NTS LogoSkeptical News for 29 June 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The 9/11 Deniers


The success of the documentary "Loose Change" spotlights the thousands of online sleuths who believe the U.S. government was behind the terror attacks -- to get gold, justify war, or serve Satan.

By Farhad Manjoo

Jun. 27, 2006 | According to Dylan Avery, a 22-year-old filmmaker in upstate New York, no terrorists hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and no passengers heroically revolted. The plane didn't even crash in that Shanksville, Penn., field, he says, but instead landed safely in Cleveland. And not only that. As Avery sees it, the true 9/11 attackers brought down the World Trade Center in a controlled demolition, most likely to get at $160 billion in gold bars he believes were buried under the towers. As for the attack on the Pentagon, Avery insists it was hit by a cruise missile, not a terrorist-commandeered Boeing 757.

Who, in Avery's telling, is the dark force behind all this destruction, the spinner of the big lie that Avery believes envelops the popular perception of 9/11? A most usual suspect: "The first person I'd bring into a court of law would be Dick Cheney," Avery says. "He's the person in the administration who I think is most responsible."

Quizzing Dylan Avery on the events of 9/11 is like taking a peek into an alternate history, a parallel universe of half-truths and audacious propositions that rarely ever disturb the peace of the reality-based world. In another time, that long-ago pre-digital age, you might have dismissed such theories as the rantings of a crank; what a young man like Avery believes about a world-shattering event like 9/11 would seem to be of little consequence to the larger narratives that have grown out of the misery of that day.

But these are days of amateur experts and self-made provocateurs, an era in which a young man with a laptop and a few far-out ideas can easily garner a huge audience in the self-referential online watering holes that dominate modern rhetoric. In the spring of 2005, Avery released "Loose Change," a feature-length documentary film that proposes that the terrorist attacks on America weren't terrorist attacks at all, and were instead conceived, planned and executed by people at the highest levels of the government. Though it has not been distributed in theaters, Avery's film -- sold on DVD and available for free online -- has emerged as the leading gateway drug for thousands, and possibly millions, of converts to the "9/11 truth movement," the loose affiliation of skeptics who doubt the official story. The film has transformed Avery into one of world's most influential proselytizers of the theory that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job."

I've heard some of Avery's fans describe his movie as "the red pill," the drug that takes Keanu Reeves down "The Matrix's" rabbit hole. During the past month, I've swallowed the pill about a half-dozen times, following Avery and other 9/11 skeptics down a treacherous path toward the alleged truth. I'm sorry to say I didn't find it; much of Avery's film has been debunked even by fellow 9/11 skeptics, and some of its theories verge on the bizarre. If you care to look, you won't find a shred of proof that Flight 93 landed in Cleveland, or that the World Trade Center was stuffed with gold bars, or that the Pentagon was hit by anything other than a commercial jet.

But that's not the whole story. "Loose Change" may traffic in fiction, but it sinks its hooks in. If you're unfamiliar with the official story -- if you haven't, say, perused the hundreds of pages of documentation supporting the 9/11 Commission's conclusions -- you may well find the movie's false reality strangely seductive. And going online to debunk "Loose Change" doesn't necessarily boost your faith in the 9/11 Commission's story; following the path that Google presents in response to queries like "pentagon plane crash" or "world trade center collapse" could make matters worse. While discovering flaws in the movie's claims, you'll find yourself bumping up against entirely different 9/11 theories, some of which propose a theory of the case that's far stranger than you'd ever imagined. Once you jump down the rabbit hole, you find it goes only deeper.

"Loose Change" comes along at a ripe cultural and political moment. No longer is 9/11 sacrosanct in the national consciousness; in the nearly five years since the attacks, we've grown increasingly suspicious of governmental reactions to the attacks, and more amenable to various re-imaginings of that day. Today Oliver Stone is free to fictionalize scenes in the trade towers, and Martin Amis can give us a Mohammed Atta beset by boredom and blocked bowels. Meanwhile, according to an astonishing recent Zogby poll, 42 percent of Americans believe that "the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks."

Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general and a member of the 9/11 Commission -- the independent committee set up by Congress to investigate that day's events -- told me that people who "should know better" routinely ask her about some of the kinds of theories presented in Avery's film. At a recent conference of business leaders in Boston, she recounted, "One prominent executive came up to me and asked me if there was any truth to the story that it was a missile and not a plane that hit the Pentagon."

Gorelick's story illustrates the power of "Loose Change." Its allegations may be preposterous and fact-free. But since when has that been a barrier to widespread public acceptance?

Avery released the first version of "Loose Change" in April 2005. He produced it for less than $2,000, using off-the-shelf video-editing software on his notebook computer, and though some scenes betray the film's budget, its overall aesthetic is surprisingly professional -- set against a breezy pop-synth soundtrack, it resembles nothing so much as a show on MTV. Avery's research methods also set "Loose Change" apart from other skeptical 9/11 documentaries in circulation; instead of conducting his own investigation, he stitched together the many arguments and observations about 9/11 that have long been gestating online, making "Loose Change" something like a film version of a highly contested Wikipedia page. He has updated his movie in response to advice and criticism from others in the movement, releasing "Loose Change: 2nd Edition" in January, and is at work on the ultimate version, to be called "Loose Change: Final Cut."

Insofar as any film without a distributor can be called a success, "Loose Change" has been a smash hit, selling a purported 100,000 DVDs and racing to the top of online video sites. Korey Rowe, Avery's close friend and the movie's producer, told me that a few Hollywood studios have expressed interest in distributing the movie nationally later this year. Avery, who'd like the film to open on Sept. 11, says, "We're pretty confident that it's going to be in theaters one way or another."

Avery's theory hinges on his idea that the U.S. government is a far likelier suspect in the 9/11 attacks than 19 terrorists. Thus the film launches its argument by pointing to Operation Northwoods, a 1962 U.S. military proposal to drum up public support for an invasion of Cuba that included a plan for staging a Cuban shoot-down of an American passenger plane. Northwoods shows that the American government has previously contemplated military plans using "drone" aircraft painted to look like civilian planes -- an integral ingredient in the film's larger conspiracy. Then there's "Rebuilding America's Defenses," a 2000 report by the Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative group. The document includes the smoking-gun argument that the process needed for a necessary foreign policy transformation "is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor."

"Loose Change" then puts forward three alternative ideas for what actually happened on 9/11. They are:

* American Airlines Flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon. First popularized by the author Thierry Meyssan, whose book "L'Effroyable Imposture" ("The Big Lie") hit the bestseller list in France, this is one of the oldest and most enduring claims made by 9/11 skeptics. "Loose Change" argues that Hani Hanjour, the terrorist pilot alleged to have been at the controls of Flight 77, was not skilled enough to have made the difficult diving maneuver that characterized the plane's approach. Avery, who narrates the film, also shows a montage of images from outside the Pentagon that he says don't fit a plane crash -- there's no airplane debris outside the building, he says, and the damage pattern looks suspiciously similar to that of a cruise-missile strike. He also points out that the government has not released surveillance tapes from cameras mounted on the freeway and at a nearby gas station and hotel. "If the government has nothing to hide, why are they so afraid to answer a few questions, or release a few videos?"

* The World Trade Center towers were brought down by controlled explosives. The film points to eyewitnesses who reported explosions coming from many areas of the buildings after the planes crashed. Willie Rodriguez, a janitor who was working in the North Tower, says that he heard a loud explosion near the base of the building. "Loose Change" also includes footage captured by French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet in which firefighters at the scene report the sound of explosions preceding the collapse of the buildings. (After the Naudet brothers threatened to sue Avery for copyright infringement, he agreed to remove their footage.) And Avery shows several shots of the towers collapsing in which he says "explosions can be seen bursting from the buildings 20 to 30 stories below the demolition wave."

* United Flight 93 did not crash in Shanksville, Penn. Instead, it landed safely in Cleveland, and 200 people on board were evacuated. Avery says that the debris field in Shanksville showed nothing resembling a downed aircraft, that neither plane parts nor passenger remains were visible at the scene. The movie cites reports of an airplane landing at the Cleveland Hopkins Airport on the morning of 9/11, and in a tangle of logic deduces that, actually, two planes landed there and that one of them was Flight 93. Including hijackers and crew, the official story says that there were 44 people on board Flight 93 when it crashed, but Avery alleges that about 200 people were taken off the plane in Cleveland. He suggests that in addition to Flight 93's passengers, these 200 people included the passengers of the flights alleged to have crashed into the Pentagon and the trade towers. Avery says, cryptically: "It's interesting to note that the combined total of all the passengers from all four flights is 198. Or 243. Depending on who you ask."

Overall, "Loose Change" presents a story of 9/11 that some have labeled the "no-plane theory," because it argues that the aircraft crashing into buildings were essentially a pyrotechnic distraction from the main destructive acts, the missile at the Pentagon and the controlled demolition of the trade towers. "Loose Change" acknowledges that two planes did actually hit the trade towers -- this marks a variation from more outré versions of the no-plane theory, which propose that live videos of the crash were doctored to include the 767s or that some kind of highly classified holographic technology created the illusion of planes hitting the towers (both theories have obvious flaws). But "Loose Change" suggests that remote-piloted drones, and not American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the World Trade Center; the drones, according to Rowe and Avery, contained no passengers.

It's at this point that your head really begins to spin. Here, as the film discusses Flight 93 landing in Cleveland with all four planes' passengers on board, a merely controversial argument crosses into unhinged ridiculousness. Basic questions -- like, why would the government spare the lives of the people on those planes only to kill thousands more? -- go unaddressed. Your frustration builds when Avery attempts to bolster his theory by proposing that passengers' cellphone calls from the airplanes were phony. He cites a study that he says proves that phones wouldn't get cellular signals at high altitudes, and he argues that the manner in which people spoke to their families -- Mark Bingham identified himself using his full name in a call to his mother -- means that "voice morphing technology" was involved. Come on, really?

Many of "Loose Change's" most vociferous online critics actually agree with its principal conclusion that the government is behind the attack, and only disagree with the film's specific 9/11 story line. Deep down the rabbit hole one day, I found Jim Hoffman, a 49-year-old software engineer in Alameda, Calif., and one of the most diligent 9/11 researchers in the movement. Hoffman, who runs 9-11 Research and 9-11 Review, two enormous troves of attack-related documentation and analysis, has looked into the film's claims more thoroughly than just about anyone else online. Though he agrees with Avery that the government was behind 9/11, he finds much of "Loose Change" wanting. "Sifting Through 'Loose Change,'" Hoffman's point-by-point critique of the movie, is withering. He discovers flaws in just about every second claim in "Loose Change," and he points to a mountain of evidence to rebut two of the film's central arguments, the idea that passenger planes didn't crash into the Pentagon and into a field in Shanksville.

