NTS LogoSkeptical News for 27 April 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dover 'Intelligent Design' decision to be topic of national forum


FSU News

The first high-level public discussion of how science is taught in public schools—in light of the recent federal court ruling on the intelligent-design challenge in Dover, Pa.—will be conducted next month by a nationally known panel of scholars at Florida State University.

Panel moderator Deborah Blum"Keeping Science and Religion Separate in Schools: The Vigil After Dover," is scheduled for 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 17, at the FSU College of Medicine Auditorium.

The panelists, nationally known leaders in fields including theology, biology and constitutional law, will explore in particular the continuing debate over how and what to teach students from kindergarten through 12th grade about the origins of life. More than a dozen states have announced their intention to rethink the standard rules of biology instruction.

During "Keeping Science and Religion Separate in Schools: The Vigil After Dover," the panel will consider the future of such efforts in the aftermath of the widely reported decision by federal Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. The Dover Area School District et al.

On Dec. 20, 2005, Jones handed down a detailed, 139-page decision that declared unconstitutional the Dover school board's attempt to force teachers to read a statement to students that suggested intelligent design (ID) is as valid a theory as evolution to explain life's beginnings. Jones wrote that what he saw presented at the six-week-long trial showed "overwhelming evidence…that ID is a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." Requiring the teaching of ID thus violates the First Amendment's proscriptions for separating church and state issues, he said.

As the nation's first trial of the ID theory, the case became a magnet for media attention. Scientists and other scholars hailed Jones' ruling as a landmark decision in their struggle against anti-evolution groups throughout the country that dates to the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. But ID advocates dismissed the decision as that of an activist judge, promising further attacks on the teaching of Darwinian-based evolutionary theory.

Those issues will be considered by the FSU-based forum, moderated by Deborah Blum, professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist. Blum will moderate a panel of six scholars that includes Eugenie C. Scott, executive director for the California-based National Center for Science Education; Robert T. Pennock, a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University; and John F. Haught, a theologian from Georgetown University. Three scholars from the FSU faculty also will participate: Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science and history who holds the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Eminent Scholar Chair in Philosophy; Joseph Travis, an evolutionary biologist and dean of FSU's College of Arts and Sciences; and Steven Gey, a nationally known specialist in constitutional law involving church/state issues.

Blum said that the two-hour forum will address the implications of the Dover decision on ID and other religious-based initiatives under way in numerous other states. Although Jones' ruling is legally binding only in one Central Pennsylvania school district, already the decision reportedly is having a chilling effect on ID initiatives elsewhere, as backers scramble to solve the constitutional issues raised in the Dover case.

The panel also will address other issues related to the ongoing debate over evolution, Blum said, including what many opponents decry as evolution's perceived rejection of religion and personal beliefs in an "intelligent designer," or God.

"There are a lot of misunderstandings about what science really says, and a lot of mistaken beliefs that make the conflicts appear greater than they are," Blum said. "I hope that this discussion, with such a high-caliber panel, will illuminate the fact that we really don't live in an either-or world."

The panel will be locally televised but also will be carried live via a webcast originating from FSU, beginning at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17. The event will take place in the auditorium of FSU's College of Medicine.

FSU's Office of Research and the University Research Magazine Association are sponsoring the event in conjunction with the Tallahassee Scientific Society.

For complete information about this program and profiles of the panelists, please visit www.research.fsu.edu/dover/.

Studies Find Elusive Key to Cell Fate in Embryo


Published: April 25, 2006

For three billion years, life on earth consisted of single-celled organisms like bacteria or algae. Only 600 million years ago did evolution hit on a system for making multicellular organisms like animals and plants.

So even though all the cells carry the same genome, each type of cell must be granted access to only a few of the genes in the genome, with all the others permanently denied to it.

People, for instance, have at least 260 different types of cells, each specialized for a different tissue or organ, but presumably each type can activate only some of the 22,500 genes in the human genome.

The nature of the system that assigns cells their various identities is a central mystery of animal existence, one that takes place at the earliest moments of life when the all-purpose cells of the early embryo are directed to follow different fates. Biologists at the Broad and Whitehead Institutes in Cambridge, Mass., have now delved deep into this process and uncovered what seems to be a crucial feature of how a cell's fate is determined, even though much remains to be understood.

They have discovered a striking new feature of the chromatin, the specialized protein molecules that protect and control the giant molecules of DNA that lie at the center of every chromosome.

The feature explains how embryonic cells are kept in a poised state so that all of the genome's many developmental programs are blocked, yet each is ready to be executed if the cell is assigned to that developmental path.

The developmental programs, directing a cell to become a neuron, say, or a liver cell, are initiated by master regulator genes. These genes have the power to reshape a cell's entire form and function because they control many lower genes.

They do so by producing proteins known as transcription factors that bind to special sites on the DNA and control the activity of the lower-level target genes.

A question of interest for biologists studying cell identity is what regulates the master regulator genes. The answer has long been assumed to lie in the chromatin, which determines which genes are accessible to the cell and which are excluded. The chromatin consists essentially of millions of miniature protein spools around each of which the DNA strand is looped some one and half times.

The spools, however, are not mere packaging. They can lock up the DNA they are carrying so that it is inaccessible.

Or they can unwind a little, so that the strand becomes accessible to the transcription factors seeking to copy a gene on the DNA and generate the protein it specifies.

Working backward from that knowledge, biologists have spent much effort trying to learn how the state of the spools is determined.

They have learned there are protein complexes — essentially sophisticated cellular machines — that travel along the chromosome and mark the spools with chemical tags placed at various sites on the spool.

A complex known as polycomb — the name comes from the anatomy of fruit flies, in which it was first discovered — tags spools at a site called K27.

This is a signal for another set of proteins to make the spools wrap DNA tight and keep it inaccessible.

Another complex tags spools at their K4 site, which has the opposite effect of making them loosen their hold on the DNA.

The chromosomes of the body's mature cells are known to have long stretches of K27-tagged spools, where genes are off limits, and other regions where the spools are tagged on K4, allowing the cell to activate the local genes.

The Broad Institute scientists have made use of new techniques that let them visualize which spools along a chromosome carry the K27 or K4 tags.

They decided to map the tags in embryonic cells because of the interest of seeing how the process of determining cell fate is initiated.

In the current issue of Cell, a team led by Bradley E. Bernstein and Eric S. Lander reports that they looked at the chromatin covering the regions where the master regulator genes are sited.

They found to their surprise that these stretches of chromatin carried both kinds of tags, as if the underlying genes were being simultaneously silenced and readied for action.

These bivalent domains, as the biologists called the ambiguously tagged stretches of chromatin, were puzzling at first but make sense in terms of what embryonic cells are meant to do.

Each cell must avoid being committed to any particular fate for the time being, so all its master regulator genes must be repressed by tight winding of the spools that hold their DNA. But the cell must be ready at any moment to activate one specific master regulator as soon as its fate is determined.

The Broad team then looked at the chromatin state of the master regulator genes in several kinds of mature cell.

As was now predictable, they found that the bivalent domains had resolved into carrying just one type of mark, mostly the K27 tag, indicating the master genes there were permanently repressed.

But in each kind of mature cell one or more of the domains had switched over to carrying just the K4 tags, within which genes would be active.

"We think the bivalent state is keeping the embryonic cells poised," Dr. Bernstein said. "It's very special; we didn't see it in any other kind of cell."

Dr. Bernstein's team worked with mouse cells, but its findings have been confirmed in human embryonic stem cells by Tong Ihn Lee and Richard A. Young of the Whitehead Institute.

They and their colleagues started not with the bivalent domains but with the polycomb complex that gives the spools their K27 tag.

Working with human embryonic stem cells, the Lee-Young team mapped where a component of the polycomb complex was attached to the chromatin.

They found it had sought out some 200 sites where many of the master regulator genes of human cells are located. The Whitehead team's article, also published in the current Cell, indicates that in mice and people, just as in fruit flies, the same ancient mechanism is used to make the crucial decisions that determine cell fate.

"This is a very nice piece of work and will be widely interesting because it is fundamental," said Allan Spradling, an expert on embryonic development at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, referring to both teams' findings.

The new findings raise the question of how the embryonic cell knows where on its chromosomes the bivalent domains should be established. Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Lander believe that the answer lies in the structure of the DNA itself.

The bivalent domains occur at regions on the chromosome where some of the DNA sequence is highly conserved, meaning the same sequence is found in widely differing species.

Because DNA is always subject to mutation, a highly conserved sequence is a sure sign of DNA that plays some vital role. These particular sequences, however, do not contain genes, so must be conserved for some other reason.

The highly conserved non-gene sequences were first detected in the dog genome, which was decoded last year. It was in trying to figure out what these regions did that the Broad team stumbled across the bivalent domains.

Although only half of the highly conserved regions contain master regulator genes, something in their DNA structure may be the signal that tells the cell where to create the bivalent domains. This is the crucial step before cells differentiate and take on their various specialized roles.

"We don't know the trigger for differentiation — that is our next step — but I think we now have the key set of genes to look at," Dr. Young said.

Dr. Young's team has studied another aspect of embryonic stem cells which ties into the new finding about bivalent domains. Three genes, known as oct4, sox2 and nanog, are known to be particularly active in the cells and are regarded as a hallmark of the embryonic state.

Dr. Young showed last year that the genes make transcription factors that act on each other's control sites in ways that in effect form a circuitry for controlling the master regulator genes.

He has now found that these transcription factors bind at many of the bivalent domains created by the polycomb complex.

Though it's not yet clear how the whole system works, it seems that the settings on the chromatin spools determine in general what genes are accessible while at a lower level of control the transcription factors control which of the accessible genes are in fact activated.

Because human and other cells can assume so many roles and identities, biologists have long wondered how the status of a cell should be defined, but the new findings may begin to offer a definition.

"This is about as fundamental as you can get," Dr. Spradling said. "We don't really understand what we mean when we say cell state — it hasn't been converted to an understanding in terms of molecular biology."

But a working definition of cell status may be almost at hand, in Dr. Lander's view, in terms of a cell's chromatin state and the transcription factors that can bind to its available genes.

This, after all, is what determines the identities of the various cell types central to an animal's existence. "We are just beginning to get a glimpse of how that central mystery plays out," he said.

Police See Paranormal Activity in Pub


April 25,2006 | LONDON -- British police responding to a call about a possible break in at a pub in northern England Monday found themselves in the middle of a ghoulish riddle.

Officers arrived at the Low Valley Arms pub near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, 250 miles north of London, after being told the alarm had been set off, but instead of finding any signs of a robbery, they were faced with a shaken landlord convinced he had encountered a ghost with half a face missing in the ladies washroom.

Though they saw no ghoul-- described as a woman in flowing white gown-- officers were shocked to find toilets flushing themselves, said Inspector John Bowler of South Yorkshire Police.

Pub landlord Roger Froggat, 55, and his wife Kathryn, 49, moved in a year ago and said they had seen nothing before, despite rumors of a resident specter.

"I heard the alarm go off for a second time, went into the pub and all the television screens had turned on," the pub owner said.

"I went to check the rest of the pub and standing in the women's lavatories was a woman with half her face missing. I was petrified."

Officers found no signs of forced entry and were left quite scared, Bowler added.

Since the ghost story became public, the pub has become the talk of the town, attracting everyone from mediums to a national television film crew determined to catch a glimpse of the mystery woman should she appear again.

