NTS LogoSkeptical News for 19 July 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Creationist's fight with Uncle Sam may evolve into painful defeat

http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060719/NEWS01/607190343/1036

Published - July, 19, 2006

Mark OBrien @PensacolaNewsJournal.com

We learn some things early in life.

One is to pick our fights and beware of big enemies who can squash us flat.

But Kent "Dr. Dino" Hovind apparently feels the fight is worth the risk.

He's squaring off against Uncle Sam on charges of tax fraud. Hovind has lost before -- with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and with Escambia County's right to require building permits for his Dinosaur Adventure Land, a park just east of Car City.

But in this fight he has more to lose -- his personal freedom.

Still, the founder of "creation science evangelism" seems bent on doing it his way when he and his wife are scheduled to go on trial Sept. 5.

(To learn more about "creation science," visit www.drdino.com, where for $2 you can obtain a CD-ROM explaining how to start your very own "creation ministry" and dispute scientists who believe in evolution.)

Hovind is either a brilliant man or a farce, depending on which e-mailers you read in the blogosphere, where people fiercely debate the claims of evolution and creationism.

But his newest fight is with something more immediate -- the notion that we all pay our fair share of taxes to the good old U.S. of A., which guarantees people the right to believe in evolution or in creationism as they choose.

Hovind appeared polite but determined to fight the case when he was arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court.

Neither he nor his wife and co-defendant, Jo, wanted to enter a traditional plea of guilty or not guilty.

The Hovinds question the court's right to try them. They consider themselves missionaries exempt from taxes to a government that, incidentally, is providing them with attorneys.

But Magistrate Miles Davis wanted them to enter pleas just as any other citizen would.

"If they don't wish to enter a plea, I'll enter one for them," Davis said.

When asked by the prosecutor to list his residence, Kent Hovind said he lives in "the church of Jesus Christ ... located all over the world."

Asked if he wrote and spoke English, this man who claims a doctorate said, "To some degree."

In turn, Hovind, 53, had his own questions about the indictment, but Davis cut him off, saying, "The government adequately explained" the allegations.

The defendant understands the charges "whether you want to admit it or not," he told Kent Hovind.

Then, Hovind offered another wrinkle.

"I would like to plead subornation of false muster," he said, announcing a defense I haven't heard in 30 years of hanging around courtrooms.

The precedent is not good. A man in the state of Washington tried a similar defense a few years ago, claiming he was a "citizen of heaven" and not subject to state laws. But a court there ruled that when in Washington, do as Washington law requires, and found him guilty.

When it was Jo Hovind's turn, she stood with her husband's hand on her shoulder and reiterated the gist of his statements.

She said she was unsure because "this is a whole new world to me."

But if she and her husband stay on this path, they could find that the new world will come with bars on its windows.

Florida's Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking

by Robert Jensen

Published on Monday, July 17, 2006 by CommonDreams.org

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0717-22.htm

One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.

By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking.

Although U.S. students are typically taught a sanitized version of history in which the inherent superiority and benevolence of the United States is rarely challenged, the social and political changes unleashed in the 1960s have opened up some space for a more honest accounting of our past. But even these few small steps taken by some teachers toward collective critical self-reflection are too much for many Americans to bear.

So, as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed." That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as "knowable, teachable, and testable."

Florida’s lawmakers are not only prescribing a specific view of US history that must be taught (my favorite among the specific commands in the law is the one about instructing students on "the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy"), but are trying to legislate out of existence any ideas to the contrary. They are not just saying that their history is the best history, but that it is beyond interpretation. In fact, the law attempts to suppress discussion of the very idea that history is interpretation.

The fundamental fallacy of the law is in the underlying assumption that "factual" and "constructed" are mutually exclusive in the study of history. There certainly are many facts about history that are widely, and sometimes even unanimously, agreed upon. But how we arrange those facts into a narrative to describe and explain history is clearly a construction, an interpretation. That’s the task of historians -- to assess factual assertions about the past, weave them together in a coherent narrative, and construct an explanation of how and why things happened.

For example, it’s a fact that Europeans began coming in significant numbers to North America in the 17th century. Were they peaceful settlers or aggressive invaders? That’s interpretation, a construction of the facts into a narrative with an argument for one particular way to understand those facts.

It’s also a fact that once those Europeans came, the indigenous people died in large numbers. Was that an act of genocide? Whatever one’s answer, it will be an interpretation, a construction of the facts to support or reject that conclusion.

In contemporary history, has U.S. intervention in the Middle East been aimed at supporting democracy or controlling the region’s crucial energy resources? Would anyone in a free society want students to be taught that there is only one way to construct an answer to that question?

Speaking of contemporary history, what about the fact that before the 2000 presidential election, Florida’s Republican secretary of state removed 57,700 names from the voter rolls, supposedly because they were convicted felons and not eligible to vote. It’s a fact that at least 90 percent were not criminals -- but were African American. It’s a fact that black people vote overwhelmingly Democratic. What conclusion will historians construct from those facts about how and why that happened? http://www.gregpalast.com/detail.cfm?artid=217&row=2

In other words, history is always constructed, no matter how much Florida’s elected representatives might resist the notion. The real question is: How effectively can one defend one’s construction? If Florida legislators felt the need to write a law to eliminate the possibility of that question even being asked, perhaps it says something about their faith in their own view and ability to defend it.

One of the bedrock claims of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment -- two movements that, to date, have not been repealed by the Florida Legislature -- is that no interpretation or theory is beyond challenge. The evidence and logic on which all knowledge claims are based must be transparent, open to examination. We must be able to understand and critique the basis for any particular construction of knowledge, which requires that we understand how knowledge is constructed.

Except in Florida.

But as tempting as it is to ridicule, we should not spend too much time poking fun at this one state, because the law represents a yearning one can find across the United States. Americans look out at a wider world in which more and more people reject the idea of the United States as always right, always better, always moral. As the gap between how Americans see themselves and how the world sees us grows, the instinct for many is to eliminate intellectual challenges at home: "We can't control what the rest of the world thinks, but we can make sure our kids aren't exposed to such nonsense."

The irony is that such a law is precisely what one would expect in a totalitarian society, where governments claim the right to declare certain things to be true, no matter what the debates over evidence and interpretation. The preferred adjective in the United States for this is "Stalinist," a system to which U.S. policymakers were opposed during the Cold War. At least, that’s what I learned in history class.

People assume that these kinds of buffoonish actions are rooted in the arrogance and ignorance of Americans, and there certainly are excesses of both in the United States.

But the Florida law -- and the more widespread political mindset it reflects -- also has its roots in fear. A track record of relatively successful domination around the world seems to have produced in Americans a fear of any lessening of that dominance. Although U.S. military power is unparalleled in world history, we can't completely dictate the shape of the world or the course of events. Rather than examining the complexity of the world and expanding the scope of one’s inquiry, the instinct of some is to narrow the inquiry and assert as much control as possible to avoid difficult and potentially painful challenges to orthodoxy.

Is history "knowable, teachable, and testable?" Certainly people can work hard to know -- to develop interpretations of processes and events in history and to understand competing interpretations. We can teach about those views. And students can be tested on their understanding of conflicting constructions of history.

But the real test is whether Americans can come to terms with not only the grand triumphs but also the profound failures of our history. At stake in that test is not just a grade in a class, but our collective future.

[Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center http://thirdcoastactivist.org/. He is the author of "The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege" and "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" (both from City Lights Books). Email to: rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.]

Evolution Debate Rekindled in Ohio

http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.asp?Page=/Culture/archive/200607/CUL20060719a.html

By Sarah Larkins CNSNews.com Correspondent July 19, 2006

(CNSNews.com) - Conservatives on Ohio's Board of Education are battling to reopen the debate over the teaching of the theory of evolution in the state's public schools. Their goal is to force curriculum changes that would also allow discussion of the intelligent design theory.

The Ohio Board of Education has already reversed itself on the issue once.

Intelligent design advances the theory that certain aspects of life and the universe originate from an "intelligent cause" and are not related to "natural selection" or survival of the fittest. Critics of the theory include the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which reported in 1999 that Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science."

However, during the Ohio Board of Education's Achievement Committee meeting on July 10, conservative board member Colleen Grady proposed that the state's science standards be applied to teaching issues such as evolution, global warming and cloning.

"We would provide a template so schools would be comfortable discussing controversial issues," Grady said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. She said the idea is meant to be "a tool that teaches how to have conversations on topics with widely divergent opinions ... in a positive manner."

According to Ohio's current academic standards for the 10th grade, students should be able to "describe that scientists may disagree about explanations of phenomena, about interpretation of data or about the value of rival theories, but they do agree that questioning, response to criticism and open communication are integral to the process of science."

Grady's proposal would also allow students to "discuss and be able to apply this in the following areas: global warming; evolutionary theory; emerging technologies and how they may impact society, e.g. cloning or stem-cell research."

In 2004 the Ohio Board of Education adopted a lesson plan on the "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which intended for students to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The lesson plan noted, however, that its intent was not to "mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design."

In January 2006 the board voted 9-8 against a proposal to remove the lesson plan. A month later, however, the board voted 11-4 for its removal, dealing a blow to conservatives who supported the 2004 lesson plan.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), which filed a public records request last week related to Grady's proposal, has concerns about its intent.

"What we want to learn right now is exactly what the board's trying to do," Robert Boston, assistant director of communications at AU, told Cybercast News Service. "If this is yet another attempt to introduce intelligent design into state science standards, obviously we're very concerned about that and we will fight that."

Incorporating intelligent design into state standards would be unconstitutional, Boston said.

"What the citizens of Ohio need to understand is that we have one federal court ruling already declaring that intelligent design isn't science, that it is in fact a religious concept," he said. "Therefore any attempt to introduce it into the standards is going to be not only controversial but quite possibly unconstitutional."

Roddy Bullock, executive director of the Intelligent Design Network of Ohio, said that while Grady's proposal could lead to the teaching of intelligent design, reactions like the one voiced by the AU's Boston are premature.

"They're jumping two or three steps ahead. What they see is this is the first step towards ultimately mandating the teaching of intelligent design, and they may be right," Bullock told Cybercast News Service. "What we really want, and the first step, is simply to permit criticism of evolution in the curriculum. And that's what this is about. That's what this school board proposal is about - is simply to permit ... objective discussion of important issues.

"The school board is trying to make this little break in this fortress of defense around evolution," he added.

Boston hopes to receive the public records he requested in a few weeks. Based on that information, his group will decide the next step. "We thought this was over with," Boston said. "There was controversy, it was debated and the board voted to reverse course and keep intelligent design out. If they're trying to now go back and open it up again, we want to be involved in that discussion."

