NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 October 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scientists Shatters Evolution Theory


By Zaman, Istanbul Wednesday, October 04, 2006 zaman.com

Scientific research conducted in Germany showed that the differences between apes and human beings cannot be explained with the Theory of Evolution.

According to Time Magazine, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, will announce their findings in a few weeks that "the sequencing of a significant fraction of the genome of Neanderthals--the human-like species we picture when we hear the word caveman--who are far closer to us genetically than chimps are."

Time magazine's article noted that the protein coded by the human FOXP2 gene has the same protein as in various great apes and in mice; however, the difference in the amino-acid sequence enables human beings to develop speech.

The article commented further: "the genetic differences between chimps and humans must be relatively subtle. And they can't all be due simply to a slightly different mix of genes."

Turkish Delight for Creationists [John Derbyshire]


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I've been saying for a while, in this space and elsewhere, that Creationism (a.k.a. "Intelligent Design") is essentially an outgrowth from American folk religion, with little international standing. Sure, you can find the odd Creationist in Munich or Mumbhai; but then, you can find Taoists in Tallahassee—Taoism is still Chinese.

I may have to retire, or at least modify, this line of argument. The current issue of Seed has an article (not online apparently) titled "Not In Kansas Anymore" about the burgeoning Creationist movement in Turkey.

"In August, Science published an analysis of global public attitudes toward evolution showing that, out of 34 sample countries, the U.S. and Turkey had the lowest acceptance of Darwin's theories. While their cultures may be at war in other realms, the enemies of science in both the Middle East and Middle America are finding common ground..."

The leading sctivist in Turkish Creationism is Adnan Oktar, pen name Harun Yahya, founder of BAV (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, means "Scientific Research Foundation"—my guess would be that they do about as much actual scientific research as the Discovery Institute does discovering).

"In its latest campaign, BAV has opened more than 80 "museums" in restaurants, malls, and city halls across Turkey, each stocked with fossils, posters, and eager volunteers. Oktar's disciples use tactics cribbed from U.S. organizations like California's Institute for Creation Research, instructing passers-by that evolution cannot explain biology's complexity [Michael Behe, call your office] and is against the word of God. But unlike its western counterparts, Oktar's group claims Darwin is responsible for communism, fascism, and terrorism. Terrorists, according to Oktar, are 'social Darwinists hiding under the cloak of religion'..."

Is it fanciful of me to see the seeds (sorry) of a Grand Alliance here between Christian and Muslim Creationists, both intent on stamping out modern biology—oops, sorry, I mean "Darwinism"—worldwide?

Posted at 9:36 AM

Time Aping over Human-Chimp Genetic Similarities


The current issue of Time features a cover story preaching evolution to the skeptical public and editorializing that humans and chimps are related. Though the cover graphic (below) shows half-human, half-chimp iconography, University of North Carolina, Charlotte anthropologist Jonathan Marks warns us against "exhibit[ing] the same old fallacies: ... humanizing apes and ape-ifying humans" (What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee, pg. xv [2002]). The cover-graphic commits both fallacies:

The article also claims that it's easy to see "how closely the great apes--gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans--resemble us," but then observes in a contradictory fashion that "agriculture, language, art, music, technology and philosophy" are "achievements that make us profoundly different from chimpanzees." Perhaps Michael Ruse was wise to ask "[w]here is the baboon Shakespeare or the chimpanzee Mozart?" (The Darwinian Paradigm, pg. 253 [1989]).

Common Descent, or Common Design?

The article predictably touts the 98-99% genetic similarity statistic between humans and chimps, assuming that the similarity demonstrates common ancestry. Can common ancestry explain shared functional genetic similarities between humans and chimps? Sure, of course. But so can common design: designers regularly re-use parts that work when making similar blueprints. The article ignores that shared functional similarities between two organisms do not rule out design in favor of descent.

Evolutionary Miracle Mutations

The article also discusses a "mutation" that could allow a loss in jaw-muscle strength, which evolutionary biologists hypothesize allowed the human braincase to grow larger. It's a nice just-so story, but paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood explained why simply identifying these genetic differences does not provide a compelling evolutionary explanation where natural selection would preserve the mutations:

"The mutation would have reduced the Darwinian fitness of those individuals … It only would've become fixed if it coincided with mutations that reduced tooth size, jaw size and increased brain size. What are the chances of that?"

(quoted in Joseph Verrengia, "Gene Mutation Said Linked to Evolution" Union Tribune, 03-24-04)

The article also makes the unbelievable claim that two mutations could account for "the emergence of all aspects of human speech, from a baby's first words to a Robin Williams monologue." Are they joking? If human speech evolved via Darwinian means, it would require slowly evolving a suite of highly complex characteristics lacking in animals—a feat some experts think is impossible:

Chomsky and some of his fiercest opponents agree on one thing: that a uniquely human language instinct seems to be incompatible with the modern Darwinian theory of evolution, in which complex biological systems arise by the gradual accumulation over generations of random genetic mutations that enhance reproductive success. ... Non-human communication systems are based on one of three designs [but] ... human language has a very different design. The discrete combinatorial system called "grammar" makes human language infinite (there is no limit to the number of complex words or sentences in a language), digital (this infinity is achieved by rearranging discrete elements in particular orders and combinations, not by varying some signal along a continuum like the mercury in a thermometer), and compositional (each of the infinite combinations has a different meaning predictable from the meanings of its parts and the rules and principles arranging them).

(Pinker, S., Chapter 11 of The Language Instinct (1994).)

While Pinker believes that human language can be explained by Darwinism, human speech and language is exceedingly complex compared to animal language. Claiming it could evolve in two mutations is unbelievable.

Functional Non-Coding DNA: The Evolutionists' New Best Friend?

Ironically, the article admits that stark differences between humans and chimps may stem from functional non-coding DNA, which regulates protein production. In an elegant analogy, Owen Lovejoy explains that the 98-99% similarity in coding-regions of DNA ("bricks") may be irrelevant because it's "like having the blueprints for two different brick houses. The bricks are the same, but the results are very different."

Darwinists often cite similarities in non-coding DNA as evidence of chimp-human common ancestry. Yet the Time article explains that non-coding DNA has function—perhaps holding the functions responsible for the differences between humans and chimps:

Those molecular switches lie in the noncoding regions of the genome--once known dismissively as junk DNA but lately rechristened the dark matter of the genome. ... "But it may be the dark matter that governs a lot of what we actually see."

Though the article still asserts much of the genome is junk, Richard Sternberg and James A. Shapiro wrote recently that "one day, we will think of what used to be called 'junk DNA' as a critical component of truly 'expert' cellular control regimes" ("How Repeated Retroelements format genome function," Cytogenetic and Genome Research 110:108–116 [2005]).

Evidence of function in non-coding DNA not only casts doubt upon whether the 98-99%-protein-coding-DNA-similarity statistic is relevant to assessing the degree of genetic similarity between humans and chimps, but it also shows that similarities in human and chimp non-coding DNA could be explained by common design.

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 4, 2006 10:02 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Evolution theory relies on faith, too


Scott Bahr

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The gubernatorial race has again brought the creation-evolution debate to the forefront of public discourse. As always, creationism, or intelligent design, is accused of not being science, and it's not. However, evolution is not pure science, either, and to understand why, we have to review what science actually is.

Science is defined by the scientific method. It begins with a hypothesis formulated to explain an observed phenomenon and concludes with the confirmation or dismissal of that hypothesis based on repeated observation through controlled experiments.

In short, repeated observation is the test of science.

Both creationists and evolutionists have logically derived hypotheses for the origin of our world and its inhabitants. Creationists believe in an Intelligent Designer who set nature in motion, and evolutionists believe that nature itself is the infinite being and the source of all we know.

How theories differ

Both theories cite the same evidence, but they interpret the evidence differently based on their presuppositions. For example, science shows that a wide variety of organisms share an extraordinarily high percentage of DNA sequences. Evolutionists see this as evidence of a common ancestor, but creationists see this as evidence of a common builder.

The problem with answering the question of origins is that neither hypothesis is testable. We can't recreate the scenario to observe the process.

We can continue to interpret the evidence according to our respective worldviews, but the underlying hypotheses cannot be proved or disproved scientifically. Each must be taken on faith, meaning Darwinism is just as faith-based as creationism.

Another critical aspect of the scientific method is that only one piece of contrary evidence is required to disprove a theory. Evolutionists have presented plenty of supportive evidence, but any contrary evidence is unquestioningly cast aside. Several courts have even prohibited public schools from objectively presenting such contrary evidence.

Why are scientists so averse to considering the potential flaws of evolution? I believe it's because many modern scientists are committed to science as a naturalistic idea rather than a method. To preserve this idea, they arbitrarily reject the possibility of supernatural origins.

Science defends belief system

Such reckless disregard for untested hypotheses is unscientific, but in the discussion of origins, much of the scientific community willingly accepts it.

Science, therefore, is treated not as an objective pursuit of the truth, but as a defense of a belief system without God.

Thus, the debate truly involves two opposing faiths: creationism and naturalism.

Pundits should therefore be careful in endorsing "pure science" while decrying faith in the classroom, for doing so incriminates both creationism and evolution.

The irony of this discussion is that even evolution requires intelligent design to be valid. The scientific method assumes an ordered universe that obeys natural absolute laws. If this were not so, experiments would not be repeatable and our efforts would be in vain.