Let's start with the Pentagon. Avery says that photographs from the scene show "no trace of Flight 77," but Hoffman points to pictures that show "engine parts, landing gear parts, and scraps of fuselage that match the livery of an American Airlines Boeing 757." Hoffman also notes that damage to the Pentagon's facade is "consistent in every way" with a 757 crash -- photographs taken before the outer ring of the building collapsed show "punctures in the paths of the densest parts of the plane, and breached limestone in the paths of the wing ends," he writes. The movie's suggestion that eyewitnesses expressed huge differences over what they saw coming at the Pentagon also turns out to be false. As Hoffman explains, most witnesses say they saw a large jetliner approaching the building, and the few who say they saw a small jet were those farthest away from the site.

Hoffman and other "Loose Change" debunkers offer an even more devastating critique of the movie's strange claim that Flight 93 ended up in Cleveland. Avery bases his Cleveland idea on a story posted on the Web site of WCPO, a local TV station in Cincinnati, on the morning of 9/11; Avery says that the report proves that "two planes landed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport due to a bomb threat," and that "United Airlines identified one of the planes as Flight 93." It turns out that Avery is right that WCPO reported this news on its Web site -- but the story was actually authored by the Associated Press wire service, and the AP corrected the news minutes after it was posted, as WCPO has explained. (You'll recall that false media reports were widespread during that morning's hysteria.)

Hoffman finds a host of evidence indicating that Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, including numerous photographs of the Shanksville site -- some of which were released as part of the Zacarias Moussaoui trial -- in which you can see a deep impact crater and huge airplane parts. Many human remains were found at the scene -- according to the Washington Post, searchers discovered "about 1,500 mostly scorched samples of human tissue" around the crash crater. Hoffman also points to flaws in the study that Avery says proves that cellphones wouldn't have worked at high altitudes. The particular experiment only tested Motorola-brand phones, and it was conducted over London, Ontario, rather than on the flight paths of the 9/11 jets -- thus the research says nothing about whether different kinds of phones might have worked in the parts of the sky that the planes flew that morning. Moreover, Hoffman points out, several crew and passengers placed their calls using on-board GTE Airphones designed to work in the sky.

In addition, Avery seems to be oddly confused about the number of people who were on board the four flights on 9/11. He says that there were either 198 or 243 "passengers" on the planes; in fact, there were 232 passengers on board, excluding the crew but including the hijackers. The number is relatively easy to check, and it's unclear what Avery means when he alleges that the number shifts "depending on who you ask."

"'Loose Change' speculates that 200 people were somehow herded onto Flight 93 ... and then mysteriously disappeared into a NASA research facility," Hoffman writes. "Could it get any more ridiculous?"

Conspiracy theorists often respond to criticism by expanding the conspiracy to include their critics. Both Avery and Rowe, without naming names, say they suspect some who've heaped scorn on their movie might be secretly working for the government. "I'm pretty sure our movement has been infiltrated," Avery says. Rowe argues that "the government puts out disinformation agents within the movement to splinter it. This is what they do, they try to create dissension between head members." Both say they've looked over the rebuttals, but stand by their film's major claims.

Ironically, Hoffman levels the same charge of government complicity at Avery. Indeed, here's where the conspiracy theories grow even stranger: Hoffman argues that the 9/11 planners specifically engineered the attacks in a way that would lead some people to embrace flimsy 9/11 theories. Avery, Hoffman says, has fallen into the government's trap; the government wants people to say that an airplane didn't hit the Pentagon, because the claim makes 9/11 skeptics look silly. In the movie, Avery wonders why the government hasn't released surveillance videos captured near the Pentagon that would show definitively whether an aircraft crashed there. (The Pentagon recently put out a couple of videos that don't at all settle the matter.) Hoffman says he knows exactly why the government is being stingy with the videos -- not because it has something to hide about the Pentagon, but because it wants to feed the no-plane theory. It's all part of the plan to "divert attention from the core fraud of the attack -- the Big Lie that the Twin Towers collapsed due to impacts and fires."

Two official structural engineering studies of the World Trade Center collapse -- one conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the other by the National Institute of Standards and Technology -- have concluded that the towers fell due to uncontrollable fires sparked by the plane crashes. NIST, which created a computer simulation of the crashes, found that the aircraft dislodged fireproofing material in the buildings, leaving the trusses that held up the floors vulnerable to extreme temperatures. The sagging trusses pulled in each building's perimeter columns, which consequently weakened its inner core; when the floors above each crash site gave out, the towers came crashing down.

Hoffman has written several technical papers criticizing this theory. I spent a few hours one afternoon reading them very slowly, and I also pored over the work of Steven Jones, a physicist at Brigham Young University who argues that there's little evidence to support the official structural engineering explanations. "Everybody has an intuition of what things should look like when they're falling," Hoffman explained to me one afternoon. The trade towers seemed to violate the natural way things fall. For instance, just as the South Tower began to collapse, the top 30 stories of the building tipped 15 degrees to the side. "If you have an object in rotation it tends to stay in rotation unless operated on by a torque. So it should have toppled faster and faster," he explained. "But instead of that happening, it just stopped toppling. The top actually stopped rotating." As Hoffman saw it, the way it stopped rotating indicated that something -- something explosive -- was forcing the structure to fall straight down. (Feeding Hoffman's suspicion, the NIST and FEMA studies did not examine what he calls the curious manner in which the buildings fell. But in its report, NIST "found no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses suggesting that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition using explosives planted prior to September 11, 2001 ... Instead, photos and videos from several angles clearly showed that the collapse initiated at the fire and impact floors and that the collapse progressed from the initiating floors downward.")

Then I watched what are perhaps the most compelling images supporting the notion of a forced demolition -- the many videos showing the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 at 5:20 p.m. on 9/11. The collapse, which FEMA also pinned on the fires started in the neighboring twin towers, is extraordinary; the building simply disappears into itself, disintegrating like it had been planned for weeks. In one shot from CBS News, Dan Rather, narrating the scene, says the sight is "reminiscent of those pictures we've all seen when a building was deliberately destroyed by world-class dynamite to knock it down." His immediate reaction seems just right -- the building falls so gracefully, so cleanly, it's mystifying.

Hoffman offers a theory of the attacks that seems more simple and straightforward than the one presented by "Loose Change." He agrees with the main points in the official story: Hoffman thinks that hijackers did board the planes (though they were patsies, he says), and he believes the airplanes actually crashed into the buildings (though he suspects Flight 93 was shot down). In Hoffman's scenario -- which he stresses is speculative, because of course you can never really know for sure -- ground-based attackers used some kind of gas to render everyone on board the planes unconscious, and they subsequently controlled the aircraft through remote control. The real work occurred in the Trade Center, where Hoffman believes a small team could have secretly planted "thermobaric" explosives in the elevator shafts of all three buildings in the weeks before the attack.

While the no-jetliner theory "Loose Change" presents assumes a vast conspiracy (just imagine how many people you'd need to replace the real aircraft with drones, to handle all the passengers, to secure that airport in Cleveland), Hoffman says a relatively small team of a few dozen or so people could have carried out his plan. Yet when you dig into his theory, it turns out that Hoffman, of course, is proposing something grand. Like many in the movement, he questions the loyalties of members of the 9/11 Commission and other panels that have investigated the attacks. Hoffman doesn't believe that commissioners were involved in the attack, but he says they were certainly part of the coverup. If you search the commission's report for an explanation of Building 7's collapse, you won't find a thing. Why is that? Hoffman believes they weren't really interested in the truth. "They created this vast myth about the hijackers," Hoffman says of the commission. "It was a mass diversion, steering attention away from all these burning unanswered questions."

The official theory of 9/11 -- 19 hijackers, tall fundamentalist bearded guy in a cave -- is, in the strictest sense of the term, also a "conspiracy theory." Indeed, as portrayed in the 9/11 Commission's report, the hijackers exhibit hallmark conspiracy theory behaviors. They meet surreptitiously and talk in code ("'architecture' referred to the World Trade Center, 'arts' the Pentagon, 'law' the Capitol, and 'politics' the White House," to quote the report); they possess unimaginable commitment to their cause, and show superhuman discipline and technical abilities (their proficient piloting skills despite minimal training, their calm while committing murder and suicide); they harbor transparently irrational, immoral beliefs, the sort that cranks usually ascribe to secret societies; most important, they succeed against tremendous odds without anyone wising up, pulling it off right before our eyes.

The whole thing does sound sort of unbelievable, doesn't it? The commission's report is exhaustive, and over the course of hundreds of thrilling pages, it renders the conspiracy in a way that's thoroughly credible. Yet there is a certain are-you-kidding-me quality to any condensed version of the tale: Nineteen guys did that!?

"I think the basic facts here indicate that these attacks occurred as a consequence of a conspiracy," Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator from Nebraska who was a member of the commission, told me. "Unlike the Kennedy assassination, we're not asking, 'Was there a conspiracy?' In the case of the attack on the United States you begin with the presumption that there was a conspiracy. The 'conspiracy theorists' are presenting an alternative conspiracy."

Whether you take the official view or the conspiracy theorists' view, the 9/11 attacks were not only spectacularly horrific, they were also spectacularly strange and complex. Ultimately, for many of us who aren't experts, choosing what to believe about 9/11 is something like a leap of faith. If you trust members of the 9/11 Commission and the government's structural engineers you'll put your money on the official explanation; in a larger sense, if you trust your government you'll find it truly difficult to comprehend the possibility that anyone on the inside could have been behind something like this.

And it's on the key point of motive -- why would the government do this? -- that the conspiracy theorists seem most vulnerable.

"Loose Change" addresses the matter only briefly, about five minutes before the film concludes. "I hope you're sitting down," Avery says as if he's going to offer something spectacular. But the blockbuster is mostly bluster. "According to Wikipedia" -- not something you want to hear in a documentary -- "one of the world's largest gold depositories was stored underneath the World Trade Center," Avery says. Without attribution, he alleges that "rumor has it that over $160 billion in gold was stored in the World Trade Center," and that only a couple hundred million dollars of that was ever recovered. So that's why the government did 9/11 -- it was a gold heist?

Another idea comes from Jim Marrs, one of the world's most prolific professional conspiracy theorists and the author of a 9/11-doubting book "Inside Job," which Avery uses as the source for some claims in "Loose Change." Over Memorial Day weekend I watched Marrs give a presentation on ancient astronaut theory at Conspiracy Con 2006, and I listened as Marrs described his belief that human beings were created as slaves by technologically superior aliens who landed on Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago. Marrs' theory (inspired by the author Zecharia Sitchin) mines classic secret society tracts; he believes that the aliens entrusted their superior knowledge to an elite group of humans, and this elite group has kept the knowledge to itself throughout history. The elites aim to cultivate a borderless, one-world government -- and it's to these ends that they would have pushed something like 9/11.