Grady was not available for comment for this article.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Teaching of evolution target of petition

http://www.thenorthwestern.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060718/OSH0101/607180339/1128/OSHnews

Posted July 18, 2006

Former professor wants teachings on the ballot

By Bethany K. Warner of The Northwestern

Oshkosh students are "being brainwashed" about evolution, according to an Oshkosh woman leading a petition drive for a referendum to change how the topic is taught in the public schools.

Sandra Gade, a retired University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh physics professor, is leading the drive for an advisory referendum on the November ballot that would require teaching evolution with facts for and against the theory and information on the "testability" of evolution.

Oshkosh school officials said the district reviewed its curriculum and found it is consistent with state and national educational standards and allows for students to maintain and express their own personal religious values.

Though Gade is collecting signatures to petition the school board for a referendum, officials said state law doesn't include a mechanism for school districts to put such an advisory referendum on the ballot.

"There are no provisions in state law for referenda on curricular issues," said Joe Donovan of the state Department of Public Instruction.

Gade is aware that collecting signatures on a petition may not result in a board resolution or a referendum.

"I know of no other way to do it," Gade said.

Gade declined to speak further about the petition drive when contacted by The Northwestern, but according to material she's presented during public forums at school board meetings and on a Web site, her concern is that students are not presented with evidence contrary to evolution.

Gade presented her concerns to the board in public forums during May and June.

" If the significant evidence that I have been presenting is kept from students, then evolution is not being taught as science; it is being taught as dogma," Gade said to the board June 14.

She argues the district is violating the First Amendment rights of students under its current method of teaching evolution.

"The way evolution is being taught is antagonistic to students' religious beliefs. Students are told that it is a scientifically established fact that evolution, a purely natural process made all living things. Certainly that is antagonistic to religion. It says God is redundant," Gade said on her Web site in comments delivered to the school board June 28.

"But you ask, what about theistic evolution?" she added. "Evolutionists would say 'How foolish to believe in a supernatural cause which is completely unknowable and undetectable when science has proven the existence of a natural cause, namely evolution.' Of course, the big lie that evolution is a fact is perpetuated by concealing contrary evidence. Now that you have been enlightened, you must make changes or else stand accused of violating students' First Amendment rights."

Barb Herzog, assistant superintendent of curriculum for the Oshkosh Area School District, said Gade's assertions are not true.

"Our high school biology teachers and middle grade teachers do address evolution as a theory, as just one theory," Herzog said.

Herzog said students who have differing opinions are allowed to express those opinions in papers or tests.

Many of Gade's concerns are about the biology textbook, but Herzog said the textbook is not the sole material for the class.

"The textbook is not the curriculum. There are other instructional materials used to address standards and benchmarks," Herzog said. "Unlike a university setting where a textbook is used to define goals and objectives, that's not how we do it in K-12."

Before Gade began the petition drive, she met with school district curriculum officials. Herzog said Gade's concerns were reviewed by district teachers and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh science faculty and presented to the board affirming that current district practice meets state and national standards and rebutting some of Gade's counter-evidence.

"I just wish we could come to a better understanding short of a petition movement. What's being requested is not found at any national level," Herzog said.

Bethany K. Warner: (920) 426-6668 or bwarner@thenorthwestern.com.

Report: Women Misled on Abortion Risks

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Abortion-Counseling-Centers.html

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: July 18, 2006 Filed at 10:04 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Women who consult with pregnancy resource centers often get misleading information about the health risks associated with having an abortion, according to a report issued Monday by Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee.

Congressional aides, posing as pregnant 17-year-olds, called 25 pregnancy centers that have received some federal funding over the past five years.

The aides were routinely told of increased risk for cancer, infertility and stress disorders, said the report, which was prepared for Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Only a small fraction of the more than 4,000 pregnancy clinics nationwide get any federal funding, mostly for promoting sexual abstinence.

With a few exceptions, the federal government doesn't give money specifically for the counseling operations, but Waxman's staff said 25 centers got ''capacity building grants.'' Thus, Waxman said, they should be held accountable for the information they dispense.

Of the 25 centers called, two could not be reached. Eight told the caller that abortion leads to a greater risk of breast cancer, the report said.

Care Net, an umbrella group for evangelical pregnancy centers across the country, instructs its affiliates to tell callers there is a possibility that abortion can lead to greater risk of breast cancer, according to Molly Ford, an official with the organization. She said there have been several studies that say it does, and several that say it doesn't.

''I know the report is wanting to say that it's conclusive, but it isn't,'' Ford said.

None of the pregnancy centers the committee staff called was identified, and it could not be determined if any were linked to Care Net, which has helped about a quarter of the nation's pregnancy centers begin operations.

One pregnancy center told a congressional aide the risk of cancer after an abortion could be 80 percent higher, the report noted. Ford said she doubted a pregnancy center would go that far, but the Web site for a pregnancy center in Albuquerque says the risk for cancer after an abortion is 50 percent or greater.

In February 2003, a National Cancer Institute workshop concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.

The report from the Democratic aides also said the pregnancy resource centers provided false information about the mental health effects of abortion, telling the aides that it could cause severe long-term emotional harm.

However, an American Psychological Association panel said, ''Severe negative reactions are rare.''

But Ford said that pregnancy center counselors don't need statistics to tell them that many women undergoing an abortion experience severe emotional trauma.

''This isn't about a medical statistic to us. We do post-abortion counseling every day,'' Ford said.

The Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services funds the abstinence programs overseen by some of the pregnancy centers. Aides referred questions about the report to Wade Horn, a Health and Human Services assistant secretary, who did not want to comment until he read the report.

Waxman said that Americans are divided on the issue of abortion, but no one should support misleading teenagers about basic medical facts.

'' It's wrong to pour millions of federal dollars into organizations that are providing false health information to vulnerable teenagers,'' Waxman said.

On the Net:

Committee on Government Reform report, minority staff: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/

Care Net: http://www.care-net.org/


Monday, July 17, 2006

Group launches campaign for Kan. school science standards

http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/news/state/14990293.htm

JOHN HANNA Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. - An anti-evolution group launched an Internet campaign Friday to build support for Kansas science standards in schools, less than a month before elections that could decide whether those standards remain.

Officials from the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, based in Seattle, said they're trying to counter criticism of the standards from many scientists and national science groups.

John West, a center vice president, said in a national conference call with reporters that such criticism has resulted in a "wildly distorting" picture of the standards.

The standards, adopted last year by the State Board of Education's conservative majority, don't mention intelligent design or other alternatives to evolution. But they treat evolution as a flawed theory, defying mainstream scientific views. Critics contend parts of the standards are based on long-discredited arguments about evolution.

West said the center won't endorse candidates or otherwise become involved in races for five state board seats on the ballot. Instead, he said, its "Stand Up for Science" efforts, which involve a new Web site with a petition that can be signed and possibly radio ads, are designed to educate Kansans.

But Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, which opposes the anti-evolution standards, said the timing of the campaign is no coincidence.

Of the five seats on the Aug. 1 primary ballot this year, four are held by conservative Republicans who supported the new standards. If two conservatives are defeated, it would shift the board's majority to the moderates.

"The intelligent design movement as a whole knows that if they can retain the majority, they'll have a victory," Krebs said. "If they lose it, it will be another crushing defeat for intelligent design."

The standards took effect in November and will be used to develop tests students take to measure how well schools are teaching, but decisions about what actually will be taught remain with 299 local school boards. Some educators fear pressure will increase to teach less about evolution or more about creationism or intelligent design, which says some features of the universe are so well-ordered and complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause.

West and other backers contend the new standards will encourage a freer discussion in the classroom.

"Obviously, we favor intelligent design, but our science policy is that we favor good science education," West told reporters.

Critics see intelligent design as repackaged creationism. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that creationism can't be taught in public schools because it endorses a particular religious view.

West said the Kansas standards encourage schools to expose students to both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. He refused to say how much the center plans to spend on its campaign but that it's necessary because of a "year of misinformation."

Krebs said trying to expose students to supposed problems with evolution is part of a strategy designed to lead them to embrace intelligent design.

The new standards say evolutionary theory that all life had a common origin has been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology. They also describe as controversial the theory that changes over time in one species can lead to a new species.

None of those statements were in Kansas' previous standards, which treated evolution as well-established and universally accepted by scientists.

Krebs said the previous standards didn't keep teachers from touching upon criticism of evolution in their classrooms. But adding such statements to the standards gives them more credibility than they've earned in science, he said.

"They're looking for a government handout rather than doing the work in the marketplace of ideas," Krebs said of intelligent design advocates who backed the new standards.

ON THE NET

Center's new site: http://www.standupforscience.com/

Kansas Citizens for Science: http://www.kcfs.org/

Ann Coulter's "Flatulent Raccoon Theory"

http://mediamatters.org/items/200607070010

Executive summary

Ann Coulter's Godless: The Church of Liberalism Evolution Misinformation

In her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006), right-wing pundit Ann Coulter devotes two chapters to a bizarre attempt to disprove the theory of evolution. With a mix of misleading claims, pseudo-scientific arguments, distortions of evolutionary theory, and outright falsehoods, Coulter places herself not only outside the mainstream but truly toward the lunatic fringe. After all, no reasonable person argues that one cannot believe in God and simultaneously accept the findings of decades of accumulated research on evolution. Yet, Coulter appears to believe that in order to prove that liberals are "godless," she must attack evolutionary theory itself.

Though she stops short of saying that the earth is 6,000 years old and Adam and Eve rode through the Garden of Eden on the backs of dinosaurs, in her quest to disprove evolutionary theory, Coulter echoes the arguments of the creationists from whom even many religious conservatives distanced themselves long ago.

Among her falsehoods, misinformation, and distortions, Coulter:

The evidence reveals that Coulter's two chapters on the theory of evolution display her own ignorance toward the subject while providing an avenue to make ad hominem attacks against scientists, progressives, and Democrats.

Ann Coulter's "Flatulent Raccoon Theory"
Robert Savillo
Media Matters for America
June 2006

Introduction

According to right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, "flatulent raccoon theory" is as valid as Darwinian evolution. On Page 214 of her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, she states:

Throw in enough words like imagine, perhaps, and might have -- and you've got yourself a scientific theory! How about this: Imagine a giant raccoon passed gas and perhaps the resulting gas might have created the vast variety of life we see on Earth. And if you don't accept the giant raccoon flatulence theory for the origin of life, you must be a fundamentalist Christian nut who believes the Earth is flat. That's basically how the argument for evolution goes [emphasis in original].

Coulter uses this "theory" that she has concocted throughout the book to suggest that Darwinian evolution is similarly questionable once one has all the facts. Coulter appears to be trying to develop a parody of evolution analogous to Bobby Henderson's parody religion, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- created in response to the Kansas School Board's decision to require the teaching of "intelligent design" as an "alternative" to the theory of evolution. Henderson's Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster serves as an alternate version of "intelligent design" because of the obvious parallels. But while the satirists who created the Flying Spaghetti Monster use its similarities with intelligent design to comic effect, Coulter identified no comparable parallels between "flatulent raccoon theory" and the theory of evolution. Furthermore, Coulter's analogy makes a mistake common to many creationists who confuse Darwinian evolution, the explanation of how different species develop, with theories about the origin of life.

