NTS LogoSkeptical News for 13 June 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

In a Ruined Copper Works, Evidence That Bolsters a Doubted Biblical Tale

http://select.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?emc=tnt&tntget=2006/06/13/science/13edom.html

June 13, 2006

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

In biblical lore, Edom was the implacable adversary and menacing neighbor of the Israelites. The Edomites lived south of the Dead Sea and east of the desolate rift valley known as Wadi Arabah, and from time to time they had to be dealt with by force, notably by the likes of Kings David and Solomon.

Today, the Edomites are again in the thick of combat — of the scholarly kind. The conflict is heated and protracted, as is often the case with issues related to the reliability of the Bible as history.

Chronology is at the crux of the debate. Exactly when did the nomadic tribes of Edom become an organized society with the might to threaten Israel? Were David and Solomon really kings of a state with growing power in the 10th century B.C.? Had writers of the Bible magnified the stature of the two societies at such an early time in history?

An international team of archaeologists has recorded radiocarbon dates that they say show the tribes of Edom may have indeed come together in a cohesive society as early as the 12th century B.C., certainly by the 10th. The evidence was found in the ruins of a large copper-processing center and fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the lowlands of what was Edom and is now part of Jordan.

Thomas E. Levy, a leader of the excavations, said in an interview last week that the findings there and at abandoned mines elsewhere in the region demonstrated that the Edomites had developed a complex state much earlier than previously thought.

Dr. Levy, an archaeologist at the University of California, San Diego, said the research had yielded not only the first high-precision dates in the region, but also such telling artifacts as scarabs, ceramics, metal arrowheads, hammers, grinding stones and slag heaps. Radiocarbon analysis of charred wood, grain and fruit in several sediment layers revealed two major phases of copper processing, first in the 12th and 11th centuries, later in the 10th and 9th.

Khirbat en-Nahas is 30 miles from the Dead Sea and 30 miles north of Petra, Jordan's most famous archaeological site. The name means "ruins of copper" in Arabic. One of the first ancient occupation sites in the Edomite lowlands to be intensively investigated, the ruins of its buildings and grounds spread over 24 acres, and the fortifications enclose an area 240 by 240 feet.

"Only a complex society such as a paramount chiefdom or primitive kingdom would have the organizational know-how to produce copper metal on such an industrial scale," Dr. Levy concluded.

The first results of the research by Dr. Levy and Mohammad Najjar, director of excavations and surveys at the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, were described two years ago at a conference at the University of Oxford, England, and in a report in the British journal Antiquity. Reverberations of support and criticism have shaken the field of biblical archaeology ever since.

With the addition of new dates and more evidence of the importance of copper in the emergence of Edom, the two archaeologists have amplified their interpretations in an article being published this month in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review.

"We have discovered a degree of social complexity in the land of Edom," they wrote, "that demonstrates the weak reed on the basis of which a number of scholars have scoffed at the idea of a state or complex chiefdom in Edom at this early period."

The findings, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar added, lend credence to biblical accounts of the rivalry between Edom and the Israelites in what was then known as Judah. By extension, they said, this supported the tradition that Judah itself had by the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century, emerged as a kingdom with ambition and the means of fighting off the Edomites.

The Hebrew Bible mentioned the Edomites no fewer than 99 times. In Genesis, Esau, Jacob's twin brother, is described as the ancestor of the Edomites, and a reference is made to "the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites." Dr. Levy said this statement showed that the Israelites acknowledged Edom's early political development.

In the context, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar wrote, "the biblical references to the Edomites, especially their conflicts with David and subsequent Judahite kings, garner a new plausibility."

Historians and archaeologists who generally endorse the new findings welcomed the more precise dating of ruins in the under-explored region and the attention focused on copper production in Edomite history. But they cautioned against interpretations that might encourage uncritical reliance on the Bible as a source of early history.

Most criticism has come from advocates of a "low chronology" or "minimalist" school of early biblical history. They contend that in David's time Edom was a pastoral society, and Judah not much more advanced. In this view, ancient Israel did not develop into a true state until the eighth century B.C., a century and a half after David.

More widely held in recent years is the estimate that Edom did not become a complex society and kingdom until the eighth or seventh centuries, presumably as a consequence of rule by the Assyrian empire.

Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and a leading proponent of the low-chronology model, has said the new research does "not shed new light on the question of state formation in Edom." He argues that perhaps the copper operations were controlled by chieftains in Beersheba, to the west, and supplied material for urban centers west and north of Edom.

Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar said their excavations showed that "this image of external control is not convincing."

Piotr Bienkowski of the University of Manchester, England, and Eveline van der Steen of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., who have excavated the Edomite highlands, criticized the statistical analysis of the new dating and suggested that the data had been used to support an unjustified interpretation.

"One 'fortress' does not make a kingdom," they argued in a paper. Dr. Levy said the most advanced statistical methods were applied in analyzing the radiocarbon dates, and the laboratory work was conducted at Oxford and the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

"We realize that our work is far from complete, " Dr. Levy said, and a large team from the University of California will return this fall to Khirbat en-Nahas for a deeper look into the early history of the Edomites.

Alternative healing

http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060613/NEWS01/606130377/1008

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Acceptance grows for nontraditional treatment

By Laura Ungar
lungar@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Danielle Weakland lounged on a recliner as acupuncturist Jeffrey Russell stuck tiny needles into her arms, legs and left ear.

The ancient Chinese treatment is supposed to correct the flow of "qi," or vital energy. Weakland said she hopes it regulates her menstrual cycle, just as it relieved digestive and gallbladder problems in the past. "It's worked wonders," the 27-year-old Louisvillian said.

Despite such endorsements, acupuncture has been unregulated in Kentucky -- until now.

In mid-July, a new state law will require acupuncturists to meet national standards for education and certification, which critics and proponents alike say will bring the practice more into the mainstream. The law is the latest example of a growing trend to lend legitimacy to all sorts of nontraditional medical practices.

More hospitals and physicians across Kentucky and the nation offer "alternative" or "complementary" medicine alongside traditional services.

Louisville's Jewish Hospital and St. Mary's HealthCare, for example, has a Wholistic Center run by two nuns who practice such care as hypnotherapy, aromatherapy and spiritual direction. At the University of Kentucky, student doctors must spend time observing massage therapists and chiropractors.

"It's an acknowledgment that people need more than conventional medicine," said Dr. Maureen Flannery, a Berea physician who gave up traditional Western medicine to practice acupuncture.

The trend is driven largely by consumer demand. A survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, established by Congress in 1998 to research such practices, showed that almost half of Americans have used alternative medicine, three-quarters if you count healing prayer.

But critics say many alternative methods are unproven and don't deserve to be part of mainstream medicine.

"People who have real diseases aren't going to be helped by poking a few needles or anything else. There's no evidence this stuff works," said Dr. Robert Baratz of Massachusetts, president of the National Council on Health Fraud. "With medical science, we have to have science behind it. Where they don't, the public is not well-protected."

Law controversial

The debate over the state's acupuncture law stirred up similar controversy.

Under the law, acupuncturists need to be certified, which means having about three years of acupuncture training from an accredited school (usually in addition to a bachelor's degree) and passing a national exam. Indiana and 42 other states already have similar laws, and Kentucky's passed only after gaining support from the Kentucky Medical Association.

Thomas Wheeler, an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Louisville who runs a health fraud prevention group, said he testified against the law because the effectiveness of acupuncture is "not very well established," except for some evidence that it reduces pain. He said government regulation might make acupuncture more popular and prompt more insurance companies to pay for the practice, which the Kentucky State Acupuncture Association said costs an average of $65 a treatment.

"Once you let people become licensed, in effect you are giving it credibility," Wheeler said. "Government is sort of endorsing it."

But proponents say acupuncture is a proven healing method that has been used by 8 million Americans, according to federal estimates, and needs to be regulated to ensure the public's safety.

"We're a legitimate profession and consumers want it," said acupuncturist Shelley Ochs, Jeffrey Russell's wife and president of the acupuncture association.

Ochs said there are 18 practicing, nonphysician acupuncturists eligible for certification in Kentucky, and "at least six individuals" in Louisville who claim to be acupuncturists but have no formal training. Without government regulation, she said, there was no way for the public to tell the good ones from the bad. Even trained acupuncturists have not advertised openly or listed their numbers in the phone book.

Still, they've drawn increasing numbers of patients. Russell and Ochs said their practice has grown steadily since they moved to Louisville from California three years ago. And Flannery -- who won't have to be certified under the new law because she's licensed as a medical doctor -- said she usually has a two- to three-month waiting list for new patients.

Several said they support any efforts to bring the practice into the mainstream.

Julie Adams of Richmond, Ky., began seeing Flannery a year ago to help her deal with hot flashes and severe numbness in her hands after traditional treatment for breast cancer. "It helps, and cancer patients need all the help they can get," said Adams, 67.

Vic Parlanti of Lexington, 70, "swears by" acupuncture to relieve the osteoarthritis in his thumbs. "It may be psychological or whatever," he said, "but it's great therapy."

'Now I believe in this'

Patricia Little of Louisville says much the same about the treatments she gets at the Wholistic Center at Our Lady of Peace Hospital. Little said she could barely walk after four back surgeries for degenerative disc disease. Then she began seeing Sister Lucille Phipps for craniosacral therapy, a form of massage designed to support the body's natural healing. Little started feeling better after 12 visits, she said, and now walks 16 minutes a day on a treadmill.

On a recent morning, New Age music filled a darkened room as Phipps rubbed an herbal solution into Little's back.

"I was one who thought only medical doctors could do this sort of healing," said Little, 59. "Now I believe in this."

The medical establishment is increasingly putting stock in such methods, too. A survey by the American Hospital Association showed that the proportion of hospitals offering alternative medicine more than doubled in four years, from 8 percent in 1998 to 17 percent in 2002.

Baptist Hospital East in St. Matthews offers music and pet therapy and free massages to cancer patients by therapists who are also registered nurses. Norton Healthcare of Louisville integrates alternative therapies throughout the hospital system, with offerings such as acupuncture and meditation for cancer pain, said Dr. Daniel Varga, the chief medical officer.

Baratz called such services marketing ploys. "The fact that people want and are willing to pay for it is not a medical justification for it," he said.

But Parlanti, who has gotten acupuncture for a couple of years, said that hospitals and the government are starting to understand what patients have known for a while.

"I think they see the light," he said.

Reporter Laura Ungar can be reached at (502) 582-7190.

TEACHING EVOLUTION

http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/14806994.htm

Posted on Tue, Jun. 13, 2006

After nearly a year of wrangling, the Education Oversight Committee on Monday endorsed these revisions to biology teaching standards for the topic of evolution that the Department of Education initially recommended in late 2005.

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

• Summarize the process of natural selection.

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

• Explain how diversity within a species increases the chances of its survival.

• Explain how genetic variability and environmental factors lead to biological evolution.

• Exemplify the various lines of scientific evidence that underlie our understanding of evolution and the diversification of life.

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

• Use a phylogenetic tree to identify the evolutionary relationships among different groups of organisms.

Source: S.C. Department of Education

Creationism - How Entropy challenges Evolution Theory

http://www.bestsyndication.com/Articles/2006/r/ranganathan_babu/061306-creationism_and_biology.htm

June 13th, 2006

Few scientists have considered or pondered the full implications of the law of entropy upon the theory of evolution. And, as we shall see, entropy does occur in open systems such as our Earth.

The theory of evolution teaches that matter tends to evolve towards greater and greater complexity and order. We are so accustomed to seeing evolution of technology all about us (new cars, boats, ships, inventions, etc.) that we assume that nature must work the same way also. Of course, we forget that all those new gadgets and technology had a human designer behind them. Nature, however, doesn't work the same way.

The spontaneous (the unaided or undirected) tendency of matter is always towards greater disorder -- not towards greater order and complexity as evolution would teach. This tendency towards disorder that exists in all matter can be temporarily overcome only if there exists some energy converting and directing mechanism to direct, develop, and maintain order.

It doesn't matter whether a system is open (with unlimited energy) or closed (with limited energy), entropy occurs in both systems. In fact, scientists discovered entropy here on our very Earth, which is an open system in relation to the sun. The difference between an open system and closed system is not entropy but, rather, the availability of useful energy.

Is not energy from the Sun more than sufficient to drive the evolution of life on Earth? The problem, again, is that it is not enough just to have a sufficient supply of useful energy for evolution to occur. There must also exist an energy converting and directing mechanism.

