Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
MIRACLE MEDICINE: PRAYERS OF SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED.
The long-awaited study of intercessory prayer for coronary bypass patients was released yesterday (see last week's WN). A small increase in complications, attributed to "performance anxiety," was found in a subset of patients who were told that strangers were praying for them. Otherwise, there was nothing. Scientists are relieved of course; science is tough enough without having to worry that somebody on their knees in East Cupcake, Iowa can override natural law. The study of 1800 patients took almost ten years and cost $2.4M, mostly from the Templeton Foundation. Of course, there are calls for further study. Where do we start? What are the units of prayer? Do prayers of Pat Robertson count more than those of death-row inmates? What is the optimum posture of the supplicant? Where can we learn these things?
COLD-FUSION DAY: DOES FLEISCHMANN STILL BREW TEA ON HOT PLATE?
On 23 March 2006, D2Fusion, Inc., a subsidiary of Solar Energy, Ltd., issued a press release to announce that cold-fusion pioneer Martin Fleischmann had agreed to serve as "senior scientific advisor" to produce a cold-fusion heater. Seventeen years ago, on 23 March 1989, the University of Utah held a press conference to announce the discovery of "cold fusion" by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons. Fleischmann modestly told the press that cold fusion was so far capable only of 'heating water for a cup of tea." D2Fusion believes "he still holds the secret."
THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
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
Truth crusaders Walter and Rodriguez to appear on Hugo Chavez's weekly TV broadcast
Paul Joseph Watson & Alex Jones/Prison Planet.com | March 31 2006
Billionaire philanthropist Jimmy Walter and WTC survivor William Rodriguez this week embarked on a groundbreaking trip to Caracas Venezuela in which they met with with the President of the Assembly and will soon meet with Venezuelan President himself Hugo Chavez in anticipation of an official Venezuelan government investigation into 9/11.
Rodriguez was the last survivor pulled from the rubble of the north tower of the WTC, and was responsible for all stairwells within the tower. Rodriguez represented family members of 9/11 victims and testified to the 9/11 Commission that bombs were in the north tower but his statements were completely omitted from the official record.
Jimmy Walter has been at the forefront of a world tour to raise awareness about 9/11 and has still yet to receive any response to his million dollar challenge in which he offers a $1 million reward for proof that the trade towers' steel structure was broken apart without explosives.
Rodriguez said that he was told an FBI agent had asked the hotel him and Walter were staying in turn over a list of names of residents. Upon hearing this, the National Assembly provided armed military protection for the entirety of the trip. In addition, Walters said that CIA agents were seen surveilling the beach on which he and Rodriguez had handed out free DVD's a day earlier.
The US government attempted to sabotage the trip by putting Rodriguez, who has been decorated at the White House itself, and Walter on a no fly list.
Rodriguez (pictured above) and Walter are educating top Venezuelan officials on the evidence that 9/11 was a self-inflicted wound carried out by the military-industrial complex. They have also appeared on every Venezuelan television and radio station both private and state owned and have given huge presentations to major universities.
Upon visiting, Rodriguez said that the President of the Assembly, Nicolas Maduro's home was brimming with books, videos and documents about the 9/11 cover-up. Maduro, Venezuela's top legislator, intoned that he was ready to create an international investigative committee, looking into the "international crime scene" that is 9/11 and that this would be structured via Hugo Chavez's government.
Rodriguez and Walter are also set to appear on Hugo Chavez's weekly broadcast 'Alo Presidente' - which is often subsequently the source of major international headlines. If there is no coverage of this event then we know for sure that a blackout order is in place.
Rodriguez and Walter offered their full support for Charlie Sheen's recent public stance on 9/11 and were heartened by his efforts. The potential of a government level inquiry endorsed by Hugo Chavez dovetails with Sheen's call for an independent investigation to be carried out by political foreign nationals.
Though the establishment media will no doubt seek to demonize Chavez as a militant with an axe to grind, this is an exciting development and the next step on the road to a genuine investigation that will seek to uncover the truth rather than hide skeletons and whitewash as was witnessed with the staged Kean committee.
By Ker Than
Updated: 12:09 p.m. ET March 30, 2006
The ancient asteroid that slammed into the Gulf of Mexico and purportedly ended the reign of the dinosaurs occurred 300,000 years too early, according to a controversial new analysis of melted rock ejected from the impact site.
The standard theory states that a giant asteroid about 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula close to the current Mexican town of Chicxulub about 65 million years ago. The impact raised enough dust and debris to blot out the sun for decades or even centuries.
Such a large impact would also have triggered a host of natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and global firestorms that fried, starved and suffocated the beasts.
But Markus Harting of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and a small group of scientists think the Chicxulub impact happened too early to have been the infamous dinosaur-killer.
Harting analyzed BB-sized glass spherules found in multiple layers of sediments from northeast Mexico, Texas, Guatemala, Belize and Haiti — regions that are relatively close to the Chicxulub impact site.
Based on the spherules' chemical composition, Harting concludes they all formed from rock melted during the Chicxulub impact. The spherules were not found in a single layer of sediment, however, but were instead scattered throughout several layers. Some appeared worn and weathered, as if they had been exposed to the elements and shifted around.
Some of the spherules Harting found were located meters below the layer of iridium-rich clay that marks the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, when large dinosaur indeed disappeared from the planet (some hung on and became birds). This layer is also known as the "K-T boundary." Iridium is a chemical element commonly found in asteroids and comets, and the K-T boundary has been touted as the smoking gun linking the dinosaurs' demise to an asteroid impact.
Harting believes his work supports the theory that the Chicxulub impact occurred roughly 300,000 years earlier than many scientists have commonly assumed. His findings will be presented at the "Backbone of the Americas: Patagonia to Alaska" meeting in Argentina on April 3.
Two asteroid impacts? Due to the large margins of error involved, Harting could not determine the age of the spherules directly, but instead relied on studies of sediment deposits performed by Gerta Keller at Princeton University and her colleagues.
Keller cites a thick layer of sediment found between the Chicxulub impact layer and the K-T boundary as evidence that the Chicxulub asteroid impact occurred well before the extinction of the dinosaurs. Keller also claims to have found evidence of Cretaceous-era fossils in sediments above layers of rock linked to the asteroid impact.
Keller thinks dinosaurs survived the Chicxulub impact but were finished off by a larger, more catastrophic impact that happened roughly 300,000 years later. It was this later impact, Keller says, that is responsible for the K-T boundary.
"There must have been an asteroid impact at the K-T boundary and it must have been bigger than Chicxulub, because Chicxulub didn't cause any mass extinction," Keller told LiveScience on Wednesday.
She believes the asteroid that did kill the dinosaurs probably struck Earth somewhere else and remains undiscovered.
Not likely … The views of Keller and her colleagues are controversial within the scientific community. Many scientists disagree with her team's interpretation of data.
Recent work by other scientists, for example, has shown that fossil records could have been shuffled around by an enormous tsunami that would have followed such a significant asteroid impact. This would explain Keller's anomalous fossils, they argue.
"All of the deposits around the Caribbean from this period have experienced tsunami, landslide, rebound and other phenomena directly resulting from the enormous impact," said Denton Ebel, assistant curator of meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History. "They're saying that there's multiple ejecta layers, but they're looking at sediment that has been subjected to perhaps the biggest mechanical upheaval on the planet in the past 100 million years."
Ebel compares Harting's spherules analysis to trying to understand eruption history of Mount St. Helens by examining a sediment core drilled out of the top of the volcano.
"It would be impossible. Regions close to the volcano would be a big jumbled mess of rocks that had fallen back in and stuff coming out," Ebel said in a telephone interview. "What you do is look a mile or two away at the nice ashfall layer which beautifully displays the history of the erupted volcano."
Because the Chicxulub impact would have been many orders of magnitude stronger than any volcano eruption, scientists have to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles from ground zero to find sediment layers not disturbed by the impact. Frank Kyte of the University of California at Los Angeles has done just that.
Kyte has analyzed the chemical composition of spherules collected from the K-T boundary layer in places all around the world, including deep ocean basins, where the sediment isn't as churned up as in the Gulf of Mexico. From his studies, Kyte has concluded that there is only one spherule layer, not many as Harting claims, and that this layer is located precisely at the K-T boundary.
Alternative explanation In light of all the evidence linking the Chicxulub impact with the extinction of the dinosaurs, Kyte thinks there is a better explanation for Harting's findings.
"There are a few places where you can find spherules at what appear to be two different heights, but there has been pretty solid arguments presented showing that this is the result of these spherules being moved down the section by slumping," Kyte told LiveScience.
In other words, perhaps the spherules Harting found near the K-T boundary weren't moved up from a lower layer through erosion. Instead, maybe the spherules moved down from the K-T boundary layer into a lower layer, and not only through erosion, but as a result of tsunamis, landslides and other impact effects.
Kyte dismisses the idea that an asteroid impact different from the one that occurred at Chicxulub was responsible for the dinosaur's mass extinction.
"There is all kinds of evidence that there was one big impact, and virtually no solid, strong evidence that there was more than one," he said.
By Will Pavia and Chris Windle
VILLAGERS who protested that a new housing estate would "harm the fairies" living in their midst have forced a property company to scrap its building plans and start again.
Marcus Salter, head of Genesis Properties, estimates that the small colony of fairies believed to live beneath a rock in St Fillans, Perthshire, has cost him Ł15,000. His first notice of the residential sensibilities of the netherworld came as his diggers moved on to a site on the outskirts of the village, which crowns the easterly shore of Loch Earn.
He said: "A neighbour came over shouting, 'Don't move that rock. You'll kill the fairies'." The rock protruded from the centre of a gently shelving field, edged by the steep slopes of Dundurn mountain, where in the sixth century the Celtic missionary St Fillan set up camp and attempted to convert the Picts from the pagan darkness of superstition.
"Then we got a series of phone calls, saying we were disturbing the fairies. I thought they were joking. It didn't go down very well," Mr Salter said.
In fact, even as his firm attempted to work around the rock, they received complaints that the fairies would be "upset". Mr Salter still believed he was dealing with a vocal minority, but the gears of Perthshire's planning process were about to be clogged by something that looked suspiciously like fairy dust.
