NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 February 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Kennewick Man yields more secrets


By Sandi Doughton

Seattle Times staff reporter

Kennewick Man is whispering across 9,000 years.

The story his bones tell has no clear beginning yet. But the end is coming into sharp focus, say scientists who have been studying the controversial skeleton for the past six months.

It's now clear the man Native Americans call the Ancient One was deliberately buried not just covered over with sediment, said Doug Owsley, leader of the team that first examined the skeleton last summer and returned for another round of study this month.

Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, presented the researchers' first conclusions Thursday night in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

"This skeleton is so amazing," Owsley said in an interview. "And this level of analysis has never been done before."

Painstaking examination of the bones shows the body was placed in a shallow grave about 400 yards from where scientists believe the Columbia River was at the time. Kennewick Man was laid parallel to the river, on his back. His legs were extended, arms at his sides. His palms rested on the earth.

That picture contradicts some earlier studies that suggested he was in a fetal position, with knees drawn up to his chest.

The scientists say the evidence also hints that Kennewick Man was probably in his 30s when he died. Previous estimates had said he might have been as old as 45.

And a spear point embedded in his right hip had healed over cleanly. So it likely did not cause a chronic infection, as some experts had suspected initially, Owsley said.

The skeleton was discovered in 1996 in the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities town of Kennewick. Carbon dating has shown that the bones are about 9,200 years old.

Legal tug of war

After nine years of legal battles, the scientists won the right to study what has proved to be one of the oldest, most complete skeletons ever discovered in North America. Several Northwest tribes claimed the remains as an ancestor and insisted they be reburied. A federal judge finally concluded the bones were so old that it's impossible to establish a link with modern-day Native Americans.

When Owsley and his team finally got the chance to work with the bones, which are kept at the University of Washington's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, they set out to answer several questions, including the issue of burial. They also hope to learn more about where his ancestors originated, and what kind of life he lived in a time thousands of years before civilizations arose in Mesopotamia.

Not all the studies are done, but the burial issue is settled, Owsley said.

To do that, the researchers made detailed diagrams of each of the 350 bone fragments, noting patterns of shading, mineral coloration, algae growth and calcium-carbonate deposits. All those indicators help reveal how the skeleton was oriented in the ground before the grave was eroded away by the river. And they show the body had been carefully positioned by other human hands.

Records of the river's levels in 1996 prove that the bones were washed into the river mere weeks before they were found, Owsley said. Had they weathered out earlier, they would have been swept downstream.

Kennewick Man was covered by about 2 feet of earth before the river eroded the bank and freed the bones. But the grave would have been covered by years of sediments, so the original hole might have been even shallower, said Tom Stafford, a geochemist from the University of Wisconsin.

"They were probably digging with a stick," he said.

Early findings refuted

High-resolution scans of the hip bone have allowed the scientists to construct an exact replica of the stone spear point. A team of scientists that earlier examined the skeleton concluded the man had been speared from behind perhaps by fellow hunters. But the current team said the pattern of chips and breaks on the point shows it penetrated Kennewick Man from the front.

"It would have sat him down no doubt about it," Owsley said.

Also, they figure he was between 15 and 20 years old when he suffered the wound.

Seattle archaeologist Jim Chatters, who was the first scientist to examine the bones in 1996, said being able to re-examine them in greater detail with more modern methods has changed some of his earlier impressions.

For example, spots on the temple and elbow that he originally concluded were evidence of an infection have been shown to be simple weathering, he said.

Several other questions about Kennewick Man are still awaiting lab results, including a new round of carbon-dating and isotopic studies to show what his diet was like.

But the most contentious issue of all probably won't be settled for some time.

The first measurements of the skull showed it didn't match existing Native American populations. And that led to suggestions that Kennewick Man's ancestors might not have originated in Northern Asia like those of most Native Americans, who are believed to have crossed from Asia to Alaska about 11,000 years ago.

Owsley and his colleagues have made an extensive set of new skull measurements. They now are comparing them to a database of more than 7,000 modern and prehistoric people from around the world.

"We have a lot more work to do," he said.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Group challenges science on 'biblically correct' tours


February 18, 2006

BOULDER - Inside the flagship lab of the National Center for 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 of 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 said. "If you watch people walk in, especially in (Denver's) Museum of Nature & 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."

About 100 groups book tours each year with the Colorado-based group, paying at least $100 minimum, or $5 per person. Popular stops include the atmospheric research lab, 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 said Biblically Correct Tours at least exposes children taught only about creationism to other ideas.

Still, Johnson said: "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 said 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 said. "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 the atmospheric research center, 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 said.

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 said 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 atmospheric research center 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 the center, 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."

Evolution education update: February 24, 2006

Antievolution legislation surfaces in Maryland, while in Mississippi, one antievolution bill is dead but another was passed by the Senate. Meanwhile, the Dover Area School Board agrees to pay over $1 million in legal fees and expenses from Kitzmiller v. Dover. The Entomological Society of America adopted a strong resolution on evolution education (and condemning "intelligent design"). And on the CSICOP website, Robert Camp debunks the "teach the controversy" slogan empirically.


House Bill 1531 (PDF), introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates on February 16, 2006, would, if enacted, establish the "Teachers Academic Freedom Act" and the "Faculty Academic Freedom Act" in order to "expressly protect the right of teachers identified by the United States Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard ... to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories; and [to] expressly protect the right of students to hold a position on any views." The bill's sole sponsor is Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D-District 10); after its first reading, the bill was assigned to the House Rules and Executive Nominations committee.

HB 1531 would provide that teachers in Maryland's public schools and faculty members in Maryland's public institutions of higher education "shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information to [sic] the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning"; the phrase "the full range of scientific views" is evidently taken from the so-called Santorum language, which was in fact stripped from the federal No Child Left Behind act. A subsequent provision repeats the phrase "the full range of scientific views," while adding, "including intelligent design."

A number of provisions attempt to immunize the bill from the charge that it would allow the teaching of religious doctrines and discredited science: the bill forbids instructors to "stress any particular denomination, sectarian, or religious doctrine or belief" while providing "supporting evidence on the theory of intelligent design," for example, and insists that it is not to be construed as protecting the teaching of "a view that lacks published or empirical or observational support." HB 1531 resembles two antievolution bills introduced in the Alabama legislature in 2006, although it treats K-12 teachers and college instructors separately.

For the text of HB 1531 (PDF), visit:


One of the two antievolution bills introduced in the Mississippi legislature in 2005 died in committee, but the other passed through the Senate and is now under consideration by the House Committee on Education. House Bill 953, which would have authorized "the teaching of 'creationism' or 'intelligent design' in the public schools" and moreover required it "[i]f the school's curricuilum requires the teaching of evolution," is listed on the legislature's website as having died in committee on January 31, 2006.

Senate Bill 2427, however, is still alive. If enacted, the bill would ensure that "[n]o local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the issue of flaws or problems which may exist in Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and the existence of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, the Intelligent Design explanation of the origin of life."

SB 2427 was introduced in the Senate on January 10, 2006, and referred to the Committee on Education, which passed it on January 31. The Senate passed the bill on February 6, and it was then transmitted to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the Committee on Education. During its stay in the Senate, it acquired ten further sponsors: Senators Terry W. Brown, Terry C. Burton, Videt Carmichael, Eugenie S. Clark, Doug Davis, Merle Flowers, Gary Jackson, Tom King, Stacey Pickering, and Richard White.

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


On February 21, 2006, the Dover Area School Board voted, unanimously with one absention, to pay $1,000,011 in legal fees and damages resulting from the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover. The eleven plaintiffs -- local parents who challenged the constitutionality of the Dover Area School Board's policy of requiring students to be taught about "intelligent design" and "gaps/problems" with evolution -- will receive a token $1 each, while the remainder will reimburse the fees and expenses of their legal team.

According to documents filed with the court, the legal team's fees and expenses actually total $2,067,226, but Pepper Hamilton LLP, the private law firm that devoted substantial resources to the case pro bono, agreed to charge only for its expenses. Eric Rothschild of Pepper Hamilton told the York Dispatch (February 22, 2006) that his firm was willing to compromise in recognition of the limited resources of the district and of the change in the school board's composition after the November 2005 election.

In addition to Pepper Hamilton, the plaintiffs' legal team included the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the National Center for Science Education. NCSE consulted pro bono and thus receives no portion of the fees and expenses. The defendants in the case were represented without charge by the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based religious law firm that bills itself as "The Sword and Shield for People of Faith."