While at the conference, I also discussed the government's possible motive with Phillip Jayhan, a businessman who runs LetsRoll911.org, a prominent 9/11 skeptic site. Jayhan provided some early funding for "Loose Change," and Avery featured Jayhan's theory that one of the Trade Center planes was equipped with a missile in the first version of the movie. "I don't think people can have a proper understanding of 9/11 without understanding the power structure of the international cult," Jayhan explained to me. He went on to describe an extensive theory of satanic cultism, one in which Satanists provide kidnapped children to politicians for sexual trysts; the cult then keeps the politicians in line through blackmail. Jayhan sold me a copy of "The Franklin Coverup," a book by former Nebraska state Sen. John DeCamp that he said would fully expose the situation to me. Jayhan believes that ultimately, Satanists were behind 9/11. "Everything is a lie," he said.

The theory of satanic cultism appeared plausible to others in the movement as well. "It's out there," Korey Rowe told me. "There are definitely controlling interests like that." When I asked Hoffman about it, he said, "That gets into things that are easily exploited -- it sounds crazy when people talk about it, even though I think there's something to it." Hoffman added that he believes the most likely motive is "geopolitical" and probably not satanic, "though it's possible, because our government is so thoroughly corrupt."

Only Avery disagreed with the idea conclusively. "As soon as you say that Satanists were behind 9/11 you start to lose people right off the bat."

I asked Gorelick if she believed the commission had been sufficiently open to investigating the idea that the government, and not terrorists, was behind the attack. "I think it's fair to say that our assumption going in was not that the World Trade Center was blown up by our own government," she said, "but had the facts led us there we would not have hesitated to go there. And we ourselves blew up lots of myths -- for example, that the 19 hijackers were undetectable, or that there was a relationship between 9/11 and Saddam."

Slade Gorton, the former Republican senator and commission member, told me that the most serious threat to the commission's work so far came not from conspiracy theorists but from Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Penn., who alleged that the commission ignored information that the classified military program Able Danger had identified Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 plotters before the attacks. Gorton and the other commissioners believed that the commission weathered that storm with its reputation intact.

Kerrey was dismissive of the conspiracy theories as well. Asked about the possibility of a controlled demolition at the World Trade Center, he scoffed, "There's no evidence for that." But he also noted that, quite apart from what Avery and others in the "truth movement" have proposed, many legitimate mysteries still surround the events of that day. "There are ample reasons to suspect that there may be some alternative to what we outlined in our version," Kerrey said. The commission had limited time and limited resources to pursue its investigation, and its access to key documents and witnesses was fettered by the administration. "I didn't read a single PDB," Kerrey said, referring to the president's daily intelligence briefing reports. "We didn't have access to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed," the mastermind of the plot. "We accepted a compromise, submitting our questions to him through the CIA. Now, that's not the best way to go about getting your questions answered. So I'm 100 percent certain that [bin Laden] directed that attack, but am I completely comfortable saying there was no direct Saudi involvement, or that Saddam Hussein wasn't involved in some fashion, or that the Iranians weren't involved? I'm pretty close to 100 percent certain, but I'd be more comfortable if we'd interviewed Khalid Shaikh Mohammed."

Still, Gorelick says that because the commission operated in a transparent manner, its findings will have enduring appeal. "Before we began we studied the commissions that looked into the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor and we saw that for decades or more there were unanswered questions," she said. "We were trying to be as comprehensive and transparent as possible so people would know what we had looked into even if there were unanswered questions."

Yet Gorelick acknowledges, too, that she may have an optimistic view: "That's why I don't live on the Internet," she said. "I spend a lot of my time online, but I don't live there. And if I were to live there, I'd wish for someone to put me out of my misery. There are lies out there."

Monkeys and atheists


May 27, 2003

by Dennis Prager

Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog") is said to have come up with the most famous defense of the atheist belief that life was created by chance, not God. In a debate at Oxford, he is reported to have stated that if enough monkeys randomly pressed typewriter keys for a long enough time, sooner or later Psalm 23 would emerge.

Not all atheists use this argument, but it accurately represents the atheist belief that with enough time and enough solar systems, you'll get you, me, and Bach's cello suites.

This belief has always struck me as implausible. The argument that infinitely complex intelligence came about by itself, unguided by any intelligence, can only be deemed convincing by those who have a vested interest (intellectual, emotional, psychological) in atheism.

I fully acknowledge the great challenge to theism -- the rampant and seemingly random unfairness built into human life. But no intellectually honest atheist should deny the great challenge to atheism -- the existence of design and intelligence. The belief that Bach's music randomly evolved from a paramecium should strike anyone as so fantastic as to be absurd, even more absurd than the belief that a monkey could monkey Shakespeare. The finite number of years in the universe's existence and the finite number of planets would not come close to producing a few sentences, let alone Psalm 23 or a Shakespeare play.

But a just reported English University experiment has convinced me that the number of monkeys and the amount of time are irrelevant. Psalm 23, let alone Hamlet, would never be written. Why? Because the monkeys probably wouldn't do any typing.

According to news reports, instructors at Plymouth University put six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys in a room with a computer and keyboards for four weeks. Though one of the monkeys frequently typed the letter "s", the other monkeys ignored the keyboard, preferring to play with one another and with the ropes and toys placed there. When they did pay attention to the keyboard, one smashed it with a stone and the others repeatedly urinated and defecated on it.

The instructors hastened to note the study was not scientific, given the short duration of time and the small number of monkeys, but some of us find this "study" to be a hilarious vindication of our view of the "enough monkeys for enough time" argument for random creation.

According to the science correspondent of Britain's Guardian newspaper, "assuming each monkey typed a steady 120 characters a minute (itself a preposterous assumption), mathematicians have calculated it would take 10 to the 813th power (10 followed by 813 zeros) monkeys about five years to knock out a decent version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 3 . . . "

To put 10 to the 813th power into perspective, remember that a billion is 10 to the ninth power.

There are many intellectually honest atheists, and there are many intellectually dishonest believers in God.

Nevertheless, I believe that any objective person would have to conclude that the belief that everything came about by itself and that randomness is the creator is infinitely less intellectually sound than the belief in a Creator/Designer.

Sadly, many people come to doubt God's existence because so many intellectuals are atheists. But it was a major scientist, Professor Robert Jastrow, one of the greatest living astronomers, head of the Mount Wilson Observatory, formerly head of NASA's Goddard Space Center, and an agnostic, who best explained the atheism of many scientists.

In his book "God and the Astronomers," Jastrow tells of his surprise when so many fellow astronomers refused to accept the Big Bang hypothesis for the origins of the universe. In fact, Jastrow writes, many astronomers were actually unhappy about it. Why? Because the Big Bang implied a beginning to the universe, and a beginning implies a Creator, something many scientists passionately reject.

This led Jastrow to the sobering conclusion that many scientists have vested, non-scientific interests in some of their beliefs, especially the non-existence of God. For some psychological or emotional reasons, not intellectual ones, many scientists prefer to believe that given enough monkeys, one will type out a psalm.

But neither math nor science argues that all came about randomly, without a Creator. Only a keen desire to deny God explains such a belief, a belief that should be laid to rest beneath a large pile of monkey doo-doo at Plymouth University, England.

Dennis Prager is a radio talk show host, author, and contributing columnist for Townhall.com.

Copyright © 2003 Creators

Creationism taught by design


CREATIONISM is finding its way into university lecture halls, raising concerns with some academics that the biblical story of creation will be given equal weight to Darwin's theory of evolution.

Compulsory lectures in intelligent design and creationism are going to be included in second-year courses for zoology and genetics undergraduates at Leeds University, The Times Higher Education Supplement (June 23) reveals.

But there's a twist: lecturers will present the controversial theories as being incompatible with scientific evidence. "It is essential they (students) understand the historical context and the flaws in the arguments these groups put forward," says Michael McPherson, of Leeds University.

Despite the clear anti- creationist stance of these lecturers, the move has set warning bells ringing across the UK science community.

"It would be undesirable for universities to spend a lot of precious resources teaching students that creationism and intelligent design are not based on scientific evidence," says David Read, the vice- president of the Royal Society.

Yet other academics are keen to see evolutionary theory challenged in university lecture halls.

"The scientific establishment prevents dissenting views," says Professor Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. "I have a lot of respect for those who have true scientific credentials and are upfront about their views."

Students, though, seem open to creationism. One study, carried out by Professor Roger Downie, of the University of Glasgow, found that one science student in ten did not believe in evolution.

"This gives a very poor prognosis for their understanding of what science is and their ability to be scientists," Prof Downie says.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bible Scholars Widen the Window to 5 days for a Nuclear Terrorist Attack on the United Nations between June 29 and July 4


Download this press release as an Adobe PDF document.

They advise everyone with faith in God to be at least 20 miles away from Midtown Manhattan between Sundown Thursday June 29th and Sundown Tuesday July 4th 2006. So, New Yorkers, make the last weekend in June a long one – starting on the Thursday.

London, UK, (PRWEB) June 25, 2006 -- They deduce this potential tragedy of biblical proportions from the symbolic interpretation of several bible accounts. They rely mainly on 1 Kings 18, 1 Thessalonians 5, Exodus 13 & 14, Revelation 13, Isaiah 2 and Joel 2. Many churches agree that bible accounts have greater symbolic meanings. Few agree on what these meanings might be. The Lords' Witnesses Bible Scholars have discovered a symbolic bible code, which tells the reader how many symbolic meanings each bible account has and which helps determine what these meanings are. This is where their confidence in their biblical forecasting comes from. For more on the code see www.truebiblecode.com/understanding49.html

The reader might think that such an endeavour is the preserve of religious freaks or wacky bible fanatics. But the Bible Scholars point out that Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered half of Pure Mathematics (Calculus) and who invented the entire subject of Newtonian Dynamics and who discovered gravity and who 300 hundred years ago formulated the laws which enabled NASA to put a man on the moon in the last century, knew that the bible was written in a symbolic code. He spent much of his life trying to decode it and calculated that Armageddon would be in 1948 (it would have been difficult for him to verify that calculation and correct it accordingly as we can today!) Much of Newton's scriptural work can be found in his book: Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, published presently by The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. ISBN 0-942487-02-8. Not quite as popular as the Da Vinci Code, but much more logical!

