And third, the kinds of phenomena ID investigates are not comparable to those dealt with by SETI, forensics, cryptography, and archeology. ID phenomena are inaccessible to science.

Forensic science, cryptography, and archeology (hereafter simply "forensics") have indeed developed "methods for drawing this distinction," as Dembski says, but the differentiation they draw is a specific one between undirected natural causes and human intelligent causes. As well, the methods developed have been for detection and elucidation of human intelligent causes in particular, not intelligence in general (assuming that there are other intelligences). This is an important distinction to make because it speaks to the nature of empirical inquiry. These disciplines assume that the phenomenon in question is real, obeys natural laws, and is accessible to scientific methodology. These are assumptions ID proponents cannot claim as fundamental to their own methodology.

The distinctions between necessity/chance and intelligence -- natural and intelligent cause -- are investigated within the framework of identifiable human effects upon natural processes, and are evaluated on that basis. The salient point is that forensics would not work without an acute understanding of the nature of the intelligence being investigated, or a methodology that investigates the ways in which that intelligence affects the natural world. The assumption of a particular intelligence -- human -- is built into the process from the beginning. The initial distinction for forensics, then, is not so much between natural causes and intelligent causes as it is between lack of evidence for human causes and evidence for human causes. This is an important difference as it relates to the analogy Dembski applies.

In short, within these disciplines differentiation between necessity/chance and intelligence is a formality. The elimination of chance and necessity leaves a non-controversial "known," which is human intelligence. This is a mechanism of methodology. It is not a discovery and does not purport to be one. In addition, the locus of actual science in forensics is in the ensuing collection and elucidation of evidence left behind by the same human intelligence. These enterprises are not analogous.


Dealing with the SETI analogy requires a slightly different argument (but one that is equally applicable to the comparison with forensics) because it is obvious that SETI does not assume human intelligence. But, in fact, the SETI project investigates phenomena that occupy a category similar to the phenomena investigated by the afore-mentioned disciplines.

In this analysis, phenomena can be classed in the following fashion:

A. Explained Phenomena
B. Unexplained Phenomena (consisting of two subsets):
b1. putative natural phenomena
b2. causally indeterminate phenomena (either natural or non-natural)

Examples relevant to SETI would include, for "A", instances of known galactic phenomena such as pulsars. An example from the "b1" subset would be along the lines of the transmissions dealt with in the film Contact, i.e. a phenomenon for which examination will hopefully distinguish between undirected and directed (intelligent) cause. It is my argument that implicit in taking action in this case is the assumption that this signal is empirically investigable. That is, it accords with certain preconditions, those being that it is real, it is derived from natural processes, it abides by the physical laws of the universe, and is accessible to current science. The procedure used by SETI is not some unstructured surveillance of the radio spectrum. SETI searches for specific kinds of signals (narrow band) based on specific assumptions about the intelligence that might send them. A statement from the SETI Institute (webpage FAQ) demonstrates this:

There is relatively little background static from galaxies, quasars, and other cosmic noisemakers in the microwave part of the spectrum. This makes faint signals easier to pick out. Additionally, the microwave band contains a naturally-produced emission line, a narrow-band "broadcast", at 1,420 MHz due to interstellar hydrogen. Every radio astronomer (including extraterrestrial ones) will know about this hydrogen emission. It may serve as a universal "marker" on the radio dial. Consequently, it makes sense to use nearby frequencies for interstellar "hailing" signals.(6)

It is obvious that this is something quite different from the assumption of intelligence behind an unexplained phenomenon. As with forensics, SETI investigation is a process that employs specific assumptions about the intelligence it investigates. SETI as a science is more than just an attempt to distinguish between necessity/chance and design. Cornell astrophysicist Loren Petrich makes this point clearly,

These reasons are very distinct from Dembski's Explanatory Filter, which focuses on alleged unexplainability as a natural phenomenon; they are an attempt to predict what an extraterrestrial broadcaster is likely to do, using the fact that they live in the same kind of Universe that we do.(7)

Examples from the last subset, "b2", would be any phenomena that at present we are not able to explain. From the perspective of an ID theorist this might be due to the inherent properties of the phenomenon (its "Intelligent Design" etiology). Those of the methodological naturalist persuasion can consider the empirical inaccessibility of phenomena in this subset as owing to a lack of sufficient technological and scientific advancement.

I would assert that SETI does not investigate phenomena derived from the b2 subset. SETI looks for signals based upon experience with analogous natural phenomena. According to SETI scientist Seth Shostak, the search is directed toward finding specific evidence of artificiality, not inexplicability,

If SETI were to announce that we're not alone because it had detected a signal, it would be on the basis of artificiality. An endless, sinusoidal signal -- a dead simple tone -- is not complex; it's artificial. Such a tone just doesn't seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes. In addition, and unlike other radio emissions produced by the cosmos, such a signal is devoid of the appendages and inefficiencies nature always seems to add -- for example, DNA's junk and redundancy.(8)

I submit, then, that while proponents wish to portray "Intelligent Design" theory as analogous to SETI's investigation of "b1" phenomena, those phenomena that ID attempts to critically consider are actually found within "b2." In fact, ID finds its epistemological purchase in the very inaccessibility that characterizes "b2" phenomena (ID "discoveries" have been heralded not only as phenomena that science has, as yet, not explained, but as phenomena that science ultimately cannot explain.)(9)

This same argument applies to the attempted analogy with forensic science, cryptography, and archeology. All of these deal with investigation into phenomena that are described in "b1," that of being unexplained but explainable developments. We can be reasonably confident this is so because they exhibit qualities accessible to science; they are of the natural universe. But phenomena found in "b2" are either presently inaccessible to science or unreasonably attributable to intelligence for lack of evidence. While these qualities obviously allow exploitation by ID proponents they also make the analogy with science inappropriate and self-serving. Comparison of "Intelligent Design" with science is a clear category error.


The "discovery" of intelligence in "b2" gaps encourages ID proponents to take a pass on attempting to develop any kind of body of work that considers the motives and mechanisms by which an intelligent designer might intervene in the natural world. This endeavor would be directly analogous to the real science with which Dembski and other ID theorists wish "Intelligent Design" to be favorably compared.(10) Yet it seems that Dembski would not have us concern ourselves with such inquiries:

What a designer intends or purposes is, to be sure, an interesting question, and one may be able to infer something about a designer's purposes from the designed objects that a designer produces. Nevertheless, the purposes of a designer lie outside the scope of intelligent design.(2)

But an inference of "something about a designer's purposes from the designed objects that a designer produces" is exactly what the methodology of forensics is configured to produce. Additionally this is intimately associated with the methods the designer used which are, in turn, intimately associated with the nature of the designer. These characteristics are not mere empirical by-products of forensics, they are a methodological focus. To compare ID to these disciplines without being able to speak of purposes, methods, and nature of the object of investigation is to ignore the cogent part of the analogy.

To be fair, Dembski tries to rescue the scientific facade: "As a scientific research program, intelligent design investigates the effects of intelligence and not intelligence as such."(2) Here he clearly hopes to hang his hat on the applicability of such notions as "irreducible complexity" and "specified complexity" (his "effects of intelligence"). But these contrivances qualify only as special pleading. Wherever they have been submitted to critical review they have been found to be seriously flawed as useful scientific constructs.(11) The utility of these concepts, so far, seems to be as camouflage, an attempt to allow ID to blend in with the scientific environment, while masking its inaccessibility to the scientific method.

