NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 July 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Yogic flyers build 'shield of invincibility' around Israel


by Rory Mulholland Wed Jul 26, 11:14 AM ET

TIBERIAS, Israel (AFP) - Reuven Zelinkovsky was a colonel in the Israeli army, but now he has renounced military might to join a squadron of yogic flyers at the Sea of Galilee to throw a "shield of invincibility" around the Jewish state.

As Hezbollah rockets fired from nearby Lebanon boomed in the background, he explained that the solution to the latest conflict to engulf the Middle East was "not to kill the enemy but to kill enmity."

This can be done through the "technology" of yogic flying which, for those trained in the technique, is the spontaneous result of transcendental meditation, said Zelinkovsky as he emerged Tuesday from the first of two daily four-hour sessions.

The bespectacled electronics engineer, who served in the army from 1966 until 1982, is part of a worldwide movement led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the former guru to The Beatles.

The movement's Natural Law Party has unsuccessfully fielded candidates in US presidential and British general elections, touting yogic flying as a solution to the world's ills.

Yogic flying, derided by critics as glorified bum-hopping, is the purported ability to levitate through the advanced practice of transcendental meditation, or TM.

Proponents of the art say world peace can be achieved by thousands of simultaneous yogic flyers spread across the globe.

Here in Israel, according to a formula that says the square root of one percent of a country's population is the number needed to tap into a collective consciousness robust enough to create a "shield of invincibility," 265 people are needed.

But Zelinkovsky's squadron, which includes architects, health workers and pensioners, many of whom are also teachers of TM, now numbers only about 20 after falling from a peak of 65 last week.

This, he explained with the conviction of the converted, is why Israel's war with Hezbollah, which has already left hundreds dead, has not stopped.

"All my life I've been looking for scientific solutions to problems," said Zelinkovsky.

He slowly came to realise that his belief in the power of TM and military life were not compatible.

"I went to my commander and presented this solution. It was like talking to the wall so I left. In my mind I continue to be an army man. But now I use a new technology to serve the nation."

Alex Kutai, the leader of the yogic flying movement in Israel who titles himself the Prime Minister of the Peace Government of Israel, was leading the squadron at the lakeside Nof Ginnosar Hotel from where all other guests have fled for fear of being hit by rockets.

He has called on the elected Israeli government to recruit the required number of yogic flyers instead of wasting millions of dollars on military equipment.

As Zelinkovsky put it, "if you take the cost of the just the tail of an F-16 fighter jet you could have peace in the Middle East for a year. We can do what no army can do."

Across the border in Lebanon, another yogic flying group is believed to be at work but the group here in the Galilee is not currently in contact with them, said Zelinkovsky, who worked in telecoms after the army before becoming a full-time TM teacher.

An hour after he spoke to AFP, a rocket fired from Lebanon landed in the town of Mghar, just a few kilometres (miles) from the hotel, and killed a 15-year-old Arab Israeli girl.

Did 'Nessie' roam Down Under?


Evidence of giant marine reptiles swimming around Australia

Wednesday, July 26, 2006; Posted: 1:13 a.m. EDT (05:13 GMT)

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Australian scientists have identified two new species of ancient marine reptile, similar to the mythical Loch Ness monster, that swam in an Australian outback sea 115 million years ago.

The reptiles, named Umoonasaurus and Opallionectes, belonged to the Plesiosaurs group which included a "killer whale" type predator of the Jurassic period, palaeontologist Benjamin Kear from the University of Adelaide said on Wednesday.

Kear, whose team studied 30 opalized fossils mainly from around the outback mining town of Coober Pedy in South Australia state, said the long-necked marine reptiles swam in the shallow water of an inland sea that once existed in central Australia.

Freezing polar water covered large parts of Australia 115 million years ago when the island continent was located much closer to Antarctica.

The Umoonasaurus was about 2.4 meters (7.2 feet) long and had three crest-like ridges on its skull.

"Imagine a compact body with four flippers, a reasonably long neck, small head and short tail, much like a reptilian seal," Kear said in a statement.

The Opallionectes was much larger at six metres (18 feet), with masses of needle teeth used to trap small fish and squid.

Kear said most of the fossils found were of juvenile creatures, leading the scientists to believe they had discovered a seasonal breeding ground for the ancient reptiles.

The Loch Ness monster, sometimes called Nessie, is a mysterious and unidentified animal said to live in Loch Ness, a large freshwater lake in Scotland. Most scientists and experts say it's a hoax.

A Tale of One Teen and Two Cancer Treatments – Just Don't Say One of Them Doesn't Work


July 26, 2006 Trevor Butterworth

Coverage of the Abraham Starchild Cherrix's battle to forgo chemotherapy for alternative cancer therapy avoids talking about the fundamental issue: does the Hoxsey method work? And how would one go about making that judgment?

Here's an ethical dilemma: How do you report a treatment for cancer that has no basis in science, no demonstrable causal effectiveness, isn't available in the United States because it is banned by the Food and Drug Administration, and did nothing to cure the person who invented it?

Do you call the Hoxsey treatment quackery? Snake oil? A danger to public health? No, because journalists aren't supposed to decide what is and isn't proper medicine.

Unfortunately this respect for the fact that many Americans "believe" conventional medicine is less science than a matter of belief has taken a troubling turn in the case of a teen who want to take herbs rather than have chemotherapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. News reports on the decision by a judge to allow Abraham Starchild Cherrix to forego chemotherapy simply avoided any discussion of why the alternative treatment is banned in the United States and considered quackery by the medical profession.

The Associated Press story, which was carried by dozens of news organizations, simply reported that Cherrix

" had refused a second round of chemotherapy when he learned early this year that the cancer had returned. Abraham chose to instead go on a sugar-free, organic diet and take herbal supplements under the supervision of a clinic in Mexico."

And that was it on the underlying medical issue. Earlier Associated Press accounts did no better.

After leading its story with the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on Cherrix's body, The Washington Post reported that

"Abraham began researching an alternative treatment that consists of herbal supplements and an organic diet free of processed sugar. The treatment was initiated by Harry Hoxsey, a former Texas cancer clinic operator who was accused by the Food and Drug Administration of peddling worthless medicine -- and who died of cancer.

But Abraham's father became a believer in the Hoxsey method when the family traveled in March to the clinic in Mexico. "I've talked to the people who survived, and not only did they survive, they didn't have any side effects," he said.

With his family's support, Abraham began the Hoxsey regimen several months ago. His father says Abraham's tumors continue to grow, but more slowly."

This may be a sympathetic approach to take with a suffering teenager and his family. But it is a little too sympathetic. By describing Hoxsey as a "cancer clinic operator," readers might just think that Hoxsey had medical training; he didn't. It's also misleading to say that Hoxsey was "accused" of "peddling worthless medicine" when the FDA actually forced him to close all of his treatment centers for peddling worthless medicine.

(By comparison, ABC7, Washington DC's local ABC news affiliate, did a far better job of covering the medical background to this story.)

Another problem with the Washington Post's coverage is that its earlier stories link to Abraham's Journey, a site that covers the case from his perspective and solicits donations for the Cherrix family, but there are no links to any conventional medical source on treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma or, crucially, the American Cancer Society's examination and dismissal of the evidence for the Hoxsey method.

The issue of what counts as reliable evidence came up in Ann Curry's interview with Cherrix on the Today show

CURRY: The American Cancer Society says there is no evidence that this treatment that you're taking works. So why do you have faith in it?

Mr. A. CHERRIX: Well, the American Cancer Society says that there's no evidence, but there is plenty of evidence if they would take the time to actually look through it. I've done extensive research, and I've read the testimonies of people who have been cured by alternative medicine, and I've seen it firsthand. I've met with these people.

This is the kind of argument that presumably led syndicated columnist Cal Thomas to write " I have heard Starchild Cherrix interviewed… and he sounds intelligent, articulate, reasonable and capable of making such a major decision [about his treatment]."

But here's the problem: Cherrix's choice to abandon chemotherapy may have the appearance of rationality – he engaged in pro and contra reasoning. And that rational exercise in relation to medical treatment is usually considered an individual right when you are an adult.

But one cannot be impartial with respect to the evidence. For Cherrix to weigh the benefits of Hoxsey over chemotherapy may seem like a rational exercise; but it is fundamentally irrational if there is no attempt to apply a common standard of evaluation to both therapies.

Not to be cruel, but few, if any, 16-year olds can claim genuine expertise in oncology or epidemiology or the statistical methods needed to evaluate clinical research. Indeed, given the formidable training required to conduct such research, it is arguable that no 16-year old could possess such expertise (for similar reasons, we do not consider even those teenagers who possess remarkable intellectual talents as candidates for supreme court vacancies, chairs of constitutional history or even TV pundits).

And then there is the dearth of comparable, analyzable evidence for the alternative cancer treatments. As the American Cancer Society notes on its website:

"Only 2 human studies of the Hoxsey herbal treatment have been published. One was published in a pamphlet provided by the Tijuana clinic and simply contains a description of 9 patients who received the treatment. It concluded that the treatment is effective, even though most of the Hoxsey-treated patients received standard cancer treatment in addition to the Hoxsey treatment. The other study published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine involved 39 people with various types of cancer who took the Hoxsey herbal treatment. Ten patients died after an average of 15 months and 23 never completed the study. Only 6 patients were disease-free after 48 months.

The National Advisory Cancer Council studied many of Hoxsey's patient records and learned that most of the patients had never had biopsies, so that there was no confirmation that they actually had cancer. The National Cancer Institute investigated 400 patients who were reported as cured by Hoxsey. Patients or their families were interviewed, and all records were carefully reviewed. These patients fell into 3 groups: those who had been treated, but didn't actually have cancer; those who had received successful conventional cancer treatment before seeing Hoxsey; and those who had cancer and had died of it, or were still alive with evidence of cancer. Out of the 400 cases, not one case of a Hoxsey cure could be documented."

The fact is that the way the media covers this case will have an effect on public health and the public's understanding of science. Reporters must go beyond the mere right to choose treatment in their stories and focus on what counts as a rational choice in choosing between treatments.

The principles enunciated by Cherrix are, at best, those of 19 th century medicine. Adults have the right to choose such principles in guiding their treatment if they so wish; but they need to be aware that you can't practice 19 th century medicine without achieving 19 th century mortality rates.

The entire "conventional" medicine community doesn't believe that Hoxsey is a hoax without reasons that speak to the success of science and the failure of non-scientific thinking. Those reasons need to be explained by reporters. "He said, she said" journalism is not just insufficient in a case like this, it's wrong. All the hearsay in the world cannot "balance" out one rigorously-executed clinical trial. To act otherwise is to endanger the public.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Menopause Symptoms -- Herbs No Help?