Repeatable observation is perhaps the strongest evidence for an Intelligent Designer, for even the most studied evolutionists cannot escape the fact that the very forces that drive their natural world had to come from somewhere.

Sure, we can concoct explanations of how everything came to be, but these exist within the framework of an ordered universe of consistent natural laws.

This is why an intellectually honest discussion of origins belongs in the classroom. Without a reasonable understanding of how this order commenced, scientific study has no purpose.

Since both creation and evolution are faith-based belief systems, promoting one over the other is unconstitutional by the current legal standard.

If we want our kids to learn pure science, we must teach them to honestly assess the validity of each hypothesis using all of the evidence.

Scott Bahr is a freelance writer from Livonia. Please mail letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226, fax them to (313) 222-6417 or e-mail them to letters@detnews.com.

Out-of-Body Experience? Your Brain Is to Blame



Published: October 3, 2006

They are eerie sensations, more common than one might think: A man describes feeling a shadowy figure standing behind him, then turning around to find no one there. A woman feels herself leaving her body and floating in space, looking down on her corporeal self.

But according to recent work by neuroscientists, they can be induced by delivering mild electric current to specific spots in the brain. In one woman, for example, a zap to a brain region called the angular gyrus resulted in a sensation that she was hanging from the ceiling, looking down at her body. In another woman, electrical current delivered to the angular gyrus produced an uncanny feeling that someone was behind her, intent on interfering with her actions.

The two women were being evaluated for epilepsy surgery at University Hospital in Geneva, where doctors implanted dozens of electrodes into their brains to pinpoint the abnormal tissue causing the seizures and to identify adjacent areas involved in language, hearing or other essential functions that should be avoided in the surgery. As each electrode was activated, stimulating a different patch of brain tissue, the patient was asked to say what she was experiencing.

Dr. Olaf Blanke, a neurologist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland who carried out the procedures, said that the women had normal psychiatric histories and that they were stunned by the bizarre nature of their experiences.

The Sept. 21 issue of Nature magazine includes an account by Dr. Blanke and his colleagues of the woman who sensed a shadow person behind her. They described the out-of-body experiences in the February 2004 issue of the journal Brain.

There is nothing mystical about these ghostly experiences, said Peter Brugger, a neuroscientist at University Hospital in Zurich, who was not involved in the experiments but is an expert on phantom limbs, the sensation of still feeling a limb that has been amputated, and other mind-bending phenomena.

"The research shows that the self can be detached from the body and can live a phantom existence on its own, as in an out-of-body experience, or it can be felt outside of personal space, as in a sense of a presence," Dr. Brugger said.

Scientists have gained new understanding of these odd bodily sensations as they have learned more about how the brain works, Dr. Blanke said. For example, researchers have discovered that some areas of the brain combine information from several senses. Vision, hearing and touch are initially processed in the primary sensory regions. But then they flow together, like tributaries into a river, to create the wholeness of a person's perceptions. A dog is visually recognized far more quickly if it is simultaneously accompanied by the sound of its bark.

These multisensory processing regions also build up perceptions of the body as it moves through the world, Dr. Blanke said. Sensors in the skin provide information about pressure, pain, heat, cold and similar sensations. Sensors in the joints, tendons and bones tell the brain where the body is positioned in space. Sensors in the ears track the sense of balance. And sensors in the internal organs, including the heart, liver and intestines, provide a readout of a person's emotional state.

Real-time information from the body, the space around the body and the subjective feelings from the body are also represented in multisensory regions, Dr. Blanke said. And if these regions are directly simulated by an electric current, as in the cases of the two women he studied, the integrity of the sense of body can be altered.

As an example, Dr. Blanke described the case of a 22-year-old student who had electrodes implanted into the left side of her brain in 2004.

"We were checking language areas," Dr. Blanke said, when the woman turned her head to the right. That made no sense, he said, because the electrode was nowhere near areas involved in the control of movement. Instead, the current was stimulating a multisensory area called the angular gyrus.

Dr. Blanke applied the current again. Again, the woman turned her head to the right. "Why are you doing this?" he asked.

The woman replied that she had a weird sensation that another person was lying beneath her on the bed. The figure, she said, felt like a "shadow" that did not speak or move; it was young, more like a man than a woman, and it wanted to interfere with her.

When the woman sat up, leaned forward and hugged her knees, she said that she felt as if the shadow man was also sitting and that he was clasping her in his arms. She said it felt unpleasant. When she held a card in her right hand, she reported that the shadow figure tried to take it from her. "He doesn't want me to read," she said.

Because the presence closely mimicked the patient's body posture and position, Dr. Blanke concluded that the patient was experiencing an unusual perception of her own body, as a double. But for reasons that scientists have not been able to explain, he said, she did not recognize that it was her own body she was sensing.

The feeling of a shadowy presence can occur without electrical stimulation to the brain, Dr. Brugger said. It has been described by people who undergo sensory deprivation, as in mountaineers trekking at high altitude or sailors crossing the ocean alone, and by people who have suffered minor strokes or other disruptions in blood flow to the brain.

Six years ago, another of Dr. Blanke's patients underwent brain stimulation to a different multisensory area, the angular gyrus, which blends vision with the body sense. The patient experienced a complete out-of-body experience.

When the current flowed, she said: "I am at the ceiling. I am looking down at my legs."

When the current ceased, she said: "I'm back on the table now. What happened?"

Further applications of the current returned the woman to the ceiling, causing her to feel as if she were outside of her body, floating, her legs dangling below her. When she closed her eyes, she had the sensation of doing sit-ups, with her upper body approaching her legs.

Because the woman's felt position in space and her actual position in space did not match, her mind cast about for the best way to turn her confusion into a coherent experience, Dr. Blanke said. She concluded that she must be floating up and away while looking downward.

Some schizophrenics, Dr. Blanke said, experience paranoid delusions and the sense that someone is following them. They also sometimes confuse their own actions with the actions of other people. While the cause of these symptoms is not known, he said, multisensory processing areas may be involved.

When otherwise normal people experience bodily delusions, Dr. Blanke said, they are often flummoxed. The felt sensation of the body is so seamless, so familiar, that people do not realize it is a creation of the brain, even when something goes wrong and the brain is perturbed.

Yet the sense of body integrity is rather easily duped, Dr. Blanke said.

And while it may be tempting to invoke the supernatural when this body sense goes awry, he said the true explanation is a very natural one, the brain's attempt to make sense of conflicting information.

Americans win Nobel Prize in physics


By KARL RITTER and MATT MOORE, Associated Press Writers 45 minutes ago

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Americans John C. Mather and George F. Smoot won the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for work that helped cement the big-bang theory of the universe and deepen understanding of the origin of galaxies and stars.

Mather, 60, works at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Smoot, 61, works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

The scientists discovered the nature of "blackbody radiation," cosmic background radiation believed to stem from the "big bang," when the universe was born.

"They have not proven the big-bang theory but they give it very strong support," said Per Carlson, chairman of the Nobel committee for physics.

"It is one of the greatest discoveries of the century. I would call it the greatest. It increases our knowledge of our place in the universe."

Their work was based on measurements done with the help of NASA's COBE satellite launched in 1989. They were able to observe the universe in its early stages about 380,000 years after it was born. Ripples in the light they detected also helped demonstrate how galaxies came together over time.

"The COBE results provided increased support for the big-bang scenario for the origin of the Universe, as this is the only scenario that predicts the kind of cosmic microwave background radiation measured by COBE," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm said in its citation.

The big-bang theory states that the universe was born billions of years ago from a rapidly expanding dense and incredibly hot state.

Reached at his home in Berkeley, Smoot told The Associated Press he was surprised when he got the call from the Nobel committee in the middle of the night.

"I was surprised that they even knew my number. After the discovery I got so many calls I unlisted it," he said.

"The discovery was sort of fabulous. It was an incredible milestone. Now this is a great honor and recognition. It's amazing," he said.

Mather said he was "thrilled and amazed" at receiving the prize.

"I can't say I was completely surprised, because people have said we should be awarded, but this is just such a rare and special honor," Mather said in a telephone interview with the Nobel committee.

He said he and Smoot did not realize how important their work was at the time of their discovery.

The COBE project gave strong support for the big-bang theory because it is the only scenario that predicts the kind of cosmic microwave radiation measured by the satellite.

The academy called Mather the driving force behind the COBE project while Smoot was responsible for measuring small variations in the temperature of the radiation.

With their findings, the scientists transformed the study of the early universe from a largely theoretical pursuit into a new era of direct observation and measurement.

"The very detailed observations that the laureates have carried out from the COBE satellite have played a major role in the development of modern cosmology into a precise science," the academy said.

Phillip F. Schewe, a spokesman for the American Institute of Physics, said he had expected the two to win the honor.

"It's just a really really difficult experimental measurement to make. "It's the farthest out we can see in the universe and it's the farthest back in time," he said in a telephone interview.

Since 1986, Americans have either won or shared the physics prize with people from other countries 15 times.

Last year, Americans John L. Hall and Roy J. Glauber and German Theodor W. Haensch won the prize for work that could improve long-distance communication and navigation.

This year's award announcements began Monday with the Nobel Prize in medicine going to Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello for discovering a powerful way to turn off the effect of specific genes, offering new hope for fighting diseases as diverse as cancer and AIDS.

The winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry will be named Wednesday. The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel will be announced Oct. 9.