To summarize, the analogy of ID to forensics, SETI, and science in general fails for the following reasons:

1. For ID, differentiation between natural processes and intelligence is an end, for the scientific disciplines it is just a beginning.

2. In those scientific disciplines it is following this point of departure that most of the science is conducted, with the motives and mechanisms of human (or ET) intelligence being of central concern. These questions are purposefully ignored by ID, leaving it with no analogous locus of scientific methodology.

3. ID and science address phenomena that are etiologically different. Comparison of ID with science is a category error.

Whether one considers the tactic of analogizing ID with SETI and other sciences a cold calculation or an earnest attempt at dialogue, the goal of the argument is to leave science and scientists in a logical conundrum. As one ID proponent noted,

The ID critic cannot have her cake and eat it too. Either she can allow SETI and archeology into her definition of science -- and ID along with them -- or she must throw them all out. There is no logical middle ground.(12)

But an understanding of the specifics of the analogized methodologies reveals that it is actually the proponents of ID who have an uncomfortable decision to make. Either the phenomena that ID theory purports to discover are empirically accessible to science -- and therefore derived from natural processes -- or they are forever inexplicable, in which case the analogy with scientific methodology fails by definition. Do Intelligent Design proponents leave ID in this epistemological vacuum where it cannot be falsified by the scientific method, or do they allow, and therefore submit to peer review, that their designer must somehow interact with the natural universe in ways that should be detectable, testable, explicable, and eventually expressive of the nature of the designer?


1. Dembski, William. 2003. "Three Frequently Asked Questions About Intelligent Design." Textbook hearing, Austin, Texas.


2. Dembski, William. 2003. "Intelligent Design."


3. Pennock, Robert. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 228-233.

4. Pigliucci, Massimo. 2002. "Design Yes, Intelligent No."


5. Dembski, William. 1996. "The Explanatory Filter: A three-part filter for understanding how to separate and identify cause from intelligent design."


6. SETI Institute Research/Technical Information.


7. Petrich, Loren. 2003. "Animal and Extraterrestrial Artifacts: Intelligently Designed?"


8. Shostak, Seth. 2005. "SETI and Intelligent Design."


9. Behe, Michael J. 1996. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Touchstone, New York, NY.

10. Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The Wedge Strategy.












12. Alder, J. S. 2001. "Is Intelligent Design Science, and Does it Matter?"


eSkeptic is a free, public newsletter published (almost) weekly by the Skeptics Society. Contents are Copyright (c) 2006 Michael Shermer, the Skeptics Society, and the authors and artists. Permission is granted to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and acknowledgment.

At a Scientific Gathering, U.S. Policies Are Lamented


February 19, 2006 By CORNELIA DEAN

ST. LOUIS, Feb. 18 — David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist and president of the California Institute of Technology, is used to the Bush administration misrepresenting scientific findings to support its policy aims, he told an audience of fellow researchers Saturday. Each time it happens, he said, "I shrug and say, 'What do you expect?' "

But then, Dr. Baltimore went on, he began to read about the administration's embrace of the theory of the unitary executive, the idea that the executive branch has the power or even the obligation to act without restraint from Congress. And he began to see in a new light widely reported episodes of government scientists being restricted in what they could say in public.

"It's no accident that we are seeing such an extensive suppression of scientific freedom," he said. "It's part of the theory of government now, and it's a theory we need to vociferously oppose." Far from twisting science to suit its own goals, he said, the government should be "the guardian of intellectual freedom."

Dr. Baltimore spoke at a session here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Though it was organized too late for inclusion in the overall meeting catalogue, the session drew hundreds of scientists who crowded a large meeting room and applauded enthusiastically as speakers denounced administration policies they said threatened not just sound science but also the nation's research pre-eminence.

The session was organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organization that has been highly critical of the Bush administration.

Not all of the speakers had harsh words for the administration. Rita R. Colwell, who headed the National Science Foundation, the government's leading financing organization for the physical sciences, from 1998 to 2004, said she had never experienced political pressure in that job. But, Dr. Colwell said, the free flow of scientific information is crucial for maintaining the nation's leadership in research. Threats to that, she said, are second only to terrorism as threats to the nation's security.

Another speaker, Susan F. Wood, former director of the office of women's health at the Food and Drug Administration, said administration interference with the agency's scientific and regulatory processes had left morale there at a "nadir."

Dr. Wood, who received a standing ovation from many in the audience, resigned in August to protest agency officials' unusual decision to overrule an expert panel and withhold marketing approval for Plan B, the so-called morning after pill, a form of emergency contraception. She said she feared that competent scientists would leave rather than remain at an agency where their work was ignored because "social conservatives have extreme undue influence."

Later, in response to a question, she said that she might have consulted the agency's inspector general over the Plan B decision, but that inspectors general often had to be prodded by Congress before taking action. Democrats have little power in this Congress, she said, and Republicans who care about science have been "remarkably silent."

Others in the audience said efforts to stifle researchers were attacks on more than science.

"Administrative legitimacy has been violated as much as scientific legitimacy," said Sheila Jasanoff, an expert on science policy who teaches at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "You can't get the most solid possible basis for making a decision unless you have not just the most credible and legitimate form of science but also the most credible and legitimate administrative process."

Leslie Sussan, a lawyer with the Department of Health and Human Services who emphasized that she was speaking only for herself, drew applause when she said she saw the administration's science policies as "an attack on the rule of law as a basis for self-government and democracy."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Dover (Pennsylvania) 'Panda' Trial



By Ron Stauffer

Recently elected as an alternate delegate to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU PA) state Board of Directors, my first exposure to the mental machinery of this finely honed civil liberties protection organization was in June of 2005 where we met in the sumptuous board room on the 21st floor of a Philadelphia skyscraper. This is the board room of a prominent law firm that routinely works with the ACLU in civil liberty cases. High on the agenda of that meeting (and the subsequent September meeting) was the preparation for trial of a case hearing arguments for and against 'Intelligent Design' being taught in the ninth grade biology classroom of a Dover, PA, public school. What is remarkable about this organization I belong to is its very, very lean and efficient staff, overseen by twenty one board members from all over the state, but primarily from the two large metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I experienced tingling sensations of pride as the lead ACLU attorney, Vic Walczak, outlined confidential strategy in the upcoming case to be heard over a thirty-day period in October. The cost for preparation and trial would be approximately $2,000,000 –a cost to be shared by the ACLU PA with the private law firm of Pepper Hamilton, also of Philadelphia.

As a non-voting member of the Board, my perception of the pending trial was mixed. The strategy presented at our meetings seemed iron clad in their exposing the religious motivation of the Dover School Board: to teach students a form of creationism, which has been determined by previous Supreme Court decisions to be detrimental to the Nation's policy of separating church affairs from state affairs. One of our biggest fears was the fact that Judge John E. Jones was a George W. Bush appointee in 2001 (conservative and ambitious). The world knows how President Bush feels about teaching Intelligent Design –he is for teaching it!

I saw none of the trial, but friends of ours in York (the County where Dover is located) forwarded my wife and me excerpts of their newspapers by e-mail nearly on a daily basis. It was dubbed the 'Panda Trial' by the 'York Dispatch' and the 'York Daily Record' newspapers, and was touted as the 21st century's rehash of the 1920 Scope's 'Monkey Trial' in Tennessee. Panda is derived from the Intelligent Design text book 'Of Pandas and People' that was mysteriously funded and distributed by one of the school board members as an ancillary text to the students' biology textbook.