When a seed becomes a tree, for example, it does not violate entropy because there is already a pre-existing biological energy converting mechanism and code in the seed which directs the order, growth and development of the tree. In other words, the development of greater order from seed to tree is not chemically a spontaneous event. It is not something that is happening by chance. The question is how did biological order develop in the first place when there was no already existing energy-converting and directing mechanism. Comment on this Article at our Forum

Even the scientific followers of Prigogine, the father of Chaos theory, have admitted that only a very minimal level of order will ever be possible as a result of spontaneous or chance processes.

For example, a few amino acids have been produced spontaneously, but there is already a natural tendency for molecules to form into amino acids if given the right conditions. There is, however, no natural tendency for amino acids to come together spontaneously into a sequence to form into proteins. They have to be directed to do so by the genetic code in the cells of our bodies. Even the simplest cell is made up of billions of protein molecules. An average protein molecule may comprise of several hundred sequentially arranged amino acids. Many are comprised of thousands of sequential units. If they are not in the precise sequence the protein will not function!

The sequence of molecules in DNA (the genetic code) determines the sequence of molecules in proteins. Furthermore, without DNA there cannot be RNA, but without RNA there cannot be DNA. And without eiether DNA and RNA there cannot be proteins, and without proteins there cannot be either DNA or RNA. They're all mutually dependent upon each other for existence!

If the cell had evolved it would have had to be all at once. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years to become complete because it would be highly unstable and quickly disintegrate in the open environment.

The great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle has said that the mathematical probability of the sequence of molecules in the simplest cell occurring by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power or roughly equivalent to a tornado going through a junk yard and assembling a 747 Jumbo Jet. It is not rational to put faith in such odds for the origin of life.

Considering the enormous complexity of life, it is much more logical to believe that the genetic and biological similarities between all species is due to a common Designer rather than common biological ancestry. It is only logical that the great Designer would design similar functions for similar purposes and different functions for different purposes in all of the various forms of life.

Contrary to popular belief, scientists have never created life in the laboratory. What scientists have done is genetically alter or engineer already existing forms of life, and by doing this scientists have been able to produce new forms of life. However, they did not produce these new life forms from non-living matter. Even if scientists ever do produce life from non-living matter it won't be by chance so it still wouldn't help support any argument for evolution.

What if we should find evidence of life on Mars? Wouldn't that prove evolution? No. It wouldn't be proof that such life had evolved from non-living matter by chance natural processes. And even if we did find evidence of life on Mars it would have most likely have come from our very own planet - Earth! In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity which could have easily spewed dirt containing microbes into outer space which eventually could have reached Mars. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility.

Ultimately, however, scientists concede that the law of entropy (the process of progessive energy decay and disorder) will conquer the entire universe and the universe, if left to itself, will end in total chaos (the opposite direction of evolution!). In fact, the law of entropy contradicts the Big Bang theory which teaches that the universe spontaneously went from disorder to order.

The mighty law of entropy in science simply teaches that the net direction of the universe is always downward towards greater and greater disorder and chaos -- not towards greater and greater order or complexity.

Furthermore, because of the law of entropy the universe does not have the ability to have sustained itself from all eternity since all the useful energy in the universe will some day become irreversibly and totally useless. The universe, therefore, cannot be eternal and requires a beginning. Since energy cannot come into existence from nothing by any natural process, the beginning of the universe must have required a Supernatural origin!

Science cannot prove we're here by creation, but neither can science prove we're here by chance or macro-evolution. No one has observed either. They are both accepted on faith. The issue is which faith, Darwinian macro-evolutionary theory or creation, has better scientific support.

Whatever evolution occurs in Nature is limited to within biological kinds (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.) but, unless Nature can perform genetic engineering, evolution will never be possible across biological kinds, especially from simpler kinds to more complex ones (i.e. from fish to human).

What we believe about our origins does influence our philosophy and value of life as well as our view of ourselves and others. This is no small issue!

Just because the laws of science can explain how life and the universe operate and work doesn't mean there is no Maker. Would it be rational to believe that there's no designer behind airplanes because the laws of science can explain how airplanes operate and work?

Natural laws are adequate to explain how the order in life, the universe, and even a microwave oven operates, but mere undirected natural laws can never fully explain the origin of such order.

There is, of course, so much more to say on this subject. Scientist, creationist, debater, writer, and lecturer, Dr. Walt Brown covers various scientific issues ( i.e. thermodynamics, fossils, biological variation and diversity, the origin of life, comparative anatomy and embryology, the issue of vestigial organs, the age of the earth, etc. ) at greater depth on his website at www.creationscience.com . Another excellent source of information from highly qualified scientists who are creationists is the Institute for Creation Research (www.icr.org ) in San Diego, California.

It is important to understand that belief in neither evolution or creation is necessary to the actual study of science itself. One can understand the human body and become a first class surgeon regardless of whether he or she believes the human body is the result of the chance forces of nature or of a Supreme Designer.

Sincerely, Babu G. Ranganathan (B.A. Bible/Biology) www.religionscience.com

Professors compare state science standards with plan by S.C. lawmaker

http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/14802263.htm

Posted on Mon, Jun. 12, 2006 Published on: 02/08/2006

By BILL ROBINSON Staff Writer

Sen. Mike Fair's proposal to alter how the state teaches evolution should be taught is an attempt to introduce religion in science classrooms, a survey of college instructors shows.

Seven of eight educators surveyed by The State newspaper found little value in the Greenville Republican's proposal. Fair calls for students to "critically analyze" questions about the origin of man.

Five of the seven who panned Fair's proposal have worked with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative think tank that advocates school choice and charter schools.

Paul Sattler, biology and chemistry department chairman at Liberty University, agreed with Fair, calling parts of the state's new science teaching guidelines an attempt to "indoctrinate students into a particular world view."

Representatives of the state's two public education agencies meet today to try to resolve a stalemate over competing versions of a science guidelines addressing evolution instruction.

Fair says teachers should be allowed to talk about alternatives to evolution, which could include creationism. State Department of Education guidelines focus exclusively on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Susan Haack, a law and philosophy professor at the University of Miami, said mandating instruction about various views on evolution "looks to me like a rather feeble attempt either at muddying the water, or perhaps at satisfying religious parents."

Haack was among a half-dozen educators involved in a national review of public school science guidelines organized by the Fordham Foundation in 2005. That panel gave South Carolina an "A" for its 2000 guidelines, which are still in use.

The State asked the eight scientists from outside South Carolina to compare the competing versions of the state's science teaching guidelines without knowing who wrote each.

Ellen Henderson, chairwoman of Georgetown University's biology department, said she "strongly prefers" the Education Department's version.

"It appears to me that (Fair's proposal) is set up as an entry for 'intelligent design' and that has no place in a science course, except to debunk it as actual science."

Advocates of intelligent design, seen by some as a compromise between evolution and creationism, credit a larger intelligence, perhaps a divine hand, for influencing the diversity of life.

Sattler said the version backed by Fair is "a better attempt to teach students to critically analyze data, regardless of its source.

"It seems to me that (the Education Department draft) is an attempt to indoctrinate students to a particular world view by presenting only those data which support the orthodox view, sometimes ignoring data which contradict that view."

Paul Gross, a retired University of Virginia biologist who also worked on the 2005 Fordham study, described the language crafted by Fair as "completely unacceptable. Moreover, it is an example of ignorance informed by shibboleths from the 'intelligent design' movement and some of its predecessors, such as 'creation science'."

Some of the scientists in The State survey questioned whether Fair's proposal demands too much of high school students.

"I suspect not all teachers could articulate the major issues," Haack said.

"Asking students to 'critically analyze' current biological theorizing is unrealistic at best, and at worst a dishonest attempt to . . . make room for religious 'explanations.'

"I don't believe 'God did it' is really an explanation at all."

Fair, who declined to be interviewed Tuesday, has said students should "critically analyze the methods and assumptions used to construct (the tree of life) and identify evolutionary relationships."

Richard Payne, biology department chairman at the University of Maryland, said Fair's point is valid, "but to answer it scientifically requires a lot more knowledge than most high school students could be expected to have.

"The set of standards are obviously designed to allow creationism to get a nose under the tent of science classes."

Reach Robinson at (803) 771-8482 or brobinson@thestate.com.

THE SURVEY

How it was done:

On Jan. 23, a four-member panel representing the Education Oversight Committee heard from four scientists and science educators who were hand-picked by each side of the evolution science standard debate.

The State sought out eight scientists from outside South Carolina to do a side-by-side comparison of the versions of the standard.

Five of the eight served on a panel that, in December, released a state-by-state review of science standards. That review was underwritten by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. which "believes . . . all children deserve a high quality, K-12 education at the school of their choice."

Biology department leaders at Georgetown University, a private Catholic school in Washington, and the University of Maryland also agreed to participate. And a biology department chairman at Liberty University also rated the standards.

All received e-mails of the standards with the authors' names withheld. They were asked to provide opinions, feedback or critiques of both versions.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Vaccine-autism link doctor faces misconduct inquiry

http://www.unison.ie/worldnews/stories.php3?ca=27&si=1631951

Monday June 12th 2006

THE doctor who sparked a major scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine is to be charged with serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC) in a final bid by the medical establishment to lay the controversy to rest.

Andrew Wakefield, who published a paper in 1998 purporting to show a link between MMR vaccine and autism, is accused of publishing "inadequately founded" research, failing to obtain ethical committee approval, obtaining cash "improperly" and subjecting children to "unnecessary investigations".

The research, which ran in 'The Lancet', is said to have done more damage than anything published in a scientific journal in memory. It caused alarm about MMR vaccine, immunisation rates slumped and cases of measles, mumps and rubella soared.

The GMC will present charges in autumn and a public hearing is expected next year. Dr Wakefield, (50), could be struck off the medical register if found guilty. Unusually, the GMC has brought the case itself in the public interest. There is no complainant.

The investigation has taken two years and lawyers for Dr Wakefield complain he and his family are suffering distress caused by the delay in bringing charges.

The research was carried out at the Royal Free Hospital, north London by Dr Wakefield and 12 other doctors and published in 'The Lancet' in February 1998.

The warning about MMR was amplified by Dr Wakefield at a press conference - to the disquiet of his colleagues - and the subsequent scare led tens of thousands of parents to boycott the vaccine. Immunisation rates fell over the next five years from well over 90pc nationally to a low of 78.9pc in early 2003.

There was a resurgence in cases of measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), according to the Health Protection Agency.

The number of cases of mumps soared from 4,204 cases in 2003 to 16,436 in 2004 and to 56,390 cases last year. Since 2003, the MMR vaccination rate has increased slightly and in mid-2005 stood at 83pc. In 2004 it emerged that at the time he was preparing his paper for 'The Lancet', Dr Wakefield was being paid by lawyers for parents of children allegedly damaged by the vaccine to look for evidence that could be used to help sue the manufacturers of the vaccine.

He received £55,000 (€80,000) from the Legal Aid Board which was paid into his research fund, but which he did not disclose to his co-researchers. He was accused by 'The Lancet' of failing to declare a conflict of interest that could have influenced his findings. Editor Richard Horton said if he had known in 1998 about the conflict of interest he would never have published the paper, and he partially withdrew it in 2004. John Reid, Health Secretary at the time, called on the GMC to hold an inquiry.

Dr Wakefield, a consultant gastroenterologist, left the Royal Free hospital in 2001 "by mutual agreement". He has since worked mainly in America where he has business interests and continues to research autistic children.

His claims about the link between MMR and autism have been repudiated by a series of scientific studies. ((c) Independent News)

Jeremy Laurance


Sunday, June 11, 2006

OGO Oxygen Water

http://www.csnews.com/csn/products/pack_bev/product_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002612619

OGO Oxygen Water, a prestigious European bottled water brand unique for its high oxygen content, has made its way to the U.S. The water, obtained from a local natural spring water source in the Netherlands, delivers around 35 times more oxygen compared to regular water. Beginning this month, the new fine water brand will be introduced in major markets, starting with Miami's South Beach. It will be available in two flavors -- still and sparkling -- with Flower Power, a combination of elderflower and lychee, to follow. The suggested retail price for each 11.2-ounce bottle is around $2.59.

Science Chronicle

Reviews by PETER DIZIKES

The existence of DNA in all living things constitutes remarkable evidence of evolution. It strongly suggests a common origin of life, while cataloging the total set of DNA in a cell — its "genome" — also indicates the degree of relation among organisms. Yet many public disputes over evolution proceed as if the only proof on hand were a few dusty fossils.