Coulter devotes two whole chapters to the discussion of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Throughout, she offers falsehoods, misleading statements, and distortions of evolutionary theory, all packaged with smears of prominent progressive and Democratic figures as well as news reporters and media personalities. Coulter doesn't actually present new evidence to make her case against evolutionary theory; she only uses the space to criticize evolution, which is a tired tactic of creationists. Page after page, the reader is bombarded with classic creationist arguments. But evolution is a scientific theory that has the support of the National Academy of Sciences; it has no relation to beliefs that cannot be tested, thus the suggestion that "liberals think evolution disproves God" is completely illogical.

The arguments that Coulter uses echo those made by several other creationists. She recites arguments first published by Henry Morris in his 1974 book, Scientific Creationism, about the fossil record and reiterates his distortions about the Cambrian period and the drawings of 19th-century embryologist Ernst Haeckel. Another creationist source whose arguments Coulter repeats is the book, Life -- How Did It Get Here?, which contained distortions of the Cambrian period and the Miller-Urey experiment. Coulter also pushes arguments by Duane Gish, a faculty member of the Institute for Creation Research, including distortions of transitional fossils and the Piltdown man hoax. In addition, Coulter misrepresents the evidence about the evolution of the eye, as do Francis Hitching, author of the 1982 book, The Neck of the Giraffe, and Walt Brown of the Center for Creation Science. Other apparent sources for some of Coulter's arguments include Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution, published in 2000.

The jacket of Coulter's book states that Coulter writes from a "keen appreciation for genuine science." Inside, she credits a cadre of supporters of intelligent design:

I couldn't have written about evolution without the generous tutoring of Michael Behe, David Berlinski, and William Dembski, all of whom are fabulous at translating complex ideas, unlike liberal arts types, who constantly force me to the dictionary to relearn the meaning of quotidian. [emphasis in original]

Wells, Berlinski, Dembski, and Behe are senior fellows with the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit think tank that aims to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God," as recorded in a 1998 internal memo.

The Center for Science and Culture describes itself as supporting "research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design." "Intelligent design" is an idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally, and so, an "intelligent designer" must have created all life on Earth. Behe's concept of "irreducible complexity" is an attempt to provide empirical evidence in support of this idea; but U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III stated in his conclusion for the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District court case that "intelligent design" is not science because it fails in three ways:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

In addition, Jones also acknowledged that the Discovery Institute's 1998 internal memo, often referred to as the Wedge Document, is further evidence that the think tank's ultimate motives reflect those of creationists. The judge quoted a National Academy of Sciences booklet that places "intelligent design" and creationism in the same category: "Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science."

Because Coulter relies on the discredited arguments of proponents of "intelligent design" and creationism, her book contains the same falsehoods, misinformation, and distortions that prevent those ideas from being accepted as solid science.

The fossil record

Coulter claims several times that the fossil record in no way supports Darwin's theory of evolution. On Page 199, she claims that evolution is "a make-believe story, based on a theory that is a tautology, with no proof in the scientist's laboratory or the fossil record." Again, on Page 215, she claims that there's "absolutely nothing in the fossil record to support it [evolution]." To support her claim, Coulter attempts to show that several well-known examples of the fossil record do not provide evidence of evolution.

Scientists have compiled a well-documented case demonstrating "large-scale, progressive, continuous, gradual, and geochronologically successive morphologic change" between reptiles and mammals. Coulter argues, on Page 228, that scientists "have no idea if the reptiles are even related to the mammal-like reptiles, much less to the mammals." However, contrary to Coulter's claim, science has observed links between reptiles and mammals through an existing succession of transitional fossils. Skeletal features are used to distinguish between reptilian fossils and mammalian fossils. While many characteristics differ between reptiles and mammals, scientists have observed reptilian fossils that over time took on characteristics of mammals, such as the construction of the lower jaw. Reptiles' lower jaw consists of multiple bones, while mammals' lower jaw is a single large bone. Additionally, most bones in reptiles and mammals are homologous, which suggests that the bones are of common origin. The most important homologous bones between reptiles and mammals are several skull and jaw bones of reptiles and middle ear bones of mammals. Furthermore, synapsids (a particular group of reptiles) share an additional homologous structure with mammals -- an opening behind the eye socket in the skull. This is very characteristic of mammals, which is why synapsids are referred to as mammal-like reptiles.

When scientists have placed the fossils of reptiles and mammals in the proper geochronological order, they have observed a natural succession in synapsids that becomes more mammalian and less reptilian. The lower jaw successively increases in size until the entire lower jaw is one bone. Coulter is aware of this evidence, but does not refute it. On Page 229, she states, "The jawbone metamorphosis didn't prove evolution," but she doesn't offer any evidence to explain why evidence of jawbone metamorphosis should not be seen as evidence of evolution; the reader is apparently expected to have faith in Coulter's unsupported conclusion and disregard the work of professional scientists. Scientists also have observed successive, geochronological change from reptilian sprawling limb posture to mammalian upright limb posture.

Another example that Coulter uses to make her argument that the fossil record does not support the theory of evolution involves bats. On Page 230, she claims that "the bat appears in the fossil record millions of years ago, fully formed and largely indistinguishable from today's bats." However, according to the University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology's website, the earliest bat fossils -- which are of teeth only -- exhibit characteristics of both bats and insectivores (an order of mammal that includes hedgehogs, shrews, and moles). The museum also concludes that because the fossils are only teeth, scientists "don't know what the rest of the animal was like"; however, the fossils still exhibit characteristics of two different orders of mammal. Additionally, the website states:

[Bats] are one of the least common groups in the fossil record. Bats have small, light skeletons that do not preserve well. Also, many live in tropical forests, where conditions are usually unfavorable for the formation of fossils.

This suggests that the reason that bats seem to appear in the fossil record as "fully formed" is probably due to the even rarer chance of fossilization compared to other mammals. Furthermore, New Scientist reports that a change in only a single gene allowed bats to evolve wings, which could explain why the appearance of bats in the fossil record seems to be "sudden."

Coulter continues to distort the fossil record when she speaks of dinosaurs and mammals. On Page 217, she states, "Dinosaurs appeared, lived 150 million years, and then disappeared, only to be quickly replaced with mammals." This statement distorts the true fossil record. According to an article in Science magazine, a pair of researchers studied the genetic differences of hundreds of vertebrate specimens and concluded that modern orders of mammals -- such as primates, rodents, and carnivores -- date back well into the Cretaceous period (approximately 144 million to 65 million years ago), in some cases more than 100 million years ago. Previous studies of the fossil record led scientists to suggest that mammals first appeared 225 million years ago (during the Triassic period) as only small, shrew-like animals (still putting mammals and dinosaurs in existence at the same time), and only after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs did modern orders of mammals appear. But more recent research shows that modern orders of mammals existed at the same time as dinosaurs. Additionally, the fossil record shows that dinosaurs inhabited the planet for approximately 185 million years (approximately 250 million to 65 million years ago), not 150 million years.

Coulter uses the examples of reptiles, mammals, bats, and dinosaurs to make her larger claim that because there are gaps in the fossil record, it does not support evolution. She states, on Page 216, "New species suddenly appear[] out of nowhere, remain[] largely unchanged for millions of years, and then suddenly disappear[]." Again, on Page 217, she states, "What the fossil record shows is sudden bursts of all manner of animals, modest change, and then sudden and total extinction." But, in fact, the fossil record supports evolutionary theory.

The Cambrian explosion

Coulter attempts to use the phenomenon known as the Cambrian explosion to cast doubt on Darwinian evolution, but her arguments are based on several distortions. The term "Cambrian explosion" is used to describe the fact that a significantly greater number of fossils have been found of organisms that existed during the Cambrian period than existed before. Scientists have proposed numerous explanations for why more fossils are found from organisms that lived during this period. One explanation suggests that because species that predate the Cambrian period by 45 million years were microscopic, evolutionary changes in the fossils of pre-Cambrian organisms may be too small to see. Another explanation suggests that because the Earth was coming out of an ice age during the beginning of the Cambrian period, complex development could have been hindered before then or populations could have been kept low in number. Yet another explanation suggests that because early predators first appeared in the late pre-Cambrian period, hard-bodied parts are likely to have begun to evolve as a response in the early Cambrian period. Because hard-bodied parts are more likely to be fossilized than soft-bodied parts, the Cambrian explosion suggests that it is likely there are more fossils but not necessarily more organisms. Coulter falsely claims that the existence of the Cambrian explosion casts doubt on Darwinian evolution by selectively quoting scientists, by misrepresenting the true duration and fossil discoveries of the Cambrian period, and by falsely stating that one of the possible scientific explanations for the Cambrian explosion -- that soft-bodied organisms are not easily fossilized -- is not supported by the facts.

Coulter ridicules the scientific argument that soft-bodied organisms are much less likely to be fossilized by stating that this claim is on "par with the Flatulent Raccoon Theory of life's origins." She argues that, in explaining the Cambrian explosion, evolutionists "respond to all problems in the fossil record by asking us to assume all creatures we would expect to find if evolution was true and really did exist (really!) -- but somehow never fossilized" [emphasis in original]. Coulter argues that the soft-bodied organisms that fossilized in Chengjiang, China, found in 1984, disprove this scientific theory: "The interesting thing about the pre-Cambrian organisms is that they are soft-bodied, microscopic creatures -- precisely the sort of animal the evolution cult claimed wouldn't fossilize."

Coulter's statements clearly mislead the reader about the process of fossilization -- not to mention the fact that she falsely claims that the fossils found in Chengjiang are "pre-Cambrian," when, in fact, they are dated at approximately 525 million years ago, or during the Cambrian period. A peer-reviewed study by James W. Hagadorn -- who studied the fossils found in Chengjiang -- titled, "Chengjiang: Early Record of the Cambrian Explosion," explains how these soft-bodied organisms became fossilized:

In general, fossils appear to be exquisitely preserved because they have undergone minimal transport and sustained minimal postburial taphonomic overprinting.

[...]

[Evidence] suggests that fossils were likely entrained in and/or buried by a series of microturbidites deposited in a relatively quiescent setting; fine-grained sandstones likely reflect the influence of sporadic strong storm events.

Additionally, the article to which Coulter refers to make her claim, "Spectacular Fossils Record Early Riot of Creation" [The New York Times, 4/23/91], quotes a paleontologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, Jan Bergstrom, who analyzed the fossils found in Chengjiang:

A violent storm probably stirred up the sea bottom and the mud settled over a large area, cutting off the animals' oxygen and preserving them.

