Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
A Clearwater man isn't about to let a dubious past stop him from spreading his views about the church.
By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published September 17, 2006
The video shakes. Some blurry feet. Now part of a face.
Rain spatters the lens. But the man behind the camera, Shawn Lonsdale, is undeterred. The image stays fixed on a red carpet leading to the Fort Harrison Hotel, where the Church of Scientology is hosting an event.
Three Scientologists in raincoats are making their way across the street under umbrellas, toward their church's chief antagonist in downtown Clearwater.
The image wobbles in that amateur, Blair Witch Project kind of way. But Lonsdale greets them in a tone that suggests he is glad they have stopped by.
He never stops filming them.
* * *
Shawn Lonsdale, 38, has become a downtown fixture. Most often, he can be found standing next to a sandwich board that reads:
- Ch. 96 -
Lonsdale said he is making a "pseudo documentary" about Scientology and its effect on downtown Clearwater for a local cable access show.
He stands there for eight, sometimes 10 hours a day in the full heat of the summer. His only equipment: a still camera, a videocamera, a bottle of water and a can of mace in case things get hairy.
A Scientologist was charged recently with assaulting him though the charges were later dropped. Lonsdale shrugs. More good footage for the documentary.
In Lonsdale, the Church of Scientology has encountered a confusing and difficult nemesis. Unlike most ardent Scientology critics, Lonsdale was never a member. And unlike other critics, Lonsdale has proved difficult to squash.
The key: He has very little to lose.
Lonsdale, who is unemployed, rents a small home in Clearwater where he chain-smokes Basic cigarettes and watches his own video in a living room adorned with stuffed alien dolls.
In the next room he logs onto anti-Scientology Web sites to chronicle his daily encounters with church members. On these sites, Lonsdale is regaled as a hero.
"This is the biggest thing I could've ever touched in Clearwater," Lonsdale explains. "How could I not touch this?"
Here, he could make a mark.
"If I could stamp my name on this, great," Lonsdale said, "especially when you're really a fly on a horse's a--."
What do his friends make of his single-minded focus on Scientology?
"I do not have friends," he said.
Originally from New Hampshire, Lonsdale said he joined the Navy but was kicked out after he took a drunken swing at a lieutenant commander.
He moved to Dunedin with a girlfriend. He worked as a file clerk at an insurance company and later at a title company in Clearwater. He got into competitive running and triathlons and dabbled in photography.
A couple of years ago, he had a vague idea about making a coffee table book about homeless people in downtown Clearwater. At least that's what brought Lonsdale to a City Council meeting, where he ended up in a fight with a Scientologist over redevelopment issues.
The Scientologist followed his car home, he said, and a van parked in front of his house for two hours the next day. He looked into Scientology at the library and on the Internet, where he found plenty of anti-Scientology Web sites.
Into a directionless life, a passion was born.
* * *
Lonsdale began to pedal his bicycle downtown at night. Onto the doorsteps of downtown businesses, he'd drop a pile of anti-Scientology fliers printed off xenu.net, perhaps the biggest anti-Scientology site.
Lonsdale's phone began to ring at odd hours.
We know what you do.
We know who you are.
Why are you doing this?
People don't live too long doing this kind of thing in Clearwater.
The attention only motivated Lonsdale. On lunch breaks from his job at Tampa Bay Title, Lonsdale began a daily routine. He'd pop a few coins into a meter on Cleveland Street across from the Clearwater Bank Building, which serves as Scientology's cafeteria.
Taped to the side of his white 1991 Oldsmobile was a message on a large piece of cardboard: "OT I-VIII for free at xenu.net."
To the hundreds of Scientologists who filed past each day, that message was blasphemous.
People come from all over the world to Clearwater to study the highest levels of Scientology, called OT levels, or Operating Thetan levels. Members pay tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to have those levels revealed. Scientology levels build upon one another, and reading ahead to higher levels is strictly forbidden.
Scientology has a history of aggressively taking on critics, in the courts and on the streets. When Lonsdale came along, the church hired a private investigator, as usual, to check out its latest troublemaker.
Tailing Lonsdale was a matter of protecting staffers' safety, said Ben Shaw, a spokesman for Scientology in Clearwater. "He is crazy," Shaw said. "He is utterly crazy."
The tactic also conforms with Scientology doctrine laid out by founder L. Ron Hubbard.
"We do not find critics of Scientology who do not have criminal pasts," Hubbard once wrote. "We are slowly and carefully teaching the unholy a lesson. . . . If you oppose Scientology we promptly look and will find and expose your crimes. If you leave us alone we will leave you alone."
The investigators hit pay dirt. Lonsdale was twice convicted on misdemeanor charges of lewd and lascivious conduct, in 1999 and 2000.
Lonsdale said training for triathlons was expensive and money was tight. So he took a side job working for an Internet adult chat site for men. To make more money, he said, he sometimes met with men from the chat rooms.
Once, in the woods by the Gandy Bridge, he mistook an undercover cop for the man he had arranged to meet, he said. Another time he was found having oral sex in public with a man in Hillsborough County. Both charges drew fines.
"This is my background," he said flatly.
Numerous times, the Church of Scientology filed complaints with the police against him for stalking, but police never charged Lonsdale. He has the right to take photos or video in public places, police said.
* * *
Lonsdale's handheld camera wheels around, trying to catch the faces of Scientologists firing questions at him.
"What's your deal?" one asks.
"Why are you doing this?" chimes in another.
In tones of mock politeness, Lonsdale and the three Scientologists banter about church policy.
Lonsdale taunts one about an alleged extramarital affair. The man counters with a crack about Lonsdale's bad teeth.
Another Scientologist, Ian Shillington, approaches, and Lonsdale extends his hand. Shillington refuses to shake it.
Lonsdale tells him he is making a video to be shown on cable TV.
"You are very important, aren't you?" Shillington sneers.
Ron Savelo, who regularly hosts a local cable show on Scientology, asks why Lonsdale lost his job.
Perhaps, he declares, it had something to do with sex acts in the woods.
* * *
More than once, Lonsdale admits, he became bored or discouraged enough that he considered stopping his campaign.
But then the church would do something to give him a "shot of adrenaline."
Like when someone claiming to be an investigator called his landlord, Joseph Critchley.
Did you know that your tenant, Shawn Lonsdale, is a criminal? Critchley remembers the caller saying. The man wouldn't give his name, so Critchley hung up.
A man claiming to be an investigator also walked into the coffee shop that Lonsdale frequented. He told the cashier Lonsdale was being investigated by law enforcement and said, "It is wise not to be associated with this guy."
And then one night, Lonsdale's boss at Tampa Bay Title, Brian Harte, got a call at home from Pat Harney, a Scientology spokeswoman. Harte agreed to have lunch with her at the Fort Harrison Hotel.
"She brought up that at the church people were scared of him," Harte said. "They thought we'd want to know these issues so we'd be scared of his actions too."
Lonsdale was let go this year, along with another employee, due to downsizing. Harte said it had nothing to do with Scientology, that Lonsdale was a model employee and he'd hire him back if business improves.
Now out of work, Lonsdale could focus on Scientology full time.
Several months ago, Lonsdale took two courses at Access Pinellas, the county's public cable access channel, so he could show his documentary on Channel 96.
Every night, he came home from filming downtown and continued his work on anti-Scientology Web sites. He recently created his own site, scienotimes.com.
Shaw instructed his uniformed staff members to leave Lonsdale alone. For a time, church staffers walked a block out of the way to the cafeteria to avoid confrontations.
"He has no redeeming value to anyone anywhere," Shaw said.
As Lonsdale made his way downtown one afternoon last month, he saw his picture staring back at him. Storefront after storefront along Cleveland Street displayed posters with the word "Warning" above Lonsdale's mug shot. The poster says Lonsdale has been harassing people and that he has been arrested for sex crimes.
The flier was the work of the Cleveland Street Safety League. The man behind the committee and the signs is Richard Hirst, a longtime Scientologist known for confronting critics.
Hirst created a Web site documenting Lonsdale's arrest record. He posted comments Lonsdale made on a swinger site years ago seeking partners for group sex. He called Lonsdale's family in New England and told them Lonsdale needed mental help.
Last month, Scientology lawyers subpoenaed Lonsdale for a deposition. The church contends Lonsdale is an agent of an old anti-Scientology group that was legally barred from protesting in certain places. So he must abide by that order, the lawyers say.
Attorney Luke Lirot, who has famously battled Scientology in the past, has come to Lonsdale's aid. The church's arguments are ridiculous, Lirot said, and were attempted as "the quickest way to get him out of there."
"They think because I'm a nobody and I've got nothing that I'm easy to stomp," Lonsdale said.
"It's getting big."
* * *
As the camera pans a sidewalk, Lonsdale's shadow fills the bottom of the frame.
The first installment of his documentary, Cult Watch: A Clearwater Perspective, begins at a Scientology-sponsored Easter egg hunt. It is now showing on Channel 96 and can be viewed on Lonsdale's Web site. It is the first of at least six installments, Lonsdale promises.
We see actor Kirstie Alley silently walking around, placing plastic eggs into a basket adorned with blue and purple balloons.
Lonsdale stops his camera on a church security guard videotaping him. Lonsdale zeroes in. He calls out.
"Hey brother, how are you doing?"
For several absurd minutes, they hold each other in their lenses, neither moving.
Lonsdale finally breaks the standoff.
"Hey buddy, what's so interesting over here?"
The security guard says nothing.
"You can see it on our Web site soon," Lonsdale says.
Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4159 or email@example.com
On the Web
www.scienotimes.com: Lonsdale's Web site.
www.clevelandstreetsafetyleague.com: A site created by a Scientologist that documents Lonsdale's criminal record and posts comments Lonsdale made on a swinger site years ago. Please note this site contains sexually graphic content.
[Last modified September 15, 2006, 11:24:40]
September 17, 2006
Albert Einstein bestowed some marvelous gifts on the physicists of the world — a new understanding of space and time, an explanation of gravity, a way to prove the existence of atoms, and profound insights into the nature of matter and energy. But he also bequeathed them a major headache, in the form of the dream of finding a "unified field theory" that would join the math describing gravity with that describing electromagnetism, thereby revealing a deep unity in the laws governing the cosmos. In its modern form, that goal has become a theory unifying all of nature's basic particles and forces. Einstein's own quest failed. And so, two new books contend, has its modern counterpart, superstring theory.