Richard Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United, told the Dispatch (February 23, 2006), "Any board thinking of trying to do what the Dover board did is going to have to look for a bill in excess of $2 million," adding, "I think $2 million is a lot to explain to taxpayers for a lawsuit that should never be fought." The school board was offered the opportunity to rescind its policy -- and to avoid paying legal fees -- immediately after the lawsuit was filed in 2004, but it declined.

For the stories in the York Dispatch, visit:

For NCSE's resources on Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:


The Entomological Society of America passed a strong resolution on evolution education at its 2005 annual meeting, according to the January 2006 edition of the ESA Newsletter. The resolution describes evolution as "one of the most robust theories in the biological sciences," notes that "no meaningful or significant controversy exists within the biological sciences -- entomology included -- about the centrality of legitimacy of evolutionary theory," and describes "intelligent design" as "neither predictive nor falsifiable and therefore does not meet the standards of science," adding, "Accordingly, intelligent design has no utility in entomology and -- for the same reason -- has no legitimate place in science classrooms at any level of instruction." Founded in 1889, the ESA is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines.

For the ESA's statement (PDF, p. 4), visit:


"A mendacious bit of hucksterism" is Robert Camp's description of the "teach the controversy" slogan frequently used to promote the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools. And it's not just idle rhetoric. Rather, it's based firmly on the results of a survey that he conducted of the heads of biology departments in colleges and universities around the country. As Camp explains, "If there are authoritative voices on the purported existence of a controversy among biologists regarding mechanisms of evolution, they belong to those individuals who are well aware of the most current scholarship in their field and are in touch with daily discussion of that scholarship."

In his new article "Turn out the lights, the 'teach the controversy' party's over," posted on the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's Creationism and Intelligent Design Watch website, Camp reports on his survey, in which he asked the heads of biology departments whether, with respect to "intelligent design," there is "a difference of professional opinion within your department that you feel could be accurately described as a scientific controversy." Over 97% of his respondents answered in the negative. "As an attempt to put empirical weight behind that which has been well understood all along," Camp concludes, "the numbers here are unambiguous."

And the remaining 3%, representing two of the 73 respondents? Camp explains, "One, a 'No, but ...,' observed that there was virtually no professional controversy within their department but acknowledged that one colleague had spoken favorably of the concept publicly .... And the only assent to controversy came from an institution [which Camp elsewhere describes as "a theological medical university"] dedicated to an ideological view of the world, including the world of biology," adding, "This may serve as evidence of a 'controversy' in that particular university. But in the larger context, its effect is only to put the overwhelming consensus into sharper focus."

For "Turn out the lights, the 'teach the controversy' party's over," 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

Friday, February 24, 2006


Robert L. Park Friday, 24 Feb 06 Washington, DC


Last week, saw palmetto, used by 2.5 million American men to treat prostate problems, was found to be ineffective. This week, the New England Journal of Medicine published the eagerly-awaited results of a trial of glucosamine/chondroitin, used by about 5.2 million Americans for arthritis pain at a cost of $30 to $50 a month. In 2004 alone, sales were $730M. The NIH sponsored study cost taxpayers $12.5M. Glucosamine/chondroitin, like saw palmetto, was found to be ineffective. Both are marketed under the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), which allows natural supplements to be sold without proof of safety or efficacy. After Stephen Strauss became director, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at NIH began in-depth studies of the most popular supplements. It takes time, and it's expensive, but let's look at the score: echinacea doesn't ward off colds or flu, St. Johns Wort doesn't relieve depression, ginko biloba doesn't improve memory, ephedra aids athletic performance but kills people, and is the only supplement to be banned. A year ago, the Institute of Medicine called for revision of DSHEA to require all treatments to meet the same standards http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn011405.html. Congress has done nothing, but I guess they've been busy.


The President of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario has decided to keep the school isolated. "The jury is still out on the impact that electromagnetic forces have on human physiology," he told a university meeting. How isolated can you get? WN has followed the EMF/cancer issue for more than 20 years. It almost died after an epidemiological study by NIH in 1997, but there are always people who overslept. It last came up 4 years ago in California http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN02/wn053102.html.


Several years ago USA Today had a full page ad for "Vitamin O" http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN98/wn112798.html. It was ordinary salt water that sold for $40 an ounce. Then there was Oxyl'Eau, which played a key role in the Stanley Cup finals http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN99/wn072399.html. The latest variation on that scam is water from a spring in the San Diego Mountains that is "infused with the power of intention through words, thought and music" http://www.h2omwater.com/home.html . Why would you drink ordinary water?


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

Rebuking the 'Clergy Letter Project'


By Rev. Mark H. Creech February 24, 2006

(AgapePress) - Recently, AgapePress reported that over 10,000 members of the clergy from mainline churches had signed a letter stating they rejected a literal interpretation of the creation story. (See related story) The "Clergy Letter Project," the brainchild of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh administrator Michael Zimmerman, advocates that "the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist." The purpose of the letter is to urge school board members to reject such teachings as Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design and "preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge."

It is most unfortunate so many Christian leaders have concluded that evolution is scientific, whereas creationism and intelligent design are simply religious -- when, in fact, evolution is incapable of being scientifically proven.

Evolution operates too slowly to be measured. To actually observe the transmutation of one organism to a higher form would presumably take millions of years. No team of scientists could ever make measurements on such an experiment, and, therefore, the matter is beyond the realm of empirical science. Although there is some evidence of small variations in organisms today, there is no way to conclusively prove the changes within the present kinds can eventually metamorphose or actually change into different and higher kinds.

Leading evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, in On Methods of Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology, once admitted: "The applicability of the experimental method to the study of such unique historical processes is severely restricted before all else by the time intervals involved, which far exceed the lifetime of any human experimenter. And yet, it is just such impossibility that is demanded by the anti-evolutionists when they ask for 'proofs' of evolution which they would magnanimously accept as satisfactory." L. Harrison Matthews in the forward of a 1971 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species, once concluded: "Our theory of evolution has become ... one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. It is thus 'outside of empirical science,' but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways to test it."

There can essentially only be one reason for favoring evolution, and that reason has nothing to do with science. It has to do with something outstanding British biologist D.M.S. Watson said in Nature back in 1929: "[T]he theory of evolution itself, a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible."

Indeed, special creation is incredible and it's diametrically opposed to evolutionary theory. The two cannot possibly be reconciled, no matter how many clergy sign a letter saying they can. Dr. Henry Morris, in his book Scientific Creationism, rightly contends: "The evolutionary system attempts to explain the origin, development, and meaning of all things in terms of natural laws and processes which operate today as they have in the past. No extraneous processes, requiring the special activity of an external agent, or Creator are permitted. The universe, in all its aspects, evolves itself into higher levels of order (particles to people) by means of innate properties." In other words, evolution is a system of belief that argues that creation is totally naturalistic, material, and purposeless -- all of which are fundamentally opposed to the creation account in Genesis. It can't be both ways -- either one is true and the other false.

Moreover, to doubt a literal interpretation of the creation account is to undermine everything taught in the Bible. In Exploring Genesis, John Philips argues that to abandon the creation account as "unfactual and unreliable, as mere mythology, as a doctored-up copy of the Babylonian creation epic, as totally unacceptable to modern science" is to surrender to Satan. Philips adds, "If the Holy Spirit cannot be trusted when He tells of creation, how can He be trusted when He tells of salvation. If what He says about earth in Genesis 1 can be questioned, then what He says about heaven in Revelation 22 can be questioned. If the Holy Spirit cannot be trusted in Genesis 1, how can he be trusted in John 3:16?"

Is it any wonder a recent survey by Barna Research discovered a large majority of pastors believe their congregant's faith in God is a high priority when in fact it is not. Barna reported that in Protestant churches, "Not quite one out of every four (23%) named their faith in God as their top priority in life." Obviously, ministers are failing to recognize that their compromises with worldly philosophies in their religious instruction are destroying the ability of their parishioners to thrive in a personal relationship with God. Certainly if clergy compromise with evolutionary dogma and imply by that good thinking is naturalistic thinking, that life is essentially materialistic, and bringing God into the picture can lead to confusion and error, does one honestly think it's possible for members of the church to see God as a reality one can never afford to ignore?

According to AgapePress, Zimmerman says these 10,000 members of the clergy that have signed the Clergy Letter Project "are saying that intelligent design, creation science, is not only bad science as defined by the world community, but it is also bad religion." Hah! It's just the opposite! Evolution neither makes for good science nor religion.