"I went to a meeting of the community council and the concerns cropped up there," he said. The council was considering lodging a complaint with the planning authority, likely to be the kiss of death for a housing development in a national park. Jeannie Fox, council chairman, said: "I do believe in fairies but I can't be sure that they live under that rock. I had been told that the rock had historic importance, that kings were crowned upon it." Her main objection to moving the rock was based on the fact that it had stood on the hillside for so long: a sort of MacFeng Shui that many in the village subscribe to.
"There are a lot of superstitions going about up here and people do believe that things like standing stones and large rocks should never be moved," she said.
Half a mile into Loch Earn is Neish Island. From there the Neish clan set forth to plunder the surrounding country, retreating each time to their island. Early in the 17th century, the MacNabs retaliated from the next valley, carrying a boat over the mountains, storming the island and slaughtering most of the Neishes.
This summer Betty Neish McInnes, the last of that line in St Fillans, went to her grave — but not before she had imparted the ancient Pict significance of the rock to many of her neighbours.
"A lot of people think the rock had some Pictish meaning," Mrs Fox said. "It would be extremely unlucky to move it."
Mr Salter did not just want to move the rock. He wanted to dig it up, cart it to the roadside and brand it with the name of his new neighbourhood.
The Planning Inspectorate has no specific guidelines on fairies but a spokesman said: "Planning guidance states that local customs and beliefs must be taken into account when a developer applies for planning permission." Mr Salter said: "We had to redesign the entire thing from scratch."
The new estate will now centre on a small park, in the middle of which stands a curious rock. Work begins next month, if the fairies allow.
Mar 29, 7:36 PM EST
By CAROLYN THOMPSON Associated Press Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries.
"For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.
The magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism in suburban Amherst, includes four of the drawings that originally appeared in a Danish newspaper in September, including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse.
Islamic tradition bars depiction of Muhammad to prevent idol worship, which is strictly prohibited.
"What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression," said Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry. "Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire ... To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press - so vital for our democracy."
Bingham said the decision was made before the magazine arrived at the company's stores. Borders Group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.
"We absolutely respect our customers' right to choose what they wish to read and buy and we support the First Amendment," Bingham said. "And we absolutely support the rights of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. We've just chosen not to carry this particular issue in our stores."
The cartoons, which were reprinted in European and American papers in January and February, sparked a wave of protests around the Islamic world. Protesters were killed in some of the most violent demonstrations and several European embassies were attacked.
Free Inquiry: http://www.freeinquiry.net
© 2006 The Associated Press.
Dr Terry Morrison
Dr. Morrison earned a Ph.D. in the history of Geology from Coventery University in England. His this focused on the â€śScriptural geologists.â€ť A group of men in the 19th century who fought the idea of old-earth geological theories. This unique video introduces the men and the theories that helped popularize the idea of millions of years of earth history. Dr. Morrison races through the last century and a half to reveal that what one believes about the age of the earth is a world view conflict of foundational importance. History reveals the heart of the conflict resides in anti-Christian philosophy.
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, December 6th, 7:30 PM
March 31, 2006 By BENEDICT CAREY
Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.
And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.
Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.
The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.
At least 10 studies of the effects of prayer have been carried out in the last six years, with mixed results. The new study was intended to overcome flaws in the earlier investigations. The report was scheduled to appear in The American Heart Journal next week, but the journal's publisher released it online yesterday.
In a hurriedly convened news conference, the study's authors, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said that the findings were not the last word on the effects of so-called intercessory prayer. But the results, they said, raised questions about how and whether patients should be told that prayers were being offered for them.
"One conclusion from this is that the role of awareness of prayer should be studied further," said Dr. Charles Bethea, a cardiologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City and a co-author of the study.
Other experts said the study underscored the question of whether prayer was an appropriate subject for scientific study.
"The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion," said Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia and author of a forthcoming book, "Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine."
The study cost $2.4 million, and most of the money came from the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into spirituality. The government has spent more than $2.3 million on prayer research since 2000.
Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a co-author of the report, said the study said nothing about the power of personal prayer or about prayers for family members and friends.
Working in a large medical center like Mayo, Mr. Marek said, "You hear tons of stories about the power of prayer, and I don't doubt them."
In the study, the researchers monitored 1,802 patients at six hospitals who received coronary bypass surgery, in which doctors reroute circulation around a clogged vein or artery.
The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told that they were being prayed for; half were told that they might or might not receive prayers.
The researchers asked the members of three congregations — St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul; the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Mass.; and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry near Kansas City — to deliver the prayers, using the patients' first names and the first initials of their last names.
The congregations were told that they could pray in their own ways, but they were instructed to include the phrase, "for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications."
Analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not.
In another of the study's findings, a significantly higher number of the patients who knew that they were being prayed for — 59 percent — suffered complications, compared with 51 percent of those who were uncertain. The authors left open the possibility that this was a chance finding. But they said that being aware of the strangers' prayers also may have caused some of the patients a kind of performance anxiety.
"It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?" Dr. Bethea said.
The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group — 18 percent — suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers. In their report, the researchers suggested that this finding might also be a result of chance.
One reason the study was so widely anticipated was that it was led by Dr. Benson, who in his work has emphasized the soothing power of personal prayer and meditation.
At least one earlier study found lower complication rates in patients who received intercessory prayers; others found no difference. A 1997 study at the University of New Mexico, involving 40 alcoholics in rehabilitation, found that the men and women who knew they were being prayed for actually fared worse.
The new study was rigorously designed to avoid problems like the ones that came up in the earlier studies. But experts said the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying.
Bob Barth, the spiritual director of Silent Unity, the Missouri prayer ministry, said the findings would not affect the ministry's mission.
"A person of faith would say that this study is interesting," Mr. Barth said, "but we've been praying a long time and we've seen prayer work, we know it works, and the research on prayer and spirituality is just getting started."
NEW YORK (AP) -- In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.
Researchers emphasized their work does not address whether God exists or answers prayers made on another's behalf. The study can only look for an effect from prayers offered as part of the research, they said.
They also said they had no explanation for the higher complication rate in patients who knew they were being prayed for, in comparison to patients who only knew it was possible prayers were being said for them.
The work, which followed about 1,800 patients at six medical centers, was financed by the Templeton Foundation, which supports research into science and religion. It will appear in the American Heart Journal.
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.
The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility.
The researchers did not ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical.
The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who did not take part in the study, said the results did not surprise him.
"There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either," he said.
Science, he said, "is not designed to study the supernatural."
By David L. Hudson Jr.
First Amendment Center research attorney
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A nationally recognized expert on the historical and legal issues surrounding the teaching of evolution in public schools says the debate is not over and that controversies will continue in the future.
"This issue resurfaces in countless Daytons across the U.S. when science teachers either deify or denigrate Darwin's theory of evolution," said University of Georgia law professor Edward J. Larson March 28 on the Middle Tennessee State University campus at the 15th annual Windham Lecture in Liberal Arts .
Larson explained in his speech, "The Creation/Evolution Controversy: From Scopes to Intelligent Design," that the issue continues to arise because "religion still matters greatly in America."
Larson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Summer for the Gods — his 1997 book on the famous Scopes trial — explained to the standing-room-only audience the history of the debate from the famous trial in Dayton, Tenn., to the current controversy regarding intelligent design.
He described three phases of the history of anti-evolution forces in public schools: (1) removing evolution from the classroom; (2) balancing the teaching of evolution with creationism; and (3) teaching evolution as "just a theory."
Larson explained the first period culminated in the historic "Scopes monkey trial," referred to as the "trial of the century." In 1922, Tennessee passed a law that forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools. A football coach and science teacher, John Scopes, agreed at a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union to serve as the defendant in a test case challenging the law. The trial in Rhea County, Tenn., featured legendary courtroom battles between famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow and powerful orator and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution.
A jury convicted Scopes of violating the law but refused to fine him. The trial judge ordered Scopes to pay a $100 fine. In its 1927 decision Scopes v. State, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the conviction, finding that only the jury could fine the defendant. The court then noted that Scopes had left the state and that no further prosecution should take place: "We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case. On the contrary, we think the peace and dignity of the State, which all criminal prosecutions are brought to redress, will be better conserved by the entry of a nolle prosequi herein."
The Scopes trial ended without a court declaration that the Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional under the establishment clause of the First Amendment or a similar provision in the Tennessee Constitution.
"It was America's first broadcast trial and … is the best-known misdemeanor trial in American history," Larson told the audience. "The trial made front-page news not only across the county but across the world."
Larson addressed several misconceptions and myths surrounding the trial.
Many believe that the Darrow-led defense team trounced the Bryan-led prosecution team. Such was not the case. "Most neutral observers thought the trial was a draw," Larson said. "Virtually no one viewed the trial as decisive. … Both sides effectively communicated their message from Dayton."
Nor did the trial change the views of those who wanted evolution removed from public school science classes, he noted: "The pace of anti-evolutionism actually picked up after the trial."
What later changed, said Larson, was that in 1947 the U.S. Supreme Court extended the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the states via the 14th Amendment in Everson v. Board of Education .
Before that decision, the establishment clause, the part of the First Amendment that provides for separation between church and state, was held to apply only against the federal government. Everson, Larson said, led to a "torrent of litigation" in the next few decades, including decisions in the 1960s striking down school-sponsored prayer and, finally, in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), the issue not reached by the Tennessee courts in Scopes — the constitutionality of a statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in schools.
The Epperson Court wrote: "The State's undoubted right to prescribe the curriculum for its public schools does not carry with it the right to prohibit, on pain of criminal penalty, the teaching of a scientific theory or doctrine where that prohibition is based upon reasons that violate the First Amendment."
Larson said the creationism movement gained momentum after an influential 1961 book by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, Genesis Flood. "The book spawned a movement in fundamentalism known as creationism or scientific creationism," he said.
Creationists pushed for state legislation providing for equal time for creationism alongside evolution in public science classes. Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee passed such laws.