Despite their shock, the Froggats said they have no plans to leave their village pub.

On pins and needles: an afternoon with the acupuncturist


Naomi Reyes

Issue date: 4/26/06 Section: Balance

From herbal concoctions to hypnotism, alternative medicine can take many forms. Ancient Chinese medicine focuses on the balance of life (yin/yang), while holistic medicine, which originated in India, aims to treat the whole body at once, or "holistically."

Europeans use alternative medicine, too (think Rome's famed hot springs), and Native American cultures have always depended upon spiritual healers for advice, treatments and cures. Although western medicine still places most of its faith in conventionally-trained doctors, interest in alternative medicine is rapidly growing. Some of the most popular alternative medicines include massage, aromatherapy, chiropractic, yoga and acupuncture.

Skeptical? Well, some of it sounds a little out there to me too; typically, I need proof. But I am a believer in the power of things unseen, so I figured I'd give alternative medicine, in the form of acupuncture, a shot.

Acupuncture means "needle prick" in Mandarin Chinese and involves inserting very thin needles into the skin at specific pressure points that correspond to different parts of the body. This therapy is thought to restore health and well-being to the person being treated.

Acupuncture addresses a person's qi (pronounced chee) or life energy. The theory is that qi becomes unbalanced during illness, and parts of the body either accumulate too much or are deficient in qi, causing pain. Acupuncture is supposed to stimulate the flow of qi, thus restoring harmony to the body.

And harmony is definitely something I'd like. For 10 years I have had knee pain that varies from almost unnoticeable to excruciating, causing me to limp with tears. My diagnosis is chronic patella-femoral pain syndrome, which began after years of dance. Surgery isn't recommended, and physical therapy has done little. I take medications, wear a brace and use heating pads, but beyond that, my options are limited - either do more of the same, or try another approach. Through research, I've found some small studies where acupuncture successfully decreased pain for people like me. And if it could relieve this ailment that bothers me almost constantly, then why not give it a try?

My search for an acupuncturist began on the Web. I decided on a care center called Pathways to Wellness on Berkeley Street in Boston that also specializes in Chinese herbals and shiatsu massage.

I was drawn to this non-profit care center because of its income-based sliding scale fees and $20 intern consultations with third-year students.

Not just anyone would be needling me, though; to become a licensed acupuncturist, a person must complete a certified medical program, an internship and pass a national exam.

When I called Pathways, the receptionist directed me to its Web site to download forms and read about the various therapies. I was advised to wear comfortable clothing, to anticipate a tingling from the needles and not to come to the appointment on an empty stomach.

On my treatment day I enjoyed the spacious, comfortable waiting room for five minutes before I met Julia, my acupuncturist. She was a friendly woman who asked about my physical symptoms, eating and sleeping habits and my mood. She described the treatment and then, fully clothed, I laid down as she palpated my stomach and looked at my tongue to help evaluate my health status.

Then out came the needles. To my surprise, I could barely feel them (I just felt a little prick as she was putting them in), especially once they were inserted. I expected a ton of needles all over, but Julia only used nine, including one in each wrist and each foot and one between my eyes. These were for the "root treatment" (i.e., for general imbalances) and not specific to my knee problems.

Then she placed two needles in each knee. She also attached thin electrical cords from my each wrist to the opposite foot. She said this helped the qi flow in one direction.

After I was set up, Julia turned on some meditative music, and I was left alone to hang out with my electric needles.

Fifteen minutes later, Julia returned to take the cords off and attach moxa for the final part of my treatment. Moxa is a fluffy dried herb rolled into balls that was placed on top of the needles in my knees. Julia lit the moxa on fire with an incense stick, explaining that the herbal properties and the heat from the plant would penetrate the needles and reach deep into my knees.

After painlessly removing each needle, Julia recommended I return weekly, do strength exercises and see an orthopedist. Nothing scary, wacky or painful.

I paid my $50 and left Pathways feeling great. My next appointment would only cost $40, and although my knee pain did return after a few days, who could expect to be cured with one visit? I truly enjoyed my experience and have a new appreciation for alternative medicine.

Naomi Reyes is a registered dietitian and a graduate student in nutrition communication at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She has a BS in food science and human nutrition from the Univeristy of Florida.

Do planet cycles, history coordinate?


Historian Richard Tarnas says patterns in planetary cycles are consistent enough that we can recognize trends and attempt to shape the outcome of events.

Graydon Royce, Star Tribune

Last update: April 26, 2006 – 3:03 PM

Richard Tarnas first achieved notice with "The Passion of the Western Mind," which became a bestseller and a university text. Tarnas, a professor of philosophy and psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, is back with "Cosmos and the Psyche," in which he argues that we are in the midst of a seismic historical shift in which nonscientific methods are again asserting themselves in research efforts to understand the world. Tarnas uses this methodology to discuss how the orbiting paths of planets correlate with other historical periods. Tarnas is in St. Paul this weekend for a lecture and workshop. He spoke by phone.

Q Is it difficult for the science community to let nonscientific information back into the conversation about how the world works?

A Probably for a good part of the community it is. There's a personality type that is drawn toward a certain kind of scientific understanding that is very concrete. And there is a tendency among all people, religious or scientific, to take their current perspective as being the only way. And that is taking science as a new religion -- Scientism. But there's a growing segment that is aware of the limits of current scientific knowledge. They recognize that not all the answers to life's persistent questions are susceptible to answers from science. Many in the community recognize that the pursuit of a purely materialistically oriented, scientific, technological civilization has run into some major problems. The state of the world is being deeply shaped by a scientific and technologically empowered civilization that in terms of things such as global climate change and loss of species would not be happening if there had not been this empowerment.

Q Are planetary cycles causative, or merely coincidental?

A The book contains a substantial amount of evidence that shows an extraordinarily consistent correlation between planetary cycles and the patterns of human history -- far more consistent than what should happen in an utterly random universe. I don't believe there's evidence suggesting a causal relationship -- nothing like gravity, electromagnetic radiation emanating from the planets and causing certain results. What's much more plausible is that the universe is integrated so that planetary movements of the macrocosm and patterns of human experience, the microcosm, have an underlying coherence.

Q Can you look back at previous correlations and see where we're headed?

A Not concretely. It can give us a sense for what kinds of events, what kinds of cultural moods and impulses tended to be highly active at times when the same planetary alignments were happening in the past. But so much depends on the human factor, what we bring to the equation. For example, our capacity for being courageous or not.

Q So it's more up to humans than the planets?

A If you understand the nature of the archetypal perspective, you recognize that a particular impulse can express itself in a number of different ways. For example, the Promethean impulse that coincides with Uranus can express an impulse for liberation or freedom, but also sudden change that happens to one, rather than being pushed by one. It can express itself in a highly sophisticated or noble way, or in compulsive rebelliousness.

Q What cautionary advice can you give?

A We're in the middle of a three- or four-year alignment that has in the past regularly coincided with a period of deep uncertainty and a crisis of faith and values -- a sense of spiritual or social malaise in the culture. But we're also getting the beginnings of a 15-year alignment whose cycle coincided with the 1960s, in which there does tend to be very consistently a collective impulse toward radical change, radical reform. There can be very positive things that tend to go with this. But there has also been -- can be -- a political and social turmoil, a clashing of the forces of the new with the forces of the old in ways that can be pretty problematic. So much will depend on what lessons we've learned from the '60s, and what the generation that was born at that time and is coming into power brings to the task. Can they synthesize the need for change with the values of the tradition?

Evolving Evolution

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18970 Volume 53, Number 8 · May 11, 2006 Review

By Edward Ziff, Israel Rosenfield

From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design

by Sean B. Carroll, Jennifer K. Grenier, and Scott D. Weatherbee

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

by Sean B. Carroll Norton, 350 pp., $25.95

The Plausibility of Life:Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

by Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart

Yale University Press, 314 pp., $30.00

1. Despite much recent controversy about the theory of evolution, major changes in our understanding of evolution over the past twenty years have gone virtually unnoticed.[1] At the heart of Darwin's theory of evolution is an explanation of how plants and animals evolved from earlier forms of life that have long since disappeared; but his theory says nothing about the factors that determine the shape, color, and size of a particular fish, whale, or butterfly. Darwin and his contemporaries realized that understanding the evolution of animal forms and understanding how a fertilized egg develops into a whale, cow, or human being must be deeply connected; but they didn't know how to make the connection.

Surprising discoveries in the 1980s have begun to tell us how an embryo develops into a mature animal, and these discoveries have radically altered our views of evolution and of the relation of human beings to all other animals. The new field of study in which these breakthroughs have been made is called Evo Devo, short for evolution and development, "development" referring to both how an embryo grows and how the newborn infant matures into an adult.

Sean Carroll, author of one of the books under review and a coauthor of another, has made important contributions to the understanding of evolution and development. From DNA to Diversity, written with two other scientists, is the second edition of a book that has become a classic for students of evolution. The title of Carroll's other book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, comes from the famous final sentence of The Origin of Species: "There is a simple grandeur in this view of life... that from so simple an origin, through the process of gradual selection of infinitesimal changes, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved."

In 1830, nearly thirty years before Darwin published his book, two French naturalists—Georges Cuvier and Étienne Geoffroy St. Hilaire—debated the significance of the anatomical similarities between distantly related animals, such as the flippers of whales and the wings of bats. Cuvier held that form was dictated by function: the bat's wing, needed for flying, had a separate origin from the whale's flipper, needed for swimming.

Geoffroy St. Hilaire opposed this view, arguing that the underlying skeletal similarities pointed to the existence of a common archetype for both flippers and wings. While neither man claimed that animal forms could change over generations, St. Hilaire's archetypal form foreshadowed some recent discoveries about development and evolution. No doubt this debate was in the mind of Charles Darwin as he formulated his theories in an attempt to account for the origins of animal forms.

The contemporary Darwinian theory of evolution is based on three ideas: natural selection, heredity, and variation. Small random changes—variations—occur in organisms through mutations of genes, and when these changes give an organism a greater chance of survival, they persist from one generation to the next through natural selection. That is, organisms with traits that make them better adapted to the environment they inhabit will have better reproductive success than other members of the same species that do not possess the advantageous traits. In each successive generation, then, an ever-larger proportion of the species in question will possess the mutation that produces the advantageous traits. "Natural selection," Darwin wrote, "acts solely by accumulating successive, favorable variations." Evolution in the Darwinian view was gradual: "it can act only by short and slow steps." And since, in this view, all changes are random, there are no predetermined directions in which organisms evolve. All living organisms, Darwin claimed, are descended from one or a few common ancestors.

Neither Darwin nor any of his contemporaries knew about the workings of heredity—how we inherit the eye color of our father or the hair color of our mother. The work of the Czech monk Gregor Mendel, first published in 1865, had gone unnoticed in Darwin's day and was only rediscovered around 1900. Mendel had shown that specific traits, such as the color of a pea, or the smoothness or roughness of its skin, could be inherited independently of one another. The new science of "genetics," the idea that units called "genes" within each cell transmit specific traits, such as hair color, from one generation to the next, began in the first decade of the twentieth century. Studies of inherited traits in fruit flies in the following decades established convincing evidence for genes, but they remained invisible. Scientists still didn't know how the gene made it possible for information to pass from one generation to the next, and how mutations in genes could, over many generations, lead to a new species that had a form different from its distant progenitor.