Here is a quote from Sir Isaac's work, which is of such wisdom as would enlighten any press release… "When I wrote my treatise about our system, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a deity. From such a point of view science appeared as the handmaiden of religion. Its purpose was not to manipulate nature for the material benefit of mankind, but to demonstrate the existence of the creator. The man business of Natural Philospohy" (Isaac Newton – by Richard Westfall)

Ironically, applying the true bible code to the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, reveals that Armageddon occurs when mankind's technology has abused the planet so badly that the planet finally hits back and erupts in a giant volcanic reaction to global warming and to nuclear warfare. This reaction covers the entire surface of the globe with molten lava, in much the same way as the flood of Noah covered it with water. This then is the end result of our manipulation of nature for what we misperceive to be our material benefit. For a short explanation of how they get these dates, written for a regular New Yorker - see www.truebiblecode.com/nyc.html .

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Researchers stumble into tangled evolution of ancient spider web


By John Noble Wilford The New York Times

Published: June 28, 2006

NEW YORK Some parlors that spiders invite unsuspecting flies into appear to be unkempt cobwebs, but the classic wheel-shaped spider web is a model of delicate order and a marvel of nature's architecture, the kind woven with care in "Charlotte's Web," the children's story.

New research shows that the two types of spiders that trap flying insects with these beautiful orb webs have been doing it since the early Cretaceous period. Genetic studies, scientists said, reveal that the two groups have some identical silk proteins for spinning webs, indicating that the technique evolved in a common ancestor at least 136 million years ago.

In another study, parts of a mite, a fly, a beetle and a wasp entangled in a spider's silky strands were found preserved in a piece of amber. The amber was dated to about 110 million years ago, which scientists said made this the oldest known example of a spider web with trapped prey.

The findings of the two research teams, which underscore the antiquity of spider webs, are described in separate reports in the current issue of the journal Science.

Scientists said the genetic evidence from orb-web spinners appeared to resolve a long-lasting debate over whether the technique evolved only once or developed independently in two spider genera, deinopoids and araneoids.

A group of evolutionary biologists at the University of California, Riverside, reported that its genetic examination of two kinds of deinopoids showed that they and araneoids had proteins for the same set of web- building silks. The biologists said the simplest explanation was that the spiders inherited the protein genes from a common ancestor.

Previous fossil evidence suggests that the common ancestor of the two groups lived about 136 million years ago.

Jessica Garb, the study's main researcher, said the finding "does not support a double origin for the orb web" but indicates that the distinctive web design evolved only once. Other biologists say the results confirm what many had already suspected.

While the silk proteins and orb-web spinning may be the same in both spider groups, their capture methods differ. Deinopoids weave webs of dry, Velcro-like material that insects stick to. Araneoids, the more common group that includes the familiar golden silk spiders, have glands that produce viscous glue that makes their orb webs even more efficient trappers of prey.

That may help account for why araneoids are more plentiful than deinopoids, scientists say.

"A lot of people had said that the orb web was a pinnacle of adaptive design," Garb said. "Our work confirms that not only is this web type very old, it was also lost in certain lineages of spiders."

The California researchers said the protein building blocks of spider silk might provide industry with clues to developing lightweight but superstrength fibers.

In a separate report, scientists described the discovery in amber of insects trapped in a spider web 110 million years ago. The small chunk of amber, found in Spain last year, preserved 26 strands of spider silk, gluey droplets and fragments of trapped insects. The prey represent ancient versions of three of the four orders of flying insects with the greatest diversity today: beetles, flies, and bees and wasps.

"The advanced structure of this fossilized web, along with the type of prey that the web caught, indicates that spiders have been fishing insects from the air for a very long time," said David Grimaldi, curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Grimaldi, an entomologist, is a co- author of the amber report with two researchers from the University of Barcelona, Enrique Peñalver and Xavier Delclós. "This is the only web known in Cretaceous amber," Grimaldi said.

The researchers noted that the visible sticky droplets indicated that the web was probably a classic orb design of the araneoid spiders, though it was not complete enough to be sure. The only earlier sample of spider silk was preserved in a piece of 125-million- year-old amber from Lebanon.

The research team concluded in its paper that the scene in amber confirmed that spiders and their entrapping webs dated back early enough to have affected the early evolution of the most diverse groups of flying insects.

At the time the spider was spinning its 110-million-year-old web, Grimaldi said, some insects were radiating to become major pollinators of plants, and evolutionary pressure from spider predation may have improved the insects' ability to navigate among the flowers.

NEW YORK Some parlors that spiders invite unsuspecting flies into appear to be unkempt cobwebs, but the classic wheel-shaped spider web is a model of delicate order and a marvel of nature's architecture, the kind woven with care in "Charlotte's Web," the children's story.

New research shows that the two types of spiders that trap flying insects with these beautiful orb webs have been doing it since the early Cretaceous period. Genetic studies, scientists said, reveal that the two groups have some identical silk proteins for spinning webs, indicating that the technique evolved in a common ancestor at least 136 million years ago.

In another study, parts of a mite, a fly, a beetle and a wasp entangled in a spider's silky strands were found preserved in a piece of amber. The amber was dated to about 110 million years ago, which scientists said made this the oldest known example of a spider web with trapped prey.

The findings of the two research teams, which underscore the antiquity of spider webs, are described in separate reports in the current issue of the journal Science.

Scientists said the genetic evidence from orb-web spinners appeared to resolve a long-lasting debate over whether the technique evolved only once or developed independently in two spider genera, deinopoids and araneoids.

A group of evolutionary biologists at the University of California, Riverside, reported that its genetic examination of two kinds of deinopoids showed that they and araneoids had proteins for the same set of web- building silks. The biologists said the simplest explanation was that the spiders inherited the protein genes from a common ancestor.

Previous fossil evidence suggests that the common ancestor of the two groups lived about 136 million years ago.

Jessica Garb, the study's main researcher, said the finding "does not support a double origin for the orb web" but indicates that the distinctive web design evolved only once. Other biologists say the results confirm what many had already suspected.

While the silk proteins and orb-web spinning may be the same in both spider groups, their capture methods differ. Deinopoids weave webs of dry, Velcro-like material that insects stick to. Araneoids, the more common group that includes the familiar golden silk spiders, have glands that produce viscous glue that makes their orb webs even more efficient trappers of prey.

That may help account for why araneoids are more plentiful than deinopoids, scientists say.

"A lot of people had said that the orb web was a pinnacle of adaptive design," Garb said. "Our work confirms that not only is this web type very old, it was also lost in certain lineages of spiders."

The California researchers said the protein building blocks of spider silk might provide industry with clues to developing lightweight but superstrength fibers.

In a separate report, scientists described the discovery in amber of insects trapped in a spider web 110 million years ago. The small chunk of amber, found in Spain last year, preserved 26 strands of spider silk, gluey droplets and fragments of trapped insects. The prey represent ancient versions of three of the four orders of flying insects with the greatest diversity today: beetles, flies, and bees and wasps.

"The advanced structure of this fossilized web, along with the type of prey that the web caught, indicates that spiders have been fishing insects from the air for a very long time," said David Grimaldi, curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Grimaldi, an entomologist, is a co- author of the amber report with two researchers from the University of Barcelona, Enrique Peñalver and Xavier Delclós. "This is the only web known in Cretaceous amber," Grimaldi said.

The researchers noted that the visible sticky droplets indicated that the web was probably a classic orb design of the araneoid spiders, though it was not complete enough to be sure. The only earlier sample of spider silk was preserved in a piece of 125-million- year-old amber from Lebanon.

The research team concluded in its paper that the scene in amber confirmed that spiders and their entrapping webs dated back early enough to have affected the early evolution of the most diverse groups of flying insects.

At the time the spider was spinning its 110-million-year-old web, Grimaldi said, some insects were radiating to become major pollinators of plants, and evolutionary pressure from spider predation may have improved the insects' ability to navigate among the flowers.

Evolution's lonely battle in a Georgia classroom



Dahlonega, Georgia _ Occasionally, an educational battle will dominate national headlines. More commonly, the battling goes on locally, behind closed doors, handled so discreetly that even a teacher working a few classrooms away might not know. This was the case for Pat New, 62, a respected, veteran middle school science teacher, who, a year ago, quietly stood up for her right to teach evolution in this rural northern Georgia community, and prevailed.

She would not discuss the conflict while still teaching, because Ms New wouldn't let anything disrupt her classroom. But she has decided to retire a year earlier than planned. ''This evolution thing was a lot of stress,'' she said. And a few weeks ago, on the very last day of her 29-year career, at 3.15pm, when Lumpkin County Middle School had emptied for the summer, and she had taken down her longest poster from Room D11A _ the 15-billion-year timeline ranging from the Big Bang to the Evolution of Man _ she recounted one teacher's discreet battle.

She isn't sure how many questioned her teaching of evolution _ perhaps a dozen parents, teachers and administrators and several students in her seventh-grade life science class. They sent e-mail messages and letters, stopped her in the hall, called board members, demanded meetings, requested copies of the PBS videos that she showed in class.

One parent asked how money could be wasted on a subject like evolution: ''As budget cuts continuously chip away at our children's future of a good, quality college-ready education,'' she wrote, ''I would think there would be more educational, more worthwhile and certainly more factual learning that could be taught.'' She requested that her son be permitted to ''bide his time elsewhere'' when evolution was taught. Ms New explained that evolution is so central to biology, the boy would be biding elsewhere all year long. Practically every chapter in her textbooks used evolution to trace the development of life starting with bacteria, green algae and gymnosperms. The books were purchased by her district, and she sent her supervisors copies, marking evolution references with dozens of Post-its, but it didn't seem to register.

On April 25, 2005, during a meeting about parents' complaints with her principal, Rick Conner, she recalled: ''He took a Bible off the bookshelf behind him and said, 'Patty I believe in everything in this book, do you?' I told him, 'I really feel uncomfortable about your asking that question.' He wouldn't let it go.'' The next day, she said, in the lunchroom, ''he reached across the table, took my hand and said: 'I accept evolution in most things, but if they ever say God wasn't involved I couldn't accept that. I want you to say that, Pat'.''

Four days after her encounter with the principal, Ms New was summoned to a meeting with the superintendent, Dewey Moye, as well as the principal and two parents upset about her teaching evolution.

''We have to let parents ask questions,'' Mr Moye told her. ''It's a public school. In a democracy people can ask questions.'' Ms New said the parents ''badgered, got loud and sarcastic and there was no support from administrators''.

''I thought I was going crazy,'' said Ms New, who has won several outstanding teacher awards and is one of only two teachers at her school with national board certification. The other is her husband, Ward.

''It takes a lot to stand up and be willing to have people angry at you,'' she said.

But Ms New did. She repeatedly urged her supervisors to read Georgia's science standards, particularly S7L5, which calls for teaching evolution.