After years of neglect by most physicists, superstring theory (string theory for short) emerged in 1984 as a leading candidate to solve the especially acute problem of reconciling general relativity — Einstein's theory of gravity — with quantum mechanics, the math describing the micro-realm of atoms. It posits the conceptually innocent but mathematically sophisticated idea that basic units of matter and force are more like tiny vibrating rubber bands than like the point-size tiny marbles envisioned by traditional particle physics. Math describing these vibrating "strings" incorporates gravity naturally, offering hope that string theory could realize Einstein's ambition. But string theory has its own problems: it cannot yet claim success in explaining any of nature's specific features, and does not even exist as a complete theory. Instead, it can be written in various dissimilar forms, though relationships among these different versions suggest the existence of a mysterious, deeper theory — known as M theory — that encompasses all proposed string theories.
So physicists now possess only fragments of the ultimate theory, pieces of a puzzle with no picture on the box to guide their assembly. String theorists generally say that is why they need to keep working on it. But in their new books, Peter Woit and Lee Smolin say enough is enough.
Woit, a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia University, dismisses string theory altogether, calling it a "failed program" and "seriously wrongheaded." Smolin, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute near Toronto, complains that it "is believed by some of its adherents with a certainty that seems emotional rather than rational." String theory's supporters, Smolin writes, have a "tendency to exaggerate results and minimize difficulties." But his and Woit's own critiques exaggerate string theory's problems and minimize its results.
Woit's book is both less substantial and less accessible. The first half is devoted to a simultaneously sketchy and ponderous history of 20th-century physics, full of such technical jargon as "mixing angles," "perturbation expansions" and "conformal transformations," packed into sentences like "the operator corresponding to an angular momentum vector is precisely the one that implements an infinitesimal rotation about the axis given by that vector." Much of the second half meanders through various topics, dwelling on such irrelevancies as analogies comparing mathematics to masturbation and the shocking fact that physics journals sometimes publish nonsensical papers.
Woit does raise several technical concerns — well-studied by string theorists — with a principle known as supersymmetry, a component of superstring theory that predicts the existence of a new, and so-far undiscovered, set of subatomic particles. And he quotes interviews from secondary sources, many dating from the 1980's, reciting disapprovals of string theory. Woit's own main charge is that string theory makes no testable predictions, thus flouting the need for "falsifiability" articulated by the philosopher Karl Popper. If there's no way to prove string theory wrong, it fails to meet Popper's criterion, argues Woit. The string approach remains popular, Woit alleges, only because Edward Witten, one of the intellectual leaders of the field, has mesmerized other theorists.
Woit offers some intriguing ruminations on the relationship between physics and mathematics, but little intelligible insight into string theory itself. Smolin offers a much more substantial and serious exploration of the theory's vulnerabilities in "The Trouble With Physics." He provides a full and fair discussion of its strengths, showing why so many theorists have been motivated to work on it (as Smolin himself did for a time). And his account is much more readable than Woit's, while covering much of the same ground, quoting many of the same sources, and expressing most of the same sociological complaints. String theorists, with their "tremendous self-confidence," have a stranglehold on academic jobs in theoretical particle physics, discouraging young scientists from pursuing different approaches, Smolin asserts. And he contends that string theorists are afflicted by groupthink, blindly obsessed by the dogma that string theory is the only hope for unifying physics.
Taken together, Smolin's and Woit's arguments boil down to just a few points: string theory makes no predictions, there isn't a complete theory yet after more than 20 years of intense effort and a monolithic tribe of arrogant string advocates are hogging resources. It's certainly a vociferous rebuke of string theory as the best hope to fulfill Einstein's ambition.
But these arguments are afflicted by their own anomalies. If the final form of string theory does not yet exist, it's strange to claim in advance that it can make no predictions. And why the 20-year time limit? Science must be testable in principle, but that is not necessarily the same thing as testable in practice, given current technological limitations. Smolin contends that previous great theories have been rapidly supported by favorable evidence, but evidence is not the same thing as the definitive proof he seems to demand from string theory. It is not uncommon for decades to go by before theories in physics are decisively confirmed. In some cases, such as the atomic theory, it has taken centuries.
And, as Smolin himself says, string theory does make predictions — the existence of the new supersymmetry particles, for instance, and extra dimensions of space beyond the familiar three of ordinary experience. These predictions are testable: evidence for both could be produced at the Large Hadron Collider, which is scheduled to begin operating next year near Geneva. These predictions are not of the specific quantitative kind that would definitively prove string theory true or false, but their confirmation would certainly be taken as impressive support.
It's also odd to argue that string theorists are at the same time arrogantly self-confident and sheeplike slaves to groupthink. The groupthink charge seems doubly strange, since string theorists nowadays (as Woit recounts) are engaged in a vitriolic debate among themselves over the possible existence — implied by string theory math — of a huge number of alternative universes. As for unfair resource allocation, that problem has not prevented the pursuit of several alternative approaches (which Smolin outlines) to the unification of physics. In any case, whether string theorists are arrogant, or sheep, or get too much funding, has absolutely nothing to do with whether string theory is the correct description of nature.
Smolin's book is worth taking seriously as a plea for more support for minority viewpoints. But neither he nor Woit really confront the reason ideas in physics become majority viewpoints. When John Schwarz of Caltech and his few collaborators worked alone on string theory throughout the 1970's, they wrote no books complaining about lack of resources. They worked until they found a striking result that mainstream physicists found worth pursuing. Physicists vote with their feet, which suggests that there is, after all, a way to prove string theory wrong — by finding a different theory and proving it right.
Tom Siegfried's latest book, "A Beautiful Math," will be published in October.
Published: September 15, 2006 03:46 pm
By Kelly Young
Take any two people off the street and ask them what they believe about the origins of man, and you will probably get two very different answers. Asking those same questions of the two junior colleges in town reveals the same phenomenon.
Although both schools are church affiliated, Lon Morris through the United Methodist Church and Jacksonville College through the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, one teaches its biology students evolution, and the other teaches its students creationism.
"I teach evolution. Science is looking for natural causes to natural phenomena, it isn't in the business of looking for supernatural reasons for things occurring," said Assistant Professor Linda Allen, chair of the Natural Science Department at Lon Morris College. "To me science is one of the great themes of modern culture and religion is another. I think the two are equally important, but they are different, and since I teach biology and not theology — I teach evolution as the cause of life."
According to Allen, Lon Morris is a Methodist institution, and Methodist doctrine allows for the theory of evolution.
"You can certainly be a Christian and believe in evolution. The problem is people who take the Bible literally and who believe the Bible as a historical document rather than a moralistic viewpoint," Allen said. "Over the years, more and more of the Bible has been explained by science — but that doesn't take away from the glory or the majesty or the spirituality of it."
According to Allen, enough evidence has been found through the years to prove the theory of evolution.
"I consider evolution a fact. Scientific theory isn't somebody's idea, it has years and years of research and evidence behind it," Allen said. "It has been researched and researched and researched. There is evidence from fossils, and the biggest evidence nowadays is the DNA evidence, the genetics."
At Lon Morris, students are taught evolution in the classroom and, once the unit is completed, are then allowed to debate amongst themselves what they believe.
"After I teach evolution and I get through with the scientific part, I let them discuss it, and we argue about it. Most of my kids don't even know what evolution is, so I teach them what it is and what it isn't, and then they can decide to fit it in with their religious beliefs or not," Allen said.
Across the city, at Jacksonville College, the origin of man is taught a little differently.
"I teach that the universe was created in six literal days. We believe that the Genesis account refers to literal 24-hour periods. You wouldn't have the words morning and evening if it was referring to an indefinite time period," said Professor Billy Wilbanks, chair of the Science Department at Jacksonville College. "People accept either theory just by their beliefs and what they have been taught — we really can't prove either one."
According to Wilbanks, there are just too many holes in the theory of evolution for him to believe it is true.
"At the time of the Big Bang, evolutionists believe there was all this matter out there, where did that matter come from? At the time of the Big Bang, how did the Earth end up getting all of the water and the air and the life-forms? Everything from as simple as bacteria to as complicated as people — no life-forms have ever been found anywhere else," Wilbanks said. "We hear that all life-forms are progressing from one life-form to another, but yet in the world we do not have any life-forms that are between forms. The fossil record has never shown anything to be in a transition state, going from this form to that form."
Wilbanks thinks that scientists often get caught up in thinking that everything in the world has some type of explanation and that everything can be explained, but he believes that the world shows this assumption to be untrue.
"There's a lot of questions right now that I can't answer. What holds the clouds up? If we throw a whole bucket of water in the air, the whole bucket is going to come right back down, but when it rains, all these little raindrops fall," Wilbanks said. "There are still many unanswered things out there. Cell differentiation in human reproduction is something we don't understand. Back when we are just a small cluster of cells, how do some of our cells know to become blood, brains, muscles, bones or something else. We don't have an answer for that."
Wilbanks believes, and Jacksonville College teaches, that the universe is just too complicated to be a random result of chance.
"When you consider all of the 'random' events that have taken place for our benefit; the element we need more than anything else is oxygen — that's what we've got the most of. The compound we need the most is water — that's what we've got the most of. Trees give us oxygen, and we give them carbon dioxide. The odds of any of those taking place is incredibly low, and when you add them all on top of each other, it just makes it all the less likely still," Wilbanks said.
According to both Allen and Wilbanks, most of their students come to their classes as believers in creationism.
"Some of my kids understand all of the theories of creationism and are truly creationists, but most of my kids believe in the Bible and have never had their beliefs challenged, so they don't really know what they believe," Allen said. "Many of my kids are dead-set against learning evolution. It bothers me that an 18-year-old can be so set in his thoughts and beliefs that he can't take something new at least to examine it."
Neither Lon Morris College nor Jacksonville College make their teachers sign a letter of confession stating that the employee's believe as their institutions do, but both Allen and Wilbanks said that they personally agree with their school's stance on the subject.
According to a 2006 Gallup poll, about 46 percent of Americans believe in Young Earth Creationism — the belief that God created the universe in six later days about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-six percent said they believed that God guided the process of evolution, a theory called theistic evolution. Only 13 percent believe that humans evolved over millions of years without any supernatural intervention. However, only 22 percent of people with post-graduate degrees believe in creationism.
Today NPR covered an exciting archeological find. It appears to be the oldest writing known in the Americas. Although archeologists do not know the meaning of the symbols on this newly found stone block in Mexico, they are certain it is designed and not the product of, say, wind and erosion. How do they know this?
"When I saw the block, as did the rest of us, we knew we were in the presence of something very special…. It had completely unknown signs, but they were arranged in these long sequences we felt just had to be a new form of writing…. It's not just a set of symbols that might be placed together the way you might see on, let's say, a medieval French or English painting," Houston [an archaeologist from Brown University] says. "Rather, they are arranged in a sequence that is meant to reflect a language with grammatical elements and with a word order that makes sense."