But in its 1987 decision Edwards v. Aguillard , the Supreme Court invalidated the Louisiana Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act. That state law required that if teachers instruct students in the theory of evolution, they must also instruct the students in creation theory.
The Court ruled 7-2 that the law violated the establishment clause, finding that the "preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind" and that "the purpose of the Creationism Act was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint."
The third phase of the movement, in Larson's analysis, took hold after University of California-Berkeley law professor Phillip E. Johnson , an evangelical Protestant, wrote Darwin on Trial (1992), claiming that evolution was a just a theory and a faulty one. This and other books began further attacks on the teaching of evolution, such as placing disclaimers in textbooks stating that evolution is a theory.
Larson noted that the battle over evolution has continued recently with federal district courts decisions in Georgia and Pennsylvania over "evolution is just a theory" and "intelligent design" policies at the local level.
In January 2005, federal district court judge Clarence Cooper ruled in Selman v. Cobb County School District that the mandated sticker that "evolution is a theory" violates the establishment clause.
In December 2005 federal district court Judge John Jones ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that a policy requiring the teaching of intelligent design also violated the establishment clause.
In a post-lecture interview, Larson said the future of the controversy could depend on the outcome of the Selman case, which is currently before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The Selman case is definitely worth watching, and also what happens in Kansas with the teaching standards," Larson said.
These latest cases show that the controversy is not likely to die down and can resurface at any time, he said. "The controversy has tapped into a cultural divide. It is an oscillating controversy," he added, referring to its cyclical nature. "If history is any guide, then we're in for heavy weather again."
Dutchman Johan Huibers is building a working replica of Noah's Ark as a testament to his Christian faith.
The 47-year-old from Schagen, 45km (30 miles) north of Amsterdam, plans to set sail in September through the interior waters of the Netherlands.
Johan's Ark is a fifth of the size of Noah's and will carry farmyard animals.
Mr Huibers, who plans to open the vessel as a religious monument and zoo, hopes the project will renew interest in Christianity in the Netherlands.
Although Mr Huibers has tried to remain true to the ark described in the Bible, Johan's Ark is constructed with American cedar and Norwegian pine, rather than "gopher wood".
'Smell of dung'
According to Genesis, Noah kept seven pairs of most domesticated animals, and one breeding pair of all other creatures.
Noah's wife, three sons and three daughters-in-law lived together on the boat for almost a year while the world was flooded.
Mr Huibers' vision is more modest - he said he plans to stock his ark with horses, lambs, chickens and rabbits - mostly baby animals to save space.
"This will speak very much to children, because it will give them something tangible to see that Noah's Ark really existed," Mr Huibers told the Associated Press news agency.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be just under 1m euros (Ł0.7m; US$1.2m) and was funded with bank loans.
Mr Huibers plans to charge people to tour the boat and said a drink and religious pamphlet will be included in the admission price. At least 100,000 people will need to visit for the project to break-even financially.
Mr Huibers said his wife was not very keen on the idea.
"She always says: 'Why don't you go dig wells in Ethiopia?'," he said. "I've been involved in projects there before but she understands this is my dream."
The Onion March 29, 2006 | Issue 42•13
PORTLAND, OR—Alternative-medicine practitioner Annabeth Severin, a Portland-area acupuncturist and holistic healer, announced Tuesday that she is refusing to accept anything but conventional monetary compensation from her patients. "I'm sorry, but there just isn't any sound economic theory to support the idea that bartering or visualization of payment has the same effect as traditional cash or check up front," Severin said. Her customers are protesting her billing methods, saying that removing money from their accounts would be financially invasive and spiritually upsetting to their karmic and bank balances.
SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 23, 2006--On the 17th anniversary of Dr. Martin Fleischmann's first public revelation of room temperature, non-radioactive nuclear fusion, D2Fusion, Inc. is proud to announce Dr. Fleischmann's agreement to serve as its senior scientific advisor. D2Fusion, a California-based solid state fusion energy firm with engineering centers in Silicon Valley and Los Alamos, New Mexico, is a subsidiary of Solar Energy Limited (OTCBB:SLRE). The company will employ Dr. Fleischmann's experience and expertise to produce prototypes of solid state fusion heating modules for homes and industry.
In brief, "cold fusion" involves the fusion of two nuclei of deuterium or heavy hydrogen into a single helium atom accompanied only by a burst of heat. Unlike "thermonuclear hot fusion" that requires the plasma-inducing inferno of the sun or a hydrogen bomb, solid state fusion reactions can be produced at normal temperatures in certain hydrogen-loving metals without unleashing hot fusion's dangerous radiation. Many experimental reports suggest the importance of nanoscale reaction sites and the occurrence of coherent quantum electrodynamic (QED) states that circumvent the strong mutual repulsion of positively charged deuterium nuclei. The QED features are markedly similar to processes now familiar in solid state physics, such as superconductivity, and have led the company to conclude that "solid state fusion" is a more accurate and fruitful characterization of the field.
Before Professor Fleischmann's historic work at Utah University with his associate Dr. Stanley Pons, he taught electrochemistry at Britain's MIT, the University of Southampton; was named a Fellow of the Royal Society; and served as Council president of the International Society of Electrochemistry. Initially inspired by Alfred Coehn's groundbreaking work on proton conduction in the late 1920s, Dr. Fleischmann labored privately and tirelessly in the early eighties to deepen his understanding of quantum electrodynamics, which he came to see should allow low temperature coherent fusion phenomena. After his demonstration of this effect in Utah and the March '89 announcement, he continued his QED work in France funded by Toyota's research and development institute and subsequently in Italy with the support of several prestigious Italian energy labs. At D2Fusion Prof. Fleischmann will work in conjunction with Dr. Thomas Passell, the firm's CTO and a former manager in the Electric Power Research Institute's Nuclear Power Division, who directed the North American power industry's investigations of "cold fusion" phenomena for five years. Fleischmann will also aid and consult with top Los Alamos physicists at D2Fusion's New Mexico R&D laboratory.
D2Fusion CEO Russ George notes, "Dr. Fleischmann's genius inspired a generation of audacious researchers and there are now thousands of scientific reports confirming the reality, safety and stunning promise of solid state fusion energy. Aided by his insight and most recent discoveries, we believe it is time to start delivering that potential to the world.
"True, our theoretical grasp of all the processes in play remains imperfect, but neither can we fully explain the workings of aspirin, acupuncture or high temperature superconductivity. Unresolved questions about their mechanisms have not stopped us from enjoying their respective benefits, which are pale indeed compared to what solid state fusion offers. We are now certain that heat generation from this process is copious, safe, inexpensive and reproducible, and in terms of commercialization that seems like a perfect place to start."
A number of assertions in this press release may be considered to be forward-looking statements made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties, including timely development, and market acceptance of products and technologies, competitive market conditions, and the ability to secure additional sources of financing. The actual results Solar Energy Limited may achieve could differ materially from any forward-looking statements due to such risks and uncertainties.
W. David Kubiak, 650-638-1976
March 28, 2006
Science education is under attack again. And this time, it's not in Kansas, Utah or other distant, faraway lands; it's right at home. Last month, two bills were introduced in the Maryland General Assembly attacking the teaching of evolution and other scientific theories in public schools and universities, including this university, and permitting the teaching of Intelligent Design Creationism.
House Bill 1228, introduced by Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D-District 10), ostensibly outlaws the teaching of IDC in science classes, but at the same time, requires the State Board of Education to "permit the teaching or discussion of the theory of intelligent design in humanities or philosophy classes." In addition, it requires funding be provided to develop an IDC curriculum and instructional materials.
House Bill 1531, introduced by the same delegate, states that public school teachers and college professors "shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning." This bill adapts language from a proposed addition to the No Child Left Behind Act by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) that was struck down before the act was passed.
If these bills seem very confusing and possibly contradictory, it's because they are. After the defeat in Dover, Penn., elected officials wishing to see their religious views taught in public schools are forced to be very sneaky in trying to get their attacks on science to pass constitutional rules. But don't let the wording fool you; as Judge Jones ruled in Dover, it's the intent behind these bills that really matters, and the real intent is anything but secular.
The First Amendment to the Constitution was enacted to ensure the separation of church and state and protect religious freedom. Because HB1228 requires the state to spend money on religious instructional materials, it is crossing the barrier between church and state.
The wording of the phrase "full range of scientific views" is specially concerning because IDC does not actually fall within the realm of science. Despite the public controversy manufactured by right-wing think tanks such as the Discovery Institute, there is no real scientific controversy over the basic validity of the theory of evolution. The word theory means something entirely different in the scientific realm than it does in colloquial usage. Gravity is also "just a theory," but you wouldn't walk out of a skyscraper window, now would you?
These latest bills introduced into the Maryland legislature are nothing more than the latest in a series of attempts to attack science education and illegally insert religious teachings into the curriculum. It was shot down in the late 1980s with "creation science," and we're now seeing it again with "intelligent design," which merely replaces the word "God" with "intelligent designer." It's still no more scientific. At best, it's a weak philosophical conjecture, though some philosophy professors might resent the association.
There are movements against this latest round of anti-science legislation. A petition is being circulated by the Alliance for Science (allianceforscience.org). The National Center for Science Education (ncseweb.org) provides in-depth information about the defense of teaching evolution in public schools.
Fundamentalist Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible have every right to their beliefs — but they do not have the right to force their views into public schools, where they will be foisted upon kids who don't hold the same religious views. Religious instruction should remain in churches and secular private schools and should not interfere with the teaching of real science in public schools and universities. When we allow religion to pre-empt science we all lose.
Ben McIlwain is a junior astronomy major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Graduate Student "X" Published 3/27/2006 12:07:14 AM
Prior to last Friday, the famous pro-life philosopher Francis Beckwith was at the pinnacle of his career. His latest book had been accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press, one of the most prestigious academic publishers in the world. The deal with Cambridge was the capstone on several years of prolific publishing in an impressive variety of journals. In an academic world that is feared by many young faculty for its "publish or perish" reputation, Professor Beckwith had nothing to worry about. He'd published...and published...and published.