The winner of the peace prize — the only one not awarded in Sweden — will be announced Oct. 13 in Oslo, Norway.

A date for the literature prize has not yet been set.

Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the prizes, left only vague guidelines for the selection committee.

In his will, he said the prize should be given to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics."

The prizes, which include a $1.4 million check, a gold medal and a diploma, are presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.

Associated Press writers Matt Crenson in New York, Mattias Karen in Stockholm and Brooke Donald in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Worshiping the God of the genome



Fierce battles between science and faith are nothing new. After all, when Galileo said that Earth revolved around the sun, he was brought before the Roman Inquisition in 1633 and forced to deny his findings because they contradicted church teachings.

Nearly four centuries later, many Christians are wrapping themselves in the cloak of creationism and thereby dismissing scientific findings supporting the theory of evolution.

Francis S. Collins argues in his compelling new book that this deep divide could be repaired if only science and religion would stick to their respective areas of expertise. Science can tell us much about the physical world, but it cannot explain where the universe came from or what happens to people after death. Likewise, religion, which requires a leap of faith, cannot unravel the mysteries of the physical world.

Dr. Collins has superb credentials for tackling this sticky subject, which continues to stir passions on both sides. He is both a respected scientist, having led the groundbreaking Human Genome Project, and also a Christian with strong religious convictions.

During his student years, he became an agnostic and later an atheist. While he was in medical school, an elderly patient asked him about his religious views. Dr. Collins was stumped. He suddenly realized that he had failed to think seriously about the possible existence of a Supreme Being. He consulted a Methodist minister, who handed him a copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Dr. Collins devoured the book, which he quotes frequently in The Language of God.

The Big Bang, evolution and DNA can be challenging subjects, but Dr. Collins adeptly translates arcane science into easily understood terms. He describes the arduous effort to decode the gene sequencing in each human cell. If printed in book form, the sequence, consisting of 3 billion characters, would reach to the top of the Washington Monument.

Scientists say the universe dates to the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, but Dr. Collins argues that the Big Bang "cries out for a divine explanation. ... I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that."

Dr. Collins guides readers through difficult scientific concepts in cosmology, genetics and evolution, maintaining that there is no inherent conflict "between the idea of a creator God and what science has revealed."

Science has not explained how life began on Earth, he says, although there is no doubt that once life began, evolution led to increasingly complex organisms, including humans. He finds it "almost incomprehensible" that in an intellectually and technologically advanced nation such as the United States, about 45 percent of adults, according to polls, believe the Bible should be read literally, that God created the universe in six 24-hour days and that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Scientists say it is about 4.5 billion years old.

As an alternative to creationism and intelligent design, Dr. Collins endorses the theory of theistic evolution, which accepts Darwin's findings while positing that humans are "unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature." As evidence, he cites the existence of a universal moral law and an intuitive search for God throughout history.

A decade ago, Pope John Paul II endorsed such a balance of evolution and spirituality, saying that evolution can explain the origin of the human body, although "the spiritual soul is created directly by God."

Evolution, Dr. Collins says, cannot explain the altruistic impulse, "the voice of conscience calling us to help others even if nothing is received in return."

He quotes C.S. Lewis, who said that God uses conscience "as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way." That made sense to Dr. Collins, who concluded that the existence of a universal moral law "demanded a serious consideration of its origin. Was this God looking back at me?"

Near the end of this wise and timely book, Dr. Collins proposes a truce in the escalating war between science and spirit: "Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; he made it all possible."

Finally, Dr. Collins urges scientists not to reject God as "an outmoded superstition," while he implores believers not to spurn science as "dangerous and untrustworthy."

"The God of the Bible," he concludes, "is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate and beautiful -- and it cannot be at war with itself. Only we imperfect humans can start such battles. And only we can end them."

Bill Williams is a retired editorial writer and religion book reviewer for the Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.

National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2006

Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company

Christians and humanists call on government to rule out 'creationism' in science classes



The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association have joined forces today to write to the UK government's education secretary, Alan Johnson, asking him to ensure that their guidelines are explicit in requiring teachers to maintain a wholly scientific perspective on the matter of the origin of species by evolution.

The move comes after a new group calling itself 'Truth in Science' sent a letter and free teaching resources to all secondary heads of science seeking space for creationist ideas, and appealed to parents through a new website to challenge the current science teaching agenda.

BHA and Ekklesia are calling on the Government to ensure that teachers know this material is not appropriate for school science.

The concern has been picked up by the Times Educational Supplement, the Times newspaper and the BBC.

BHA and Ekklesia say that they are making a joint statement "to make it absolutely clear that the issue of the integrity of evolutionary theory as a cornerstone for teaching modern biology is not one of religious or non-religious conviction, but a matter of straightforward scientific truthfulness."

'Truth in Science' last week (20 September 2006) established a web page which suggests that parents should complain about alleged 'bias' in science teaching – by which they mean the exclusion of anti- Darwinian ideas and so-called Intelligent Design, which proposes that life on earth may have been produced by an unidentifiable extra-terrestrial cause.

The new organisation, established by fundamentalist Christians, also proposes teaching plans and curriculum ideas to introduce these notions into the classroom, claiming that this will be acceptable to OFSTED.

But Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association point out that there is "no scientific basis" to creationism and ID, as the landmark judgment in the Dover School Board case in the USA last year made clear, on the advice of expert witnesses.

Declared Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow: "Reputable scientists and reputable theologians are clear that the anti-evolutionary ideas propagated by groups like this are in no way comparable to scientific theories of origins. The government and its inspectorate should have no truck with superstition in the modern science classroom."

Andrew Copson, Education and Public Affairs Officer for the British Humanist Association added: "Thoughtful people of all persuasions reject the use of religion to undermine truthfulness in education. It is vital that the government assure parents that our children will be taught proper science and proper investigative methods, not these wild ideas."

In April 2006, after a representation by the BHA, the UK schools minister declared categorically that the government is against the teaching of creationism and so-called 'Intelligent Design' in science lessons in British schools and the examinations board OCR gave assurances that they would revise their Science specification to make it clear that creationism and ID should not be taught.

But both the British Humanist Association and Ekklesia say that science teaching may be threatened by publicly-funded schools coming into the hands of extreme religious groups. They say there is evidence that creationism is already on the agenda in some schools, and that anti-evolution activists are trying to confuse parents by claiming there is a 'controversy to be taught'.

"A clear line from the government, through Oftsted or the QCA will help settle this matter once and for all", the two bodies stress.

Ekklesia points to the work of bodies such as the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (University of Cambridge) and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (California) as among the major places where scientists, theologians and philosophers enjoy positive interaction.

A spokesperson for Faraday explained: "We don't prescribe a viewpoint, but we take the opportunity provided by these courses to critique ID and creationism as they come up in discussion. We also think that the education of church leaders is critical in this context, and in fact we have a course especially for them at Wolfson College, Cambridge, from 7-9 November 2006."

Simon Barrow of Ekklesia commented: "People advocating creationism try to exploit legitimate arguments within science for their own entirely non-scientific ends, and they also mislead believers into thinking that Genesis offers a theory of origins. This is wrong on both counts. When Christian theology speaks of 'creation', it means that the whole world process, which we can now explore and understand through science, may be received as gift rather than as something to be manipulated or regarded as valueless."

Ekklesia says that the job of the churches and of thinking Christians is to explore and develop such questions. "Exposing the falsity of 'creationism' and 'Intelligent Design' are issues the churches and religious communities should be confronting. But such arguments aren't for science classrooms, where children are there to learn about findings and questions in the sciences thorough methodological investigation of natural phenomena."

He continued: "Without doubt, 'creationism' is a serious religious problem. In essence, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, it's a category mistake. Genesis wasn't written to explain how the world comes into being, it was written to contradict other ideas in the Ancient Near East that regarded the world as bad. Also, it has no one 'literal meaning'. That idea is nonsense. If you read it, you discover it has two main accounts which differ in detail, and several other poetic ways of inviting us to see the world as God's gift. To read it as a modern propositional account about how the universe unfolds is illegitimately to impose (very narrow) modern expectations on an ancient, figurative text."

Concluded the Ekklesia co-director: "In Christian history biblical texts about creation have been understood allegorically. In modern times careful theologians have understood the contingency of the evolutionary process as giving us the freedom to invest it with meaning and value – or not. Human beings are constantly confronted with life or death choices."

Ekklesia is a think tank and news service that works to promote transformative religious ideas in public life. It has been listed by the Independent newspaper as one of the top 20 thinktanks in Britain. It raises over £150,000 a year for peace and justice work around the world and has the most visited religious website in the UK, according to the Alexa/ Amazon rankings.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) represents the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned but non-religious people in the UK – helping to set the agenda for debate. In working against religious privilege it is committed to human rights, democracy, equality and mutual respect, the BHA works for an open and inclusive society with freedom of belief and speech.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bigfoot in Brunei?

By Liza Mohd

Bring on the cryptozoologists. The Bigfoot has left the jungles of Johor to the allure of Brunei's Labi, or so it seems. A Sungai Liang resident has discovered several strange footprints along the Andulau forest area in Labi, which according to him do not resemble human or animal footprints.

Liew Kim San, 34, a permanent resident, said the footprints could be of an unknown wildlife while most of his Iban friends speculated that it could be that of a forest genie, which they believe could be the reason why people normally get lost in the Labi forest area.

Lim, who frequents the forests to look for birds, called the Borneo Bulletin to narrate the unusual sighting.