So not only is it obvious to common sense that these glyphs are designed, but it is actually objective, empirically detectable factors like gramatical structure which cry out for a design inference—even if we do not know who, why, or exactly when the glyphs were made.
Once again, these sorts of examples serve to show that detection of design is an empirical matter, and all the hand waving about "who designed the designer?" and "science can't study the supernatural" do nothing to dismiss this point.
Posted by Logan Gage on September 15, 2006 9:39 AM | Permalink
A SUSPICIOUS DELAY IN MICHIGAN
At its September 12, 2006, meeting, the Michigan board of education voted to delay adoption of part of the state's science standards until October in order to give the legislature extra time to comment, according to a report from the Associated Press (September 13, 2006). The delay was granted after the board received a request from Representative Brian Palmer (R-District 36), chair of the House Education Committee, and Senator Wayne Kuipers (R-District 30), chair of the Senate Education Committee. The motion passed by a 6-2 vote, despite protests from critics, including the ACLU of Michigan.
It was feared that the ulterior purpose of the delay was to enable antievolution legislators to lobby for the weakening of evolution in the standards. Palmer, for example, sponsored or cosponsored various antievolution bills in the past, including 2003's House Bill 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." During the current legislative session, he supported HB 5251, which targeted both evolution and global warming, and HB 5606, which repeated key language from HB 5251.
The Detroit Free Press reported in its editorial (September 14, 2006) that Palmer and Kuiper submitted their request in order to accommodate their colleagues Representatives Jack Hoogendyk (R-District 61) and John Moolenaar (R-District 98), both of whom have a lengthy history of antievolution activity in the legislature. According to the Free Press, "As it stands, the policy directs that teachers demonstrate how fossil records, comparative anatomy and other evidence 'may' corroborate the theory of evolution. Hoogendyk and Moolenaar are pushing to have the words read 'may or may not.'"
Reviewing Hoogendyk and Moolenaar's suggested changes, Michigan Citizens for Science comments, "The Free Press only mentions one small aspect of the changes they're pushing for, all of which are designed solely to cast doubt on evolution. Anywhere in the standards where any certainty is expressed at all, even on the most mundane and obvious of concepts, they seek to insert weasel words to cast doubt where none really exists. ... Clearly, their goal is simply to put so many weasel words into the science standards that students will doubt what is in actuality one of the most compelling and well supported theories in all of science."
The Free Press's editorial proceeded to criticize the board for its vote, writing, "This is just another attempt to keep a door open to teaching creationism or intelligent design. The board should have closed it, as science teachers requested. Board members get elected to make decisions, not to defer to political pressure." The delay is particularly unfortunate, the newspaper adds, because the standards were supposed to be in place by October 3, in time to be discussed at a statewide conference of science teachers. The board is now not expected to vote on the standards until October 10, 2006.
For the Associated Press's report, visit:
For the Detroit Free Press's editorial, visit:
For Michigan Citizens for Science's comments, visit:
For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Michigan, visit:
DWORKIN ON "INTELLIGENT DESIGN"
In the opening section of his recent essay "Three Questions for America" (published in the September 21, 2006, issue of The New York Review of Books), the eminent legal scholar Ronald Dworkin answers the question "Should alternatives to evolution be taught in schools?" with a decisive no, writing:
If we are to protect dignity by protecting people's responsibility for their own personal values, then we must build our compulsory education and our collective endorsements of truth around the distinction between faith and reason. We need a defensible conception of science not only for the intensely practical reason that we must prepare our children and youth to advance knowledge and to compete in the world's economy but also in order to protect the personal responsibility of our citizens each for his own religious faith. We need an account of science, in our public philosophy of government, that does not make its authority depend on commitment to any set of religious or ethical values. So Senator Frist made a serious mistake when he said that describing intelligent design only as a scientific alternative to evolution doesn't "force any particular theory on anyone." In fact it damages young students, practically and politically, by using the state's authority to force on them a false and disabling view of what science is.
Ronald Dworkin is Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University and Jeremy Bentham Professor of Law and Philosophy at University College London. "Three Questions for America" is based on his new book, Is Democracy Possible Here? (Princeton University Press).
For "Three Questions for America," visit:
A CASE AGAINST "INTELLIGENT DESIGN"
"Proponents of intelligent design, with great gnashing of teeth and colorful language, have created a great deal of smoke," Steven B. Case explains in the Kansas City Star (September 12, 2006). Case, who is a research assistant professor at the University of Kansas and assistant director of its Center for Science Education, is in a good position to know: as the co-chair of the state science standards writing committee, he was at the center of the furor over the standards caused by a creationist majority on the state board of education. In November 2005, the board voted to adopt a set of state science standards that was rewritten, under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists, to impugn the scientific status of evolution. Owing to the defeat of two creationist candidates in the August 2006 primary election, however, supporters of the integrity of evolution education are expected to form the majority on the state board of education, no matter who prevails in the November 2006 general election.
In his column, Case notes that despite the smoke emitted from the "intelligent design" movement, "One thing is clear: The scientific community has not embraced the explanation of design because it is quite clear that on the basis of the evidence, it is just wrong." More important, he adds, is the fact that "the smoke is hiding an attack on the religious faith and beliefs of many people. Framed as 'science' and using pseudoscientific language, teaching intelligent design camouflages an ugly underlying theology," arguing, "Intelligent design attempts to describe God in the very limited language of science, putting the understanding of God into a very small box. For most people of faith, God is far bigger then this very small box. Intelligent design proponents call those who believe in God and still find science a compelling explanation of the natural world, 'worse than atheists.' The manufactured choice of God or evolution advances an intolerant, anti-intellectual and very narrow religious view that is clearly not the position of most people of faith."
For Case's column in the Kansas City Star, visit:
For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kansas, visit:
NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON
Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott and Gish! Seats are now available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 17 to July 24, 2007, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of Grand Canyon and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. The cost is $2200; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Call or write now: seats are limited.
For further information on the Grand Canyon trip, visit:
For a summary of the article in The New York Times, visit:
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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc
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The meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is speeding up, satellite measurements show.
Data from a US space agency (Nasa) satellite show that the melting rate has accelerated since 2004.
If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet).
Most of the ice is being lost from eastern Greenland, a US team writes in Science journal.
Jianli Chen of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues studied monthly changes in the Earth's gravity between April 2002 and November 2005.
These measurements came from the US space agency's Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite, launched in 2002.
From these data, they were able to estimate changes in the mass of Greenland's ice sheet.
A number of factors contribute to fluctuations in the Earth's gravity field.
But once the influence of the atmosphere and the oceans is removed, the variations mostly reflect changes in the mass of ice sheets and of water stored in the ground.
Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland's ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres (57.3 cubic miles) per year.
This figure is about three times higher than an earlier estimate of the mass loss from Greenland made using the first two years of Grace measurements.
Dr Chen and colleagues partly attribute this to increased melting in the past one-and-a-half years and partly to better processing of the data.
"Acceleration of mass loss over Greenland, if confirmed, would be consistent with proposed increased global warming in recent years," the authors wrote in Science.
This would amount to a contribution to global sea level rise from Greenland of about half a millimetre (0.02 inches) each year.
The group's findings agree remarkably well with a study released earlier this year that used data from other satellites to estimate mass changes in the Greenland ice.
Grace also appears to have detected a loss of ice from Arctic glaciers that were omitted from this study and are separate from the main Greenland ice sheet.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/08/11 10:40:12 GMT
© BBC MMVI
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.
The Mexican discoverers and their colleagues from the United States reported yesterday that the order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system and that it had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in the Americas.
Finding a heretofore unknown writing system is rare. One of the last major ones to come to light, scholars say, was the Indus Valley script, recognized from excavations in 1924.
Now, scholars are tantalized by a message in stone in a script unlike any other and a text they cannot read. They are excited by the prospect of finding more of this writing, and eventually deciphering it, to crack open a window on one of the most enigmatic ancient civilizations.
The inscription on the Mexican stone, with 28 distinct signs, some of which are repeated, for a total of 62, has been tentatively dated from at least 900 B.C., possibly earlier. That is 400 or more years before writing was known to have existed in Mesoamerica, the region from central Mexico through much of Central America, and by extension, anywhere in the hemisphere.
Previously, no script had been associated unambiguously with the Olmec culture, which flourished along the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz and Tabasco well before the Zapotec and Maya people rose to prominence elsewhere in the region. Until now, the Olmec were known mainly for the colossal stone heads they sculptured and displayed at monumental buildings in their ruling cities.
The stone was discovered by María del Carmen Rodríguez of the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico and Ponciano Ortíz of Veracruz University. The archaeologists, a married couple, are the lead authors of the report of the discovery, which is being published today in the journal Science.
The signs incised on the 26-pound stone, the researchers said in the report, "link the Olmec to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system and reveal a new complexity to this civilization."
Noting that the text "conforms to all expectations of writing," the researchers wrote that the sequences of signs reflected "patterns of language, with the probable presence of syntax and language-dependent word orders."
Several paired sequences of signs, scholars said, have even prompted speculation that the text contained poetic couplets.
Experts who have examined the Olmec symbols said they would need many more examples before they could hope to read what is written on the stone. They said it appeared that the symbols in the inscription were unrelated to later Mesoamerican scripts, suggesting that this Olmec writing might have been practiced for only a few generations and never spread to surrounding cultures.
Stephen D. Houston of Brown University, a co-author of the report and an authority on ancient writings, acknowledged that the apparent singularity of the script was a puzzle and would probably be emphasized by some scholars who question the influence of the Olmec on the course of later Mesoamerican cultures.
But Dr. Houston said the discovery "could be the beginning of a new era of focus on the Olmec civilization."
Other participants in the research include Michael D. Coe of Yale; Richard A. Diehl of the University of Alabama; Karl A. Taube of the University of California, Riverside; and Alfredo Delgado Calderón, also of the National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Mesoamerican researchers not involved in the discovery agreed that the signs appeared to represent a true script and that their appearance could be expected to inspire more intensive exploration of the Olmec past. The civilization emerged about 1200 B.C. and virtually disappeared around 400 B.C.
In an accompanying article in Science, Mary Pohl, an anthropologist at Florida State University who has excavated Olmec ruins, was quoted as saying, "This is an exciting discovery of great significance."
A few other researchers were skeptical of the inscription's date because the stone was uncovered in a gravel quarry where it and other artifacts were jumbled and possibly out of their original context.
The discovery team said that ceramic shards, clay figurines and other broken artifacts accompanying the stone appeared to be from a phase of Olmec culture ending about 900 B.C. They conceded, though, that the disarray at the site made it impossible to determine if the stone was in a place relating to the governing elite or a religious ceremony.
Dr. Diehl, a specialist in Olmec research, said, "My colleagues and I are absolutely convinced the stone is authentic."