Into this void of knowledge steps Nicholas Wade, a science reporter for The New York Times, whose timely and informative survey Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (Penguin Press, $24.95) charts the recently compiled genetic evidence for the evolution and history of our species, revealing details, he says, "of the grand process that Darwin could see only in outline." For starters, DNA helps show how our ancestors developed human form in the five million years since they began diverging from other apes. And as Wade ably explains, some genetic material is passed intact from mothers and fathers to children, while the rest generally mutates at a predictable rate. This allows scientists to trace the historical spread of humans, who left Africa in small numbers (some scientists say it could have been as few as 150 people) about 50,000 years ago, their descendants gradually scattering around the world.

DNA can also help date historical milestones, like the origin of agriculture, domestication of animals and branching of languages. If anything, Wade underestimates the fascination of this scientific detective work. (How does DNA show when humans started wearing clothing? One ingenious researcher realized the evolution of lice holds the answer.) He is more interested in evolutionary psychology — how genes affect our behavior — and he emphasizes that humans are still evolving, as shown in genetic divergences of regional populations. For example, some northern Europeans who domesticated cattle have a distinct gene for lactose tolerance, while many Africans are susceptible to sickle cell anemia, which derives from a mutation that helps protect against malaria.

Wade's conclusions could use some sharpening, however. He claims that the development of lactose tolerance shows broadly that "genes respond to cultural changes," but that's a case of genes responding to an environmental change produced by society — the abundance of milk-producing cattle — and not to any abstract cultural practice. Wade also assumes that genetic variation among relatively isolated populations forms a hard truth: that "race" exists and corresponds to everyone's recent "continent of origin." To downplay genetic differences among people, he says, is "as much a political as a scientific opinion." Perhaps, but the judgment that these regional genetic tendencies constitute "races" has no deep scientific rationale, either. Such labels are generalizations situated atop a complicated intermingling of populations.

Some people do not believe humans are subject to the evolutionary principles scientists have laid down. The Australian philosopher David Stove, author of DARWINIAN FAIRYTALES: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution (Encounter, $27.50), completed just before his death in 1994 and now published in the United States for the first time, thinks civilized society makes a mockery of evolutionary precepts. "If Darwin's theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive," he writes. "But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species."

From so simple a beginning, Stove develops a freewheeling critique of numerous evolutionary ideas, including the genetic basis of altruism ("obviously false," he says) and the gene as the essential unit of natural selection ("obviously nonsense"), displaying an irreverent wit and the confidence that shortcomings in a few texts doom the whole evolutionary enterprise. Although Stove's book preceded the evidence of continued human evolution that Wade cites, it is unlikely Stove would have been convinced. In his view, no genetic theory of behavior adequately describes everyday life, so changes in our DNA would still say nothing about the apparent human exception to evolution.

This short-term perspective sharpens Stove's skepticism, but also undermines his intended demolition job. Stove argues as if only maximal daily struggle among animals can justify evolutionary thinking. But natural history is a long process, and not all animals — whether they live in philosophy departments or the wild — are at war every last hour. (Despite Stove's own rhetorical flourishes, he supposes it a fatal flaw that Darwin himself did not explain this with the utmost literalism.) So while humans have a good thing going now, our society — and our species — could be a blip in world history. Besides, Stove neglects to notice that humans are relentless predators of other species. Human society is unusual, but the smart money says it is less distinctive than Stove imagines.

Far from questioning Darwin's ideas, the nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt seeks to appreciate his vision. In PILGRIM ON THE GREAT BIRD CONTINENT: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons From Darwin's Lost Notebooks (Little, Brown, $24.95), Haupt has produced an extended essay on Darwin's way of — literally — seeing nature. Closely reading the notes he took on birds during the famous voyage of the Beagle, she claims he "watched the earth's creatures with an attention wholly new to the science of his time."

Haupt plausibly pinpoints moments, like a sojourn in Uruguay, when Darwin showed "increased depth, care and competence" in his observations of birds — leading him to practice naturalism through the intensive, patient study of animal behavior, rather than simple species collecting. And her chapter on the Andean condor vividly illuminates Darwin's desire to comprehend the puzzling creatures of the New World.

These insights, however, are camouflaged in a thicket of personal asides and precious verbiage. Haupt also claims Darwin underwent a vague "conversion" to naturalism, insisting he intuited in the world "an earthen goodness, an expanse upon which the breadth of wildness is draped — or, no, an expanse that is this breadth itself." But even she admits this conversion is a projection of her own: "I see Darwin . . . and I wonder, does he sense what I imagine him to sense? Clearly he had no proper language for it." In a more grounded conclusion, Haupt makes a plea for the continued relevance of fieldwork in biology: if looking long and hard at nature worked for Darwin, it can work for us.

A rather different brief for honing scientific intuition comes from WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty (Harper Perennial, $13.95), a volume of essays, ranging in length from one sentence to a few pages, collected by the editor and agent John Brockman. Every year, Brockman's science salon, Edge.org, poses a leading question to thinkers in its orbit. This one asks: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

Most respondents — scientists, writers, public intellectuals — suggest potential discoveries, like finding life beyond Earth or identifying the neural basis of consciousness. A handful of mathematics essays — including efforts by the physicists Freeman Dyson and Leonard Susskind and the mathematician Keith Devlin — deliver crisp observations on the elusiveness of proof itself. But the book is most interesting for the juxtapositions of opposing ideas. "I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exists," argues the cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman. A few pages later, the physicist Janna Levin asserts, "I believe that there is an external reality." Both arguments provide food for thought, if only as appetizers.

For all the political turbulence surrounding science today, virtually none of the 109 essays reflect on the status of the scientific enterprise itself. I believe, though I cannot prove it, that scientists need to explain their work more clearly to the public. Polls show most Americans do not believe in evolution by common descent; few people know what DNA represents. Yet it is easy to imagine the current genome-based research, exciting as it is, either leading to another round of wearyingly familiar arguments about our supposed genetic distinctions and capabilities, or simply reviving well-rehearsed disagreements about the power of genes. This time, science cannot afford mere disputation without public edification.

Peter Dizikes has written about science for The Boston Globe and Slate, among other publications.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/books/review/11dizikes.html?8bu&emc=bu


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Rocks may hold key to oldest life

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0606080140jun08,1,933559.story

A team of scientists argues that a 6-mile stretch in Australia contains not geologic features but the earliest fossil evidence of life on Earth

By Peter Gorner Tribune science reporter Published June 8, 2006

As microbes go, they're renegades, perfectly at home in the world's hottest, coldest, saltiest or most sulfuric waters. They hang out near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor or in the hot springs at Yellowstone, and happily colonize our digestive tracts and those of cows, termites and marine organisms.

This microscopic branch of life--called archaea--likely has been thriving for more than 3.4 billion years, according to new research from a team of Australian scientists. Writing in the journal Nature, they argue that miles of oddly shaped mounds of layered sedimentary rock found in Western Australia are not geologic features but the very earliest fossil evidence of life on Earth.

The rocks, they say, are remnants of thriving microbial communities that dominated the world in the days when the young planet roiled with boiling oceans and the atmosphere was rich in ammonia and methane and probably sizzling hot. Those conditions, while toxic to plants and animals, can nurture archaeans.

If the scientists are right, life arose on Earth within a billion years of its formation--very quickly in geologic time. The findings are relevant to the search for signs of extraterrestrial life on Mars and other planets or moons where conditions could support similar organisms.

"I think that these rocks are telling us that life probably arose ... rather quickly, which means that life only needs a short period of `habitable' conditions on a planet in order to gain a foothold," said the study's lead author, Abigail Allwood of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney.

"The study gives me much more optimism that life could have gained a foothold early in the history of Mars, even if it were only briefly habitable."

The research involves rock formations called stromatolites in Australia's Pilbara region. Approximately 3,430 million years old, the rocks have been a source of controversy since they were first described almost three decades ago.

Some scientists think they were formed not by the activity of primitive microbes but by hydrothermal vents--a chemical rather than biological process.

"The origins have been highly contentious," Allwood said. "There's a whole spectrum of opinion about whether or not there's evidence of life in rocks of this age. A leading expert says there's no consensus among scientists for life's existence prior to 1.9 billion years ago. That's an extreme view that highlights the ongoing debate about the issue."

A similar argument arose in 1996 when a team of NASA and Stanford University researchers asserted that a meteorite recovered from Antarctica contained evidence of possible past microbial life on Mars. Many researchers remain unconvinced that the meteorite has any potential to show that life once existed there.

Examining thousands of mounds in a 6-mile stretch of stromatolite-rich rock, Allwood and her colleagues identified seven differently shaped types. Some look like upside-down ice cream cones, others like egg cartons, fossilized sand dunes or choppy waves.

Their variety, the team concluded, makes them too complex to be chemical in nature. They believe each type represents its own environmental niche. Viewed as a whole, the stromatolites resemble a reef formation, suggesting the presence of Earth's first complex ecosystem.

"Previously, the structures were treated generically as one type, but we found and documented seven clearly different types," Allwood said.

"It's not the complexity of the forms alone; it's the association of the attributes--such as the increasing complexity as they go into shallow water. Plus, you find different, unusual and complex shapes occurring right next to one another. ... It's easily explained by biology, but you'd be hard pressed to explain it by anything else."

The microbes are free-swimming, but they can form a community at the ocean surface or on top of sediments on the sea floor, Allwood said. There they can leave a mark by influencing the way sediment is deposited.

"Stromatolites occur when microbes cause structures to accrete a variety of different shapes," she said. "Microbes can trap and bind different sediment grains that fall. Or they can cause mineral cements to precipitate around them. The microbes are alive when it happens."

Scientists unconnected to the work were quick to announce their enthusiasm for the Australian research.

"This is a real big issue they're addressing, and I think they're doing it the right way," said Peter Wagner, an associate curator of fossil invertebrates at the Field Museum in Chicago.

"If we go to places like Mars, we should be able to apply the same principles to the rocks there. There's lots of sandstones and shales; you can see features you see on Earth caused by standing bodies of water and running water.

"The thing to keep in mind is that Mars has only been loosely explored. The land area is actually greater than Earth. We've sent a handful of probes and the rovers, but it's such a drop in the bucket.

"Who knows what we'll find if we really start looking?"

pgorner@tribune.com

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Inspiring Evolutionary Thought, and a New Title, by Turning Genetics Into Prose

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/06/science/sciencespecial2/06dawk.html

By NICHOLAS WADE Published: June 6, 2006

Thirty years ago, a young biologist set out to explain some new ideas in evolutionary biology to a wider audience. But he ended up restating Darwinian theory in such a broad and forceful way that his book has influenced specialists as well.

"Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think" is a collection of essays about Dr. Dawkins's book "The Selfish Gene" and its impact. Contributors to the book, edited by Alan Grafen and Matt Ridley, are mostly biologists but include the novelist Philip Pullman, author of "His Dark Materials," and the bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries.

The biologists have copious praise for Dr. Dawkins's work of synthesis, while the writers remark on his graceful and vivid style. It is quite surprising for anyone to be commended from such opposite quarters, but "The Selfish Gene," published in 1976, was unusual. Written in clear and approachable language, it worked its way so logically into the core of Darwinian theory that even evolutionary biologists were seduced into embracing Dr. Dawkins's view of their world.

Dr. Dawkins's starting point was the idea that the gene, not the individual, is the basic unit on which natural selection acts. The gene's behavior is most easily understood by assuming its interest is to get itself replicated as much as possible — hence the "selfish" gene of the title.

But genes cannot exist independently. They must cooperate with many other genes in creating vehicles (like ourselves) that are good at getting them replicated.

The primary goal for Dr. Dawkins was to explain the recent work of other biologists, notably George Williams's critique of group selection, William D. Hamilton's theory of kin selection, John Maynard Smith's concept of evolutionarily stable strategies, and Robert L. Trivers's analysis of the intrafamily competition between siblings and between parent and child.

Dr. Hamilton, who died in 2000, is now regarded as one of the most important evolutionary biologists since Darwin. But 30 years ago he was almost unknown, even to specialists, because his insights were expressed in mathematical form.

Dr. Hamilton's chief insight was the solution of a problem that Darwin himself had spotted as potentially fatal for his theory, that of altruistic individuals who sacrifice their lives for the good of their colony, hive or kin. How can a genetic basis for altruism ever evolve, given that an altruist's genes must surely become less common as he diverts resources from helping his own progeny to fostering the survival of others?

Dr. Hamilton showed that it all makes sense when one considers that an individual is not the only carrier of his genes. The very same genes, or at least half of them, are carried by each of an individual's siblings, with lesser fractions shared by uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces. For an altruist to help these relatives survive and propagate their genes is almost as good as propagating his own genes. Once the gene is considered as the unit of selection, it is clear how genes for altruism can spread.