By the 1940s, though the structure of the gene was still unknown, scientists had introduced the idea of the gene into Darwinian theory. They now explained evolution as the consequence of small random changes in genes. This recasting of Darwinian theory was called the Modern Synthesis, following the 1942 publication of Julian Huxley's book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. The neo-Darwinian theory incorporated the Mendelian idea of genetics, explaining the mechanism of inheritance that was unknown to Darwin. The theory, however, did not account for how particular organisms develop from embryos in the womb to adult forms; that process, known as embryology, was not discussed.

The neo-Darwinian view was reinforced in 1953, when the double helix was discovered, showing how genes composed of the nucleic acid DNA transmitted hereditary characteristics. A molecule of DNA is made up of two long strands of chemical building blocks called nucleotides, each containing one of four bases: adenine, thymine, guanine, or cytosine, which are abbreviated A, T, G, and C. The order of the bases in each strand of DNA determines the information in the DNA molecule, information we can think of as providing an overall plan for producing enzymes and other proteins.

A gene was now understood to be a specific sequence of DNA bases. Genes vary considerably in size, most of them containing between 10,000 and 20,000 nucleotides, though they can be much longer or shorter. Each of our cells carries all our genes, although most genes remain inactive at any given moment. When a particular gene is activated it is first copied into RNA, a nucleic acid that carries instructions from DNA for assembling proteins. The RNA's instructions are then decoded in a process called "translation," and proteins, including the enzymes essential for cells to function, are produced. Proteins in turn form some 50 percent of all living cells.

How are particular genes activated? There are, according to recent research, as many as a hundred trillion cells in the human body, and each cell contains thousands of different types of molecules that vary considerably in size; many molecules move about freely inside the cell. All the cells in a given individual have the same DNA—it is contained in the largest molecules in each cell—and hence an identical set of genes. Which specific genes are activated in a particular cell depends, in part, on the cell's location in the embryo or the adult body. Moreover, the activation of one combination of genes will give rise to a liver cell, while the activation of another will produce a brain cell.

The structure of the double helix made it apparent how changes, or mutations, in the base sequence of a gene could lead to variations in the characteristics of an organism; such mutations could, if advantageous, accumulate over time. The process appeared to confirm Darwin's view that evolution is gradual. As he wrote in The Origin of Species, nature "can act only by short and slow steps. Hence, the saying Natura non facit saltum," nature doesn't make sudden jumps. The standard view, then, was that variation and selection could account for how the simple organisms of early life evolved into the complex forms of the contemporary biological world. After Mendel's discoveries had been absorbed at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was assumed that as changes accumulated between one species and another, there would be less and less similarity in the kind and number of their genes. More advanced species would have many more genes than lower forms of life; and worms, for example, would have few, if any, genes similar to those of fish, mice, or human beings.

Yet it seemed astonishing that random mutations, even over enormous periods of time, could give rise to the remarkable complexity of an organ such as the human eye. "To suppose," Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species,

that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.... Nonetheless, he continued:

Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. The neo-Darwinian belief in small mutational changes in DNA molecules over hundreds of millions of years made the preservation of individual genes over long periods of time highly unlikely. It was thought that the diversity of living forms was the consequence of each animal having evolved its own unique set of genes over millions of years as well. Surely human beings, for example, would not have the same genes as worms.

Those assumptions were dramatically overturned when the rough draft of the human genome—the entire set of human genes—was announced in 2001. As it turned out, human beings have far fewer genes than expected— about 25,000 rather than the 60,000 or more that had been predicted. This was about the same number as mice have, and even the tiny worms called nematodes have about 14,000 genes. The number of genes in a given species, therefore, is not a measure of its complexity. Why had biologists so overestimated the number of genes in the human genome? Why is it unnecessary for complex animals such as mammals to have ten times as many genes as worms?

The answers to these questions were already hinted at more than four decades ago. At the time it was known that the bacteria E. coli, which normally live off the sugar glucose, are also capable of producing enzymes that digest other sugars, such as lactose. But biologists noticed that the bacteria only produce the enzyme when lactose is present in their immediate environment. Scientists could not explain how the E. coli somehow "knew" when the lactose-digesting enzyme would be needed.

In 1961, Jacques Monod and François Jacob discovered that E. coli bacteria actually have a mechanism that controls the production of the enzyme for digesting lactose. As unicellular organisms, E. coli bacteria have only several thousand genes, each of which is made up of a specific sequence of DNA. A single one of these genes, present in all E. coli, carries in its DNA the genetic instructions needed to assemble the enzyme that can digest lactose; the DNA is copied into RNA, which is then "translated" to produce the enzyme itself. When there is no lactose present in the bacteria's immediate environment, the gene is switched off: its DNA is not copied into RNA and the enzyme is not produced. The reason for this, the scientists discovered, is that a protein called a repressor molecule attaches itself to the DNA site where the copying into RNA begins, thus blocking off the DNA and preventing the gene from producing the RNA responsible for the synthesis of the enzyme.

On the other hand, when the E. coli bacteria encounter lactose, the lactose binds itself to this repressor molecule, causing the repressor to be detached from the DNA site. This unblocks the DNA, allowing the gene to be copied into RNA, and produce the enzyme that can digest lactose. In other words, the repressor molecule acts as a switch that controls the gene's production of the enzyme. Since only a fraction of the total number of genes present in an organism are expressed, or turned on, at any given time, Monod and Jacob conjectured that other genes must be similarly turned on and off.

Although they had not yet found systematic evidence to support these ideas, the discovery of the repressor molecule allowed the two scientists to form a powerful new hypothesis about how genes function. As Jacob recently wrote, in a brief description of the new hypothesis:

It proposed a model to explain one of the oldest problems in biology: in organisms made up of millions, even billions of cells, every cell possesses a complete set of genes; how, then, is it that all the genes do not function in the same way in all tissues? That the nerve cells do not use the same genes as the muscle cells or the liver cells? In short, [we] presented a new view of the genetic landscape. The deeper significance of the Monod-Jacob model of gene function, and its implications for the nature of evolution, became apparent with the new field of embryo research that arose almost twenty years later.

2. In 1894, the English biologist William Bateson challenged Darwin's view that evolution was gradual. He published Materials for the Study of Variation, a catalog of abnormalities he had observed in insects and animals in which one body part was replaced with another. He described, for example, a mutant fly with a leg instead of an antenna on its head, and mutant frogs and humans with extra vertebrae. The abnormalities Bateson discovered resisted explanation for much of the twentieth century. But in the late 1970s, studies by Edward Lewis at the California Institute of Technology, Christiana Nüsslein-Vollhard and Eric Wieschaus in Germany, and others began to reveal that the abnormalities were caused by mutations of a special set of genes in fruit fly embryos that controlled development of the fly's body and the distribution of its attached appendages. Very similar genes, exercising similar controls, were subsequently found in nematodes, flies, fish, mice, and human beings.

What they and others discovered were genes that regulate the development of the embryo and exert control over other genes by mechanisms analogous to that of the repressor molecule studied by Monod and Jacob. Eight of these controlling genes, called Hox genes, are found in virtually all animals —worms, mice, and human beings— and they have existed for more than half a billion years.[2] Fruit flies and worms have only one set of eight Hox genes; fish and mammals (including mice, elephants, and humans) have four sets. Each set of Hox genes in fish and mammals is remarkably similar to the eight Hox genes found in fruit flies and worms. This discovery showed that very similar genes control both embryological and later development in virtually all insects and animals. (See Figure 1.)

To understand what Hox genes do, scientists needed to observe the activity of the genes in the developing embryos of flies and mice. Using new technologies that allowed them to observe under a microscope the locations of the Hox proteins in these embryos, they were able to identify an overall pattern of how Hox genes behave. A newly fertilized fly egg looks like a tiny football: one end, or pole, will eventually become the head region; the other end will become the tail region. These and other divisions of the embryo in later development actually followed the switching on and off of the Hox genes in different parts of the embryo. (See Figure 2.)

The mechanism that causes the Hox genes to behave in this way is initiated by the release of proteins from the cells of the mother's body across the newly fertilized embryo. These proteins control the activities of the Hox genes and are released in varying concentrations, causing Hox genes to produce Hox proteins in specific places. As the embryo grows, the production of Hox proteins divides the embryo into a series of segments, or distinct regions, from which subsequent development occurs. Other genes are then activated within each segment, a finer division of the embryo is established, and wings, antennae, and other body parts are formed. In general, scientists reasoned, Hox genes establish the basic division of the embryo into distinct compartments, and each compartment, in turn, establishes the regions of the embryo where development of specific body parts and functions takes place. Still, the details of the mechanisms that a cell uses to establish its position in the embryo remain incomplete.

In fact, Nüsslein-Vollhard and Wieschaus found that within the fly's embryo there was an overall pattern in which genes were turned on or off; and they saw in this pattern the overall body plan for the full-grown fly. In other words, the activity of the Hox genes, including the formation of compartments within the embryo and the control of other genes that guide development, provided a system of organization that dictated the final adult form of the fly.

The presence of a body plan in the genome, whether of a fly, a whale, or a human, was unexpected by embryologists. Previously, most of them did not think that development of embryos was controlled by genes; they had assumed that the different parts of developing embryos were determined by physical interaction between neighboring cells and that there was no overall division of the embryo according to a genetic plan. Experiments had shown, for example, that removing developing wing tissue from one part of an embryo and implanting it elsewhere still gave rise to a wing, although an abnormal one. Scientists attributed the abnormality to the effects of the neighboring cells in the embryo. This was wrong. In fact it was caused by the disruption of the body plan.

This new understanding of Hox genes was aided by the discovery that the proteins produced by these genes function in a way that is analogous to Monod and Jacob's repressor molecule. Specifically, although they have different properties, all Hox proteins contain a molecular structure that makes them attach to DNA sites that control genes. This meant that Hox proteins, like the repressor molecule, act as switches that turn neighboring genes on and off.[3]

Hox genes, as Carroll explains, are in fact one of many kinds of genes that direct embryo development by a mechanism of switches. One example that is not a Hox gene is the gene that controls the development of the eye in fruit flies. If this gene (called Pax 6) is damaged when it mutates, the fly fails to develop eyes. We now know from the experiments described in Carroll's book that the Pax 6 gene is also found in butterflies, mice, and humans. Indeed, Pax 6 genes are interchangeable. The Pax 6 gene from a fly will turn on genes that make eyes in mice, and the Pax 6 gene from a mouse will turn on genes that make eyes in flies.

It had long been assumed that eyes had evolved independently in different species. The structures of mammalian eyes and insect eyes are very different and it would seem most unlikely that they had followed a similar evolutionary path. Mammalian eyes, for example, have a single lens that focuses an image on the retina. Insects have eyes with many tube-like structures, each tube having its own lens and retina. Yet the discovery of the Pax 6 gene gives us reason to believe that the evolution of the eye in all the animals followed related, and to some extent common, paths, though we cannot completely exclude the possibility that each kind of eye evolved following completely independent pathways. In addition to the Pax 6 gene, genes have been found that control the genes responsible for the development of the different kinds of "hearts"—or mechanisms that pump blood—whether in fruit flies or humans, again suggesting similar evolutionary pathways. Indeed the development of legs, wings, arms, fins, and other fish and marine animal appendages are all under the control of virtually identical genes and, as with the Pax genes, in many cases are interchangeable.