I should have known by our attorneys' briefings that this would be a hilarious case –and it was! The stream of e-mails from York read like a comical story. The primary defendant on the school board said one thing and then another about a particular school board meeting. Cross examination exposed several lies that were confirmed by news reporters present at school board meetings. Finally trapped, he admitted to the judge that he was addicted to Oxycontin that was brought on by treating a health problem. This, he claimed, caused his memory to lapse (in other words, he used the same excuse that Rush Limbaugh, famous conservative radio commentator, used when he was found out to be abusing Oxycontin –who then sought help from the ACLU. Mr. Limbaugh doesn't criticize the ACLU anymore).

For nearly a whole day, Lehigh University professor Michael Behe, expert witness for the school district, droned on and on about the flagellum microorganism and how its complexity proves the presence of Intelligent Design. His ruminations went on much too long causing one local editor to lampoon the professor's ramblings in his newspaper column, using hilarious parody. At another time, an attorney for the school board tried to have admitted as evidence a newspaper article favoring their argument –after the defense had previously insisted that the reporters covering school board meetings gave unfavorable news reports. Judge Jones rebuked the attorney in no uncertain words: "Don't insult my intelligence!"

I read recently that two school board members may be cited for perjury in the trial. Since the judge ruled in favor of the ACLU, the costs incurred by the plaintiffs will have to be paid by the Dover School District, those moneys will be split between the ACLU, AU and Pepper Hamilton. Ironically, the attorneys for the Thomas Moore Law Center had bragged early on that they wanted to take this case to the Supreme Court, but that won't happen since all school board members up for re-election were defeated in the November elections. Yes, that's right, Dover's embarrassed citizens replaced overt religiosity with new school board members who had campaigned to end this debacle.

This is how the Scopes Monkey Trial should have ended nearly a century ago! That trial had its version of comedy and unbelievable cross examination, but that is another story.

The ACLU lost that trial, only because religion was too much a 'sacred cow' to be tested in a 'Bible Belt' community.

January 15, 2006.

About the author

Ron Stauffer is a 66 year old activist for the progression of science and reason, and the debunking of cults and religion. He is an American engineer and surveyor whose non-vocational interests are mainly history, anthropology and philosophy. Ron is the author of Kentucky Dreamin', a novel of suspense and romance about atheists affected by the so called 'war on terror.' He has been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) since 1989, and a past president of the Keystone Chapter (six counties in south central Pennsylvania, PA), in the late nineteen nineties. He is one of the founding members of Atheist Station.

Brewing up a cure?


Cancer patients increasingly turning to Essiac tea to supplement treatment

By Ashley Kindergan

Freedom News Service

Sandra Hunter accepted that her husband, Edward Moya, was going to die. What she wouldn't accept was the doctors' prediction that end-stage pancreatic cancer would kill him three weeks to a month after his diagnosis in May 2002.

Desperate, Hunter researched cancer remedies online. She added supplements to her husband's chemotherapy treatments, including an herbal tea called Essiac. That tea, she thinks, was one of the most important reasons her husband lived 19 months longer than doctors expected, though she has no way to know for sure.

"I knew it wouldn't hurt him," Hunter, of Pueblo, Colo., said. "There is a point where you say, what do you have to lose?" Studies suggest that a growing number of cancer patients supplement their treatment with alternative remedies, and Essiac is high on the list. In a study at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, 4.9 percent of participants said they used the tea in addition to their traditional treatment. In a similar study at the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, nearly 10 percent of cancer patients involved in a chemotherapy trial said they were using Essiac as well. Only one Canadian company can use the trademarked name Essiac, but a four-herb formula for the tea has been widely published in books and on the Internet. It typically can be found in natural food stores such as Wild Oats and Whole Foods. Vitamin stores often carry one or more brands of the tea.

"We don't know how many people take it. If you take 500 cancer patients, and only one of them is taking Essiac, that's still a lot of people taking Essiac," said Dr. Andrew Vickers, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

For cancer patients and families searching for answers in unlikely places, wading through claims amid a relative paucity of scientific data can be daunting. That's why the Federal Trade Commission fined Michael D. Miller of Crestone, Colo., who was making an Essiac tea, $17,500 in 2000. The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates the advertising of herbal remedies, prohibits claims that such products can treat, fight or cure cancer. Miller claimed on his company Web site that Essiac could cure cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Although Essiac has at least an 80-year history, there have been only a few controlled studies of its effects, and their results have not conclusively proved or disproved the claims of proponents and users that the herbal mixture works as a detoxifier and natural immune stimulant. "There's no particular reason to believe it's harmful," Vickers, the Sloan-Kettering researcher, said. "There's no reason to believe it's going to be helpful."

Although recent research has found some evidence that the tea can inhibit cancer growth in certain kinds of cancer in cell cultures, one animal study suggested that certain kinds of estrogen-positive cancers, including some breast cancers, might get worse when treated with one brand of Essiac. Scientists are hindered by the fact that they do not understand how the human body metabolizes the substance. The concentrations that cause an effect in a test tube may be higher than what a person taking the recommended dose of the tea actually consumes.

Vickers put it more bluntly: "The fact that you can take an herb that's found in Essiac, and mix it with cancer cells, and mix it in a test tube and show that it kills some cancer cells is completely unsurprising."

That's because test tube, or in-vitro, testing is the first stage of medical testing. The second step tests on animals, but those tests give scientists only clues about how a substance may act in humans. The real test, clinical trials on human subjects, is always the last stage to determining a product's efficacy and safety.

Because the Food and Drug Administration classifies Essiac as a dietary supplement, manufacturers do not have to show the tea effectively fights cancer — only that it's safe.

The history of the tea began in 1922. A Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse encountered an elderly female patient who said she had cured her breast cancer with an herbal tea recipe given to her by an Indian chief.

Caisse experimented with the herbs, and soon established a clinic to treat cancer patients with a four-herb version of Essiac — Caisse spelled backward.

Some books and Internet sites point to Caisse's results as proof that the tea works, but many details from the time are difficult to verify.

In an article she wrote before her death in 1978, Caisse claimed that her personal files contained "hundreds of documented cases concerning the proven efficacy of ESSIAC with cancer patients." Internet accounts say those files were burned — some say by family members, who didn't realize what the papers contained.

Even the original composition of the formula remains uncertain. Caisse kept the formula secret for most of her life, and stories conflict regarding with whom she shared it. Caisse sold the recipe to the Canadian firm Resperin Corp., now Essiac Canada International, which sells a trademarked product called Essiac.

Today, more than 25 products purport to derive from the original Essiac formula, including ready-made brewed tea, powdered tea, tinctures, salves, capsules and tea bags. The products are available online and from naturopaths and health food stores.

Buying a year's supply of the tea in powdered form can cost up to $1,000. A year's supply of ready-brewed liquid Flor-Essence, a popular brand produced by Flora Inc., from Whole Foods costs more than $4,800.

Others buy herbs and, following the published recipe, make their own tea.

For those who believe in the tea, a few inconclusive studies do not tell the whole story.

"If I was told, 'You can only do one thing in the complementary arena,' I would do the tea," said Sandra Hunter, looking back on her decision to administer Essiac to her husband. If she were given the choice between the tea and chemotherapy, however, she said she would choose chemotherapy.

The tea's most passionate endorsements come from naturopaths and herbalists such as Michelle Kelavik, also known as "The Tea Lady," for her four-herb brew of Essiaclike tea, Ojibwa Tea of Life. Kelavik, of Denver, credits Essiac with her own recovery from a urethral growth in 1994.

Kelavik said she spent four years studying herbs with Ojibwa Indian tribal elders and in the library of Bastyr University, a college in Washington state specializing in natural medicine. The facility in which she processes herbs is an FDA-inspected clean room.