On May 5, 2005, she filled out a complaint to initiate a grievance under state law, writing that she was being ''threatened and harassed'' though ''I am following approved curriculum''.

Suddenly the superintendent was focused on standards. Mr Moye called the state department's middle school science supervisor and asked about evolution. ''Obviously the State Department of Education supports evolution,'' Mr Moye said in an interview.

Obviously? So why call? ''I wanted to be sure,'' he said. ''Let's make sure what these standards are.''

He added: ''I feel strongly about the Georgia standards. I think it's very important. Obviously we'll teach standards; that's the law. We will do everything in accordance with the Department of Education.''

And parents' rights? ''I explained to parents that we're following the state standards,'' Mr Moye said. ''I said, 'You can believe what you want, but we have to teach the standards.' If they're upset, they can take it up on the state level.''

Ms New said that from then on, including the entire 2005-06 school year, she had no problem teaching evolution. ''What saved me was I didn't have to argue evolution with these people. All I had to say was, 'I'm following state standards'.''

The Georgia standards that saved Ms New almost did not happen.

In January 2004, when they were about to be adopted, Kathy Cox, Georgia's education superintendent, announced that she would remove evolution from the standards because it was too divisive an issue.

That set off a huge protest that included former President Carter and former Governor Sonny Perdue, a Republican. Within days, Ms Cox reversed herself.

No one was more gratified than F James Rutherford, who worked as a consultant developing the Georgia standards. In 1985, Mr Rutherford, a Harvard-trained science educator, began a project for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, aimed at laying out what every student should know about science, grade by grade. That year Halley's Comet appeared and he called the effort Project 2061, with hopes that by the comet's next visit, in 2061, the children of 1985 would have had a lifetime shaped by superior science education.

It took longer than he thought, but Project 2061 became the foundation for the Georgia standards adopted in 2004, and by many other states. Mr Rutherford, now 82, had not heard of Ms New, but when told of her quiet victory, he said: ''Wonderful. That was the idea.'' NYT

Creationists Right on Entropy, Evolution


Special Contribution By Babu Ranganathan

Evolutionists continue to argue that entropy does not occur in open systems and use examples such as a seed becoming a tree as a contradiction to entropy. Evolutionists are wrong on both counts.

Entropy (the tendency of matter to go towards greater disorder) does occur in open systems. We discovered entropy here on Earth which is an open system in relation to the Sun.

The spontaneous (unaided or undirected) tendency of matter is always towards greater disorder — not towards greater order and complexity as evolution would teach. Just having enough energy from the Sun is not sufficient to overcome entropy. The 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.

When a seed becomes a tree, for example, there is no violation of entropy because the seed contains a directing code and highly complex biological mechanisms to overcome entropy so that a seed can evolve into a fully developed tree. The question is how did biological life and order come into existence in the first place when there was no code and mechanism for overcoming entropy.

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. Without either DNA or RNA there cannot be proteins, but without proteins there cannot be either DNA or RNA. These complex molecules are all mutually dependent upon one another 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 science can explain how life and the universe operate and work doesn't mean there is no Supreme Designer. Would it be rational to believe that there's no designer behind airplanes because 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.

The above opinion piece is written by Mr. Babu G. Ranganathan (Email: bgrnathan@msn.com), religion and science writer who was recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who's Who in The East. He holds a B.A. in theology and biology. His articles can be reached at www.religionscience.com

Sunday, June 25, 2006

How to spot pseudoscience


Jon Cleland Host, Midland Daily News


Stacking the Evidence. In science, evidence is accepted or rejected based on objective criteria such as reliability, physical tests, and confirming evidence. In pseudoscience, evidence is accepted if it supports the pseudoscience, and rejected otherwise. This is why stories such as a plesiosaur caught by a Japanese fishing boat are used as "evidence" by creationists, while the same creationists reject mountains of verified data, such as the transitional features in fossils like Rhodocetus, Mesohippus, Archeopteryx, Tiktaalik and hundreds of others.

Vague or Inconsistent Terms. In a pseudoscience, terms must be kept vague because there is no hard evidence to anchor them to. For instance, what exactly is a creationist's "kind"? In some creationist writings, "kind" = "species." In others, "kind" is a large group (like a genus , or even a whole order). Some creationists believe "kinds" don' t evolve (such as Mr. Vanderkooi in his April 21 Forum article). Others (presumably Mr. Schlafley from the webpage he cites in his June 4 Forum article ) believe in rapid formation of many species (sort of a "hyper-evolution") from a common ancestor on the ark. Other terms, like "day," "theory" and "information" are similarly vague or inconsistent in creationism. In science, terms have definitions that are largely agreed upon and adhered to .

Imagining a Conspiracy. Supporters of a pseudoscience often complain of being "suppressed " by a conspiracy of scientists in their field. For creationism, this would require a vast left-wing conspiracy, since aspects of evolution are supported by dozens of entire fields of science, ranging from archeology to zoology.

Irrefutable Hypotheses. In science, a hypothesis is useful if it can be tested and conceivably disproved by future evidence. In pseudoscience, hypothes es are chos en so that no conceivable evidence could show them to be wrong. The hypothesis " space aliens fabricated our entire world yesterday" is irrefutable, since any possible evidence (such as historical records of the civil war, or geological records of life a billion years ago) can be dismissed with "well, the aliens planted those records to fool us."

Exegetical Research (such as Quote Mining). In science, claims are evaluated based on the data, regardless of the specific wording used by the researchers who present it. In pseudoscience, printed words are cut and pasted to obtain any meaning desired, regardless of what the author originally meant or the context of the quote. Here is one from the dozens of examples of a scientist being quote mined in creationist writings :

* "The record jumps, and all the evidence shows that the record is real: the gaps we see reflect real events in life's history not the artifact of a poor fossil record. The fossil record flatly fails to substantiate this expectation of finely graded change." (Eldredge, et al, 1982)

It seems to support creationism, doesn't it? However, reading the full text shows that Eldredge is talking about the dinosaur extinction (not the whole fossil record, as implied by the creationists), and that the quote is stitched together from different pages. The book by Wells mentioned by Mr. Schlafley is filled with mined quotes as well. In addition to changing the meaning by changing the context , creationists often misrepresent debates, such as the debate over the relative role of gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium (two models of evolution), portraying it instead as a debate between evolution vs. creationism.

Another form of exegetical research is quoting non-scientists about science or even quoting without saying who the quote is from, as Barbara Phillips does in her June 18 Forum article. Real research is not just a search for quotes. More on quote mining is at //tinyurl.com/4uece .

Clinging to Hoaxes. In science (as in any human work), hoaxes sometimes occur. When discovered in science, they are exposed and refuted (such as the "Piltdown man"). In pseudoscience, hoaxes are refuted reluctantly if at all. Some examples of well known creationist hoaxes that are still being used today include the Paluxy "man" tracks, NASA's "lost day," or the iron pot "found" in coal. Even the well known Lady Hope fraud, ( which was fabricated over 30 years after Darwin's death and immediately exposed as a heartless hoax) is still used by creationists such as Ken Schlafley in his Forum article.

The common thread in all of these marks of pseudoscience is the attempt to bend the evidence to support a pre-existing conclusion, instead of honestly following the evidence wherever it may lead. Many creationists openly admit that the evidence is of only secondary importance, as can be seen in point D6 on the Answers in Genesis page, here: //tinyurl.com/j75mc.

A full discussion of creationism and of the many scientific fields that have confirmed the fact of evolution will require more than letters to the editor and a few Forum articles, since a creationist can toss out a distortion in a sentence or two, which often requires a paragraph to correct. With high quality schools like SVSU, CMU and Delta nearby, it can't be that hard for the Midland Daily News to get reliable, scientifically accurate information. This would help us all see why evolution is supported by an overwhelming majority of scientists, including thousands of Christians.

Jon Cleland Host is a Midland resident.

©Midland Daily News 2006

Evolution has the power of science behind it


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dr. Charles Acker

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Most biologists would agree that only through evolutionary science does biology make sense. Such assertions raise the question, "What is science?"

Science is a search for understanding which is based upon a number of principles, some of the most critical being reliance on empirical evidence (artifacts, observations) instead of scriptural, priestly or political authority; testing of hypotheses against empirical evidence; provisional explanations or theories subject to change or modification with new empirical findings; and most importantly, the search for natural laws and use of naturalistic explanations.

Evolution qualifies as a science on all points. Science is a strictly limited enterprise; it does not attempt to answer questions such as "What is the purpose of Existence?", "Is there a God?" or questions of right or wrong.

However, it is these limitations plus the above principles which account for its success and give it power for new discovery. Epidemiologists, for example, attempting to predict the course of the anticipated Asian bird flu pandemic base their understanding of how the disease can change and spread among humans on two fundamental mechanisms: Genetic mutation and natural selection. In this process, a virus, essentially a packet of genes, becomes different and more successful (from the virus' point of view). The same process occurs when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. The understanding of these changes is an example of the cross-fertilization of molecular genetics and evolutionary science.

Changes in recent time in both form and genetics among such varied animals as snails, lizards, insects, birds, fish and rabbits, which result in separately breeding populations (one definition of species change) demonstrate the evolutionary process and also help us to predict the impact of human activity on ecology.

New and exciting clues to all manner of mysteries are emerging from the area of developmental evolution (dubbed "evo-devo"). For example, research on the evolution of the uterus in animals from egg-laying to placental types is throwing new light on diseases of the female reproductive system, such as endometriosis, cancer and infertility.

Paleontology, the science of fossils, is uncovering large numbers of transitional forms (missing links) in the evolution of terrestrial animals from fish, birds from dinosaurs and whales from land-dwelling mammals. These evolutionary relationships are reflected in the genomic relationships of present-day animals.

We owe our growing understanding of these new discoveries in part to evolutionary science. Neither Biblical Creationism nor Intelligent Design qualify as science because of their reliance on supernatural agents to explain natural phenomena. During the recent decades in which it has been promoted as an alternative to evolution, Intelligent Design has failed to produce anything resembling a research program, leave alone new discoveries or ideas which can be used in the fight against disease. Instead it has been used primarily in a political effort to undercut the teaching of established principles of science.

Should we teach about Intelligent Design in public schools? Certainly. It should be taught in courses such as the history of western thought, comparative religion or philosophy. But only science should be taught in science classrooms.

Dr. Charles Acker has done research in physiological psychology, and has practiced as a clinical and forensic psychologist. Now retired, he is a student of the philosophy of science, and currently teaches courses concerning belief systems and science and religion.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ancestor of Modern Birds Believed Found


Scientists show off what they believe is the first detailed look at the ancestor of modern birds

WASHINGTON, Jun. 15, 2006


(AP) The first detailed look at the ancestor of modern birds _ a grebe-like waterbird that would look normal even today _ was shown off Thursday by scientists who discovered fossil remains in a remote lake bed in China.