Lim, a freelance electrical contractor, said he was in Andulau forest area last Friday to take photographs of maintenance works to cut branches of trees that could pose a hazard to the light tension wires going across the forest.

However, before work to trim the trees began, he spotted the unusual footprints along a long patch of sandy area in the forest leading towards the main road, which is a good 15 minutes walk.

Lim, accompanied by four other contract workers, followed the footprints and took photos of them. He said the footprints do not belong to a human, as they looked much wider in size.

When the Bulletin approached some people for their opinion, some speculated that it could be the footprints of an orang utan or some animals while some said it could be a 'supernatural' phenomenon.

Malaysia was gripped by the sighting of the Bigfoot in November 2005 in the jungles of Johor when three fishery workers claimed to have seen a Bigfoot family that left footprints up to 45cm long.

Speculations were so intense that the Johor Wildlife Department directed officials to install cameras in strategic areas to capture the Bigfoot on camera.

Bigfoot was popularised in the US after a string of sightings years ago. Even though similar sighting have been reported from many parts of the world, their existence has never been confirmed, according to reports.

The sighting in Labi only adds to the myth of the Bigfoot. Or is it the beginning of the 'Smallfoot'?

Photos at site


Researchers find Bigfoot evidence in the High Country

Thursday, 21 September 2006

by Nick Ianniello News Reporter

There may be Sasquatches living in Western North Carolina, according to an expedition launched by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization in Madison County.

"There's more than one of these things in Madison County," President of BFRO Matt Moneymaker said.

BFRO spent four days beginning Sept. 6 searching for Bigfoot in the Hot Springs area.

After two days of searching with no findings, a portion of the 25 researchers claim to have heard sasquatch noises while camping in a very remote part of Madison County.

"They make very distinctive noises," Moneymaker said.

According to the BFRO Web site, Madison County is "the most reliable sighting area in the state." "I've never heard anything about Bigfoot," junior social sciences major and Madison County native Ashley Metcalf said.

Moneymaker said there is a history of reports not far from the Appalachian Trail and Sasquatches may begin using the trail at night.

Amateur paranormal researcher Dakota Waddell said there are several different types of sasquatches. The west-coast Sasquatch is thought to be 7 to 12 feet high and weigh between 800 and 900 pounds while the east-coast Sasquatch is thought to be much smaller, somewhere between 4 and 6 feet tall and weighing between 200 and 500 pounds.

"It's not your typical ‘Harry and the Henderson's' type ape," Waddell said.

The expedition has excited many researchers because they believe it may help gather more information about the creatures.

"This may inspire people to come forward with their stories," Micah Hanks, chief field investigator for the League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained Phenomenon Research, said.

While a good number of the Sasquatch reports made are false, many of them are taken very seriously by organizations like BFRO.

"Over the years we've become pretty adept at spotting your average story-telling fool," Moneymaker said.

The organization classifies evidence into class A and B. Class B evidence is secondary such as a footprint, whereas Class A evidence is more concrete, such as confirmed eyewitness accounts. However, not everyone is convinced.

According to an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sasquatch research suffered a major blow in Seattle four years ago when family members of the late Ray L. Wallace announced that he had started the Bigfoot legend in 1958 by wearing an ape costume.

Despite these claims, Bigfoot researchers continue to look for evidence of the creature.

"There's a huge percentage of land and water that remains unexplored," Waddell said. "So many creatures out there get discovered every day."

One of the biggest obstacles for Bigfoot researches is that there have been no actual Sasquatches captured.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Conference details research supporting 'young earth'


Dallas: Scientist says isotope data back theory, not evolution

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, October 1, 2006

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

In the beginning, there was prayer. Then came nearly a full day of research reports from scientists who support the Biblical or "young earth" account of creation, not evolution.

About 700 people packed First Baptist Church of Dallas' new Criswell Center on Saturday for "Thousands ... Not Billions," a conference put on by the California-based Institute for Creation Research.

The crowd heard from, among others, John Baumgardner, a geophysicist for the institute who says that research showing large amounts of the isotope carbon-14 in coal and diamonds supports the theory of a young earth.

Carbon-14 has a short half-life, he said, so it would essentially be gone from such materials if they were millions of years old.

He acknowledged that most geophysicists would not agree.

"What they would say is this C-14 must be the result of contamination," he said. "If pressed to demonstrate that suggestion, they are unable to do that."

Creationism, which encompasses various theories, is not in the scientific mainstream. In the book Science and Creationism, for example, the National Academy of Sciences says, "The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming."

But, the reports discussed Saturday impressed Don Pitman of Dallas, a retired linguist and Bible translator.

"I think the research that has been done is top-notch, very professional," he said. "It really supports what the Bible says, that God is the creator and all of this didn't just come from nothing."

Ken Embry, a retired engineer from Duncanville who describes himself as having "evolved from evolution," said the sessions supported his view that creation science has the better argument.

"If people spent more time looking at the data," he said, "they might be pleasantly surprised."

The conference had some interesting Dallas connections. The new Criswell Center, where it was held, is named for W.A. Criswell, the late pastor of First Baptist Dallas and a champion of biblical inerrancy.

And the late founder of the Institute for Creation Research was Henry Morris, a Dallas native. He had degrees from Rice University and the University of Minnesota and taught engineering at universities.

His book The Genesis Flood, written with John C. Whitcomb, was described as the catalyst of the modern creation science movement by the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The Institute for Creation Research is opening a Dallas branch called the Henry M. Morris Center for Christian Leadership.

The center will be a base for an online graduate education and professional development program, but it also plans to offer classes and seminars at its headquarters on Royal Lane beginning next year.

Henry Morris III, executive vice president of the institute and son of the founder, said Dallas was chosen because "it's in the Central time zone, with a good airport."

But he also described Dallas as a "strong Christian center" that will probably be a supportive home for the teaching of the creationist worldview.

E-mail shodges@dallasnews.com

Is Natural Selection a Tautology?


By Jason Rosenhouse

As I write this, Ann Coulter's new book Godless: The Church of Liberalism is currently number one on the New York Times' bestseller list. The book contains four chapters dealing with evolution. In these chapters Coulter, well known for her right-wing polemics, attempts to portray evolution as nothing more than a sham science that serves as a creation myth for political liberals. Reading this material is a curious experience for anyone who knows some freshman biology. As with all anti-evolution writing, the arguments that are presented are not only incorrect, but also so confused that it is frequently difficult to discern what point Coulter thinks she is making.

The present essay will be devoted to just one of the arguments upon which Coulter bases her case. The motivation for this series of essays has always been a desire to use insipid creationist prattle as a tool for promoting clear thinking about basic biological questions. It is hoped that by thinking carefully about why Coulter's caricature of evolutionary biology is wrong, one can come to better understand the real thing.

The argument in question is sometimes referred to simply as "The Tautology Objection." Coulter's version goes like this:

The second prong of Darwin's "theory" is generally nothing but a circular statement: Through the process of natural selection, the "fittest" survive. Who are the "fittest"? The ones who survive! Why look â€" it happens every time! The "survival of the fittest" would be a joke if it weren't part of the belief system of a fanatical cult infesting the Scientific Community.

The beauty of having a scientific theory that's a tautology is that it can't be disproved. Evolution cultists denounce "Creation Science" on the grounds that it's not "science" because it can't be observed or empirically tested in a laboratory. Guess what else can't be observed or empirically tested? Evolution! (pp. 212-213).

Writing in National Review Online in December of last year, conservative commentator Tom Bethell expressed the main point more clearly:

Darwin's claim to fame was his discovery of a mechanism of evolution; he accepted "survival of the fittest" as a good summary of his natural-selection theory. But which ones are the fittest? The ones that survive. There is no criterion of fitness that is independent of survival. Whatever happens, it is the "fittest" that survive — by definition. (Emphasis Added)

Even before considering the minutiae of how fitness is defined, we should note something suspicious about this argument. Coulter and Bethell are not saying here that recent discoveries have shown that evolution is an inadequate theory. Rather, they accuse scientists of having made a simple logical oversight. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould observed (in response to a previous article, in Harper's Magazine, in which Bethell raised the same issue):

Bethell's argument has a curious ring for most practicing scientists. We are always ready to watch a theory fall under the impact of new data, but we do not expect a great and influential theory to collapse from a logical error in its formulation.

Indeed. Scientists are fully capable of jumping to conclusions, or arriving at incorrect theories from an inadequate supply of data. But it has never once happened in the history of science that a theory achieves mainstream status, only to fall apart when a clever outsider notices a simple logical oversight. That Coulter's and Bethell's formulation of evolution suggests it is tautological proves only that they do not understand the theory they are attacking (or are deliberately misrepresenting it, but we will leave aside that possibility for now).

Let us begin our reply to this argument in the most direct way possible. It is asserted that within evolutionary theory, the fittest organisms are defined as those who survive. This is the crux of the argument, and it is completely incorrect. In reality, the fittest organisms are the ones who, based on their physical characteristics and the environment in which they find themselves, would be expected to leave the most offspring. Gould described the point this way:

My defense of Darwin is neither startling, novel, nor profound. I merely assert that Darwin was justified in analogizing natural selection with animal breeding. In artificial selection, a breeder's desire represents a "change of environment" for a population. In this new environment, certain traits are superior a priori; (they surive and spread by our breeder's choice, but this is a result of their fitness, not a definition of it). In nature, Darwinian evolution is also a response to changing environments. Now, the key point: certain morphological, physiological and behvioral traits should be superior a priori as designs for living in new environments. These traits confer fitness by an engineer's criterion of good design, not by the empirical fact of their survival and spread. It got colder before the wooly mammoth evolved its shaggy coat.