Rev. Mark H. Creech (calact@aol.com) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
2006 AgapePress

The divine irony of 'intelligent design'


By Garret Keizer, GARRET KEIZER is the author of "Help: The Original Human Dilemma."
February 24 2006

ADVOCATES OF teaching "intelligent design" aren't giving up, no matter the recent setbacks in California and Pennsylvania. In Utah, Texas, New York and elsewhere, they persist in trying to make science education subservient to a religious worldview. And yet the longer the controversy continues, the more it illustrates their own subservience to science.

As its name suggests, the major premise of intelligent design is that the existence of a supreme designer can be inferred by evidence of his, her or its "intelligence." And that premise rests in turn on an even more basic assumption: that intelligence is the most important, perceivable and telling attribute of God and of the creature supposedly created in God's image.

Minus the references to deity, this comes amazingly close to the same hierarchy of value on which the scientific worldview makes its case. Sense perception and logic not sensuousness and emotion are the keys to authentic understanding. Rationality will point us to God, if there is one. I think, therefore I am. He thinks like you can't even begin to think, therefore he is God.

According to this mind-set, if we can discover a big wooden boat on Mt. Ararat and carbon date it to the sixth millennium BC, then the story of the flood in Genesis might be "true." The authoritative shift is self-evident. It's not a matter of "what the Bible says," as authenticated by generations of shared cultural experience. It's a matter of what science says or can be forced to say about the Bible, as verified by a body of data. If you're a bit lost here as to whose mind-set I'm describing, that's my point.

For the advocates of intelligent design, the loveliness of nature is a second-class road to truth. It is "merely" aesthetic. In that regard, one notices that there is no campaign afoot to teach "divine inspiration" as the basis for the sacred works of Fra Angelico and Bach. "That's next," you say, and maybe it is next. The point here is that it wasn't first, and it wasn't first for a very good reason.

Once you have made intelligence supreme, you have elevated science to the highest form of knowing. And with that move, the self-appointed champions of religious tradition paint themselves into the same corner that they would like to lead us out of. Using intelligent design as a buttress against scientific hegemony is, to borrow from a Yiddish proverb, as outrageously selfdefeating as murdering your parents and then pleading for leniency on the grounds that you're an orphan.

The irony extends from means to ends. The motivating force for many advocates of intelligent design, as for the advocates of school prayer who preceded them, is the perceived need for kids to have "some exposure" to religious ideas. If they don't get a taste of that stuff in school, they may never seek it elsewhere.

This is where the dismissal of intelligent design as "bad science" doesn't go far enough. It can also be dismissed as bad evangelism. The supporters of intelligent design betray a sadly compromised understanding of their own underlying mission. "The knowledge of the living God" is apparently not to be taught by lives of exemplary service but by fossil evidence. "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven," Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. Is it now to be understood that by "light" he meant the kind that shines in a specimen case?

Finally, the supporters of intelligent design betray their own secularist assumptions through their insistence that Darwinian evolution be taught with the disclaimer that it is "only a theory." One would assume that, from the perspective of faith, a great deal is only a theory. To apply that label exclusively to evolution suggests otherwise. It suggests that we inhabit a world of ubiquitous certainty. No one could walk on water in such a world because the molecular density of water is (unlike evolution, apparently) beyond the theoretical. Of course, that is the view of science, and the only proper view of science. One is amazed, however, to find it promulgated in the cause of religion.

This is not to make light of a serious threat posed by the advocates of teaching intelligent design. I happen to share the fears of those who see a theocratic agenda at work in their campaign. At the same time, I can't help but be amused by the notion of the entire edifice of the Enlightenment crumbling beneath the assault of a "religious" crusade. The barbarians may be battering at the gates, but the gates are mostly their own.

Broward selects biology text with watered-down passages on evolution


By Chris Kahn
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Education Writer
Posted February 24 2006

High school biology students in Broward County will use a textbook next year that watered-down passages about Charles Darwin and evolution theory.

Science teachers picked Florida Holt Biology this month in a countywide vote, favoring it over another book that discussed the controversial idea of intelligent design.

The Holt textbook stays away from intelligent design, the idea that a god or other guiding force caused the development of life on Earth. Mainstream scientists have discredited the theory as a repackaged form of old-school creationism.

But publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston did edit several sections at the request of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that has peddled intelligent design around the country for years.

The changes were "kind of a merging of philosophies to get something that everyone was satisfied with," said Broward science curriculum supervisor J.P. Keener.

"What came out in the book was scientifically correct," Keener said. "That's the bottom line."

A review by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that on one edited page, Holt agreed to give Darwin less credit for shaping modern biology. In another section it inserted descriptions that conservative Christians believe challenge evolution theory.

Previous editions of the textbook said Darwin's theory "is the essence of biology."

In the Broward edition, students will read instead that Darwin's theory "provides a consistent explanation for life's diversity."

The county plans to spend $1.2 million for 20,000 copies of the book. It will be required reading in Biology I classes until 2013.

"We're very pleased," said Rick Blake, spokesman in Chicago for Holt, Rinehart and Winston. "Science is a very strong area for Holt."

Broward has largely avoided the debate over intelligent design, which has embroiled other districts. Broward Superintendent Frank Till said he'd rather leave intelligent design decisions to the state, which will begin revising its science standards in 2007 or 2008.

But the issue has crossed into the district, because publishers like Holt have changed textbooks over the years while under pressure from such groups as the Discovery Institute.

The institute has received national attention for challenging evolution in courts and school boards.

In a 1999 fund-raising document, institute leaders stated their goal was to debunk the philosophies of Darwin, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud who "portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines."

The group has made a point of attacking "gaps" in Darwin's theory, lobbying textbook companies to give equal time to experiments that suggest species don't change over time as he predicted.

It focused on Holt's biology book in 2003 when the publisher tried to get it approved for Texas schools. The publisher agreed to make numerous changes, which in some cases were simple clarifications about historical experiments.

But Holt also added one section that introduced students to the "Cambrian Explosion," a period in early earth's history that suggests species aren't the result of gradual change over time, as Darwin thought.

"That was a key change," Discovery Institute spokesman John West said. "We want to keep the textbooks honest."

The Texas edits now have wound up in Holt textbooks for other states, including Florida.

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit agency that has monitored the Texas textbook adoption process for a decade, said Holt kowtowed to conservatives with its Florida biology book.

"But it could have been much worse," Quinn said. "These are minor changes, but I think students are really going to waste their time looking for alternative hypotheses to evolution. There are none."

Chris Kahn can be reached at cmkahn@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4550.

Growing List Features Prominent Scientists That Disagree With Darwinism


By Jim Brown February 24, 2006

(AgapePress) - More than 500 scientists have signed a statement expressing their doubts about the credibility of Darwinian evolution. As signatories of "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," these scientists are expressing skepticism about claims of evidence for the theory of evolution.

Rob Crowther with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute says Darwin's theory is being increasingly challenged by emerging scientific evidence.

"As time goes on and as we make new discoveries in science," Crowther notes, "and as we find out more information about molecular biology and about DNA and the genome and these things, we're beginning to see that the explanations that Darwin put forward -- with natural selection and random mutation being the mechanism of how life evolved -- just doesn't seem to be the case."

The list was started five years ago, the Discovery Institute spokesman explains, back when Darwinists claimed there were virtually no reputable scientists who disagreed with the theory of evolution. Originally published in 2001, the list carries the names of scientific scholars and researchers from prestigious universities and research centers throughout the U.S. and the world.

Many of the dissenters on the list hold degrees from institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Smithsonian Institute and some that have memberships in well-respected national academies of science as well, Crowther points out.

"We have a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science who has signed the list," the Discovery Institute spokesman says. Also, he notes, "We have two members from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Czech Republic, Hungary and elsewhere around the world. These are important because National Academy members are elected by their fellow scientists to be members ... and they are the most prominent and prestigious scientists in the world."

According to Crowther, the "Dissent from Darwinism" list was initiated in response to erroneous statements in PBS's "Evolution" series. Signers to date include 154 biologists, 76 chemists and 63 physicists. Among these dissenters are scientists holding doctoral degrees in biological sciences, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, computer science, and related disciplines.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
2006 AgapePress

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Darwin's Jews


(02/24/2006) David Klinghoffer

A sophisticated debate about Darwinian evolution is going on at the topmost levels of the Catholic Church. In the Jewish community, however, the discussion remains mostly primitive and ill informed. Surely this embarrassing state of affairs can be corrected, and I have a suggestion.