Review of Hundreds of Studies Finds No Evidence Supporting Alternative/Complementary Therapies By Daniel DeNoon WebMD Medical News Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD on Monday, July 24, 2006

July 24, 2006 – There's no proof any of the alternative or complementary therapies used by women for menopausal symptoms help -- at least not in English-language scientific literature.

That's the conclusion of Oregon Health & Science University researcher Ann Nedrow, MD, and colleagues. Nedrow and colleagues looked in 1,432 studies for evidence any nonmedical treatment might work.

They found 70 studies that met scientific standards, but none that had evidence proving an alternative or complementary therapy relieves any symptom of menopausemenopause. This doesn't mean the therapies don't or can't work. It only means there's no proof they do.

"Lifestyle modification and mind-body techniques may have high safety profiles and result in additional health benefits," Nedrow and colleagues conclude. "Many alternative therapies used by menopausal women, such as massage, aromatherapy, yoga, and ayurvedic therapy, need to be studied in randomized, controlled trials," they say.

Types of Therapies

Nedrow and colleagues note five categories of alternative/complementary therapies:

For example, one trial showed a benefit for a brand of black cohosh, as did earlier German studies. But other studies found no benefit -- and the various studies can't be compared directly.

The biggest problem, however, is the placebo effect, which is particularly strong for menopausal symptoms. In a study of hormone therapy for hot flasheshot flashes, for example, half of the women getting fake treatment said their symptoms improved.

Nedrow and colleagues note that 42% of Americans used some kind of alternative medicine in the last year. Menopausal symptoms are one of the most common reasons for seeking these treatments. Yet 70% of menopausal women using them don't tell their doctors.

The researchers say more high-quality research is needed. Until then, they urge doctors to create an atmosphere in which menopausal women feel free to discuss any treatments they may be using.

Nedrow and colleagues report their findings in the July 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

SOURCES: Nedrow, A. Archives of Internal Medicine, July 24, 2006; vol 166: pp 1453-1465.

Surprising Finding: Acupuncture May Not Help Stroke Patients


Release Date:July 24, 2006

By Glenda Fauntleroy, Contributing Writer Health Behavior News Service

Updated 10:30 a.m., 7/25/2006

Although acupuncture has been used in China for hundreds of years and more frequently in Western countries to treat chronic stroke, there is no clear proof that the therapy improves patients' rehabilitation, a new review has found.

This finding appears to cast some uncertainty on a commonly accepted medical intervention for one of the most disabling health conditions of older adults worldwide.

"The results of the systematic review are really surprising to me," said lead author Hongmei Wu, M.D., of the West China Hospital in Si Chuan. "In China, acupuncture has been well accepted by Chinese patients and is widely used for stroke rehabilitation."

According to the authors, the review's intent was to provide evidence that acupuncture should be routinely used to rehabilitate patients with subacute or chronic stroke. Acupuncture has been used to improve patients' motor, sensation, speech and other neurological functions — but the available research failed to offer sound evidence of the effects of this therapy.

The review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates research in all aspects of health care. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing trials on a topic.

The reviewers analyzed five randomized controlled clinical trials that included a total of 368 patients who ranged in age from 24 to 86 years. The patients suffered from either ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke in the subacute (one or three months since onset) or chronic (more than three months since onset) phases. Four studies were conducted in China and one was performed in the United States.

The studies in the systemic review evaluated treatment that involved "traditional" acupuncture in which needles were inserted in classical meridian points, or "contemporary" acupuncture where needles were inserted into non-meridian or trigger points.

Meridian points were established in ancient acupuncture as areas mapped on the body in 14 specific zones to treat disorders and diseases. Of these major meridian zones, one corresponds to each of the 12 inner organs, one to the spine and one along the abdomen. Trigger points, however, are spots on the body that are associated with muscle groups.

Although there was some overall improvement after acupuncture treatment, the Cochrane reviewers said this result needs to be "interpreted with caution" due to the insufficient number and general poor quality of the clinical trials.

"From the available evidence, we found that stroke patients do experience some benefits from acupuncture therapy," said Wu. "But most studies are poor in methodological quality, so the continued recommendation for acupuncture on stroke rehabilitation is uncertain."

Stroke ranks as the third leading cause of death in the world and is a main reason for disability and dependency in the elderly. According to the reviewers, stroke is the second most common cause of death in China's cities and the third common cause in its rural areas. For this reason, researchers are driven to find treatments to improve the outcome of stroke rehabilitation.

Acupuncture is one of the main medical treatments in traditional Chinese medicine and began more than 2,000 years in China. The practice has gained popularity in the United States during the past 20 years, according to National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.

In fact, a 2002 National Health Interview Survey of complementary and alternative medicine use found that about 8.2 million U.S. adults had ever used acupuncture in their lives, and an estimated 2.1 million had used acupuncture the previous year.

Acupuncture's popularity for treatment of stroke can be traced to its promising results, and relatively mild less side effects and inexpensive cost.

"Acupuncture has been used for the treatment of stroke for centuries; however, as with many CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] modalities, the evidence is not clearly supportive of its benefits," said Brian Berman, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine.

The reviewers concluded that large, methodologically sound trials are "definitely needed" to confirm or disprove the available evidence, said Wu.

"There was evidence of improvement of global neurological deficit, but the trials were not methodologically strong," agreed Berman. "So, the best we can say is the results are inconclusive and better randomized trials are needed."

Wu added that better evidence may, in fact, become available in the coming months as the Chinese Cochrane Center is currently conducting a clinical trial about acupuncture for acute stroke.

# # #

Health Behavior News Service: Lisa Esposito, editor, at (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.

Wu HM, et al. Acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3.

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international nonprofit, independent organization that produces and disseminates systematic reviews of health care interventions and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other studies of interventions. Visit http://www.cochrane.org for more information.


Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.

Center for the Advancement of Health
Contact: Ira R. Allen
Vice President for Public Affairs

Lubbock, Texas, plans to pray for rain


LUBBOCK, Texas, July 24 (UPI) -- Public officials in Lubbock, Texas, are organizing a day to pray for rain.

"Nobody is going to tell God what to do and what not to do, but we are in a serious drought in West Texas and since he is the man who controls the rain clouds, we're asking him for his mercy and his help," Mayor David Miller told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

The City Council and the Lubbock County commissioners are expected to adopt resolutions this week asking local residents to both pray and fast for rain this Sunday.

So far this year, Lubbock has received about half of its normal 10 inches. In the weeks since June 1, the growing season for cotton, rainfall has been a scant .75 inches, far less than the normal 4.43 inches.

Officials have tried prayers before and say they were answered. In January 2004, after a year of drought, the city and county set aside a Sunday to pray for rain and got the second-wettest year since records have been kept.

(c) Copyright 2006 United Press International, Inc.



Jul 24 2006

Astronauts' close encounter

By Mike Swain

THE first men to walk on the Moon reported seeing a UFO, a new TV documentary reveals.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon's surface after Neil Armstrong, says space agency bosses covered up their sighting.

And the Apollo 11 astronauts were also careful not to talk ab out it openly.

He said: "There was something out there, close enough to be observed, and what could it be?

"Now, obviously the three of us weren't going to blurt out, 'Hey, Houston, we've got something moving alongside of us and we don't know what it is, you know?

"Can you tell us what it is?'

"We weren't about to do that, because we knew that that those transmissions would be heard by all sorts of people and somebody might have demanded we turn back because of aliens or whatever the reason is."

The documentary, tonight on Five, also reveals that the astronauts had to repair the lunar module with a ballpoint pen after the historic landing in July 1969.

In the cramped conditions, someone's bulky spacesuit had snapped off a circuit breaker essential for starting up the engine.

To this day, Aldrin treasures the everyday object that saved their lives.

He said: "I used a pen, one of several that we had on board that didn't have metal on the end, and we used that to push the circuit breaker in."

The programme also draws on classified documents made public for the first time.

Supervisors to Reconsider Narcanon


By Kristopher Daams Signal Staff Writer

Tuesday July 25, 2006

County officials will review a decision made earlier this year that paved the way for a Scientology-based drug and alcohol treatment facility to be located on Bouquet Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest.

Narconon is an international drug rehabilitation organization that uses the "research and developments" derived from author L. Ron Hubbard in its rehabilitation treatments, according to Narconon's Web site.

The organization received approval in early January of a 66-bed facility on a 30-acre lot about 15 miles outside of Santa Clarita.

Fifth District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich had the approval by the county's Regional Planning Commission come under review by the supervisors after members of the public made their concerns known.

"I don't know that that has played a role in all this," said Antonovich deputy Norm Hickling, when asked if residents' fear of the center was a significant factor.

Hickling spoke of concerns made by the public regarding fire safety, public safety, traffic access, response times by sheriff's deputies and road conditions as the reasons why Antonovich had the decision come under review.

"It's been direct concerns about the location and the potential occupation and the number of people to be housed there," Hickling said.

The facility would have a staff of 11 people and a 10-year permit to operate, should officials uphold the decision as is.

Conditions for the permit mandate the exclusion of registered sex offenders and people with a violent criminal record from being admitted to the facility.

Security personnel are required to be on the premises 24 hours a day and the permittee is to request to be on the agenda of the Leona Valley Town Council at least once a year.

Hickling said the facility would be about halfway between the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, just north of the intersection of Bouquet Canyon and Spunky Canyon roads as well as the Bouquet Reservoir.

Narconon was founded by a former inmate of the Arizona State Prison system named William Benitez, a former heroin addict, according to Narconon's Web site.

Copyright:The Signal

Evolution Rocks Northeast Georgia Town


Megan Heidlberg WNEG NewsCHANNEL 32 Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Theory of Evolution is a hot topic in Georgia classrooms. Some believe it shouldn't be taught at all. One Lumpkin County teacher received backlash from parents and administrators when she taught her middle schoolers Evolution. So much so, she decided to retire early.

"Thank you for what you do," read former middle school teacher Pat New, who as of recently has been bombarded with letters of encouragement. But the letters of support didn't start pouring in until after a dark period in her 29 year teaching career.

"It was a tough year. The toughest year I've ever had in teaching," recalls New.

She's referring to the 2004-2005 school year. That's when she started teaching Evolution to her Life Science students at Lumpkin County Middle School. Before then Pat says other teachers at her school told her to avoiod teaching from the Evolution book provided to her by the school system. When she started teaching it, she received backlash from some parents and administrators.

"That's when I started having problems with parents asking me was I teaching Evolution as a fact? Of course my response which I though would take care of it was yes I am," says New.

But it didn't. She says she was constantly pulled out of her classroom for conferences about why she was teaching Evolution. Once she proved it was part of state standards, the backlash from administrators stopped.