For her, the tea must be part of a holistic, spiritual approach to health, and believing in it is as important as drinking it. She makes no promises and wants people to make their own decisions.

"You never, ever, say the word 'cure,' " Kelavik said. "It's against the law to use the word 'cure.' Doctors are legally allowed to use the word cure, but doctors don't cure anybody either. God, nature, spirit is what cures."

According to naturopaths and herbalists, the restrictions on the tea and the lack of research are part of a conspiracy meant to protect pharmaceutical companies. Because herbal remedies can be difficult to patent, some claim, pharmaceutical companies don't want to waste time researching a remedy that can't earn money.

"When people are getting well by using nature — they can't patent these things, so it's taking away from the mega money coming from the drug companies," said Sharon Schulman, a naturopath and herbalist who treated her breast cancer with Essiac tea.

She tells clients her story and that the tea is thought to stimulate the immune system and aid in general detoxification, but does not explicitly recommend the tea.

Generally, oncologists advise patients to talk to their physicians before trying any herbal remedy, and some recommend discontinuing herbs while receiving radiation or chemotherapy, or before surgery. Herbs with antioxidant properties can interfere with the oxidative reactions that kill cells during chemotherapy.

Dr. James Young of Penrose Cancer Center said he doesn't discourage patients from taking alternative or complementary medicines like Essiac unless he has good reason to think them unsafe.

"What I've come to realize in my maturity is that some of these things can empower patients to feel like they're doing something for themselves — that they're not so out of control in the process," he said.


No large-scale human tests of any brand of Essiac tea have been performed. Thomas Geither, owner of Flora Inc., which manufactures Flor-Essence, said the company is planning a human trial of cancer patients in Mexico City and is negotiating a second trial at the University of Kentucky.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the National Cancer Institute tested two samples from Rene Caisse and two from Resperin Corp. on sarcoma, leukemia and other cancer cells. They found no evidence that Essiac caused tumors to regress or grow more slowly.


Complementary and alternative medicine, defined as any nontraditional approach to treating a disease, includes several popular remedies for cancer.

The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston lists some nonherbal approaches:

Homeopathy: Medicines designed to help the body start healing, not to eliminate symptoms.

Tai chi and qigong: Chinese exercises.

Massage therapies: These include reiki massage and healing touch. Mind-body approaches: These include support groups, storytelling, expressive writing and meditation.


The National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: www.mdanderson.org/departments/CIMER Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's About Herbs database: www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/11571.cfm?RecodID=441&tab=HC National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:


'Dodos' film pecks holes in evolution debate

By Amanda Termen

Published: February 17, 2006, 4:00 AM PST

There's nothing like evolution to get an audience riled up, scientist and filmmaker Randy Olson has discovered.

His film, "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus," is the latest on the debate over intelligent design and evolution. Interviewing Harvard scientists, intelligent design advocates and even his 82-year-old mother (a voice of reason who thinks evolution should be taught in science classes and intelligent design taught in philosophy classes), Olson lets both sides speak, and pokes holes in the arguments of both.

But the on-screen debate pales in comparison to the one that has so far taken place in the handful of audiences for the movie. More than 50 universities have asked for screenings, but so far, "Dodos" has had only five public viewings.

In Stony Brook, N.Y., a 500-seat auditorium was swamped for a Feb. 10 screening, and guards had to lock the doors and turn away an overflow crowd. In Kansas, where the first screening of Olson's film took place, the documentary was greeted with laughter and applause, but the following panel discussion between evolutionists and intelligent design proponents degenerated into chaos.

"It was very sad and ugly when it broke down to a shouting match and turned into a whole big uproar. You could see people in the audience turning their heads away saying 'Oh God, here we go again,'" Olson said in an interview with CNET News.com.

The filmmaker was born and raised in Kansas, where the State Board of Education last year decided to support the teaching of intelligent design in schools. Intelligent design holds that life is too complex to have developed through random mutations, as proponents of evolution believe.

Olson, an evolutionary ecologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University, has watched the controversy between religion and science brew for several years. Having left science teaching for filming, he decided to go back to Kansas and do a documentary that makes sense of the debate.

The film's title might suggest that it's an attack on intelligent design, but it is actually quite the opposite. With a large dose of humor, Olson explores the shortcomings of both sides.

"Flock of Dodos" audiences laugh at the expense of Olson's own evolutionist friends. While the evolutionists are playing poker and calling intelligent design proponents "yahoos" and "idiots," he turns the evolutionists into animated dodos, the extinct, flightless birds that were known for their lack of grace. He also shows examples of extraordinarily unintelligent design, like the fact that rabbits have to eat their own feces to absorb enough nutrients from food.

"The ID movement suffers from being based on the advocates' own intuition. It tells them that all things are designed, but they don't have a scientific way to demonstrate it," Olson said. Still, he said intelligent design advocates are far better communicators than evolutionists.

"Natural selection teaches us that when an environment changes, the species that don't change with it run the risk of extinction. The media environment in the United States has changed drastically," Olson said. Intelligent design advocates understand the rules of new media, but evolutionary scientists are "a huge flock of dodos when it comes to communications," he said.

Even though Olson himself is clearly pro-evolution, he said his heart is still in Kansas, which kept him from taking shots at intelligent design supporters. "I respect people of character who are willing to stand up and speak their mind for what they believe in, on either side of the fence," he said. "This is a fairly embarrassing film for scientists; the guys at the poker table are very arrogant and obnoxious."

Olson hopes his film will be a wake-up call for scientists to start communicating with the public in an engaging and understandable way. He's also sending out copies to film festivals, and hopes a distributor will pick it up for national distribution.

There's no question who he thinks is winning this long-running debate at the moment. "The intelligent design movement is having its way," he said, "and no one in the science world is there to stand up to it."

Workshop to study intelligent design


Friday, February 17, 2006

By Greg Chandler The Grand Rapids Press

HOLLAND -- Two months have passed since a federal judge in Pennsylvania struck down a school district's attempt to introduce intelligent design into its science curriculum, saying the effort violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

However, the debate over whether intelligent design should be taught as an alternative to evolution continues.

In the Gull Lake school district in Kalamazoo County, two middle school teachers are battling to teach the concept.

Intelligent design, a concept that holds that living things are so complex that a higher force was involved in their creation, will be the focus of a seminar Saturday at Western Theological Seminary. Retired Calvin College professor Howard Van Till, who has written several books and articles on the connection between science and faith, will lead the workshop.

Van Till, who taught physics and astronomy at Calvin from 1967 to 1998, generated some controversy nearly 20 years ago with his book, "The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens Are Telling Us About Creation."

The seminar is being sponsored by ClarityCA Pilgrimage: Science, Faith and Wholeness, a program offered under the auspices of Journey, Western's continuing education seminar series. Through Thursday, 45 people had signed up for the workshop.

In the Saturday workshop, Van Till will address the cultural and religious context for understanding the concerns raised in the intelligent design movement. He also will speak on the strategies intelligent design supporters use to make their claims and offer a sample of what happens when those claims are given a careful scientific critique, Bos said.

Also speaking at the seminar will be Carol Simon, a professor of philosophy at Hope College and the school's director of general education and interdisciplinary studies.


