Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
10/22/2006 4:53 PM By: News 8 Austin Staff
When a pet is diagnosed with a deadly illness, the owner must make a decision on how to proceed. These days, traditional veterinary medicine has many lifesaving treatments available and when used alongside complimentary therapies, the results can be even more successful.
When Dr. Sandra Young adopted her 7-year-old Greyhound she had no idea that what she had learned from western and eastern medicine would one day save her dog's life.
"I diagnosed Chops with cancer when I was petting him, and being a Greyhound you can feel everything on him. So when I felt his lymph nodes were enlarged, I knew right then he had cancer because it was the most likely thing at his age. I then ran some tests to confirm that it was lymphoma," Young said.
While Chops received traditional medical treatments for his cancer, Young used her skills in alternative medicine to help with the side effects of the chemotherapy received.
"Once I diagnosed him with cancer, I knew I was going to make some changes to his diet based on the information that was out there, but I also knew that I wanted to augment that with holistic therapies. So I started doing some home cooking, used supplements and acupuncture to help him through the side effects of the chemotherapy," Young said.
Now Chops is a relatively healthy 14-year-old Greyhound, and Young credits the combination to his surviving cancer.
"I certainly credit the chemotherapy with saving his life. I would not have counted on the alternative medicine to shrink his lymph nodes. But I think he has done so well through it because of the alternative therapies," she said.
Surviving a deadly disease using western medicine and complimentary holistic therapies is more accepted than ever for people, and the same is true for pets.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
December 2002: Ending a yearlong debate, the State Board of Education adopts a set of science standards that made Ohio the first state to require students to examine criticisms of biological evolution. A disclaimer warns that the action should not be construed as support for intelligent design, the idea that life must be guided by a higher power.
March 2004: The state school board narrowly approves a controversial 10th-grade biology lesson that scientists say will allow creationism into high school science classrooms. The board votes 10-7 to include the 22-page lesson, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," as part of the state's 547 pages of model lesson plans for science.
December 2005: A federal judge strikes down a Dover, Pa., plan requiring students to learn alternatives to evolution.
February 2006: The Ohio board votes 11-4 to delete the "critical analysis" lesson plan from the state's science curriculum.
October 2006: The board votes 14-3 to end its debate over teaching evolution. The chairman of the committee vows to continue to push for a replacement lesson.
22 Oct 2006
Annie Freeda Cruez and Azura Abas
THEY perform surgery and heal the sick. But they are not your regular surgeon or doctor. They are renowned heart surgeons or other specialists who are dead. Faith healers call upon them to perform "psychic surgeries" and cure patients suffering from diseases and other sickness. Call it faith healing or divine healing. Another term for it is spiritual healing. Three practitioners talk to New Sunday Times about their "psychic surgery" experiences.
KUALA LUMPUR: Divine beings and ghostly surgeons performing surgery and curing diseases? It sounds out of the world. But there are those who swear to its efficacy.
The practitioners of this surgery call it "psychic surgery" and the unqualified Shah Alam doctor who is said to have performed surgery on hundreds was one of them.
The man, said to be an Indonesian, is on the run since Health Ministry officials raided his "clinic" and seized his equipment on Oct 11.
There are many healers like him who perform psychic surgery, but without claiming to be qualified medical doctors.
And faith healers are not only in Malaysia. There have been reports of faith healers in the Philippines and Brazil.
People know them as healers and visit them when modern medicine is no longer able to help.
These healers are said to be able to extract a tumour or repair a blood clot with their bare hands while the patient is conscious.
They use no anaesthesia but claim the patient feels no pain, and the operation usually leaves no scar.
Parvathy Amma, who practises "psychic surgery", explained that the healer merely acts as a medium for spiritual or magnetic energies to act on the patient.
"The healer manipulates magnetic energy to penetrate the body, both the spiritual and physical body," she told the New Sunday Times at her Kajang home.
Parvathy, who is known to family and close friends as Paru, performed her first "psychic surgery" six years ago on a 50-year-old heart patient from Ipoh.
He told her that he was scheduled for bypass surgery for four blockages.
"I made him lie down, put my palms on him and prayed. Then I watched the 'surgical team' perform the surgery."
What exactly is this surgical team she talks about?
Paru said she would call upon renowned heart surgeons or other specialists who had died to assist her in the surgery.
"Only I can see them as they perform the surgery and healing. My clients just lie down. It takes only a few minutes," said Paru, who has performed numerous such surgeries.
Paru, who used to get as many as 50 patients a day, now sees between 20 and 30 on weekends. The number is lower on weekdays.
She, however, does not claim to be able to cure everyone or every disease.
"With the help of divine guides, I put my hands over the patient's heart and I can see lights going into his body."
Paru said that she did not do the healing.
"My divine guides do that. I watch them putting their hands over the patient.
"Patients have told me that they feel a cutting and needle pricking sensation at the area where I put my hands."
Paru said she also has the ability to see and read auras and her healing includes Aura cleansing, chakra therapy and crystal healing.
She also does spiritual healing and counselling.
"I tell all my patients who come with physical illnesses to seek Western treatment. If it's beyond physical, then I handle it."
She begins by asking her patient to lie down on a bed, and then chants silently with her eyes closed.