These findings strongly support the Darwinian view that animals descend from one or a few ancestors. However, contrary to the previously accepted neo-Darwinian view, the same findings showed that different animal forms are not primarily a function of distinct gene pools that have evolved over millions of years. How then do similar collections of genes create the enormous diversity of living forms? In Sean Carroll's view, what creates diversity is the patterns in which genes are turned "on" and "off." The different appendages found in centipedes, fruit flies, lobsters, and brine shrimp are created by varying combinations of Hox gene activity in the developing insect or crustacean embryo.

"Switches," Carroll emphasizes, "enable the same...genes to be used differently in different animals" [his italics]. In other words, a Hox gene produces a protein that binds to the DNA's sites where genes copy into RNA and can thus turn genes "on" or "off."

This has an important consequence for evolution: mutations in Hox genes will affect the ways in which they act within the embryo, thereby altering the proteins' functions as switches. When the proteins' functions are changed, in turn, this causes them to control genes that are needed for development of a specific physical trait in new ways. In this view, evolution is largely the consequence of random mutations in genetic switches. Genes remain intact, but under new patterns of control. Their function is altered. Complexity and variety are created, at least in part, by combining the activities of old genes in new ways. Carroll's view—what we might call the switches hypothesis—emphasizes the importance of changes in patterns of turning genes on and off rather than changes in the genes themselves. However, even the most ardent supporter of the switches hypothesis would admit that not only Hox genes but other genes change as well. But the contribution of these changes to evolution is far less than we had previously believed.

In fact, vertebrates—reptiles, birds, chickens, mice, pythons, and humans— do have more genes than insects, though far fewer than had been expected before the human genome was revealed. The increase in the number of genes in these animals is partly responsible for their complexity and diversity. But as Carroll notes, "frogs and snakes, dinosaurs and ostriches, giraffes and whales, have evolved around a similar set of four Hox gene clusters. So again, the mere number of Hox genes does not tell us how these forms evolved." The diversity of these animals comes from changes in the ways genes are turned on and off.

For example, though the giraffe has a long neck, it has seven cervical vertebrae, the same number as humans, whales, and all other mammals. Hox genes control this number, but they may also control cell proliferation and consequently the size of the vertebrae. The giraffe's larger vertebrae may have developed because of mutations in the Hox genes controlling the size of vertebrae. Giraffes with large vertebrae and longer necks could feed off tall trees and were consequently selected over other giraffes. Changes in gene regulation, not new genes, gave rise to the long-necked giraffe.

Evolution, then, depends on new patterns of gene regulation rather than the creation of new genes. Indeed, it is not meaningful to talk about the function of a single gene in isolation. Genes only function in the context of the organism. There is no single gene for an eye, a limb, or language, much less such tendencies as homosexuality. Genes function in relation to other genes and intercellular signals, much as words vary in meaning and function depending on the way they are used in sentences and the contexts in which they are spoken. It is the combinations of gene activity, which may be different in different species, that create the form of the organism. "We can begin to think of individual groups—insects, spiders, and centipedes, or birds, mammals, and reptiles, as well as their long extinct fossil relatives—not so much in terms of their uniqueness, but as variations on a common theme," Carroll writes. And surprising, too, is the evidence that all animals, from worms to humans, probably descend from one or a few primitive bacteria. Darwin would have been pleased to discover molecular evidence for his "common descent."

3. A powerful new theory adds considerable weight to this view, putting Carroll's work in a larger perspective. In The Plausibility of Life, Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart take a broader view than Carroll's on the questions of development and evolutionary biology. They agree that Hox genes make an important contribution to the mechanisms of evolution, but they argue that there are a number of other fundamental properties of organisms that give direction to evolution. The weakness of Darwinian theory—and one that has been seized upon by secular critics of evolutionary theory—is its failure to explain how the gene determines the observable traits of the organism. From an evolutionary point of view, how can complex organs such as eyes, arms, or wings evolve over long periods of time? What about the intermediary forms?

The Darwinian view was that early evolutionary forms of arms, legs, or wings might have initially served other purposes (insect legs, for example, might have evolved from gills their ancestors used for respiration). Such transformations of purpose are certainly important in evolution, Kirschner and Gerhart argue, but there must be other mechanisms at work as well. Concerning the human eye, for example: How is it possible for the different parts of an eye to evolve simultaneously—the lens, the iris, the retina, along with the blood vessels necessary for supplying the eye with oxygen and nutrition as well as the nerves that must receive signals from the retina and send signals to the muscles of the eye? Could these precise nerve and vascular networks be created by gradual random changes in genes over long periods of time, as Darwin claimed? Similarly, how can random mutations and natural selection create not only the necessary muscles and bone that make up the arm, for example, but organize the blood supply and nerves so that, after hundreds of thousands of years, an animal evolves with functioning arms, legs, and eyes? The Darwinian view that developing organs can serve different purposes at different times seems incomplete at best.

Darwin thought that at any given time variations in the forms of organisms were purely random. This is true of the neo-Darwinian view as well. However, recent research has shown that even though mutations are random, the effects of a mutation will be restricted, and may alter only one part or trait of an organism. A good example of the restricted effects of mutation is provided, as Kirschner and Gerhart point out, by the body plans created by Hox genes. Because they are contained within the different compartments of the embryo established by the body plan, individual parts of an animal can evolve independently of each other. For example, the lizard has limbs, the python has vestigial limbs, and the advanced snake has no limbs at all. These variations in limb structure have evolved without major changes in other parts of the body plan.

This independence means that mutations can occur within a single region of an embryo that may or may not be beneficial; in any case, fewer of the mutations will be lethal for the developing organism. In other words, while evolution is constrained by the body plan created by the Hox genes, this constraint gives nature a much greater freedom to experiment with variant forms through random mutations. If there were no body plans with separate parts, most variations would be lethal to the entire organism and evolution would be much, much slower. Suppose we wanted to design new windows for airplanes that would improve the visibility for passengers, resist cabin pressure, and better insulate passengers from the cold. We would test the new window designs without changing their positions on the body of the plane. If we had to redesign the entire plane every time we changed the window design, we would be much slower in developing new and more efficient planes. Similarly, Hox genes can, through mutations, shift the pattern of organization within a part of the embryo, allowing evolution to experiment with new forms, such as wings and longer necks, without affecting other parts of the embryo.

Kirschner and Gerhart thus place the activity of Hox genes inside the embryo in a broader perspective. They agree that Hox genes are important in organizing the embryo into discrete parts, a process they call the invisible anatomy (it is only visible with the aid of recent technology). But they argue that the function of Hox genes is only one of a number of "core processes" that act as constraints on evolution. The storage of genetic information in DNA and the mechanisms for translating that information in the synthesis of proteins are examples of core processes. Other kinds of core processes that are used by cells include biochemical mechanisms, such as the digestion of nutrients by enzymes. These mechanisms were established at an early stage in evolution and are still used in human cells, worms, and bacteria. Because of these core processes, natural selection is presented with a variety of forms that are more likely to succeed than if there were no constraints on variation at all. Should a new advantageous process arise by mutation, it can be incorporated into the functional repertory of the organism, and it is then inherited over generations.

Another kind of core process that can, by constraining development, create forms that are more likely to succeed is what Kirschner and Gerhart call "exploratory behavior," such as the method used by ants when foraging for food. Ants leave their nest and take random paths. As they move about they secrete a chemical substance called a pheromone that leaves a scent along the path they are following. If an ant fails to find food it will eventually return to the nest, using the pheromones it has deposited to guide it back to the nest. However, an ant that finds food will deposit more pheromones as it returns to the nest. This will reinforce the scent of the trail that led to food and other ants will now follow the reinforced trail.

Nonetheless, not all the ants will follow the successful trail. Some ants will set out on random paths in search of other sources of food and if successful they, too, will establish paths for subsequent ants. Eventually, the ants will have established a detailed map of paths to food sources. An observer might think that the ants are using a map supplied by an intelligent designer of food distribution. However, what appears to be a carefully laid out mapping of pathways to food supplies is really just a consequence of a series of random searches.

Other exploratory processes are important for the development of the vascular and nervous systems in a growing embryo. While the details of the individual processes vary considerably, the guiding principles are similar to those of ant foraging: just as the ants randomly explore the terrain around their nest, capillary vessels sprout off from the larger blood vessels and randomly explore the surrounding tissues for the signals coming from cells deprived of oxygen; they then can bring blood containing oxygen to the cells. And just as contact with food makes the ant reinforce the path that led to the food, the sprouting capillary vessels establish permanent contacts whenever they encounter tissue with oxygen-deprived cells. Similarly, fine nerve endings extend themselves randomly, establishing stable connections between nerves and muscles whenever they receive electrical and chemical signals coming from muscles.

Hence, unlike the eye or hand, whose forms follow from the body plan that is programmed by Hox genes in the developing embryo, the apparently well-designed and integrated nervous and vascular systems that serve such organs do not require predetermined paths and wirings. Darwin's view that small simultaneous changes would give rise to organs as complex as the eye is in principle true, but in need of modification. It is the very constraints created by the Hox genes and the other core processes (e.g., the exploratory behavior of capillaries and nerve endings) that permit complex designs to emerge over a relatively short period of time from a biological point of view (hundreds of thousands of years, or perhaps even less). As Carroll and Kirschner and Gerhart observe, some alteration of genes is still necessary if the changes are to be passed on from one generation to another. But the genetic alterations are considerably simpler and fewer in number than had been formerly imagined.

While Carroll argues—a claim that is at the heart of Evo Devo—that embryological development gives us the deepest clues to the mechanisms of evolution, Kirschner and Gerhart move beyond embryology to show that metabolic and physiological processes are also critical to evolutionary change. Their approach, which they call the theory of "facilitated variation," attempts to show how the regulation of genes inside the embryo, as described by Carroll, is part of a larger set of processes that allow organisms to experiment with evolution in a tightly controlled way. According to this theory, the mutations, or variations, needed to drive evolutionary change can occur with little disruption either to the basic organization of an organism or to the core processes that make its cells function.

We now have a far deeper understanding of evolution than even a decade ago.[4] And although our knowledge is still incomplete, our new understanding, as the books under review admirably show, has opened the way toward a comprehensive account of evolution and has supplied solid answers to the critics of evolutionary theory.


[1] For their critical readings and comments on this article, we would like to thank David Botstein, Nathaniel Heintz, Luisa Hirschbein, David Ish- Horowicz, and Richard Lewontin, none of whom should be held accountable for this text, for which we take full responsibility.

[2] No one group found all of the Hox genes. Lewis started his work in the late 1950s, earlier than Nüsslein-Vollhard and Wieschaus, but much of the work of the two groups was contemporaneous. Both groups realized that development was under genetic control. Although Lewis focused on specific Hox genes, Nüsslein-Vollhard and Wieschaus saw the importance of identifying all of the genes that controlled the body plan, and they identified most of them.

[3] Hox proteins behave in this way because of a particular genetic feature of the Hox genes that produce them. Within their genetic composition, all eight Hox genes possess a nearly identical section of DNA, called a homeobox. When Hox genes produce Hox proteins, the homeobox region of the Hox genes carries the genetic information to produce a specific part of these proteins called the homeodomain. Once the protein is assembled, its homeodomain attaches to DNA sites that control genes, allowing it to function as a switch.