In a nutshell, the debate is over whether evolution was guided or not. Intelligent Design, or ID, asks if a purely material and unguided mechanism like Darwin's can explain the course of life's history, including things like the micro-machinery in every cell and the sudden infusion of genetic information in the Earth's ancient seas 530 million years ago, the famous Cambrian explosion.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken pointedly of the "intelligent plan" guiding the cosmos, a nod to Intelligent Design. Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, writing in The New York Times, went further in defining the ways that Darwinism conflicts with a religious worldview. Recently in the official Vatican newspaper, a professor of evolutionary biology fired back that ID "creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious."

In the Jewish community, with a few notable exceptions, no comparable debate is going on. Too many Jews want to be on what they consider the prestige side of the controversy but neglect to look beyond the misleading headlines.

Orthodox Rabbi Eliyahu Stern of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan has singled himself out as a harsh critic of those who challenge Darwin. We both write for Beliefnet, where Rabbi Stern dismissed Cardinal Schonborn and ID scientists as if they were all backwoods fundamentalists, with their "zeal to make the literal biblical story into a dogma for America."

In reality, ID theorists would hardly deny that the forms which complex life takes have changed or evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Rather, ID points to positive evidence of a designer's guiding hand in that long history. More than 475 scientists, at places like Yale, MIT, Rice and the Smithsonian Institution, have affirmed in a signed statement that they doubt the power of Darwin's selection/mutation mechanism to produce the splendor of life all around us. The Discovery Institute, where I work and which has led the ID movement, compiled the list of Darwin doubters. This is far from biblical literalism.

So why should you care? Because Darwinism, if accepted, makes any meaningful Judaism intellectually untenable.

Many Darwinists know well what is at stake. Their leading biologist, Richard Dawkins of Oxford, forthrightly states that religious "faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate."

Darwin himself appreciated that there was no common ground between his materialistic view and the older understanding that an immaterial designer oversees all that exists. In "The Origin of Species," Darwin's working premise is that God has no role in the history of life.

By contrast, in the Friday-night kiddush, a Jew gives witness to the evidence of a transcendent designer, speaking of "all His work which God created to make." By custom, we stand for this kiddush because it is considered a form of testimony, and in a Jewish court the witness stands. An honest Darwinist should not say kiddush.

In "The Descent of Man" (1871), Darwin spells out the moral implications of his theory, notably that unguided evolution produced the moral laws as much as it did the plants and animals. Such laws could have turned out differently, as the animals could have turned out differently had chance variations led life's history down a different path.

So there is nothing absolute about our ideas of right and wrong. Wrote Darwin, "We may, therefore, reject the belief that the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience." If ethics has no such secure foundation, there can be nothing sacred about doing the right thing.

ID may have implications about what is sacred, but is it science? Ask the arch-rationalist Maimonides, who fought a similar fight 800 years ago. Some philosophers claimed they could prove that the universe is eternal and thus had no beginning. Maimonides said this made nonsense of biblical faith, which presupposes a beginning and a designer. Rambam showed that the "proofs" of an eternal universe fell woefully short.

He was right. In 1965 the Bell lab scientists Penzias and Wilson showed how the detection of cosmic background radiation, left over from the Big Bang, proved the universe was finite and had a definite beginning.

In his "Guide of the Perplexed," Maimonides wrote that combating the Darwinism equivalent of his day was the highest calling of a Jew: "The utmost power of one who adheres to the Torah and who has acquired knowledge of true reality consists in his refuting the proofs of the philosophers bearing on the eternity of the world."

Alas, our community remains as a perplexed as ever. What's needed is more and better-informed debate, particularly among those who take Rambam's directive to heart, casting illumination on a crucial issue. n

David Klinghoffer (www.davidklinghoffer.com) is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle and the author most recently of "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History" (Doubleday).

Special To The Jewish Week

2000 - 2006 The Jewish Week, Inc.

Legal bill could halt imitators


Article Last Updated: 02/23/2006 11:05 AM EST

Dover cost might make districts rethink ID plans


If Dover's model of a divided community didn't discourage people who want to test the science behind intelligent design, the legal bill might.

Some involved in the Dover Area School District intelligent design debate said the school's $1 million legal bill will deter copycats who want to push the movement into science classes, but others said the movement will continue to thrive.

Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, closely followed the federal civil suit filed against the former school board after it passed a policy to include intelligent design in science classes. His group consulted, at no charge, for the parents who filed the lawsuit.

He said school district attorneys pay close attention to numbers like "$1 million," and would likely advise school boards against fighting for intelligent design in court.

But that might not stop some school boards, he said.

Court records in Dover's case showed that the district's solicitor, Stephen Russell, recommended the board not pursue intelligent design.

"The real issues seem to be fundamentalist religion, and sometimes those people don't pay attention to the deterrents," Matzke said. "You can't always depend on people to be rational."

The school board voted at its Tuesday meeting to pay $1 million in legal fees for attorneys who successfully sued the district for requiring that intelligent design be mentioned as an alternative to evolution in ninth-grade biology classes.

The district -- its taxpayers -- must pay the fees because the judge ruled that the policy to require mentioning intelligent design was religiously motivated and violated the Constitution.

Legal fees for thousands of hours spent preparing the case for federal court totaled more than $2 million, but the Pepper Hamilton law firm, which had some attorneys representing the parents, agreed not to charge for those hours.

The legal fees include costs for attorneys and other workers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and.

Bill should be more: Richard Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, worked on the Dover parents' case.

"I don't know whether $1 million in legal fees is enough to deter a board determined to violate the Constitution," he said.

He said Dover's bill should have been more than $2 million, but attorneys cut the district a break because residents were "willing to clean (their) own house" by voting the former school board out of office.

"Any board thinking of trying to do what the Dover board did is going to have to look for a bill in excess of $2 million," he said.

"I think $2 million is a lot to explain to taxpayers for a lawsuit that should never be fought," he said.

The Dover board didn't only lose, it "so thoroughly lost," Katskee said.

The judge's decision harshly criticized the former school board members.

ID proponents' views: On the other side of the debate, those in favor of intelligent design had varied opinions on the legal fees' impact.

Jon Buell, president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, which publishes an intelligent design book referenced in Dover's ousted policy, said the big legal bill could scare people away from trying to insert intelligent design in science classes.

"I think school boards across the country wouldn't touch this, wouldn't try to do something similar (to Dover) for the life of them," he said.

He said his organization is moving its resources into an endeavor different from intelligent design, though he would not name it.

But Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm that defended the school board free of charge, said he doesn't think the intelligent design movement will be squelched.

More discussion than ever: "The genie is already out of the bag," he said. "There is more discussion about intelligent design now than there ever has been."

He said the science behind intelligent design, not the courts, will determine if intelligent design is a viable science.

He said private schools are using the judge's decision in the case to draw students from the public school system.

"More and more people are talking about it," he said. "I applaud the courage of the past board for standing up for what they believed in. They thought they were doing what was in the best interest of the people."

But the largest organization that supports intelligent design research, Seattle-based Discovery Institute, didn't support Dover's board.

"What this shows is that the Dover board should have listened to the Discovery Institute when we told them to repeal this policy before they were sued," said John West, associate director of the Institute's Center for Science & Culture.

He said the current board, which took office shortly before the judge's decision was released, should have repealed the former board's policy before the judge issued his decision; that might have made the case moot and could have given the school district reason to fight against paying the legal fees, he said.

The board repealed the policy after the judge ordered it to do so.

About the intelligent design suit

Eleven parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Dover Area School District and its school board in December 2004, about two months after the board voted to include a statement about intelligent design in its ninth-grade biology classes.

Intelligent design says living things are so complicated they had to have been created by a higher being, that life is too complex to have developed by the method described by biologist Charles Darwin.

The parents, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the board had religious motives for putting the policy in place.

The non-jury trial started Sept. 26 and was completed Nov. 4.

On Dec. 20, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III ruled against the former school board, issuing a scathing, 139-page ruling that accused some former board members of lying in the witness stand.

A week after the end of the trial, Dover Area voters ousted seven of the eight incumbent school board members, all of whom favored requiring that intelligent design be mentioned in science class as an alternative to evolution.

The newly elected board members, candidates from the citizens group Dover CARES (Citizens Actively Reviewing Educational Strategies), are opposed to mentioning intelligent design in science classes.

Dover CARES candidates ran on a platform of teaching intelligent design in an elective course, not a required class, if it is to be mentioned in school.

-- Reach Christina Kauff man at 505-5434 or ckauf fman@yorkdispatch.com.