Furthermore, Coulter's suggestion that fossilization is not difficult -- in particular, fossilization of soft-bodied organisms -- is false. Science News Online describes the process of fossilization as a rare occurrence:

Not every organism that dies becomes a fossil. In fact, fossilization is the exception, not the rule. Only certain combinations of biological materials, environmental conditions, and fate will preserve a recently dead organism and give it a chance at fame in a museum display.

The University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology also states that "[f]ossilization is a rare event." In addition, BBC's "Science & Nature: Prehistoric Life" section reports that "[f]ossilisation of soft-bodied animals is a strange, lengthy and very rare process."

But Coulter doesn't stop there. On Page 224, she states that "[t]he Cambrian period isn't a small gap in the fossil record chock-full of evolutionary evidence. There is no evidence in the fossil record." This statement suggests that the Cambrian explosion is evidence against evolution. She claims that biology teacher Roger DeHart of Burlington-Edison High School in Washington state was "banned from teaching biology" because he "tried to tell his students about the Chinese fossils." However, the article that she cites as evidence, "Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator" (Los Angeles Times, 3/25/01), makes no mention of the Chengjiang fossils, and she offers no further support for her claim.

To support her suggestion that the Chengjiang fossils are evidence against evolution, Coulter takes several quotes from paleontologists and other experts out of context. On Page 222, Coulter claims that "Jan Bergstrom, a paleontologist who examined the Chinese fossils, said the Cambrian period was not 'evolution,' it was 'a revolution.' " In contrast, the full quote of Bergstrom from the article that Coulter cites [The New York Times, 4/23/91], "[The fossils] suggested that the Cambrian transition was 'a revolution perhaps more than evolution,'" does not suggest that evolution did not occur. Furthermore, she quotes Harvard professor Andrew Knoll from the same article:

"Most of everything that was going to happen, all the ways of making invertebrate animals, had already happened by the mid-Cambrian. Now, it seems the new life forms were invented within the first few million years of the Cambrian."

Coulter then claims that Knoll is "pretending the Cambrian explosion never happened." But the quote that Coulter uses directly references the Cambrian explosion and the Chengjiang fossils. This is evident in Knoll's last sentence: "[I]t seems the new life forms were invented within the first few million years of the Cambrian." Finally, Coulter takes another quote out of context, this time from University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne. From his New Republic Online article (subscription required), "The Case Against Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name," Coulter quotes Coyne:

We still do not understand why many groups originated in even this relatively short time, although it may reflect an artifact: the evolution of easily fossilized hard parts suddenly made organisms capable of being fossilized.

While Coulter is ignoring scientific research that supports Coyne's quote, she goes on to claim that "[t]wenty years later after the Chinese fossils were discovered, Coyne was still pretending not to have heard of them." She suggests that Coyne believes no soft-bodied organisms have been found as early as the Cambrian period, but Coyne's article also states that "600 million years ago, we see the appearance of rudimentary animals with shells, and many soft-bodied marine organisms." Coyne later discusses the Cambrian explosion in his article as well. Coulter misleadingly suggests that these scientists believe that no soft-bodied organism can fossilize, when they are stating that soft-bodied organisms are much more unlikely to become fossilized than hard-bodied organisms, and therefore, those fossils will be much rarer.

Coulter also distorts other aspects of the Cambrian period. On Page 221, she claims, "The best estimate for the duration of the Cambrian explosion is [...] 5 to 10 million years. And that is the maximum length." However, Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge writes that the part with the most evolutionary interest of the Cambrian period (the Cambrian explosion) is between "the diverse Ediacaran faunas of latest Neoproterozoic age and the Chengjiang Burgess Shale-type faunas," approximately 550 million to 530 million years ago, or 20 million years. Further, the University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology states that the earliest age during the Cambrian period lasted approximately 23 million years. On the previous page, Coulter also distorts the Cambrian explosion, describing the event as "a period of less than 10 million years" and "a sudden explosion of nearly all the animal phyla we have today." While 5 to 10 million years is within the range of estimates for the duration of the Cambrian explosion, it is by no means "the maximum length" according to scientists. Additionally, even 5 million years -- the shortest estimate -- is hardly "sudden." Furthermore, not all "animal phyla we have today" first appeared during the Cambrian period. According to Daniel Y.-C. Wang, Sudhir Kumar, and S. Blair Hedges, in a paper (subscription required) published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Cnidarians and sponges are found before the Cambrian period. The paper also states that at least six animal phyla have been found from before the Cambrian period, according to molecular evidence.

Transitional fossils

On Page 226, Coulter claims on that "Darwiniacs do not have a single observable example of one species evolving into another by the Darwinian mechanism of variation and selection." Coulter cites The New York Times article, "Fossil Called Missing Link From Sea to Land Animals," [4/6/06] and suggests that the 375 million-year-old fish the article discusses is not a transitional fossil. Coulter apparently expects the reader to believe her explanation of the fish over the team of scientists who discovered it, led by University of Chicago professor Neil H. Shubin, who is quoted in the article. Coulter claims that the research team found only "an odd-looking fish with weird appendages" and then asserts that "only if evolution is assumed" is there any connection between fish and land animals. Coulter does not attempt to discuss any of the anatomical traits of the fish to prove her claim; however, The New York Times article to which she refers goes into great detail about the anatomical traits of the fish and how those traits "anticipate the emergence of land animals -- and is thus a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans." Additionally, the article quotes Dr. Michael J. Novacek, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan:

"We've got Archaeopteryx, an early whale that lived on land, and now this animal showing the transition from fish to tetrapod. What more do we need from the fossil record to show that the creationists are flatly wrong?"

On Page 219, Coulter makes a claim about the Archaeopteryx, stating:

For over a hundred years, evolutionists proudly pointed to their same sad birdlike animal, Archaeopteryx, as their lone transitional fossil linking dinosaurs and birds.

[...]

Alas, it is now agreed that poor Archaeopteryx is no relation of modern birds.

Contrary to Coulter's claim, the Archaeopteryx shows a clear relation to both dinosaurs and modern birds. The University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology describes several of these features:

Unlike all living birds, Archaeopteryx had a full set of teeth, a rather flat sternum ("breastbone"), a long, bony tail, gastralia ("belly ribs"), and three claws on the wing which could have still been used to grasp prey (or maybe trees). However, its feathers, wings, furcula ("wishbone") and reduced fingers are all characteristics of modern birds. [emphasis in original]

While recent discoveries have found that feathers may not be characteristic of birds alone, this article points to other features found in the Archaeopteryx that are characteristic of only modern birds and features that are characteristic of only dinosaurs. The article states:

This is why Archae[opteryx] is a true transitional species, because it shares some characters which are diagnostic of one group whilst still retaining characters diagnostic of its ancestral group.

Upon review of the evidence provided by the museum, Coulter's claim that "Archaeopteryx is no relation of modern birds" is false. In addition, the museum also writes about the strong connections between birds and dinosaurs, which also addresses the recent discoveries of possibly feathered dinosaurs. The museum states, "It appears that many coelurosaurs were cloaked in an external fibrous covering that could be called 'protofeathers,' " while also discussing the relation between scales and feathers.

In discussing transitional fossils, Coulter also omits the fact that scientists have discovered numerous transitional fossils from the Cambrian explosion, such as lobopods, which are intermediate between arthropods and worms.

Piltdown man and Archaeoraptor

Coulter writes about two hoaxes, Piltdown man and Archaeoraptor (not to be confused with Archaeopteryx), to cast doubt on real evidence that supports the theory of evolution. But in each case, she omits important information.

The Piltdown man fossil was reportedly discovered in 1912 by Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward near a gravel pit in Piltdown, England. The fossil was believed to be a 500,000-year-old British "ape-man." In 1953, the fossil was revealed to be a hoax; the jawbone had been stained and filed down to appear ape-like, and the skull was a recent human fossil. But in discussing this event, Coulter leaves out the fact that it was scientists who discovered that Piltdown man was a hoax, which demonstrates that scientists were skeptical of the Piltdown man fossil from the beginning. Of course, scientists stopped using Piltdown man fossil as evidence as soon as it was proved to be a hoax.

Unlike the Piltdown man, Archaeoraptor was never accepted by any mainstream scientists. Coulter fails to inform the reader that a Chinese fossil hunter claimed to discover the fossils and assembled them to be more marketable to collectors. Additionally, articles about Archaeoraptor were not published (subscription required) in peer-reviewed scientific journals but in the popular press, such as the National Geographic. Furthermore, the papers describing the fossil were rejected (subscription required) by Nature and Science, whose editors suspected that the fossil was illegally smuggled and doctored.

Moreover, the Archaeoraptor fossil was discovered to be made up of two previously unknown species, Microraptor zhaoianus and Yanornis martini. The site where these fossils were found has been a hotbed for fossils that have provided evidence confirming the link between birds and dinosaurs. The article also quotes Kevin Padian of the University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology:

Chinese villagers who found the specimen don't make a lot of money, and they don't know what these animals look like. There was no hoax. These are poor people trying to make a little extra money by selling fossils on the black market.

Coulter's failure to include these facts in her discussion of Piltdown man and Archaeoraptor distorts the truth about the two hoaxes.

The evolution of the eye

On Page 201, Coulter claims that "evolution is the eminently plausible theory that the human eye [...] came into existence purely by accident," suggesting that the human eye is too complex to have evolved naturally. Coulter uses the human eye example throughout her chapters on evolution to suggest that biological evolution cannot explain how the eye was formed. On pages 222 and 223, Coulter states that the "eye appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian period" and that "there were no light-sensitive pits" for the eye to evolve from. She ridicules New Scientist for stating that "the first eyes 'probably evolved from light-sensitive cells' " and asserts that because the eye appears fully formed in the Cambrian period that it could not have evolved naturally. But recent research from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory has found evidence that the "light-sensitive cells of our eyes [...] come from an ancient population of light-sensitive cells that were initially located in the brain." The laboratory's press release announcing the discovery also notes:

The scientists discovered that two types of light-sensitive cells existed in our early animal ancestors: rhabdomeric and ciliary. In most animals, rhabdomeric cells became part of the eyes, and ciliary cells remained embedded in the brain.

The scientists studied a marine worm that closely resembles its ancestors from 600 million years ago, Platynereis dumerilii, to come to the conclusion that the eyes evolved from the brain. Using a technique called "molecular fingerprinting," the scientists were able to determine that cells of the marine worms and humans share common ancestry. Scientist Kristin Tessmar-Raible concluded:

When I saw this vertebrate-type molecule active in the cells of the Playtnereis brain -- it was clear that these cells and the vertebrate rods and cones shared a molecular fingerprint. This was concrete evidence of common evolutionary origin. We had finally solved one of the big mysteries in human eye evolution [emphasis in original].