It is this particular characteristic that gave the Hox genes their name. In homage to Bateson, the identical sections of DNA were called "homeoboxes," since they were present in genes that, when mutated, resulted in Bateson's monsters, or "homeotic" mutants. The term "Hox gene" is a whimsical combination of "homeotic" and "homeobox."

[4] While classical genetics relies on changes in the order of the bases in the DNA strands, other heritable changes have been discovered—changes in the chemical makeup of the bases that control gene activities, for example—and are increasingly recognized as important in development and evolution. For example, the base cytosine might undergo a chemical modification involving the addition of a single carbon atom.

The real gap in evolution is between the evolutionists' ears


Point of View By DON WALTON

Time for Truth Ministries Published April 27, 2006

Isn't it amazing what today's scientists can deduce from a mere rock or dust particle? Do you remember the Genesis space capsule? Scientists assured us that this important space mission, designed to gather solar atoms, would eventually enable them to explain the origin of the universe. Unfortunately, the space capsule crashed upon its return to the earth. Its parachute malfunctioned due to the fact that it had been put in backwards. Now I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, scientists who can't figure out which way to put in a parachute have no chance of figuring out the origin of the universe.

Despite the Genesis debacle, scientists are now reporting that they have solved the mystery of how planets form around a star born in a supernova explosion. According to a report in the journal Nature, NASA scientists have detected swirling, a dusty disk of debris orbiting a pulsar – a dead star – 13,000 light-years from the earth. This dusty debris swirling around the pulsar, which supposedly collapsed in a supernova explosion about 100,000 years ago, is touted by scientists as the metal-rich material from which planetary systems are spawned. Granted, no planetary formation was detected by NASA scientists, but, as the scientific community always alleges whenever there is an absence of evidence to support their hypothesis, it will eventually become detectable, give or take a couple of gazillion years.

Now we come to the big scientific news of late. A group of scientists, led by University of Chicago paleontologist Neil Shubin, is claiming to have discovered evolution's "missing link" between fish and land animals. As reported in Nature, Shubin's research team discovered fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish in the Canadian Arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole. Although the well-preserved skeletons are undoubtedly of a fish with fins and scales, scientists believe that they can also detect traits that suggest this fish evolved into an amphibian, which evolved into a reptile, which evolved into a mammal, which evolved into a man. According to Dr. Michael J. Novacek, this "fishapod," as the scientists have dubbed the newly discovered fossil remains, is all that is needed "to show that the creationists are flatly wrong."

Well, there you have it; scientists have discovered a rock that disproves the existence of the Rock of Ages. Yet, before we throw our Bibles away, let's remember a similar claim made by evolutionists several years ago. The Coelacanth, discovered in fossil remains believed by scientists to be 400 million years old, was once touted by evolutionists as the "missing link" between fish and land animals. This prehistoric creature was believed to have possessed both lungs and gills, as well as lobbed-fins and a skeletal and muscular system that enabled it to walk on either the ocean floor or dry land.

Today, thanks to the fact that hundreds of them have been caught off the coast of South Africa, the Coelacanth has been nicknamed "the living fossil." This so-called living fossil has not only given evolution a black eye, but left evolutionists scratching their heads for an explanation to why the Coelacanth failed to evolve into an amphibian and has remained virtually unchanged for the past 400 million years. Of course, the Coelacanth will eventually evolve, evolutionists assure us, just give it a gazillion years or two.

I'm convinced that the only gap in evolution is the one between the ears of all who adhere to it. Likewise, I'm convinced that this is a gap that most evolutionists will never discover until it is eternally too late. Unlike evolution, evolutionists don't have gazillions of years to be proven right. They only have this short lifetime to get right with their Creator whom they repudiate with their cockamamie theory.

Don Walton is founder of Time for Truth Ministries and a full-time evangelist and conference speaker. For more information visit www.timefortruth.org

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Genesis of a museum


Creationists, saying all the answers are in the Bible, put their beliefs on display in $25 million facility

By Lisa Anderson Tribune national correspondent

April 25, 2006

PETERSBURG, Ky. -- The recent fossil discovery of a 375-million-year-old fish that could lurch ashore on bony transitional fins--apparently a long-sought missing link between sea creatures and land animals--made a spectacular splash in evolutionary science circles. But it created nary a ripple on the placid American campus of Answers in Genesis, where an enormous museum chronicling the biblical six days of creation is rising fast amid rolling fields.

Ken Ham, co-founder and president of Answers in Genesis, believed to be the world's largest creationist organization, and most "young-Earth" creationists are as unimpressed by science's finding another piece in the evolutionary puzzle as they are with science's finding the Earth to be 4.5 billion years old.

Using biblical calculations, young-Earth creationists believe the planet is about 6,000 years old; old-Earth creationists believe it could be older. Both, however, take the Bible literally and reject Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory that all life, including human, shares common ancestry and developed through random mutation and natural selection. Evolution enjoys near-universal support among scientists.

Not so among the American public, about half of which endorses creationism, according to polls. While new concepts such as intelligent design, which posits that life is so complicated that an intelligence must have devised it, recently have suffered setbacks from court rulings and scientific findings, creationism thrives, and Answers in Genesis is a strong sign of that.

Just hours after the fossil fish, called Tiktaalik roseae, landed on the front pages of many newspapers earlier this month, it also surfaced on the Answers in Genesis Web site. In a posting titled "Gone fishin' for a missing link?" the organization, in effect, threw Tiktaalik roseae back.

"Because evolutionists want to discover transitional forms, when they find a very old fish with leg-bone-like bones in its fins, they want to interpret this as evidence that it is some sort of transitional creature. . . . It may be just another example of the wonderful design of our Creator God," the posting said.

Absolute certainty

For creationists, there are no transitional creatures and no doubts. In the Book of Genesis, the biblical calendar of creation is as clear and simple as it is sacred: God created creatures of the sea and the air on Day 5. Land animals and man appeared on Day 6. And all of this, including the creation of Earth, happened about 6,000 years ago.

"Is the Bible the word of God or is it not? If you're going to reinterpret it from ideas outside the Bible, which continue to change, then it's not," said Ham, 54, a former high school biology teacher from Australia, who leads Answers in Genesis' 12-year-old U.S. branch. "The point I make is the Bible's account of creation is so black and white and has not changed, but man's ideas have changed."

Ham is far from alone in that belief. According to nearly a quarter-century of Gallup polls, about half of all Americans consistently agree with the biblical account that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Polling also indicates that a majority of Americans say creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public school biology classes.

"It is strengthening. It's not adding more proponents, it's growing in terms of giving increased confidence to those who share that belief," said Ronald Wetherington, an anthropologist at Dallas' Southern Methodist University. He cited an American political climate in which creationists, who include many so-called values voters and evangelicals, feel politically and culturally empowered rather than marginalized.

In the United States, Answers in Genesis maintains a mailing list of 500,000 names and a monthly newsletter that goes out to as many as 120,000 readers, according to Mark Looy, chief communications officer.

Many of them have laid the financial foundation for the 50,000-square-foot, $25 million Creation Museum that Ham is building with donated money on a near-50-acre campus in the northern Kentucky countryside. As of March 31, almost $21 million had been raised, according to the Web site.

Minutes from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the location is no accident, as underscored by the airport's slogan, "Half the U.S. population within an hour's flight."

While mainstream scientists shake their heads, marketing research indicates Answers in Genesis may be welcoming up to 250,000 visitors a year after the museum's scheduled debt-free opening next spring, according to Michael Zovath, vice president of the Creation Museum. Admission fees remain to be determined.

"The 250,000 people going to it will go back to their legislators and pressure them to vote for Jesus," said Volney Gay, director of the Center for Religion and Culture at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "There's a suspicion of science and a suspicion of intellectuals in general."

Said Ham: "What we see is if you can get information to people, their worldview will be changed, and the way they vote on issues, on a school board or whatever, will reflect that change."

But some visitors well may come from abroad. Startling the British scientific community, earlier this year an Ipsos MORI poll for the BBC , found that 48 percent of Britons accept evolution, 22 percent believe in creationism and 17 percent choose intelligent design. Further, while 69 percent want evolution taught in the science classroom, 44 percent wanted creationism included.

Those kinds of numbers fuel and finance Answers in Genesis. The organization also maintains offices in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom, which is the fastest-growing ministry after the U.S., Zovath said. In fact, he said, the strength of the 3-year-old British operation has reached the point that it held its first international conference there last weekend in Derbyshire.

Earlier this month, the Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific body, signaled its rising concern about creationism and education by issuing a stern statement "opposing the misrepresentation of evolution in schools to promote particular religious beliefs."

Nonetheless, already there has been talk of charter flights from Britain to visit the museum next year, Zovath said. What they and other visitors will see promises to dwarf any other such creationist museum effort in terms of scale, presentation and marketing savvy. Once past the entry gates, flanked by two hulking steel silhouettes of stegosauri, they will enter a sprawling, parklike campus, graced by a large lake and lush landscaping. In the center of it all: an august, faintly templelike building done in honey-colored stone and fronted by 11 thick pillars.

Inside, the museum will feature 31 rooms, 200 exhibit themes produced by a former Universal Studios designer and 55 video presentations, all offering creation science's evidence for the Genesis account. There also will be a 2,600-square-foot bookstore with a medieval castle motif, a 150-seat Noah's Cafe with dinosaur footprints embedded in the floor, an 84-seat planetarium, a 60-seat theater and a spacious refreshment area with palm trees and a waterfall.

The dinosaur replicas, many of them animatronic, are spectacular: Creationists say dinosaurs lived simultaneously with humans because their death came only after original sin. Some of the more compelling effects are in the key rooms depicting what are called "The Seven C's of History." They are: creation, corruption, catastrophe (the destruction of the world by Noah's flood), confusion (Babel), Christ, the cross and consummation (his death and resurrection).

Along the Creation Walk

For instance, soft lighting, gentle sounds and pleasant fragrances will mark the Creation Walk, where Adam and Eve chat with God in the Garden of Eden before they are corrupted to commit original sin by an animatronic serpent. The dimly lit Corruption galleries, by comparison, will feature videos of pain and suffering, noxious odors and the heat, literally, turned up.

"We're trying to make this the most uncomfortable place in the museum to show how original sin has corrupted the universe," Zovath said on a tour through the site.

Through constant speaking tours, daily radio broadcasts and numerous publications, Ham relentlessly drives home the message that Answers in Genesis "is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to upholding the authority of the Bible from the very first verse."

The museum, he said, is the embodiment of that and a "symbol of Christians making a stand, a physical stand here, not in a nasty, aggressive way, but in a nice, aggressive way."

Terms of debate

Evolution: Charles Darwin's theory, accepted nearly universally by scientists, says that all life on Earth, including human, shares common ancestry and evolved to its present state through random mutation and natural selection.

Creationism: Advanced by religious conservatives in response to Darwin's theory, creationism adheres to the biblical account that God alone created the world and all life in it, much as it is today, at one point within the last 10,000 years.

Creation science: Claims scientific evidence for the biblical version of creation.

Intelligent design: Considered a successor to creationism, intelligent design became popular in the early 1990s after the U.S. Supreme Court banned the teaching of creationism in public schools in 1987. Intelligent design posits that there are weaknesses in Darwin's theory and suggests that an unnamed intelligence must have designed some aspects of life.