It's easy for pseudoscientists to mislead people


Published: February 22, 2006 06:25 pm

DAVID McNEELY The Edmond Sun

Why is the public flummoxed so effectively by pseudoscientific claims? Among ones that I've noted recently are those put forth by very august sounding organizations, such as "Discovery Institute," of Seattle, and "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine," of Cave Springs, Oregon (OISM).

An acquaintance sent me material published by the latter just today, as part of an ongoing debate he is promoting with me over a subject that conservative politicians have chosen to oppose because particular industries position themselves as likely to suffer harm if the body politic embraces the scientific findings in the area.

And so, I was reminded once again that the endeavors of science and the findings of science have no position on the political spectrum, but that people outside of science definitely do, and science has political meaning to them.

I've encountered the OISM before. Its head (and only employee) is a biochemist by training who once worked for Linus Pauling, a legitimate biochemist and the only person who has ever received two Nobel Prizes. However, both got off track, Pauling becoming enamored of vitamin C and losing his focus on how science is done in his zeal to promote it, and this fellow, Arthur B. Robinson, taking up the "cause of the day," so long as it was anti-establishment, and likely to earn him a few dollars. They had a falling out. Robinson claims that OISM has six "faculty members" who research biochemistry and medicine (and climatology and social institutions?), but only he actually works there. The others live in other states and receive no salary. OISM's funding sources have not been revealed, though normal publications acknowledge funding support explicitly.

Robinson has sold home civil defense shelters, has promoted home schooling as a means of keeping children from being "indoctrinated" by "socialist institutions" (and coincidentally, he sells home schooling programs), and most recently has tilted against global warming. He wrote a paper, self-published and co-authored with his stable of "faculty members," that purported to find that contrary to what scientists were claiming, the increase in carbon dioxide that our atmosphere is experiencing is producing bountiful increases in ecological and agricultural productivity and is driving an actual increase in biodiversity, rather than causing greenhouse warming effects.

Though the paper was never submitted for publication to a peer reviewed journal, Robinson printed it in a style that was an almost exact replica of that of the National Academy of Sciences, which made the president of that organization a bit more than peeved. OISM then circulated the report widely, and it found its way into energy industry board rooms. Dow Chemical produced an editorial (authored by Robinson) in which it claimed that science had proven global warming to be a fraud. The editorial has appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Robinson had initiated what he called the Oregon Petition, a lengthy statement essentially identical to the Dow editorial, circulated to scientists. We were asked to sign on to the claims. Robinson claims to have collected 15,000 signatures. The petition is on the OISM web site, where anyone logged on can sign, and many of the signatures are names like "I. C. Ewe," and "Charles Darwin, London," along with what are undoubtedly legitimate signatures. Robinson simply says they are scientists' signatures. Jim Inhofe had the Oregon Petition read to the Senate, during the same time when he recommended Michael Crichton's novel Fear Factor about a scientist who colluded with environmentalists to cause world panic over global warming to his fellows so they could understand "what's really going on."

Science is readily accessible to anyone with a decent general education. Good, solid, publications like the magazine Scientific American, the digest Science News, the news sections of journals like Nature and Science can be read at libraries. These publications also publish web pages for those who would rather use a mouse than a library table. The web page of The National Academy of Science is for all, and is easily understood. Yet, charlatans take folks in with their pseudoscientific claptrap.

People are eager to read what they want to believe, like folks who visit doctor after doctor until they find one who will agree with their self-diagnosis.

2006, The Edmond Sun Edmond, OK

Fossil Overturns Ideas of Jurassic Mammals


By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID The Associated Press

Thursday, February 23, 2006; 8:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- The discovery of a furry, beaver-like animal that lived at the time of dinosaurs has overturned more than a century of scientific thinking about Jurassic mammals.

The find shows that the ecological role of mammals in the time of dinosaurs was far greater than previously thought, said Zhe-Xi Luo, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

The animal is the earliest swimming mammal to have been found and was the most primitive mammal to be preserved with fur, which is important to helping keep a constant body temperature, Luo said in a telephone interview.

For over a century, the stereotype of mammals living in that era has been of tiny, shrew-like creatures scurrying about in the underbrush trying to avoid the giant creatures that dominated the planet, Luo commented.

Now, a research team that included Luo has found that 164 million years ago, the newly discovered mammal with a flat, scaly tail like a beaver, vertebra like an otter and teeth like a seal was swimming in lakes and eating fish.

The team, led by Qiang Ji of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing, discovered the remains in the Inner Mongolia region of China. They report their findings in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Matthew Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, called the find "a big deal."

An important factor is how specialized the creature was, said Carrano, who was not part of the research group.

"It gives a hint that early mammals were not just these shadowy creatures at the time of dinosaurs" but were having their own evolution. There have been hints of such animals in the past but nothing equal to the remains found by Luo and colleagues, he said.

Thomas Martin of the Research Institute Senckenberg in Frankfurt, Germany, said the discovery pushes back the mammal conquest of the waters by more than 100 million years.

"This exciting fossil is a further jigsaw puzzle piece in a series of recent discoveries," commented Martin, who was not part of Luo's team.

It's the first evidence that some ancient mammals were semi-aquatic, indicating a greater diversification than previously thought, the researchers said.

Modern semi-aquatic mammals such as beavers and otters and aquatic mammals like whales did not appear until between 55 million years ago and 25 million years ago, according to the researchers.

The new animal is not related to modern beavers or otters but has features similar to them. Thus the researchers named it Castorocauda lutrasimilis. Castoro from the Latin for beaver, cauda for tail, lutra for river otter and similis meaning similar.

The researchers found imprints of the fur, both guard hairs and short, dense under fur that would have kept water from the skin.

Weighing in at between 1.1 and 1.7 pounds, about the size of a small female platypus, Castorocauda is also the largest known Jurassic early mammal.

The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Ministry of Science and Technology of China, Chinese Ministry of Land Resources, National Geographic Society and Carnegie Museum.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dover ID bill: $1M


Article Launched: 02/22/2006 2:51 AM EST

Daily Record/Sunday News

Feb 22, 2006 The Dover Area school board voted Tuesday night to pay $1 million in legal fees to the attorneys that successfully sued the district over its intelligent-design policy.

In addition, each of the 11 plaintiffs will also receive $1 in nominal damages.

Eight of the nine board members voted in favor while Bryan Rehm, who is also a plaintiff, abstained.

The vote somewhat puts an end to one of the district's most contentious chapters, and, as plaintiff Cyndi Sneath said "lets us catch our breath and move on."

After board members voted, Beth Eveland, one of the parents who sued the district, told the board that she and other plaintiffs at the meeting considered it a fair offer.

However, she said they were dismayed that the taxpayers and children were left with the bill and believed the old board members should be held accountable. The smallest amount of accountability is an apology, she said.

"It's the end of the legal drama, but there is no closure," she said.

Heather Geesey, the only remaining member from the previous board, said after the meeting that she took offense to Eveland's remarks.

"I don't think I have anything to apologize for," she said.

Former board member Ronald Short also isn't planning to apologize.

"I don't have anything to apologize for," Short said. "I believe in what the board did before."

The $1 million figure was the result of an agreement worked out between plaintiffs' attorneys and the district's solicitor. In exchange, the board agrees it will not appeal.

As part of U.S. Judge John E. Jones III's decision, in which he ruled Dover's intelligent-design policy unconstitutional, plaintiffs' attorneys were permitted to recoup legal fees and expenses.

Even though they have agreed on the settlement, Eric Rothschild, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said lawyers will request an order in court entitling the plaintiffs to more than $2 million in costs.

Steve Russell, the district's solicitor, said the initial bill had been $2.5 million before negotiations began.

Plaintiffs' attorneys wanted to make sure that other school districts pondering whether to pursue a religious agenda will think twice, Rothschild said. "We think it's important that the public record will reflect how much it costs to stop an unconstitutional action," he said. "Still, we also recognize that this is a small school district"

Joel Leib, a plaintiff, said he believed the plaintiffs' attorneys did everything they could to accommodate district residents and they are not responsible for bringing this lawsuit because they weren't the ones who put the case in motion.

Bryan Rehm said, "I think it's the best outcome under the circumstances, but I think it's unfortunate that we have to foot the bill.

District officials should be able to incorporate the bill into next year's budget and don't expect to borrow money.

Nilsen said he doesn't know if raising taxes is a possibility.

Board member Judy McIlvaine, said, "We'll find it. We're finding it. We don't want to raise taxes."

Christy Rehm, a plaintiff and Bryan's wife, said she'd like to see some of the former board members follow through with the idea to pay the bill with fundraisers.

Approximately $250,000 will go directly to recovering out-of-pocket expenses, Rothschild said, and will be divided among American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Pepper Hamilton.