"In 2004, the Spring of 2004, they finally accepted the National Standards for teaching Science. In those national standards Evolution was a big part of it."

But she still had parents that didn't want their children to learn about Evolution. After her story was picked up by the New York Times she started receiving letters of support from all over the country. She continued teaching throughout the 2006 school year, but then retired a year early. While she has good memories of her ten years in Lumpkin County, the whole battle left a bad taste in her mouth and she's ready to move on. Although she admits, it will be hard.

"We both really loved teaching. We're gonna miss a lot about teaching."

Both Pat and her husband Ward taught at Lumpkin County Middle School. He taught Science too. They were also the only ones at the school with National Board Certification.




Written by CORNELIA DEAN Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Nowadays, when legislation supporting promising scientific research falls to religious opposition, the forces of creationism press school districts to teach doctrine on a par with evolution and even the Big Bang is denounced as out-of-compliance with Bible-based calculations for the age of the earth, scientists have to be brave to talk about religion.

Not to denounce it, but to embrace it.

That is what Francis S. Collins, Owen Gingerich and Joan Roughgarden have done in new books, taking up one side of the stormy argument over whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method.

With no apology and hardly any arm-waving, they describe their beliefs, how they came to them and how they reconcile them with their work in science.

In "The Language of God," Dr. Collins, the geneticist who led the American government's effort to decipher the human genome, describes his own journey from atheism to committed Christianity, a faith he embraced as a young physician.

In "God's Universe," Dr. Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is "personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos."

And in "Evolution and Christian Faith," Dr. Roughgarden, the child of Episcopal missionaries and now an evolutionary biologist at Stanford, tells of her struggles to fit the individual into the evolutionary picture — an effort complicated in her case by the fact that she is transgender, and therefore has views at odds with some conventional Darwinian thinking about sexual identity.

If his eminence in science were not so unassailable, a fourth author, the biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard, might also be taking a chance by arguing that religion and science ought to take up arms together to encourage respect for and protection of nature or, as he calls it in his new book, "The Creation."

Although he writes that he no longer embraces the faith of his childhood — he describes himself as "a secular humanist" — Dr. Wilson shapes his book as a "Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor," in hopes that if "religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved."

Coming as they do from a milieu in which religious belief of any kind is often dismissed as little more than magical thinking, this is bravery indeed.

But other new books, taking a different approach, also claim the mantle of bravery.

In "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and theorist of cognition at Tufts, refers again and again to the "brave" researchers (including himself) who challenge religion. In "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, once again likens religious faith to a disease and sets as his goal convincing his readers that atheism is "a brave" aspiration.

Of course, just as the professors of faith cannot prove (except to themselves) that God exists, the advocates for atheism acknowledge that they cannot prove (not yet, anyway ) that God does not exist. Instead, Drs. Dawkins and Dennett sound two major themes: a) the theory of evolution is correct, and creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are wrong; and b) a field of research called evolutionary psychology can explain why religious belief seems to be universal among Homo sapiens.

But these sermons, which the authors preach with what can fairly be described as religious fervor, are unsatisfying.

Of course there is no credible scientific challenge to Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. So what? The theory of evolution says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. People might argue about what sort of supreme being would work her will through such a seemingly haphazard arrangement, but that is not the same as denying that she exists in the first place.

In any event, as Dr. Gingerich argues, in simultaneously defending evolution and insisting upon atheism, Dr. Dawkins probably "single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists."

And evolutionary psychology as a prism through which to view contemporary human behavior is open to many challenges. Some have come from critics who dismiss much of it as little more than "Just-So Stories" designed to explain or justify the status quo. So it seems strange to see its logic cited as a weapon against the story-telling aspects of religion.

All of which leads one to ask, who are these books for? The question is easy to answer when it comes to Drs. Collins, Roughgarden or Gingerich. First would be young people raised in religious families, who as they progress through school suddenly confront scientific reality that challenges Sunday morning dogma.

"I have been struck," Dr. Roughgarden writes, "by how the 'debate' over teaching evolution is not about plants and animals but about God and whether science somehow threatens one's belief in God."

Or as Dr. Collins put it, when religions require belief in "fundamentally flawed claims" about the world, they force curious and intelligent congregants to reject science, "effectively committing intellectual suicide," a choice he calls "terrible and unnecessary."

But does science require the abandonment of faith? Not necessarily, and certainly not entirely, these authors argue.

Also, people who read these books will realize that it is impossible to tar all scientists with the brush of amorality. The books challenge those who fear that science and ethics may end up at war, a possibility raised by President Bush last week, when he vetoed legislation supporting stem cell research.

On the other hand, as the (atheist) physicist Steven Weinberg has famously put it, and as Drs. Dawkins and Dennett remind their readers, good people tend to do good, evil people tend to do evil, but for a good person to do evil — "that takes religion."

But it is hard to believe that people who reject science on religious grounds will stick with the Dennett and Dawkins books, filled as they are with denunciation not just of their ideas but of themselves.

This is unfortunate because, as Dr. Roughgarden points out, it is crucial in our society for people of faith, the vast majority of our population, to understand the issues of contemporary science. "I'd love to discuss the moral issues of biotechnology within a community of faith," she writes. "But most church congregations and their leaders are not prepared for those discussions."

Perhaps another book, "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast," can help bridge that gap. It is by Lewis Wolpert, a biologist at University College London. It has been published in England, and it is to appear in the United States in January.

Dr. Wolpert writes about the way people think about cause and effect, citing among other work experiments on how we reason, how we assess risk, and the rules of thumb and biases that guide us when we make decisions. He is looking into what he calls "causal belief" — the idea that events or conditions we experience have a cause, possibly a supernatural cause.

Human reasoning is "beset with logical problems that include overdependence on authority, overemphasis on coincidence, distortion of the evidence, circular reasoning, use of anecdotes, ignorance of science and failures of logic," he writes. And whatever these traits may say about acceptance of religion, they have a lot to do with public misunderstanding of science.

So, he concludes, "We have to both respect, if we can, the beliefs of others, and accept the responsibility to try and change them if the evidence for them is weak or scientifically improbable."

This is where the scientific method comes in. If scientists are prepared to state their hypotheses, describe how they tested them, lay out their data, explain how they analyze their data and the conclusions they draw from their analyses — then it should not matter if they pray to Zeus, Jehovah, the Tooth Fairy, or nobody.

Their work will speak for itself.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Q&A with Francis S. Collins, leader of Genome Project


11:14 AM CDT on Saturday, July 22, 2006

By SUE GOETINCK AMBROSE / The Dallas Morning News

Francis S. Collins, the leader of the U.S. government's Human Genome Project, is a devout Christian. In his new book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, $26), he describes his own conversion and the logic behind his beliefs – all the while respecting evidence for Darwinian evolution, the Big Bang and an earth that is billions of years old. Dr. Collins' book encourages scientists to explore religion, and religious people to explore science.

He spoke with Dallas Morning News Science Writer Sue Goetinck Ambrose. Here are excerpts.

You've spoken about your faith before. What prompted you to write this book?

I had been increasingly concerned about polarization between those who hold the scientific and spiritual worldviews. There are colleagues in my scientific circle who assert that evolution means that God is no longer necessary, and that the only intellectually satisfying choice for a scientist is to be an atheist. On the other side, we have voices coming from a conservative religious perspective who challenge whether science is trustworthy.

You make the case that belief in God is rational. If that's true, why are so many scientists skeptics?

Scientists are trained to be skeptical of anything you can't demonstrate without data. It may be difficult for them, therefore, to accept the fact that this is not necessarily the right way to approach questions like, "Is there a God?"

If God exists, he must be outside of nature. And in that regard, science doesn't really provide you with the tools necessary to discover him.

Do you think there's peer pressure not to be overtly religious?

There's an unstated taboo in the scientific community about discussing religion. Some young scientists get the sense that if they do talk about religion they might be considered intellectually soft.

What about religious people who can't accept evolution?

Many who have been raised in conservative religious households and who have been taught to interpret Genesis as literal truth are very hung up on what science tells us about the age of the earth, the relatedness of species and the process of evolution. In many evangelical churches, you see a strong embrace of "intelligent design" as an opportunity, basically, to fight back against Darwin.

For me, there is really no conflict here – if God chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create creatures in his image, who are we to say that's not how we would have done it?

You were once a skeptic. What was the biggest hurdle you had to clear to accept a religious viewpoint?

Like many scientists, I was afflicted with the mindset of reductionism: Anything worth understanding can be understood by using the tools of science and basic physical and mathematical principles. Also there was an aspect of plain arrogance; I had developed such a sense of being able to understand everything through my own intellect that it wasn't necessary to contemplate the fact that there might be mysteries beyond that. Those things together led me in my 20s to be a pretty obnoxious atheist.

You're a Christian, but as a geneticist and biologist, how do you account for miracles like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection?

I have no problem accepting that miracles can occur. Here's the logic: As soon as you accept the possibility that God exists and is outside of nature, then there is no reason why a supernatural being could not, on occasion, stage an invasion of the natural world.

What do you make of the recent study from Duke University that found that intercessory prayer had no effect on health? That was an attempt to put prayer to a test.

I have to say, this whole area of research strikes me as odd.

Prayer is our opportunity to try to get into communication with God to better understand his will for our lives, not an occasion to manipulate his plans.

So you don't see prayer as asking for favors? A lot of people do.

This is perhaps an unfortunate aspect of Christianity – that prayer is presented as your way of getting what you want, that by just figuring out the right words to say to God, you can somehow convince him to do something that he wasn't really planning to do.

I think prayer is a conversation ... I don't think it's a way of bargaining with God.

What do you recommend for believers who want to learn more about science?

I think believers ought to be in the forefront of those trying to understand scientific advances and to participate in those advances. It would be dangerous for our future for believers to decide that science is untrustworthy and that they should avoid exposure to it.

You know, if God is the author of truth, we should not be afraid to seek that truth, wherever it leads us. You can find God in the cathedral, or you can find him in the laboratory. He's the greatest scientist there is. He's the author of it all.

What do you recommend for scientists who want to explore religion more?

They can reach out and find that there are many others who are like-minded, if they can only tap into the right network. There is an organization, the American Scientific Affiliation, which is a group of scientists from multiple disciplines who are serious Christians. They meet annually and publish a journal.

The choice about belief in God is the most important decision anyone makes. If you're earnestly seeking him, obviously much of it has to begin by reading more about him.

E-mail sgoetinck@dallasnews.com

And the Evolutionary Beat Goes On . . .


By Shankar Vedantam Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, July 24, 2006; A07

Stephen Jay Gould would have been pleased.