-- Lisa Anderson


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Scientists Debunk Astrology


By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

April 24, 2006 — One of the largest studies of the possible link between human traits and astrology found little, if any, connection between the traditional sun signs of the zodiac and characteristics of individuals.

The study adds to the growing body of evidence that there is no scientific basis for star signs, such as Aries, Taurus and so on. These signs are based on the place of the sun in relation to the date of birth of the subject.

The researchers, however, leave open the question as to whether other, more detailed and personal forms of astrology hold any validity.

"When considering the current scientific standing with respect to sun signs, it becomes clear that there is little or no truth in sun signs," said Peter Hartmann, who led the study, which will be published in next month's Personality and Individual Differences journal.

Hartmann, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at Denmark's University of Aarhus, added, "This does not necessarily mean that all astrology is without truth, but only that the independent effect of sun signs is most likely to be irrelevant. As for the weekly horoscope based on mere sun signs, then according to the current scientific standing, there is probably more truth in the comic strips."

Hartmann and his colleagues used computer analysis and statistical methods to study possible astrological connections between over 15,000 individuals. They derived these test subjects from two sources.

The first was the Vietnam Experience Study, which gathered information about intelligence, personality and date of birth for male military veterans. The second was the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, which included intelligence and date of birth information for males and females aged between 15 and 24 years.

If connections existed over a rate of five percent, they were considered to be valid and not the result of random links.

The scientists could find no relationship between the time and date of a person's birth and their personality traits, which the Vietnam study categorized using terms such as psychoticism, extraversion, neuroticism and social desirability.

The researchers, however, did determine that individuals from the Vietnam test who were born between the months of July and December were slightly more intelligent, by less than one IQ point, than those who were born between January through June.

That finding was reversed for the 1979 youth study. In that case, people who were born January through June had the minute intellectual edge.

Hartmann told Discovery News that although the information about intelligence passed the non-random restriction, he viewed the connection as irrelevant.

"An example: Assuming that you could buy a pill that would increase your IQ with one point, but it would cost you $10,000, would you do it? Probably not, but if you could buy a pill that would increase your IQ by 15 points that would be something else, simply because you get more value for your money," he said.

"The essence here is that there is a difference in determining whether a result is significant, hence whether it is a true effect, or just random occurrence, and then whether this significant effect is relevant and of any interest."

Geoffrey Dean, a former astrologist based in Australia who researches the possible scientific validity of astrology, tracked over 2,000 people who were born within minutes of each other.

The study, which spanned several decades, covered over 100 different characteristics, like marital status, IQ, anxiety, temperament and more. His findings were published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Dean came to a similar conclusion as Hartmann and his team, that date of birth does not affect an individual's personality.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Arming teachers to teach evolution.


April 24, 2006 @ 11:44AM - posted by John Timmer

As readers of this Journal know, science literacy in the US and its close cousin, the teaching of evolution, are major concerns of mine. So, when the New York Academy of Sciences announced a program entitled "Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science", I got in touch as soon as I found out about it, and received a press pass to cover the event. The talks were specifically targeted to science teachers at the high school and college levels, as well as policymakers, and took place on the west side of Manhattan. The sessions were formatted to allow two 30 minute talks on related topics, followed by a half hour of discussion, and I was able to attend the majority of them. The talks and discussions were generally very good, and I'm planning on covering them in three entries to be posted on consecutive days.

Teaching evolution even in the absence of controversy can be a challenging thing. Focus too much on the detailed evidence, and the big picture can get lost. Present the broad overview of evolution's explanatory power, and it's easy to skip over the wealth of data that supports the theory. Things get much worse when students come prepared with creationist arguments and the teachers are faced with opposition from a combination of the school administration, the school board, and the state government. The meeting was intended to provide a status report, teaching suggestions, and advice for how to handle the controversy in the future. The NYAS also made clear that material from the meeting would be made available online, including videos of the speakers, allowing it to reach a broader audience.

The first session was on the nature of science and biology, presented in part by Robert T. Pennock of Michigan State, who testified at the Dover trial. He suggested that teachers should present evolution as part of a discussion of the nature of science, as the development of the theory is an example of science done right. He even suggested that science itself can be viewed as a selective process that discriminates among competing ideas. In contrast, he presented ID as a negative argument against evolution with no explanatory power. Ultimately, however, he suggested that the key feature of evolution is that it passes the pragamatic test: evolutionary processes work in both engineering and computer programming, producing efficient products that would not have been proposed by intentional design, including an antenna used by NASA. I asked him later about the prominent roles played by engineers and chemists (who have careers centered around goal oriented design) in providing creationist arguments with academic credentials, and he suggested that ultimately, the success of evolved designs will win over these fields.

Pennock's talk was supposed to detail the "scientific virtues", but he only got to these at the very end. He considers them to be curiosity, skepticism, attentiveness, meticulousness, objectivity, and integrity. The next speaker, Bruce Alberts, formerly the president of the National Academies of Science, promptly introduced himself by noting that his wife would tell you he lacked attentiveness and meticulousness, but he managed to get by regardless. The first half of his talk was devoted to his research on DNA polymerases, and included a mind-blowing real time animation of the enzyme at work making a copy of the DNA (still trying to find a link to that...). Oddly, he explicitly and repeatedly used the term "machine" to describe this collection of proteins, despite acknowledging that ID proponents had used his words to suggest such enzymes were analogous to human designed machinery.

His talk became much more relevant when he shifted to the role he played at the National Academies, where he was a strong advocate of science education, and has helped to develop a tremendous library of over 3,500 science-oriented publications, all of which are available both online and in print for a small fee (usually under $10). For example, a search at the NAS for "science literacy" pulls up 89 publications, all with a "read free online" link. Perhaps the best overview for a general audience was Science for all Americans, which was excerpted in an NAS handout available to the participants. He also mentioned the efforts going into developing programs for inquiry-based learning in science appropriate for every grade, starting in kindergarten. Alberts noted that the NAS was working on finding out why their message isn't reaching many, including running focus groups on evolution and creationism in conservative states. A question appeared in the discussion session that was relevent to presenting science to the public: since it causes so much confusion, should we just drop the "theory" from evolution? This question popped up in several other talks as well. Pennock felt that it made sense to refer to the factual process as simply evolution, and the explanatory aspects, such as natural selection, as Darwin's Laws. This struck me as somewhat odd in a session devoted in part to trying to find out how to get the American public to understand what a theory is.

Alberts was the first to raise what also became a recurring theme at the meeting: the science education system is broken from the top down. This starts in the colleges that train our teachers, which rely on the same general science education classes that those on the research track take, and provide little help in training future teachers to present science to a general audience. Nobody takes responsibility for ensuring that the teachers-to-be have a general understanding of the nature and practice of science. One speaker phrased the need for change in terms of self-interest: science teachers would be the ones sending the next generation of students to the colleges, and improving the preparedness of future students is in the college's own interests. This highlighted a need to structure college courses better for non-scientists and reward those college faculty who improve teaching or publish teaching methods.

A question during the discussion session made clear that back in high school, the most talented students wind up in Advanced Placement courses, where interest in the subject is often crushed by the need for AP exam preparation, which in turn is dictated by the exam company's need for a statistically valid sampling of knowledge in a broad range of topics. Pennock pointed out that we're still teaching all students the intricate details of the Krebs cycle, even though it's unclear whether that provides any sort of generally applicable understanding and it clearly isn't a focus of much active research. He suggested that it was time to re-evaluate many things that have become rites of passage in science education. Although everyone recognizes that these are problems, their pervasiveness throughout the system means that reform is going to be a long-term project.

I had to miss the evening's session, which focused specific data on molecular and human evolution; I've got a reasonably good grasp of the former, but I'm disappointed that I couldn't get an update on the many recent fossil finds in the human lineage, including the Hobbits of Flores. But I will have full coverage of day 2 of the meeting tomorrow.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Balancing act with intelligent design


By Bill Phillips Apr 23 2006

Intelligent design. Some may look at my ramblings as solid proof that there is no such thing as intelligent design, but that's another story.

Intelligent design is the new euphemism for creationism. In the ongoing debate of creationism versus evolution, intelligent design has crept into the equation.

I can only surmise that intelligent design is designed (sorry) to soften the bite of preaching creationism.

Intelligent design is the thought that earth is too complex to have happened by chance and that somewhere along the way a higher intelligence had a hand in helping things along.

The intelligent design folk don't seem to like the word creationism because is smacks too much of ... well religious fervour.

But, the way I see it, intelligent design is still all about creationism. A rose by any other name ...

I would be willing to support the intelligent design folks if they would grant one possibility ... that the 'intelligent design' they like to talk about wasn't done by God.

One of the problems with the creationism/evolution debate is that no one was around when it all happened so no one really knows for sure.

Scientists base their theories on research and whatever facts they can garner about the origins of earth. Still, their conclusions involve a leap of faith.

Those who believe in creationism put their faith in the Bible which, with my editors hat on, no one can really check the facts on.

Once again, it is a leap of faith. If you believe in something, that doesn't necessarily mean it is real. And, simply because we don't understand something doesn't mean there isn't a rational explanation for it. I don't understand how a combustion engine works, but that doesn't mean the hand of God is at work every time I fire up my gas guzzler.

If there is credence to the evolution side of the debate, it's that our wonderful world has proven time, and time again, that the world we live in is very much a cause and effect place. The earth is a warmer place now, for whatever reason, and the effect of that is glaciers are melting at an astounding rate. I find it hard to believe that this is also the hand of God at work. Why would God create such a wonderful place such as earth only to cast it asunder? (I'm sure there's an explanation for that in the Bible ... Judgment Day and all that.)

But getting back to our intelligent design folks. What if they are right about someone having a hand in our development? But what if it was – and I admit I've seen too many Star Trek movies – the Vulcans or the Klingons or some other corporeal beings who ventured out into the cosmos and were altruistic enough to want to help earth rather than simply rape its resources? It could happen.

That wouldn't answer the question of their creation, but do we care?

The argument has been made many times before that modern man would certainly be viewed as God if plunked down in pre-historic times.

He can fly, make fire out of nothing, and create something where nothing was before.

He can even manipulate ecosystems.

I don't know who is right. All I'm saying is I could accept the intelligent design reasoning a little bit if they would acquiesce that it might not have been a god doing the designing.

Bill Phillips is the editor of the Williams Lake Tribune

Evolutionary Biologists Score One For Darwin


By Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

Published: Friday, April 7, 2006

By resurrecting a protein that disappeared 450 million years ago, a trio of University of Oregon researchers have shown how evolution could have produced the amazingly complex biological systems that some have claimed are evidence of "intelligent design."

The research, published today in Science magazine, provides an evolutionary path for the intricate "lock-and-key" relationship between a hormone and its biological receptor. Proponents of intelligent design contend that such relationships are evidence of "irreducible complexity," meaning they couldn't have evolved from the random changes that fuel natural selection and therefore must have been designed, whether by God or some other higher power.

UO molecular biologist Joseph Thornton said refuting intelligent design wasn't the goal of the research, but he's pleased that it adds to the already robust arguments supporting evolution.

advertisement "We do this work because the evolutionary questions, the scientific questions, are extremely interesting," he said. "It turns out they also reveal a major flaw in the arguments of the intelligent design cam- paign."