The rest will go toward the ACLU and Americans United.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based pro-intelligent design organization, has criticized civil liberties' groups of using threats of lawsuits to bully school districts.

But Rothschild said, "The threat of a lawsuit is real when the Constitution is violated. It's important to recognize here with this case, the substantial expense to bring and win this lawsuit."


Barrie Callahan said she intends to put her $1 check in a frame.

"You have to frame the check," she said.

Former board president Alan Bonsell, who led efforts to get intelligent design into the biology curriculum, said he had been hoping the case would be appealed.

But he recognized it was no longer in his hands.

"They're the ones in charge," he said of the new board. "They're the ones who decide it."

The Rev. Ed Rowand, one of the former board members, said he was disappointed by the news. "That's going to leave a bitter taste for a while," he said.

David Napierskie, who was appointed last year to fill Bill Buckingham's seat, said he was disappointed with the bill, but he said he was relieved that it was over.

"Tonight closes a chapter," he said.

Still, he said the case got people across the country talking about intelligent design and evolutionary theory.

"It put awareness out there," he said. But Dover residents are private people and the publicity was unwelcomed in the community, he said.

Cyndi Sneath spoke of former board members' comments about off-setting legal costs by holding bake sales and other fund raisers.

"This would be a good time," she said.

"I think Pepper Hamilton was very kind to us," said Bernadette Reinking, board president.

Terry Emig, board member, said he'd settle for a lot less, but the $1 million total is much better than what they started with.

Outside of the meeting, "The old board got off scott free," said plaintiff Joel Leib. "I wish I could have a job where I make bad decisions, break the law and not pay for it."

My Aha! Moment


February 22, 2006

Is Intelligent Design Taking on a More Intelligent Strategy?

by William Wilson


It was a radio commercial for a local church that got me.

The speaker never mentioned Intelligent Design.

Instead he reeled off a list of "improbabilities," a list which could have come straight out of an Intelligent Design talking points memo.

That was when I had my Aha! moment.

The evangelical strategy set forth in the Wedge Document is rolling along right on schedule.

Judge Jones trounced Intelligent Design in his ruling in Kitzmiller vs. Dover, correctly naming it religiously motivated pseudo science. The pro - ID school board in that case was buffoonish. One boardmember, William Buckingham, denied that he had called for the teaching of creationism in a news program. When he was confronted with the video, he defended himself by saying that he was addicted to painkillers at the time.

The amateur religious zealots of the Dover school board delivered a huge setback for the ID movement. The negative publicity from that case cost the Dover school board their jobs in the next election, and contributed to anti - ID actions in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Despite the defeats, Intelligent Design is still popular among Christians and the American public. There is a great deal of political support out there. Proposed laws in Maryland, Utah, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, and several other states will open the door to ID in the classroom if passed.

Other states don't even need new laws. Governor Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky recently stated his support for the theory and pointed out that the laws are already on the books in that state.

Those laws actually allow the teaching of creationism, but hey, what's the difference?

I heard my radio ad in Kentucky. The next day I read this story. Churches in Pennsylvania, and I suspect across the country, are using ID as an advertising tool.

The pro - ID crowd simply has to turn this into a political issue rather than a science issue. Indeed, that has been their plan all along. The Discovery Institute and other ID thinktanks are, after all, nothing more than PR firms, pumping out press releases in place of science.

If evangelical churches support ID from the pulpit, the political deception will be depressingly easy.

With polls showing that the majority of Americans support ID, pro - ID legislation simply has to be put to a popular referendum in suitable states. Or the pro ID forces will pick strategic court districts, and judges with the proper disposition will preside over the legal battles.

Judges might even campaign on their evangelical bona fides, made possible by a 2002 Supreme Court decision that allows Judges to take political stands while campaigning.

In Rabbi James Rubin's book, The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us, we see a plan to set a fundamentalist theocracy in place in America. Some of the strategies Rubin outlines in his book are similar to the ones I have suggested for ID.

The Christian Right can ride the Intelligent Design movement for all it's worth. The popularity of the issue and the free speech angle make it a winner in bible belt states. The Intelligent Design movement can cement the political power of evangelicals firmly in place.

The battle to protect science in our schools is far from over. Let's do something about it.


William Wilson is a writer and activist living in the American midwest.

Let 'intelligent design' and science rumble


By Michael Balter, MICHAEL BALTER is a human evolution writer for Science. The views expressed above are his own.

Should "Intelligent DESIGN" be taught in school alongside the theory of evolution?

That's the question being tried in a federal court in Pennsylvania, where 11 parents have sued to block the teaching of intelligent design in Dover's high school. But it's the wrong question. A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too.

Most scientists don't want any debate. Many view intelligent design as simply a new and more sophisticated attempt "the thinking man's creationism," as Science magazine put it to slip old-time religion into the classroom. They maintain that the theory of evolution, in particular natural selection, is so well supported by the evidence that it is the consensus scientific view. As such, it deserves a monopoly in school curricula.

Using complex statistics, intelligent-design theorists contend that natural selection fails to fully explain life's complexity, thus alternative explanations to evolution should be considered. As a rule, they don't speculate over who or what did the designing.

Intelligent-design proponents also argue that the scientific consensus on evolution is not rock solid. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture spearheads the intelligent-design campaign, has recruited more than 400 scientists to sign its "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism," which states in part: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."

Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans don't believe that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for our own origins. A November 2004 Gallup poll, for example, found that only 13% of respondents said they believed that God had no part in the evolution or creation of human beings, and 38% said they thought humans evolved from less-advanced forms but that God guided the process. About 45% said they believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 or so years. These results echoed similar Gallup polls dating to 1982.

This suggests that scientists have won few converts during at least the last two decades despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

In large part, Americans' skepticism toward evolutionary theory reflects the continuing influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life's complexity.

Could it be that the theory of evolution's judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom has backfired?

For one thing, the monopoly strengthens claims by intelligent-design proponents that scientists don't want to be challenged. More important, it shields Darwinian theory from challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.

Pro-evolution scientists have little to lose and everything to gain from a nationwide debate. Let's put the leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel and let them take their best shots. If biblical literalists want to join in, let them. Let's encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies. Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited. Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.

Would this bring religion into the classroom? Religious faith and thinking are already in the classroom, as the opinion polls strongly suggest. And the courts should stay out of it because educators would not be required nor allowed to advocate a religious point of view.

The history of the theory of evolution is one of bitter debates between religion and science, and the debates continue today. In "On the Origin of Species," Charles Darwin refuted the arguments for intelligent design put forward by the 18th century English philosopher William Paley, who greatly influenced the evolutionary theorist until Darwin witnessed natural selection at work on the Galapagos Islands. Over the ensuing decades, Darwin's theories were rigorously tested and criticized before they won over the majority of scientists.

The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history. The most effective way to convince students that the theory is correct is to confront, not avoid, continuing challenges to it.

Given the opportunity to debate, scientists should say: "Bring it on."

Ascent of man, or God's plan?


Wednesday, February 22 Southport, NC

Evolution vs. intelligent design stirs debate

By Hilary Snow Staff Writer

"Do you believe in where you have been and where you will go?"

The Rev. Paul Veit, the self-proclaimed "Dino Pastor" from Maine, posed that question to a packed sanctuary at Cape Fear Alliance Church earlier this month.

With an array of fossils some real, most replicated before him and a Tyrannosaurus Rex poster behind, Veit attempted to explain to believers and skeptics, young and old, that only a worldwide flood like the one recorded in the Old Testament could have created the fossils scientists study today.

"I wouldn't call myself overly super-educated," Veit, who does not have any formal background in science, admitted. "But you should be able to see some struggle from simple to complex. If it took three million years to change, you should be able to see it."

Veit said he wasn't worried about getting everyone to agree with his position. But like it or not, he said intelligent design and creationism as an alternate approach to the scientific world cannot be ignored.

"Whether you realize it or not, this matters to you," he said.

In the past decade, the debate over intelligent design and evolution has become a national hot-button issue for religious leaders, scientists, right-wing conservative Christians, liberals, teachers, parents and students alike.

While there has yet to be a push for intelligent design and creationism in Brunswick County public schools, the issue is picking up steam nationally, mostly recently in Dover, Pa., where the school board's decision in 2004 to introduce intelligent design into the biology course curriculum led to a clash between faith and evolution on the scale of the 1925 Scopes monkey trial.

In Seattle, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million each year in research supporting intelligent design. Evangelist James Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., formed a Creation Studies Institute. In Alabama and Georgia, legislators recently introduced bills that allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom.