Robert L. Park Friday, 17 Feb 06 Washington, DC


The Ohio Board of Education voted 11 to 4 on Tuesday to scrap a requirement that "critical analysis of evolution" be taught in biology classes. Ohio's "critical analysis" ploy for teaching intelligent design had been hailed by The Discovery Institute as a model for the entire nation. Rejection by the Education Board came as a direct consequence of the Dover ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III: teaching ID is unconstitutional http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn122305.html. A Discovery Institute spokesman publicly scoffed that the Dover ruling was not binding elsewhere, but Judge Jones expanded the blast radius by awarding damages to the parents who brought suit. That got the attention of school boards. The Discovery Institute has bet the farm on selling ID as science, but the Dover effect has blunted it in California, Indiana and Wisconsin, and now Ohio.


Go on! Yes, Sunday was the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin. At 450 churches around the nation it was celebrated with sermons and programs that mingle biological evolution and faith. Something is happening. The public is getting an unprecedented exposure to evolution in books, museum exhibits, and news programs. Coming soon to a theater near you is Flock of Dodos. Film maker and marine biologist Randy Olsen has made a movie about evolution and intelligent design http://www.flockofdodos.com. It has what fundamentalists all lack a sense of humor. And we owe it all to the Discovery Institute and intelligent design.


New data from satellite imagery show the glaciers to be melting twice as fast as they were a decade ago, according to a report in today's Science. The study focused on the rate of glacial ice flow. Meanwhile, NASA's budget is focused on finishing the ISS, which everyone now seems to agree is pointless, and preparations for the Moon/Mars, which is equally pointless and won't happen anyway. NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory, which was waiting to be launched and would have given unique insight into global warming, is terminated because it had Al Gore's Initials on it http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn010606.html.


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

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

Attempts to Marginalize ID as Religion Abound


It's no secret that critics of intelligent design desperately want to link design theory with religion. The critics know how guilt-by-association will make it much easier to simply ignore and marginalize the actual arguments. A recent AP article in the Hawk Eye about the treatment of Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University highlights two common variants of this guilt-by-religion fallacy.

Gonzalez is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and co-author of book, The Privileged Planet. The AP article highlighted how Gonzalez has been treated with hostility by fellow Iowa State University professors since he became involved with intelligent design. The article presents a good example of the fallacy of characterizing intelligent design as merely religious.

Fallacy #1 - Scientists Fighting Religion?

The article quoted Lawrence Krauss, a long time critic of intelligent design, as saying, "It's a cop–out to say design theory is not religious." Apparently Krauss considers intelligent design to be religious, with the clear implication being that intelligent design is not science. As the article puts it, "Krauss and others acknowledge professors have a right to their personal beliefs." Clearly, Krauss considers intelligent design to be religious.

Interestingly, at the end of the article Krauss is again quoted, this time saying:

"The standard reaction of scientists on stuff like this that goes over the edge is to roll your eyes and ignore it," Krauss said. "And that's an unfortunate reaction, however, because in the public domain you have to go out and fight those ideas."

Now Krauss wants scientists to go out and fight the ideas of intelligent design? Scientists are evidently to fight against the ideas that Krauss early said were religious. Not only that, according to Krauss it would be a "cop-out" for anybody to deny that the ideas are religious. I thought the critics of ID want religion to stay out of science, and scientists to out of religion?

Fallacy #2 - Personal Views for ID proponents, not Darwinists

Because the critics of intelligent design work overtime to try and slander design theory as being merely the product of religious advocates, many people, including the media, become one sided in their focus on religion.

In the AP article about Gonzales, the author was careful to point out that Gonzalez "identifies himself only as a Protestant," making the personal religious viewpoint of the design theorist apparently relevant. However, the same author made no mention of Lawrence Krauss's religious identification. Anti-religious views of leading Darwinists have been well-documented , but are typically ignored by the media, courts, and of course, the Darwinists.

This double standard subtly stacks the deck against intelligent design by only paying attention to the personal religious views of intelligent design friends while completely ignoring the religious views of intelligent design foes.

Refuting the Fallacies:

One need go no further than the rest of the article for a solid refutation of both fallacies.

The AP article reports Gonzalez's observation that "Darwinism does not mandate followers to adopt atheism; just as intelligent design doesn't require a belief in God."

The debate about intelligent design should focus on the merits of the arguments, on the science at issue, not on the personal religious views of various adherents. But then, that would make the task much more difficult for the critics of ID.

Posted by Michael Francisco on February 16, 2006 12:05 PM | Permalink

Friday, February 17, 2006

Religion in the news


Posted on Fri, Feb. 17, 2006

CATHERINE TSAI Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. - Inside the flagship lab of the National Center of Atmospheric Research, a dozen home-schooled children and their parents walk past the offices of scientists grappling with topics from global warming and microphysics to solar storms and the electrical fields of lightning.

They are trailing Rusty Carter, a guide with Biblically Correct Tours. At a large, colorful panel along a wall, Carter reads aloud from a passage describing the disappearance of dinosaurs from the earth about 65 million years ago. He and some of the older students exchange knowing smiles at the timeline, which contradicts their interpretation the Bible suggesting a 6,000-year-old planet.

"Did man and dinosaurs live together?" Carter asks. A timid yes comes from the students.

"How do we know that to be true?" Carter says. There's a long pause.

"What day did God create dinosaurs on?" he continues.

"Six," says a chorus of voices.

"What day did God create man on?"


"Did man and dinosaurs live together?"

"Yes," the students say.

Mission accomplished for Carter, who has been leading such tours since 1988. He and the other guides counter secular interpretations of history, nature and the origin of life with their own literal reading of the Bible. And they do so right at the point where they feel they feel science indoctrinates young people - museums.

"Museums are the secular temples of our day," founder Bill Jack says. "If you watch people walk in, especially in (Denver's) Museum of Nature and Science, they fold their hands reverently, they speak in hushed tones, they don't let kids touch.

"The kid says, `What's this?' Dad reads the sign and they say, `Ooh, ahh.' They worship the creature rather than the creator."

Approximately 100 groups book tours each year with the Colorado-based group, paying at least $100 minimum, or $5 per person. Popular stops include the NCAR complex, zoos and the Denver museum.

The group isn't unique: The 7 Wonders Museum at the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington state says it is dedicated to "creation science studies," while the Kentucky ministry Answers in Genesis is planning a $25 million Creation Museum in the Cincinnati area.

Museums around the country, meanwhile, have been adding training and workshops for guides to address religious-themed questions. At the Denver museum, chief curator Kirk Johnson says Biblically Correct Tours at least exposes children taught only about creationism to other ideas.

Still, Johnson says: "Their message is quite backward and intellectually dishonest."

The tours have gained fresh attention in part because of recent high-profile clashes involving literal creationism as well as "intelligent design," the idea that the complexity of the universe means it must have been produced by a higher power. Just Tuesday, the Ohio Board of Education voted 11-4 to delete a science standard and correlating lesson plan that encourages students to seek evidence for and against evolution.

Carter and Jack say children should hear about both creationism and evolution.

"What we need to do is teach good science and present both models and let students decide what model makes most sense," Jack says. "To do anything else is censorship."

Biblical tours of the zoo might include a discussion of sin, while a trip to a fossil display will touch on the flood of Noah. At NCAR, the theme might be the wonderment of God's creation.

Carter, who has a degree in biblical studies, admits feeling somewhat intimidated when he first gave tours, knowing scientists were listening. "I used to think, `What are they thinking? Are they going to come out and correct me?'" he says.

Johnson, the curator, was raised a Seventh Day Adventist. He says he rejected the idea of a 6,000-year-old Earth when, around age 10, he became curious about fossil layers.

"It's an interesting kind of arrogance to dismiss something that you don't know a lot about," Johnson says of the tour guides.