"A world lost for more than 100 million years was being revealed to us," as layers of mud were peeled back like the pages of a book, said Hai-lu You of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

What they found is being called the missing link on the evolution of birds, a creature that lived in northwest China and is the earliest example of modern birds that populate the planet today.

Before their discovery, reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science, the only evidence for this creature _ Gansus yumenensis _ was a single, partial leg discovered in the 1980s.

Now researchers have dozens of nearly complete fossils of Gansus, said a beaming Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

"Most of the ancestors of birds from the age of dinosaurs are members of groups that died out and left no modern descendants. But Gansus led to modern birds, so it's a link between primitive birds and those we see today," Lamanna said.

Previously there was a gap between ancient and modern species of birds, and "Gansus fits perfectly into this gap," added Jerald D. Harris of Dixie State College in Utah.

It was about the size of a modern pigeon, but similar to loons or diving ducks, the researchers said. One of the fossils even has skin preserved between the toes, showing that it had webbed feet.

"We were lucky far beyond our expectations" in finding these fossils, added You.

"Gansus is the oldest example of the nearly modern birds that branched off of the trunk of the family tree that began with the famous proto-bird Archaeopteryx," said Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania.

The remains were dated to about 110 million years ago, making them the oldest for the group Ornithurae, which includes all modern birds and their closest extinct relatives. Previously, the oldest known fossils from this group were from about 99 million years ago.

The fact that Gansus was aquatic indicates that modern birds may have evolved from animals that originated in aquatic environments, the researchers said.

"Our new specimens are extremely well preserved, with some even including feathers," Lamanna said. "Because these fossils are in such good condition, they've enabled us to reconstruct the appearance and relationships of Gansus with a high degree of precision. They provide new and important insight into the evolutionary transformation of carnivorous dinosaurs into the birds we know today."

The remains were found in an ancient lake bed near the town of Changma.

"We went to Changma hoping that we'd discover one, maybe two, fragments of fossil birds," he said. "Instead, we found dozens, including some almost complete skeletons with soft tissues."

The new fossil material "is remarkable for its excellent preservation. ... The new fossils demonstrate that Gansus clearly is a bird that spent much of its life looking for food in water," commented Hans-Dieter Sues, associate director for research and collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Gansus is an additional "link in a long chain of intermediate forms between Archaeopteryx, the oldest known bird from the late Jurassic, and modern birds," said Sues, who was not part of Lamanna's research team.

Funding for the research was provided by the Discovery Quest program for The Science Channel, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Dixie State College of Utah, the Chinese Geological Survey and the Ministry of Science and Technology of China.

At one point during the field work, Lamanna told his colleagues he would eat a duck foot if they found the fossil they were seeking while the television camera crew was still there.

So, did they?

"It tasted sort of like chicken, but real rubbery," he recalled.

On the Net:

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

MMVI The Associated Press

What's New Friday June 23, 2006


A few weeks ago a cab picked me up at the U. of Wisconsin Physics Dept. to take me to the airport. The driver began, "You a physicist? I like physics. You know this guy Steven Jones? He's a physicist. He proved the World Trade Center couldn't have fallen that fast on 9/11 unless it was rigged with explosives." I'd heard it before. Today there's a good story about Jones and the 9/11 "conspiracy" by John Gravois in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Seventeen years ago Steven Jones imagined that cold fusion is responsible for Earth's molten interior. That's what led Fleischmann and Pons to rush into print with their dumb idea.


The 1999 Mann Report concluded that the 1990s were the warmest decade in a thousand years. It helped solidify public concern over warming. It also infuriated many Republican lawmakers and industry groups. At the request of the House Science Committee, the National Academies reviewed the Report, and agreed with the overall thrust. The same deniers objected to the review


WN has long recommended that the polygraph be replaced by a coin toss. It would catch half of the lies, which is a lot better than the polygraph. There would be a little "collateral damage" from false positives, but there's a lot of that anyway. However, the Wash Post on Tuesday had a story about discrepancies between polygraph results obtained by different federal agencies. Who could be surprised? We are forced to admit that the coin toss would suffer the same difficulty, presumably to the same extent. According to an editorial in yesterday's Nature, however, there are two start-up companies preparing to offer fMRI brain scanning devices as lie detectors. Many neuroscientists think the claims made for fMRI are overblown. Should company officials therefore be asked to submit to brain scans? That's the real problem. If it works, it would represent the ultimate invasion of privacy.

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

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org What's New is moving to a different listserver and our subscription process has changed. To change your subscription status please visit this link: http://listserv.umd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=bobparks-whatsnew&A=1

Herbs, chiropractic, acupuncture finding more followers


By John Mangalonzo Journal-Advocate staff writer jmangalonzo@journal-advocate.com

STERLING - Imagine not taking care of your vehicle's regular maintenance such as oil changes and tune-ups: Your vehicle will break down sooner than later.

Same goes for your body.

Experts say regular preventive maintenance will help boost the body's immune system and cure ailments in a relatively faster and less expensive way, compared to prescription drugs.

Unleashing the body's natural healing power has always been the backbone of alternative medicine. Be it regular chiropractic, therapeutic and acupuncture visits to switching to natural herb supplements to boost the body's natural immune system, experts agree its better in the long run.

According to holisticmed.com, holistic medicine is a system of health care, which fosters a cooperative relationship among all those, leading toward attainment of optimal levels in all aspects of health.

John Mangalonzo/Journal-Advocate Vitamin and Herb Palace owner Guy Thompkins (left) assists customer Helen Morgan of Sterling in choosing the right vitamin and dietary supplement.

It emphasizes the need to look at the whole person, including analysis of physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual and lifestyle values. It encompasses all stated modalities of diagnosis and treatment including drugs and surgery if no safe alternative exists. Holistic medicine focuses on education and responsibility for personal efforts to achieve balance and well being.

The American Cancer Society states that the field of holistic medicine is very diverse and broad. Some providers define holistic oncology as care that includes emotional and spiritual aspects, while others focus on these aspects to the exclusion of the physical. There are many different techniques and approaches in holistic medicine, depending on the practitioner, the person and the illness. All, however, stress the use of treatments that encourage the body's natural healing system and take into account the person as a whole.

Therapeutic massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and nutritional supplements such as natural herbs are among the preventative measures one can take.

"More people should get into it," Guy Thompkins, owner of the Vitamin and Herb Palace on Main Street in Sterling, said.

At 69, Thompkins said herbal remedies, vitamins and natural herbs can help treat ailments from asthma to the common cold.

"We have a full range of clientele but mostly middle-aged and elderly people and a lot of them have done their own reading about it and have chosen the natural way as oppose to over-the-counter drugs," Thompkins said.

"It's preventing something before it happens or if it does happen and you get sick the natural way can be cheaper than prescription drugs. With proper use, it can help a lot of people," he said.

Thompkins said he has seen more clients with stress and arthritis come in his store than any other ailments.

"If doctors would be more truthful to people and make them make their own decisions, they would be better off," Thompkins noted.

Herbalist Jan Kerschner, owner of Healthy Harvest, located on Fourth Street in Sterling, agrees with Thompkins and added that prevention is the best medicine.

"If you use it (herbs) before you get sick then your body is better off," Kerschner said. "Bottom line is our body is ours."

Herbalists said that herbs are the highest quality food known to man and contain vitamins, minerals and trace elements in natural balance.

Kerschner said she stopped using prescription drugs in 1987.

Chiropractic and acupuncture are major components when it comes to helping the body heal itself as well as preventive maintenance.

The World Federation of Chiropractic defines chiropractic as a health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. There is an emphasis on manual treatments including spinal manipulation or adjustment.

Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world.

The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.

Chiropractor Kris Morrison has been receiving patients in his Sterling office for two years now said recommends once-a-month sessions for maintenance care. A session averages about 10 minutes.

Morrison added that his clients vary from middle- aged to elderly people and even babies.

Morrison describes chiropractic treatment as a drug-free, nonsurgical method of treating or preventing disease by manual manipulation of the joints of the body, especially the spinal column.

"It can be a variety of pains such as headaches and menstrual pains and other infections that visit to your chiropractor can help. This in addition to other injuries such as playing sports," Morrison said. "It helps the body heal itself."

For more than 25 years, Dr. Teresa Hill has been helping patients heal faster by practicing acupuncture.

"Mostly our patients are from the ages of 35 to 65 but I highly recommend it for everybody," Hill said.

The World Health Organization recommends acupuncture for a variety of ailments and diseases including acute sinusitis, acute rhinitis, the common cold, eye disorders, toothache, gingivitis, pharyngitis, gastrointestinal disorders and neurologic disorders such as migraine.

After a hard day's work, a massage is on the mind of quite a number of people for relaxation and release of tension.

Therapeutic massage does more than relaxation; it promotes a person's overall well being according to massage therapist Sheryl Powell of Yuma.

"It's for all ages from babies to children having growing pains to the elderly," Powell said.

A well-trained massage practitioner employs his hands as finely tuned yet powerful tools to promote wellness.

As awareness grows and misconceptions fade regarding the value of massage therapy, more and more people are discovering the profound benefits available to them through regular body work.

The origins of therapeutic massage are rooted in the common instinctual response to hold and rub a hurt or pain. It is found in all cultures as an integral part of health care and maintenance.

Also a registered nurse, Powell said medical and therapeutic massage could help boost the body's natural immune system.

The only difference, according to Powell, is that medical massage concentrates of a specific injury while therapeutic is general in scope.

Experts in the field of alternative and preventive medicine agree that the human body are genetically strong and designed to be well, not ill - it just needs proper maintenance.

John Mangalonzo can be reached at 970-522-1990, Ext. 235 or by e-mail at:jmangalonzo@journal-advocate.com

Spider webs spun from single origin


Orb style believed 136m years old

Researchers said that spiders' ability to weave orb webs developed only once, suggesting the two main groups that spin these unique, circular style webs had a common ancestor. (AP Photo )

By Randolph E. Schmid, Associated Press | June 23, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The classic spider's web, like Charlotte would have woven, was invented just once, way back in the Cretaceous period some 136 million years ago, scientists report.

But a paper in today's issue of the journal Science says a comparison of the spider genes related to web-making shows that the orb web developed just once.

Researchers led by Jessica Garb of the University of California, Riverside, compared spiders that built orb webs in the genera Deinopoidea and Araneoidea. Garb said in a statement that the finding ``does not support a double origin for the orb web," but indicates that the unique design evolved only once .