Let us imagine that we have perfect information about the environment in which a population of organisms finds itself. Let us further suppose that we are aware of the full range of extant heritable variation within the population. In those circumstances we could make some definite statements about the future evolution of that population. A group of scientists could examine that information and come to a consensus about which members of the population were the fittest. Plainly there are criteria for fitness independent of mere survival.

This is not the whole story, however. Predicting the future is only a very small part of what evolutionary biology is all about. Most of the interesting events in evolution took place in the distant past. Unraveling and explaining that past presents scientists with a problem almost perfectly opposite to the one considered in the previous paragraph. Instead of trying to predict the future evolution of a species given information about its present environment, now we are trying to understand ancestral environments given information about what sorts of creatures survived.

In this context scientists will, indeed, hypothesize that traits that persisted and developed over long periods of time did so because of the fitness advantages they conferred on their possessors. But here's the catch: that's the beginning, not the end, of the investigation. The assumption that the trait under investigation emerged from the prolonged result of natural selection is used to generate testable hypotheses about the creatures in question. In his book Plan and Purpose in Nature, biologist George C. Williams provides the following example:

Productive use of the idea of functional design, in modern biological research, often takes this form: an organism is observed to have a certain feature, and the observer wonders what good it might be. For instance, dissection and examination of a pony fish shows it to have what looks like a light-producing organ, or photopore, and even a reflector behind it to make it shine in a specific direction. So we accept the conclusion that the organ is good at producing light, but the obvious question then becomes, What good is light? The pony fish photopore is deep inside the body. Can it really be adaptive for a fish to illuminate its own innards?

The organ is situated above the air bladder, and the light shines downward through the viscera. The pony fish is small and its tissues are rather transparent. Some of the light gets through and produces a faint glow along the ventral surface. But what is the use of a dimly lit belly? Perhaps it makes the pony fish more difficult to see in the special circumstances in which it lives. It inhabits the open ocean, where it may move toward the surface as darkness approaches, but spends the daylight hours far below at depths where the light is exceedingly dim by our standards, detectable only as a murky glow from above.

Williams goes on to describe how this hypothesis led to experiments that confirmed that the pony fish's glow has the intensity it ought to have if its primary function was to provide camouflage. This is a nice illustration of how selection-based reasoning is used in scientific practice.

Natural selection is not used as an abstract principle in biological research. "Survival of the fittest" is a catchy phrase that captures much of what is important about natural selection, but it is not one you will find very often in professional research papers. Instead, scientists will propose specific hypotheses about the fitness advantages conferred by particular traits in particular environments. There is nothing tautological about saying, for example, that moths possessing dark coloration will be less visible than light colored moths to predatory birds when resting on dark-colored trees.

The reasoning used by scientists in this way is comparable to what historians do in trying to understand why certain events happened the way they did. An historian studying nineteenth century America might begin his investigation with the fact that the North won the Civil War. From this starting point he will naturally ask himself what advantages the North had that allowed them to emerge victorious over the South. But the assumption that the North had such advantages will not be the sum total of his investigation. And no one would consider it reasonable to object to his work on the grounds that it is based on circular reasoning.

Well, populations of organisms that survive through long stretches of evolutionary history are likewise the victors in a war, this time for survival. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that those that survived had certain advantages over those that did not. Determining the precise nature of those advantages might pose a difficult practical problem, but the assertion that those advantages existed is surely unproblematic.

We have thus provided two answers to the tautology objection. The first is that its central premise, that there are no criteria of fitness independent of survival, is false. The second is that natural selection is not applied in practice in the simplistic way the phrase "Survival of the fittest," suggests. Instead, scientists use selection based reasoning to develop specific, testable hypotheses about the organisms under investigation.

Stephen Jay Gould once observed that creationists are "singularly devoid of shame" in their willingness to use any argument, no matter how vacuous or frequently refuted, in making their case against evolution. He might have included right-wing demagogues alongside creationists. The tautology objection cannot survive the scrutiny of anyone versed in even the most basic elements of evolutionary theory. That Coulter would raise the issue so snidely, and have her book sell very well as a result, proves that knowing what you are talking about has no value for many on the political right.

Jason Rosenhouse is the author of EvolutionBlog, providing commentary on developments in the endless dispute between evolution and creationism.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Editors note: Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture publishes the Evolution News and Views Web site. Discovery Institute is the world's loudest propagandist for the "Intelligent Design" flavor of creationism. The following is another fine bit of their propaganda.

The "banned" book John West writes about is so "banned" that we encourage you to buy it and read it for yourself. It is such an prime example of the poor quality of science represented by "Intelligent Design" and the Discovery Institute, that we employ it in our own propadanda against "Intelligent Design." Click the link, buy the book, read, and enjoy.

Banned Book of the Year: Of Pandas and People


Sept. 23-30 is "Banned Books Week," sponsored by the American Library Association. In commemoration of this annual event, I'd like to submit my nomination for the top banned book of the past year: Of Pandas and People, published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.

An early pro-intelligent design textbook, Pandas was at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the hapless school district in Dover, Pennsylvania. The Dover school board wanted teachers to tell students that if they desired information about intelligent design they could go to the school library and read Of Pandas and People. What an outlandish idea: A school district actually wanted to encourage students to consult a book for more information!

According to the ACLU, this proposal was tantamount to imposing "theocracy." While I did not favor the Dover policy, the idea that it was an affront to the First Amendment to make Of Pandas and People available to students on a voluntary basis is simply Orwellian. In fact, it was the ACLU that was offending the First Amendment by engaging in book banning. Unfortunately, ACLU attorneys were able to convince federal judge John E. Jones to go along with their efforts.

Evolutionists used to pride themselves on supporting academic freedom. No more. Now they are out to censor any expression of ideas they don't like.

They're not just banning books. They are banning curriculum and even people. Earlier this year, Darwin-only activists bullied the Ohio State Board of Education into repealing a model lesson plan encouraging students to critically analyze key evidences used to support Darwin's theory. Now Darwinists are trying to unseat members of the Kansas State Board of Education because they also encouraged students to study the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. If you happen to be a teacher or college professor who is skeptical of Darwin, watch out, because Darwinists are trying to ban you too!

At George Mason University, biology professor Caroline Crocker made the mistake of favorably discussing intelligent design in her cell biology class. She was suspended from teaching the class, and then her contract was not renewed.

At the Mississippi University for Women, chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed as head of the division of natural sciences in 2003 after merely presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students.

In Minnesota, high school teacher Rodney LeVake was removed from teaching biology after expressing doubts about Darwin's theory. LeVake, who holds a master's degree in biology, agreed to teach evolution as required in the district's curriculum, but said he wanted to "accompany that treatment of evolution with an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory."

In Washington state, high school teacher Roger DeHart was driven out of two school districts by Darwin-only activists incensed that he wanted to inform students of some of the scientific weaknesses with Darwin's theory. (Part of DeHart's story is told in the Icons of Evolution DVD.)

But it's not only books and teachers who Darwinists have targeted for reprisals, it is also students.

In 2005, Ohio State University doctoral candidate Bryan Leonard had his dissertation defense placed on hold after three pro-Darwin professors filed a bogus complaint attacking Leonard's dissertation research as "unethical human subject experimentation." Leonard's dissertation project looked at how student beliefs changed after students were taught scientific evidence for and against modern evolutionary theory. The complaining professors admitted that they had not actually read Leonard's dissertation. But they were sure it must be unethical. Why? According to the professors, there is no valid evidence against evolutionary theory. Thus—by definition—Leonard's research must be tantamount to child abuse.

Of course, the ultimate goal here is to ban ideas. Darwinists want to prevent anyone from hearing criticisms of Darwin's theory or learning about alternatives to Darwinism such as intelligent design. Indeed, left-wing writer Chris Mooney has tried to convince journalists that they have a duty to censor expressions by ID proponents in the newsmedia.

For all of their rhetoric about the supposedly "overwhelming evidence" in favor of Darwin's theory, many evolutionists act as if they are extremely insecure. Open debate seems to terrify them. Perhaps they recognize that the scientific evidence for their position isn't so overwhelming after all.

It is a measure of Darwinists' insularity that most don't seem to understand what a losing strategy they've adopted. If they truly believe they can stop intelligent design or criticism of Darwin through censorship, persecution, and book banning, they are living in another universe. Most Americans don't like to be told there are some ideas too dangerous for them to hear. The more Darwinists try to impose their views through coercion, the more they are going to lose in the court of public opinion.

Posted by John West on September 25, 2006 9:25 AM | Permalink

Science magazine reviews The Language of God by Francis Collins, Ignores the Book's Intelligent Design

Robert Pollack reviews Francis Collins's new book The Language of God in the latest issue of Science. In the process he conveniently makes it appear that virtually Collins' entire case for the existence of God boils down to the moral law in the human heart. But Collins also makes design arguments based on the Big Bang and the fine tuning of the physical constants of nature for life, comparing the design explanation to purely materialistic explanations and building a case that a design inference is the best, the most reasonable option. Pollack mentions these design arguments in only the most vague and glancing terms, giving the impression that Collins offers them not as formal arguments but more on the level of "that's how the universe feels to me."