Dr. Dawkins fastened on the idea of the gene as the focus of natural selection and set out in "The Selfish Gene" to restate the new work of Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Trivers and Maynard Smith in these terms. "What he does," the biologist John Krebs writes in this anthology, "is to reanalyze or reinterpret the findings of others with such excoriating rigor, depth and clarity that he uncovers new ideas and ways of thinking."

Dr. Grafen, a biologist and the co-editor, says the exposition of these ideas in the Dawkins book "established a single conceptual framework within which old and new ideas in adaptionism could be understood."

Edward O. Wilson drew on many of the same ideas in his book "Sociobiology," published in 1975, a year before "The Selfish Gene." But "Sociobiology" was a work of synthesis, showing how social behavior across the realm of animal species could be understood in evolutionary terms, whereas Dr. Dawkins's approach was more theoretical. "The Selfish Gene" is "an attempt to convey the underlying logic of a particular type of reasoning, rather than representing a broad overview," Ullica Segerstrale writes in a comparison of the two books.

Despite a fond appreciation in this volume from his local cleric, the bishop of Oxford, Dr. Dawkins has become known to a wider public as a rationalist and a vocal atheist with little time for forms of religious obscurantism like creationism. Mr. Pullman, whose science fiction attacks traditional notions of God, hails Dr. Dawkins as "a ferocious and implacable opponent of those who water the dark roots of superstition."

Though composed of essays that are mostly by Dr. Dawkins's admirers, this book presents a vivid picture of how one man, by force of rigorous analysis and clear writing, taught a generation of biologists how to think about evolution.

100,000 year-old DNA sequence allows new look at Neandertal's genetic diversity

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-06/cp-1yd060106.php

Public release date: 5-Jun-2006

Contact: Heidi Hardman hhardman@cell.com 617-397-2879 Cell Press

By recovering and sequencing intact DNA from an especially ancient Neandertal specimen, researchers have found evidence suggesting that the genetic diversity among Neandertals was higher than previously thought. The findings also suggest that genetic diversity may have been higher in earlier Neandertal periods relative to later periods that approached the arrival of humans in Europe. Changes in genetic diversity over time are thought to reflect population events, such as low-population bottlenecks caused by disease or environmental change, as well as the influence of random genetic change. The findings are reported in the June 6th issue of Current Biology by a group of researchers including Ludovic Orlando and led by Catherine Hänni of Ecole Normale Supérieur in Lyon, France.

Neandertals were the only representatives of the genus Homo in Europe during most of the last 300,000 years, becoming extinct shortly after the arrival of modern humans on the continent around 30,000 years ago. Traces of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences still present in fossilized bones have been used in past studies in an effort to identify and track the potential genetic legacy of Neandertals among modern Europeans. Though such genetic continuity would have been the hallmark of interbreeding between modern humans and Neandertals at the time of their European coexistence, the mtDNA sequences from the nine neandertal specimens that have been analyzed to date – and that lived around the time of the cohabitation period – do not match those found among modern humans, suggesting that little, if any, interbreeding took place.

In their new work, Dr. Hänni and colleagues now report the oldest Neandertal mtDNA sequence ever recovered. The Neandertal specimen analyzed consists in a molar of a 10-12 year-old child that lived in the Meuse valley (Scladina cave, Belgium) around 100,000 years ago. The specimen yielded 123bp of mtDNA – a very short section of DNA by modern sequencing standards, but a technical feat considering the very ancient source of tissue. The reason for choosing such an old specimen was simple: it unambiguously predates the period when Neandertals cohabited with modern humans. By comparing this sequence with already published – and considerably younger – Neandertal sequences, the researchers sought to reveal whether the Neandertal mtDNA pool exhibited long-term stability or drastic modification around the time of cohabitation with modern humans. There was a second reason to pay attention on the Scladina molar: it has only been discovered very recently. This means that all individuals who have been in contact with it are known, and their DNA could be sequenced to detect any possible contamination of the Neandertal sample by modern human DNA.

The Neandertal sequence from Scladina confirms that Neandertals and modern humans were only distant relatives – Neandertal sequences are all closer to each other than to any known human sequence. But the study also reveals that the genetic diversity of Neandertals has been underestimated. Indeed, the mtDNA from the Scladina sample is more divergent relative to modern humans than is mtDNA from recent Neandertals, suggesting that Neandertals were a more genetically diverse group than previously thought.

###

Ludovic Orlando and Catherine Hänni of CNRS, UCB Lyon 1, and Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in Lyon, France; Pierre Darlu of INSERM and Hôpital Paul Brousse in Villejuif, France; Michel Toussaint of Ministère de la région Wallone in Namur, Belgium; Dominique Bonjean of ASBL Archéologie Andennaise in Sclayn, Belgium; Marcel Otte of Université de Liège in Liège, Belgium.

Orlando et al.: "Correspondence: Revisiting Neandertal diversity with a 100,000 year old mtDNA sequence." Current Biology 16, R400-402, June 6, 2006. www.current-biology.com

Tooth gives up oldest human DNA

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5052414.stm

By Helen Briggs BBC News science reporter

Scientists have recovered DNA from a Neanderthal that lived 100,000 years ago - the oldest human-type DNA so far.

It was extracted from the tooth of a Neanderthal child found in the Scladina cave in the Meuse Basin, Belgium.

The study, reported in Current Biology, suggests our distant cousins were more genetically diverse than once thought.

Their diversity had declined, perhaps because of climate change or disease, by the time early humans arrived in Europe about 35,000 years ago.

Past diversity

French and Belgian researchers isolated the genetic material from mitochondria. These are "power pack" structures in cells which contain their own DNA.

The scientists decoded the sequence of 123 DNA "letters" (base-pairs, or bp) and compared it with other known Neanderthal DNA sequences from specimens dated between 29,000 and 42,000 years old.

"The Scladina sequence has revealed that the genetic diversity of Neanderthals has been underestimated," a team led by Dr Catherine Hanni of Ecole Normale Superieur in Lyon, France, wrote in the journal Current Biology.

"Thus, more Neanderthal sequences than the six presently available and longer than 100 bp are needed to fully understand the extent of the past diversity of Neanderthals."

Disease threat

The findings suggest that genetic diversity was greater in earlier Neanderthal history than in later times, when humans started to arrive in Europe.

Such changes are thought to reflect fluctuations in the population, caused by disease or environmental change, as well as random genetic mutations over time.

"Diversity tells us about how old a population is and its demographic history," said Dr Robert Foley, an expert in human evolution at the University of Cambridge, UK.

Neanderthals lived between 230,000 and 28,000 years ago in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.

They were skilled hunters and well adapted to living during the ice ages; but they started to die out after modern humans (Cro-Magnons) appeared on the scene in Europe.

The reason for their sudden demise is unknown, but various theories have been proposed, including biological, environmental and cultural factors.

The DNA studies conducted so far suggest little, if any, interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans took place.

Evolution education update: June 9, 2006

Kansas Citizens for Science calls on local school districts in the state not to use the flawed set of state science standards adopted by the Kansas board of education in 2005. Meanwhile, a special issue of Stanford Medicine focuses on "The Evolutionary Wars," and the judge who presided over the Kitzmiller trial is upholding the principle of judicial independence.

LOCAL DISTRICTS ADVISED TO SHUN KANSAS STANDARDS

Kansas Citizens for Science is urging local school districts not to use the set of state science standards adopted by the Kansas board of education in 2005. In a letter to the superintendents of the 300 or so local school districts in the state, KCFS's president Jack Krebs warned that the board "changed the definition of science in order to include supernatural causes as acceptable scientific explanations, inserted numerous statements into the biology standards that have been rejected by mainstream science and are only found in Intelligent Design creationist literature, and cast unwarranted doubt upon the methodology and validity of science," and noted that the standards have been condemned by numerous scientific and educational organizations -- including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science.

Noting that the members of the board who voted to adopt the standards, as well as their appointees and spokespeople, have "all made clear their motivations for these changes," in part by rejecting "the religious beliefs of those Christians who accept the mainstream theory of evolution, calling them 'confused' and 'illogical' for believing that Christianity and evolution are compatible," Krebs warns that the board's version of the standards "are so flawed that they may be unconstitutional, and if endorsed by a local school district could lead to serious legal difficulties." The solution, he suggests, is for local school districts either to retain their old standards, based on the 2001 state science standards, or to adopt the Science Standards Writing Committee's Recommended Standards, the completed product of the writing committee originally empowered by the board to revise the 2001 standards.

A Harris News Service story published in the Hutchinson News (June 6, 2006) about KCFS's letter noted that the Manhattan-Ogden school district (USD 383), acting on a proposal from faculty and staff at Kansas State University, was the first local school district in Kansas to reject the board's version of the standards, in February 2006. USD 383 board president Randy Martin told the Hutchinson News, "we concluded that the state's science standards before the recent change were in the best interest of our students." While taking no position on the science standards as such, the superintendents of the Chanute and Hutchinson school districts both indicated that their districts are not constrained to follow the state's guidelines, with Hutchinson's superintendent saying, "good science teachers are going to teach what they believe children ought to learn" regardless of what the state says.

For KCFS's letter to the superintendents, visit:
http://www.kcfs.org/kcfsnews/?p=105

For the story in the Hutchinson News, visit:
http://www.hutchnews.com/news/regional/stories/group060606.shtml

For NCSE's coverage of previous events in Kansas, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=KS

STANFORD MEDICINE: "THE EVOLUTIONARY WAR"

"The Evolutionary War" is the theme of the summer 2006 issue of Stanford Medicine. Unsurprisingly, the magazine emphasizes evolution and medicine. "Darwin in medical school" discusses the efforts, led by Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan, to incorporate evolution in medical school curricula. "Evolution offers a broad framework on which you can organize and understand all kinds of facts and principles," Nesse comments. "It ties together medical education instead of leaving it hanging as 50,000 discrete facts. "As good as it gets?" discusses attempts to control human evolution, from the "laughable and alarming" eugenics movement of the 1920s to the uncertain and controversial prospects of germline modification.

Religious issues are addressed, too: William Newsome, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford, explains how he, as a serious Christian and respected scientist, balances science and faith; the Reverend Scotty McLennan, a chaplain at Stanford, praises the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover and objects to "intelligent design' as "actually sacrilegious or irreverent or demeaning of creation"; and former president and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter discusses religious fundamentalism, evolution, and the threat of theocracy with Stanford Medicine's editor Paul Costello, who himself urged the medical community to become involved in defending evolution in a December 2005 op-ed in Virtual Mentor, the on-line ethics journal of the American Medical Association.

The cover story, "Darwin lives: Scientists battle the forces of intelligent design," reviews the current spate of antievolution activity and focuses on scientists who have publicly defended the teaching of evolution in the public schools, including Greg Clark, Herb Kroemer, Phil Plait, and Marshall Berman (who "may be the ideal role model for activists scientists everywhere"). "You could say that scientists are finally getting religion," NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is quoted as joking. Scott herself was the subject of a humorous essay by Joel Stein: "This is a woman who is spending her life informing people about scientific discoveries made 147 years ago ... It's as if she spends her time trying to convince people that multiplication totally works."

For the summer 2006 issue of Stanford Medicine, visit:
http://mednews.stanford.edu/stanmed/2006summer/

For Paul Costello's op-ed in Virtual Mentor, visit:
http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/15765.html

JUDGE JONES UPHOLDING JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer (June 5, 2006) discusses the campaign of Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the Kitzmiller case, to educate the public about judicial independence. "Jones had anticipated he would be targeted by hard-line conservatives after concluding that teaching intelligent design in public schools as an alternative to evolution was unconstitutional," Amy Worden writes. "But he was surprised by how ignorant some of his critics were, in his view, about the Constitution and the separation of powers among the three branches of government. Jones said he had no agenda regarding intelligent design but, rather, was taking advantage of the worldwide interest in the case to talk about constitutional issues important to him." According to the Inquirer, Jones "has been flooded with more invitations than he can accept to speak to organizations and schools about issues that arose from the Dover, Pa., case on intelligent design and other emotionally charged cases," and has managed to accept at least ten such invitations.

For instance, Jones spoke to the Anti-Defamation League in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 10, 2006. Avoiding the temptation to reiterate the grounds for his decision in Kitzmiller -- "I don't want to bore you to death, but in addition, I put out a 139-page opinion. And for those of you who are having trouble sleeping, I'll get you copies so you can read the whole thing," he joked -- he spoke instead about the trial, which he described as "a rather surreal experience" at times. Responding to critics of his decision, particularly Phyllis Schafly, he said, "had I decided the Dover matter in a different way, I would have then engaged in just the kind of judicial activism which critics decry. That is, to have ruled in favor of the School Board in this case based on the facts that I had before me at the conclusion of the trial, I would have had to have overlooked precedents entirely and thus impressed upon the facts of the case my sense or the sense of the public concerning what the law should be, and not what it is."