Road builders digging gravel came across the stone in debris from an ancient mound at Cascajal, a place the discoverers said was in the "Olmec heartland." The village is on an island in southern Veracruz and about a mile from the ruins of San Lorenzo, the site of the dominant Olmec city from 1200 B.C. to 900 B.C.
That was in 1999, and Dr. Rodríguez and Dr. Ortíz were called in, and they quickly recognized the potential importance of the find.
Only after years of further excavations, in which they hoped to find more writing specimens, and comparative analysis with Olmec iconography did the two invite other Mesoamerican scholars to join the study. After a few reports in recent years of Olmec "writing" that failed to hold up, the team decided earlier this year that the Cascajal stone, as it is being called, was the real thing.
The tiny, delicate signs are incised on a block of soft serpentine stone 14 inches long, 8 inches wide and 5 inches thick. The inscription is on the stone's concave top surface.
Dr. Houston, who was a leader in the decipherment of Maya writing, examined the stone with an eye to clues that this was true writing and not just iconography unrelated to a language. He said in an interview that he had detected regular patterns and order suggesting "a text segmented into what almost look like sentences, with clear beginnings and clear endings."
Some pictographic signs were frequently repeated, Dr. Houston said, particularly ones that looked like an insect or a lizard. He suspected that these were signs alerting the reader to the use of words that sound alike but have different meanings — as in the difference in English of "I" and "eye."
All in all, Dr. Houston concluded, "the linear sequencing, the regularity of signs, the clear patterns of ordering, they tell me this is writing, but we don't know what it says."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Copyright 2006 Deseret Morning News
By Tad Walch
Deseret Morning News
PROVO — Brigham Young University placed physics professor Steven Jones on paid leave Thursday while it reviews his involvement in the so-called "9/11 truth movement" that accuses unnamed government agencies of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
Steven Jones BYU will conduct an official review of Jones' actions before determining a course of action, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. Such a review is rare for a professor with "continuing status" at BYU, where Jones has taught since 1985.
Jones was teaching two classes this semester, which began Tuesday. Other professors will cover those classes, and Jones will be allowed to continue to do research in his area of academic study, Jenkins said.
Jones became a celebrity among 9/11 conspiracy-theory groups after he wrote a paper titled "Why Indeed Did the World Trade Center Buildings Collapse?" The paper was published two weeks ago in the book "9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out" and lays out Jones' hypothesis that the three towers fell because of pre-positioned demolition charges — not because of the planes that hit two of the towers.
When Jones began to share his demolition theory publicly last fall, he politely declined to speculate about who set the charges other than to say terrorist groups couldn't have been the source.
Then, later, he started to speak publicly about research conducted at BYU on materials from ground zero. He said he found evidence of thermite — a compound used in military detonations — in the materials.
In recent weeks, after becoming the co-chairman of the group Scholars for 9/11 Truth, Jones seemed willing to go further, implicating unnamed government groups but not President Bush.
The Deseret Morning News requested a statement from the university Wednesday afternoon for a story it was preparing on Jones and his high-profile role in the 9/11 truth movement. University officials informed Jones of the decision to place him on leave Thursday afternoon and released a statement to the newspaper Thursday night.
"BYU has repeatedly said that it does not endorse assertions made by individual faculty," the statement said. "We are, however, concerned about the increasingly speculative and accusatory nature of these statements by Dr. Jones."
Last fall, BYU faculty posted statements on the university Web site that questioned whether Jones subjected the paper to rigorous academic peer review before he posted it at physics.byu.edu. Jones removed the paper from BYU's Web site Thursday at the university's request.
Efforts to reach Jones prior to press time Thursday night were not successful. He later declined comment. Jones told the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday that his paper had gone through an unusual third round of peer review in what is now an apparently unsuccessful effort to quell concerns on campus.
"BYU remains concerned that Dr. Jones' work on this topic has not been published in appropriate scientific venues," the university statement said.
Jenkins said BYU's reputation was a consideration, too.
"It is a concern when faculty bring the university name into their own personal matters of concern," she said.
Jones, also known for his cold fusion research, provided academic clout to the 9/11 truth movement. C-SPAN repeatedly broadcast a conference that featured Jones this summer. Recent articles about Sept. 11 conspiracy theories that focused at least in part on Jones have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian in London and other publications.
Recent rebuttals to the demolition theory have been released by the State Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which published a 10,000-page report on the towers' collapse.
A modified version of Jones' paper was scheduled to be published this week in the online Journal of 9/11 Studies. Jones is a co-editor of the journal.
BYU does not grant tenure, generally regarded as a permanent position, to professors. However, it does give continuing status to professors found worthy after six years on campus.
"Continuing status," Jenkins said, "grants the expectation that faculty members will have continuing employment at the university, although it is not a guarantee. They still need to meet satisfactory performance levels for scholarship, citizenship and teaching."
The review will be conducted at three levels by the administration, the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and the Physics Department.
September 14, 2006
The Michigan State Board of Education has done a disservice to science and to high school science teachers by delaying adoption of the science portion of Michigan's new requirements for high school graduation. The board voted 6-2 Tuesday in favor of a delay requested by state legislators who are pushing faith-based alternatives to the theory of evolution.
This is just another attempt to keep a door open to teaching creationism or intelligent design. The board should have closed it, as science teachers requested. Board members get elected to make decisions, not to defer to political pressure.
The delay was requested by the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees to accommodate Republican state Reps. Jack Hoogendyk of Kalamazoo and John Moolenaar of Midland, who want a key wording change inserted into the policy. As it stands, the policy directs that teachers demonstrate how fossil records, comparative anatomy and other evidence "may" corroborate the theory of evolution. Hoogendyk and Moolenaar are pushing to have the words read "may or may not."
Sounds innocuous, but this is really about injecting faith and beliefs into science.
Michigan's new curriculum is supposed to set tough guidelines, not try to spoon-feed an ideology to students. Teachers who are allowed to, will, no doubt instruct students in the value of thinking about science broadly and asking critical questions.
By deferring even this much to the legislators, the state board has essentially given science teachers a vote of no confidence and deprived them of a chance to collaborate on classroom strategies. That's because the board won't vote until Oct. 10, and the science curriculum guidelines were supposed to be in place by an Oct. 3 statewide conference for teachers on Earth science, biology, chemistry and physics.
The conference will now use draft guidelines while the state board decides whether politics is going to figure in the final version.
August 29, 2006
PHILOSOPHERS, scientists and other intellectuals close to the Pope will gather at his summer palace outside Rome this week for intensive discussions that could herald a fundamental shift in the Vatican's view of evolution.
There have been growing signs that Pope Benedict is considering aligning the Catholic Church more closely to the theory of "intelligent design',' taught in some US states, which advocates that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Critics say it is merely a disguise for "creationism", a literal belief in the Bible's account.
A prominent anti-evolutionist and Catholic scientist, Dominique Tassot, told the US weekly National Catholic Reporter that this week's meeting was "to give a broader extension to the debate".
"Even if [the Pope] knows where he wants to go, and I believe he does, it will take time. Most Catholic intellectuals today are convinced that evolution is obviously true because most scientists say so."
In 1996, in what was seen as an unconditional capitulation to scientific orthodoxy, John Paul II declared that Darwin's theories were "more than a hypothesis".
Last week, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria revealed that evolution and creation had been chosen as the subjects for this year's meeting of the Pope's Schulerkreis - a group consisting mainly of his former doctoral students that has been gathering annually since the late 1970s. Other participants at the closed-door meeting will include the president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Peter Schuster; the conservative ethical philosopher Robert Spaemann; and Paul Elbrich, professor of philosophy at Munich University.
Last December, a US court sparked controversy when it ruled that intelligent design should not be taught alongside evolution theory.
Cardinal Schonborn said "the debate of recent months has undoubtedly motivated the Holy Father's choice". But he added that, in the 1960s, the then Joseph Ratzinger had "underlined emphatically the need to return to the topic of creation".
The Pope also raised the issue in the inaugural sermon of his pontificate, saying: "We are not the accidental product, without meaning, of evolution."
A few months later, Cardinal Schonborn, who is regarded as being particularly close to Benedict, wrote an article for The New York Times that was seen as backing moves to teach intelligent design.
He was attacked by Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory. On August 19 Father Coyne was replaced without explanation. The announcement of his successor did not mention Father Coyne or his 28 years as observatory head.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
While his views may not be popular in Northern California, Wallace Sampson, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University and editor in chief of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, is frank about his thoughts about alternative medicine. "It doesn't exist," he says. "We've looked into most of the practices and, biochemically or physically, their supposed effects lie somewhere between highly improbable and impossible."
Sampson has been invited by the Commonwealth Club to hold forth on one of the most popular alternative medical practices, acupuncture.
There are two major misconceptions about acupuncture, Sampson says, and both contribute to the misunderstanding of its worth as medical treatment. First, most people assume that it's an ancient Chinese cure that has existed, unchanging, for centuries. Not so, says Sampson, noting that "acupuncture was formalized in a complex way over the past 100 years, mostly in Europe and France and after the Communist takeover in China. Before that time there was no consistent formalization of acupuncture points or what each place was supposed to do. It was largely regional, and the thinking varied from city to city."
The other mistake people make about acupuncture, Sampson says, is that it offers specific cures. "It is nonspecific," Sampson says. "If it has the effect of, say, releasing endorphins through the application of needles, well, many things release endorphins -- a walk in the woods, a 5-mile run, a pinch on the butt."
Clinically, it has been shown that acupuncture can have counter-irritative effects. The basis for this is simple: If you have a headache and someone applies pressure through needles to your arms and neck, you get distracted from your headache. "It has no effect on disease process," Sampson says, "but it can affect perception of symptoms through these nonspecific devices, such as attention diversion or the desire of the patient to please the treater and feel benefits."
Sampson doesn't actually find acupuncture to be a very dangerous procedure -- although it is invasive, most people seek acupuncture for a known, nonserious disorder -- but he does say it's useless.
"I look at it this way: what if acupuncture didn't exist?" he says. "Would medicine or society be any worse off? If no one knew about it, nothing would change. You would still have ways to apply counter-irritation, through massage or rubbing."
But there are more dangerous aspects to the world of alternative medicine, Sampson says, starting with the wildly popular practice of chiropractics. In general, he says, one of the biggest problems with the whole notion of "ancient Chinese medicine" is that it falsely pits itself against "Western medicine." Sampson says these distinctions are useless; a more apt comparison, he says, would be ancient Chinese medicine to ancient European medicine, which share many similarities in their fundamental notions about how the body works. Western medicine, on the other hand, has grown up as the world rejected those ancient notions.