This evidence shows that the first eyes probably evolved from light-sensitive cells that were originally located in the brain. Additionally, PBS reports the stages of how the eye probably evolved and states that "eyes corresponding to every stage in this sequence have been found in existing living species." Additionally, PBS reports that "only 364,000 years would have been needed for a camera-like eye to evolve from a light-sensitive patch," which is considerably less time than the duration of the Cambrian explosion, during which Coulter suggests the eye appeared without evolutionary explanation.

Irreducible complexity

Coulter also touts the work of Michael Behe, an intelligent design proponent who has made arguments regarding other biological systems similar to those that creationists make about the eye. On Page 204, Coulter claims that "Behe disproved evolution." Behe's basic idea is that there are in organisms "irreducibly complex" systems that cannot be explained by random mutation and natural selection. These "irreducibly complex" systems would cease to function if any one part fails -- which Behe claims rules out evolution and leaves only design. There are several problems with Behe's idea of "irreducible complexity."

The first is that, contrary to Behe's argument, irreducibly complex systems can evolve. Because an irreducibly complex system is defined as one that fails if any one part ceases to function, the concept indicates only that the addition of single parts did not evolve the system. Therefore, other mechanisms of evolution are still left, including deletion of parts, duplication of the system, change of function, addition of a second function to a single part, and gradual modification of parts. Additionally, when two mechanisms that are particularly common -- gene duplication and deletion of parts -- happen together, irreducible complexity is an expected result. This was discovered in 1918 by Nobel prize-winning geneticist Hermann Muller, who referred to the phenomenon as interlocking complexity. Furthermore, there are irreducibly complex systems whose evolutionary origins have been described in detail, such as the Krebs citric acid cycle.

Another problem is in Behe's definition of parts. Biochemists count parts as individual atoms, because that is the smallest level of organization they consider in their analyses. In contrast, Behe counts sets of molecules as parts and does not provide an explanation for this decision. This creates a problem for an idea that claims to be science -- if Behe does not explain how he arrived at his definition of a single part, then other scientists cannot repeat his work. Repetition is a key component of the scientific method.

One of Behe's examples that Coulter touts, the flagellum, further calls Behe's assertions into question. On Page 204, Coulter repeats the false claim that "[t]he absence of almost any one of the parts would render the flagellum useless." In reality, the flagellum still functions as either a simpler flagellum or a secretion system if certain parts are lost. Additionally, there are dispensable proteins found in the eukaryotic flagellum.

Furthermore, Behe's ideas on "irreducible complexity" have never been published in a peer-reviewed paper or article. And during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case in 2004, Behe admitted under oath that his own simulation model of the evolution of biochemical systems revealed that irreducibly complex systems could evolve in 20,000 years, even if the model is rigged to make that outcome as unlikely as possible.

Coulter endorses Behe's claims of design on Page 205, stating that "[l]ife at the molecular level, he [Behe] concluded, 'is a loud, clear, piercing cry of design.' " To the contrary, the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case concluded that Behe's arguments against evolution did not constitute evidence for design. The presiding judge in the case -- John E. Jones III, who was nominated by President Bush -- stated in his decision:

ID proponents primarily argue for design through negative arguments against evolution, as illustrated by Professor Behe's argument that "irreducibly complex" systems cannot be produced through Darwinian, or any natural, mechanisms. However, we believe that arguments against evolution are not arguments for design.

Jones proceeded to dismiss many of Behe's ideas in his decision, stating:

Professor Behe's concept of irreducible complexity depends on ignoring ways in which evolution is known to occur.

[...]

Although both Professors Behe and [Scott] Minnich assert that there is a quantitative aspect to the inference, on cross-examination they admitted that there is no quantitative criteria for determining the degree of complexity or number of parts that bespeak design, rather than a natural process.

[...]

Professor Behe excludes, by definition, the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system.

[...]

[E]vidence, based upon peer-reviewed studies, [suggests] that they [Behe's biomechanical system examples: the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system] are not in fact irreducibly complex.

[...]

Accordingly, the purported positive argument for ID does not satisfy the ground rules of science which require testable hypotheses based upon natural explanations.

Finally, Jones noted that the National Academy of Sciences has rejected Behe's arguments for "irreducible complexity," as has the scientific community in general through peer-reviewed papers.

Ernst Haeckel's drawings

Coulter suggests that the discredited theories of Ernst Haeckel, a 19th-century proponent of the idea that evidence in embryology, his idea that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," supported the theory of evolution, are still used by evolutionists. Haeckel suggested that the ancestral experiences of a given organism are physically echoed during the embryonic development of that organism, and he published falsified drawings to illustrate this idea. Coulter suggests that Haeckel's ideas were a part of Darwin's theory of evolution, but in fact, Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, seven years before Haeckel came up with his ideas and 15 years before Haeckel's drawings were published. Moreover, the University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology's history on Haeckel states, "Although trained as a physician, Haeckel abandoned his practice in 1859 after reading Darwin's Origin of Species," which suggests the opposite of what Coulter claims. On Page 239, Coulter quotes Darwin suggesting that embryology is " 'the strongest single class of facts' supporting his theory." Not only is Coulter confusing embryology in general with the work done by Haeckel, but she is ignoring the fact that Darwin's theory of evolution influenced Haeckel, not the other way around. Additionally, the quotes attributed to Darwin are sourced to the work of intelligent design proponent Jonathan Wells, which pulled the quotes from 1859 and 1860, before Haeckel published his ideas.

Coulter claims on Page 240 that "the Darwiniacs aren't giving up just because Haeckel's drawings were fake." She also claims that the drawings were exposed as fakes only in 1997, suggesting that they were accepted as fact until relatively recently. She cites Wells, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, who also argues that Darwin's The Origin of Species was influenced by the work of Haeckel. Wells cites many authors who support evolutionary theory in his discussion of Haeckel: Adam Sedgwick (1894), William Garstang (1922), Gavin de Beer (1958), William Ballard (1976), Stephen J. Gould (1977 and 2000), Richard Elinson (1987), Jane Oppenheimer (1987), and Michael Richardson (1995) -- all of whom were critical of Haeckel's ideas, which is a fact that Wells conveniently omits in his book Icons of Evolution. Additionally, this detailed article about Haeckel and Wells states that Haeckel's ideas "were invalidated by Mendelian genetics and the neo-Darwinian synthesis." The article concludes that:

Haeckel's work was discredited in the 19th century, and has not been relevant to biology since the rediscovery of Mendel's laws of genetics. That the biogenetic law is false has been the consensus of biologists for over 100 years, and developmental biologists have been working constructively to provide alternative explanations, which have so far all been evolutionary in nature.

Further, the author of the 1997 study that Coulter, Michael K. Richardson, had this to say about Wells's interpretation of his work:

A recent study coauthored by several of us and discussed by Elizabeth Pennisi (Science, 5 Sept. 1997, p. 1435) examined inaccuracies in embryo drawings published last century by Ernst Haeckel. Our work has been used in a nationally televised debate to attack evolutionary theory and to suggest that evolution cannot explain embryology. We strongly disagree with this viewpoint. Data from embryology are fully consistent with Darwinian evolution. ... [T]he mixture of similarities and differences among vertebrate embryos reflects evolutionary change in developmental mechanisms inherited from a common ancestor. ... Haeckel's inaccuracies damage his credibility, but they do not invalidate the mass of published evidence for Darwinian evolution. Ironically, had Haeckel drawn the embryos accurately, his first two valid points in favor of evolution would have been better demonstrated.

Additionally, Coulter continues to discuss Haeckel's drawings as if they are still being used today. Also on Page 240, Coulter claims that:

Fully five years later [after Richardson's 1997 study], the New York Times reported that biology textbooks were still running Haeckel's doctored drawings. The Times specifically singled out the third edition of Molecular Biology of the Cell, 'the bedrock of the field,' as one of the culprits.

Coulter fails to inform the reader that the very same Times article, printed April 8, 2001, also mentions that the authors of Molecular Biology of the Cell planned to correct the error in a subsequent edition. An online version of the fourth edition, published February 28, 2002, can be viewed here. In addition, other textbooks also corrected the problem after Richardson's study was published in 1997. Furthermore, the textbook argument Coulter uses was also pushed by Wells, whose Icons of Evolution chapter on the falsified drawings contained numerous distortions of biology textbooks. By omitting the fact that textbooks had corrected the error after Richardson's study and that the textbook she cited, Molecular Biology of the Cell, corrected the problem shortly after the Times article, Coulter suggested that the falsified drawings of Haeckel are still being used in textbooks.

The Miller-Urey experiment

Another scientific study that Coulter distorts is the Miller-Urey experiment. The experiment, designed to simulate early Earth atmosphere, produced amino acids, which are the building blocks of life, within one week. On Page 241, Coulter claims that "geochemists realized that the Earth's early atmosphere was probably nothing like the gases used in the Miller-Urey experiment." The simulated atmosphere in the Miller-Urey experiment consisted of water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen. And according to a recent Washington University research:

Using primitive meteorites called chondrites as their models, earth and planetary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have performed outgassing calculations and shown that the early Earth's atmosphere was a reducing one, chock full of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water vapor.

Moreover, subsequent experiments using different gases and different sources of energy have yielded similar -- if not better -- results than the Miller-Urey experiment. As Alan D. Gishlick of the National Center for Science Education noted, "new experiments since the Miller-Urey ones have achieved similar results using various corrected atmospheric compositions."

Distortions of evolutionary theory

Throughout Coulter's two chapters on evolutionary theory, she offers up her own rhetorical questions, as if they accurately represent evolutionary theory. She posits these questions in the context that evolutionary theory says, "X is possible, so why haven't we seen X in the fossil record, or why hasn't X mutation been found?"

On Page 218, Coulter writes:

It [the theory of evolution] doesn't explain why we don't find any bad mutations -- a dog that mutated antennae, or gills, or a tail on its head [emphasis in original].

Coulter appears to be suggesting that we should find "some spectacular failures" in evolutionary history. She then falsely equates these "bad mutations" with beneficial, transitional mutations. She states that "[i]n order to mutate the good stuff ... there would have to be countless mutations that were at least better than what existed before." Her comment suggests that she is aware that evolutionary theory is based on the principle that only beneficial mutations are likely to survive multiple generations, let alone millions of years of generations (a point which refutes her claim about bad mutations). Therefore, given that fossilization is a rare occurrence, one can logically conclude that the reason we don't find "bad" mutations in the fossil record to the extent that Coulter suggests is because it's likely that the number of generations would be incredibly small; it is much more unlikely that "bad" mutations would be fossilized than progressively beneficial mutations. Additionally, PBS reports that seemingly "bad" mutations, such as sickle-cell anemia, persist in the gene pool because they are also beneficial in some way. And while most mutations are nonbeneficial, those mutations are almost always recessive in the genetic code, which prevents their traits from being expressed.

Also on Page 218:

There is no reason to expect, for example, that the first place our eyes ever appeared was on the front of our faces. Why don't we have ancestors with eyes on the bottom of their feet, on their arms, or on the top of their heads?