For the story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, visit:
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/local/states/pennsylvania/14741605.htm

For the transcript of Jones's speech to the ADL, visit:
http://www.adl.org/Civil_Rights/speech_judge_jones.asp

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Nuclear reactors 'evolve' inside supercomputers

http://www.newscientisttech.com/article/dn9302-nuclear-reactors-evolve-inside-supercomputers.html

09:48 09 June 2006 NewScientist.com news service

Tom Simonite

Nuclear reactors could be built more efficiently using supercomputers to artificially "evolve" designs, say engineers from the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

They have found they can speed up the extremely complex process of designing a reactor and generate novel designs from scratch by simulating natural selection.

Designing a nuclear reactor normally involves input from various specialists and the resulting structure can be uniquely influenced by this collaborative process.

"The design that comes out of this lengthy process is typically sub-optimal," says Louis Qualls, a nuclear systems specialist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "If you started with a different person, or designed pieces in a different order, you would get a different system."

Natural selection

Qualls and his colleagues were looking for a more efficient design approach and found inspiration in biological evolution. They used software tools known as genetic algorithms to evolve different reactor designs. Similar algorithms are already used in many different fields to evolve highly efficient solutions to particular problems.

The algorithms they created first produce a population of reactor designs by randomising all the different design factors involved. Each design is then tested in a simulation for its "fitness", measuring its performance efficiency, running cost, safety and other parameters.

The designs that perform best are singled out for survival. They are mutated and recombined to create the next generation of designs. After many cycles, the potential of the most refined designs is evaluated by engineers.

"[Simulated evolution] will come up with some systems we would just never have thought of," Qualls says. "It won't replace the experts or come up with a finished design, but it makes it possible to consider options they wouldn't have had otherwise."

Safety first

The parameters used to decide which designs survive can also be tweaked to meet different overall criteria. "If I were a businessman I'd want to make the most profit," explains Qualls. "But a safety engineer would want one that is least likely to break down."

Qualls's team has used the approach to help design the reactor for a NASA spacecraft designed to one day travel to the asteroid belt. In this case, weight was the main design concern.

Andy Keane, an independent genetic algorithms expert at Southampton University, UK, says this approach has already proven useful in other fields of engineering.

But for very complex problems, such as nuclear reactor design, he says it is important to combine genetic algorithms with sophisticated methods of simulation and analysis. "Research is now focused on integrating genetic algorithms with other techniques and more powerful computation," Keane says. "This means we can produce more complete designs."

A Textbook Case

http://www.styleweekly.com/article.asp?idarticle=12429

June 7, 2006

When teaching evolution in college classrooms, where does creationism fit in? Some VCU professors are wondering.

by Brandon Walters

When biology professor Jim Sparks lectures at Virginia Commonwealth University this fall, he'll spend plenty of time on the missing link. In this case, however, it's his new textbook.

The 35-year-old adjunct professor is upset about the new text his peers at VCU have chosen for him to use in teaching Biology 101. Sparks says it omits critical chapters in evolutionary theory and is biased toward creationism and intelligent design, which argues life is too complex to have evolved over millions of years solely through Darwin's theory of natural selection and must have come at the direction of a supreme being or a supernatural force.

The book Sparks faults is "Essentials of Biology" by prolific science writer Sylvia S. Mader and published by the mainstream McGraw-Hill press.

"The text is confusing and minimalist," Sparks says. "I can't teach a lecture based on this book." Describing most introductory biology texts as uniform, Sparks says he first thought the book was just weak. In the beginning, he even gave his blessing when the department allowed his input. But then he actually read the text.

He also soon learned that one of his colleagues who pushed for the book has strong creationist ties and that the text has also been picked up by Oral Roberts University. And in the chapter called "Darwin and Evolution" on page 230, he found a direct reference to the California-based Institute for Creation Research, stating that the organization "advocates that students be taught an 'intelligent-design theory.'"

Even though the book clearly states that intelligent-design theory does not meet the test of scientific theory, despite that nearly half of all Americans believe the Old Testament account of creation, Sparks says the mention of the institute is disturbing. "It's product placement," he says, "like when Tom Cruise drinks Pepsi in the 'War of the Worlds.'"

Some of his colleagues say he's paranoid and making much ado about nothing. But Sparks may have a point, according to some people following the debate over how evolution is taught nationwide in grade schools and institutions of higher ed.

There have been recent strides for those who support the theory of evolution, including a landmark federal court case — Kitzmiller v. Dover, wherein the court ruled that intelligent design couldn't be taught in public schools in Dover, Pa. — and fossil findings of a fish-animal hybrid dating back 375 million years, which evolutionists hold up as a long-lost missing link.

In the wake of such developments, Sparks' denunciation of the book is raising a question within VCU's biology department: How should intelligent design/evolution discussion fit within standard biology curricula?

Enter Mader's "Essentials of Biology." A VCU team of four full-time faculty adopted the book for all introductory biology classes beginning this fall, making the book mandatory.

Professors don't have to use it solely. A representative for McGraw-Hill says via e-mail that the publisher's happy to offer supplemental materials to accommodate an individual teacher's requests. In the case of "Essentials," a first edition text, professors also have a chance to review the book and offer feedback to the publishers in exchange for cash — an honorarium that can range from $500 to $1,500. Sparks says he's turned down the offer, maintaining the text is not worth its salt.

VCU switched biology books because teachers deemed the previous text too complex for the approximately 1,000 students who take the course each semester, professors say. In an effort to curb the failure-dropout-withdrawal rate and to make science more accessible and relevant to students, VCU approved Mader's book, which included attractive supplemental online content and a smaller price tag, says Jill Reid, a VCU biology professor who was on the textbook team. The book costs $102.25, about $30 less than a typical hardcover biology text.

Sparks insists VCU and its students are getting ripped off. When he tried to use his previous syllabus to create a new one for the Mader text, he says he couldn't because critical elements of evolution were missing from the book.

For example, the Mader book doesn't mention a concept called abiogenesis or the Miller-Urey experiment, which posits that life may have originated from simple amino acids and nucleotides being synthesized by exposing the earth's early gaseous atmosphere to electric charge and UV radiation. The hypothesis, now contested, remains a standard part of biology curricula.

The closer Sparks says he looked, the more he found missing. So he began a series of e-mail exchanges with his colleagues and the head of the department, Len Smock, expressing how dubious he is of the text's content.

"We got pushed into making this decision [to adopt the text], and we chose the wrong book," Sparks says, invoking everything from fraud to violation of church and state to evolutionary biologists fearing that biblical creationists could successfully propagandize science.

"Mader is not trying to slip in creationism," Reid assures. "Jim's basing his ideas on very weak circumstantial evidence that's not adding up to what he's claiming."

Reid says she knows firsthand how passionate people become when their personal beliefs intersect with science. A self-described "former creationist," Reid witnessed a pro-creationism lecture on campus by a VCU Medical Center professor who managed to rally students. Reid was so infuriated by the misrepresentation of what is considered scientific theory she says she put together an entire lecture on why intelligent design is not science. Still, she says, while most scientists and biologists "accept evolution as fact," a reluctance to bring it up in the classroom outside of a textbook context persists.

Of the Mader book, Reid says it allows students and teachers more flexibility. VCU's official stance on Sparks' concerns is that it's a nonissue, says Reid, relaying a message from department-chair Smock, who was out of town.

Frank Sherwin, a spokesperson for the Institute for Creation Research describes Mader as an "evolutionist," and says she isn't affiliated with the organization in any way.

Mader's dozen or more biology books are considered "mainstream" and "perfectly scientific," says Steven Shafersman, a biology teacher of 22 years and president of Texas Citizens for Science.

Once at the heart of Texas' science textbook battle in 2003, Shafersman is a leading expert on the debate about how evolution is taught in schools. "The book is not promoting creationism," he says. Still, he agrees with Sparks that the Miller-Urey experiment should be included in any introductory text, and that any mention of the creation institute "touches on cultural issues" that are outside the realm of science.

Meanwhile, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the Oakland-based, nonprofit National Center for Science Education, faults VCU's biology faculty for adopting a book "that skimps on evolution." While much of the debate about science curricula has centered on elementary, middle and high schools, Scott expects colleges to become the new testing ground for how evolution is discussed.

She scoffs that VCU does not have an entire course dedicated to evolution. The concerns that Sparks raises about the Mader text and the discourse that follows at VCU "is going to become more the case in the future," Scott says. "Evolution is not a controversy at the college level. We argue about the details, not the whether."

Rodney Dyer, a VCU biology professor, says the details are critical. Just hours after returning from a trip to Baja for field work, he perused the new Mader text. He agrees with Sparks that the creation institute mention is inappropriate, however oblique.

He also questions why Mader's credentials don't include affiliations with any particular research institution and why other, possibly better textbooks were dismissed. He then corrects a reporter who calls the controversy over evolution and creationism a debate. "[I]t is not a debate at all," Dyer says. "It is a propaganda machine driven by motives that have nothing at all to do with science and the pursuit of truth."

Is God real, or is he imaginary?

http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/

Is God real, or is he imaginary? It is one of the most important questions in America today, because this question lies at the heart of the American culture wars.

If God is real and if God inspired the Bible, then we should worship God as the Bible demands. We should certainly post the Ten Commandments in our courthouses and shopping centers, put "in God we trust" on the money, pray in our schools and eliminate the theory of evolution from every curriculum. We should focus our society on God and his infallible Word.

On the other hand, if God is imaginary, then religion is a complete illusion. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are pointless. We should eliminate God from our society because God is meaningless. Belief in God is nothing but a silly superstition, and this superstition causes significant problems for all of us.

But how can we decide, conclusively, whether God is real or imaginary? Since we are intelligent human beings living in the 21st century, we should take the time to look at some data. That is what we are doing when we ask, "Why won't God heal amputees?"

When we pray to God to restore an amputated limb, there is only one way for the limb to regenerate: God must exist and God must answer prayers. There is zero ambiguity in this situation. What we find is that whenever we create an unambiguous situation like this and look at the results of prayer, prayer never works. God never "answers prayers" if there is no possibility of coincidence.

We will approach this fascinating relationship between prayer and coincidence from several different angles in this book. Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 are particularly important:

Chapter 5 - Why won't God heal amputees?
Chapter 6 - Why do you need health insurance?
Chapter 7 - Why can't you move a mountain?
Chapter 8 - Why do bad things happen to good people?

Ambiguity

The fact that God ignores all unambiguous prayers meshes with another fact. If we analyze God's responses to prayers using statistical tools, we find that there is never any statistical evidence for prayer. For example, this article points out:

One of the most scientifically rigorous studies yet, published earlier this month, found that the prayers of a distant congregation did not reduce the major complications or death rate in patients hospitalized for heart treatments. [ref ]

It also says:

A review of 17 past studies of ''distant healing," published in 2003 by a British researcher, found no significant effect for prayer or other healing methods.

No valid scientific study has ever found any evidence that prayer works. You can pick any disease you like -- cancer, diabetes, heart diease, etc. Prayer has zero effect in every statistical study. See this page for details.

You can see the same effect in the following prayer. Let's assume that you are a true believer and you do believe that God cures cancer. What would happen if we get down on our knees and pray to God in this way:

Dear God, almighty, all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe, we pray to you to cure every case of cancer on this planet tonight. We pray in faith, knowing you will bless us as you describe in Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12-14, Matthew 18:19 and James 5:15-16. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

This is a valid experiment. We pray sincerely, knowing that when God answers this completely heartfelt, unselfish, non-materialistic prayer, it will glorify God and help millions of people in remarkable ways. This should be an easy prayer for an omnipotent, all-loving God to answer.

This prayer is unambiguous too. If this prayer is going to get answered tonight, God must exist and God must answer prayers. As soon as we remove the ambiguity like this, we see the true nature of "God." There is no way that a coincidence can answer this prayer, and, sure enough, the prayer goes unanswered.

If you look at the data rationally, you can see exactly what is happening here:

In other words, the data indicates that every "answered prayer" truly is a coincidence, nothing more. God doesn't "answer prayers" at all. The whole idea that "God answers prayers" appears to be an illusion created by human imagination .