Think about the definition of ID. The theory of intelligent design holds that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Collins, the head of the human genome project and a committed Darwinist, is careful to distance himself from intelligent design in parts of his book, but it's as plain as the emperor's birthday suit that Collins makes intelligent design arguments in chapter three, "The Origins of the Universe." And it doesn't take a genome scientist to figure out why the monolithically anti-ID editors at Science magazine would want to hush up that part of Collins's book.

Collins has been attacked for his design arguments:

Collins is in the pseudo-rationalist branch of liberal Christianity. That's fine, he's welcome to dither about in there…but seriously, it has no credibility and no greater rational foundation than the raving mad branches of fundamentalism. I oppose it. I think the only purpose of this kind of crap is to provide a smiling mask of benign ineffectuality to insanity ...

He has been ignored for these (at least this part of his argument).

We celebrate his willingness to follow the evidence where it leads in physics and cosmology, and hope that his example will lead to a similar openness to the evidence of design in biology.

For a fine review of The Language of God, one that doesn't ignore Collins's design arguments, see Logan Gage's piece in the October issue of The American Spectator.

Posted by Jonathan Witt on September 29, 2006 8:58 AM | Permalink

Friday, September 29, 2006

Doctor Claims He Travels Back In Time To Heal

State Health Officials Not Buying It

POSTED: 6:14 am PDT September 29, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An Ohio chiropractor who claimed to treat patients using time travel has surrendered his license to practice.

State regulators had been investigating Dr. James Burda of Athens, who said he could take care of anyone, anywhere by reaching back in time to when the injury occurred.

Burda said he discovered the skill six years ago when he hurt his own foot while driving. He said he gave the pain a command to stop and it went away.

He said he doesn't use force to realign bones, but he uses his mind to manipulate the body. But if that doesn't work, he said he travels back in time to fix the problem. He calls the practice Bala-Keem. State medical officials call it malpractice.

Burda's Web site offered long-distance healing service for $60 an hour.

Burda said that his practice is beyond chiropractic, and is beyond what "they understand." He said that anything that's beyond what people don't understand scares them.

The Ohio State Chiropractic Board accused him of being unable to practice due to mental illness. Now, in a written statement, Burda acknowledges his form of treatment was not acceptable.


Evolution education update: September 29, 2006

In Texas, the state board of education is reminded of the limits of its authority over textbooks, while in Michigan, creationism emerges as a burning issue in the race for governor. Meanwhile, the New York Academy unveils a set of resources stemming from a conference on "Teaching evolution and the nature of science"; NCSE will be at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference in Albuquerque in October; and it's still not too late to reserve a place on NCSE's Grand Canyon trip in July 2007!


The attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott, recently reaffirmed the standing interpretation of the 1995 state law that restricts the power of the Texas state board of education to review and reject the content of textbooks used in the public schools. Abbott's opinion, issued on September 18, 2006, was in response to a request from board member Terri Leo (District 6), who was among the most vocal critics of the eleven biology textbooks under review by the board in 2003. Despite a barrage of objections from creationist organizations in Texas and across the country, all eleven books were eventually approved. In her request, dated January 6, 2006, Leo asked for the attorney general to reconsider 1996's Opinion No. DM-424, which held that "[t]he State Board of Education has no authority under the Texas Education Code to adopt rules regarding the content of state-approved textbooks establishing criteria for approval beyond the criteria contained in section 31.023 of the Education Code. The board's authority to adopt or reject textbooks does not extend to consideration of ancillary items provided to school districts free of charge."

A brief (PDF) from a number of groups, led by the Texas State Teachers Association and also including the Texas Freedom Network and the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, urged the attorney general to reaffirm DM-424, contending that Leo's request "telegraphs a desire by some members of the SBOE to return to the day when textbook decisions were made on non-educational grounds," when "the SBOE's textbook adoption process was entangled with ideology, politics, and religion, and was a forum for divisive political battles that focused on ideological rather than educational or pedagogical concerns." A separate brief from Texas Citizens for Science argued that DM-424 served Texas students well, commenting, "For example, the biology textbooks adopted in 2003 are the best that this state has purchased since at least the 1950s, for the topics of evolution and origin of life in them remained uncensored, despite a tremendous and expensive effort to accomplish such censorship using the current rules (conformance to TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] and no factual errors), which national- and state-based creationists mistakenly thought would be sufficient."

In his opinion, Abbott overruled portions of DM-424 that denied the board's authority over "ancillary items" -- supplementary materials that accompany textbooks -- but, importantly, reaffirmed the conclusion that the board's statutory authority over textbooks is limited to identifying the TEKS standards, evaluating the books for factual errors and physical standards, and ensuring that they "foster the continuation of the tradition of teaching United States and Texas history and the free enterprise system." Attempts to broaden the board's statutory authority (such as 2004's House Bill 220, which died in committee in 2005) have failed in the legislature in the past. In a September 18, 2006, press release, Texas Citizens for Science commented, "Both the Attorney General and the Texas Legislature have acted for the good of Texas citizens and should both be commended," and similarly, Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network told the Associated Press (September 19, 2006), "The Legislature and both Democratic and Republican attorneys general have now told the politicians on the State Board that they may not use public school textbooks to promote their own personal and political agendas."

Nevertheless, in the next round of biology textbook adoption proceedings, the antievolution faction on the board is likely to continue to attempt to compromise the presentation of evolution in the textbooks under review with the tools at its statutory disposal -- by arguing, as it argued in 2003, that the textbooks are factually in error or not in conformity with the TEKS standards. Cutting to the heart of the matter, the Austin American-Statesman (September 22, 2006) editorially commented, "State law mandates that the board approve textbooks that cover curriculum standards, are free of factual errors and meet manufacturing standards. Despite Abbott's ruling mostly affirming that law, we doubt that the 15-member board will get the message. That is why the Legislature should totally eliminate the board's authority over textbook selection." The next round of biology textbook adoption proceedings is not expected to begin until 2009 at the earliest, however, and the next battleground for evolution education in Texas will be during the next round of review, and possible revisions, of the TEKS standards for science in 2007.

For Leo's request (PDF), visit:

For the text of DM 424, visit:

For the briefs from TSTA et alia (PDF) and from Texas Citizens for Science, visit:

For Abbott's opinion, visit:

For Texas Citizens for Science's press release, visit:

For the Associated Press story (via the Dallas Morning News), visit:

For the Austin American-Statesman's editorial, visit:

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


Creationism emerged as a burning issue in Michigan's gubernatorial race, after Republican candidate Dick DeVos told a questioner at a September 8, 2006, campaign stop that he supported teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution in the public schools. The questioner, Eric B. Fauman, recounted the exchange in a letter to the editor of the Ann Arbor News (September 14, 2006), commenting, "At a time when our students' science literacy is already significantly below average ... teaching our children sectarian religious beliefs as science can only harm our state's ability to compete internationally." DeVos subsequently told the Associated Press (September 20, 2006), "I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory ... That theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less." The Detroit Free Press (September 20, 2006) also quoted him as saying, "Local school boards should have the opportunity to offer evolution and intelligent design in their curriculums." His Democratic opponent, incumbent Jennifer Granholm, opposes teaching "intelligent design" as science.

The reaction to DeVos's comments from the scientific and educational communities in Michigan was unsurprisingly negative. The president of the Michigan Science Teachers Association, Paul Drummond, told the Free Press that "intelligent design" is "not science," and the president of the Michigan state board of education, Kathleen Straus, described it as "religious theory." Speaking to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus (September 21, 2006), Michigan State University professor Robert T. Pennock, the president of Michigan Citizens for Science, posed the question, "How could Michigan students compete in the life sciences, so important to our economy, if DeVos has them learn pseudoscience?" And the state's newspapers were critical of DeVos as well, with the Lansing State Journal (September 22, 2006) editorially commenting, "'intelligent design' is not science. It is an attempt to forge the trappings of scientific inquiry around a fundamental structure of beliefs. It has no business in any science classroom," and a columnist for the Midland Morning Sun (September 22, 2006) opining that DeVos's position, though unsurprising, casts doubt on his "ability to properly engage science."

For Fauman's letter to the Ann Arbor News, visit:

For the AP and Detroit Free Press stories, visit:

For the Livingston Daily Press & Argus story, visit:

For the Lansing State Journal's editorial, visit:

For the column in the Midland Morning Sun, visit:

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


The New York Academy of Sciences presented a two-day conference on "Teaching evolution and the nature of science" in April 2006, aimed at answering such questions as: What are the basic tenets of the concept of evolution and how does understanding evolution play an essential role in comprehending science, and in particular, modern biology? How can science educators from elementary schools to college campuses respond to challenges from those who claim that intelligent design is as valid a theory as evolution? How can we prepare and support teachers so that they will be able to teach evolution effectively despite the controversy? How can state and local officials in charge of education policy respond to attempts by religious groups and others who seek to change the investigative nature of science education?

Now the proceedings of the conference are available to all, with a mix of text, video, audio, and slides, all carefully integrated in one on-line resource, divided into three sections: the nature of science and the evidence for evolution; pedagogy: a view from the trenches; meeting the challenges: reconciling evolution and morality. Presenters include Leslie Aiello, Bruce Alberts, NCSE's Glenn Branch, John F. Haught, Wen-Hsiung Li, Jennifer Miller, Kenneth R. Miller, Robert T. Pennock, Sydel Silverman, Gerald Skoog, and Gerald Wheeler. There's a wealth of useful information throughout: as the writer who summarized the conference commented, "In an arena that has shaped up to be a pedagogical struggle for survival, the conference was a triumph for education."