Coulter fails to explain how eyes on the bottom of our feet would be beneficial. She also demonstrates her ignorance of recent research that provides evidence that the light-sensitive cells that evolved into our eyes migrated from their original location in the brain, which raises the question: Why would these light-sensitive cells travel the furthest distance from the brain before evolving into our eyes?

On Page 228:

The successive appearance of more complex species does seem to show something that looks like progress. But that has nothing to do with the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection. One also sees progress in the Wright brothers' increasingly complex airplanes, a master's paintings, and the advance from the peace pipe to Marlboro Lights -- progressions all notable for being the product of "intelligent design."

Here, Coulter misleadingly compares living, biological, autonomous beings with inanimate, human-made objects. This is an illogical comparison that serves only to highlight the illogicality of Coulter's argument.

On pages 230-231, Coulter writes:

Moreover, if all species evolved from the same single-celled organism beginning in the same little mud puddle, why hasn't the earthworm made a little more progress? Was it never, ever desirable in any of the worm's many dirt holes to mutate eyes or legs or wings or a brain?

But Coulter doesn't explain how the mutation of "eyes or legs or wings" would have been beneficial to an earthworm, and she falsely suggests that earthworms don't have brains.

Finally, on pages 231-232:

Even the evolution fetishists do not claim that a mutating AIDS virus is on its way up the tree of life, soon to be a kangaroo. If a rapidly mutating bacterium or virus were proof of "evolution," then after 3 billion years of nonstop evolution, the only life forms we would have on earth would be extremely sturdy bacteria and viruses. Humans develop a tolerance for alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, but no one imagines a high tolerance for alcohol will somehow lead to a new organ, like a tail or a pair of wings.

Coulter's analogy reveals a basic misrepresentation of evolutionary theory. She suggests that when bacteria and viruses are bombarded with antibiotics or other medicines that the cells "develop a tolerance." In reality, the weak cells die and the stronger cells live to reproduce. This is the basic mechanism of evolution, that beneficial mutations (the stronger cells that are better able to survive the medicines) are more likely to survive multiple generations over time, thereby changing the gene pool of the population and creating a new strain of bacteria or virus. But Coulter suggests that a developed tolerance of the effects of alcohol leads to the next step of "a new organ, like a tail or a pair of wings" -- although she does not explain why such organs would naturally evolve to deal with increased alcohol consumption. Furthermore, Coulter appears to be ignorant of more recent research, reported in New Scientist, which establishes that alcohol tolerance is related to a "hangover" gene.

Smears of Democrats and progressives

No work of Coulter's would be complete without her gratuitously smearing progressives and Democrats while discussing unrelated topics. Throughout her two chapters on evolutionary theory, Coulter slanders prominent progressive and Democratic figures, as well as news reporters and media personalities. These smears work only to undermine the supposed "keen appreciation for genuine science" that Coulter writes from, as stated on the inside jacket sleeve of Godless.

Page 199:

[L]iberals think evolution disproves God.

[...]

If you want something that complicates a belief in God, try coming to terms with Michael Moore being one of God's special creatures.

Page 205:

But most of the cult reacted to Behe's argument the way feminists do to the suggestion that men and women might possibly have different aptitudes for math and science -- they got nasty, they cried, and they denied that anything had been proved.

Page 207:

Darwin's solution is like explaining how humans evolved by saying, "Assume Dennis Kucinich. Now, through slight improvements over a billion years, successive generations would eventually become taller, grow opposable thumbs, and generally become more humanlike until one day -- wham! -- you have yourself a human being."

Page 219:

The bizarre bird [Archaeopteryx] is just an odd creation that came out of nowhere and went nowhere, much like Air America Radio.

Page 221:

This is where all the deep thinking about evolution is being done these days, in the "social sciences" and Style section of the New York Times.

[...]

The New York Times will write honestly about Air America's ratings before high school biology textbooks will tell the truth about the Cambrian explosion.

Page 227:

No one disputes that a monkey looks like a human, especially in the case of Al Franken.

Page 229:

Michael Moore's essence is consistent with the Flatulent Raccoon Theory for the origin of life.

Page 231:

Forget getting to humans, which liberals rank as the lowest form of life.

Page 234:

My headline the day Clinton was impeached: "God Theory Is Proved True."

Page 235:

Yes, the same process [radiocarbon dating] that recently helped us pin down the exact year of Helen Thomas's birth ...

Page 236:

For two years black moths were bused out of the inner-city areas to the suburbs, while white moths were bused into the inner-city areas... (Is it just me, or does this scenario sound oddly familiar?)

Page 239:

And he [Ernst Haeckel] could show what humans looked like 1 million years ago by pointing to James Carville.

Additionally, Coulter repeatedly equates the religion of Scientology with the theory of evolution. She does so four times throughout her chapters on evolution, suggesting that there is almost as much valid science in the religion of Scientology as in the theory of evolution.

Page 199:

Liberal's creation myth is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which is about one notch above Scientology in scientific rigor.

Page 209:

The evolutionists' response [to Behe's irreducible complexity theory] is Well, it's possible. You can't say it couldn't 'possibly' happen -- and that was the test Darwin of Nazareth set for himself. It's also possible that galactic ruler Xenu brought billions of people to Earth 75 million years ago, piled them around volcanoes, and blew them up with hydrogen bombs, sending their souls flying every which way until they landed on the bodies of living humans, where they still invisibly reside today -- as Scientology's L. Ron Hubbard claimed. Yes, it's possible. [emphasis in original]

Page 215:

These people [evolutionists] make L. Ron Hubbard look like Aristotle.

Page 235:

Evolution's Piltdown Man makes Scientology's "e-meter" look like a particle accelerator at Los Alamos.

Besides these passing references equating the religion of Scientology with the theory of evolution, Coulter offers no in-depth explanation or justification for her comments.

Conclusion

While Coulter purports to have a "keen appreciation for genuine science," her chapters on evolutionary theory serve only to repeat scientifically discredited arguments that creationists have been parading around for decades. Rather than support her claims with scientific evidence, she instead substitutes the ad hominem attacks that have become her trademark.

The LA Times Goes Inside Scientology's Desert Hive

http://www.defamer.com/hollywood/top/the-la-times-goes-inside-scientologys-desert-hive-144015.php

Confident that L. Ron Hubbard's Media Outreach Technicians would have a hard time disappearing its entire Spring Street headquarters into a white van (if they lose a couple of reporters, well, they're making staff reductions anyway), the LAT takes its readers inside the Church of Scientology's Gilman Hot Springs resort/hive, where the Public Face of Scientology, one Tom Cruise, reportedly alternated long stints of religious training with being worshipped like a king (or a studio boss):

Maureen Bolstad, who was at the base for 17 years and left after a falling-out with the church, recalled a rainy night 15 years ago when a couple of dozen Scientologists scrambled to deal with "an all-hands situation" that kept them working through dawn. The emergency, she said: planting a meadow of wildflowers for Cruise to romp through with his new love, Kidman.

"We were told that we needed to plant a field and that it was to help Tom impress Nicole," said Bolstad, who said she spent the night pulling up sod so the ground could be seeded in the morning.

The flowers eventually bloomed, Bolstad said, "but for some mysterious reason it wasn't considered acceptable by Mr. Miscavige. So the project was rejected and they redid it."

Other ex-members say it wasn't the only time that Miscavige put them to work to please Cruise.

Miscavige, a firearms enthusiast, introduced Cruise to skeet shooting at the compound, according to an ex-member who said the actor was so grateful that he sent an automated clay-pigeon launcher to replace an older, hand-pulled model. With Cruise due to return in a few days, Miscavige again ordered all hands on deck, this time to renovate the base's skeet range, the ex-member said.

Dozens worked around the clock for three days "just so Tom Cruise would be impressed," the ex-member said.

Rinder, head of Scientology International's Office of Special Affairs, said such accounts were fabricated by "apostates," members who had abandoned the religion.

Much of the piece proceeds according to the above formula, wherein the Times reports something interesting and odd (fabricated, hyperbolic example: "At Gilman Hot Springs, Tom Cruise demands to walk the grounds while wearing blueberry pies as shoes!"), which prompts a reflexive rebuttal from their mouthpiece (equally fabricated sample denials: "That is a totally untrue fabrication concocted by an ex-member whom auditing revealed to be a baby-strangler in a past life," or, "While it may be true that Mr. Cruise enjoys a delicious blueberry pie from our world-class pastry chef from time to time, he has never worn them on his feet while a temporary guest at Gilman Hot Springs."). The LAT also features a fascinating photo gallery from the visit, in which Scientology leader David Miscavige, described in the article as "about five-seven" politely defers to the similarly statured Cruise by appearing about five inches shorter in photographs.

Evolution education update: July 6, 2006

A physicist describes his outreach for evolution, while a slew of evolution bloggers are mentioned in Nature. And notes about the latest issue of NCSE's journal Reports of the NCSE, a series of science-and-religion conferences, and the three positions open at NCSE.

A PHYSICIST'S OUTREACH FOR EVOLUTION

Writing in the July 2006 issue of Physics Today, Murray Peshkin describes his experiences in speaking to small groups -- "service clubs such as Rotary, high-school and college students of science and science journalism, a school-based community event, a League of Women Voters chapter, a Unitarian church, and a microscopy club" -- about science, religion, and evolution education. "The response to my talks has been almost uniformly positive," he reports. "It would be useful for other physicists to do as I have been doing."

Peshkin explains, "I am not trying to convert the convinced anti-evolutionist. I am trying to inform people about the issues and their importance. That goal is important for scientists because the integrity of science teaching in our public schools is under serious attack. So far, the courts have mostly come to the rescue, but in the end public opinion will carry the day. Reasonable people need to know what science is about, especially what an established scientific theory is and how scientists know when it's right."

For Peshkin's article, visit:
http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-59/iss-7/p46.html

CONGRATULATIONS, EVOLUTION BLOGGERS!

A brief story in Nature lists the top five science blogs -- "those written by working scientists covering scientific issues" -- by popularity, including P. Z. Myers's Pharyngula and the collectively authored The Panda's Thumb, both of which provide a wealth of information and commentary on the creationism/evolution debate. Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science and a contributor to The Panda's Thumb, commented, "We have some of the most well-informed observers and critics of the 'intelligent design' and creationist movements," adding, "There is an interest, a hunger even, for thoughtful analysis of the issues related to evolution and creationism." Confirming Krebs's observation, there are quite a few blogs in Nature's list of the top fifty science blogs that routinely discuss the creationism/evolution debate, including Tara C. Smith's Aetiology, Joshua Rosenau's Thoughts from Kansas, John M. Lynch's Stranger Fruit, Jason Rosenhouse's Evolution Blog, Mike Dunford's The Questionable Authority, John Wilkins's Evolving Thoughts, and Mark Chu-Carroll's Good Math, Bad Math. Nature notes, "There's little agreement about how to rank blogs, so this exercise is best viewed as a rough snapshot."