Tenure was surely a foregone conclusion. Or was it?
Last Friday, we found out just how ugly the politics of the university can get. Francis Beckwith received formal notification that his tenure had been denied by Baylor University. The word that came to the lips of everyone I spoke to on Friday and over the weekend was the same: injustice. Rank injustice.
When I first heard the news I experienced for the first time what is known as cognitive dissonance. I couldn't hold the two ideas in my mind. Professor Beckwith. Denied tenure. It was impossible to believe. There were people who told me it could happen, but I discounted the notion. After all, even political enemies have consciences, right? They have some commitment to integrity, don't they?
I'm a lot less naive about human nature today than I was on Friday morning. Now I understand why my conservative and Christian friends are so hesitant to write anything for publication using their real names. I've taken it up myself. Starting today.
Some who read this story will wonder whether there is some other serious weakness that has resulted in Beckwith's being denied tenure. The publication record is one of the best on campus. The teaching evaluations were good.
Many suspect that if the university ever issues a justification for its actions, "collegiality" will have been the all-important factor. If so, I hope the always active Baylor chapter of the American Association of University Professors will leap to Dr. Beckwith's defense. After all, the AAUP has had occasion to address the prejudicial use of "collegiality" in tenure decisions before:
Historically, "collegiality" has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm. The invocation of "collegiality" may also threaten academic freedom. In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display "enthusiasm" or "dedication," evince "a constructive attitude" that will "foster harmony," or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member's right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.
A distinct criterion of collegiality also holds the potential of chilling faculty debate and discussion. Criticism and opposition do not necessarily conflict with collegiality. Gadflies, critics of institutional practices or collegial norms, even the occasional malcontent, have all been known to play an invaluable and constructive role in the life of academic departments and institutions. They have sometimes proved collegial in the deepest and truest sense. Certainly a college or university replete with genial Babbitts is not the place to which society is likely to look for leadership. It is sometimes exceedingly difficult to distinguish the constructive engagement that characterizes true collegiality from an obstructiveness or truculence that inhibits collegiality. Yet the failure to do so may invite the suppression of dissent. The very real potential for a distinct criterion of "collegiality" to cast a pall of stale uniformity places it in direct tension with the value of faculty diversity in all its contemporary manifestations.
In short, it is likely that "collegiality" is often a code for unjustified discrimination or the practice of ruthless politics.
Beckwith was one of a new breed of scholars brought to Baylor by Robert Sloan, Baylor's former president. Sloan was a key architect of Baylor's vision for Christian academic excellence and the move toward true research university status. Rather than being a less well-funded version of the University of Texas with a vaguely parochial identity, Baylor would stand as a real alternative, a daring affirmative statement of the broad intellectual horizons of the Christian faith. Disgruntled veteran faculty managed to push Sloan out, but the embattled president and others believed that the school would continue along the path upon which he had set it. The chairman of the Board of Regents, presumably speaking for a majority of board members, proclaimed that message when, early last year, Sloan announced his resignation.
Those of us who cared about seeing the vision fulfilled watched hopefully to see what would happen next. We knew we'd discover the real score when Francis Beckwith's tenure came up for review. Out of the class of faculty members under consideration, he was the best-known and the most public symbol of Sloan's vision. Either the university would allow those who pushed Robert Sloan out to take further revenge on one of his prize academic recruits or it would ensure that the decision was made objectively and fairly based on job performance. Regrettably, we now know which path Baylor chose. Permission for political retribution granted.
This is a story that deserves to have legs. Baylor is experiencing cognitive dissonance of its own. The university claims to be committed to the integration of faith and learning and to upholding and expanding the best traditions of Christian scholarship. At the same time, it allows a faction of disgruntled faculty who deny the possibility of the above project to exert brute political force over decisions like the tenure of Francis Beckwith. The two ideas can't coexist. Frank Beckwith is an outstanding Christian scholar. He's an outstanding scholar period. If there's not room for him at Baylor, then the dream is dead on arrival.
Graduate Student "X" attends Baylor University. He is working earnestly to improve his collegiality levels in the hope that he will someday enjoy academic freedom.
Posted 3/26/2006 7:29 PM Updated 3/27/2006 9:53 AM
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Is the world ready for The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Will its revelations — that pirates control global warming, that there's a beer volcano in heaven, and that superstition trumps science every time — overwhelm religious belief for all mankind?
Worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — "Pastafarianism" as it is known to its adherents — began as a whimsical side dish in last year's standoff between advocates of evolution and intelligent design. FSM, as it is known to its followers, took shape in a protest letter to Kansas officials who were embroiled in a controversy about how to teach students about the origins of life. The parody religion leapt from those pages to become an Internet phenomenon, finding fans among supporters of the theory of evolution —— and receiving e-mailed threats of bodily harm from evolution's opponents.
"I wrote the letter for my own amusement as much as anything. And it totally snowballed. Some people say I'm going to hell," says FSM's 25-year-old creator, Bobby Henderson, who recently moved from Oregon to Arizona, partly to escape the uproar. But his paperback testament, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ($13.95, Villard), which arrives Tuesday, reveals the tenets of the parody religion. A few of them:
• A "Flying Spaghetti Monster" created the universe, Earth and its creatures, making a few mistakes on the way after drinking heavily from heaven's beer volcano.
• The FSM hid dinosaur fossils underground to "dupe mankind" about Earth's true age and is the secret force behind gravity, pushing everything downward with its "noodly appendage."
• The FSM wants everyone to talk and dress like pirates. Global warming is considered a punishment for the relative scarcity of pirates these days.
• Every Friday is a sloth-filled holy day. Instead of "amen," devotees end missives with "R'amen," in honor of the college student's favorite noodle fare.
"The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a kind of particularly amusing shell fired off in the ongoing culture wars," says Arizona State University's Lance Gharavi, an editor of The Journal of Religion and Theater. "Ultimately, it is an argument about the arbitrariness of holding any one view of creation."
The FSM was born in a satirical letter Henderson sent last year to the Kansas Board of Education, which voted to teach alternatives to evolution in high school science classes. The vote was heralded as a victory for proponents of "intelligent design," who see the hand of an intelligent force rather than natural selection in the evolution of mankind. Intelligent-design advocates such as Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe believe some biological structures, such as the wagging flagellum tail of some microbes, are too complex to have simply evolved.
Henderson applauded the board's openness to amending its science standards and called for the addition of pastafarianism to its curriculum. Henderson nominated a sentient spaghetti bowl as his intelligent designer and demanded equal time for his teaching.
This was set against the backdrop of a court battle and eventual ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones that intelligent design is warmed-over creationism and cannot be taught in a Pennsylvania school district, a victory for evolution advocates.
So the time was right for the divine entrée.
The noodly appendages reached for Internet fame last August, when the popular website BoingBoing.com offered a $250,000 prize to anyone who could "produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster."
The challenge satirized an earlier creationist award for empirical evidence of evolution and turned FSM into an Internet deity, one that now grandiloquently claims "10 million followers."
Henderson and his followers satirize creationism in often-tasteless japes, such as a claim that heaven has a stripper factory. Creationism holds that God created human beings in their present form exactly as described in the Bible, a belief held by 53% of people nationwide, according to a recent USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.
The FSM gospel contains its own creation myth, guides to propagandizing the faith (including a step-by-step guide to building your own flying spaghetti monster out of pipe cleaners), some pseudoscientific "proofs" of the FSM's existence and many pasta puns. "Some people like the noodle jokes," Henderson says.
"Clearly, (FSM) theology is ludicrous, but no more ludicrous than intelligent design," says Stephen Unwin, author of The Probability of God, a look at reconciling faith and reason. "Let's see how long it lasts. I doubt it is up to Christianity in its staying power."
The sublime and the serious
Henderson, who graduated in 2003 with a physics degree from Oregon State University, says he is as surprised as anyone. When asked whether a higher power is at work, he says, "maybe."
He wrote his letter to the Kansas school board because he sees the whole notion of "redefining science" to include a role for supernatural forces as destructive to science and society. "I don't have any problem with religion, but it is not science," Henderson says.
The FSM punctures one of intelligent design's selling points, Henderson says. People who are uncomfortable with both creationism and science can see intelligent design as a more reasonable alternative. Design advocates leave that guiding force creator unnamed. In this way, Henderson says, intelligent design leaves itself open to any creator, even a bowl of pasta.
"I don't know if (the FSM parody) makes a difference," Henderson says. "People who really need to get it aren't probably listening. But if anything, it might bring some awareness to undecided people out there."
Florida State University science philosopher Michael Ruse, a critic of creationism, doubts that parodies change anyone's mind about evolution. "However, sometimes parodies outlast the originals," he adds, pointing to the classic Alice in Wonderland, in many ways a poke at math and logic.
Joke religions are nothing new, of course. The "Church of the Sub-Genius" has mocked campus cults since the 1980s. More than 70,000 Australians declared themselves "Jedi" in their 2001 census. FSM follows in such traditions, Unwin says. "People look for humor out of frustration, when they run into beliefs they find impossible to credit."
But not everyone finds the FSM so amusing.
"It's too bad that they'll get attention for this sort of drivel when we have a robust scientific research program that the media doesn't seem to want to write much about," Discovery Institute spokesman Robert Crowther said in an e-mail interview. The Seattle-based institute is the leading think tank for intelligent-design advocates.
"I'm happy to say I think FSM hurts the evolutionists' program since, by mocking the Christian tradition ... it reinforces the correct impression that there is genuine contempt for biblical faith in that camp," says Mark Coppenger, a pastor who teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. "Besides, the parody is lame, and there are few things more encouraging than cheap shots from one's opponents."
The FSM also has brought Henderson death threats, which are posted on The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website (www.venganza.org ). "I'm not surprised," says Arizona State's Ghavari, pointing to the furor over Danish cartoons that sparked lethal riots in the Muslim world this year. "People have a strong reaction when you mock their beliefs."
"I never expected this thing to grow this big," Henderson says, pointing to the 2 million visits in three months his website picked up at the height of last year's intelligent-design ruckus.