While the two groups probably developed orb-web spinning from a common ancestor, they came up with different ways of making the web catch prey. Araneoid webs have glue droplets that make prey stick , while deinopoids wrap their threads with a of silk fiber that ``the spiders comb, until it almost has the appearance of Velcro under a microscope ," Garb reported.

In a separate paper in the same issue, a team of researchers reports the discovery of a Cretaceous-era spider web encased in amber along with some captured insects. The amber, found in Spain, preserved 26 strands of silk, many of them connected to one another. Glue droplets are visible on the web and prey includes a fly, a mite, a beetle, and a wasp.

The amber was dated to about 110 million years ago and is the oldest known example of a web with trapped insects, said David A. Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History. This finding confirms that spiders and complex, sticky webs date back early enough to have affected the evolution of the most diverse groups of flying insects, the researchers said.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Evolution education update: June 23, 2006

After a week of vacation in Oregon, I'm back with NCSE's evolution education update for June 23, 2006. The top news: a new statement on the teaching of evolution is endorsed by sixty-seven national academies of science. Kevin Padian, the president of NCSE's board of directors, is profiled, along with the godfather of "intelligent design," in Berkeley Science Review. A lecture on evolution and education by Brian Alters, who serves on NCSE's board of directors, is now available on-line. And a pair of now slightly dated updates from Nevada and South Carolina.


Sixty-seven national academies of science, representing countries from Albania to Zimbabwe, have endorsed the Interacademy Panel's new statement on the teaching of evolution. Among the signatories are the United States National Academy of Sciences, the United Kingdom's Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Canada, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry and the Crafoord Prize.

Concerned that "in various parts of the world, within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science," the signatories "urge decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature."

IAP's co-chair Yves Quere told the BBC (June 21, 2006) that the scientific community is increasingly concerned that children are not being taught the basic facts of evolution and the nature of scientific inquiry. The statement accordingly lists a number of key facts that "have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines," including the age of the universe and of the earth, the change of the earth over time, and the common ancestry of life on earth.

The statement also acknowledges that "human understanding of value and purpose are outside of natural science's scope" and that "a number of components -- scientific, social, philosophical, religious, cultural and political -- contribute to it," adding, "These different fields owe each other mutual consideration, while being fully aware of their own areas of action and their limitations."

For the IAP statement (PDF), visit:

For the BBC's story, visit:


Kevin Padian, who serves as the president of NCSE's board of directors as well as a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology, is featured in the latest issue of Berkeley Science Review. The article, "In the matter of Berkeley v. Berkeley," focuses on the opposed roles played by Padian, one of the expert scientific witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, and retired Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, whose 1991 book Darwin on Trial is widely credited with introducing "intelligent design" to the general public.

Padian's appearance in the Kitzmiller trial is described entertainingly: "Far from being the dry and clinical expert, Padian peppered his day-long testimony with affectionate references to 'critters' and 'guys' and 'Paleozoic roadkill.' All kidding aside, much of Padian's testimony was dedicated to a detailed, point-by-point criticism of Of Pandas and People, the intelligent design textbook that was to be made available to Dover students." His frank assessment of the Dover policy was also quoted: "I think it makes people stupid. I think essentially it makes them ignorant. It confuses them unnecessarily about things that are well understood in science, about which there is no controversy."

Johnson told Berkeley Science Review that he had been dismayed both by the Dover Area School Board's policy mandating teachers to read a statement about evolution and "intelligent design" -- "a loser from the start," he called it -- and by President Bush's endorsement of the idea that "both sides ought to be properly taught." The reporter, however, was skeptical, remarking, "It's difficult to tell if Johnson is being completely forthright about wanting to stay out of politics and the public schools," citing a number of his previous remarks and actions that suggest otherwise, and concluding, alluding to the well-known Billy Joel song, "Johnson helped to start the fire."

For the article in Berkeley Science Review, visit:


On May 10, 2006, Brian Alters spoke on "Evolution and Education" in the National Institute of Health's Evolution and Medicine lecture series, presented by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the Office of Science Education, and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Now his lecture is available to view on-line in RealPlayer format. (Other lectures in the series included Rudolf Raff speaking on "Evolution and Development," Eric Green speaking on "Evolution and Genomics," and Robin Bush speaking on "Evolution and Infectious Diseases.")

Alters is the Tomlinson Chair in Science Education, director of the Tomlinson University Science Education Project, and Sir William Dawson Scholar at McGill University. He is the author of several books, including Defending Evolution, coauthored with Sandra M. Alters, and Teaching Biological Evolution in Higher Education. He testified as an expert witness on science education for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Alters was awarded NCSE's "Friend of Darwin" award in 2005, in which year he also became a member of NCSE's board of directors.

For Alters's lecture (RealPlayer), visit:

To search the whole collection of NIH's videocast lectures, visit:


The proposed voter initiative to amend the Nevada constitution to require the teaching of the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution is dead, after its petition failed to garner enough signatures for the initiative to qualify for the 2006 ballot by the June 20, 2006, deadline. The "Truth in Science" initiative called for students to be informed that "although most scientists agree that Darwin's theory of evolution is well supported, a small minority of scientists do not agree," and listed five specific "areas of disagreement" to be discussed: the origin of life, the complexity of DNA, the existence of "complex biological systems," the absence of any "transitional specie" (sic) in the fossil record, and the origin of sexual reproduction ("or sex drive"). The author of the petition, Las Vegas masonry contractor Steve Brown, told the Las Vegas Sun (June 20, 2006) that he did not think that it would have passed even if it had been included on the ballot.

For the story in the Las Vegas Sun, visit:

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


At its meeting on June 12, 2006, the Education Oversight Committee voted to approve the state science standards that were approved by the South Carolina state board of education in November 2005. The EOC previously refused to approve the standards, demanding expansion of the "critical analysis" language already present in the section of the new state science standards that deal with evolution. The State (May 31, 2006) reported that the demand was dropped after a provision in the state budget was added to require that the instructional materials purchased by South Carolina emphasize "higher order thinking skills and critical thinking." Judging from a story published in The State (June 13, 2006) describing various reactions to the EOC's vote, it is not unlikely that both the budget provision and the remaining sole instance of "critical analysis" in the standards will be invoked in future campaigns to undermine the integrity of evolution education in South Carolina.

For the June 13, 2006, story in The State, visit:

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

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


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

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

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'End Times' Religious Groups Want Apocalypse Soon


'End times' religious groups want apocalypse sooner than later, and they're relying on high tech -- and red heifers -- to hasten its arrival.

By Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer June 22, 2006

For thousands of years, prophets have predicted the end of the world. Today, various religious groups, using the latest technology, are trying to hasten it.

Their endgame is to speed the promised arrival of a messiah.

For some Christians this means laying the groundwork for Armageddon.

With that goal in mind, mega-church pastors recently met in Inglewood to polish strategies for using global communications and aircraft to transport missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission: to make every person on Earth aware of Jesus' message. Doing so, they believe, will bring about the end, perhaps within two decades.

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a far different vision. As mayor of Tehran in 2004, he spent millions on improvements to make the city more welcoming for the return of a Muslim messiah known as the Mahdi, according to a recent report by the American Foreign Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

To the majority of Shiites, the Mahdi was the last of the prophet Muhammad's true heirs, his 12 righteous descendants chosen by God to lead the faithful.

Ahmadinejad hopes to welcome the Mahdi to Tehran within two years.

Conversely, some Jewish groups in Jerusalem hope to clear the path for their own messiah by rebuilding a temple on a site now occupied by one of Islam's holiest shrines.

Artisans have re-created priestly robes of white linen, gem-studded breastplates, silver trumpets and solid-gold menorahs to be used in the Holy Temple — along with two 6½-ton marble cornerstones for the building's foundation.

Then there is Clyde Lott, a Mississippi revivalist preacher and cattle rancher. He is trying to raise a unique herd of red heifers to satisfy an obscure injunction in the Book of Numbers: the sacrifice of a blemish-free red heifer for purification rituals needed to pave the way for the messiah.

So far, only one of his cows has been verified by rabbis as worthy, meaning they failed to turn up even three white or black hairs on the animal's body.

Linking these efforts is a belief that modern technologies and global communications have made it possible to induce completion of God's plan within this generation.

Though there are myriad interpretations of how it will play out, the basic Christian apocalyptic countdown — as described by the Book of Revelation in the New Testament — is as follows:

Jews return to Israel after 2,000 years, the Holy Temple is rebuilt, billions of people perish during seven years of natural disasters and plagues, the antichrist arises and rules the world, the battle of Armageddon erupts in the vicinity of Israel, Jesus returns to defeat Satan's armies and preside over Judgment Day.

Generations of Christians have hoped for the Second Coming of Jesus, said UCLA historian Eugen Weber, author of the 1999 book "Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages."

"And it's always been an ultimately bloody hope, a slaughterhouse hope," he added with a sigh. "What we have now in this global age is a vaster and bloodier-than-ever Wagnerian version. But, then, we are a very imaginative race."

Apocalyptic movements are nothing new; even Christopher Columbus hoped to assist in the Great Commission by evangelizing New World inhabitants.

Some religious scholars saw apocalyptic fever rise as the year 2000 approached, and they expected it to subside after the millennium arrived without a hitch.

It didn't. According to various polls, an estimated 40% of Americans believe that a sequence of events presaging the end times is already underway. Among the believers are pastors of some of the largest evangelical churches in America, who converged at Faith Central Bible Church in Inglewood in February to finalize plans to start 5 million new churches worldwide in 10 years.

"Jesus Christ commissioned his disciples to go to the ends of the Earth and tell everyone how they could achieve eternal life," said James Davis, president of the Global Pastors Network's "Billion Souls Initiative," one of an estimated 2,000 initiatives worldwide designed to boost the Christian population.

"As we advance around the world," Davis said, "we'll be shortening the time needed to fulfill that Great Commission. Then, the Bible says, the end will come."

An opposing vision, invoked by Ahmadinejad in an address before the United Nations last year, suggests that the Imam Mahdi, a 9th century figure, will soon emerge from a well to conquer the world and convert everyone to Islam.

"O mighty Lord," he said, "I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace."

At the appropriate time, according to Shiite tradition, the Mahdi will reappear and, along with Jesus, lead Muslims in a struggle to rid the world of corruption and establish justice.

For Christians, the future of Israel is the key to any end-times scenario, and various groups are reaching out to Jews — or proselytizing among them — to advance the Second Coming.

A growing number of fundamentalist Christians in mostly Southern states are adopting Jewish religious practices to align themselves with prophecies saying that Gentiles will stand as one with Jews when the end is near.

Evangelist John C. Hagee of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio has helped 12,000 Russian Jews move to Israel, and donated several million dollars to Israeli hospitals and orphanages.