Christians can create dozens of excuses and rationalizations for all of this evidence . For example, Christians will go to great lengths trying to explain why God ignores every prayer to regenerate lost limbs. But have you ever considered what the relationship between prayer and coincidence actually means? What if, instead of rationalizing, we speak honestly about the evidence that we see before us? The purpose of this Web site is to start this conversation in an open, friendly, easy-to-understand way, so that we can make our world a much better place .

Would you like to learn more? If you are an intelligent human being, and if you want to understand the true nature of God, you owe it to yourself to ask, "Why won't God heal amputees?" Start your exploration here:

Why won't God heal Amputees?

South Carolina Set to Join Four Other States Calling for Critical Analysis of Evolution, Says Institute

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3523&program=DI%20Main%20Page%20-%20News&callingPage=discoMainPage

Press Release Source: Discovery Institute

By: Staff Discovery Institute June 8, 2006

Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC) will vote Monday, June 12, on whether to give final approval to science standards for biology that require students to summarize how scientists "investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The standards were approved unanimously by the South Carolina Board of Education on May 31. Four other states (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and New Mexico) already have science education standards encouraging critical analysis of evolution.

"Darwin's theory should be taught as a theory open to scientific scrutiny, not as an orthodoxy that cannot be questioned," said Casey Luskin, Program Officer for Public Policy & Legal Affairs at the Discovery Institute. "South Carolina's new biology standards, if adopted, will improve science education by encouraging full disclosure of all the relevant scientific evidence, including evidence critical of Darwin's theory."

Monday's vote comes after months of debate over the recommended inclusion of indicators requiring students to critically analyze different parts of evolutionary theory. Recently the state board of education and the EOC came to a compromise to retain the "critical analysis" language in indicator B-5.6: "Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Earlier this year, two scientists testified in support of strengthening the science standards and allowing students to learn about some of the scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. Dr. Richard Sternberg, who holds two PhDs in evolutionary biology fields, and Dr. Rebecca Keller, who holds a PhD in biophysical chemistry and is an expert on science curriculum development, both encouraged South Carolina to teach students both the strengths and weaknesses regarding evolution.

Dr. Sternberg told the State Board: "While Darwinian theory should be taught in the science classroom, as rigorously and fully as is appropriate, to present the theory as complete and sufficient for understanding evolution is inaccurate—and thus misleading." He testified that critical analysis is important in stimulating student's interest in science, and will increase students' knowledge and understanding of evolution overall.

Discovery Institute is the nation's leading think tank dealing with scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. It believes that students should have the opportunity to study both the strengths and the weaknesses of Darwinian evolution as a scientific theory. At the same time, the Institute opposes any attempt to mandate the teaching of alternative theories such as intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education.

To schedule an interview with a Discovery Institute representative contact Robert Crowther at 206-292-0401 x107, or e-mail rob@discovery.org.

Americans still hold faith in divine creation

http://washingtontimes.com/national/20060608-111826-4947r.htm

By Jennifer Harper THE WASHINGTON TIMES June 9, 2006

Much of the nation still takes stock in the book of Genesis.

Eight out of 10 Americans believe God guided creation in some capacity. A Gallup Poll reveals that 46 percent think God created man in his present form sometime in the past 10,000 years, while 36 percent say man developed over millions of years from lesser life forms, but God guided the process.

Only 13 percent of Americans think mankind evolved with no divine intervention.

"There has been surprisingly little change over the last 24 years in how Americans respond," pollster Frank Newport said.

The survey marks the seventh time that Gallup has queried Americans about creation beliefs. Since 1982, between 44 percent and 47 percent have consistently agreed that God created man "as is," while between 35 percent and 40 percent said man evolved with God's guidance. The idea of strict evolution without God has proved the least popular, cited by 9 percent to 13 percent of the respondents over the years.

The beliefs intensify among certain demographics. The survey found that 56 percent of Republican respondents, compared with 43 percent of Democrats, said God created humans in their present form. Church attendance held sway over the partisan groups. Among Republicans who attended services weekly, the number rose to 67 percent. Among churchgoing Democrats, it rose to 57 percent.

Findings were similar in the overall population.

"Almost two-thirds of Americans who attend church at least once a week believe that humans were created 'as is' within the last 10,000 years or so, compared to just 29 percent of those who say they never attend church," Mr. Newport said.

"About three-quarters of those with a postgraduate degree say humans developed over millions of years from less-advanced forms of life, while 22 percent chose the 'created in present form' option," he said.

Things were more or less in the middle for those who attended church once a month, with 50 percent saying mankind developed from other life forms and 45 percent citing creation by God.

Women edged out men for their creationism beliefs. More than half of women, 51 percent, compared with 39 percent of men, said God created man in present form. Age also played a role. Fifty-one percent of respondents older than 65 believe in the role of God in creation. That compared with 43 percent of those 50 to 64 years old, 49 percent of those 30 to 49, and 43 percent of those 18 to 29.

The findings are based on two polls of 1,001 adults, each conducted May 8 to 11 this year and Nov. 7 to 10, 2004, with a margin of error of two percentage points.

Other polls had similar findings. A Pew poll of 2,000 adults released in August revealed that 42 percent held strict creationist views, while 48 percent said humans evolved over time -- 18 percent of the sample said the process was "guided by a supreme being." Two-thirds of the group were open to teaching creationism in schools.

Inconsistent Information Policies Jeopardize Research, Panel Says

June 9, 2006 By ANDREW C. REVKIN

WASHINGTON, June 8 — The quality and credibility of government research are being jeopardized by inconsistent policies for communicating scientific findings to the public, says an independent group of scientists that advises Congress and the White House.

The group, the National Science Board, examined the issue at the request of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Mr. McCain sought the review in February after Civil Service workers and scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other agencies complained publicly that political appointees had interfered with efforts to discuss global warming and other controversial issues.

The board canvassed an array of agencies like the space agency and the National Institutes of Health and found a lack of clear, consistent guidance to scientists and press offices on releasing information to the public and the news media.

In recent months, the board found, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have taken "steps in the right direction." But it said other agencies continued to lack consistent standards.

Where policies exist, the board said, they are often focused more on restricting scientists' ability to discuss their findings than on guaranteeing a free flow of information.

The board's review, written as a letter to Mr. McCain, was posted last month on the Web site of the National Science Foundation and has been noted by several Web publications and trade journals focused on science policy.

Asked to comment on the report, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy replied in an e-mail message that the office had "discussed the issue of communications policy with agency chief scientists shortly after the NASA incidents which are cited in the senator's letter, and we continue to monitor agency practices."

"We think the NASA response was excellent," the spokesman, Benjamin Fallon, wrote, "and have distributed it to the agencies as an example of a best practice and have not seen evidence that the situation requires the development of a mandatory one-size-fits-all policy."

The scientific board acknowledged that agencies were entitled to keep track of what their scientists were saying. But it recommended that the White House science office develop a common set of principles encouraging open communication of science and discouraging "the intentional or unintentional suppression or distortion of research findings."

The report said that at most agencies policies were out of date, unclear or handled in different ways by different field offices. Clear guidelines, it added, could reduce confusion.

The lack of uniformity appears to cause other problems, said Warren M. Washington, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who is the chairman of the science board and the lead author of the report.

"The constant turnover of upper-level staff meant the policies were constantly changing depending on who is boss or who the midlevel supervisor was," Mr. Washington said in an interview.

Mr. McCain, a senior member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, inserted an amendment into a bill last month reflecting the science board's findings. The amendment calls for the White House science office to create a "set of principles" encouraging the "open exchange of data and results of research by federal agency scientists."

The bill has not been sent to the Senate floor for a vote.

http://select.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?emc=tnt&tntget=2006/06/09/science/09research.html&tntemail1=y


Friday, June 09, 2006

Computer 'Beings' Evolve as Society

http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20060605/computerculture_tec.html

By Tracy Staedter, Discovery News

June 8, 2006 — Millions of computer-generated entities that live and die by natural selection could reveal how our own culture and language evolve.

The software agents are part of a project called NEW TIES (New and Emergent World Models Through Individual, Evolutionary, and Social Learning), which draws on the expertise of five European research institutions to push computer simulation of artificial worlds further than ever before.

The joint computer project not only reproduces individual and evolutionary learning, but also social learning.

"Social learning is these guys telling each other what they learn on their own. One is learning about hot and cold and another is learning about soft and hard.

"They exchange knowledge and save effort," explained project coordinator Gusz Eiben, a professor of artificial intelligence at the Vrije University, Amsterdam.

Understanding gleaned from such a project could advance machine learning for a range of applications. The learning software could guide exploratory or search and rescue robots that must cooperate to accomplish tasks in unknown environments.

The simulation computer project could even allow policy makers to test out new laws before carrying them out in real life.

The team of computer scientists, sociologists and linguists are creating a population of millions of unique entities that have the ability to pass on life-prolonging tips to their community. In the process, they may evolve their own language.

Computers Create Unique Beings

Each agent is randomly generated by a computer to possess a gender and different variations of life expectancy, fertility, size, and metabolism. The randomness of their programs allows each one to behave differently even when faced with the same set of circumstances.

The outcome of their actions — moving around, talking with another entity, and giving birth — burns fuel that can be replenished by finding the right food source.

Those who lack the wherewithal to survive risk certain death and the inability to propagate their genes.

A simple vocabulary of five to tens words, such as "food," "near" and "agent" gives the entities the basics for communication.

Meanwhile, an algorithm enables two entities to agree on the meaning of new words and could allow the artificial beings to evolve a language.

The idea is to expose the agents to challenges and see how they adapt and develop their own world models.

Recently, Eiben and his team began running their first simulations using 1,000 to 3,000 agents to ask the question: Does individual learning compensate for bad genes? Eventually they plan to scale up to millions of agents.

The big challenge the team faces, said senior researcher Michele Sebag, an expert in artificial intelligence at the University of Paris-Sud, is tracking the behavior of each of the millions of agents.

"You can't look at every agent individually. You have to have new facilities in data mining to understand what is going on in your population," she said.

Following the rationale that "birds of feather stick together," Gusz will be pinpointing and profiling agents who cluster together as well as tracking the locations of each agent as it moves over time.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bible Scholars Predict an 85 Percent Probability of a Nuclear Terrorist Attack on the UN Complex in Manhattan on June 9 or 10

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2006/6/prweb394193.htm

Download this press release as an Adobe PDF document.

The Bible is written in a symbolic code. But it is not the New York Times best selling Hebrew Letter Skip code of Michael Drosnin and it is not the hollywood blockbusting fictional Da Vinci code of Dan Brown. It is the symbolism of Daniel's visions, Joseph's Dreams and Jesus' parables. It applies to the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments. The Bible is end times prophecy written as history. This code research has been sent to 200 academic statisticians around the world for their opinion. So far none of them have been able to refute it.

London, England, June 4, 2006 -- Before we get into the scriptural reasoning let's look at this physically. Mayor Bloomberg has said that terror schemes have mentioned the UN amongst other targets. NYC has been the main terrorist target in the past in the US. Nuclear terrorism has been debated in the media as a possibility in the longer term future, but next weekend?

Well, that is where the Bible research comes in. The date is deduced from the symbolic code of Jesus' parables and Daniel's visions and Joseph's dream interpretations. A Bible research group called the Lords' Witnesses, claim to have found the true symbolic Bible code which applies to both the Old and New Testaments. They have found that all Bible accounts obey certain grammatical rules. In particular the number of nouns which act as nouns in every Bible account is divisible by the number of meanings that the account has, and the total number of both distinct nouns acting as nouns and distinct possessive noun chains (which contain a noun acting as a noun and other nouns acting as possessive adjectives) in each account is likewise divisible by the number of meanings of that account. They have discovered that every Bible account has encoded within it the number of extra symbolic meanings that the account has. Some bible accounts have no extra symbolic meanings, others have as many as 6 extra symbolic meanings.

They have verified the two noun counting rules which they believe every Bible account obeys for the first 227 little =Bible stories in the four gospels of the new testament and found them to be true in each case. They have presented these results in a paper and in the form of two lectures on DVDs to 200 academic statisticians around the world. As yet none of them have been able to disprove their findings. For more on this see www.truebiblecode.com/understanding49.html

This work is not a New York Times best seller like the Hebrew Letter Skip code of Michael Drosnin and it is not a commercially successful fiction like the Da Vinci code of Dan Brown. But it does reveal accurately how the last true Christian church should be run, which is what might one expect from a true Bible code. It also reveals that Armageddon begins on March 23rd 2008, and ends on August 20th 2008. It reveals that Jesus comes down to earth to sort out the sheep from the goats on 5th/6th May 2008 during Armageddon, at the end of the 1335 days of Daniel 12:12 and that the faithful sheep are raptured to be angels on 6th/7th June 2008. This is the post tribulation rapture. After that things get really bad, and we succeed in destroying ourselves fully by August 20th 2008 - see www.biblecodeintro.com/intro44.html .