"I'm still trying to get a pirate ship" with the gospel proceeds, Henderson says. He says he'll sail the world to find converts. And best of all, he says, as a religious leader, he'll be applying for tax-exempt status for his voyages.
Anti-religious Darwinists are promulgating a false dichotomy between faith and science that gives succour to creationists
Madeleine Bunting Monday March 27, 2006 The Guardian
On Wednesday evening, at a debate in Oxford, Richard Dawkins will be gathering the plaudits for his long and productive intellectual career. It is the 30th anniversary of his hugely influential book The Selfish Gene. A festschrift, How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think, has been published this month, with contributions from stars such as Philip Pullman.
A week ago it was the turn of the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, second only to Dawkins in the global ranking of contemporary Darwinians, to be similarly feted at a series of lectures and debates across the UK launching his book on religion, Breaking the Spell. The two make quite a team, each lavishing the other with generous praise as the philosopher Dennett brings to bear his discipline on the scientific findings of Dawkins.
The curious thing is that among those celebrating the prominence of these two Darwinians on both sides of the Atlantic is an unexpected constituency - the American creationist/intelligent-design lobby. Huh? Dawkins, in particular, has become their top pin-up.
How so? William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: "I know that you personally don't believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!"
But while Dembski, Dawkins and Dennett are sipping the champagne for their very different reasons, there is a party pooper. Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: "Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level." The nub of Ruse's argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: "If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool."
There's no room for complacency, urged Ruse over lunch in London last week. Last December's court ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in some Pennsylvania schools may have been a blow, but now the strategy of the creationist/intelligent-design lobby is to "chisel away at school-board level" across the US. The National Centre for Science Education believes that as many as 20% of US schools are teaching creationism in some form. Evolution is losing the battle, says Ruse, and it's the fault of Dawkins and Dennett with their aggressive atheism: they are the creationists' best recruiting sergeants.
Ruse has got to a reckless stage of his career. He prefaced the essay he submitted for Dawkins's festschrift with the above quote from Dembski and went on to declare that he "felt intensely irritated with Dawkins ... It's bad enough having to fight the enemy without having to watch my back because of my friends." The editors were horrified and ordered a more deferential rewrite - which Ruse duly provided.
Even more reckless, Ruse put on the net an email exchange between himself and Dennett in which he accused his adversary of being an "absolute disaster" and of refusing to study Christianity seriously: "It is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil." Dennett's reply was an opaque one line: "I doubt you mean all the things you say."
But Ruse has got a point. Across the US, the battle over evolution in science teaching goes on. Just in the past month there have been bills in state legislatures in New York, Mississippi, Nevada and Arkansas promoting intelligent design. Last November the Kansas education board promulgated a new definition of science that allowed for supernatural explanations of natural phenomena. A school district in Kansas rebelled last month, accusing their board of "an utterly false belief that evolutionary science and the scientific method is based on atheistic philosophy. Promoting this false conflict between science and faith erects unnecessary barriers." At the heart of many of these local controversies is the firmly held belief that Darwinism leads to atheism, indeed that it is atheism. Across the US, a crude and erroneous conflict is being created between science as atheism and religion.
It's important that Britain avoids the trap that America is falling into, not just because it endangers good science, but also because there is a fascinating debate worth having about what scientific method can reveal about faith, and what theologians have to say about science. A raft of disciplines, from evolutionary biology and psychology to anthropology, are generating new insights into this persistent human phenomenon, religious belief. In the best parts of his book Dennett draws on these, as does the scientist Lewis Wolpert in his new book, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Wolpert argues that the origins of religious belief are linked to our unique capacity to make tools; Dennett links it to a survival instinct to attribute agency to phenomena.
Both Dennett and Wolpert acknowledge that religion may have provided evolutionary advantages for humans. There's good evidence for faith improving mental health and optimism, and reducing stress; shamanism, with its placebo effect, was the best healthcare system for thousands of years. Dennett cites those who argue that faith improves cooperation within groups (though not between them). This argument raises the crucial question of whether, in an era of globalisation and limited resources, religion has outrun its evolutionary advantage.
This is the kind of conversation we want to have in this country, but we're not safe from American-style false dichotomies between faith and science yet (which would have particularly sharp consequences for the thousands of young Muslims in this country studying science). On the very day that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a useful and unequivocal intervention rejecting creationism, Charles Clarke, at a conference on faith and the state, was wobbling precariously on the proverbial pinhead: "in schools it's a good debate to have". Little did he realise that he was using a line straight out of the creationists' lobbying manual: "teach the controversy".
Let's be clear, Clarke is wrong - some debates are not worth having. No one argues that it's a useful project for year 10s to research flat-earth theories, so why intelligent design? But if we agree on that, then equally we can also agree that some debates are so corrupted by prejudice and ignorance that they are also not worth having.
All protagonists in a debate have a moral responsibility to ensure that the hot air they are expending generates light, not just heat. It's a point that escapes Dawkins. His book on religion, The God Delusion, is to be published this autumn. Dembski and the intelligent-design lobby must already be on their knees, thanking God.
Adrianne Appel for National Geographic News
March 27, 2006
More than a million ant specimens—meticulously dried, pinned, and identified—lie in wooden drawers in Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.
But these specimens are hardly gathering dust in their Cambridge, Massachusetts, home. The office of Edward Osborn Wilson—renowned scientist and author, father of sociobiology, and ant expert—is right down the hall.
Wilson's body of work is a product of unfailing energy and focus. As a young man he traveled through Europe visiting ant collections.
Then as a Harvard professor he spent years driven by what he calls "the amphetamine of ambition"—working 80-hour weeks, teaching, studying ants, and writing.
From his work in the field he has personally identified more than 400 new ant species.
Now in his late 70s, the man labelled "Darwin's Natural Heir" by Britain's Gaurdian newspaper has not slowed up his nearly lifelong pursuit of collecting and identifying ants, nor has he let the rest of his work lose steam.
In fact, the National Medal of Science winner, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of 22 books says he is stepping up the pace.
In addition to planned fieldwork, Wilson has been blazing through a series of book releases this year.
"I'm trying to get them out while I still have all my creative faculties," he said with a chuckle. "I'm 76 and I've decided to move it."
Author of Controversy
Wilson's name is tied to groundbreaking research and award-winning writings, but he is also no stranger to scientific controversy.
Most famously, Wilson first put forth the much-debated concept of sociobiology in 1975. This exploration of a biological basis of behavior has been met with both avid acclaim and piercing criticism.
For example, critics said that sociobiology would help some people justify aggressive behavior and would provide legitimacy to racism and sexism.
Wilson says he was misunderstood. His theory applies only to understanding how and why societies have evolved, not the way they should be structured, he says.
The author is now collaborating with his former colleague Bert Holldobler on a new sociobiology book to be called The Superorganism.
"We reexamine the whole concept of societies, especially insect societies and higher levels of biological organization, as seen from a modern perspective," Wilson said.
Despite his strong interest in conservation, Wilson has troubled some environmentalists by championing the use of genetically modified organisms, primarily as a tool to end hunger.
"I jumped right into that controversy … [and] at the end I saw the risks [of genetic modification] were manageable, maybe not as threatening as many people feared. The benefits for conservation and humanity far outweighed the risks."
Wilson's latest foray into scientific debate involves the battle over evolution.
His edited collection of Darwin's four most influential books, a compendium titled From So Simple a Beginning, recently hit store shelves.
"There is no question [Darwin's] body of work, pivoted by Origin of the Species, is the most important scientific work of all time," Wilson said.
"First and foremost, it turned out to be correct. Second, it changed everything. It changed our image of ourselves as a species."
(Read "Was Darwin Wrong? " from National Geographic magazine.)
In public presentations of From So Simple a Beginning, Wilson voices his concern about the popularity of intelligent design.
"The intelligent design argument consists of a default argument, that because biologists haven't explained all complex systems" they can be explained only by the existence of a godlike creator.
Nature: The Common Ground?
Wilson released two more books this spring and a third book, The Creation, is due out in September.
"[This upcoming book] is a call for an alliance between science and religion to save 'the creation'—biodiversity—which is going down the tubes rapidly," he said.
"The preservation of biodiversity is essential for the stable existence of the Earth and our species," he said.
Love of nature and a sense of responsibility for preserving it could be a critical common ground between science and religion, he believes.
"It's a quixotic idea that if we can bring the two most powerful forces together in common purpose, we just might actually get the job done."
Wilson says he can speak to both audiences, because he is a secular humanist who was raised a Southern Baptist.
Karl Giberson is editor-in-chief of Science and Spirit magazine, a publication that seeks to facilitate a dialogue between scientific and religious communities.
Giberson says he is skeptical that Wilson will be successful in convincing U.S. religious organizations, the majority of which are conservative, to listen to his plea.
"I applaud his initiative," Giberson said.
"[But] E. O. Wilson is a very prominent figure in the [human] origins debate. That huge conservative groundswell that wants creationism in the schools sees E. O. Wilson as one of the most prominent enemies they have."
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Mon, March 27, 2006
By SHARON LEM
Ginseng -- the pungent and controversial herb used in Chinese medicine -- may improve the survival rate and quality of life of breast cancer survivors, according to a study.
Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial herb whose roots have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for 2,000 years.
"Ginseng users had a better survivor rate than non-ginseng users, amounting to a 30% improvement three to four years later," said lead author Dr. Xiao-Ou Shu, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.
The findings suggest ginseng may provide benefits to breast cancer survivors, but there are limitations to the study. The types and the methods of ginseng use and the use of other complementary and alternative therapies could not be fully accounted for in the analysis.
"We feel the result is more preliminary and is something promising, but needs to be looked at in more depth," Shu said. "It's not an alternative medicine; it's complementary to conventional cancer treatment."
Ginseng contains more than 30 chemicals, called ginsenoside, which have anti-tumour effects in cell culture and animal studies, suggesting that the herbs may provide specific benefits to cancer patients.
In fact, ginseng use has been increasing among cancer patients in recent years, particularly women diagnosed with breast cancer.