Intelligent design supporters have challenged the value of the research. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute (www. discovery.org) plans to post a response to the work today, and a leading intelligent design advocate posted comments Thursday saying the research fails to refute the concept of irreducible complexity.

Thornton, a member of the UO's Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, used newly developed genetic techniques to literally re-create the ancestor of the receptor protein for the hormone aldosterone, which regulates the body's salt balance. Scientists previously used mathematical models to re-create virtual ancestor genes, but the new techniques allowed Thornton to re-create the genetic material itself.

"We actually re-create a gene that hasn't existed for 450 million years," Thornton said. "It's amazing, but it opens up all sorts of scientific opportunities for us."

Hormones regulate many biological functions by activating certain genes that direct the body's cells to perform a specific task. But that genetic signal is only triggered when a hormone binds to a receptor protein.

Both hormones and receptors have hugely complex molecular shapes and to function must fit together like an intricate key in an equally intricate lock. But individually, the molecules have no biological or evolutionary purpose, so scientists have puzzled over how they evolved, especially considering that one sometimes appears millions of years before the other.

That's what gave rise to the intelligent design notion of irreducible complexity. Proponents argue that if such intricately shaped molecules had no purpose at the time they appeared, something else - a designer - must have created them.

But Thornton found an evolutionary link when he put modern-day aldosterone in with its resurrected ancestral receptor and found that new and old worked perfectly well together, despite being separated by millions of years.

Evolution education update: April 19, 2006

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A special mid-week evolution education update. Featured today: a new article on scientific literacy and the creationism/evolution controversy.


A new article in PLoS Biology (April 18, 2006) discusses the state of scientific literacy in the United States, with especial attention to the survey research of Jon D. Miller, who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University Medical School.

"To measure public acceptance of the concept of evolution," the article explains, "Miller has been asking adults if 'human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals' since 1985. He and his colleagues purposefully avoid using the now politically charged word 'evolution' in order to determine whether people accept the basics of evolutionary theory. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Americans who reject this concept has declined (from 48% to 39%), as has the proportion who accept it (45% to 40%). Confusion, on the other hand, has increased considerably, with those expressing uncertainty increasing from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005."

In international surveys, the article reports, "[n]o other country has so many people who are absolutely committed to rejecting the concept of evolution," quoting Miller as saying, "We are truly out on a limb by ourselves."

The "partisan takeover" of the title refers to the embrace of antievolutionism by what the article describes as "the right-wing fundamentalist faction of the Republican Party," noting, "In the 1990s, the state Republican platforms in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Missouri, and Texas all included demands for teaching creation science." NCSE is currently aware of eight state Republican parties that have antievolutionism embedded in their official platforms or policies: those of Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas. Five of them -- those of Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas -- call for teaching forms of creationism in addition to evolution; the remaining three call only for referring the decision whether to teach such "alternatives" to local school districts.

A sidebar to the article, entitled "Evolution under Attack," discusses the role of NCSE and its executive director Eugenie C. Scott in defending the teaching of evolution. Scott explained the current spate of antievolution activity as due in part to the rise of state science standards: "for the first time in many states, school districts are faced with the prospect of needing to teach evolution. ... If you don't want evolution to be taught, you need to attack the standards." Commenting on the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, Scott told PLoS Biology, "Intelligent design may be dead as a legal strategy but that does not mean it is dead as a popular social movement," urging scientists and educators to continue to resist to the onslaught of the antievolution movement. "It's got legs," she quipped. "It will evolve."

To read "Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology," visit: http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040167


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


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

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

Children's weight-loss product marketers settle FTC charges.

Vineet K. Chhabra (a/k/a Vincent K. Chhabra) and his companies, Dynamic Health of Florida, LLC, and Chhabra Group, LLC-all located in Weston, Florida-have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they made false and misleading claims that:

**PediaLoss tablets cause weight loss in overweight or obese children ages six and over.

**When taken by overweight or obese children, PediaLoss suppresses appetite, increases fat burning, and slows carbohydrate absorption.

**Fabulously Feminine will increase a woman's libido, sexual desire, and sexual satisfaction.

The proposed agreement prohibits the defendants from making unsubstantiated benefit, performance, or efficacy claims for any dietary supplement, food, or drug, or misrepresenting any test or study. Two other defendants named in the FTC's complaint-Jonathan Barash and DBS Laboratories, LLC-previously settled the charges against them. [Sellers of children's weight-loss product settle FTC charges. FTC News release, April 6, 2006]

http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/04/dynamichealth.htm PediaLoss retailed $69.95 for 120 tablets (a 30-day supply for children ages 6-10 and a 20-day supply for those 11-16). The FTC has also acted against two other alleged herbal weight-loss products, Skinny Pills (settled with consent agreement in 2005)

http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2004/02/skinnypill.htm and PediaLean (will probably settle soon). http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2004/06/dietsupp.htm

All three products were criticized at a Congressional hearing on dietary supplements for overweight children in June 2004. [Hoppin J. Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, June 16, 2004]

http://www.dietscam.org/reports/hoppin.shtml The full report on the hearing has been posted at http://www.casewatch.org/hearings/childrens_weight-loss_products.pdf

(Warning: The 19 MB document can take a long time to download.)

When science was science


Los Angeles Times

Patt Morrison April 20, 2006

ONCE , IT ACTUALLY worked. About 30 years ago, science pointed its solvent-stained finger at something that humans were doing wrong, something that would kill us if we kept it up. And the politicians listened and said: Whoa - let's stop doing that.

It's 1973. A pair of UC Irvine scientists discover that the chemicals putting the spritz into deodorant and hairspray and the chill into air conditioning are chewing away the pancake-thin ozone layer that protects the planet from radiation. A year later they publish their findings. A year after that, Oregon bans the stuff, then the rest of the nation and Canada follow suit.

Bada boom, bada bing. Chlorofluorocarbons, RIP.

The slowest group to act turned out to be the Nobel Prize committee, which took 20 years to summon F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina (and another ozone scientist, Paul Crutzen) to Stockholm for the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Their work, the committee noted, may have "saved the world from catastrophe."

It's 2006. Rowland is still a research professor at UC Irvine, working out of a building that now bears his name. And science is regarded in some quarters not as a white-coat, white-hat savior but as just another whining special interest to be appeased or squelched. On a few blogs and blowhard broadcasts, science gets slagged as "opinion." We've strayed disastrously from the Pat Moynihan reality rule: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

The young Rowland studied at the University of Chicago under the man who discovered carbon-14 dating, another scientific technique now getting hammered. For Rowland, a tall, lanky fellow who has an inch on Abe Lincoln, being the messenger of man-made apocalypse in the 1970s only meant an attack from a trade mag called Aerosol Age and, puzzlingly, getting picketed in Stockholm by Lyndon Larouchies. "I wouldn't say that Š there wasn't organized opposition, but it was more from industries than political parties," Rowland said.

Today, there's the example of NASA's James Hansen, another veteran atmospheric scientist, who was warned of "dire consequences" if he kept talking about the dire consequences of global warming. A 24-year-old college dropout with a PR job at NASA tried to keep reporters away from Hansen and changed the science content on the NASA website. The flunky finally quit - not because he censored scientists but for the lame reason of lying on his resume. When politics trumps science like that, "you know something's out of hand," Rowland said.

Rowland was the Cassandra whom people believed. The day he went home with his findings, his wife threw out every spray can in the house. "The work is going well," he had told her, "but it looks like it might be the end of the world."

Of course, finding substitutes for CFCs has been a lot easier than replacing fossil fuel in the world's gas tanks. And there's a far bigger constituency for keeping your house warm than for keeping your hair motionless, unless you're Donald Trump.

When it comes to "sky is falling" science, though, there's just no pleasing the public. It gets mad when scientists engage in the debate; the administration has disciplined and overruled some of its own career researchers because their findings contradicted the White House's agenda. And people get mad when scientists detach themselves from the "real world." Rowland remembers a 1950s sci-fi story about a comet destroying Earth's ozone. Outside the lab window, radiation is frying people right in their shoes, and inside, scientists are clamoring to look through a spectroscope at a solar radiation wavelength they've never seen before.

It's not really a fair question to put to anyone - are you optimistic or pessimistic? - but it's worth asking a man like Rowland, who deals in microns, to hear a calibrated answer:

"By inclination, I'm an optimist."

Back in the day - the 1970s - "the advantages of science became apparent much more rapidly than the disadvantages. [The first] Earth Day was only in 1970; that represented people realizing there were adverse consequences to a lot of activities. That wasn't the general view people had before."

The long-term hope for countering climate change - if we have enough future left - is finding practical scientific answers to act on, as opposed to, in Rowland's words, "sweeping it under the rug." That's the optimistic part.

"The planet is in for a rough century," Rowland said, "as we try to put together substitutes for the energy that we need in order to prevent very substantial climate change coming from rapidly rising temperatures."

Saturday, Earth Day 2006, will find Rowland and his wife in New York, with tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. It's "Tosca," about jealousy, knifings, Napoleon, cross-dressing, torture and suicide. So much more restful than science and politics.

PATT MORRISON's e-mail is


Researchers probe ghost sightings on ship

April 23, 2006


MYSTIC, Conn. --Specialists in paranormal research are investigating whether a historic whaling ship might be home to the ghost of a long- ago seafarer.

A five-member team from the Rhode Island Paranormal Research group visited Mystic Seaport on Friday night to spend time on the Charles W. Morgan, a wooden whaling ship where several visitors have reported seeing the apparition.

The 165-year-old craft made 37 ocean voyages in search of whales during the 60 years it was in use. About 1,000 men worked on the Morgan over those decades.

The ship, due for a $3.5 million restoration next year, one of the main attractions at the Mystic Seaport maritime museum.

The Rhode Island Paranormal Research Group became interested in the Morgan after receiving reports from three different groups of people about the apparition.

The visitors said that while touring the ship last summer, they saw a man in what appeared to be 19th-century clothing working below deck. They said the man, who had a pipe in his mouth, nodded at them but did not speak.

When they went returned to the main deck and asked a museum interpreter what the man was doing, they were told that no one was down below and that no one was assigned to be on the boat that day.

"I automatically questioned it, but they insisted they saw something down there," Andrew Laird, founder of the paranormal research group, told The Day of New London.

He said that when he asked the three groups for more details, they responded with the same accounts. The three groups were from Massachusetts, Arizona and New York and did not know each other.

They visited within a week's time of each other.

"The fact that we had three reports that were the same made everyone's eyebrows go up," Laird said.

He said that he also received about 40 other reports of possible paranormal activity before those groups related their experiences.

Museum officials gave the group permission to conduct the investigation.

"We're interested in what they find out," said museum publicist Mike O'Farrell, who attended Friday night's investigation. "It's not so much we believe in ghosts and spirits, but it's a chance to do something fun."

Laird and the other investigators said their few hours on the ship convinced them that there was enough evidence of paranormal activity in certain areas to warrant a return visit with more sophisticated equipment.

Renee Blais, who described herself as a "sensitive" who uses touch and smell to connect with a place's energy, said she felt the presence of a seaman named Gerald.

She also described a sense of "sickness, death and despair" among about 15 men as they rode out a large storm in their cramped sleeping quarters.