The true Bible code reveals the true nature of Hell and the unceasing and everlasting love that God has for every person whom he ever created, the wicked and the good alike. It reveals that there will be 7 terrorist nuclear bombs before Armageddon, which is the final man made nuclear holocaust. The first of these bombs will hit the UN complex in Manhattan between sundown on Friday June 9th and Sundown on June 10th, this year. The Bible Scholars have 2 independent scriptural interpretations which give the same week for this attack. Furthermore the attack must occur on a Sabbath according to both of the interpretations. For a simple explanation starting from the basics and ending with a nuclear bomb in at the UN in Midtown Manhattan during the 2nd weekend in June 2006, see www.truebiblecode.com/nyc.html

The Lords' Witnesses in all seriousness therefore beg everyone in NYC of any religious or anti religious persuasion whatsoever, who has faith that God can predict the future, to leave NYC before the second weekend in June and, if interested, to read all about our great Biblical understandings from some other place! And more to the point, at some time after that weekend! The Lords' Witnesses, 93 Shepperton Road, Islington, London N1 3DF, United Kingdom is a non profit company limited by guarantee. www.truebiblecode.com - your Biblical early warning system.

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Inspiring Evolutionary Thought, and a New Title, by Turning Genetics Into Prose

June 6, 2006 Books on Science By NICHOLAS WADE

Thirty years ago, a young biologist set out to explain some new ideas in evolutionary biology to a wider audience. But he ended up restating Darwinian theory in such a broad and forceful way that his book has influenced specialists as well.

"Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think" is a collection of essays about Dr. Dawkins's book "The Selfish Gene" and its impact. Contributors to the book, edited by Alan Grafen and Matt Ridley, are mostly biologists but include the novelist Philip Pullman, author of "His Dark Materials," and the bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries.

The biologists have copious praise for Dr. Dawkins's work of synthesis, while the writers remark on his graceful and vivid style. It is quite surprising for anyone to be commended from such opposite quarters, but "The Selfish Gene," published in 1976, was unusual. Written in clear and approachable language, it worked its way so logically into the core of Darwinian theory that even evolutionary biologists were seduced into embracing Dr. Dawkins's view of their world.

Dr. Dawkins's starting point was the idea that the gene, not the individual, is the basic unit on which natural selection acts. The gene's behavior is most easily understood by assuming its interest is to get itself replicated as much as possible — hence the "selfish" gene of the title.

But genes cannot exist independently. They must cooperate with many other genes in creating vehicles (like ourselves) that are good at getting them replicated.

The primary goal for Dr. Dawkins was to explain the recent work of other biologists, notably George Williams's critique of group selection, William D. Hamilton's theory of kin selection, John Maynard Smith's concept of evolutionarily stable strategies, and Robert L. Trivers's analysis of the intrafamily competition between siblings and between parent and child.

Dr. Hamilton, who died in 2000, is now regarded as one of the most important evolutionary biologists since Darwin. But 30 years ago he was almost unknown, even to specialists, because his insights were expressed in mathematical form.

Dr. Hamilton's chief insight was the solution of a problem that Darwin himself had spotted as potentially fatal for his theory, that of altruistic individuals who sacrifice their lives for the good of their colony, hive or kin. How can a genetic basis for altruism ever evolve, given that an altruist's genes must surely become less common as he diverts resources from helping his own progeny to fostering the survival of others?

Dr. Hamilton showed that it all makes sense when one considers that an individual is not the only carrier of his genes. The very same genes, or at least half of them, are carried by each of an individual's siblings, with lesser fractions shared by uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces. For an altruist to help these relatives survive and propagate their genes is almost as good as propagating his own genes. Once the gene is considered as the unit of selection, it is clear how genes for altruism can spread.

Dr. Dawkins fastened on the idea of the gene as the focus of natural selection and set out in "The Selfish Gene" to restate the new work of Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Trivers and Maynard Smith in these terms. "What he does," the biologist John Krebs writes in this anthology, "is to reanalyze or reinterpret the findings of others with such excoriating rigor, depth and clarity that he uncovers new ideas and ways of thinking."

Dr. Grafen, a biologist and the co-editor, says the exposition of these ideas in the Dawkins book "established a single conceptual framework within which old and new ideas in adaptionism could be understood."

Edward O. Wilson drew on many of the same ideas in his book "Sociobiology," published in 1975, a year before "The Selfish Gene." But "Sociobiology" was a work of synthesis, showing how social behavior across the realm of animal species could be understood in evolutionary terms, whereas Dr. Dawkins's approach was more theoretical. "The Selfish Gene" is "an attempt to convey the underlying logic of a particular type of reasoning, rather than representing a broad overview," Ullica Segerstrale writes in a comparison of the two books.

Despite a fond appreciation in this volume from his local cleric, the bishop of Oxford, Dr. Dawkins has become known to a wider public as a rationalist and a vocal atheist with little time for forms of religious obscurantism like creationism. Mr. Pullman, whose science fiction attacks traditional notions of God, hails Dr. Dawkins as "a ferocious and implacable opponent of those who water the dark roots of superstition."

Though composed of essays that are mostly by Dr. Dawkins's admirers, this book presents a vivid picture of how one man, by force of rigorous analysis and clear writing, taught a generation of biologists how to think about evolution.

http://select.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?emc=tnt&tntget=2006/06/06/science/sciencespecial2/06dawk.html&tntemail1=y

Fatima Celestial Secrets new Book

Date: Tue, 6 Jun 2006 18:25:12 +0100

For Immediate Release

New Book Celestial Secrets Reveals Fatima Cover-Up

Authors say Jesuits Conspired to Conceal Original Fatima Secret in 1917

VICTORIA, BC – A new book by the world's leading historians of the Fatima incident reveals how the Jesuits conspired to conceal the original text of the Fatima Secret during the famed 1917 apparitions.

The Fatima incident was the most exceptional religious event of the 20th century. In 1917, three Portuguese children encountered a radiant woman, who told them three secrets about the fate of the Earth. During "The Miracle of the Sun," the solar orb was seen to dance in the sky by thousands of awestruck onlookers who flocked to Fatima.

The apparitions were presumed to be a case of divine intervention in human affairs, a sign from Heaven that the world war then raging in Europe would soon come to an end.

Fatima entered both church dogma and popular culture as the most celebrated Marian apparition of all time. A shrine sprang up at Fatima that drew millions of believers, and a widespread myth developed that the prophecies of Fatima would one day be fulfilled.

In 1978, Portuguese historians Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d'Armada were given unprecedented access to the original records of the Fatima incident, which had been held secretly by the Catholic Church at the Sanctuary of Fatima since 1917.

In Heavenly Lights – a work published last year that the Fortean Times (UK) hailed as "priceless" – Fernandes and d'Armada explored the many intriguing links they found in the archives between the apparitions of Fatima and the worldwide UFO phenomenon.

In July, Fernandes and d'Armada publish their powerful new book about the enigmatic Fatima incident, which has been debated by believers and skeptics since its occurrence.

Celestial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Fatima Cover-Up (EcceNova Editions; July 1, 2006; $19.95) tells the fascinating tale of how Seer Lucia dos Santos education by Jesuits priests during decades produced a distorced Secret story in 1941 which has shaped our modern view of the events at Fatima in 1917.

The historians show that the Fatima incident did not involve visitations by the Virgin Mary, as the Jesuits purported, and also compare the modern "contactee" syndrome with the classic religious and apparitional experiences.

Investigative journalist Jim Marrs was so impressed by this exposé of the Fatima cover-up that he wrote a Foreword to it in which he states that Celestial Secrets is "the best researched, the most detailed, and the most comprehensive look at the Fatima apparitions ever published… Fatima, it seems, was an early episode in the Cosmic Watergate."

About the Authors

Joaquim Fernandes is Professor of History at the University Fernando Pessoa in Porto, Portugal. He directs the Multicultural Apparitions Research International Academic Network (Project MARIAN). His research interests include the history of science and the comparative anthropology of religion, with an emphasis on anomalistic phenomena.

Fina d'Armada holds a Master's degree in Women's Studies. She has written five books about the Fatima incident, all based on original documents held in the archives – three co-authored with Fernandes – and hundreds of articles. Her research interests include phenomenology, local history, the history of women, and the era of Portuguese discovery.

About the Book

Celestial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Fatima Cover-Up By Dr. Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d'Armada

Translated by Alexandra Bruce

Edited by Andrew D. Basiago

Foreword by Jim Marrs

EcceNova Editions

Publication Date: July 1, 2006

Price: US $19.95, CAD $24.95, £11.99

# Pages: 276

ISBN: 0-9735341-8-4 (978-0-9735341-8-4)

For Publisher's Summary, Author Information, Jacket Photo, Excerpt, and Contact Details visit:

www.eccenova.com

and follow the link to the Media Kit.

Contacts with the Authors:

Prof. Joaquim Fernandes

University Fernando Pessoa

Praça 9 de Abril, 349

4249-004 porto

Portugal

Astronomers link human evolution, cosmic radiation

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/science/20060607-9999-lz1c07meinel.html

By Scott LaFee UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER June 7, 2006

Among working astronomers, Aden and Marjorie Meinel are synonymous with the science. For almost three-quarters of a century, the married couple have helped not only to better see the universe – Aden has designed, built and operated telescopes and observatories around the world – but also to explain it: Certain bands of light seen in auroras are called Meinel bands.

But after decades of focusing their attentions skyward, the Meinels – now in their 80s – are grappling with a question that seems, at first light, to be far, far away from astronomy. Namely: Why did modern humans and other species emerge some 40,000 years ago?

Their answer: Cosmic radiation, which the Meinels will elaborate on June 20 in a noon public lecture at the University of San Diego, part of the annual meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Paleoanthropologists kind of gasp at the idea," said Aden. "The idea of cosmic rays significantly affecting early hominids and other species is pretty dramatic, but there's some really compelling evidence to support the idea. It's a totally new factor to be considered."

Distinguished careers Coming from almost anyone else, the suggestion that a burst of cosmic radiation profoundly mutated life on Earth and altered the course of human evolution would probably be dismissed as outrageous science fiction.

But Aden and Marjorie Meinel have been both serious and significant players in astronomy for a good chunk of the last century. Natives of Pasadena, they met in a special 11th grade class for gifted students at Pasadena Junior College. Both were interested in space science. Marjorie's interest was inherited: Her father, Edison Pettit, was one of the founding astronomers of the 102-year-old Mount Wilson Observatory, east of Los Angeles. Aden's interest evolved over time. It began as an apprentice in Mount Wilson's optics shop, through a stint in the Navy as a rocket engineer and at the California Institute of Technology, where his doctoral dissertation eventually resulted in the world's first solid Schmidt spectrograph – a device for measuring and charting wavelengths of light in space.

With Marjorie serving as adviser, editor and muse (and mother to their seven children), Aden launched a career designing, developing and directing observatories around the world. He helped establish the first national observatory at Kitt Peak, southwest of Tucson, Ariz., in the 1960s, then moved to Steward Observatory and taught at the University of Arizona. At various times, he helped build telescopes in India and China. In the 1980s, he and Marjorie moved to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena where they helped launch space-based telescopes like the Hubble. Aden retired in 1993, Marjorie in 2000.

So how does a distinguished astronomer become interested in human evolution?

"Frankly, when you retire, you finally have time to read and think a lot, said Aden. "When that happens, questions pop up, sometimes right out of the blue."

As a high school student, Aden had participated in some balloon experiments at Cal Tech to study cosmic radiation, which were utterly mysterious at the time but are now known to consist of high energy particles (including protons) emanating from sources in outer space and bombarding the planet from every direction.

While reading a story about ice-core research, Aden wondered whether the core samples also contained information about cosmic radiation levels over the Earth's history. To his and Marjorie's surprise, an examination of existing ice core data showed a significant surge in radiation roughly 40,000 years ago – about the same time, they noted, that modern humans emerged in Eurasia, and numerous other species in the northern hemisphere were either undergoing significant change or disappearing altogether.

"That's when we first became tempted to put two and two together," said Aden. "If there was a large surge of cosmic rays, and there's good evidence that these rays can (cause mutations), the question becomes, did they help create new species of life?

"Our findings indicate that two very rare occurrences happened at roughly the same time, which suggests that how we've evolved might not be just slow, random mutation and natural selection. Maybe we are partly the product of cosmic radiation."