Sampson points to the Western ideal of "first do no harm" as a major difference in the approaches. "Some find Western medicine to be cold because there's no laying of hands on the body unless it's absolutely necessary," says Sampson. "But we took an oath. Physicians should not lay on hands or do something that doesn't accomplish its goal. Cracking a neck or a back, for instance, can do much more harm than good. You have to draw the line somewhere. "
Reyhan Harmanci, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thu Sep 14, 2006 12:16 PM ET
By Antony Gitonga
MAUCHE, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan followers of a U.S.-based religious sect which predicted the world would end after a September 12 outbreak of nuclear war moved into bunkers on Wednesday despite the failure of their prediction.
Dozens of members of the House of Yahweh -- dressed in gas masks, gloves and long overcoats -- have built a network of underground hideouts in the small highland village of Mauche.
They have stocked the bunkers with dried fermented flour meant to feed them for a year, by which time sinners would have been wiped off the Earth, according to their beliefs.
"Those who have been doubting us will in hours be ashamed and if the effect of the war is not felt here, then let the police arrest us," Mosheh Sang, leader of the sect in Kenya, told journalists while packing sacks of flour into a bunker.
"We shall stay in the bunkers for a period of one year."
According to Sang, a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea only failed to kick off Tuesday as expected due to difference in international time zones.
"Members of our sect who are in the U.S. will not be affected as they are protected by Yahweh," Sang added.
According to its web site www.yahweh.com, the group was founded in Abilene, Texas.
"September 12...You need to put this date on your bathroom mirror. You also need to make preparations for the dark days ahead, which will affect every person on earth," the site says.
"There is a place of safety but like their unbelief in the Sabbath, the world will not believe this message, neither will they repent of their sins of murder, fornication, or theft. You need to start training now in the ways of Yahweh."
Kenyan authorities have been closely watching sect members to avoid a repeat of the aftermath of an unfulfilled prophecy in Uganda when more than 900 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments were burned alive in 2000. Police said they were worried that the bunkers could cave in despite followers of the cult erecting supporting wooden pillars in the six-by-ten foot bunkers. Underground water was seeping into the hideouts which police said would weaken the structures.
"Though there is freedom of worship in the country, our fears are that the members could die not from the so-called nuclear war but by the bunkers caving in," Dominic Karanja, a senior police officer in the area, told reporters.
But the cult's followers said it was Yahweh's (Hebrew for God) way of providing water for them.
Scientists say wintertime loss of polar ice is growing along with a continuing summertime pattern and is strong evidence of global warming
Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The vast expanses of ice floating in the Arctic Sea are melting in winter as well as in the summer, likely because of global warming, NASA scientists said Thursday.
"This is the strongest evidence yet of global warming in the Arctic,'' said Josefino Comiso, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
And if the ice continued to melt at the current rate, Comiso said, it could have profound effects on all life in the Arctic and other consequences around the world.
Particularly hard hit would be the polar bears, which live on the ice, he said. Sea ice also provides oxygen-rich cold water needed for the growth of phytoplankton. A decline in the number of the tiny plants could have a cascading effect on the food supply of fish and crustaceans, seals and the other marine mammals.
The size of this summer's Arctic ice won't be known for a few weeks because it usually reaches its smallest size the third week of September. Last year, scientists found that polar ice an area twice the size of Texas has melted since NASA started compiling satellite data 27 years ago. Scientists said there could be no ice left in the Arctic in the summer by the end of the century.
Until 2005, the wintertime sea ice -- which is thick and multilayered -- has been relatively stable. In the summer, the ice is thinner, more mobile and melts at the edges every spring before freezing up again in the autumn.
In the last two winters -- 2005 and 2006 -- the size of the sea ice was 6 percent smaller than average, the data show. The sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere covers nearly 10 million square miles in the winter. The melting -- most of it occurring in the eastern Arctic near the North Pole -- correlates with a rise the ocean's surface water temperature.
The melting period is growing by 15 days each decade, meaning less time for ice to grow back, experts said.
When Comiso saw the decline of winter sea ice in 2005, he said, "it was only one year, and I didn't think it was so serious.''
However, based on NASA data, his computer simulations and two years of melting ice, "this has a very large chance of continuing," he said.
Already a greater number of polar bears have been showing up in Inuit communities in the Arctic, apparently searching for food, said NASA researcher Claire Parkinson.
The bears use the sea ice toseals and other marine mammals. "When the ice retreats, they have to come on the land. Normally, when they're on the land, they're not eating,'' she said.
The bears come on land more often now, she said, because they're probably hungrier and afraid of being stranded on a retreating floe, she said.
Parkinson and Ian Stirling, a biologist in the Canadian Wildlife Service, published a study in the journal Arctic this month showing that the polar bear population is shrinking, even though there have been more sightings. Instead, the Hudson Bay population has declined from 1,200 bears in 1989 to 950 bears in 2004, and the weight of adult females has dropped. None of the 18 other populations in the Arctic has grown, either, she said.
It's not impossible that the sea ice could recover in coming years, Parkinson said.
"The possibility is there that the Arctic will recover, but that is not as likely as that it will continue to decrease,'' she said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and is conducting studies in the North Slope of Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic.
The loss of Arctic sea ice has global effects, scientists say.
Sea ice is made of frozen ocean water, and when it melts, it doesn't raise the ocean's level as do melting glaciers and ice sheets. But less sea ice means a smaller area of ice to reflect radiation away from Earth, and the dark, open water absorbs heat. Both phenomena could accelerate the world's warming, scientists say.
"We're seeing an overall pattern of global warming,'' said Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., which joined NASA scientists at a telephone news conference Wednesday.
Ice core borings in Antarctica have produced a record of historic carbon dioxide concentrations over the last 600,000 years. The borings show the levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, are at their highest ever because of the burning of fossil fuels, Serreze said.
Serreze said he was surprised to see a new lake, or polynya, the size of Maryland, opening up in the sea ice north of the Beaufort Sea.
In 20 years of looking at sea ice, he has never seen anything like it.
"If you asked me five years ago if it was human activity (causing global warming) versus natural variability, I was a fence-sitter,'' Serreze said.
"The magnitude of the changes is starting to rise above the noise of natural variability. There is a continuing trend. What we see in the Arctic is part of a much larger picture. We hate to say, 'We told you so.' But we told you so.''
A recent editorial entitled "They're Back" in the Akron Beacon Journal (ABJ) is chock-full of false and misleading information about how evolution has been taught in Ohio Public Schools. The title seems intended to imply a sense of ominous doom (read it "Theeeeeyyyyy'rrreeee Baaaaaaccck") because apparently re-considering teaching students about both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution is extremely scary in the eyes of some Darwinist journalists who would rather that students don't learn about the scientific problems with evolution. Regardless, the real record looks far different from the ABJ editorial's alternate reality.
The editorial's opening line that "[s]ome members of the state school board appear obsessed with wedging creationism into high school biology classes" is a scare tactic with no grounding in reality. Creationism has never been a part of their policy, and for good reason. The only possible exception might be that the Ohio Board's most vociferous pro-Darwin-only proponent has also loudly proclaimed herself a creationist.
Moreover, the ABJ editorial strangely states that Ohio Board members "sought a clear path to discussion in class of intelligent design." Yet in 2002, the Ohio State Board of Education adopted science standards that included a benchmark requiring that students be able to "understand how scientists continue to critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The benchmark followed with an explanatory parenthetical stating that "[t]he intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design."
To further justify its false narrative, the ABJ editorial ignores the fact that the benchmark language was followed by the Ohio Board's 2004 adoption an optional Critical Analysis of Evolution lesson plan that simply presented scientific criticisms of various aspects of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. The lesson plan only contained scientific challenges to neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory that were already present in mainstream scientific publications and peer-reviewed literature. Some of the citations included:
4. Carroll, Robert L. "Towards a New Evolutionary Synthesis." Trends in Ecology and Evolution 15 (2000): 27-32.
11. Erwin, Douglas. "Macroevolution is More Than Repeated Rounds of Microevolution," Evolution & Development 2 (2000): 78-84.
23. Martin W., and M. Muller. "The Hydrogen Hypothesis for the First Eukaryote." Nature 392 (1998): 37-41.
28. Pennisi, E. "Direct descendants from an RNA world." Science 280 (1998): 673.
29. Philippe, Herve, and Patrick Forterre. "The Rooting of the Universal Tree of Life is Not Reliable." Journal of Molecular Evolution 49 (1999): 509-523.
The lesson plan was hardly the "clear path" to intelligent design that the ABJ editorial imagines. Actually reading the CAE lesson plan would have clarified things for the ABJ. Neither the term "intelligent design" nor any of the key concepts or arguments related to the theory of intelligent design were contained in the CAE lesson plan. If the CAE lesson plan really did include the theory of intelligent design—as the ABJ editorial insinuates—why didn't the ACLU ever sue the Ohio State Board of Education, like it immediately sued the Dover, Pennsylvania school board after they passed an ID-policy? The ABJ editorial obviously ignores this glaring point because it refutes its false history.
Unfortunately, the optional CAE lesson plan was repealed in February, 2006 by a slim majority of the Ohio Board. As a result, students in Ohio can only learn less about evolution than before. Ohio's model science curriculum is now thoroughly pro-Darwin-only. Sadly, the ABJ editorial applauds this one-sided and incomplete science instruction.
Finally, given the incorrect retelling of Ohio Board's actions in the ABJ editorial, it is unsurprising that the editorial also falsely defines the theory of intelligent design. Contrary to the ABJ editorial's distorted definition, as propounded by design theorists the theory of intelligent design simply holds that certain aspects of the universe and living things can best be explained by intelligence. This inference is justified because we find in nature structures with the same types of informational properties which, in our experience, come only from intelligence.
Since the ABJ is concerned with education, it might want to better educate itself about the history of evolution-education in Ohio, and also with the differences between teaching intelligent design and teaching critical analysis of evolution.
Posted by Casey Luskin on September 13, 2006 9:03 AM | Permalink
Every American should be troubled by this statement by a federal judge:
I think that some of the cross-examination was absolutely fabulous," said Jones. "It will endure, and I think it will be excerpted for advocacy classes. ... I would say, in particular, Eric Rothschild's cross-examination of Professor [Michael] Behe -- the intelligent design proponent -- that might be as good a cross-examination of an expert witness as I have ever seen. It was textbook. (quoted in Pennsylvania Lawyer, July/August, 2006)
This statement was made, of course, by Judge John Jones who presided over Dover v. Kitzmiller. And if Rothschild's cross-examination was indeed "textbook," then legal textbooks must be as filled with moral error as most high school biology textbooks are with errors of fact.