"It doesn't really matter what position you take. This is a hot topic. It is in the newspapers everyday. It is talked about in colleges and universities across the country," Veit said.

And it's not an issue likely to go away any time soon, said Dr. Michael Ruse, a professor of the philosophy of biology at Florida State University and an evolution and Darwinist scholar.

"The evolution-creation debate is much more widespread today," Ruse said during a lecture at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNC-W) last Wednesday.

"This issue may be down but it's not out for the count."

Intelligent design/creationism

Intelligent design holds that all living things were designed in their current form by some ultimate creator and have not undergone the changes from fish to man, so to speak, which are outlined in evolutionary theory. Creationism, which is tied closely to intelligent design, maintains that the Christian God, specifically, created all life in its perfect forms.

Paramount to creation theory is the belief that a worldwide flood like the one in Genesis is the reason for fossil records on Earth today. Living things did not evolve over millions of years, proponents like Veit claim, but were trapped in sediment less than 10,000 years ago by a "cataclysmic affair."

"The church has done an injustice to kids concerning the flood story, with pictures of giraffes sitting happily in an ark," Veit said. "This was a cataclysmic affair, a geographic nightmare."

Veit said fossil records show that the Biblical world was caught off guard by rapid floodwaters.

"There are fossils of fish eating another fish, of fish laying eggs," Veit said. "Something would have had to happen quickly to catch these creatures off-guard."

So how did man survive the sudden worldwide catastrophe?

Veit said the story of Noah is not as hard to swallow as "coming from pond scum."

"It is way easier to believe a man lived on a boat for a year than I was a rat who burrowed underground for 10,000 years, or pond scum that developed over millions of years," he said.


Dr. Patricia Kelley, a paleontology professor at UNC-W, said evolution is not a "belief" like creationism. It is the only valid explanation for the history of living organisms on Earth.

"Evolution is the best scientific explanation of how life has changed through time," Kelley said Monday. "Science cannot use the supernatural. You can't make observations about the supernatural."

Evolution holds that all life forms developed from other species over millions of years and, since all living things share common ancestors, all life on Earth has a common origin.

Kelley said geologists in the 1830s, more than 20 years before Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" was published, disproved the worldwide flood theory championed by creationists today.

"The fossil record is very complicated, and when you spend time studying it your whole life you know how difficult it is. The fossil sequence is too complicated, far too complicated. There is no way a flood could prove the fossil record," she said.

Bridging the gap

Ruse said it matters less which theory is correct than it does why this "American phenomenon" is being debated across the nation today.

Evolution and creationism are not so much theories of life, Ruse said, as they are symbols of moral and cultural differences. In an unstable social climate, faith and reason become pitted against one another. One represents a maintaining of the status quo, of traditional values, while the other disregards tradition for the sake of progress and change.

"After the Civil War, the South turns to the Bible. The Bible justified slavery. In that instance, evolution becomes a symbol of everything the South hates about the North," he said. "The Scopes trial was not so much a question of fossil records as it was a clash of civilizations. It's not about what is right or wrong but what I think intelligent design represents. It is more of a moral debate. Evolution today still symbolizes (for intelligent design and creationism supporters) things they find offensive in modern society."

But it doesn't have to be that way, Kelley said. While Kelley is a scientist by profession, the Southport resident is also a devout Christian and the wife of a Presbyterian minister. Kelley said there is no reason evolution and faith can't coexist.

"I teach evolution five days a week and I teach Bible studies on Sunday," she said.

The source of the dispute, she believes, is with Christians who interpret the Bible, especially the Old Testament, word for word.

"I don't think a literal interpretation of the Bible is accurate. Creation stories, and there is more than one story, are not intended to be historical, factual, literal accounts. I don't believe a literal interpretation is warranted at all. We should interpret them conservatively and not try to infuse these stories with our own modern concerns," she said. "These stories are statements of faith, not a scientific textbook."

But Veit sees the Bible as a historical and scientific reference guide. If you believe God wrote everything in the Bible and that therefore it is all true, then you are a creationist.

Veit pointed to the phrase, "according to their kind," which is repeated ten times in the creation story, as proof that God was an ultimate designer, not an evolutionist.

"He is yelling at us over and over so we get it," he said.

Kelley said evolution did not present a problem to Christians until the 1920s. Darwin's theories, she argued, were widely and quickly accepted by clergy as an accurate account of the history of life.

The real problem now, she said, is people don't understand the difference between science and religion.

"In part, I think scientists haven't done a good job of explaining that. To say I am a Christian when I lecture, I have found people very receptive to me. My intention is never to take anyone's faith. I want them to see why I see what I see," she said.

Bringing religion into the realm of science

Kelley said she does believe in God as creator, but that doesn't mean she supports intelligent design, especially as a course of study in science classes.

"I view intelligent design as another form of creationism. It was created as a way to bypass the constitutionality of teaching religion in school. Trying to get religion into public schools is dangerous," she said. "And to say my faith should be subject to the some kind of scientific test is offensive."

John Chaffin, pastor of Cape Fear Alliance Church, disagreed. Chaffin said the study of intelligent design is entirely separate from creationism. Creationism should remain in the churches; intelligent design can hold its own in a biology class.

"Intelligent design is not approaching science from a religious aspect. It is a science aspect. The evidence is there that there is some kind of designer. That doesn't violate any kind of separation of church and state," he said.

There is a danger in religion crossing over into science, Kelley warns. Science leads to progress, she argues, and without a clear-cut idea of what science should do and what it can explain, there is no progress. Instead, backward movement will result.

"An attack on science is an attack on our future. A rejection of evolution is a rejection of a whole range of sciences," she said.

As far as where this debate will end up, Kelley said she is unsure but hopeful.

"It's hard to say. Certainly things have swung back and forth in the past," she said. "Maybe when America starts lagging behind there will be a renewed push for science."

Veit has a more metaphysical concern.

"I'm more interesting in saving your soul than I am in winning an argument," he said.

Ohio Drops Science Education Standards Requiring Critical Analysis of Darwinism


By Jim Brown February 22, 2006

(AgapePress) - Students in Ohio public schools will no longer be taught the controversy surrounding the theory of evolution. The Ohio Board of Education has voted to repeal both its "Critical Analysis of Evolution" lesson plan and the benchmark in the state science standards that required critical analysis of evolution.

Casey Luskin with the Seattle, Washington-based Discovery Institute, a leading intelligent design think tank, says a group of Darwinists convinced members of the Ohio Board of Education that critiquing evolution is equivalent to bringing intelligent design or creationism into the classroom.

Somehow, the board members failed to recognize the fact that the original state-approved science standards "explicitly stated that the Ohio science standards did not require the teaching of intelligent design," Luskin says. Still, he insists, the argument that critique of evolutionary theory must necessarily involve bringing religion into the classroom is a "Darwinist charade" that will not succeed forever.

After all, the Discovery Institute spokesman notes, evidence suggests the majority of Ohio citizens would prefer to see students across the state receive a balanced science education. A recent poll found 69 percent of Ohioans want the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory taught in schools.

"You would think that the board members would be sensitive to what the public wants and the fact that there are many legitimate scientific critiques of evolution that would be educationally beneficial for students to know about," Luskin laments. "I just find it very unfortunate that a majority of the Ohio State Board of Education essentially did not recognize what the people of Ohio clearly want."

Luskin believes the Ohio education officials were unfairly pressured and browbeaten into a bad decision by proponents of Darwinism. "In my opinion, what took place was the result of people who oppose objective evolution education using, basically, false fears and fear tactics to bully the board into dropping what is a very good policy," he says.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
2006 AgapePress

Predictable as Clockwork, the New York Times Misses The News In Reporting On Scientists Dissenting From Darwinism


The New York Times today reported on the growing number of scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution. Yet the Times has quite predictably , maybe even purposefully, missed the point of the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism List . Because reporters and editors at the Times apparently can't accept the fact that scientists, for scientific reasons, have doubts about Darwinian evolution, they immediately assert that it must be religion that is motivating the growing number of Dissenters. They still don't get that it is the science that is driving this debate.

Here are some other points missed by the Times article, which was written by science writer Ken Chang:

First, the original purpose of our dissent list was not to prove that Darwin critics are in the majority in the scientific community, but to rebut bogus claims by Darwinists that no reputable scientists are skeptical of Darwinism. During the hoopla surrounding PBS's "Evolution" series in 2001, Darwinists insisted there were no scientists at all who disagreed with Darwin. We proved them wrong by producing a list of 100 scientific dissenters, many of them with Ph.D.s from top research universities. Now our list has surpassed 500 and continues to add new signers nearly every day. Darwinists can carp all they want, but they cannot make these scientific dissenters disappear.