For "Teaching evolution and the nature of science," visit:


NCSE will be present in the exhibit hall at the 2006 National Association of Biology Teachers Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 12 through 14, with t-shirts and books -- including Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction and Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools, edited by Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch -- for sale, to say nothing of information on the evolution/creationism controversy. Stop by and visit!

For further information about the NABT conference, visit:


Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott and Gish! Seats are still 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.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

David Mcqueen With Don Patton Present:

A Conversation With Charles Darwin

See a presentation based on a screenplay McQueen is writing about what Darwin himself would think if he came forward in H. G. Wells' Time machine to Texas High Schools. Would Charles himself be pleased with how Darwinism is taught? Would this former Theology student be shocked that God and science were not routinely discussed from the lectern, as he did? Mc Queen holds a MS in Geology from the University of Michigan (1979), is a community theater actor from Northern Louisiana. David (Charles Darwin) Mc Queen in conversation with Dr, Patton will tell us what the Origin of Species actually says.

Don't miss this fascinating presentation.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2142 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, October 3rd, 7:30 PM

Thursday, September 28, 2006

UK anti-evolutionists seek to lure parents with new website



Creationists and anti-evolutionists in the United Kingdom have established a new website, called 'Truth in Science', to try to persuade school parents to lobby for their ideas within the British education system.

The move is the latest attempt by opponents of Darwinian theory to 'teach the controversy' by claiming equivalence for non-scientific theories of origins often derived from fundamentalist interpretations of Christian scripture.

Truth in Science asks, "Are you aware of what your child is being taught, and have you ever discussed this with his or her science teacher?" It says that a 'free resource pack' is being sent to school heads of science in September 2006.

The new group catalogues among its supporters 'young earth creationists' such as the Rev George Curry, chair of the hard-line Church Society, and Andy McIntosh, a combustion theorist from Leeds.

Also listed are evangelical ministers, including author John Blanchard, and people with scientific qualifications and positions but no accepted status within debates about evolutionary theory as a cornerstone of modern biology.

The website includes GSCE lesson plans for teaching 'Intelligent Design', which proposes the notion that life on earth may have been produced by an unidentifiable intelligent cause or causes.

In a landmark US decision by a Pennsylvania federal judge in 2005, ID was dismissed as 'unscientific' and unsuitable for the science classroom. Critics say that it is a religious viewpoint masquerading as science, and theologians say that it the discredited 'God of the gaps' theory in new clothes.

In relation to the National Curriculum, TiS claims: "Alternatives to Darwinian evolution as a theory of origins can be taught in Key Stages 3 and 4 under the topic of 'Ideas and evidence in science'."

The group says that science teaching in UK schools is 'biased' because it does not give room to creationist-style ideas.

But former UK schools minister Jacqui Smith has declared categorically that the government is against the teaching of creationism and ID in science lessons in British schools – a position reiterated by Alan Johnson. The OCR Exam Board has also ruled it out – but there are evidenced claims that it is being taught in some academies.

Geologist and Anglican vicar Michael Roberts [see his own article] told Ekklesia: "The material on the website is carefully packaged, and its YEC roots, and thus its scientific worthlessness, may not be immediately apparent to the undiscerning."

He added: "It is a concern that the authors are sure that OFSTED will not object to their ideas. The result will be to confuse students".

Roberts, himself an evangelical and a long-term campaigner against creationism, believes that the Church of England and other churches have not been outspoken enough in their opposition to anti-evolutionism.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has spoken of creationism as a 'category mistake' because of its misuse of Christian ideas.

Among those who testified against Intelligent Design in the 2005 Dover School Board case in the USA was the noted Catholic scholar John F. Haught, Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, and author of 'God After Darwin? A Theology of Evolution'.

Also instrumental to the argument was noted biologist Kenneth Miller (Brown University), who has written 'Finding Darwin's God'. He demonstrated that ID is not a testable theory in scientific terms.

Commented Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia: "Creationism and ID are in no way comparable to scientific theories of origins and have no place in the modern science classroom. They also distort mature Christian understandings of the universe as coming into being through the whole world process, not through reversals or denials of that process."

He added: "The roots of creationism, whether in its 'hard' form, or in attenuated ID ideas, lie not in science but in misinterpretations of the Bible. Claims that such notions can be justified from a 'literal' reading of Genesis are nonsensensical. This book has not one, but two 'creation stories'. They differ widely in detail, are highly figurative, and were written to combat fatalistic Ancient Near East cosmogonies by stressing the underlying goodness of the world as a gift of God, not to comment on modern scientific matters."

The Vatican's astronomer recently described creationism as 'superstition', and statements on the compatibility of evolutionary theory and Christian faith have been issued by, among others, the Episcopal Church, Presbyterians and Lutherans in the USA.

Alternative medicine is booming in Iraq


Posted on Thu, Sep. 28, 2006

By Mark Brunswick and Laith Hammudi

McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Conventional medicine is a mess in Iraq, but business is booming for the Hijamma man.

Doctors have fled the country, and others have been assassinated - a U.N. report says at least 102 have been killed, with 250 more kidnapped. Sunnis are afraid to go to hospitals in Shiite neighborhoods. There hasn't been a new hospital built in Baghdad since 1986.

But in the Inbaryeen district of northern Baghdad, Ammar Mohammed Shubbar's office is crammed with people seeking his help. Shubbar practices the ancient craft of Hijamma, or cupping. In 21st-century Baghdad, this ancient medical skill, long tied to Islamic tradition with a history in Africa and ancient Egypt, has grown more popular out of necessity.

Using small glass-like jars and a surgical knife, Shubbar makes small cuts in one of 123 areas of the body, depending on his patients' complaints: high blood pressure; blood sugar; migraines; back, hand or leg pain; and even some conditions of sterility.

His patients swear by him. "Honestly, all the doctors and their medicine didn't help me much," said Ghazi Salmamn, 51, who suffers from high blood pressure. "I came here. I did the Hijamma, and the second day I really felt better, and there was a great change."

Unlike the practitioners of more traditional medical treatments, Hijamma men like Shubbar aren't heavy on academics. His training has been on the job, starting when he was 15 in the shop that used to be his father's.

Now at the grand age of 23, Shubbar is known to his patients as the sayyed, an honorific reserved for the grandsons of the prophet Muhammad.

He can tell how to begin simply by looking at a person's back. He works from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. One treatment costs the equivalent of about $1.50.

Shubbar's tools are simple: two glasses and a medical knife. When he chooses a spot, he burns a small piece of paper inside one of the glasses and puts it on the man's back (women are permitted to have Hijamma performed on them, but only by other women).

The burning uses up the oxygen in the glass and creates a small vacuum that pulls blood near the skin's surface. After several minutes, he takes off the glasses and uses the knife to slice six to eight small cuts in each spot. The blood, which he calls "spoiled," starts to ooze, and he moves around to other places on the back. He cleans the wounds with an antiseptic and bandages them.

Shubbar said 10 places on the human body offer the best places to work: the head, either side of the neck, two spots in the middle of the back, the lower back and other positions on the legs.

"The man doesn't feel any pain; in fact, he feels better the next day," Shubbar said.

In the United States, his brand of medicine would be considered alternative. But in Baghdad, the threat to medical workers and their patients is so great that modern treatment isn't much of an alternative anymore.

Iraq's Ministry of Health recently reported that the country has lost 720 doctors and health employees since April 9, 2003. Informal statistics estimated that more than 2,000 doctors have left the country. Recognizing the problem, the ministry recently announced that it would allow doctors to open private clinics in state hospitals without paying rent as a way of protecting them.

In addition to the 102 doctors that the U.N. found had been murdered in Iraq from April 2003 to May 31, 2006, 164 nurses have been killed and 77 wounded.

Lack of consistent electricity hampers medical services, as does corruption. Militias and other security forces intimidate medical staff into prioritizing patients who are their members.

The decline in medical care is readily evident on Al Saddon Street in the center of Baghdad. It was once known as Doctors' Street and was filled with doctors' offices and clinics. Iraqis from throughout the country's 18 provinces used to go there to find specialists, many of whom had degrees from Western universities.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, however, it became an easy venue for kidnappings and assassinations, and now there are few doctors working there.

The rise in sectarian violence has taken its toll as well. People in the Ghazaliya neighborhood in west Baghdad, for instance, no longer go to Al Hakeem hospital in nearby Shula. Ghazaliya is mainly a Sunni neighborhood, and its residents are afraid of being killed or kidnapped if they go to Al Hakeem in Shiite Shula.

"Some armed militia members check IDs and they kidnap any Sunni people," said a 35-year-old man who didn't want his name used because of security reasons. The closest safe hospital is 18 miles away.

So into the void come men such as Shubbar, who's familiar not only with where best to bleed a patient but also when in the month to do it.

The second half of the month is better, especially during what's known as "the white nights" when the moon is full. It's believed that the ebb and flow of the blood is strongly affected by the moon. The best days to do Hijamma are Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hijamma isn't done on Wednesdays or on Fridays after midday.

© 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Hammudi is a special correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.