14 March 2006
Worried about the rise of creationism in UK schools? This teacher blames the timidity of the science establishment.
by David Perks
After the verdict went against the teaching of intelligent design in schools in Dover, Pennsylvania, you could be forgiven for thinking that the argument for teaching creationism was on the decline (1). However, in the UK the educational establishment seems hell-bent on introducing those very same ideas into all state schools.
As reported in The Times (London) on Friday, the OCR examination board has included a comparative study of creationist views on evolution alongside those of Darwin (2). But should we be surprised to see ideas promoted by the religious right in the USA dished up to schoolkids in Britain?
Even a cursory look at the new science GCSE is enough to give anyone pause for thought. As I have argued in the Times Educational Supplement, the new curriculum is riddled with ideas that have little to do with a formal scientific education and more to do with a sociological critique of science (3). It seems that the science education lobby is determined to undermine the idea that scientific knowledge has any objective basis in reality.
The agenda for reform of the science curriculum in UK schools is dominated by the view that formal science education is not important for the majority of children. Instead, the argument goes, children need to be taught to question the basis of scientific knowledge rather than just accept it as fact. This might sound like a good way to foster an intellectually independent mind. However, it is more likely to amplify young people's cynicism towards science in the school laboratory.
The same sociological critique of science that is driving the reform of science education here was used to defend the teaching of intelligent design in the Dover court case. Steve Fuller, professor of sociology at Warwick University, argued on behalf of the intelligent design lobby (4). Fuller believes Darwinism has had it all its own way for too long.
As Fuller sees it, Darwinism is being taught as dogma and intelligent design acts as a 'critical foil' to those ideas. To him, teaching intelligent design in US schools is the lesser of two evils, if it allows pupils to question the domination of the established scientific community when it comes to understanding evolution. For Fuller and other cultural critics of science, the loss of scientific objectivity is a small price to pay for a chance to undermine the dominance of the scientific elite.
This gives the lie to the idea that the attack on Darwinism is the product of a right-wing conspiracy to infiltrate mainstream education with Christian morality. Despite the work done to uncover the 'wedge' strategy of the intelligent design lobby in the USA, teachers would do well to look at the scientific and educational elites before looking for fundamentalist Christians under the bed (5).
The fact that the Discovery Institute and others in the USA are actively promoting an attack on science and its materialist philosophy should not scare us. They claim to be targeting the weak points in science's own arguments. This would only be of concern if science could not substantiate its argument. If the argument for evolution did not stand up it would deserve criticism - in fact, the strength of the claims made against Darwinian evolution is weak and unsubstantiated (6).
Standing up for science means winning the argument for progress
Far more serious is the turn away from science both here and in the USA. The inability of governments to counter panics about the use of science and technology - whether it is the scare over the MMR vaccination or the need for stem-cell research - suggests that the argument for science has been lost within the establishment itself. Despite an obvious need to maintain science as a cornerstone of modern technological advance, governments have fallen back into discussing science through the prism of risk and the precautionary principle.
This allows the cultural critics of science to repose the scientific establishment as an elite who are deaf to the concerns of the public. The collapse of the notion of scientific expertise, once highly regarded in the West, is now contrasted to the cultural claims of different groups within society, whose claims on knowledge are seen as more important than upholding scientific truth as a vehicle for progress. Thus we find ourselves not only witnessing the US establishment ditching its faith in science in favour of its Christian constituency, but also in Britain there is a growing recognition of the need to respect Muslim beliefs.
But what escapes most commentators is that both Muslim and Christian views on Darwinism are a recent product of the attack on scientific certainty in the West. The anti-Darwinian views of Muslims are not a product of the Koran. Instead, they are a product of the same left-wing critique of scientific elitism which has predominated in Western universities for the past 20 or so years.
The intelligent design movement arose from the collapse of attempts to push 'young earth' creationism into US schools in the 1990s (7). The proponents of intelligent design consciously adopted the tactics of the cultural critics of science by presenting their own argument for teaching scientific uncertainty. Despite their hostility towards each other, the similarity between the Muslim and Christian attacks on Darwinism belies their common roots. The attack on science is a product of Western anti-elitist politics.
It is the argument between the proponents of science and its cultural relativist critics in the UK and the USA that should be our real target. Unless scientists and teachers can re-establish a sense of science as a progressive social project, we will not be able to halt the slide. Standing up for science now means being prepared to win the arguments for progress with those who want to accept muddle-headed semi-religious ideas in its place rather than dismissing them.
On this point, I agree with Steve Fuller rather than Richard Dawkins. Lambasting religion as being the source of all evil will win no-one to the cause of science. Instead, we need to understand why people think science has lost its relevance to them, and challenge the idea that science is an elitist tool of domination.
David Perks has taught science for 20 years and is currently head of physics in a large comprehensive school in Tooting, South London.
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Two books appear this week espousing the theory that the universe is the product of intelligent design by a large entity composed of pasta. "The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," written by the movement's leader Bobby Henderson, is being published by Villard Books. A second title, "God Speaks! The Flying Spaghetti Monster In His Own Words," is being self-published through Lulu.com by author Jon Smith (www.lulu.com/stress).
Chicago, IL (PRWEB) March 15, 2006 -- The simultaneous publication of two books advancing the idea that the universe was created by an entity composed primarily of pasta may indicate a dramatic schism in one of the world's newest religions. "God Speaks! The Flying Spaghetti Monster In His Own Words," by Jon Smith (www.lulu.com/stress ), appears on Lulu.com, a self-publishing site for print-on-demand books, on the same day that a book by the movement's founder arrives in bookstores across the nation.
The publication of Smith's book coincides with the publication of the first book by the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) movement's founder, Bobby Henderson, as well as with a growing debate over the teaching of intelligent design as a scientific theory.
The competing titles reflect the growth of a cult-like Internet following of the FSM theory espoused by Henderson, an Oregon physics graduate and self-appointed head of a movement known as Pastafarianism, which posits that the universe was created by a creature comprised largely of noodles.
Henderson's book, "The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," being published today by Villard Books, may herald the arrival of an influential voice within the intelligent design debate plaguing school systems across the U.S. The publication of the competing title by Jon Smith, however, offers evidence that this belief system, like many before it, may well be headed toward rapid fragmentation.
Smith, who claims to be a supporter of Henderson, nevertheless employs in his book a practice nowhere sanctioned on Henderson's official FSM web site (www.venganza.org ). In an attempt to make what he describes as "deeply spiritual points through humor," Smith records a series of anagrams accompanied by illuminating commentary. Examples of these "Spaghettigrams," generated by rearranging the letters present in the phrase "Love and the Flying Spaghetti Monster," suggest at best a cautious view of human affection:
· "Top-heavy, handsomest, negligent flirt" · "Test-driving of shapely, hot gentleman" · "God-given nymph of stealthier talents"
Smith's goal in the book, as he describes it, is undoubtedly ambitious -- "to inspire those of all beliefs to put aside the superficial prejudices, distorted thinking, and superstition that can cloud one's vision and interfere with authentic spirituality." Whether or not the FSM movement, which has lobbied to be considered by school boards alongside other theories of intelligent design, will embrace Smith's ideas remains to be seen.
Jon Smith is Dr. Jonathan C. Smith, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor of Psychology at Chicago's Roosevelt University, and Founding Director of the Roosevelt University Stress Institute. Dr. Smith has published 15 books and more than three dozen articles on stress, relaxation, and meditation.
About Lulu: Lulu.com, the world's largest site for publishing print-on-demand books, also allows you to publish your own ebooks, calendars, images, music and videos at no advance cost.
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Dr. Jonathan C. Smith is a leading authority on stress, relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness. He is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor of Psychology at Chicago's Roosevelt University, and Founding Director of the Roosevelt University Stress Institute. Dr. Smith has published 15 books and more than three dozen articles on stress, relaxation, and meditation. He has taught his approaches to thousands and has served as consultant for government, business, educational, medical, and health organizations in the US, Canada, Spain, France, India, Germany, and the People's Republic of China. Dr. Smith also publishes humorous writing under the pen name Jon Smith.
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March 15, 2006, 04:20 AM MST
A proponent of intelligent design says public school textbooks are full of lies, and he's come to Lansing to spread the word. Grady McMurtry calls himself a "biblical scientist." That means he doesn't believe in the scientific theory of evolution. McMurtry says, as a student, he was taught evolution and believed in it, but he says critical thinking changed his mind and that's what he hopes will happen with other students.
Grady McMurtry, intelligent design proponent: "I would suggest to you that we need to teach scientifically creation versus evolution with equal emphasis, no religion, and allow students to decide for themselves."
McMurtry says he's taken his message to five continents and will continue his education campaign until public school systems start teaching creation along with evolution.
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Thursday, March 16, 2006
A meat-eating little dinosaur, barely 30 inches long, that chased its prey through the swamplands of ancient Europe 150 million years ago has raised puzzling new questions about the evolution of feathers on the ancestors of modern birds.
The beautifully preserved fossil remains of a creature called Juravenator starki, discovered in a famous limestone quarry in southeastern Germany, appear to be of a youngster whose scaly skin shows no sign of feathers. Yet, it is closely related to a dinosaur clan whose members all bore feathers, and one of whom was Archaeopteryx, the world's first bird.
Virtually all dinosaur researchers hold that today's birds are in fact modern dinosaurs -- the only members of the line still living after all other dinosaurs went extinct some 65 million years ago. But the apparent absence of feathers in a member of a feathered tribe could force scientists to reconsider the entire timetable of their evolution, according to researchers who have studied the creature.
Scientists considering the evolution of feathered dinosaurs have thought that feathers evolved in the group only once. But the latest discovery could lead researchers to consider that feathers may have evolved again and again through time -- or that this Juravenator's feathered ancestors lost their plumage as they evolved.
A report on this curious fossil is being published today in the journal Nature by Luis Chiappe of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and Ursula Gohlich of Germany's University of Munich.
The region where the fossil was found around the town of Solnhofen near Munich is famed for its limestone formations that hold particularly well-preserved fossils of all sorts of primitive creatures from the Jurassic period of Earth's history -- jellyfish, beetles, crocodiles and all the many known specimens of the famous Archaeopteryx, first discovered there in 1863.