The tours are not all fun and games, with the guides claiming that evolutionist thinking supports racism and abortion. This happened on a recent NCAR tour, when Carter told a dozen children and their parents abortion was an act of natural selection carried out by humans.

Other tours suggest Hitler was playing his version of survival of the fittest by favoring whites, and note that museum dioramas of early humans have black "subhumans."

"My contention is evolution kills people," Jack said in an interview. "It's not that evolutionists don't have morality, it's that evolution can offer no morality. Ideas have consequences. If you believe you came from slime there is no reason not to, if you can, get away with anything."

Teri Eastburn, an educational designer at NCAR, said she would never engage in such discussions during a tour. She said the complex welcomes anyone, but notes in-house tours only espouse scientific views of the world.

"We try to explain it using evidence that we find in the natural world, whereas religion is dealing more with spirituality, ethics and morality, which science does not deal with at all," she said. "It's different ways of knowing. How people reconcile the ways of knowing is an individual choice."


B.C. Tours: http://www.creationtours.com

© 2006 AP Wire and wire service sources.

Junk science


Education: Ohio school board caves to legal threats, dumps critical teaching on evolution | Mark Bergin

Last month's removal of intelligent design (ID) from science classrooms in the Dover, Pa., school district has not yet generated further legal battery. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brandished that ruling like a sledge hammer in Ohio on Feb. 14, intimidating the state school board into dropping a curriculum that questioned Darwinism.

Under threat of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, the Ohio board voted 11 to 4 to toss out its mandate for critical analysis of evolution and an accompanying voluntary lesson plan. The decision defies public opinion, with 68 percent of Ohio respondents in a recent Zogby poll agreeing that biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence against it. Only 20 percent advocated teaching evolutionary theory without mentioning its weaknesses.

The board's reversal of last month's 9-8 ballot to uphold its standards resulted partially from the absence of three board members at the Valentine's Day meeting. Two members changed their votes in the interest of avoiding a lawsuit while the matter is discussed further and revisited down the road. "The people who switched sides got the wool pulled over their eyes," said Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, which supports critical analysis of Darwinism. "The political strategy is not to file a lawsuit; it's to threaten a lawsuit."

Ohio's curriculum has stood without legal challenge for three years, as have similar standards in Kansas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and a handful of other individual districts. The difference from Dover: The critical analysis approach to evolution does not teach ID.

But Ohio board member Martha Wise, who spearheaded efforts to remove critical analysis, argued that teaching scientific challenges to Darwinism amounted to thinly veiled creationism, violating the Constitution's Establishment Clause. "The plan itself does not say anything about intelligent design or creationism. However, the way the topics are written leads to creationism," she told WORLD. Ms. Wise, who is running for state senate, celebrated the removal of critical analysis as "a win for science, students, and the state of Ohio."

The matter is far from settled, however. The school board elected to send the curriculum before an achievement committee for review. Deborah Owens-Fink, a member of that committee and the school board, told WORLD the issue would not die "until we have another lesson that critically analyzes evolution. Anytime you have a state board that goes against the public, that's not going to last long." One forthcoming change may include a broadening of the critical analysis approach to other scientific subjects such as global warming—an adjustment aimed at debunking charges that Ohio unfairly singled out evolution for increased scrutiny.

For now, the Ohio situation furthers the national perception that the ID movement is reeling. The New York Times called the decisive vote ID's "second serious defeat in two months." The ACLU, which had labeled Ohio's standards as a way of slipping ID into public schools, celebrated as well.

But ID was not up for review in Ohio, the board having rejected a plan to teach that theory three years ago. "What the Darwinists have been trying to do for a long time is equate critical analysis of evolution with intelligent design, because intelligent design has always been more controversial," Mr. Luskin said.

The strategy of dogmatic evolution proponents also now includes efforts to display religious motivation for supporting Darwinism—a curious move given their overwhelming criticism of religious motives on the other side. On Feb. 12, the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, backers of evolution enlisted hundreds of Christian churches throughout the country to speak in favor of their agenda.

The Darwinists in Ohio found their Christian face as well: "I'm a creationist," said Ms. Wise, who once claimed God told her the Ohio plan was wrong. "I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, but I believe that should be taught in the home, the church, or another classroom in the schools. Science should stay pure under the definition of science."

Copyright © 2006 WORLD Magazine
February 25, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 8

New on the CSICOP Website: Indigo Children

Special Articles
Online Exclusives on Topics of Interest to Skeptics

Auras and Indigo Children

Mario Mendez-Acosta

Beliefs in diverse paranormal phenomena tend to show a cyclical character, just like the width of neckties in vogue. Now resurfaced, with a sort of science-like disguise, is one of the most absurd beliefs, yet, one of the easiest to refute: it's that idea, that first began to gain acceptance in the early 20th century, that we all project an aura of bright colors around our bodies. According to this idea, the aura is a radiating emission, produced by the energy that supposedly emanates from all living beings and surrounds them. The aura cannot be perceived by ordinary vision, only by means of clairvoyance. There are no tests that may demonstrate its existence; and on the contrary, several experiments reveal that those who claim to be able to observe people's auras, are incapable, for example, of determining with exactitude if there is a person standing behind a table or barrier that only prevents the vision of the contour of the body, but that leaves the zone in which supposedly the aura could be seen free and unobstructed. Yet, no psychic can guess right, above the expected chance levels, whether the experimentation subject is present there or not.

A self professed "medical intuitive," Caroline Myss (1997), claims that she can describe the nature of all diseases, of any person, just by reading his or her field of energy, and she makes treatment recommendations, both in the physical as well as in the spiritual domain. She calls this "energetic medicine," but she has never offered scientific evidence that would prove her alleged powers.

It's a new fad in México to supposedly record the auras of small children, in accordance to the criteria of a gifted seer, and those that show a bluish hue in their auras are to be considered what they call "indigo children": mentally superior child prodigies, with psychic powers. A substantial business has been created thus, dedicated to carefully siphoning the money out of the parents of those so-called "indigo" kids.

To Read More of This Article Visit: http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/

Mario Mendez-Acosta was born in México City in 1946. Science Writer, Journalist and Civil Engineer. Head of the Mexican Skeptical Research Society. Writes the skeptical Science column for "Ciencia y Desarrollo" (Science and Development), journal of the Mexican government science agency. Conductor of "Public Library" a Science radio program of Radio Red AM radio station in Mexico City. Member of the editiorial board of_ Pensar_ (http://www.pensar.org) , CSICOP's skeptical Spanish language magazine. Author of several books on Science and Skepticism. Head of Journanlists' Club of Mexico City.



Text is taken directly from e-mails sent by religious-right groups. The Texas Freedom Network does not edit the content for grammar or accuracy.

Date: February 17, 2006
From: Christian Educators Association International
By: Finn Laursen

Ohio Censors Science Options

WESTLAKE, Ohio, Feb. 17 -- "Last Tuesday, the Ohio Board of Education took a giant step backwards by sterilizing Ohio public school science standards of any critical analysis of the theory of evolution," says Finn Laursen, Executive Director of the Christian Educators Association. "The result is inevitably a chilling effect upon intellectual inquiry."

The Ohio state board voted eleven to four to delete teaching material that would allow students to be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolution." Board member Martha Wise led the charge to remove any science not supportive of evolution out of the state's standards, despite the objections of those, including Laursen, who had been pleading with her to reconsider.

In her communication with Laursen, she explained that the state science lesson plan, Critical Analysis of Evolution , may lead students to Intelligent Design, then to Creationism, and then to God.