Second, it's apparent from the diversity of scientific fields represented by our dissent list that Darwinian biologists are having an increasingly tough time convincing scientists from other disciplines of the veracity of their theory. They are having trouble persuading chemists, physicists, engineers and others that natural selection and random mutation are actually capable of generating the highly-ordered complexity we see throughout the natural world.

Third, engineers and other scientists have realized that the primary problems facing modern evolutionary theory are engineering problems. How do you build the complex machines found in the cell? How do you engineer the exquisite technology found in the DNA strand? The Times' mistakenly asserts that no biologists are working on these very issues--but indeed they are. Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho and Michael Behe at Lehigh University, to name two. Amazingly, Times' science writer Ken Chang himself reported last summer about Dr. Doug Axe's lab work and research on aspects directly related to this debate. And there are other researchers, though they are hesitant to step forward because of the attacks that will be leveled at them.

More and more, modern biology is encountering questions of engineering and design. Engineers recognize this, as do physicists, chemists and a growing number of biologists themselves, as evidenced by their increasing dominance of our list. Speaking of which, the Times' got that wrong as well.

Chang reports:

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.

Actually, there are 154 biologists on the list (not 128 as the Times' claims), which represents 30% of the signers. This may seem like quibbling, but it is the stubborn unwillingness to deal with the facts as they are that keeps the Times' reporters from being able to objectively report about intelligent design. They also seem unable to correctly define the theory. According to Chang, intelligent design is

the proposition that life is so complex that it is best explained as the design of an intelligent being

It's amazing that after all of the hours Chang spent with scientists in Seattle last summer, and the time he's spent working on this latest story, that he still can't understand what intelligent design is . He leaves out half of the theory, making his definition inaccurate.

It isn't up to Ken Chang, or any other Darwinist, to define intelligent design theory. That's for intelligent design scientists to do. According to the theory of intelligent design, certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause. It is this crucial point that Chang (and the rest of the New York Times' science writers) refuses to report.

He focuses instead on the fact that design theorists do not think an undirected process such as natural selection can explain the complex molecular machines in cells, or the digital information embedded in DNA. Yet the main part of Discovery Institute's scientific research program seeks evidence of design in nature, and we argue that such evidence points to intelligent design, based on our historical knowledge of cause and effect. Intelligent design theorists argue in favor of design theory based on the recognition of these very things like the digital information in DNA and the molecular machines in cells. They do so because invariably we know from experience that complex systems possessing such features always arise from intelligent causes. Chang's definition is a strawman that doesn't really say what the theory is.

But in reporting on the growing dissent from Darwinism this is irrelevant. Scientists who sign the list are not proclaiming their support for intelligent design--as evolutionary biologist Stanley Salthe made quite clear. What they are saying is that the unresolved issues challenging Darwinian evolution need to be dealt with publicly and not glossed over, denied and otherwise hidden away. There is a controversy among scientists about Darwinian evolution and the Dissent list is a living testament to that.

Posted by Robert Crowther on February 21, 2006 09:15 PM

Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition


By KENNETH CHANG Published: February 21, 2006

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."

Palm Trees and Lake Fish Dispel Doubts About a Theory of Evolution


February 21, 2006


Sooner or later, everyone encounters a kentia palm. Its ability to grow in low sunlight has made it one of the world's most traded houseplants.

"If you've been to a wine bar or to Starbucks, there may have been one in there," said William Baker, a botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.

"Whether you realize it or not, you're familiar with this palm," he said.

As ordinary as this houseplant may be, however, Dr. Baker and colleagues have found that it has an extraordinary story to tell about evolution.

The kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is found in the wild only on a single remote island in the South Pacific. Based on a recent study, Dr. Baker and his colleagues have concluded that roughly two million years ago, an ancestral species of palm tree living on the island split in two, and one became the kentia palm.

The idea that members of a species living side by side can split into two species is controversial. Some scientists have presented evidence that the process has produced several species of plants and animals, but their ideas have met with intense skepticism.

Two new studies in the journal Nature one on the kentia palm and a second on fish in a Nicaraguan lake are impressing some leading skeptics, however.

One reason for the skepticism is that another way for forming new species is well supported by evidence. When a population becomes isolated by a geographical barrier, it can evolve into a new species.

Birds swept to a remote island, for example, may reproduce only among themselves and not with the rest of their species back on the mainland.

Over generations, the birds can acquire a unique set of mutations. They may evolve to be so different from the mainland birds that the two populations can no longer interbreed. They may sing different courtship songs, for example. They may be able to mate, but their hybrids may prove to be sterile. Based on a vast amount of research, scientists agree that this process called allopatric speciation drove the evolution of many species.

But some scientists have suggested that some species evolved without geographical barriers and that a new species could emerge from an old one even when all its members were living side by side. The key was for some individuals to begin to mate with one another and not with the rest of the species. If this tendency could be inherited, then two genetically distinct populations could emerge. Ultimately, they would become two separate species.

Mathematical models have suggested this process known as sympatric speciation can happen under certain conditions. And scientists have discovered a handful of cases in which, they argue, sympatric speciation took place. Fruit flies from a species that originally lived on hawthorns in the United States, for example, have shifted to apples in the past 150 years. Their DNA suggests that they are diverging from the hawthorn population.

But sympatric speciation has drawn fierce criticism. Skeptics have argued that many cases of sympatric speciation could just as easily have been produced by allopatric speciation. Two species sharing an island may well have evolved allopatrically elsewhere, for example, only later moving to the island in two separate invasions.

The two studies published this month in Nature are among the best ever published, in the opinion of some of sympatric speciation's toughest critics.

In one study, Axel Meyer of the University of Konstanz in Germany and his colleagues examined two species of fish that live in Lake Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake in Nicaragua. One species, the Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus), has a big body and uses powerful jaws to crush snails at the lake bottom. The slender arrow cichlid (A. zaliosus) lives in the open water, where it eats insect larvae.

Lake Apoyo formed less than 23,000 years ago when its volcano became extinct and filled with rain water. Dr. Meyer's team studied the DNA of the two cichlids and compared it to that of fish in neighboring lakes. They concluded that the Midas cichlid originally invaded the lake, perhaps swept in during a hurricane. The arrow cichlids then branched off the Midas cichlids, evolving a distinct body and no longer breeding with their parent species.

The origin of the arrow cichlids did not take long, geologically speaking. "It was less than 10,000 years, but it could be as short as 2,000 years," Dr. Meyer said.

Dr. Meyer suspects that the arrow cichlid evolved from slender Midas cichlids and shifted from a diet of snails to a diet of insect larvae. They enjoyed more reproductive success if they mated with other slender cichlids, because their offspring could swim efficiently in the open water. Over time, the fish may have evolved the mating preferences that now help keep the two populations distinct.

Dr. Baker and his colleagues present a similar picture of the kentia palm. The kentia palm grows only on Lord Howe Island, 350 miles east of Australia. The island is home to a similar species, Howea belmoreana. The kentia palm grows about 50 feet high, while Howea belmoreana reaches only about 20 feet. Kentia palms thrive on exposures of soft sedimentary rock, while Howea belmoreana grows mostly on soils formed from volcanic rock.

By studying the palm's DNA, Dr. Baker and his colleagues found that the two Lord Howe species are much more alike than either is to any other living palm. Based on the mutations accumulated in each species, they estimate that an ancestral palm arrived on the island long after the island formed about seven million years ago.

About two million years ago, the sedimentary outcrops began to be exposed on the island. This was also the time when kentia palm split off from Howea belmoreana. Dr. Baker and his colleagues propose that the kentia palm evolved from palms that colonized the new outcrops. They were still close enough to the other palms to interbreed. But growing on the sedimentary soil may have changed the growth of their flowers.

The scientists have found that the kentia palm flowers seven weeks earlier than Howea belmoreana, making it almost impossible for them to interbreed.

"It's hard to imagine a more watertight case," Dr. Baker said.

Critics have raised a few possible alternative explanations for each study. It is possible, for example, that the palms might have evolved through geographic isolation on other islands. Their descendants then colonized Lord Howe Island, and then the other islands sank underwater. (Lord Howe is expected to disappear in 200,000 years.)

But even these critics consider these alternatives a bit of a stretch.

"I've read these papers fairly carefully, looking for weak points," said Douglas Futuyma of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "But I can't find any."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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