An entire group of feathered dinosaurs known as coelurosaurs has been discovered in China. Although their fossils indicate that, except for Archaeopteryx, they could not fly, some may have been able to glide, paleontologists believe. The newly described Juravenator was a member of the coelurosaur group.
"Our Juravenator is very similar to the first Chinese feathered dinosaurs," Chiappe said, "but why it should have no feathers is the mystery. It may be that in the course of evolution, some dinosaurs might have developed feathers and then lost them, or feathers on dinosaurs might have evolved at two different times."
He and Gohlich concede that their juvenile dinosaur might have grown feathers as it grew older, or even at different seasons of the year, but they maintain that's unlikely.
Complex timetables are by no means unknown in evolution, Chiappe noted. Snakes, for example, are reptiles that lost their limbs at some point during their evolution, and while almost all mammals have hair, whales do not. Perhaps their ancestors lost their hair when they moved from land to the sea, Chiappe said.
"Now we have to think that our ideas (about feathered dinosaurs) have been too simplistic," Chiappe said. "As we learn more about these animals of millions of years ago, we find that the course of evolution becomes more complicated than we thought. The more we learn about these small Jurassic meat-eating dinosaurs, the more we can learn about the origin of birds."
At UC Berkeley, Kevin Padian, a noted expert on dinosaur evolution, said that "it's wonderful to have an entirely new dinosaur" from the region where Juravenator was found. But he noted that although many of its relatives had already evolved feathers by the time Juravenator lived, "we shouldn't make too much of this apparent absence of featherlike structures on this specimen."
"After all, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, just evidence of nonpreservation. The feathers could have been present at different life stages or different seasons of the year. We just don't know, so that means it's still a good question."
The name Juravenator refers to the Jura Mountains of Bavaria where the fossil was found, and starki refers to the Stark family that owns the fossil-bearing limestone quarry. It was discovered about 10 years ago, but took many years to prepare because of the extremely hard limestone encasing the fossil, Chiappe said.
E-mail David Perlman at email@example.com. The Sunday Times March 26, 2006 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2104024,00.html
Science accuses BBC of medical quackery
Lois Rogers, Social Affairs Editor
SOME of Britain's leading scientists have accused the BBC of "quackery" by misleading viewers in an attempt to exaggerate the power of alternative medicine.
The criticisms centre on Alternative Medicine, a series broadcast on BBC2 in January, in which some of the most memorable scenes included open-heart surgery apparently carried out using acupuncture as an anaesthetic.
In another episode, brain images of patients undergoing acupuncture were claimed to show that the procedure had an effect on the parts of the brain that experience pain.
This weekend scientists turned on the programme's producers, accusing them of distorting science in an attempt to present an unjustifiably positive image of complementary therapies. "They are peddling quack science," said David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London.
The most serious accusation concerns the BBC's presentation of the anaesthetic powers of acupuncture. A heart patient underwent surgery in a Chinese hospital with a number of acupuncture needles stuck into her body.
Critics say that the needles could be credited with little real effect because the patient was also receiving three powerful conventional sedatives — midazolam, droperidol and fentanyl — along with large volumes of local anaesthetic injected into her chest.
Simon Singh, a scientist who has produced BBC Tomorrow's World and Horizon programmes, condemned the exercise as a memorable bit of television which was "emotionally powerful but scientifically meaningless".
The series was viewed by 3.8m people and presented by Kathy Sykes, professor of public understanding of science at Bristol University. During the acupuncture episode, Sykes said: "We've got to be scientific and rigorous and plan it really carefully," adding later: "The bit of the brain that helps us decide whether something is painful, we think perhaps is being affected by acupuncture."
The key critics include two scientific advisers to the series: Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University; and George Lewith, director of the centre for the study of complementary medicine at Southampton University.
Lewith, an expert on the effects of acupuncture, said in an interview yesterday: "The experiment was not groundbreaking; its results were sensationalised. It was oversold and over-interpreted. Proper scientific qualifications that might suggest alternative interpretations of the data appear to have been edited out of the programme."
It was made in conjunction with an Open University alternative medicine course, prompting scientists to complain that a wave of "anti-science" is affecting not only the BBC but many universities as well.
Ernst yesterday released the contents of a letter that he has written to Martin Wilson, the series producer, criticising him for promoting "US-style anti-science".
He said he felt "abused" by the programme makers: "It was as if they had instructions from higher up that this had to be a happy story about complementary medicine without any complexity, and they used me to give a veneer of respectability."
Ernst also said: "The BBC decided to do disturbingly simple story lines with disturbingly happy endings."
Two other programmes in the series — discussing faith healing and herbalism — were also criticised.
"It was the programme on herbal medicines which really got me going most," said Colquhoun. "It is as if evidence-based medicine and reason started to go out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s and mysticism came in. We have to bring reason back."
Colquhoun also warned that an unproven herbal treatment for Aids called sutherlandia is being promoted on the internet after it was featured in a programme discussing alternative herbal medicines.
He added that a gathering of members of the Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific body, is to be convened next month to promote the merits of conventional science.
The scientists will call on Lord Rees, the society's president, to take a leading role. They will raise concerns that more than 50 universities now offer three-year bachelor of science degrees in alternative medicine.
"This is no longer a fringe game played by new age people," said Colquhoun. "It is beginning to erode intellectual standards at real universities."
Despite the criticisms, the BBC is understood to be in the process of commissioning a further series.
A spokesman said yesterday: "We take these allegations very seriously and we strongly refute them. We used two scientific consultants for the series, Professor Ernst and Jack Tinker, dean emeritus of the Royal Society of Medicine, both of whom signed off the programme scripts. It seems extremely unusual that Professor Ernst should make these comments so long after the series has aired."
The spokesman said Tinker had indicated he remained happy with the tone and content of the films, stating: "Fellow medics at the Royal Society, including one eminent professor, said it was the best medical series they had seen on television."
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Posted: March 25, 2006 1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Lynn Barton © 2006 WorldNetDaily.com
Last year, the intelligent design movement burst onto the national scene, causing all manner of outrage from the guardians of science and right thinking. All the major media covered this upstart idea challenging Darwinian evolution's theory of the origin of life. Everybody has been piling on, even conservative pundits like George Will and Charles Krauthammer. The cultural elites were appalled when the yahoos on the Kansas Board of Education voted to "teach the controversy" to high-school students. In Dover, Pa., a judge outlawed the mere mention of I.D. theory in school science classes. Like a fierce game of whack-a-mole, wherever I.D.'s politically incorrect head pops up, its opponents rush to smack it back down.
I am enjoying all this tremendously. What makes it so much fun to watch is that so far not one of the critics understands it. Without exception, they simply dismiss I.D. theory as nothing more than stealth religion – creationism by another name. They say that all I.D. does is insert God to explain what science has not yet figured out.
While they all lose their collective minds about it, warning darkly that the fundamentalists are coming, support for I.D. theory will continue to grow because it is good science. I want to explain why, so that when you hear the intelligentsia loudly denouncing it, you, too, can have a good laugh. Even better, you will understand why intelligent design theory is going to become a major force for good in the battle to rescue our collapsing culture – because the way we think about origins affects the way we think about nearly everything. (More on that later.)
Meanwhile, the debate rages on, all the while opponents keep insisting there is no debate.
Despite its pretensions to objectivity, science has always been political. That's why scientific revolutions have often met initially with resistance and ridicule, because the old order stands to lose if the new becomes accepted. But the great thing about science is that eventually the weight of evidence breaks through. Think Galileo (opposed not only by the church but by fellow academics), or Lister (ridiculed for disinfecting surgical rooms to prevent infection), or the Wright Brothers (man will never fly). So all this hand wringing about intelligent design is a good sign that the revolution is under way. The old order is being challenged, and they are freaking out.
I.D. not religion
First, what I.D. theory is not: It is not creationism. Full disclosure here: I am a creationist. As a Christian, I believe God is the author of life. But I.D. theory is a science-driven enterprise. It is not a deduction from Scripture but an inference from observation. It says that the intricate design found in living things and in the universe itself is best explained by an intelligent cause. Darwinism, on the other hand, says that undirected natural processes led life to arise spontaneously; then evolution by natural selection (survival of the fittest) resulted in living things that appear to be designed, but really aren't. The question boils down to this: When considered objectively, where does the evidence actually lead?
Drawing heavily on Nancy Pearcey's great apologetic book "Total Truth," I'm going to focus on two of the most powerful arguments for intelligent design. Her book contains many more. I wish every Christian (and every thinking person) would read her masterful defense of Christianity as total truth about all of reality. But just reading this column will make you far more knowledgeable about I.D. than nearly all of its opponents.
It's true that by far the dominant theory of origins is the evolutionary one. It goes something like this: It all began billions of years ago in some sort of chemical soup (a "warm little pond," as Darwin put it) which, when zapped with an energy source, led to the chance formation of amino acids. These acids somehow self-organized into proteins and then morphed into the first living cell. All living things descended from that first cell, evolving from simple into increasingly complex organisms, all the way up to man.
Just one problem
In Darwin's time this was easier to imagine, because it was thought that cells were mere blobs of protoplasm. It fit in nicely with his idea that life could have first appeared as a simple cell. There's just one problem. We now know that there is no such thing as a "simple" cell. Recent advances in microbiology have demonstrated that the cell is literally a miniature factory town, with its own chemical library containing blueprints that are copied and transported to molecular assembly lines that manufacture everything the cell needs. Nancy Pearcey compares it to "… a large and complex model train layout, with tracks crisscrossing everywhere, its switches and signals perfectly timed so that no trains collide and the cargo reaches its destination precisely when needed."
Just one cell is vastly more complex than anything ever created by human engineering. And your body contains 300 trillion of them, each one "knowing" exactly what it is supposed to do within itself and in relation to all the other cells.
Microbiologist Michael Behe has coined the term "irreducible complexity" to describe this. That is, the cell consists of coordinated, interlocking parts that must all be in place simultaneously, or it won't function at all. You can't improve the cell through one random mutation at a time because if you change any one aspect, the whole thing will crash. For evolutionary change to occur, every single piece of its Rube Goldberg-like factory would have to mutate at exactly the same time, and each single mutation would have to be beneficial, or the cell would just die.