The Meinels even have a likely source for the radiation: the gaseous remains of a dying star called the Cat's Eye nebula discovered by William Herschel in 1786.

According to their hypothesis, the nebula began emitting a burst of radiation roughly 200,000 years ago. "Around the time that Neanderthals began to appear," said Aden.

Approximately 40,000 years ago, the frequency and intensity of the radiation surged, spawning in the Meinels' view, a host of evolutionary changes. "Then, about 10,000 years ago, the Earth passed out of the nebula's jet of cosmic rays, ending the accelerated mutations," said Aden.

Insufficient data

But is the nebula's radiation truly the cause or simply an intriguing correlation? Aden and Marjorie don't know. They expect their ideas to be questioned and scrutinized. Indeed, they demand it.

"During World War II, I edited articles on rocketry," said Marjorie. "I had to be absolutely accurate in my descriptions and details or things could blow up. I've always believed that you have to get the science exactly right, with nothing misunderstood."

Both say that much more research needs to be done, that the ice cores are just a clue. But Aden is optimistic that he and his wife have noticed something overlooked by others, something significant.

He recalls attending a conference at UC Berkeley in 1980 when Luis Alvarez, the Nobel physicist, and his geologist son, Walter, first proposed the theory that a massive asteroid impact 65 million years ago spurred the extinction of dinosaurs.

Though widely accepted now, the Alvarez' asteroid-impact theory was initially dismissed by many scientists as folly. Aden thinks his cosmic ray idea will also require time (and more proof) to become accepted.

"We're describing a creation event, the impetus behind new species emerging," said Aden. "People who are well-established don't like to change their minds, and this requires a big change in thinking. That's why Marjorie and I like giving public lectures, especially to young people who are more likely to have open minds.

"I doubt either of us will be around to see how all of this works out. We just hope others will find what we've discovered exciting enough to pursue."


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

UA evolution series to be on TV

http://www.azstarnet.com/metro/132305

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.06.2006

The UA College of Science's popular public lecture series on evolution will be broadcast this summer on television.

In the series this spring semester, seven University of Arizona researchers presented information on evolution ranging from the Big Bang to disease evolution.

The lectures also will be podcast from the college's Web site, though it's undetermined precisely when they'll be available.

The lectures start this week, on a Monday and Sunday broadcast schedule on the UA Channel, Cox 19 and Comcast 76. The lectures cover biological evolution, the Big Bang and cosmic evolution, the Earth's formation, social evolution, animal evolution, human evolution and DNA, and disease evolution illustrated by HIV.

For more information and a complete schedule, visit the www.uachannel.com Web site. The podcasts will be available at http://cos.arizona.edu/evolution online.

The series was so popular the promoters had to keep moving it to larger venues, ending up at Centennial Hall, where 800 people attended the final lecture.

A new series on climate change will be offered this fall, starting Oct. 17.

Scientists take cues from nature to solve modern tech mysteries

http://www.accessnorthga.com/news/ap_newfullstory.asp?ID=76113

The Associated Press - ATLANTA

One of the greatest challenges for robotics engineers is building a machine that actually walks like one of us. Capturing the organized fall that allows humans to get around rather gracefully has, in most cases, come off as _ well _ rather robotic.

Scientists in the rapidly maturing field of biologically-inspired design believe in turning to organic processes and embracing biological principles to solve such scientific stumpers. They argue that technology can learn much from the world's most rigorous process: Evolution.

"If you think of organisms as products, all the bad ones have been recalled. Those that have survived evolved over millions of years," said Marc Weissburg, a biology professor and co-director of Georgia Tech's Center for Biologically Inspired Design.

Man has always looked to nature for its inspiration, capturing the sun to create fire and copying birds to achieve flight. But in the last 30 years, that tendency has been honed into a scientific field that is enjoying a growing number of devotees.

Two centers dedicated to the field have opened up within the last year, one at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and another at the University of California, Berkeley. And last month, dozens of researchers in the field gathered in Atlanta to share their experiments, in what observers said was an encouraging sign of its coming of age.

A range of projects probing rat whiskers, fish jaws and worm brains made up a Noah's Ark-sized display of the innovations the field could yield.

"It really captures the imagination to show how much better organisms are at doing things," Weissburg said. "The natural world doesn't waste energy, accumulate a large amount of toxins or produce more materials than it uses."

Weissburg's pet project shines a blinding green laser into a pool of water to track how a blue crab still manages to scamper down a piece of shrimp in 15 seconds even without its sight.

Fellow professor Hang Lu is delving into the sensors of common worms to learn how to develop sensitive sensors that can one day distinguish smell. Eventually, she said, the technology could be used to track plumes of smoke from miles away and distinguish what is burning.

German scientist Rolf Muller, who teaches at China's Shandong University, says his investigation of bat ears could improve sonar technology. And Robert Full, a Berkeley researcher, is trying to learn the stability principles that keep six-legged insects, eight-legged crabs and four-legged dogs upright.

The field has enjoyed a few recent popular successes, including cleaning products and paints that try to capture the makeup of Lotus plants that prevents water from sticking to the leaf's surface, effectively repelling dirt and contaminants.

Velcro, another example, was inspired by burrs that stuck to a dog's fur after a walk through brush. And the Wright brothers modeled the first working airplane after the structure of a bird's wings.

While the rehashing of those breakthroughs have become well-known among the scientific community, alarming skeptics who say the relative dearth of discoveries and the staggering cost to develop them isn't worth the final product.

The field also faces a theological clash with intelligent-design backers who scoff that scientists are revering a system that's so complex that it had to be engineered by a higher power.

On his Web site, William Dembski, a leading activist for the intelligent-design movement, cattily dissected the Georgia Tech center.

"Here's how it works: we find some amazing system in the biological realm, determine how to reverse engineer it, and then design and build a parallel system to serve our needs. But of course, the original system evolved by blind trial-and-error tinkering ... To think that it was actually designed because we had to design its human counterpart is just plain stupid."

Scientists in the field say that recent advances will lead to new discoveries that will far outweigh any concerns.

"Anytime a new research field emerges, it takes a while to put the basic building blocks together. It's just a matter of time. We're getting there," said S.K. Gupta, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maryland who teaches a bio-inspired robotics course for college seniors.

"If you think about true biology, sensing and actuation are working at a really, really small scale," he said. "Thirty years ago we weren't able to construct anything at the micro scale. I think recent advances that are taking place in the area of micro-fabrication will help us tremendously."

Research could one day unlock the mysteries of the incredible tensile strength of spider silk, the way organisms propel themselves through water and air so much more efficiently than vehicles, and how the fluids secreted by marine organisms have greater bonding strength than any glue humans have produced.

Even the smallest creatures, like the burrs that spurred Velcro, could hold a compelling secret.

"Every organism is designed to solve a problem," Weissburg said.


Monday, June 05, 2006

6.6.6: Tuesday is June 6, 2006.

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/religion/story/02712C8B225FA89286257182005EA213?OpenDocument

By Tim Townsend ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

06/03/2006

Somewhere, Revelation's author is having a big laugh.

Sure, his book of the Bible is filled with dragons, locusts, plagues, oceans of blood and rivers of fire. Oh, yeah, and the beast. The beast that branded the godless with the number 666 - a sign of their devotion to him.

But he was really just warning churches about the evils of emperor worship. Or was he?

In the nearly 2,000 years since, the number has meant many things to many people. And on Tuesday - 6/6/06 - a lot of them will be using the number to their advantage. Some will be cashing in.

An online gambling site has posted 10-1 odds that the world will end Tuesday, the same day a remake of "The Omen," the 1976 flick with Damien, the cute little antichrist, will open.

"The Rapture," the next installment in the apocalyptic Left Behind series of books, is scheduled for release, and conservative author Ann Coulter's new book "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," will hit stores.

Many biblical scholars say recent interpretations of the number are way off base.

It doesn't add up

For centuries, 666, the number of the beast, has absorbed meanings its author never intended.

Most modern scholars attribute the writing of the book of Revelation to John of Patmos. He is said to have received visions on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, most likely around 90 A.D., that make up the book's contents.

At the heart of John's vision, Satan, in the form of a dragon, has lost a war in heaven and has been cast down to earth where he continues to battle God's followers. As the dragon stands "on the sand of the seashore," two beasts rise, at his command, from below the earth's surface.

The first beast comes out of the sea and the second from the land. It is this second beast which has gained such long-standing fame over the centuries. Even within the scholarly community, opinion is divided as to what Revelation's land beast represents.

The Roman emperor Nero, who ruled from 54 to his suicide in 68 A.D., persecuted Christians in horrific ways that were likely to be remembered only a couple of generations later when John may have been writing Revelation. It was under Nero that both St. Peter and St. Paul are traditionally thought to have been martyred in Rome.

Domitian, the emperor from 81-96 A.D., during John's time in Patmos, "was the first one to take emperor worship seriously," said the Rev. Dan Doriani, pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton and former chair of the New Testament department at Covenant Seminary. "Since Christians were not worshipping him, they were liable for persecution."

"Said Frank Flinn, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University, "Nero conducted the first systematic persecution of both Jews and Christians and is clearly identified with the real beast of Revelation."

Others say John's problem with Domitian had more to do with false idols, not persecution.

In his "Introduction to the New Testament," the late Rev. Raymond E. Brown wrote that the beast from the land, in John's vision "is emperor worship ... The wound of the beast ... may be Nero's suicide; the survival, Domitian's reign."

David E. Aune, a professor of New Testament at Notre Dame, has written that the beast represents the antichrist, "a tyrannical ruler who opposes Christ and Christians," and who "comes up from the bottomless pit - the abode of the dead and the place where demons and Satan are imprisoned."

John writes that the beast places a mark on the right hand or forehead of all but the servants of God. It is that mark - 666 - that has so intrigued people through the centuries. Most scholars now agree that what John was up to was gematria, or Hebrew numerology.

"Back then there were no separate symbols for numerical values," said the Rev. Louis A. Brighton, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Concordia Seminary. So letters did double-duty as numbers. The Hebrew consonants that spelled out "Nero Caesar," in the Greek form of the name, add up to 666. (Transliterated into the Latin form of Nero Caesar, the numbers add up to 616.)

In recent years, popular entertainment has burned the number onto western society's conscience. Whether via movies such as "Rosemary's Baby," "The Exorcist," and "The Omen," or music like heavy metal band Iron Maiden's 1982 album "The Number of the Beast," Satan and 666 have become symbols of anarchy, said Carl Raschke, a professor of religious studies at the University of Denver.

People who embrace a perceived symbolism of 666 as satanic "are making a statement of cultural rebellion," said Raschke. "They are saying 'I stand for something in total opposition to the historical morality of the west.'"

Apocalypse now

John was a Christian prophet of Jewish origin who was possibly living in self-imposed exile in a cave in Patmos. He wrote his vision in letters to a group of seven Christian churches in western Asia Minor, now Turkey - communities he clearly knew well.

In the first verse, John introduces his book as an apokalypsis, or revelation, a term that has come to define the literary genre - a narrative, told in the first person, that includes visions of the future. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "The Revelation to John" or "The Apocalypse of John."

Brown said apocalypses are most often addressed to people living in times of suffering and persecution - times so desperate they are seen as the embodiment of supreme evil.

He said the modern misuse of Revelation "is based on the misunderstanding that the message is primarily addressed to Christians of our time if they can decode the author's symbols. Rather, the meaning of the symbolism must be judged from the viewpoint of the 1st-century (churches)" which received John's letters.

But balanced scholarly advice aside, the temptation to imagine conspiracy theories based on ancient religious documents is too strong for some. According to John, the mark of the beast ensures "that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name." This has led to theories that the bar codes that appear on most everything we buy in stores are the new version of the mark of the beast.

Others are convinced the new mark of the beast is a microchip implanted surreptitiously under a person's skin that transmits low-frequency radio signals to identify the individual.

Revelation is so full of symbolism that nearly anything can be read from it. At one time or another, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Rasputin, Torquemada and Osama bin Laden have all been considered the antichrist.

But here, Tuesday is likely to be just another day - especially since the Gregorian calendar was not adopted by most of Christendom until 1500 years after Revelation was written.

Despite British reports of pregnant women planning on being induced Monday so they don't give birth on 6/6/06, a handful of local hospitals and obstetricians said they haven't had any requests. At Barnes-Jewish Hospital's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology moms-to-be are taking 6/6/06 in stride.

"We have several scheduled for induction on Tuesday," said Kathy Holleman, a Barnes-Jewish Hospital spokeswoman. "And as far as we know, no one's naming them Rosemary or Damien."

ttownsend@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8221


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