"We are the generation that will probably see the rapture of the church," Hagee said, referring to a moment in advance of Jesus' return when the world's true believers will be airlifted into heaven.

"In Christian theology, the first thing that happens when Christ returns to Earth is the judgment of nations," said Hagee, who wears a Jewish prayer shawl when he ministers. "It will have one criterion: How did you treat the Jewish people? Anyone who understands that will want to be on the right side of that question. Those who are anti-Semitic will go to eternal damnation."

On July 18, Hagee plans to lead a contingent of high-profile evangelists to Washington to make their concerns about Israel's security known to congressional leaders. More than 1,200 evangelists are expected for the gathering.

"Twenty-five years ago, I called a meeting of evangelists to discuss such an effort, and the conversation didn't last an hour," he said. "This time, I called and they all came and stayed. And when the meeting was over, they all agreed to speak up for Israel."

Underlining the sense of urgency is a belief that the end-times clock started ticking May 15, 1948, when the United Nations formally recognized Israel.

"I'll never forget that night," Hagee said. "I was 8 years old at the time and in the kitchen with my father listening to the news about Israel's rebirth on the radio. He said, 'Son, this is the most important day in the 20th century.' "

Hagee's message is carried on 160 television stations and 50 radio stations and can be seen in Africa, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and most Third World nations.

By contrast, Bill McCartney, a former University of Colorado football coach and co-founder of the evangelical Promise Keepers movement for men, which became huge in the 1990s, has had a devil of a time getting his own apocalyptic campaign off the ground.

It's called The Road to Jerusalem, and its mission is to convert Jews to Christianity — while there is still time.

"Our whole purpose is to hasten the end times," he said. "The Bible says Jews will be brought to jealousy when they see Christians and Jewish believers together as one — they'll want to be a part of that. That's going to signal Jesus' return."

Jews and others who don't accept Jesus, he added matter-of-factly, "are toast."

McCartney, who only a decade ago sermonized to stadium-size crowds of Promise Keepers, said finding people to back his sputtering cause has been "like plowing cement."

Given end-times scenarios saying that non-believers will die before Jesus returns — and that the antichrist will rule from Jerusalem's rebuilt Holy Temple — Jews have mixed feelings about the outpouring of support Israel has been getting from evangelical organizations.

"I truly believe John Hagee is at once a daring, beautiful person — and quite dangerous," said Orthodox Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, vice president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York.

"I sincerely recognize him as a hero for bringing planeloads of people to Israel at a time when people there were getting blown up by the busloads," Hirschfield said. "But he also believes that the only path to the father is through Jesus. That leaves me out."

Meanwhile, in what has become a spectacular annual routine, Jews — hoping to rebuild the Holy Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 — attempt to haul the 6 1/2 -ton cornerstones by truck up to the Temple Mount, the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock shrine. Each year, they are turned back by police.

Among those turned away is Gershon Solomon, spokesman for Jerusalem's Temple Institute. When the temple is built, he said, "Islam is over."

"I'm grateful for all the wonderful Christian angels wanting to help us," Solomon added, acknowledging the political support from "Christians who are now Israel's best lobbyists in the United States."

However, when asked to comment on the fate of non-Christians upon the Second Coming of Jesus, he said, "That's a very embarrassing question. What can I tell you? That's a very terrible Christian idea.

"What kind of religion is it that expects another religion will be destroyed?"

But are all of these efforts to hasten the end of the world a bit like, well, playing God?

Some Christians, such as Roman Catholics and some Protestant denominations, believe in the Second Coming but don't try to advance it. It's important to be ready for the Second Coming, they say, though its timetable cannot be manipulated.

Hirschfield said he prays every day for the coming of the Jewish messiah, but he too believes that God can't be hurried.

"For me," he said, "the messiah is like the mechanical bunny at a racetrack: It always stays a little ahead of the runners but keeps the pace toward a redeemed world.

"Trouble is, there are many people who want to bring a messiah who looks just like them. For me, that kind of messianism is spiritual narcissism."

But some Christian leaders say they aren't playing God; they're just carrying out his will.

Ted Haggard, president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, says the commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission has naturally intensified along with the technological advances God provided to carry out his plans.

Over in Mississippi, Lott believes that he is doing God's work, and that is why he wants to raise a few head of red heifers for Jewish high priests. Citing Scripture, Lott and others say a pure red heifer must be sacrificed and burned and its ashes used in purification rituals to allow Jews to rebuild the temple.

But Lott's plans have been sidetracked.

Facing a maze of red tape and testing involved in shipping animals overseas — and rumors of threats from Arabs and Jews alike who say the cows would only bring more trouble to the Middle East — he has given up on plans to fly planeloads of cows to Israel. For now.

In the meantime, some local ranchers have expressed an interest in raising their own red heifers for Israel, and fears of hoof-and-mouth disease and blue tongue forced Lott to relocate his only verified red heifer — a female born in 1993 — to Nebraska.

Cloning is out of the question, he said, because the technique "is not approved by the rabbinical council of Israel." Artificial insemination has so far failed to produce another heifer certified by rabbis.

"Something deep in my heart says God wants me to be a blessing to Israel," Lott said in a telephone interview. "But it's complicated. We're just not ready to send any red heifers over there."

If not now, when?

"If there's a sovereign God with his hand in the affairs of men, it'll happen, and it'll be a pivotal event," he said. "That time is soon. Very soon."

Method and apparatus for evaluating locations according to Feng Shui principles


United States Patent Application 20060084449
Kind Code A1
He; Fan ; et al. April 20, 2006


A communication device (112) includes a communications receiver (120), an AM/FM receiver (124), a three-dimensional Hall-effect sensor (226), a digital camera (128), and a GPS receiver (130), which each have multiple uses. In addition to their usual functions, the various capabilities of the respective elements (112, 120, 124, 226, 128, 130) can be used to provide data for evaluating a location in accordance with the principles of Feng Shui. A processor 116 reads values from the devices (112, 120, 124, 126, 128, 130) and uses the values to evaluate a given location in accordance with Feng Shui criteria. An overall Feng Shui value is determined for a given location.

Inventors: He; Fan; (Grayslake, IL) ; Briggs; David J.; (Crystal Lake, IL) ; Li; Jing; (Beijing, CN)

Correspondence Name and Address: LAW OFFICES OF CHARLES W. BETHARDS, LLP
P.O. BOX 1622


1. An electronic apparatus comprising: a sensor adapted to electronically sense at least one environmental characteristic of the location of the electronic apparatus; a memory having storage locations for storing association information between values of one or more environmental characteristics and one or more Feng Shui values; a controller, which is coupled to the sensor and to the memory, that evaluates the at least one environmental characteristic received from the sensor using the stored association information.

2. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1 further comprising: a display coupled to the controller, wherein the display displays an image representing a result of the evaluation.

3. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the sensor comprises a digital camera for capturing an image, and further wherein the at least one environmental characteristic includes an arrangement of colors in the captured image.

4. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the sensor comprises a Hall effect sensor, and further wherein the at least one environmental characteristic includes a strength of an electromagnetic field sensed by the Hall effect sensor.

5. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the sensor comprises a location capturing block, and further wherein the at least one environmental characteristic includes a geographic location captured by the location capturing block.

6. The electronic apparatus according to claim 5, wherein the location capturing block comprises a GPS receiver.

7. The electronic apparatus according to claim 5, wherein the location capturing device is communicatively coupled to a geographical database for determining the geographic location.

8. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the sensor comprises a radio receiver, and further wherein the at least one environmental characteristic comprises a location of the radio receiver based on the strength of a radio signal received by the radio receiver.

9. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the sensor comprises a cellular telephone receiver, and further wherein the at least one environmental characteristic comprises a location of the cellular telephone receiver based on a bit error rate of a signal received by the cellular telephone receiver.

10. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the sensor comprises a microphone, and further wherein the at least one environmental characteristic comprises an ambient noise level detected by the microphone.

11. The electronic apparatus according to claim 1, wherein the electronic apparatus comprises a mobile telephone.

12. A wireless communication device comprising: an apparatus for transmitting and receiving radio signals; a sensor that electronically senses a characteristic of the environment surrounding the wireless communication device; a controller that is coupled to the sensor, wherein the controller reads a signal from the sensor and performs a Feng Shui evaluation based on the signal; a memory that is coupled to the controller, wherein the memory stores information representing a relationship between values of the characteristic and Feng Shui values and wherein the controller uses the information to perform the evaluation; and a display that is coupled to the controller, wherein the display displays an image representing a result of the evaluation.

13. The wireless communication device according to claim 12, wherein the sensor comprises a digital camera and the controller determines a Feng Shui value of an image taken by the digital camera based on an arrangement of colors in the image.

14. The wireless communication device according to claim 12, wherein the sensor comprises a Hall effect sensor and the controller determines a Feng Shui value of a location of the Hall effect sensor based on a strength of an electromagnetic field sensed by the Hall effect sensor.

15. The wireless communication device according to claim 12, wherein the sensor comprises a GPS receiver and the controller determines a Feng Shui value of a geographic location of the GPS receiver by accessing a geographical database to retrieve geographic information about the geographic location.

16. The wireless communication device according to claim 12, wherein the apparatus for transmitting and receiving radio signals includes a radio receiver and the controller determines a Feng Shui value of a location of the radio receiver based on a strength of a radio signal received by the radio receiver.

17. The wireless communication device according to claim 12, wherein the apparatus for transmitting and receiving radio signals includes a cellular telephone receiver and the controller determines a Feng Shui value of a location of the wireless communication device based on an error rate of a signal received by the cellular telephone receiver.

18. The apparatus according to claim 12, wherein the wireless communication device is a mobile telephone.

19. A method of Feng Shui evaluation of a location, wherein the method comprises: associating values of one or more environmental characteristics and one or more Feng Shui values to provide associations; storing the associations; sensing an environmental characteristic; and performing an evaluation based on the environmental characteristic and the associations as stored.

20. The method according to claim 19, further comprising displaying an image representing a result of the evaluation.

21. The method of claim 19, wherein the sensing comprises: receiving a GPS signal, and wherein the performing the evaluation includes: determining a geographical location based on the GPS signal; accessing a geographical database to determine geographical features in a vicinity of the geographical location; and determining a Feng Shui value of the geographical location based on the geographical features and the associations as stored.

22. The method of claim 19, wherein the sensing comprises capturing a digital image of the location, and wherein the performing the evaluation comprises analyzing one or more colors in the digital image to determine a Feng Shui value of the digital image.

23. The method of claim 19, wherein the sensing comprises sensing an electromagnetic field of the location, and wherein the performing the evaluation includes determining a Feng Shui value of the location based on the electromagnetic field and the associations as stored.

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