No, not about his mug shot at the endpoint of evolution in the illustration above, but about the growing evidence that evolution is not just real but is actually happening to human beings right now.

"From 1970 to 2000, there was a widespread view that although natural selection is very important, it is relatively rare," said Jonathan Pritchard, a geneticist at the University of Chicago. "That view was driven largely because we did not have data to identify the signals of natural selection. . . . In the last five years or so, there has been a tremendous growth in our understanding of how much selection there is."

That insight has only deepened as scientists have gained the ability to read the entire human genome, the chain of "letters" that spell out humanity's genetic identity.

"Signals of natural selection are incredibly widespread across the human genome," Pritchard said. "Everywhere we look, there appears to be very widespread signals of natural selection in many genes and many processes."

Pritchard helped write a recent paper that identified some of those changes. The paper was published in the public access journal PLoS Biology.

The research offers a fascinating snapshot into how the human genome has continued to change as humans adapted to new circumstances over the past 10,000 years. As people went from hunter-gatherers to agricultural societies, for instance, there is evidence of genetic adaptations to new diseases and diets.

Europeans seem to be adapting to the increased availability of dairy products, with genetic changes that allow the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in milk, to be available throughout life, not just in infancy. Similarly, East Asians show genetic changes that affect the metabolism of the sugar sucrose, while the Yoruba people in sub-Saharan Africa show genetic changes that alter how they metabolize the sugar mannose.

Where starvation was once widespread in humans' evolutionary history, making it genetically advantageous to conserve calories as much as possible, the abundance of food in many countries today has led to the opposite problem -- risk factors and diseases related to metabolic overload, including obesity and diabetes -- suggesting these could be areas in which natural selection may currently be active, as genetic variations that help protect against such disorders gain selective advantage.

There are also a host of changes at the genetic level that scientists do not yet understand -- they are probably useful, but it is not clear how.

Several changes seem related to fertility and reproduction, areas of very high relevance to natural selection. The basic protein structure of sperm may have changed in East Asians and the Yoruba; East Asians also show genetic changes related to sperm motility; and Europeans show genetic changes related to egg viability, fertilization and the female immune response to sperm.

Pritchard said his research does not speak directly to Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" hypothesis that suggests that evolution progresses in leaps and starts. That is because Gould focused on large changes in form or structure, whereas Pritchard studies subtler changes at the genetic level.

"If you met a human from 10,000 years ago," Pritchard quipped, "they may look a little different, but if you dressed them right, they would probably blend in. Gould's talking about changes in body plan and broader changes."

To spot natural selection at work, Pritchard and Bruce Lahn, also a geneticist at the University of Chicago who has conducted independent research in the same area, first look for places along the human genome to identify sites that show changes in some people but not in others. Then they look at the genetic material surrounding the changed part.

If the surrounding area looks very different from one person to the next, the particular change probably occurred a long time ago, because the general area has had time to accumulate other changes in the DNA. If there are not many differences in the surrounding genetic sequence, that indicates the particular change is relatively new.

Then scientists figure out how widespread that particular change is in large populations. Changes that are both new and widespread reveal the hand of natural selection -- since advantageous genetic changes will quickly spread through the population.

Next, scientists try to guess what the genetic change is accomplishing. If the change is in a part of the genome known to be involved in the immune system, the change may have something to do with responding to new diseases. Other changes may have to do with brain functioning or skin color.

Europeans, for example, show strong changes over the past 10,000 years in genes that affect skin color -- as humans moved into northern Europe, where there was less ultraviolet light, there was a strong evolutionary advantage to having lighter skin to allow in more ultraviolet light, which is needed to synthesize Vitamin D.

Lahn found changes in two genes, dubbed ASPM and MCPH1, that are known to be involved in brain development. He published his results recently in the journal Science.

While genetic changes, especially related to the brain, may prompt people to think different populations are evolving different mental abilities, both Lahn and Pritchard pooh-poohed this idea. For one thing, they pointed out, biology is complex, and the same genes often play multiple roles in the body. A gene that affects brain development may also play a role in the immune system, so it is not possible to say with certainty that natural selection has favored the change because of its effect on the brain.

Besides, Pritchard added, scientists found about the same number of changes in all three groups they studied, suggesting that evolution is taking place everywhere, adapting different groups to the particulars of their ecological niches.

Come to think of it, the late Stephen Jay Gould might have been upset with the above illustration. Contrary to the popular imagination, evolution is not a linear process that culminates in the triumphal ascent of humans at the top of the genetic heap. The process is analogous to a bush, where twigs and leaves push out in every direction.

When biologists talk about evolution and the survival of the fittest, they do not necessarily mean the strongest, fastest or smartest. Fitness is whatever works in a particular environment, and the new research shows that as environments change, notions of fitness change, too.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Proposed Template for Ohio Teachers Ignites Intelligent Design Debate


WDC MEDIA NEWS Christian News and Media Agency

2006-07-24 --

(AgapePress) - A proposal before the Ohio Board of Education has rekindled the debate over how evolution should be taught in the classroom.

Conservative Board member Colleen Grady recently floated a proposal that would create a "template" teachers could use for classroom discussions on issues such as evolution, global warming, stem-cell research and cloning. However, liberal groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State have raised concerns about the plan.

Critics say Grady's proposal would allow for the teaching of intelligent design theory in schools. But the executive director of the Intelligent Design Network of Ohio, Roddy Bullock, says, on the contrary, the plan would simply allow for criticism of Darwinian evolution.

"The idea," Bullock explains, "is to open up these topics to different points of view, to different lines of evidence, to different interpretations of the evidence, to give students a more objective approach to science education." He says evolution, as it is now taught in many schools and defended by many Darwinist groups, has become a protected dogma that some believe must be defended at all costs.

"These groups -- I don't want to impute any motives to them that I've not aware of -- but it appears they are simply building a defense around Darwinism," Bullock contends, "and any action on the part of any school board or any local school district or any teacher that would in any way criticize Darwinism suddenly becomes an object of litigation."

In February, the Ohio Board of Education dumped its "Critical Analysis of Evolution" lesson plan after facing intense pressure from Darwinists. The Board abandoned the science lesson plan just one month after narrowly voting against a proposal to remove it.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.

© 2006 AgapePress

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Group plans road trip to promote science standards


Tour will focus on controversial issue before school board elections

By Sarah Kessinger

Harris News Service


TOPEKA - A group defending the state's new science testing standards for public schools plans a road show next week through Kansas just days before state school board elections.

A leader of the Intelligent Design Network says the speaking tour has nothing to do with efforts to promote re-election of neo-conservative school board members friendly to their cause.

"Our goal is to make sure the public is properly informed on that issue," said John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network at Lake Quivira.

He has lined up speakers who helped write the state's controversial new test standards for high school biology.

Critics say the campaign, with most of its stops in evangelical churches, is all about using the intelligent design agenda as a wedge to get voters to the polls Aug. 1.

"That seems disingenuous," said Jeremy Mohn, a biology teacher in the Blue Valley school district. "But that's not a surprise when you consider what they do."

The tour will stop in Hutchinson, Hays and Dodge City in western Kansas. Two school board members, Ken Willard and Connie Morris, drew Republican challengers in those areas in part because they had voted to change state science standards last year.

Morris, who represents western Kansas, said Wednesday she hopes the Intelligent Design Network's effort does encourage Kansans to get out and vote.

Calvert said he aimed for churches because "I think the religious community has been a target of the misinformation. We had the chance to have secular forums, but thought we should start with the places that are the target of the misinformation."

Calvert terms evolution itself a religion and says the new standards allow for criticism of the theory to make teaching more objective.

Mainstream scientists, however, roundly criticize Calvert and the changes as part of an effort to promote a narrow conservative Christian agenda. Advocating a particular religion in public schools is unconstitutional.

Calvert's tour comes shortly after the announcement of a new Web site by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which also promotes intelligent design, a theory that certain natural features are so complex they are the product of an intelligent cause rather than random mutation and natural selection.

Robert Crowther, spokesman at the institute, said the site was a response to an effort by Kansas Citizens for Science, a statewide group of mainstream scientists and science teachers.

"We were concerned they were misleading people about what the science standards say and do," Crowther said.

The citizens group sent out letters to local school boards last month urging them to reject the new standards. The Manhattan-Ogden school board voted earlier this year to do so.

Crowther said the institute's Web effort isn't targeting the elections a few weeks away.

"This is a long-term initiative. There is a national debate over how to teach evolution," he said. "This Web site will be around long after the elections are over."

However, Kansas Citizens for Science and others are fighting back with their own public education campaign.

They express alarm at the teachings of the Intelligent Design Network, which helped write the changes as part of a splinter group that broke off from the majority of the state's science standards writing committee. The state school board then endorsed their work.

Mohn, the biology teacher, recently posted his own Web site to advocate against the changes.

"In a lot of ways, science as a community isn't as well organized or as well funded as an organization like the Intelligent Design Network or the Discovery Institute. So, I thought since they have a Web site, mine would be a response to that," Mohn said.

He and Jack Krebs, a math teacher and leader in Kansas Citizens for Science, say they want to help the public understand the theory of evolution and that it can be compatible with people's religious beliefs.

"I think in a lot of ways, unfortunately, Kansans are confused. We can do a better job of helping people understand the issue," Mohn said. "I'd prefer to do radio ads, but unfortunately I don't have funds to do anything like that."

Public forums scheduled by the Intelligent Design Network:

??Kansas City: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Olathe Bible Church

•Emporia: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Victory Fellowship, The Foursquare Church

•Hutchinson: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, South Hutchinson Mennonite Church

•Dodge City: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Church of the Nazarene

•Hays: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Thomas More Prep School.

Another forum on state science standards:

What: "What's the Matter with Kansas' Science Standard, and Why Should You Care?"

A presentation by Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science and members of the Science Standards Writing Committee

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday

Where: Shears Technology Center, Hutchinson Community College

Learn more about the science standards debate on TV:

Kansas public television will air "On the Record" on evolution, produced by KPTS/Wichita, at 8 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday on KPTS/Wichita. It also will air at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on KTWU and noon Sunday on Smoky Hills Public Television.

Scheduled to discuss the state science standards that have fueled political debate for the past several years are Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, and John Calvert, managing director of the Kansas Intelligent Design Network.

07/23/2006; 10:29:04 AM

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ken Ham talks about the creationist perspective

By Kevin Eigelbach Post staff reporter

The non-profit Answers in Genesis, one of the country's leading proponents of the belief that God created the world in 6 days about 6,000 years ago, is building a museum in Boone County to promote creationism.

Earlier this month, Answers in Genesis launched a magazine called Answers, whose first issue featured articles such as "The World: Born in 4004 BC?" and "Bird Flu: Has it Evolved?"