For the top 5 and top 50 science blogs in Nature, visit:
http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060703/full/442009a.html
http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060703/multimedia/50_science_blogs.html

For the listed blogs, visit:
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula
http://www.pandasthumb.org/
http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/
http://jgrr.blogspot.com/
http://scienceblogs.com/strangerfruit/
http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/
http://scienceblogs.com/authority/
http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/
http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/

KEEPING UP WITH REPORTS OF THE NCSE

If you've been enjoying these evolution education updates, you really ought to consider subscribing to NCSE's print journal, Reports of the NCSE. Discussed in the latest issue: how evolution is treated in natural history museums, how young-earth creationists exploit the ambiguity of the term "fossil" in arguing against evolution, how paleoanthropology is distorted in Icons of Evolution, and how arguments from thermodynamics against the possibility of evolution fail. And there are reviews, too, of recent books including Schneider and Sagan's Into the Cool, Isaak's The Counter-Creationism Handbook, and Kirschner's and Gerhardt's The Plausibility of Life. If you subscribe now, you'll shortly be receiving a special issue about Kitzmiller v. Dover, including commentary from Kevin Padian, Brian Alters, and Barbara Forrest, all of whom testified as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, and a behind-the-scenes look at NCSE's contributions to the victory by Nick Matzke.

To see samples from the latest issue of Reports, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/newsletter.asp

To subscribe, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp

STARS CONFERENCES IN JANUARY 2007

The Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series, administered by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, is conducting three seminars on topics in science and religion in January 2007: Cosmology, Physics, and the Possibility of Life (January 4-8), Evolution, ET, and the Significance of Life in the Universe (January 11-15), and Complexity Theory, Emergence, and the Influence of Life on Matter (January 18-22). "The conferences," according to the STARS website, "will showcase an aspect of how current scientific discoveries and theories relate to our understanding of ultimate reality. Each conference will be led by an eminent scientific figure in the field, and will allow ample time for lectures as well as formal and informal discussions." The conferences will be held at the Iberostar Paraiso Maya resort on the Mexican Riviera, 45 minutes south of Cancun, and applications are still being accepted.

For more information, visit:
http://www.ctnsstars.org/conferences/

HELP WANTED

NCSE is seeking candidates for three positions: Education Project Director, Faith Project Director, and Archives Project Director. All three are full-time, permanent, salaried positions in NCSE's office in Oakland, California. Please feel free to disseminate the descriptions of these positions to any qualified candidates who might be interested.

For the descriptions, see:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/ZZ/86_help_wanted_6_29_2006.asp

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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

Sincerely,

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

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

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp

George Gilder, Metaphysic On evolution.

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YzUwMDliZTQxYTJlNjUzZTQ5YTRhNGJhOTQ0NmMxMzk=

By John Derbyshire

I seem to have got myself elected to the post of NR's designated point man against Creationists.* Indignant anti-Creationist readers have urged me to make a response to George Gilder's long essay "Evolution and Me" in the current (7/17/06) National Review.

Well, I'll give it a shot. I had better say up front that I am only familiar with George's work he has written several books, none of which I have read, I am ashamed to say, since I know he has read one of mine in a sketchy and secondhand way, so what follows is only a response to the aforementioned article "Evolution and Me." It is possible that George has already dealt with my points in some other of his writings. If so, I hope readers will direct me to the right place.

I'll also say that I write the following with some reluctance. It's a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can't be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn't actually any fun. Creationists just chase you round in circles. It's boring.

It would be less boring if they'd come up with a new argument once in a while, but they never do. I've been engaging with Creationists for a couple of years now, and I have yet to hear an argument younger than I am. (I am not young.) All Creationist arguments have been whacked down a thousand times, but they keep popping up again. Nowadays I just refer argumentative e-mailers to the TalkOrigins website, where any argument you are ever going to hear from a Creationist is whacked down several times over. Don't think it'll stop 'em, though.**

* * * * *

Jonah Goldberg and I have occasionally, though only very briefly, batted around the idea that the modern age is in want of a metaphysic. I can't speak for Jonah, but the thought that is in my own mind when I say this is that both naked materialism and the metaphysics appended to the traditional religions are unappealing to great numbers of moderns. Materialism fails to convince because it implies that mind is an illusion. To this, an ordinary person will reply: "To what is this illusion presenting itself?" Materialism has no answer. Nor does it have anything to tell us about free will, morality, or any of the other conundrums discussed at the end of Pinker's How the Mind Works. To adhere to religious metaphysics, on the other hand, you actually have to belong to one of the established religions, all of which require belief in things (resurrection, transubstantiation, reincarnation, Chosen People) that seem, to many minds accustomed to the evidentiary standards demanded by modern science and law, incredible.

There are of course lots of people who are perfectly satisfied by materialist atheism, and many more who find they can leap the credulity hurdles required by traditional religions. To many hundreds of millions of moderns, though (I am not speaking of only the U.S.A.: the rest of the world does, after all, exist), there is no satisfactory conceptual grounding for their beliefs, desires, and intentions. We really ought to be able to come up with something.

Well, here is George Gilder, taking up the challenge. He offers us a complete metaphysic. He then makes the very large claim that science cannot (or will soon be unable to I am not clear on this point) progress any further unless it abandons its present materialist assumptions and takes up this new metaphysic of his. What can we make of this?

* * * * *

First let's take a look at George's metaphysic. It is pluralistic, which is to say, it argues that the basic substance of the universe is of several different kinds. In George's schema there are three kinds of stuff: intelligence, information, and matter.

(That is how I read George's essay. Since he didn't have space for a really full exposition, my reading may be incorrect. His metaphysic may be of the dualistic mind-matter type, with information merely an aspect of intelligence. Or it may even be monistic, with everything just a manifestation of intelligence. This isn't clear to me.)

Information, says George, is by definition intelligently organized. If it were not, it would not be information, only random static. Further, information needs some material substrate on which to be inscribed, so that matter (understood in the modern sense of matter-energy) is the carrier of information.

Information is thus at the center of his schema, standing between matter, the substrate on which it is inscribed, and intelligence, which organizes it.

One's first thought here is that this looks promising right away. We are living in the Information Age. What more suitable for us than a metaphysic in which information plays a starring role? One's second thought unfortunately cancels out the first one: isn't this all a bit present-centric? What if, 50 years from now, we are in some other age? Is George's schema going to lose its appeal? One wants one's metaphysic to have some staying power. A third thought is that not only is this a bit present-centric, it's even a bit George-centric. George has, after all, been immersed in the information sciences for decades has in fact been a mover and an achiever of some note in those sciences, and a prolific and successful expositor of them.

Leaving all that aside, let's continue examining the schema. There is a hierarchy of being, with insensate matter at the bottom, carrying very little information, up through living creatures, which carry immensely more, having far more complex material substrates, to a supreme intelligence which (I think) has the entire universe as its substrate.

Information, designed by intelligence, makes everything happen. The information in a computer program makes your phone bill happen (and the programmer's intelligence makes the program happen); the information in DNA makes proteins happen. This is a one-way process: Your phone bill can't make the computer program happen (nor can the program make your intelligence happen), a protein can't make a gene happen, etc. Nothing at the lower-information level a phone bill, a protein can make anything at the higher-information level program, gene happen. This refutes materialism's assertion that higher information-bearing structures can arise from lower ones. It also refutes evolution, which has high-information-bearing substrates arising out of low-information-bearing ones.

I hope I have got all that right, at least in outline. As metaphysics go, it's a pretty good schema. Possibly a reader better versed in philosophy than I am might tell you it is not original, that Spinoza or Leibniz or someone came up with something of the kind. I don't know (though I'd be mildly interested to hear). At any rate, I declare here and now that I am not going to argue with George's metaphysic, or pick holes in it, though I think I see a couple to be picked.*** Let's take it as given that this is a good metaphysic for our age.

We then proceed to George's main point, which is, that science cannot (or will soon be unable to) progress any further unless it abandons its present materialist assumptions and takes up this new metaphysic. What can be said about that?

I think the main thing to be said about it is, that George's metaphysics is going to be a tough sell to scientists. This is important, because science is a very important part of our culture "the court from which there is no appeal" (Tom Wolfe). If you can't sell your metaphysic to scientists, George, then it is just an intellectual curiosity, headed nowhere.

There are two reasons why George's ideas, as presented in this essay, are a tough sell. First, he loses biologists right away with his Creationist patter. Second, George's Discovery Institute and his Center for Science and Culture don't discover things and don't do any science.

First, the Creationist stuff.

* * * * *

Creationists seem not to be aware of how central evolution is to modern biology. Without it, nothing makes sense. I recently, here on NRO, reviewed Nicholas Wade's book about human origins. We have known a good deal about human origins for a long time, from researches in archeology and zoology. Darwin himself wrote a book on the topic back in 1871. Now, with the tools of modern genomics at our disposal, we are finding out much, much more. None of this would be possible, none of it would make any sense, if speciation by evolution were not the case. A research program in paleoanthropology premised on the idea that speciation by evolution is not the case, would have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing to tell us. It is hard to see how any such program would be possible; though if George will tell me, I'll be glad to broadcast his idea.

It's not just paleoanthropology. Speciation via evolution underpins all of modern biology, both pure and applied. Note that in the latter category fall such things as new cures for diseases and genetic defects, new crops, new understandings of the brain, with consequences for pedagogy and psychology, and so on. To say to biologists: "Look, I want you to drop all this nonsense about evolution and listen to me," is like walking into a room full of pilots and aeronautical engineers and telling them that classical aerodynamics is all hogwash.

Biologists are of all scientists least in need of a new metaphysic. Neurophysiology aside, it is in the "hard" sciences that our epistemological underwear is showing. When physicists have to resort to explanations involving teeny strings vibrating in scrunched-up eleven-dimensional spaces a trillion trillion trillion trillionth of an inch across, or cosmologists try to tell us that entire universes are proliferating every nanosecond like bacteria in a petri dish, there is a case to be made for a metaphysical overhaul. Not that work in these fields has come to a baffled dead stop, as George seems to imply. Far from it; the problem in fundamental physics and cosmology is not so much that we have run out of theories, as that we have too many theories. I'll grant that there are epistemological issues, though.

Biology, by contrast, really has no outstanding epistemological problems. With the tools of modern genomics at its disposal, it is in fact going through a phase of great energy and excitement, so that biologists are much too busy to be bothered with epistemological issues. To modify the simile I offered above: Creationists are walking into that room full of pilots and aeronautical engineers right at the peak of the Golden Age of flight, around 1930. "Hey, those machines of yours don't really fly, you know"

Another turn-off is the blithe way George makes pronouncements about the limits of our understanding. Doesn't he know the track record here? I think the star of this particular show is Auguste Comte, who declared in 1835 that we could never possibly know the composition of the stars. The spectroscope was invented in 1859.