I was there. The cross examination was pure sophistry. Rothschild did nothing more than twist Behe's words. He then proceeded to do a theatrical literature dump on Behe--piling up the papers and books before the professor--and act as though because many scientific papers had the words "evolution" and "immune system" in the title then evolution by natural selection must have built the immune system. This was not an argument refuting Behe's work. This was a stunt. As one thoughtful ENV reader noted, this stunt reminds him of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street where the judge rules that Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus after piles and piles of letters are brought into the courtroom. After all, the letters addressed to Santa were delivered to Kris. So even the federal government (USPS) accepts that Kris is Santa!
To this stunt Behe responded appropriately:
Eric Rothschild, a lawyer for eight families suing to have intelligent design removed from the Dover Area School District's biology curriculum, presented Behe with a stack of more than a half-dozen books written about the evolution of the immune system.
"A lot of writing, huh?" Rothschild said.
But Behe was unmoved, noting that "evolution" has multiple meanings.
"I am quite skeptical that they present detailed, rigorous models of the evolution of the immune system through random mutation and natural selection," he said.
Every discerning person in attendance that day was surely asking himself, "If one of these papers or books has a piece of overwhelming evidence that the immune system was built by random mutation and natural selection, then why doesn't Rothschild just open one of them and point to such a passage?" The fact that the plaintiff's lawyers, who had months to prepare and had the advice of the NCSE and probably other Darwinist organizations as well, failed to point out any detailed, testable models for the evolution of the immune system through random mutation and natural selection speaks volumes. Such detailed accounts of Darwinian evolution do not exist, and I was more convinced of it than ever after watching this stunt.
But the worst part of the cross-examination was that Rothschild was absolutely snide, talking down to a kind man smarter than himself. It was embarrassing to watch. Let's not forget that Dr. Behe is a tenured biochemistry professor at a prestegious university with many peer-reviewed publications. Whole books have been written by prominent scientsts trying to refute his breakthrough scientific work. Think for a minute about his chief interlocutors. Here is just one example of Behe's give-and-take with scientists from Brown University, the National Academy of Sciences, and Harvard University.
The fact that Judge Jones singled these actions out for praise is incredible. The complete disregard for truth was and still is breathtaking. Americans who care about the search for truth--wherever they come down on the issue of evolution--should be embarrassed. Somewhere Plato is gently shaking his head, lips pursed, beard waving side-to-side.
Posted by Logan Gage on September 13, 2006 11:39 AM | Permalink
by Brandon Knott
published on Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Some Catholic theologians see no contradiction between their belief in divine creation and the theory of evolution, according to Macy Hanson's column in The State Press last Thursday. Therefore, Hanson pronounces, "every other Christian denomination ought to be able to do the same."
The issue is not that simple. Evolution holds that all living things arose through an impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance.
Can such a worldview provide a basis for morals, a concept of right and wrong, human personality or the value of human life?
I respectfully submit to you that it cannot.
Roman Catholic theologians who have tried to reconcile divine creation with the theory of evolution may feel that they have solved the controversy by asserting that God, at some point, infused man with a soul, as stated by Pope Pius XII in "Humani Generis" in 1950, and later by Pope John Paul II in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
The question is this: What is the basis for the notion that divine creation is compatible with evolutionary theory?
Surely it cannot be the acceptance of God's truth as taught in his holy word, the Bible. And therein lies the problem.
In Scriptures, the account of God's physical creation of mankind and the cosmos (Genesis 1:1-28) carefully notes that God created women and men in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27).
There is no separation here.
There's no distinction which implies that God's creation of nature and God's creation of human beings occurred in different epochs or eras.
The assertion that God created man's soul has no basis in the Bible apart from the account of the whole of creation--man, animals, plants, nature--as found in Genesis, referred to elsewhere in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament as well.
As for Hanson's attempt to make evolution equivalent with gravity in terms of "scientific fact," it goes without saying that gravity is a physical law, observed as a rule and regarded as such.
Conversely, evolution is a theory with many diverse forms. It is not indisputable fact, the way gravity is.
That change and adaptation are observed within a species is no mystery. But this does not necessitate that the many species of life arose from a common ancestor.
Further, there is no need for a common ancestor regardless of how much time, chance or fortuitous mutations may have been involved.
There is something fundamentally different here between the physical law of gravity and the modern theory of evolution (as the explanation for the origin of the species); they should not be tossed into frivolous equivalence.
Finally, I find it interesting that Hanson has chosen gravity as the "scientific fact" with which to equate evolution in his piece.
The scientist who came to the conclusion that there is a universal force of attraction between every body in the universe and put this concept in writing in "The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" in 1687, conducted his experiments on the basis that there are logical cause-and-effect relationships in nature because a logical God created nature.
That scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, was devoted to the Bible, and during the latter part of his life he wrote more on biblical topics than on science.
Regarding his work on gravity, Newton said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."
Brandon Knott is a chemical engineering senior, and can be reached at: Brandon.C.Knott@asu.edu.
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
An international team of scientists thinks it has solved the ultimate mystery of the Neanderthals: where and when they made their last stand before extinction. It was at Gibraltar 28,000 years ago, the scientists say, about 2,000 years more recently than previously thought.
The archaeologists and paleontologists reported yesterday finding several hundred stone tools in Gorham's Cave, on the rugged Mediterranean coast near the Rock of Gibraltar. They were made in the Mousterian stoneworking style, usually associated with Neanderthals. So far, no fossil bones of the cave occupants have been uncovered.
The researchers said, however, that the tools established the survival of a population of Neanderthals, a people closely related to human ancestors, in the southernmost point of Western Europe long after they disappeared elsewhere. These were, they concluded, the last Neanderthals "currently recorded anywhere."
The scientists, led by Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum, announced the discovery at a news conference at the museum. Their report was simultaneously published on the Web site of the journal Nature, www.nature.com. It will appear in the journal at a later date.
In an accompanying commentary in Nature, two paleontologists not involved in the research, Eric Delson and Katerina Harvati, agreed that the date of 28,000 years ago was "later than any other well- documented supposed Neanderthal occurrence."
They added a note of caution, however, saying that while Gorham's Cave "might well pinpoint the newly extended end of a long lineage" of Neanderthals in Europe, only "time will tell" if the findings are correct.
Dr. Delson is a paleontologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Harvati, an evolutionary scientist, is a specialist in Neanderthal research at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Dr. Delson said in an interview that the dates for the artifacts "appeared to be solid" and that southern Iberia "was indeed a region where Neanderthals survived long after modern humans were dominant elsewhere in Europe."
Recently revised dating shows that anatomically modern Homo sapiens migrated to Europe from Africa by 35,000 years ago and over time they displaced Neanderthals, who had lived on the continent for about 200,000 years.
Erik Trinkaus, a Neanderthal specialist at Washington University in St. Louis who was not a member of the discovery team, expressed reservations about the accuracy of the date of 28,000 years ago, noting that it was based on analysis of tiny pieces of charcoal, which often move from one layer to another in sediments.
Gorham's Cave has yielded many butchered animal bones and stone tools over the past 50 years. In fact, Neanderthal fossils were uncovered long ago in nearby Forbes Quarry, but were not recognized as such until after the first established Neanderthal specimen was found in 1856 in Germany.
Dr. Finlayson and Spanish archaeologists began digging in earnest at the cave in 1999. They methodically excavated more than 60 square feet of the cave floor by 2005, penetrating several layers with evidence of occupation. The depth of the layers indicated that the cave had been home to Mousterian toolmakers over a long stretch of time.
Indeed, the Finlayson team reported that some layers holding artifacts appeared to be only 24,000 years old. But they conceded that these dates were suspect.
Dr. Delson and Dr. Harvati also pointed out that "evidence of Mousterian tools does not in itself indicate that their makers were Neanderthals: this is merely a reasonable assumption."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
WDC MEDIA NEWS Christian News and Media Agency
2006-09-13 -- WDC Media News --
(AgapePress) - What do giraffes, woodpeckers, beavers, spiders and geckos all have in common? According to one video series, they all clearly demonstrate the variety and creative brilliance of nature's God -- and in the process undermine the theory of evolution.
Titled Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution, the series from Exploration Films drives a stake through the heart of the evolution monster by arguing that the complexity of animal design and behavior cannot be the result of chance and random mutations. Instead, it is proof of creationism, which states that the God of the Bible is the Creator -- and the mind behind the natural world and the universe. This view takes the Bible's Genesis account of creation literally.
The video series features Dr. Jobe Martin, founder of Biblical Discipleship Ministries, who has an enthusiastic delivery as he explains the arguments of creationism to viewers. He has spent the last 20 years exploring the differences between evolution and creationism.
Dr. Martin was a traditional evolutionist, the video says, "but his medical and scientific training would go through an evolution ... rather a revolution when he began to study animals that challenged the scientific assumptions of his education. This was the beginning of the evolution of a creationist."
One remarkable example of the creationist perspective in Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution focuses on a particular mussel that lives in the streams and rivers in the American Northwest. It attracts a specific type of fish with an appendage which looks like a minnow -- complete with an eye -- and which wriggles like a fish.
At the precise moment when the fish approaches and opens its mouth to attack, the mussel discharges tiny mussel larvae, which then cling to the fish's gills. These tiny mussels remain as parasites, where they grow until they're large enough to detach and begin their own lives on the riverbed.
Dr. Martin argues that evolution can't explain how a mussel could evolve such an instrument by random mutations, then figure out how to use it effectively as a lure, and subsequently learn how to -- or even why it should -- discharge its larvae toward the fish. Moreover, Dr. Martin asks, how do the tiny mussels know what to do once they are discharged?
These and other provocative questions are asked about numerous animals.
Christians who watch any of the volumes of Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution will be pleased with another aspect of the series. While some critics of evolution are careful to detach their theory from religion in general, this video series is unapologetic in its proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, each video gives a brief explanation of redemption through the Incarnation, cross and resurrection of Christ.
Dr. Martin said the series is meant to help believers understand creationism. "There is a growing desire on the part of a good many Christians to learn more about what the God of the Bible says He did during that creation week" in Genesis, he told AFA Journal.
The well-crafted series, which so far consists of three volumes, available in both DVD and VHS formats, contains beautiful and fascinating footage of the animal life under discussion. It is further enhanced by the easy-going, engaging style of host David Hames.
While the videos have limited bonus features, Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution is perfectly suited for home-viewing as well as Sunday School and other church gatherings. The series was the recipient of the International Telly Award and Communicator Award.
Exploration Films also offers a number of other video resources, such as The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai, The Mystery of the Ark of the Covenant, and First Love, a retrospective on the lives and music of the Christian artists who helped launch the Jesus People movement.