Post religion reporter Kevin Eigelbach sat down with Answers in Genesis President and CEO Ken Ham, the Australian-born defender of the literal truth of the Bible's Book of Genesis, to talk about the quarterly magazine, the museum and the creationist perspective.

Q: Why this magazine?

Ham: We look on this ministry as like a big reservoir. We've got all this information, that many people in the public don't have. So we look for every means by which we can get that information out to the public. The magazine is another way of doing it.

Q: When did you decide you were going to launch a magazine?

Ham: We've been discussing for the last two or three years the need for a magazine that deals with the Christian worldview, deals with the culture war.

We felt that to deal with that culture war, we needed to be more worldview in emphasis, as well as dealing with the creation/evolution issues, combine it all together in one publication. This year, we made the move to move ahead and make something that was always culturally relevant to the USA in particular.

Q: Where do you anticipate distributing the magazine, and to whom?

Ham: We have a mailing list of around 40,000, and at the rate that it's climbing right now, we expect it to get over 60,000-70,000 by this time next year. If we can get to that by this time next year, we're going to change it to a bimonthly (rather than quarterly, as it is now).

When the museum opens (scheduled for next year), it's going to be one of the flagship publications in the bookstore. With our prediction of hundreds of thousands of people visiting the museum, we suspect that the magazine will soar as a result of that. We're predicting this will get up to 100,000 subscriptions within - well, it's possible within 12 to 18 months it could be over 100,000 subscriptions.

Q: When you say "a culture war," what are you talking about?

Ham: Basically, the secularization of the culture. For instance, when you look at our public schools ... they're saying that you can explain the whole of reality without God. So we would say they have not thrown out religion, they have thrown out Christianity and they've redefined science as naturalism, because that's an arbitrary definition.

So the culture war really comes down to, does man's reason determine truth, or is there a God who knows everything, who we can trust, who has revealed to mankind the truth about history, which we would say is what the Bible is, and a record of true history. The bottom line is, if you don't have someone who knows everything, then there's always an aspect of man's reason that you're trusting in. Man doesn't know everything and hasn't always been there, so you can never therefore say that there is an absolute authority because man is his own authority. So it's really a battle between human reason and the infinite God of the Bible.

Q: Is God the absolute authority, or is the Bible?

Ham: Well, the Bible in its written form - in the original autographs is what we're talking about - is a revelation from God, who is the absolute authority. So it's his word.

Q: The last time I was here you were just breaking ground for this museum. Now, it really seems to be on its way. Why don't you tell me generally what's happening and how you feel about it?

Ham: I remember a few years ago when I was interviewed by someone from the Cincinnati papers - it could have been the one you work for, I have no idea - but they said, "So where's the money going to come from." And I said, "Well, I believe that the God of creation, who we trust, the God of the Bible, I believe that he has given us a burden to do this, and so we are stepping out in faith. The scripture says without faith, it's impossible to please him, and we've stepped out in faith to do this. We believe that he will provide the money through his people."

Now, we eventually developed a $25 million budget for the entire place, and we've raised $21.3 million, so we've got just less than $4 million to go. We're going to open debt-free next year, and as you look here, all I can - you know, I was talking to a reporter just a couple of days ago and he said, "How would you describe this place?" And I said, "Ah, a miracle. Miraculous."

Q: Would you like to see people teaching your view of creation in the public schools?

Ham: Teachers should teach students how to think about origins correctly in relation to the definition of science.

Because there's a big difference between observational science, which is what you do in the present, such as digging up metals and testing their properties. Observational science builds our technology, puts space shuttles around the earth ...

But historical science, when you talk about origins, is a whole different matter. Because now, you're trying to interpret the past, interpret the present in relation to the past. Now you're dealing with history, and you're dealing with history beyond when - you know, there was no human there to see the Grand Canyon being formed. No human there to see dinosaur fossils being as far as we - no present human, is what I'm talking about.

When teachers are teaching that - you know, talking about the origin of life - when they say that life arose by natural processes, they're teaching a religious view. They should be able to have the freedom to say, "No one was there to see natural processes form into life. Therefore, we can't prove that that happened." In fact, we would say that observational science contradicts it.

Q: What's ahead for Answers in Genesis?

Ham: We're producing a whole video curriculum for teen-agers that comes out next year, next March. And it's a 12-part curriculum called "Demolishing Strongholds." That's going to be marketed to youth in a big way in this nation. We're also producing home-school curriculum, marketing an entire elementary science curriculum to home schools, and we're going to be working on some more home school material.

We're working on a vacation Bible school program. ... We're going to be working on one dealing with Genesis, creation, evolution, hopefully within a year or two we can get that marketed.

Q: Here's a philosophical question for you. A lot of folks call themselves Christians, but do not believe in a literal reading of Genesis. They believe, basically, that God created evolution. Why is that not an acceptable position for you?

Ham: If you're truly a Christian as the Bible defines being a Christian, and you believe in millions of years or believe in evolution, then we would say you're inconsistent, and you're inconsistent for a number of reasons.

For instance, if you believe in evolution ... we would say, OK, in Genesis, it says that God took dust and made a man. It doesn't say he took some apelike creature and he became a man. It says he took his side and made a woman.

If you're going to believe in evolution, you're going to have to say that the man and the woman came from some - you know, man came from an ape-man, so to speak, and woman came from an ape-woman.

And yet even in the New Testament, when Jesus talks about marriage, and Paul - for instance, in Matthew 19, Jesus said, "He who was in the beginning made them male and female," and you become one because you're one flesh, because the woman came from the man, and Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 5.

So if you're going to believe in evolution, you've got a problem with regard to the doctrine of marriage. You've got a problem with exactly the way the Bible records it, too, because it says, it also says from dust you've come and to dust you return.

Now, I had a priest say to me once, "I believe that the dust we come from represents the ape God breathed into to become a man." I said, "Well, what ape do you return to when you die, because it also says when you die, you return to dust."

Plus, if you believe in evolution and/or millions of years, then you've got death, disease, thorns, millions of years before man. In the fossil record, you've got evidence of animals eating each other. The Bible says in Genesis 1:29 and 30, Adam and Eve and the animals were vegetarians originally.

You've got diseases like cancer and brain tumors in the fossil record. At the end of the sixth day of creation, God said everything was very good. If God calls disease, suffering, violence ... very good, that doesn't fit with the God of the Bible.

The Bible also makes it very, very clear that death is an enemy. Death is a consequence of sin. That's one of the reasons why we would say, you can't have millions of years and evolution before Adam sinned. The overriding issue comes down to is this: If the Bible is a revelation from God to man and he's the infinite creator, this is the word of the infinite creator, we've got to let it speak to us.

Publication date: 07-22-2006


Friday, July 21, 2006

Scientists Hope to Unravel Neanderthal DNA


By NICHOLAS WADE Published: July 21, 2006

Researchers in Germany said Thursday that they planned to collaborate with an American company in an effort to reconstruct the genome of Neanderthals, the archaic human species that occupied Europe from 300,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago until being displaced by modern humans.

Long a forlorn hope, the sequencing, or decoding, of Neanderthal DNA suddenly seems possible because of a combination of analytic work on ancient DNA by Svante Paabo, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a new method of DNA sequencing developed by a Connecticut company, 454 Life Sciences.

The initial genome to be decoded comes from 45,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found in Croatia, though bones from other sites may be analyzed later. Because the genome must be kept in constant repair and starts to break up immediately after the death of the cell, the material surviving in Neanderthal bones exists in tiny fragments 100 or so DNA units in length. As it happens, this is just the length that works best with the 454 machine, which is also able to decode vast amounts of DNA at low cost.

Recovery of the Neanderthal genome, in whole or in part, would be invaluable for reconstructing many events in human prehistory and evolution. It would help address such questions as whether Neanderthals and humans interbred, whether the archaic humans had an articulate form of language, how the Neanderthal brain was constructed, if they had light or dark skin, and the total size of the Neanderthal population.

The project is still at an early stage, but much groundwork has been laid. Most Neanderthal bones contain no Neanderthal DNA at all, but almost all are heavily contaminated with the DNA of the many people who have handled the bones. Dr. Paabo has developed stringent methods to address this contamination problem.

Even with the DNA that is known to be ancient, some 95 percent of that in the Neanderthal bones belongs to ancient bacteria, said Michael Egholm, a vice president of 454 Life Sciences. But bacterial sequences can be recognized and discarded, he said.

Because Neanderthal DNA is so scarce, Dr. Paabo and the 454 Life Science researchers developed their methods on ancient DNA from cave bears and mammoth.

Turning to Neanderthal bones, they have already recovered considerable amounts of DNA sequence, which are derived from every chromosome in the Neanderthal cell, as judged by matching the Neanderthal DNA to the human genome sequence that was first fully decoded in 2003.

The first goal of the project will be to sequence three billion units of Neanderthal DNA, corresponding to the full length of the Neanderthal genome. This will require decoding 20 times as much DNA, because so much of the DNA in the Neanderthal bones belongs to bacteria.

Genomes usually must be decoded several times over to get a complete and accurate sequence, but the first three billion bases of Neanderthal should "hit all the essential differences," Dr. Egholm said.

The researchers' hope is to recover the entire sequence of the Neanderthal genome, but that will depend on whether they can recover enough DNA. From sampling so far, no particular gaps in the sequence are apparent. "We are hitting all the chromosomes and getting good coverage," Dr. Egholm said. If no single specimen yields a full sequence, the genome might be recovered by combining DNA from several individuals.

One of the most important results that researchers are hoping for is to discover, from a three-way comparison of chimp, human and Neanderthal DNA, which genes have made humans human. The chimp and human genomes differ at just 1 percent of the sites on their DNA. At this 1 percent, Neanderthals resemble humans at 96 percent of the sites, to judge from the preliminary work, and chimps at 4 percent. Analysis of these DNA sites, at which humans differ from the two other species, will help understand the evolution of specifically human traits "and perhaps even aspects of cognitive function," Dr. Paabo said.

The degree of resemblance between humans and Neanderthals is fiercely debated by archaeologists, and even issues like whether Neanderthals had language have not been resolved. Dr. Paabo believes that genetic analysis is the best hope of doing so. He has paid particular attention to a gene known as FOXP2, which from its mutated forms in people seems to be involved in several advanced aspects of language.

A longstanding dispute among archaeologists is whether the modern humans who first entered Europe 45,000 years ago, ultimately from Africa, interbred with the Neanderthals or forced them into extinction. Interbreeding could have been genetically advantageous to the incoming humans, says Bruce Lahn, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, because the Neanderthals were well adapted to the cold European climate — the last ice age had another 35,000 years to run — and to local diseases.