"Wise fears that encouraging critical thinking might land the state of Ohio in court," says Laursen. "Since when should we be afraid of where intellectual inquiry may lead?"

The Ohio Board's decision comes in the wake of a court ruling in Dover, Pennsylvania, that stopped the district there from informing students that evolution is a theory and that Intelligent Design is another theory; the district had suggested to students that they could investigate these issues on their own.

The lesson plan in question in Ohio was not a required part of the state standards, but merely an example teachers could use as a model of good teaching. The recent State Boar d of Education decision is a reversal of a nine to eight decision a month ago to keep the lesson plan. However, three board members were absent Tuesday who are supporters of an open study of all science; they may bring this issue back for a vote in the future.

According to Laursen, "If government officials censor any critical thinking just because it may lead to ideas of a Creator, we are in danger of creating an educational culture that could ban other avenues of intellectual inquiry. Students are supposed to be encouraged to engage in higher level thinking. We need to nurture a generation of thinkers and problem solvers who can tackle a future filled with knowledge that we cannot, as of now, even imagine."

"It used to be scientific orthodoxy that the earth is flat. In Galileo's day, those that forbade scientific inquiry defended the orthodoxy that the earth was the center of the universe. Now we are to accept evolutionary theory as fact and rule out consideration of other theories. That is hardly an enlightened approach."

"As an educational association, CEAI will continue to urge our members, the majority of whom are Christians teaching in public schools, to teach beyond required curriculum and textbooks in all subjects, including science. The courts have continually affirmed public school teachers' rights of academic freedom as long as they do not use their positions to force their own religious beliefs on their charges."

"That also means that teachers in public schools should not be a party to censoring new theoretical thinking, whether in the area of science or any other subject," says Laursen.

Finn Laursen is the Executive Director of the Christian Educators Association International, est. 1953.

Device Won Approval Though F.D.A. Staff Objected

February 17, 2006 By GARDINER HARRIS

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 — A top federal medical official overruled the unanimous opinion of his scientific staff when he decided last year to approve a pacemaker-like device to treat persistent depression, a Senate committee reported Thursday.

The device, the surgically implanted vagus nerve stimulator, had not proved effective against depression in its only clinical trial for treatment of that illness. As a result, scientists at the Food and Drug Administration repeatedly and unanimously recommended rejecting the application of its maker, Cyberonics Inc., to sell it as such a treatment, said the report, written by the staff of the Senate Finance Committee.

But Dr. Daniel G. Schultz, director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the agency, kept moving the application along and eventually decided to approve it, the report said.

That approval did follow the backing of a divided F.D.A. advisory committee. Still, the Senate committee, which for two years has been investigating the decision-making processes at the F.D.A., could find no previous instance in which the director of the center had approved a device in the face of unanimous opposition from staff scientists and administrators beneath him, the report said.

Dr. Schultz could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but Susan Bro, an F.D.A. spokeswoman, said the device had been approved because many people with persistent depression "are otherwise on their way to institutionalization, because of the seriousness of their illness."

Ms. Bro said top officials did "occasionally overrule staff recommendations after assessing all data, expert opinion and medical need."

Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Senate committee, said, "The report speaks for itself, and Chairman Grassley has no additional comment."

In a 1,900-word written response issued Thursday night, Robert P. Cummins, Cyberonics's chairman and chief executive, said the investigators had failed to interview many experts on serious depression.

Mr. Cummins said his company's device was "the only safe and effective treatment option ever specifically developed, studied, F.D.A.-approved and fully informatively labeled for the treatment of chronic or recurrent treatment-resistant depression."

The vagus nerve stimulator is surgically implanted in the upper chest, and its wires are threaded into the neck. Batteries in the device stimulate a nerve leading to the brain.

The nerve stimulator has been approved since 1997 for the treatment of epilepsy in some patients. Common side effects include voice alteration, increased cough, shortness of breath, neck pain and difficulty swallowing. The device has also been linked to rare reports of death, heart problems and vocal cord paralysis.

When some epilepsy patients reported that their moods had changed after receiving the devices, Cyberonics, based in Houston, implanted them in 235 depressed patients and turned the machines on in half of them. After three months, the two groups were equally depressed. The trial had failed.

Cyberonics then turned the devices on in all 235 patients and determined that 30 percent showed significant improvement after six months or more. Without a control group, however, it was impossible to determine if the device had caused the improvement.

Internal correspondence among F.D.A. reviewers shows that some were bewildered by Dr. Schultz's support for the device, the Senate report said.

"In my opinion, they do not have adequate data, and I don't understand how this can move forward," one reviewer wrote in an e-mail message to a colleague, the report said.

Another wrote, "As an M.D. interested in science, it seems to me that such an approval would be akin to approving an experimental product."


Evolution education update: February 17, 2006

More details of the Ohio state board of education's decision to remove antievolution materials from the state's model curriculum and science standards, while the largest organization of science teachers in Kansas decries the antievolution standards adopted in their state. Indiana's antievolution bill died in committee, but a fourth antievolution bill was introduced in Oklahoma. And NCSE is pleased to announce the inception of its own 700 Club -- of Steves, that is -- and pleased as well to be attending the AAAS annual meeting in St. Louis.


The Ohio Board of Education voted 11-4 at its February 14, 2006, meeting to remove both the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" model lesson plan and the corresponding indicator -- which called for students to be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory" -- in the state standards. Board member Martha Wise, who spearheaded the drive to eliminate the antievolution material, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer (February 15, 2006), "I'm ecstatic ... It's a win for science, a win for students and a win for the state of Ohio."

Pressure on the board of education was renewed after both the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover and the revelation that the lesson plan was adopted by the board despite warnings from the Ohio Department of Education, whose experts described it as wrong, misleading, and even manifesting "fringe thinking." A motion to remove the lesson plan failed in January on a 9-8 vote. Subsequently, a thinly veiled reproach from Governor Bob Taft and a stinging rebuke from a majority of a committee that helped to write the standards added to the pressure.

Groups that contributed to the victory were gratified by the vote. Foremost among them was Ohio Citizens for Science, which commented, "The Directors and members of Ohio Citizens for Science applaud the Ohio State Board of Education for removing the creationist material from the State Standards and Model Curriculum. We are pleased that Members of the Board have affirmed the importance of honest science education in Ohio public schools, and we stand ready to assist the Board however we can in advancing that effort."

Additionally, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described the vote as "a stunning triumph for the students of Ohio's public schools and a stunning repudiation of the all-too-successful attempts of creationists to undermine evolution education in the Buckeye State. Let's hope that all such attempts to introduce creationism by the back door meet the same fate." The Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State similarly commented, "This is a great victory for Ohio public school students."

Patricia Princehouse, a philosopher and evolutionary biologist at Case Western Reserve University and a leader of Ohio Citizens for Science, told the Chicago Tribune (February 15, 2006) that although the antievolution materials would be removed immediately, Ohio Citizens for Science plans to monitor board meetings to ensure that the material is not reintroduced in a new form. "The one thing we learned about creationists," she told the Tribune, "is that they never give up."

Ohio Citizens for Science's website has further details on the board's historic vote, including the full text of the motion that was approved, MP3 audio files of the board's deliberations preceding the vote, a listing of how the various members of the board voted, and a brief explanation of "the circuitous route to approval" that the motion took. The website also contains (under "Lesson Plans") detailed descriptions of the scientific and pedagogical flaws of the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" lesson plan repudiated by the board's vote.