Darwin himself understood what today's evolutionists refuse to admit:
"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
That is exactly what Behe has done. As Pearcey puts it:
"An aggregate structure, like a pile of sand, can be built up gradually by simply adding a piece at a time. ... By contrast, an organized structure, like the inside of a computer, is built up according to a pre-existing blueprint."
Since living systems are organized wholes, they had to have been put together in the first place by a pre-existing design.
Darwinists cannot explain irreducible complexity. They keep saying that it poses no problem for evolution, as if repetition would make it so. They insist that just because we don't yet understand how evolution can work in light of this doesn't mean that we won't figure it out eventually. But they will never figure it out, because irreducible complexity makes evolutionary change at the cellular level logically impossible.
(Note: Natural selection clearly occurs within species as an adaptive mechanism. I.D. theory does not deny or even address this, nor does it address the question of whether natural selection could lead to the development of entirely new species. I.D. theory is concerned with the origin of life only.)
Not by chance
Even more powerful evidence comes from the genetic code. DNA is a kind of language consisting of four chemical "letters" that combine into an astonishing variety of sequences to spell out a message. It contains a mind-boggling amount of information. Where did it come from?
Darwinists say that DNA resulted from chance mutations operated on by natural selection. Really? As theologian Norm Geisler quipped:
"If you came into the kitchen and saw the alphabet cereal spilled out on the table, and it spelled out your name and address, would you think the cat knocked the cereal box over?"
In fact, chance events tend to scramble information, like typos in a page of text. Even if some kind of more complex molecule somehow did appear in the supposed chemical soup, the same random processes that produced it would continue to insert "typos," soon scrambling any coherent message that might have occurred. Again, it's not that we don't yet understand how chance could create complex information; it's that in principle this cannot happen.
Nor by physical law
If chance cannot do it, perhaps some yet-undiscovered physical law can. That's what scientists excited about complexity theory are hoping. They are studying self-organizing structures like snowflakes and crystals, searching for clues to how similar natural processes might also give rise to the complex information found in DNA. But they won't find any.
That prediction stems not from ignorance or hubris, but from the nature of physical laws, which by definition are regular and repeatable. Those properties enable the brilliant engineering students at MIT to enjoy shoving a piano off seven story high Baker House roof every year. They know that gravity makes things fall, every time.
But the information found in DNA is quite different. When you decode one section it tells you nothing about what comes next. The letters are free to combine into an unimaginably vast quantity of information. By contrast, the physical laws being explored in complexity theory are simple instructions, able to create complex patterns but not much information – certainly not enough to account for the fact that each cell in your body contains more information than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
This is not at all like saying man will never fly because God didn't give him wings. It's not that I.D. theorists can't imagine how a physical law could create information. It's because in principle, law-like processes cannot generate complex information. Some things really are impossible.
Information, information, information
It turns out that life is not primarily about matter, but information. Commenting on the failed attempts to create life in the lab, astrophysicist Paul Davies writes:
"Trying to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube is like soldering switches and wires in an attempt to produce Windows 98. It won't work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual level."
Common sense tells us that information does not occur without an intelligence to organize it, any more than the hardware of a computer can create its own software. Even scientists know this. Otherwise, how could SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers ever hope to distinguish between radio signals generated by some natural process and those sent from the hoped-for aliens? Again, we see that the most plausible explanation for the information in DNA is an Intelligent Designer put it there.
But for Christians, we knew that, didn't we? "In the beginning was the Word (Logos)." Behind everything is the Logic, the Wisdom, the Intelligence of God.
Darwin's irony: cultural devolution
Currently, only a minority of scientists holds to intelligent design theory, but the number is growing. To date, over 400 scientists have signed a document entitled "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism." Many of these scientists are not Christian, and some are outright hostile to it, which is further evidence that I.D. is not religion. A scientific revolution is just beginning, but almost nobody recognizes it, least of all its opponents.
And not a moment too soon, since evolutionary theory did not stay in the scientific realm but oozed into all the sciences, the liberal arts and out into culture, with horribly destructive results. The biblical view of man as a spiritual being created in God's image has been replaced by the view that man is nothing more than a highly evolved animal struggling to survive in a meaningless universe. Scratch any social ill and you will find Darwinism underneath.
One of the worst consequences has been the devaluation of human life. It is no exaggeration to say that Darwinism has led to the killing of untold millions of human beings. To highlight just a few examples: eugenics (philosophical Darwinism) inspired Margaret Sanger to found Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion movement. Eugenics helped Hitler convince an entire country to follow him in his attempt to wipe out the "inferior" Jews, not to mention the toll in blood it took to stop him. These days Peter Singer, a Princeton professor of bioethics, advocates that parents be allowed to dispatch their imperfect infants up to 30 days after birth. The misguided "right to die" movement is rapidly becoming the "right to kill" movement, as last year we watched severely disabled (but not dying) Terri Schiavo starve to death by court order, while a large portion of the country approved of it. Meanwhile, more than a million babies continue to be aborted every year. None of these horrors could have occurred in a culture that understood each human life to be a unique creation of God, stamped with his image.
Darwinism is also behind the sexual revolution (just doing what comes naturally), radical feminism, family breakdown and normalization of homosexuality (gender roles are social constructs we can discard as we "evolve" as a society). Darwinism removed the foundation for a transcendent moral Truth that stands outside of our personal preference. Now we make it up as we go, "re-imagining" everything. Even many Christians consider their faith to be purely personal. It's "true for me, but maybe not for you." No wonder assertions that Jesus is the only way to God meet with such outrage. And why so-called progressives are deeply offended when Christians try to bring into the public square what they view as nothing more than our particular rabbit's foot. Rejection of God is the root cause of our cultural degradation, but Darwinism has been its indispensable support, giving intellectual cover for all the evil we want to do.
Reversing the damage
But intelligent design is on the move, and this is a great gift to everyone, especially Christians. It's only a matter of time before it becomes accepted as a legitimate competing theory of origins, and as it does it will unleash enormous changes for good, not only in science but all of culture – because if people understand that there is (or at least could be) a Designer, then we can once more ask, what is the purpose of that design? What are things for?
For example, conservatives and Christians are having a difficult time making the case against homosexual marriage. Thousands of years of exclusively heterosexual marriage mean nothing to those with a Darwinist worldview. Why, they are far more evolved than those benighted cultures in the misty past. To them, tradition is oppressive; destroying it is progress. Why shouldn't people be able to "love" whomever they want? How will it hurt your marriage?
The truth is that homosexual marriage is wrong because it violates God's design and purpose for us, with inevitably negative consequences. But for an exercise in frustration, just try to discuss design with someone steeped in the evolutionary mindset. Point out the functional biological differences between male and female, and they will dodge, deny or change the subject. Press the issue, and they will become angry at your attempt to "impose" your personal values. What they will never do is engage the substance of your argument. They can't. Their worldview will not allow them to admit the obvious.
Multiple research studies documenting the need that children have for a mom and a dad are probably the best defense we've got, but in a nation full of divorced or never married single parents, and with a media quick to promote "gay" families, it's a tough slog. So far, a majority of the public opposes homosexual marriage, but it's mostly instinctive and traditional. People say things like, "I wasn't raised that way." But younger generations, raised on books like "Heather Has Two Mommies" and subjected to Darwinist dogma throughout their schooling, have no tradition left to hold them. And any common-sense instinct they might have to resist faces an incessant cultural onslaught that brands such thoughts as hateful prejudice.
For the older generations, watching defenders of marriage viciously attacked in the press is very confusing. Having never reasoned out something so basic as marriage, they, too, will begin to doubt themselves. Unless something dramatic changes, public opposition will eventually crumble, and we will see the destruction of marriage as one more nail in the cultural coffin we are building for ourselves.
Do you see why intelligent design is so important? In a world gone increasingly mad, it will provide an intellectual foundation for drawing people back to reality. In the case of homosexuality, if there is an Intelligent Designer, then we can acknowledge the biological differences between male and female that everybody can see but so many ignore or deny. Being able to argue from design will help persuade those who have been deceived and encourage those who may be faltering to stand on what they know in their hearts is true: Marriage is for a man and a woman.
Hope for the future
This same kind of analysis can be applied to every social problem we face, enabling us to begin reversing the damage Darwinism has caused. By speaking the universally accepted language of science (to the postmodern mind the only repository of what truth there is in the world), I.D. theory will become a powerful tool in the effort to rescue all of culture from its destructive spiral.
Christians sometimes oppose I.D. theory as a poor second to God's Word. They point out that it invites charges of cruelty or incompetence against a God who would structure a world as messed up as ours. I still think it's worth the risk. The Bible, of course, contains the answer to such charges. But post-moderns reflexively dismiss Scripture as nothing more than ancient and irrelevant myths. Tell someone that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that person will likely respond as Pontius Pilate did: "What is truth?" But if science points to a Designer, might not people begin to wonder who that Designer is, thus preparing hearts to consider the Gospel? In this way, I.D. will become a door opener to the greater revelation of biblical truth.
Perhaps closest to Christian hearts, I.D. theory will help our children develop a thoroughly Christian worldview. When they leave home and enter a world intensely hostile to all they have been taught, they will need more than "the Bible says" to hold them. They need to understand how and why the biblical worldview lines up with all of reality, including science and the origin of life.
Back in 1989, a friend introduced me to Michael Denton's book, "Evolution: A Theory In Crisis." Until that time I had never questioned evolution. A new Christian, I read with delight his devastating critique. But he concluded on a disheartening note, predicting that despite its weaknesses, until a scientifically credible alternate theory appeared that could challenge Darwinism, evolutionary theory would remain dominant. At the time, I wondered how that could ever happen. It seemed impossible. But it is happening now, and we are on the scene to watch it unfold. It's going to be an exciting ride. Hang on.
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Lynn Barton is a graduate of Wellesley College and a former stockbroker. She is married and the mother of two children, whom she homeschools on a small farm in southern Oregon.