Not deterred by Comte's example, George writes that: "This process of protein synthesis and 'plectics' cannot even in principle be modeled on a computer." You sure about that, George? "Even in principle"? How do you know that? Computer modelers are awfully ingenious and creative people. Are you quite sure that you are ahead of all of them? Even that team of 19-year-old, 190-IQ whiz kids in that Microsoft-funded lab in Shanghai, whose heads are full of amazing new ideas? Oh, you've never met them? Perhaps you should. And that other team over here, and that one there, and the folk in Bangalore, and the guys in Stuttgart, and that great new institute in Budapest... Never met them either? Oh.

If, five years from now, one of these innumerable teams of researchers develops a really good computer simulation of protein synthesis, will George discard that metaphysic of his, that told him it couldn't be done? I hope he will.

George's attitude here is anyway at odds with his "social" arguments. He cannot imagine that anyone could come up with a computer model of protein synthesis because... well, no one ever has. Similarly, Michael Behe of Darwin's Black Box fame, back in the 1990s, could not imagine that anyone could come up with an evolutionary pathway for the bacterial flagellum, because... no-one ever had. They since have. So George's assertion that "Behe's claim of 'irreducible complexity' is manifestly true" is manifestly false. Yet these are the people who lecture us on Establishment Science's reluctance to countenance new ideas!

* * * * *

That brings us to the second problem that scientists have with George's system: After being around for many years, it has not produced any science. George's own Discovery Institute was established in 1990; the offshoot Center for Science and Culture (at first called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture) in 1992. That is an aggregate 30 years. Where is the science? In all those years, not a single paper of scientific standing has come out of (nor even, to the best of my knowledge, been submitted by) the DI or the CSC. I am certainly willing to be corrected here. If the DI or CSC have any papers of scientific standing published or not I shall post links to them to NRO for qualified readers to scrutinize.

Scientists discover things. That's what they do. In fast-growing fields like genomics, they discover new things almost daily look into any issue of Science or Nature. What has the Discovery Institute discovered this past 16 years? To stretch my simile further: Creationists are walking into that room full of pilots and aeronautical engineers right at the peak of the Golden Age of flight, never having flown or designed any planes themselves. Are they really surprised that they get a brusque reception?

(I should say here that the handful of Creationists who are themselves professional working scientists produce papers that are, I am told, scientifically valuable. None of those papers are premised on Creationist principles, however, and none have appeared under the aegis of the DI or CSC. The Creationism of Creationist scientists like Michael Behe is extramural a sort of spare-time hobby. The same can be said of the militant atheism of Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, incidentally.)

Creationists respond to this by telling us that they can't get a hearing in the defensive, closed-minded, "invested" world of professional science. Creationist ideas are too revolutionary, they say. The impenetrably reactionary nature of established science is a staple of Creationist talk. They seem not to have noticed that twentieth-century science is a veritable catalog of revolutionary ideas that got accepted, from quantum theory to plate tectonics, from relativity to dark matter, from cosmic expansion to the pathogen theory of ulcers. Creationism has been around far, far longer than the "not yet accepted" phase of any of those theories. Why is the proportion of scientists willing to accept it still stuck below (well below, as best I can estimate) one percent? The only answer you can get from a Creationist involves a conspiracy theory that makes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion look positively rational.

Three or four paragraphs into George's piece, seeing where we were headed, and having accumulated considerable experience with this kind of stuff, I did a "find" on the phrase "scientific establishment." Sure enough, there it was: those obscurantist, defensive old stuffed shirts of "consensus science" the Panel of Peers, George calls them keeping original thought at bay.

In George's example the original thinker was Max Planck, whose first publication on his revolutionary quantum theory of radiation was in 1900. Poor Max Planck was so thoroughly shunned and ostracized by that glowering, starched-collar Panel of Peers for daring to present ideas that violated their settled convictions, that five years later they made him president of the German Physical Society, and in 1918 gave him the Nobel Prize for Physics! Those mean, blinkered scientific establishmentarians!

Creationism has been around in one form or another for well over a century, which is to say, more than 20 times longer than the interval between Max Planck's first broadcasting of his quantum theory and his election as president of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The fact that Creationism still has no scientific acceptance whatsoever no presidencies of learned societies, no Nobel Prizes, not a bean, not a dust mote does not show that the science establishment is hostile to new ideas, it only shows that scientists cannot see that Creationism has anything to offer them.

What gets the attention of scientists is science. Scientists do not shun Creationism because it is revolutionary; they shun it because Creationists don't do any science. They started out by promising to. The original plan for the CSC (then CRSC) back in 1992 had phase I listed as: "Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity." The CSC has certainly been energetic in writing and publicity, but if they have done any scientific research, I missed it.

* * * * *

Look at the last paragraph of George's piece. It is a call to science to: "grasp the hierarchical reality [that the summit of the hierarchy, a.k.a. God] signifies," to transcend "its [i.e. science's] materialist trap," to "look up from the ever dimmer reaches of its Darwinian pit and cast its imagination toward the word and its sources: idea and meaning, mind and mystery, the will and the way." Science, says George, must must! "eschew reductionism except as a methodological tool and adopt an aspirational imagination." (Isn't that one humongous big "except" in that last sentence there, George?)

A scientist, reading those words, might reasonably ask: "Why? Why must I do those things you urge me to do? I'm getting along just fine as I am, discovering new things about the world, pushing the wheel of knowledge forward a few inches every year. Did you see that groundbreaking paper of mine in Developmental Biology last month? No? Well, everyone in the field is talking about it. So why should I buy into this metaphysics you're selling? What's in it for me? What's in it for science at large?"

Replies George, from that same closing paragraph: because "this is the only way that science can ever hope to solve the grand challenge problems before it, such as gravity, entanglement, quantum computing, time, space, mass, and mind."

The scientist will then say: "The only way, you say? But look, I'm not doing too badly generating scientific results uncovering new facts about the world by following my current way, from down here in my 'Darwinian pit'. So right off, I can't agree with you that this new way of yours is the only way. I have no feeling whatsoever that I am stuck, and looking for a way. I have a way orthodox scientific method. It works. It generates reproducible results, and suggests testable theories. Possibly this essay of yours offers a better way, but yours sure isn't the only way.

"And why should I think your way is even a better way to tackle the problems you listed? After all, you, with your 'only way,' and your institutes with high-sounding names and lavish funding, and all your decades of being in operation, have not generated any scientific results at all. If someone like you, with a radical new outlook, grounded in a radically new metaphysics, starts providing solutions to difficult problems like those in your list, of course I will be impressed. Of course I will take you seriously; I will adopt your methods; I will transcend materialism and eschew reductionism and all that good stuff you exhort me to do. Of course I will! I will come to you humbly to learn how to do the prescribed transcending and eschewing. I'll be among the first to come knocking on the Discovery Institute's door, I guarantee. I want to advance knowledge, along whichever path looks most promising. That's why I'm a scientist.

"As it is, though, you have nothing to show me. Has your Institute, or your Center, actually come up with a new, testable theory of, say, gravity? Where can I read about it? Oh, you haven't? Has your Discovery Institute, since its founding in 1990, actually, er, discovered anything?

"No? Well, look, no offense, George, but I'll tell you what. Go back to your Institute, hire some bright new researchers, teach them your metaphysics and your new methodology, buy them some computers and lab equipment, and let them loose to do some science. When they've got testable theories and reproducible results, I'll pay attention. Until then, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my own lab."

What would you say to this guy, George?

* Amongst whom I include Intelligent Design proponents. The Kitzmiller case demonstrated, to courtroom standards of evidence, that I.D. is a species of Creationism. That's good enough for me.

** The actual Creationist argument Gilder puts forth, the tautology argument, is about 120 years old. Defining "fit" to mean "apt to survive," "survival of the fittest" is indeed a tautology. This does not disprove Darwin's theory of speciation by evolution, though. It only proves that "survival of the fittest" is a lousy way to describe the theory. Darwin did not coin the phrase, and did not like it. Very few scientific theories lend themselves to brisk three- or four-word descriptions. This is not even the worst case. Try tangling with a person who takes Einstein's theories to mean that "everything is relative," a thing that Einstein rather emphatically did not believe!

*** For example: making generalizations, or even just a plural, out of "designing intelligence" suffers from the grievous problem that only one instance of designing intelligence is known to us, viz., our own. You can't build generalize much from a single data point.

Homeopathic practices 'risk lives'

By Pallab Ghosh BBC News science correspondent

Every year 20 people die in the UK after contracting malaria abroad

Some homeopathic practices tell people they need not take conventional anti-malaria drugs in high-risk parts of the world, an investigation by BBC2's Newsnight has revealed.

Instead the clinics say that their remedies are sufficient to protect against malaria.

Each year two million Britons travel to parts of the world where malaria is rife. About 2,000 of them return having contracted the disease.

In the vast majority of cases they have fallen ill because they have not taken any anti-malaria tablets.

But doctors have begun noticing some cases where patients have taken homeopathic remedies instead of licensed medicines.

Some have claimed that they were told that the homeopathic protection could be used instead of conventional medicine.

Dr Ron Behrens runs a travel clinic at the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases. He has seen several patients who thought they were safe because they were taking homeopathic remedies to protect them.

"We've certainly had patients admitted to our unit with falciparum, the malignant form of malaria, who have been taking homeopathic remedies - and without a doubt the fact that they were taking them and not effective drugs was the reason they had malaria," he says.

According to Dr Behrens some homeopaths are offering Britons travelling to the malaria belt an easy option and false hope.

"Sub Saharan Africa is a high risk of malaria. If they got it and they weren't immediately diagnosed and treated they could die and that claim would actually put their lives at risk," he says.

Undercover research

Such cases prompted the scientific campaigners, Sense About Science, to send an undercover researcher into 10 homeopathic practices.

She said that she was about to go to a malaria infested country. They all recommended doses of homeopathic remedies.

These were 99.99% water with an almost undetectable trace of quinine.

Newsnight followed up the research with a hidden camera.

A Newsnight researcher told a South London practice she would be travelling in Africa for three or four weeks, including high risk areas such as Malawi.

She said she did not like the side effects of the drugs the doctors prescribe, and asked if they could give her anything else.

This is the advice she was given by one homeopath:

"The doctors have this big fear thing about malaria... obviously it is a nasty thing, but actually, as I say, you can prevent it with the remedies and as you say the tablets are really horrible. They're very nasty, have nasty side effects, and I've seen quite a lot of patients who have had serious problems from them."

In that 20 minute consultation there was no mention of going to the doctor - the homeopath said you can prevent malaria by taking homeopathic remedies.

When Newsnight called the clinic asking why their consultant gave that advice, they said that this was a mistake. Normally they do tell people to go to their GP for serious conditions such as malaria, they added.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5178488.stm


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