Ed Vitagliano, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is news editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article, printed with permission, appears in the September 2006 issue.
© 2006 AgapePress
2006-09-12 -- WDC Media News --
(AgapePress) - Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), says his group's Creation Museum is getting some major projects finished as its public opening edges closer. The biblical creation-themed museum, which is located near Cincinnati, Ohio, is scheduled to open in April 2007.
This week, Ham notes, one of the largest of the Creation Museum's exhibits, "the Wonders Room," will be installed. This attraction, he explains, will feature 18 different presentations concerning the wonders of God's creation.
"The Creation Walk is well under way," the AiG spokesman says. "The rock is being done right now, where people are going to walk through the whole history of the world from creation through corruption," he continues, with "the cave of sorrows, then catastrophe, Noah's ark, Noah's flood -- there's even a whole section of the ark that's under construction here to show the size of the ark compared to the original."
Although the opening of the museum is still many months away, Ham says AiG and its Creation Museum have had such an enthusiastic response from potential visitors that it has been necessary to make a larger parking lot, a larger lobby, and a larger café. "Statistics indicate we're going to get hundreds of thousands of people a year, and everyone recognized that we needed more parking and so on," he notes.
All this has increased the museum's construction budget a little bit, the creationist points out. "It's now something like a $27 million budget," he says, "but of the $25 million that we set out to raise for the original budget, we raised $23 million. So there's only two million to go for the original budget, and then about two million for the expansion that we've had to do before we open."
That expansion, while not in the original plan, was welcome news to Ham, who observes that it's "really good when you've got to expand before you open." He says AiG's ultimate goal is to open the museum debt-free, and he believes things are looking very positive for an auspicious opening in the spring of next year.
Ed Thomas, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
© 2006 AgapePress
`No unique pattern' of symptoms found
By Andrew Bridges Associated Press Published September 13, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The unexplained symptoms that afflict thousands of Persian Gulf war veterans do not constitute a single illness, a federally funded study concludes.
Even though U.S. and foreign veterans of the 1991 war report more symptoms of illness than do soldiers who did not serve in the Persian Gulf, there is no such thing as gulf war syndrome, according to the Veterans Affairs-sponsored report released Tuesday. Nearly 30 percent of all those who served in the brief war have reported problems.
"There's no unique pattern of symptoms. Every pattern identified in gulf war veterans also seems to exist in other veterans, though it is important to note the symptom rate is higher, and it is a serious issue," said Dr. Lynn Goldman of Johns Hopkins University, who headed the Institute of Medicine committee that prepared the report.
The report did find evidence of an elevated risk of the rare nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, among gulf war veterans. Those veterans also face an increased risk of anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse, it said.
The VA contracted with the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to review scientific studies and probe the issue at the direction of Congress. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Phil Budahn said the VA would not comment until it had a chance to study the report.
Tuesday's report is the latest in a series that the VA will rely on to determine whether gulf war veterans are eligible for special disability benefits if they are found to suffer from illnesses that can be linked to their service.
Veterans can now claim those benefits only by making an undiagnosed illness claim, said Steve Robinson, a gulf war Army veteran and government relations director for Veterans for America.
"They keep saying it over and over, every year. We know . . . that there is no single thing that made veterans sick. We know this thing is likely a combination of various exposures," Robinson said in pushing for new studies he hopes will find what ails tens of thousands of his fellow vets.
Soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 have reported symptoms that include fatigue, memory loss, muscle and joint pain, rashes and difficulty sleeping.
For years, the government denied the mysterious illnesses were linked to the war. It now acknowledges that at least some were due to wartime service.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor Reuters Wednesday, August 30, 2006; 8:33 AM
PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict gathers some of his former theology students on Friday for a private weekend debate on evolution and religion, an issue conservative Christians have turned into a political cause in the United States.
Benedict, who taught theology at four German universities before rising in the Catholic Church hierarchy, has pondered weighty ideas with his former Ph.D students at annual meetings since the late 1970s without any media fuss.
But his election as pope last year and controversies over teaching evolution in the United States have aroused lively interest in this year's reunion on September 1-3 at the papal summer residence of Castel Gondolfo outside Rome.
Religion and science blogs are buzzing about whether it means the Vatican will take a more critical view of evolution and possibly embrace "Intelligent Design," which claims to have scientific proof that human life could not have simply evolved.
But Father Stephan Horn, a German theologian organizing the pope's meeting with 39 former students, said that reflected a misunderstanding of how the so-called "student circle" works and what the Catholic Church teaches about evolution.
"We've never drawn any conclusions in our student circle," he told Reuters by telephone from Rome. "This is an open exchange of ideas that does not aim for a conclusion.
"It has nothing to do with creationism," he added, referring to a fundamentalist Protestant view that God created the world in six days as described in the Book of Genesis. "Catholic theology does not endorse creationist views."
DARWIN UNDER ATTACK
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has long been rejected in the United States by conservative Christians who want to have a Bible-based view of creation taught in public schools, where the church-state separation bars the teaching of religion.
More recently, Darwin's critics have campaigned to have "intelligent design" taught as a scientific alternative to evolution. President George W. Bush and other conservative politicians support this drive to "teach the controversy."
The "ID movement" does not name the designer as God, but its opponents -- including scientists who are believing Christians -- call this an unacceptable bid to sneak God into the teaching of science, which should only focus on empirical knowledge.
Catholic teaching accepts evolution as a scientific theory and does not read the Biblical story of creation literally. But it disagrees with what it calls "evolutionism," the view that the story of life has no role for God as its prime author.
"The possibility that the Creator used evolution as a tool is completely acceptable for the Catholic faith," Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, one of the two main speakers at the meeting, said last week.
Schoenborn, a close associate of Benedict, raised eyebrows last year with an article in the New York Times suggesting the Catholic Church supported the Intelligent Design movement.
He did not endorse it outright, but agreed with the ID movement's view that scientists who say evolution rules out God draw an ideological conclusion not proven by the theory.
Benedict has argued this way since his teaching days. At his inaugural mass after his election last year, he declared: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."
Horn said Benedict and his students would probe further into this issue at their meeting: "We have to ask what is really scientific in Darwin's theory and its later development and where there are ideological elements that are unscientific."
By Wendy Wagner and Rena Steinzor
Originally published September 5, 2006
The election that captured headlines last month was Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's defeat in Connecticut, but the race that interested us was in Kansas, where voters ousted two state school board incumbents, tipping the balance on the board back toward teaching evolution in the public schools. It was a rare victory for science in the realm of politics.
Sadly, the integrity of science doesn't count for as much as it should where politicians are involved - and not just on state school boards. The Bush administration and its conservative allies in Congress and industry have routinely and systematically curbed scientists' independence by reshaping, rewriting and suppressing scientific analysis that is inconsistent with the heavily political agendas of special interests, from chemical and oil companies to the religious right.
A case in point is the Food and Drug Administration's recent but long-delayed approval of Plan B - the so-called morning-after pill - for over-the-counter sales, in response to a petition several years ago from the drug's manufacturer. FDA's various professional and scientific arms, including the expert scientific advisory panel in charge of reviewing the safety and efficacy of over-the-counter medications and reproductive drugs, recommended approval. Yet FDA's political officials ignored the final, overwhelming vote by those scientists, instead rejecting the petition at the behest of religious fundamentalists. Only under intense pressure did the political appointees finally get out of the way of the scientists and medical professionals and approve the petition.
Other examples of the administration's disrespect for science and the scientific community are legion. They include:
• Editing, by White House staff, of a scientific assessment of global warming in an Environmental Protection Agency report to Congress.
• Playing down the causes, evidence and danger of global warming.
• Revising a National Cancer Institute Web site to suggest that women who have had abortions are more likely to have breast cancer (an assertion unsupported by science).
• Stacking government agencies' various scientific advisory committees with pro-industry scientists or with candidates with scant scientific experience but impeccable ideological credentials.
Meanwhile, some administration allies have taken to harassing scientists whose findings threaten industry profit.
One internationally recognized global-warming expert, professor Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, had to spend hundreds of hours away from his research when Rep. Joe L. Barton, a Texas Republican, demanded detailed responses to a lengthy series of questions drawn from a critique of his research produced not by scientists but by an economist and a businessman. The National Academy of Sciences and others protested Mr. Barton's demand, but the expert, whose work had been replicated and peer-reviewed, still had to submit to Mr. Barton's congressional subpoena.
With the powers-that-be showing such disrespect for science, Kansas-style victories for science over ideology are all the more important. But cleaning up the damage done to science over the last few years requires more than sending a few school board members packing. The problem goes beyond the White House, the executive agencies and Congress; in the courts, scientific research and analysis are increasingly subject to interference and ideological assault.
Fixing the problem requires, first and foremost, a new commitment from all players to quit treating uncertainties in scientific research as justification for inaction on public health, environmental protection, worker safety and the approval of new drugs. Science informs policy decisions, and research must be as good and complete as possible. But decision-makers should take responsibility for what they do or fail to do, and stop hiding behind claims that "the science isn't there yet" to defer action.
Specific reforms are in order, too. They include the insulation of research from inappropriate pressure from interested parties, including political appointees and industry; legal reforms to protect scientists from baseless litigation aimed at punishing them for their findings; increased funding for research so that important but underresearched issues (such as the effects of pesticides) are explored even if industry would rather they not be; and insistence by regulatory agencies that scientists submitting research for rulemaking procedures disclose any conflicts of interest - paychecks from the regulated industry, for example.
Many of the immediate risks from politicizing science are clear: chief among them, harm to public health and the environment because of the failure to adopt needed safeguards against a variety of hazards. But the long-term threat is that by treating scientific findings as if they were just another piece of political rhetoric - something to be attacked, suppressed and abused rather than respected - we devalue the importance of scientific exploration. Kansas voters sent an important message in that regard this summer. Let's hope others follow suit.
Law professors Wendy Wagner of the University of Texas and Rena Steinzor of the University of Maryland are member scholars of the Center for Progressive Reform, and editors of "Rescuing Science from Politics." Their e-mails are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun
GUY MORRISS By J.V. HOLLAND Cougfan.com Correspondent Posted Sep 12, 2006
TO THE CHAGRIN OF BAYLOR football fans, once steeped in the steady success of Grant Teaff during his Hall of Fame coaching career that concluded in 1992, their East-Central Texas school is now better known for its controversial role in the dubious effort to move the study of creationism, typically limited to philosophy and religion classes, into the arena of science.
Once upon a time, the name Baylor conjured images of a giant slayer in the Southwest Conference. In the late 70s and early 80s, Bears All-American Mike Singletary, tenacious on the field and a scholar off it, was the exemplar of all that was good about college football.