Evidence from the human genome suggests some interbreeding with an archaic species, Dr. Lahn said, which could have been Neanderthals or other early humans.

So far no specific evidence of human-Neanderthal interbreeding has been found, Dr. Egholm said. But it may require analysis of almost the full Neanderthal genome to rule out all possibility of genetic interchange.

Dr. Stephen O'Brien, a geneticist at the National Cancer Institute, said that having the Neanderthal genome would be "a very exciting prospect" because it would serve as a reference point for deciding which genes had been selected for in recent human evolution.

The chimpanzee, with which humans shared an ancestor who lived some five million years ago, is one such reference point but the Neanderthals, who split from the modern human lineage some 500,000 years ago, would provide a much more helpful signpost to recent evolutionary events, Dr. O'Brien said, like adaptations as modern humans dispersed from their African homeland and the genetic differences between the three major human ethnic groups of Africans, Asians and Europeans.

Analyzing ancient DNA raises huge problems, Dr. O'Brien said, but "if there is anyone who can solve them, it's Svante Paabo."

If Dr. Paabo and 454 Life Sciences should succeed in reconstructing the entire Neanderthal genome, it might in theory be possible to bring the species back from extinction by inserting the Neanderthal genome into a human egg and having volunteers bear Neanderthal infants. This might be the best possible way of finding out what each Neanderthal gene does, but there would be daunting ethical problems in bringing a Neanderthal child into the world again.

Dr. Paabo said that he could not even imagine how such a project could be accomplished and that in any case ethical concerns "would totally preclude such an experiment."

Dr. Lahn described the idea as "certainly possible but futuristic."

The most serious technical problem would be creating functional chromosomes from Neanderthal DNA. But ethical questions may be less surmountable. "My first consideration would be for a child born alone in the world with no relatives," said Ronald M. Green, an ethicist at Dartmouth College. The risk would be greater if, following the plot line of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," a mate were created as a companion for the lonely Neanderthal. "This was a species we competed with," Dr. Green said. "We would not want to recreate a situation of two competing advanced hominid species."

But Dr. Green said there could be arguments in the future for resurrecting the Neanderthals. "If we learn this is a species that was wrongly pushed off the stage of history, there is something of a moral argument for bringing it back," he said. "But the status quo is not without merit. Curiosity alone could not justify what could be a disaster for both species."

Evolution education update: July 21, 2006

In Kansas, the president of Kansas Citizens for Science is making the rounds to explain what's wrong with the state's antievolution science standards. In Cobb County, Georgia, the attitudes of school board candidates toward the now-removed textbook disclaimer about evolution apparently played a role in a recent primary election. And in a Tennessee courtroom, a teacher is convicted of teaching evolution -- eighty-one years ago.


The president of Kansas Citizens for Science, Jack Krebs, is to speak on the flaws of the Kansas science standards at five venues in the state: July 24 in Overland Park, July 27 in Hutchinson, July 28 in Garden City, July 29 in Hays, and July 31 in Kansas City. Krebs was a member of the committee that wrote the original set of science standards, in which evolution was properly represented. But the creationist majority on the state board of education adopted a set of science standards rewritten, under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists, to impugn the scientific status of evolution.

The antievolution standards were denounced by a host of critics, including a group of 38 Nobel laureates, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the committee that wrote the original standards, the authors of the Fordham Foundation's report on state science standards, and the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science. In addition, the standards have been rejected by at least one local school district.

Krebs's presentations are likely to attract not only state but also national attention, since the August 1, 2006, Kansas primary election is approaching. Three of the six antievolution members of the board -- John Bacon in District 3, Connie Morris in District 5, and Ken Willard in District 7 -- are facing challengers in the primary election, while a fourth, Iris Van Meter in District 9, is not seeking re-election. Thus the primary election (as well as the general election in November) affords a chance for supporters of evolution education to change the balance of power on the board, just as they did in 2000.

For details about Krebs's presentations, visit:

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


Evolution education wasn't the only issue on which candidates for school board in Cobb County, Georgia, were running, but it was evidently important in the July 18, 2006, general primary election. For example, the Marietta Daily Journal commented in its July 14, 2006, editorial, "We suspect that most Cobb residents are tired of their local school board going out of its way to be controversial with things like the 'evolution sticker.'"

The board voted in 2002 to require biology textbooks in the Cobb County school district to bear a warning label describing evolution as "a theory, not a fact." A group of local parents filed suit, and in January 2005 a federal district court judge ruled in Selman v. Cobb County that the disclaimer was unconstitutional. Following the ruling, the stickers were painstakingly removed, with the aid of putty knives and glue remover, from approximately 34,000 textbooks, during the summer of 2005.

But in the meantime, the board chose to appeal the decision. In May 2006, the appeals court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case for further evidential proceedings. It remains to be seen whether the parties to the suit are interested in pursuing the matter further. The attitudes of the candidates in the present election suggest that the school board may be willing to settle rather than fight in court again.

In District 2, incumbent Curt Johnston ran unopposed in the Republican primary; he will face Holli Cash, who triumphed by a wide margin over Patrick Stafford in the Democratic primary, in November. The Marietta Daily Journal (July 13, 2006) reported that Cash and Strafford both opposed evolution disclaimers in textbooks, and that Johnston, who voted both to insert the disclaimers in the textbooks in 2002 and to appeal the trial court's decision in Selman v. Cobb County, now opposes reinserting the disclaimers.

In District 4, incumbent Laura Searcy was not seeking re-election; John E. Abraham handily defeated Chris Callaghan in the Republican primary. Since there is no Democratic candidate for school board in the district, Abraham will automatically replace Searcy when her term expires. The Marietta Daily Journal (July 19, 2006) reported that both Abraham and Callaghan opposed inserting evolution disclaimers in science textbooks.

In District 6, incumbent Kathie Johnstone faced three challengers in the Republican primary, Randy Turner, John Crooks, and Al Rowe. In the four-person field, Crooks received about 44% of the vote to Johnstone's 28%, Turner's 16%, and Rowe's 11%. Crooks and Johnstone will face each other in a run-off election, and the winner will face Democrat Beth Farokhi in November.

Apparently in reference to all five candidates in District 6, the Marietta Daily Journal (July 13, 2006) reported, "All candidates oppose the board's move in 2002 to insert evolution disclaimers in science textbooks." Johnstone was not on the board when the disclaimers were adopted, and she voted against appealing the decision in Selman v. Cobb County, saying that she felt that "it's time to move on" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 18, 2005).

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


Today, July 21, is the eighty-first anniversary of the conviction of John Thomas Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, for violating the state's Butler Act, which forbade teachers in public schools "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." (The news was announced on the front page of The New York Times with the prolix headline, "Scopes Guilty, Fined $100, Scores Law; Benediction Ends Trial, Appeal Starts; Darrow Answers Nine Bryan Questions.") The conviction was later overturned on a technicality, but the Butler Act remained on the books until it was repealed in 1967, anticipating the Supreme Court's 1968 ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas that such statutes violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

For more on the background, events, and aftermath of the Scopes trial, there is no better treatment than Edward J. Larson's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Basic Books 1997; Harvard University Press 1998). On the web, try the comprehensive Scopes Trial website run by Douglas O. Linder, a professor of law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Also on the web is a trove of unpublished photographs from the trial, recently discovered in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution by Marcel C. LaFollette (who, by the way, was the editor of Creationism, Science, and the Law: The Arkansas Case, MIT Press 1983 -- the essential book about McLean v. Arkansas, which successfully challenged the constitutionality of Arkansas's equal time for creation science law).

For the July 21, 1925, story in The New York Times, visit:

For Douglas O. Linder's comprehensive Scopes Trial website, visit:

For the photographs from the trial recently discovered in the Smithsonian, visit:


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. Applications will not be accepted after August 1, 2006.

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Glenn Branch
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National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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Anti-evolution standards a key issue in Kansas school board races


Posted on Fri, Jul. 21, 2006 JOHN HANNA Associated Press

BURDETT, Kan. - After a potluck lunch in one of many hamlets dotting the Great Plains, candidate Sally Cauble confronted a key issue in Kansas politics: whether schools should teach students to doubt evolution.

Cauble wants to oust incumbent Connie Morris from the State Board of Education in the Aug. 1 Republican primary. Five races this year could remove half the board's members, undo its conservative majority and doom anti-evolution science standards that brought Kansas international criticism.

Cauble hoped to pick up a few votes in Burdett, a prairie town of 240 people, about 130 miles northwest of Wichita, just off a two-lane state highway, surrounded by fields and best known for being the hometown of the astronomer who discovered the planet Pluto.

When asked by Cleo Gorman, a 68-year-old nurse, about "the science issue," Cauble said she would not have supported the anti-evolution standards.

"To be a scientific theory, it has to be tested. It has to be measured, and then other scientific data is tested against that," Cauble said. "The science of evolution has gone through that, and it has been tested."

But Gorman disagreed and is inclined to vote for Morris, who once wrote in a constituent newsletter that evolution is an "age-old fairy tale."

"Evolution is not proven as much as they thought it was," Gorman told Cauble.

Later, Cauble said she wished evolution weren't an issue. Yet the former teacher and ex-school board member from Liberal contends the conservative-led state board has damaged Kansas' image.

"I believe they've lost their effectiveness because they have lost respect," she said.

Morris, an author and former teacher from St. Francis, sees criticism of the board generated by the media, not most Kansans.

"I may not win the election, but at least I spoke for the people," Morris said recently before preparing a booth at the Ellis County Fair in Hays.

Although most scientists don't question its validity, evolution still generates heated debate political and legal debates across the nation.

A suburban Atlanta school district's put stickers in 35,000 textbooks declaring evolution "a theory, not a fact," leading to a federal lawsuit that's still pending after four years. This year, Ohio rescinded standards hailed by intelligent design advocates.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher called intelligent design a "self-evident truth" in a January speech. Last year, in Dover, Pa., voters ousted school board members who had required the biology curriculum to include intelligent design, a policy a federal judge later struck down as a government endorsement of a particular religious view.

Control of the Kansas school board has slipped into, out of and back into conservative Republicans' hands since 1998, resulting in anti-evolution standards for student testing in 1999, evolution-friendly ones in 2001 and anti-evolution ones again last year.

If conservatives retain control this year, it's likely to be read as a victory for intelligent design supporters.

"There are people around the country who would like to see the Kansas standards in their own states, said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.

Scott, a critic of the standards, said conservative victories in Kansas would "embolden efforts to clone these standards elsewhere."

Critics believe Kansas' standards promote intelligent design, which says some features of the universe are so well-ordered and complex that they're best explained by an intelligent cause. Proponents contend the standards encourage an open discussion of evolution and its flaws.