Alternative Medicine: Saw palmetto for prostate health


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Saw palmetto is a well-established herbal treatment for men who have symptoms of an enlarged prostate, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Essentially all research on saw palmetto extracts for men with mild to moderate BPH symptoms has concluded that this safe herb is more effective than placebo and nearly as effective as commonly prescribed medications.

A 2006 German double-blind one-year study compared a combination of saw palmetto and stinging nettle root (another common treatment for BPH) with Flomax, a popular drug for BPH. The herbs were just as effective as Flomax at reducing symptoms. Neither caused significant side effects, but the herbal combination is much cheaper.

A well-publicized study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that saw palmetto extract was not helpful for men with severe BPH symptoms. Many people used this study to say saw palmetto didn't work at all, failing to note the study was one of the first to look at patients with much more serious symptoms than previous trials. So this study reinforces what already was suspected, that saw palmetto would not work if the condition has progressed too far.

On the other hand, a nearly ignored European study concluded that consistent use of saw palmetto could reduce the need for surgery in men with milder symptoms (World Journal of Urology 2005; 23:253). This two-year study compares favorably with similar data from drug trials.

Saw palmetto remains a safe, effective, highly affordable treatment for men with mild to moderate BPH. Men with serious BPH, including those who don't respond to saw palmetto, should consult their health care provider.

--Eric Yarnell, assistant professor of botanical medicine, Bastyr University

Bastyr is a non-profit, private university offering graduate and undergraduate degrees, with a multidisciplinary curriculum in science-based natural medicine. The university's Seattle teaching clinic, Bastyr Center for Natural Health, is the Northwest's largest natural medicine clinic. Go to www.bastyr.edu or www.bastyrcenter.org

Royal Society questions Exxon on CO2



Following sharp criticism from Britain's Royal Society, Exxon Mobil says it is reviewing which of the groups "that challenge the scientific validity of concerns about global warming" it will continue to fund. Exxon gave at least $6.8 million to nonprofit groups in 2005, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which recently ran "television ads that argued that carbon dioxide, widely seen as the main global-warming gas, is helpful." The Royal Society, made up of Britain's leading scientists, took the "unprecedented step" of writing to Exxon to demand the oil giant stop funding groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence." The Society also criticized Exxon's "corporate citizenship reports," which claim that "gaps in the scientific basis" make it very difficult to link climate change and human activity. In the Guardian, George Monbiot writes about the history of corporate climate change denial, going back to the PR firm APCO, Philip Morris, PR Watch "usual suspect" Steve Milloy and his front group, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (sub req'd), September 21, 2006 For more information or to comment on this story, visit:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Media Goes Ga-Ga Over Baby Australopithecine Fossil


An exciting find was recently reported as scientists discovered what may be the most complete australopithecine fossil specimen ever found. It is reported to be a toddler. Unfortunately, the media is misrepresenting this fossil as if it closely mimics humans. Consider the diagram below which comes from the Seattle Times ("Scientists Find Fossil Child from 3.3 Million Years Ago," Thursday Sept. 21, 2006, pg. A2):

Does Australopithecus afarensis really look so similar to humans? This diagram is extremely misleading. Consider a diagram from an actual scientific paper which reveals the stark differences between Australopithecus (right) and the earliest members of our genus, Homo (left):

(From http://www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/Releases/2000/Jan00/r011000b.html covering the Hawks et al. paper)

The media is calling this baby fossil "a mixture of ape-like and human-like features," yet that description obscures the real picture. A recent study in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution found that Homo and Australopithecus differ dramatically:

We, like many others, interpret the anatomical evidence to show that early H. sapiens [H. erectus and H. ergaster] was significantly and dramatically different from … australopithecines in virtually every element of its skeleton and every remnant of its behavior.

(J. Hawks et. al, "Population Bottlenecks and Pleistocene Evolution," Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution, 17(1):2-22 (2000).)

Noting these many changes, the study called the evolutionary origin of humans, "a real acceleration of evolutionary change from the more slowly changing pace of australopithecine evolution" and noted that this transformation must have included radical changes:

The anatomy of the earliest H. sapiens [H. erectus and H. ergaster] sample indicates significant modifications of the ancestral genome and is not simply an extension of evolutionary trends in an earlier australopithecine lineage throughout the Pliocene. In fact, its combination of features never appears earlier...

These rapid, unique, and genetically significant changes are termed "a genetic revolution" where "no australopithecine species is obviously transitional." One commentator proposed this evidence implies a "big bang theory" of human evolution. Now that "Homo" habilis is best recognized as an australopithecine due to its ape-like skeletal structure (see "The Human Genus," Science, 284:65-71), it is no wonder an article in Nature last year recognized the lack of an clear-cut immediate ancestor for our genus Homo:

H. ergaster marks such a radical departure from previous forms of Homo (such as H. habilis) in its height, reduced sexual dimorphism, long limbs and modern body proportions that it is hard at present to identify its immediate ancestry in east Africa. Not for nothing has it been described as a hominin "without an ancestor, without a clear past"

(Robin Dennell & Wil Roebroeks, "An Asian perspective on early human dispersal from Africa," Nature Vol 438: 1099-1104 (Dec. 22/29, 2005) (internal citations removed) (emphasis added))

This new baby Australopithecine find is surely exciting and will expand our knowledge of the extinct genus of Australopithecine apes (Australopithecus literally means "Southern Ape"). But don't let misleading diagrams in the media make you think that these apes were clear-cut similar ancestors of our genus Homo.

Posted by Casey Luskin on September 27, 2006 6:39 AM | Permalink

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Radford and Nickell)


Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures
Benjamin Rdaford and Joe Nickell
2006, University Press of Kentucky
xvii+190p., illustrated. Foreword by Loren Coleman

An examination of lake monster claims from Loch Ness plus a number of North American lakes, including Lake Champlain and Lake Okanagan. Radford and Nickell have been investigating alleged lake monsters from the US and canada for a while now, and it is useful to have their work presented under one volume. The overwhelming impression the book leaves, however, is how little good evidence there is for lake monsters. Often even constructing a non-fantastic alternative explanation is difficult, because there is so little to define the mystery.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Why Darwinism is doomed


Posted: September 27, 2006 1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Jonathan Wells, Ph.D.

Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote in 1977: "Biology took away our status as paragons created in the image of God." Darwinism teaches that we are accidental byproducts of purposeless natural processes that had no need for God, and this anti-religious dogma enjoys a taxpayer-funded monopoly in America's public schools and universities. Teachers who dare to question it openly have in many cases lost their jobs.

The issue here is not "evolution" – a broad term that can mean simply change within existing species (which no one doubts). The issue is Darwinism – which claims that all living things are descended from a common ancestor, modified by natural selection acting on random genetic mutations.

According to Darwinists, there is such overwhelming evidence for their view that it should be considered a fact. Yet to the Darwinists' dismay, at least three-quarters of the American people – citizens of the most scientifically advanced country in history – reject it.

A study published Aug. 11 in the pro-Darwin magazine Science attributes this primarily to biblical fundamentalism, even though polls have consistently shown that half of the Americans who reject Darwinism are not biblical fundamentalists. Could it be that the American people are skeptical of Darwinism because they're smarter than Darwinists think?

On Aug. 17, the pro-Darwin magazine Nature reported that scientists had just found the "brain evolution gene." There is circumstantial evidence that this gene may be involved in brain development in embryos, and it is surprisingly different in humans and chimpanzees. According to Nature, the gene may thus harbor "the secret of what makes humans different from our nearest primate relatives."

Three things are remarkable about this report. First, it implicitly acknowledges that the evidence for Darwinism was never as overwhelming as its defenders claim. It has been almost 30 years since Gould wrote that biology accounts for human nature, yet Darwinists are just now turning up a gene that may have been involved in brain evolution.

Second, embryologists know that a single gene cannot account for the origin of the human brain. Genes involved in embryo development typically have multiple effects, and complex organs such as the brain are influenced by many genes. The simple-mindedness of the "brain evolution gene" story is breathtaking.

Third, the only thing scientists demonstrated in this case was a correlation between a genetic difference and brain size. Every scientist knows, however, that correlation is not the same as causation. Among elementary school children, reading ability is correlated with shoe size, but this is because young schoolchildren with small feet have not yet learned to read – not because larger feet cause a student to read better or because reading makes the feet grow. Similarly, a genetic difference between humans and chimps cannot tell us anything about what caused differences in their brains unless we know what the gene actually does. In this case, as Nature reports, "what the gene does is a mystery."

So after 150 years, Darwinists are still looking for evidence – any evidence, no matter how skimpy – to justify their speculations. The latest hype over the "brain evolution gene" unwittingly reveals just how underwhelming the evidence for their view really is.

The truth is Darwinism is not a scientific theory, but a materialistic creation myth masquerading as science. It is first and foremost a weapon against religion – especially traditional Christianity. Evidence is brought in afterwards, as window dressing.

This is becoming increasingly obvious to the American people, who are not the ignorant backwoods religious dogmatists that Darwinists make them out to be. Darwinists insult the intelligence of American taxpayers and at the same time depend on them for support. This is an inherently unstable situation, and it cannot last.

If I were a Darwinist, I would be afraid. Very afraid.

Get Wells' widely popular "Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design"

Jonathan Wells is the author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to Darwinism and Intelligent Design" (Regnery, 2006) and Icons of Evolution (Regnery, 2000). He holds a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in theology from Yale University. Wells is currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

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