Nowadays you mention Baylor and you're more likely to get a blank stare or a reference to Charles Darwin rolling over in his grave.
Indeed, on the gridiron, the Bears of the last decade could have used a heavy infusion of intelligent design. They've gone 10 straight seasons without a winning record. Last year's 5-6 showing marked the first time in eight campaigns they won more than three games.
In the halls of academia, however, Baylor has been a regular in the headlines.
It started with the school's creation of an Intelligent Design research center in 1999 and ended with what has been described as a pitched battle between moderate and fundamentalist Christians for the soul of the university. In the process, wrote a national magazine, "one university president fell, the theory of Intelligent Design was wedged into the curriculum and then railroaded out, the faculty went to the mat to defend its academic freedom policy, alumni groups splintered, and headlines screamed blow-by-blow accounts."
Ironically, Baylor's public relations woes and internal identity crisis can be traced to the city where the Bears will be playing Washington State's Cougars this Saturday: Seattle.
The notion of refashioning creationism into "intelligent design," and then pushing it as legitimate science rather than philosophy or faith, was hatched at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. And Baylor came to Seattle to find a director for its now-defunct Intelligent Design research center.
When it comes to evolution, though, Baylor head coach Guy Morriss is hell bent on transmutating the Bears back into winners. The former Philadelphia Eagles standout and Kentucky head coach has by all accounts got Baylor back on the road to respectability. Last year, his third in Waco, the Bears started 3-0 and later won their first-ever Big 12 road game, at Iowa State, since joining the conference in 1996. The season before, the Bears pulled a huge upset when they knocked off former Southwest Conference rival Texas A&M. ...
'Accounts about Man don't add up without God' says pontiff
(ANSA) - Regensburg, September 12 - Pope Benedict XVI on Monday issued his strongest criticism yet of evolutionary theory, calling it "unreasonable" .
Speaking to a 300,000-strong crowd in this German city, the former theological watchdog said that, according to such theories derived from Charles Darwin's work, the universe is "the random result of evolution and therefore, at bottom, something unreasonable" .
The homily appeared to throw the Catholic Church's full weight behind the theory of intelligent design (ID) - a subject of massive controversy in the United States .
The Catholic Church has for over 50 years accepted Darwin's theory of random selection as the most probable cause of development, but has alway stressed God's role .
Recently, however, top theologians have clashed with Catholic scientists over so-called 'evolutionism' - that is, attempts to make evolution explain everything .
Vatican theologian Christoph Schoenborn made headlines with a New York Times article a year ago which endorsed the ID theory that has roiled US academic debate and appeared to back full-fledged Creationism, the core Bible story. Just before a brainstorming session with the pope on the eve of his Germany trip, Schoenborn admitted his NYT article had been a little too "cut-and-dried," laying it open to misinterpretation .
Supporters of ID pounced on the NYT article in their fight to win credibility for a theory many scientists see as Creationism in respectable clothing .
In response, the director of the Vatican's Space Observatory, Father George Coyne, said critics of evolutionary theory underestimated God's willingness to give "freedom" to Nature .
The Baltimore-born Jesuit, 73, who has just stepped down after 28 years at the helm of the Vatican's flagship science programme, rapped Schoenborn for "underestimating" the US context in which he was speaking and branded Creationism as "a religious movement devoid of all scientific basis" .
Schoenborn responded by clarifying his position, saying that evolution as a body of scientific fact was compatible with Catholicism, but that evolution as an ideological dogma that denied design and purpose in Nature was not .
But he stressed that more attention should be given to the holes in Darwin's theory, "which (Darwin) himself recognised and regretted" .
"The open questions of the theory of evolution should be exposed" rather than pushing Darwinism as the explanation for how life developed, the cardinal said, questioning the propriety of clerics defending evolution .
Some reports have claimed Coyne was, in fact, sacked because of his defence of evolution but Vatican sources insist he asked to quit because of ill health .
Benedict - who taught Schoenborn at Regensburg before becoming the Vatican's dogma pointman, his previous job - was last heard on the subject on World Youth Day in April .
He told his young audience in St Peter's that "science supports a reliable, intelligent structure of matter, the design of Creation" .
On Tuesday he echoed this view, saying that "Creational Reason, the Spirit that operates everything...fosters development" .
"Accounts about Man don't add up without God, just as accounts about the world, the vast universe, do not add up without Him" .
Evolutionary theories, he said, posit that "the Irrational, without reason, strangely produces a cosmos controlled by mathematical rules, and even man and his (powers of) reason" .
In December, in a controversial ruling, a US local court rejected the teaching of ID alongside the theory of evolution .
Several US states teach the theory, claiming it is as credible as Darwinism .
Critics say ID is merely camouflaged Creationism and does not belong in science curricula. Supporters of ID hold that some features of the universe and living things are so complex they must have been designed by a higher intelligence .
© Copyright ANSA
Michael Clancy The Arizona Republic Sept. 12, 2006 12:00 AM
The Rev. George Coyne, one of Arizona's foremost astronomers, has stepped down as director of the Vatican Observatory.
He denies reports that he was sacked because of his positions favoring evolution over intelligent design.
Coyne, 73, a Tucson resident since 1965, said the decision to leave his post was his alone after 28 years in the job. advertisement
"A scientific-research institute such as ours requires a continuous input of new initiatives," said Coyne, a faculty member at the University of Arizona, where he has conducted his research for the Vatican.
He was replaced by the Rev. Jose Funes, an Argentinian who, like Coyne, is a Jesuit priest.
A serious scholar, Coyne was a regular speaker in the Phoenix area on the subjects of science, religion and culture.
"Being religious priests, employed by the church, we are interested in religious thought, too," he told The Arizona Republic in 2002, prior to one such engagement. "There is no conflict with science. Creation and the science of the origin of the universe are very different things."
Such remarks, including pointed critiques of creationism and intelligent design, led some observers to label Coyne "controversial." The Daily Mail in London reported Coyne was "sacked" for his ideas, which it claimed conflicted with those of Pope Benedict XVI.
"Transitions like this always seem to generate some imaginative journalism," Coyne said.
He claimed he has had plenty of support from the pope as well as his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
The observatory has a major presence in Arizona astronomy circles since Coyne played a key role in moving its research operations to the University of Arizona in 1981. He persuaded the Vatican that the night skies around Rome were getting too bright.
Arizona was chosen because Coyne already was a member of the university faculty, and Arizona already had established itself as a center of astronomy. Several other Vatican Observatory astronomers also served on the faculty.
Among his major accomplishments was leading the Vatican's participation in the construction of telescopes atop Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope now is one of three telescopes built on the mountain over objections of Native Americans and environmental interests.
Coyne was well-known as observatory director, primarily because the Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest in existence, said the Rev. Chris Corbally, assistant director.
"We are small but well placed in the astronomical community," he said.
He said Coyne was especially revered for years of teaching introductory astronomy at the university.
The Vatican Observatory was established in 1891 to advance astronomical knowledge and to demonstrate church support for the physical sciences. Papal support for astronomy can be traced to 1579, when Pope Gregory XIII sponsored the study of planetary orbits. That study culminated in the Gregorian calendar.
Coyne said he will take a year of sabbatical as a parish priest in Raleigh, N.C. He said he would return to the observatory next September.
Toady's story about the Pope's latest remarks on evolution is very positive. It is based on an appearance before a huge crowd of 300,000 in Regensburg, Germany. The Pope also gave a scholarly address at the University there on Christianity and hellenism that makes some interesting philosophical points that bear further study.
In the larger gathering covered in this "ANSA" article, Pope Benedict seems to indicate that it is Darwin's theory that is the form of "evolution" he is talking about. So one doesn't have to worry any more that people in the Vatican are failing to distinguish between the bland idea of "evolution" as mere "change over time" or micro-evolution and, on the other hand, Darwinism. The pope has no problem with micro-evolution. Neither do we. Evolution as mere change over time is not Darwinism, no matter how the NCSE apologists try to spin it to the plain folk. The key is that Darwin's theory posits an unguided process of life's development. That is what the Pope apparently can't accept. And if you pretend it's the same process, but somehow still guided, you may get theistic evolutionism, but it ain't Darwinism or neo-Darwinism! (It also doesn't make much sense.) If it is guided, it is not Darwin's theory. It could well be ID, depending on whether the design is detectable.
Please note in this piece, however, that once again a reporter falsely conflates intelligent design with Biblical creationism, and gets the definition of ID wrong. At this point in the debate, reporters who do this have to be counted as hostile, not simply erroneous.
The piece also is speculating without reason that the Pope is endorsing the scientific theory of intelligent design, per se. He doesn't say anything like that -- read the text and see for yourself right here. We at Discovery are not claiming that, and people who attended the Pope's recent seminar with his former students say ID as such didn't even come up.
It is altogether possible that the Vatican will not get into the question of ID. So why keep indicating that it will? I think it is to deflect attention from the growing awareness that Darwin's theory—properly understood in its implications, as, say Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myers fully do—does challenge serious theism. More importantly, the press teasers that ID may be embraced as scientific theory by the Vatican also distracts from the realization that the Vatican and many others are indeed recognizing that Darwin's theory is false on scientific grounds, or at least is highly doubtful. Once that emphasis gets through to people, not only in the Church but in society as a whole, the sooner people will demand that the scientific claims of Darwin and his followers be examined fairly and openly. No more hand waving and bullying as scientific arguments.
The piece also tries to pit the Pope against "Catholic scientists". Well, we know some Catholics who are scientists who think the Pope is right.
Posted by Bruce Chapman on September 12, 2006 2:24 PM | Permalink
By John-Henry Westen
REGENSBURG, Germany, September 12, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - This morning Pope Benedict XVI discussed evolution in his homily at the outdoor Mass celebrated in Islinger Field. In a direct attack on the concept of random chance evolution, Pope Benedict asked rhetorically: "What came first? Creative Reason, the Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason."
The Pope explained that the belief in God as Creator comes in the most ancient profession of faith known to Christians, the Apostles' Creed. "As Christians, we say: I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth - I believe in the Creator Spirit. We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason," he said.
While faith is not opposed to science, the Pope noted that some scientific endeavor is aimed at opposing faith. "From the Enlightenment on, science, at least in part, has applied itself to seeking an explanation of the world in which God would be unnecessary," he said. The Pope added, "And if this were so, he (God) would also become unnecessary in our lives."
Man, "would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless," said the Pope.
However, Benedict XVI, noted assuredly that attempts to show God as unnecessary in the explanation of the universe are futile. "But whenever the attempt seemed to be nearing success - inevitably it would become clear: something is missing from the equation!," he said. "When God is subtracted, something doesn't add up for man, the world, the whole vast universe."
See the English translation of the homily from Vatican Radio here:
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