For the story in the Plain Dealer, visit:

For the story in the Chicago Tribune, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit:

For Americans United's statement, visit:

For Ohio Citizens for Science's website, visit:


The Kansas Association of Teachers of Science issued a response to the state science standards adopted in November 2005 by the state board of education, the Lawrence Journal-World (February 14, 2006) reported. "By redefining science in the Kansas Science Education Standards," the statement reads in part, "the KBOE is promoting intelligent design tenets that purport supernatural explanations as valid scientific theories. ... [T]he KATS Board of Directors adamantly opposes turning Kansas science classrooms into theaters of political and religious turmoil blurring the Constitutional ideals of separation of Church and State."

Rejecting the standards on both scientific and pedagogical grounds, the statement (PDF) included the following points:

* Kansas teachers of science should continue to teach science as it is practiced throughout the world, and not attribute natural phenomena to supernatural causation;

* Kansas teachers of science should explore with their students the extensive evidence for evolutionary theory and actively refute the so-called evidence against evolution, as outlined in the new science standards;

* The Kansas Association of Teachers of Science recognizes that the KBOE is exhibiting educational irresponsibility in ignoring mainstream scientific understandings by substituting its own religiously-motivated agenda;

* State assessments should not include items related to the disputed portions of the 2005 Standards, as these statements do not reflect the global view of the science community;

* The KBOE should reconsider the inclusion of non-scientific ideas about the origins and development of life in order not to damage the prospects for student admission to high quality colleges and universities;

* The KBOE should be aware that their anti-science actions are in direct conflict with the recent Kansas Bioscience Initiative.

KATS also recommended that the 2001 version of the standards be used for curriculum development and assessment.

KATS is the Kansas state affiliate of the National Science Teacher Association and describes itself as the largest organization in Kansas representing teachers of science. In condemning the standards, KATS joins the NSTA as well as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the committee that wrote the original standards. Bill Wagnon, a member of the state board of education who voted against the adoption of the standards, commended KATS for taking a stand in defense of evolution education, telling the Journal-World, "They are being professionally responsible."

For the Lawrence Journal-World's article on the KATS statement, visit:

For the KATS statement itself (PDF), visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kansas, visit:


In Indiana, House Bill 1388 ssems to have died quietly in the House Committee on Education after February 2, 2006, when the deadline for action by the full House of Representatives passed. Its sponsor, Representative Bruce A. Borders (R-Jasonville) earlier told the Indianapolis Star (November 2, 2005) that he intended to submit a bill requiring the teaching of "intelligent design" in Indiana's public schools. Prompted by the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, however, the bill that he introduced would only mandate that "[i]n adopting textbooks for each subject . . . the state board shall not adopt a textbook if the state board knows the textbook contains information, descriptions, conclusions, or pictures that are false." It was clear that evolution was still the target, however; Borders told the Star (January 11, 2006), "Many of the things that have been used to support macroevolution have been proven to be lies. ... [The bill] will take those out."

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Indiana, visit:


House Concurrent Resolution 1043, introduced in the Oklahoma legislature on February 7, 2006, would, if enacted, encourage "the State Board of Education and local boards of education to revise the recommended academic curriculum content standards in science to ensure that, upon graduation, all students can accomplish the following: 1. Use of [sic] the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theory of evolution; and 2. Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for and against those theories."

HCR 1043 is the fourth antievolution bill to be introduced in the current legislative session. The other three are HB 2107 (encouraging the presentation of "the full range of scientific views" with regard to "biological or chemical origins of life"), HB 2526 (authorizing school districts to teach "intelligent design"), and SB 1959 (encouraging the presentation of "the full range of scientific views"). HCR 1043's authors are listed as Representatives Paul Wesselhoft (R-District 54), Thad Balkman (R-District 45), and Sally Kern (R-District 55), and Senator Randy Brogdon (R-District 34).

HCR 1043 has not yet been assigned to committee. HB 2107 passed the Common Education Committee by a vote of 8-5 on February 13, 2006; Representatives Odilia Dank (R-District 85), Abe Deutschendorf (D-District 62), and Paul Wesselhoft, as well as Senator Randy Brogdon, were added as coauthors with its initial sponsor, Sally Kern. HB 2526 and SB 1959 are still nominally in the Common Education Committee, although Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education reports that HB 2526's sponsor, Abe Deutschendorf, withdrew his bill.

Oklahomans concerned about these bills are encouraged to get in touch with Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, which is leading a coalition -- including the Oklahoma Interfaith Alliance, the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists, the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Oklahoma Academy of Science, Friends of Religion and Science, and scientists at Oklahoma's colleges and universities -- in order to "vigorously oppose these dangerous bills." The coalition is soliciting Oklahomans to sign a petition opposing such legislation.

For the text of HCR 1043 (RTF), visit:

For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit:


February 16, 2006, was the third anniversary of the public unveiling of NCSE's Project Steve, so it seemed like a good time to announce -- with due apologies to the Reverend Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network -- NCSE's 700 Club. Yes, with the addition of Stephen A. Wells, a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University, there are now 700 scientists named Steve who have publicly agreed:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.

Project Steve is intended, of course, as a parody of the creationist practice of amassing lists of scientists who "reject evolution" or "doubt Darwinism"; "Steve" was selected in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Among the 700 signatories are the physicist Stephen W. Hawking, the linguist Steven Pinker, the geneticist Steve Jones, and all of the eligible Nobel laureates (both Steven Weinberg and Steven Chu).

Moreover, Project Steve proved to be scientifically fruitful in its own right. "The Morphology of Steves" (PDF), by Eugenie C. Scott, Glenn Branch, Nick Matzke, and several hundred Steves, appeared in the prestigious Annals of Improbable Research; the paper provided "the first scientific analysis of the sex, geographic location, and body size of scientists named Steve," using NCSE's pioneering experimental steveometry apparatus (which bears a striking resemblance to a certain famous t-shirt).

Approximately 1% of the United States public possesses a qualifying name (Steve, Stephen, Steven, Stephanie, Esteban, Istvan, and so forth), so the 700 signatories to Project Steve correspond to approximately 70,000 scientists who could be expected to agree with the statement. Since the public unveiling, new Steves have been added to the list at a rate of three per week on average. Can the 800 mark be far behind?

For information on Project Steve, visit:

For "The Morphology of Steves" (PDF), visit:


NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, Wesley R. Elsberry, and Nick Matzke will be in St. Louis, Missouri, for the AAAS annual meeting from February 16 to February 20. Elsberry and Matzke will be staffing NCSE's booth in the exhibit hall, where information about NCSE, and signed copies of Scott's book Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, will be available. Scott will be busy, too, moderating a clinic on "Teaching and Learning Science: Addressing the Issues Collaboratively"; presenting a talk in the "Science Under Attack" symposium along with Jon D. Miller, Rodger Bybee, Gerry Wheeler, Emlyn Koster, and Phil Plait; giving a talk in the full-day "Anti-evolutionism in America: What's Ahead?" symposium along with Jon Alston, James Murray, Mary Haskins, Wes McCoy, Johanna Foster, Robert Dennison, Gerald Skoog, Steve Randak, Gerald Wheeler, Wilfred Elders, Warren Eshbach, Michael Zimmerman, Martha Heil, and Paul Forbes; and speaking in the "Evolution on the Front Line" symposium along with George Coyne, Peter Raven, filmmaker James Cameron, Francisco Ayala, Kevin Padian, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and reporter Cornelia Dean. Also, NCSE Legal Advisory Committee member Steve Gey will be speaking in the "Field Strategies: What Proponents of Evolution Need to Know" symposium.

For infroamation about the AAAS annual meeting, visit:

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

Current News  News Back Issues

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