Some museum employees might not be surprised by the speculation that the whaling ship is haunted. Dawn Johnson, a longtime museum interpreter who used to be assigned to the Morgan, said she used to hate to go down below and close up for the night.

"It was creepy down there at night," she said. "It's cold and clammy. You hear moans and creaking, and you wonder what it is."

Laird said that 90 percent of the time, his group finds a natural explanation for what people are experiencing, whether it's an animal making noise, something structural in the house or a hoax.

"We mainly go in to investigate. We're not saying a place is haunted. We go in with an open mind," he said.

The group also recently investigated reports at Ledge Light in New London Harbor, and believes the brick lighthouse is haunted by a woman and group of children. They plan to return there on June 3.

Information from: The Day, http://www.theday.com

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Moved by the spirit


Tucked away in Oak Cliff, Christ for the Nations Institute extends its Pentecostal reach worldwide

10:59 AM CDT on Saturday, April 22, 2006

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

Like their counterparts on other campuses, students at Christ for the Nations Institute wear backpacks, carry laptops and sip Starbucks coffee.

They also believe in divine healing, reject evolution and seize most any chance to win souls for Jesus, including witnessing on weekends around Deep Ellum nightclubs.

Wander the halls and you may see students standing in a circle and praying all at once, in unintelligible syllables. That would be speaking in tongues – evidence to the faithful that they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Christ for the Nations is an unaccredited Bible school occupying a jumble of ordinary-looking buildings along West Kiest Boulevard, in a tough part of Oak Cliff. But many of its 1,000 students come from around the world to study and experience its white-hot Christianity.

"Ever since I came on this campus," said Riaz Arif of Pakistan, "I'm on fire."

Little noticed by the secular world, Christ for the Nations has long been an important incubator of Pentecostalism, today the world's fastest-growing branch of Christianity.

Pentecostalism got a great boost 100 years ago this month with the start of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. There, a black man named William Seymour led fervent, racially mixed crowds to believe they could tap into the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues as the Book of Acts reports the apostles did at the Pentecost, after Christ's resurrection and ascension into heaven.

The spread of Pentecostalism in such denominations as the Assemblies of God has created a worldwide need for spirit-filled preachers, missionaries, youth ministers and musicians. Since its founding in 1970, Christ for the Nations has sent forth thousands.

"You find them everywhere," said Eddie Hyatt, an early alumnus who went on to earn a doctorate in ministry from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., and write the book 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity .

Ryan James, 20, came to the school from Rosendale, Mo., on the recommendation of his youth minister, a Christ for the Nations alum. Mr. James is a second-year student whose favorite course is "Gifts of the Spirit," a Bible-based study of divine healing and speaking in tongues. Mr. James said he was speaking in tongues already, but noted with satisfaction that two students have broken through while taking the class.

Like many at Christ for the Nations, Mr. James has a healing story. A self-described reckless high school athlete, he faced surgery for five injuries in one knee. But he said that after prayer, his knee mostly healed. When the surgeons went to work, they only had to repair one ligament.

So why was surgery needed at all?

"The reason I wasn't healed completely was sports had become an idol in my life," he said, adding that he was free of that idol now.

Christ for the Nations was founded by Gordon Lindsay, a man of impeccable Pentecostal credentials. He was born in 1906, the year of Azusa. As a young man, he was converted to Christianity in a service led by Charles Parham, spiritual mentor to William Seymour, the Azusa leader.

Mr. Lindsay became an Assemblies of God preacher in the Pacific Northwest, but after World War II moved to Shreveport, La., and started a monthly newspaper called the Voice of Healing, which promoted faith healers including Oral Roberts.

By the 1960s, Mr. Lindsay had moved his operations to Oak Cliff. He offered seminars in spirit-filled Christianity, and those led him to start a Bible school.

Christ for the Nations Institute opened in 1970 with 50 students. Mr. Lindsay's instincts were good. Pentecostalism continued to grow, and mainline Christian denominations saw increased interest in spirit-filled or "charismatic" worship.

By April 1, 1973, Christ for the Nations had about 250 students. But that day Mr. Lindsay died of a heart attack on the stage of the school's new $1 million auditorium, during a Sunday worship service.

The school's all-male board asked Mr. Lindsay's wife, Freda, to take over. She had been a partner in her husband's work, and as a young woman attended a school run by Aimee Semple McPherson, the famous female Pentecostal evangelist.

Now 92, and still living on campus, Mrs. Lindsay recalls hearing from some who weren't happy that she was running things.

"I began to get all kinds of letters," she said. "They told me, 'You're a woman and the Bible says a woman shouldn't speak in church.' I'd write back a very humble letter, saying, 'The thing of it was, there are 10 men on our board, and they asked me to take the position. I just felt like I should obey them.' "

Ole Anthony, who runs a Dallas-based televangelist watchdog group, guest lectured at Christ for the Nations in its early years. Although he derided as "one mile wide and one micron deep" some of the theology there, he admired Mrs. Lindsay's leadership.

"She's an organizational genius," said Mr. Anthony, president of the Trinity Foundation.

Indeed, Mrs. Lindsay proved an effective fundraiser, erasing much of the school's debt. Christ for the Nations grew in students and buildings, taking over nearby apartments and even a hotel, now a men's dorm. The school expanded its music program and quickened its pace in outreach, helping to start Bible schools and build churches in other countries.

In 1985, Mrs. Lindsay stepped down, and her son Dennis Lindsay took over. He's in charge still.

These days, about a fourth of the students come from other countries. With competition from other Bible schools, overall enrollment is down some. But Christ for the Nations has created a Spanish-language division to accommodate the growing number of Hispanic students. For all students, the cost is about $11,000 a year, including tuition, room and board.

The school retains its focus on Bible and other ministry-related subjects, including music. It doesn't claim to have a broad curriculum – courses such as literature, history and chemistry aren't included.

Through the years, Christ for the Nations has seen little controversy – though Mrs. Lindsay did cause a stir when she was quoted in newspaper stories as defending Benny Hinn, the televangelist and faith healer who has gained notoriety for amassing a fortune while making various prophesies that failed to come true.

Mr. Hinn, a steady financial contributor to Christ for the Nations, has spoken at the school.

"He's a prince," Mrs. Lindsay said in an interview. Dennis Lindsay didn't disagree but added, "Nobody's perfect. He'll have to stand before the Lord, as we all will."

Bedrock Christian conservatism was and is the rule at Christ for the Nations. There's no wiggle room on abortion or homosexuality. The Bible is God's inspired word, and without error. A campus museum of "creation science" – supporting the Genesis account and rejecting evolution – is under construction.

Support for Israel is another given. Many Pentecostals read the Bible as requiring a nation of Israel before Christ comes again. At Christ for the Nations, the Israeli, U.S. and Christian flags fly together.

But interviews with students suggest that such issues matter far less than the intense, often ecstatic experience of faith that links Christ for the Nations to the Azusa Street Revival.

"Things come out of me," said Meredith Henkle, a second-year student from Garden City, Kan., describing her experience with speaking in tongues. "I don't know where they come from. I just know they come from God. ... I've never been to a place where the atmosphere was so impregnated with the spirit of God."

One outsider who has come to admire Christ for the Nations is Gary Cook, president of Dallas Baptist University. His school takes in about 200 of the Bible school's graduates each year.

The situation is sometimes awkward. Students arrive knowing the Book of Romans cold, but without having taken English comp.

Still, Dr. Cook said, Christ for the Nations grads add a welcome jolt of energy to his campus.

"They're just happy, and they want to share the good news of Jesus," he said.

E-mail samhodges@dallasnews.com

Studies of Dental Fillings Reassuring

April 19, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) -- Two long-awaited, government-funded studies found no evidence that dental fillings containing mercury can cause IQ-lowering brain damage or other neurological problems in children.

Children with such fillings were no more likely than other youngsters to suffer such problems, the researchers found.

Some experts found the findings powerfully reassuring. But the studies are unlikely to end the fierce debate over the long-term effects of what are known as amalgam fillings, and some advocates bitterly accused the researchers of conducting unethical experiments on children.

Amalgam fillings, also called silver fillings, are made of mercury and other metals and have been used by dentists for more than a century. But their use has dropped in recent years as more and more doctors switch to resin composite fillings, which are considered more appealing because they are white.

Some advocacy groups and dentists have long contended that the mercury in fillings can leach into the body and cause harmful neurological effects, including autism.

The latest studies were published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We didn't see any indications of harm to these kids," said Dr. Timothy DeRouen, a University of Washington professor of biostatistics and dental public health sciences, who led a study of 507 children, ages 8 to 10, in Portugal to determine if mercury fillings had any neurological effects. "And we tested them repeatedly over seven years."

The other study, led by Dr. Sonja McKinlay of the New England Research Institutes, looked at the effect on intelligence, memory and other mental functions, and kidney function. It involved 534 children in New England, ages 6 to 10.

McKinlay said she is confident that such fillings are safe for children in this age group, in large part because the youngsters were given far more amalgam than the average American child gets.

"If there was no sign of any health problems from this study in these kids with all this amalgam in their mouths ... you know it is going to be safe for kids in the same age group in the rest of the country because they are getting much less exposure," she said.

McKinlay also said that while the study revealed children with the mercury fillings had higher mercury levels in their urine, there was no evidence they had a higher incidence of kidney damage.

Neither study examined autism. Dr. David Bellinger, an author of the New England study, said that autism so rare that it wouldn't be expected to be found among the number of children studied. Also, any children with autism would have been eliminated from the study, as would other children with prior neurological disorders.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research funded the studies.

"From a scientific point of view, it gives us the confidence that these findings are not equivocal and the similarity suggests that the results are real," said Dushanka Kleinman, the institute's deputy director.

An American Dental Association official said the studies offer convincing confirmation of what previous studies have said. "This will give patients the reassurance they are making a safe and good choice," said Dr. Frederick Eichmiller, director of the ADA's Paffenbarger Research Center.

The authors acknowledged the limitations of the studies. For example, in the study of the New England children, the authors said the "possibility of very small adverse effects of amalgam on IQ score cannot be completely ruled out."

Others cautioned against reading too much into either study.

"It is predictable that some outside interests will expand the modest conclusions of these studies to assert that use of mercury amalgam in dentistry is risk-free," Dr. Herbert Needleman, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote in an accompanying editorial. "This conclusion would be unfortunate and unscientific."

He said, for example, it is not clear whether either study could measure subtle effects on IQ.

Jim Adams, a chemistry professor at Arizona State University and president of the Phoenix chapter of the Autism Society of America, said more research is needed, particularly on the effects that mercury fillings in pregnant women have on their fetuses.

Charlie Brown, counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice, an advocacy group pushing to end the use of mercury in dental fillings, said both studies ignore research that indicates mercury causes a host of physical and mental problems.

Brown blasted both studies as unethical, saying that children or their guardians were never told of the potential risks of the mercury fillings.

Authors of both studies disputed that contention, saying they disclosed what they were doing and why. And, said DeRouen, "We weren't doing anything experimental. We were giving standard dental treatment." DeRouen said a review board at the University of Washington found the allegations to be unfounded.

Pat El-Hinnawy, a spokeswoman for the federal Office for Human Research Protections, said DeRouen's study is under investigation.

An anti-amalgam group called the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology also announced it was filing ethics complaints with Harvard, the University of Washington and other institutions that took part in what it characterized "outrageous" experimentation on children.


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