"Students need to have an accurate assessment of the state of the facts in regard to Darwin's theory," said John West, a vice president for the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based, anti-evolution Discovery Institute.

The standards contain a disclaimer saying they're not promoting intelligent design, which critics view as repackaged creationism.

But the standards say evolutionary theory that all life had a common origin has been challenged by fossils and molecular biology. And, they say, there's controversy over whether changes over time in one species can lead to a new species. Both statements echo intelligent design arguments, defying mainstream science.

Of course, some Kansans simply don't believe in evolution.

"Personally, I don't think we ought to teach evolution at all," Chuck Warner, a 53-year-old Smith County farmer and cattle buyer, said while watching a horse show at the Smith County Fair. "But if that's the way it has to be, then I think we ought to be able to teach Christianity and the Bible, too."

Ryan Cole, a 26-year-old Smith County farmer and horse trainer, has no problem with teaching intelligent design.

"I feel like if you give two sides of something, most people are intelligent enough to make up their own minds," he said.

Cole believes his thinking is widespread in Morris' sprawling district, which covers all or part of 41 western Kansas counties.

But Richard Barrows, a 58-year-old LaCrosse pharmacist, thinks the conservative majority is out of step, attributing its ascendancy to past voter apathy.

"It's just the perfect example of how, if you ignore elections, a minority can get control," he said.

The Discovery Institute is waging a Web campaign to build support for Kansas' science standards. Other, Kansas-based groups are becoming directly involved in board elections.

The Kansas Republican Assembly, a conservative group, has four political action committees that raised almost $46,000 in 2005, according to campaign finance records.

Three groups opposing conservatives - the Kansas Alliance for Education, MAIN PAC (for mainstream) and the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority - raised about $95,000, including $25,000 from the Kansas-National Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union. It also could contribute directly to candidates.

"Teachers want this board to return to common sense," said Mark Desetti, a KNEA lobbyist.

Still, state board races have remained heavy on speeches to small groups, booths at county fairs and appearances in local parades. Morris keeps a laundry basket in her car, full of trinkets to throw to children watching parades, and in 2002, she spent only about $16,000 on her campaign, despite the size of her 5th District.

"I think that people just agree that the theory of evolution needs to be challenged," she said. "It makes sense. It's good science."

When Cauble visited Burdett, she brought a copy of a Time magazine story headlined, "Reconciling God and Science." She told one audience member she's a committed Methodist.

"There are many of us who believe that God created the heavens and the earth - and I believe that very strongly," she said. "But I believe that you can believe that, and you can still believe in evolution."

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 21 Jul 06 Washington, DC


On Wednesday, Mr. Bush vetoed the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act." The first veto of his presidency was exercised to protect surplus embryonic stem cells in fertility clinics from research, thus preserving their "dignity" so they can be put out with the garbage. He did so on the grounds that using them in research would be "murder." This is based on the ancient belief in a "vital life force," or "soul," which is said by some Christians to be assigned at conception. The first sign of differentiation in embryonic cells occurs in about 8 weeks. Jews, however, say that infants don't get a soul until they draw their first breath. They cite Genesis: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." On the other hand, superstition may not be the best guide. Why not turn to science?


Four years ago Rusi Taleyarkhan, then at Oak Ridge, claimed in Science magazine that he had achieved d-d fusion in collapsing bubbles http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN02/wn030102.html. The bubble burst three months later, but he moved to Purdue and again claimed fusion. Others still found nothing. In March of 2006, Purdue, citing "extremely serious concerns," announced a full review of Taleyarkhan's work. A story in Nature this week raises serious questions about slow progress and secrecy of the review.


In 1984, President Reagan called on the scientific community to render nuclear missiles "impotent and obsolete" with the Star Wars missile defense system. Nine years and $30B later SDI was terminated. There was nothing to show for it. George W. Bush, who knows as much science as Reagan did, declared we would have a missile defense by 2004. When North Korea announced last month it would test a missile capable of reaching San Francisco, the Pentagon revealed our missile defense had never been turned on. Why bother? The reason ballistic missile are such a powerful threat is that they are virtually unstoppable, but if we learned anything from 9/11 it is that terrorists can strike us without ballistic missiles. We have only the threat of preemptive strikes or retaliation. The Wall Street Journal today called for an ABM system to deter terror regimes, "they won't invest their money in weapons that won't work." No, only we do that.


Last week I agreed to any penance readers thought appropriate for allowing myself to be used on the (bleep) ABC Primetime program about Adam Dreamhealer. By consensus I mean two readers called for the same punishment. I am to obtain a DVD of "What the Bleep Do We Know" and watch it all the way through - twice.

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

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org
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Fear of Snakes May Have Driven Pre-Human Evolution


Friday, July 21, 2006 By Ker Than

An evolutionary arms race between early snakes and mammals triggered the development of improved vision and large brains in primates, a radical new theory suggests.

The idea, proposed by Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, suggests that snakes and primates share a long and intimate history, one that forced both groups to evolve new strategies as each attempted to gain the upper hand.

To avoid becoming snake food, early mammals had to develop ways to detect and avoid the reptiles before they could strike. Some animals evolved better snake sniffers, while others developed immunities to serpent venom when it evolved.

Early primates developed a better eye for color, detail and movement and the ability to see in three dimensions — traits that are important for detecting threats at close range.

Humans are descended from those same primates.

Scientists had previously thought that these traits evolved together as primates used their hands and eyes to grab insects, or pick fruit or to swing through trees, but recent discoveries from neuroscience are casting doubt on these theories.

"Primates went a particular route," Isbell told LiveScience. "They focused on improving their vision to keep away from [snakes]. Other mammals couldn't do that. Primates had the pre-adaptations to go that way."

Harry Greene, an evolutionary biologist and snake expert at Cornell University in New York, says Isbell's new idea is very exciting.

"It strikes me as a very special piece of scholarship and I think it's going to provoke a lot of thought," Greene said.

Isbell's work is detailed in the July issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

A new weapon

Fossil and DNA evidence suggests that snakes were already around when the first mammals evolved some 100 million years ago. The reptiles were thus among the first serious predators mammals faced.

Today, the only other threats faced by primates are raptors, such as eagles and hawks, and large carnivores, such as bears, large cats and wolves, but these animals evolved long after snakes did.

Furthermore, these other predators can be safely detected from a distance. For snakes, the opposite is true.

"If you see them close to you, you still have time to avoid them," Isbell said. "Primate vision is particularly good at close range."

Early snakes killed their prey using surprise attacks and by suffocating them to death — the method of boa constrictors.

But the improved vision of primates, combined with other snake-coping strategies developed by other animals, forced snakes to evolve a new weapon: venom. This important milestone in snake evolution occurred about 60 million years ago.

"The [snakes] had to do something to get better at finding their prey, so that's where venom comes in," Isbell said. "The snakes upped the ante and then the primates had to respond by developing even better vision."

Once primates developed specialized vision and enlarged brains, these traits became useful for other purposes, such as social interactions in groups.

Seeing in 3D

Isbell's new theory could explain how a number of primate-defining traits evolved.

For example, primates are among the few animals whose eyes face forward (most animals have eyes located on the sides of their heads).

This so-called orbital convergence improves depth perception and allows monkeys and apes, including humans, to see in three dimensions.

Primates also have better color vision than most animals and are also unique in relying heavily on vision when reaching and grasping for objects.

One of the most popular ideas for explaining how these traits evolved is called the "visual predation hypothesis."

It proposes that our early ancestors were small, insect-eating mammals and that the need to stalk and grab insects at close range was the driving force behind the evolution of improved vision.

Another popular idea, called the "leaping hypothesis," argues that orbital convergence is not only important for 3D vision, but also for breaking through camouflage.

Thus, it would have been useful not only for capturing insects and finding small fruits, but also for aiming at small, hard-to-see branches during mid-leaps through trees.

But there are problems with both hypotheses, Isbell says.

First, there is no solid evidence that early primates were committed insectivores. It's possible that like many primates today, they were generalists, eating a variety of plant foods, such as leaves, fruit and nectar as well as insects.

More importantly, recent neuroscience studies do not support the idea that vision evolved alongside the ability to reach and grasp. Rather, the data suggest that the reaching-and-grasping abilities of primates actually evolved before they learned to leap and before they developed stereoscopic, or 3D, vision.

Agents of evolutionary change

Isbell thinks proto-primates — the early mammals that eventually evolved into primates — were in a better position compared to other mammals to evolve specialized vision and enlarged brains because of the foods they ate.

"They were eating foods high in sugar, and glucose is required for metabolizing energy," Isbell said. "Vision is a part of the brain, and messing with the brain takes a lot of energy, so you're going to need a diet that allows you to do that."

Modern primates are among the most frugivorous, or "fruit-loving," of all mammals, and this trend might have started with the proto-primates.

"Today there are primates that focus on leaves and things like that, but the earliest primates may have had a generalized diet that included fruits, nectar, flowers and insects," she said.

Thus, early primates not only had a good incentive for developing better vision, they might have already been eating the high-energy foods needed to do so.

Testing the theory

Isbell says her theory can be tested. For example, scientists could look at whether primates can visually detect snakes more quickly or more reliably than other mammals. Scientists could also examine whether there are differences in the snake-detecting abilities of primates from around the world.

"You could see whether there is any difference between Malagasy lemurs, South American primates and the African and Asian primates," Isbell said.

Anthropologists have tended to stress things like hunting to explain the special adaptations of primates, and particularly humans, said Greene, the Cornell snake expert, but scientists are starting to warm to the idea that predators likely played a large role in human evolution as well.

"Getting away from things is a big deal, too," Greene said in a telephone interview.

If snake and primate history are as intimately connected as Isbell suggests, then it might account for other things as well, Greene added.

"Snakes and people have had a long history; it goes back to long before we were people, in fact," he said. "That might sort of explain why we have such extreme attitudes towards snakes, varying from deification to ophidiphobia, or fear of snakes."

Copyright © 2006 Imaginova Corp.


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Don R. Patton, Ph.D. Present

Creation Evidence From Peru & Bolivia

Dr. Patton just returned from his latest expedition to South America, together with Dr. Dennis Swift. Over the years they have a uncovered a number of exciting evidences, including burial stones found in the Inca tombs (c.a. 500-1500 AD). The stones display a variety of scenes etched onto their surface. Almost one third of the thousands of stones depict specific types of dinosaurs. The evolutionary scenario tells us that man and dinosaur were separated by at least 65 million years and “modern” man’s conception of dinosaurs did not begin until the 1800’s. These burial stones falsify that theory and verify the fact that very old Peruvians saw these dinosaurs. Examine the stones for yourself, including a recently excavated 70 pound stone portraying three dinosaurs. Hear the whole story and learn of the numerous independent sources of confirmation. See pictures of the tombs and view the antique tapestries (ca. 700AD) which clearly display the dinosaur motif. Dinosaurs are also dramatically displayed on the ceremonial gold death masks and pottery found in the ancient tombs. Visit the ruins of Tiwanaku, a city that existed before Christ with astounding technology; 20,0000 ton building stones, precisely cut into complex geometrical shapes, ancient temple walls decorated with human faces typical of today’s races. This is a record that defies the often heard story of “primitive” man and evolutionary development.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, June 6th, 7:30 PM

Evolution education update: June 30, 2006

A busy week! A courageous science teacher in Georgia is profiled in The New York Times, while in California, a lawsuit in part involving creationism is likely to proceed, and in Michigan, a "critical analysis" bill is passed by a legislative committee. In New York, however, a bill requiring the teaching of "intelligent design" is dead, as are no fewer than four antievolution bills in Oklahoma. And the Episcopal Church reaffirms its support of evolution education. Finally, NCSE is seeking candidates for three positions.


"Evolution's lonely battle in a Georgia classroom," published in the June 28, 2006, issue of The New York Times, discusses the travails of Pat New, a veteran middle school teacher in Dahlonega, Georgia, "who, a year ago, quietly stood up for her right to teach evolution in this rural northern Georgia community, and prevailed." New was pressured by students, parents, teachers, and administrators to downplay her presentation of evolution in her classes, despite the fact that it pervades the assigned textbook and is mandated by the state science standards. Finally, after she submitted a complaint to initiate a grievance under state law, the administration relented, and in the following year she was free from pressure.

New's experience is not atypical: the Times notes that despite the occasional battle that dominates the headlines, "[m]ore commonly, the battling goes on locally, behind closed doors, handled so discreetly that even a teacher working a few classrooms away might not know." Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, observed that a third of the NSTA's membership reported experiencing such pressure. The story also notes that the presence of evolution in state science standards provides teachers with a resource to cite in defense of their teaching: New explained, "What saved me, was I didn't have to argue evolution with these people. All I had to say was, 'I'm following state standards.'"

For "Evolution's lonely battle in a Georgia classroom," visit:

For the NSTA's report about its membership survey, visit:


The recent lawsuit -- Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al. -- that charges the University of California system with violating the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college is apparently going to proceed. In what the Associated Press described (June 28, 2006) as a "tentative ruling," Judge S. James Otero stated that he was not inclined to rule in favor of a motion by the university system to dismiss the suit.

The lawsuit was originally filed in federal district court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, on behalf of the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and six students at the school (none of whom have been refused admission to the University of California). Representing the plaintiffs are Robert H. Tyler, a lawyer with a new organization called Advocates for Faith and Freedom, and Wendell R. Bird of the Atlanta law firm Bird and Loechl, a former staff attorney for the Institute for Creation Research.

The plaintiffs object, inter alia, to the university system's policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books as "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community." The policy, they allege, infringes on their rights to "freedom of speech, freedom from viewpoint discrimination, freedom of religion and association, freedom from arbitrary discretion, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from hostility toward religion."

During the hearing, Judge Otero reportedly expressed concern that Calvary was the only school to be a party to the lawsuit, observing that Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic schools "seem to have students move through the system with no problem." Afterwards, however, Tyler told the Riverside Press-Enterprise (July 27, 2006), "Based upon today's hearing, we're optimistic that the religious liberty concerns of this lawsuit will go forward to a full trial." A written ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss the case is expected from Otero, although he did not indicate when he would issue it.

For the Associated Press's story, visit:

For the Riverside Press-Enterprise's story, visit:

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


Michigan's House Bill 5251 passed the House Education Committee by a vote of 15-2 on June 28, 2006, according to a report in the Saginaw News (June 29, 2006). The bill originally called for the state board of education to revise the state science standards to ensure that students will be able to "(a) use the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theories of global warming and evolution [and] (b) Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for or against those theories," but the references to global warming and evolution were reportedly removed in committee. HB 5251 now proceeds to the House for its second reading.

The primary sponsor of HB 5251, Representative John Moolenaar (R-District 98), denied that permitting the teaching of "intelligent design" was the point of the bill. Yet Moolenaar was a cosponsor of explicit antievolution legislation in Michigan in the previous (2003-2004) legislative session: HB 4946, which would have amended the state science standards to refer to "the theory that life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator," and HB 5005, which would have allowed the teaching of "the design hypothesis as an explanation for the origin and diversity of life" in public school science classes. These bills, as well as HB 5251, were denounced by the Michigan Science Teachers Association.

There was concern that the bill, if enacted, would encourage a threatened lawsuit against the Gull Lake School District, which in June 2005 instructed two middle school science teachers who were using Of Pandas and People and other creationist material in their science classes to desist. That decision prompted the Thomas More Law Center, which subsequently unsuccessfully represented the defendants in Kitzmiller v. Dover, to threaten to sue. A lawyer for the school district said that the original version of HB 5251 "essentially would provide a legal basis for [the] Thomas More Center to follow through on the threat to sue for not teaching intelligent design," adding that the bill mirrored the "intelligent design" movement's "teach the controversy" slogan.

For the report in the Saginaw News, visit:

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


When the New York State Assembly's legislative session ended on June 23, 2006, Assembly Bill 8036 died in committee. If enacted, the bill would have required that "all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in all aspects of the controversy surrounding evolution and the origins of man." A later provision specified that such instruction would include information about "intelligent design and information effectively challenging the theory of evolution."

The bill was never expected to succeed; its sponsor, Assemblyman Daniel L. Hooker (R-District 127), was reported as explaining that his intention was more to spark discussion than to pass the bill, and as acknowledging that the bill was "religion-based." Moreover, Hooker is not planning on seeking a third term in the Assembly due to his military commitments: he is expected to be on active duty with the Marine Corps until at least early 2007.

For the text of Assembly Bill 8036, visit:

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


No fewer than four antievolution bills were introduced in the Oklahoma legislature in 2006: HB 2107 (encouraging the presentation of "the full range of scientific views" with regard to "biological or chemical origins of life"), HB 2526 (authorizing school districts to teach "intelligent design"), SB 1959 (encouraging the presentation of "the full range of scientific views"), and HCR 1043 (encouraging the state board of education and local school boards to ensure that students are able to "critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theory of evolution" with regard to "biological or chemical origins of life"). Of the four bills, HB 2107 was the only one to reach a floor vote: it was passed by the House by a vote of 77-10 on March 2, 2006. With the adjournment sine die of the legislature on May 26, 2006, all four are presumably dead. Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and its allies were instrumental in organizing resistance to these bills.

For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, visit:

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


At its 75th General Convention in June 2006, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution supporting the teaching of evolution in schools. The resolution, titled "Affirm Creation and Evolution," declared that "evolution is entirely compatible with an authentic and living Christian faith." It also encourages state legislatures and boards of education "to establish standards for science education based on the best available scientific knowledge as accepted by a consensus of the scientific community," and to "seek the assistance of scientists and science educators in understanding what constitutes reliable scientific knowledge."

Also occurring at the convention was the election of new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who, as well as being the first woman elected to the position, is a former oceanographer with a strong evolutionary background. According to a press release from the Episcopal News Service, Schori said at a press conference on June 18, 2006, "Evolution most definitely should be taught in school. It's a well-tested premise and the best model that fits the data available. Creationism can't make that claim. I believe in the creeds. They say God created the world, but they don't say how."

For the Episcopal Church's resolution, visit:

For the ENS news service's press release, visit:


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Glenn Branch
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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Chaos reigns at board


Bob Sigman, Opinion Page Editor July 20, 2006

The autocratic, arbitrary conduct of the 6-4 ultraconservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education rolls on, leaving astounded Kansans wondering what is next on the Christian coalition agenda.

"Every month it gets worse and a little more chaotic," exclaimed Sue Gamble, Shawnee, referring to the meetings of the 10-member group that is elected to oversee K-12 education in Kansas.

Gamble, whose board district is mostly in Johnson County, is an avowed opponent of the six-member majority of right-wingers who control the board. And she knows her way around public service, having served on the Shawnee Mission school board and in other leadership capacities over the years.

So she is drawing on her experience when she observed, in an interview this week, that there is confusion among Department of Education staff regarding "just exactly what they should be doing."

It is no coincidence, she pointed out, that turnover in the Education Department has doubled in the last year, from about 10 percent to 20 percent. That means employees with expertise and understanding are leaving and the ones who follow are stepping into a muddled work place.

Gamble said 47 of the 53 who left resigned and six retired, an indication that most of the employees who departed did not want to stay there, preferring to seek work in other places.

Many of them will not say, officially or in public, why they no longer want to be employed at the department. But in private, Gamble said, they share their feelings about dissatisfaction with the unsettled conditions, including the leadership of Bob Corkins, the education commissioner who was handpicked by the 6-4 conservative majority last year.

His selection, Gamble recalled, was a "fiasco," in which the conservatives abandoned conventional hiring procedures. During the course of the selection their antics prompted a national education group, which was retained to assist the board, to withdraw.

The conservatives then proceeded to name Corkins, a known critic of public education without professional experience in the field.

Since then the conservative majority and Corkins have acted on major issues without the knowledge of moderates on the board. As recently as last week a pamphlet on evolution, intended for widespread circulation across the state, was presented to the board as a finished product.

Gamble said she was "blindsided" by the publication, which she said contains misleading information about the teaching of evolution and intelligent design. Gamble was not the only one bothered by the pamphlet.

Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, a nonprofit statewide group that favors the traditional instruction of evolution, criticized the pamphlet in a news release and interview this week. He said the slickly produced pamphlet appears to be "campaign material printed at state expense."

Krebs is a member of the committee that drafted the first version of the evolution-related science standards, which was rejected by the conservative board majority. He pointed out in some detail how the pamphlet is deceptive about the role of intelligent design in the standards.

Steve Case, chair of the writing committee, said in the news release that misstatements in the pamphlet are similar to the "science hearings" staged by the conservative majority.

"The board spent $30,000 of taxpayer money on these hearings in an outrageous display of pseudoscience and misinformation," Case asserted.

Gamble cited other examples of questionable action by the right-wingers.

All of this is alarming. With their policies on issues such as evolution instruction and sex education, the right-wing-dominated board is inflicting its narrow, religious-based notions on the education of Kansas children.

Some, not all, Johnson County voters can help turn out the destructive conservative board members. John W. Bacon, Olathe, is a member of the 6-4 conservative majority who should be denied a new term. He is opposed in the 3rd District Republican primary by Harry E. McDonald, Olathe.

A vote for McDonald is a step toward a more rational, well-motivated Board of Education.

©The Johnson County Sun 2006

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