This, she explained, is done to check the colour of the patient's aura and identify the illness.
Burhan Abu Bakar, another psychic surgeon, uses the power of the mind to carry out surgery.
"I imagine a scalpel in my hand and the act of cutting open the sick area," said Burhan.
"I have performed such a surgery on a 70-year-old woman who suffered from pain on her foot. I pictured the pain area in my mind and also the act of removing it.
"The woman later told me she suffered no more pain."
Burhan is also able to do "long-distance healing" by using a telephone and a glass or bottle of water.
"I instruct the patient at the other end of the line to recite certain prayers and Quranic verses.
"The patient then only has to drink the water he or she is holding to be healed.
" I am not the one responsible for the healing. It is God's will that a person be cured."
Prominent Islamic healer Datuk Dr Haron Din uses the Quran and Hadith (traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad) to heal.
The soft-spoken Haron, who has been providing free service for over 30 years, sees about 200 people a day in Bangi.
"Most of my patients are Muslims. I have also seen people from countries such as Belgium, Australia, Britain and Saudi Arabia."
Haron said he also deals with patients who were disturbed by spiritual beings such as demons and jinns.
But despite their beliefs and methods, all three psychic healers were clear about one thing: To be healthy one needed to eat nutritious food in the right amounts. Overeating, they said, leads to ill-health.
'My son's health improved'
KUALA LUMPUR: A quality inspector said his son's health had improved so much since he went to see a traditional healer that the doctors were surprised.
Y.K. Lim, whose six-year-old son Navin suffers from congenital heart disease, went to see Parvathy Amma in August.
"I see a lot of difference in my son's health. He is no longer 'blue' and breathless. Even doctors at the National Heart Institute are surprised at the change," he said.
Navin was scheduled for a major heart surgery.
"While waiting for the surgery, we came to know of this spiritual healer and decided to give her a try. She prayed over him and ever since then, he has been doing fine."
Parvathy advised Lim to take his son to the doctor for regular check-ups.
"I am happy to see my son playing and not having diarrhoea and vomiting or being allergic to food."
P. Kumari, 40, who suffers from stomach cancer, claimed that her doctors stopped chemotherapy after they found her health improving.
In June, Kumari, of Puchong, said doctors removed her cancerous ovaries and uterus but a subsequent check-up showed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
While undergoing chemotherapy, she sought the help of Parvathy.
"I am not sure what she did, but according to doctors, I am fine."
Kumari is determined to go for regular check-ups despite the improvement.
Several traditional medicine practitioners and faith healers are also providing pranic healing, distance healing and reiki energy healing.
Their services spread by word of mouth. They have been in the market for about five to 10 years.
According to Universiti Malaya Tamil Studies lecturer and researcher Dr Sivapalan Govindasamy, patients turn to alternative medicine when modern medicine fails.
He said they were willing to take risks and subject themselves to unconventional procedures, including psychic surgery and prayers.
"The Malays, Chinese and Indians have their own traditional practitioners and healers. People who are desperate will turn to them, especially when doctors give up hope."
Sivapalan said Malaysians could seek these healers' help provided that they were registered with the health authorities and did not practise procedures which would endanger the lives of people.
"We should be more worried about the many herbal products in the market, the majority of which are unregistered and brought in illegally, and which can do more harm than good."
Sivapalan, who is awaiting government funding for research on herbal products and medical trends, said: "More people seem to be going back to nature rather than seeking modern medicine for their ailments."
Sivapalan said people were concerned about the side-effects of modern medicine.
For example, he said, people with diabetes and high blood pressure had to take medicine as long as they lived or else their condition would worsen.
"People seek alternative treatment because they want to go into the root causes of their problem and find a cure. They do not want to suffer from diseases their whole life."
Ministry can't stop 'psychic patients'
KUALA LUMPUR: Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the ministry could not stop anyone from seeing practitioners of "psychic surgery".
"Some patients are very desperate and desperate people resort to desperate measures. Unfortunately we also have desperate practitioners wanting quick gains," he said.
Dr Ismail said those who performed "psychic surgery" and other forms of healing were not accountable to anybody or to any health law.
"If people believe in psychic surgery, we wish them all the best," said Dr Ismail.
He warned that if any non-doctor practiced modern medicine, action would be taken against him or her.
He said no amount of letters and testimonials about the abilities of such healers would make the health authorities change their mind.
"We practice evidence-based medicine. We accept traditional and complementary medicine (TCM), but only if the practitioners are registered with us," said Dr Ismail.
He said TCM practitioners focused on wellness programmes rather than treatment.
"Psychic surgery using modern medicine facilities is something we cannot accept," he added.
There are 219 foreign TCM practitioners in Malaysia, mostly in the field of Ayurvedic medicine, massage and reflexology. There are also some 10,000 Malay, Chinese and Indian traditional practitioners and faith healers.
By Hank Tippins Oct 21, 2006, 10:42
Almost everyone has heard the statement, "complex life forms of today result from evolution. All life began as simple microorganisms, and through millions of years evolved slowly into more complex organisms which eventually led to the first primitive human form." Does this sound familiar? Of course it does! It is the theory of evolution taken straight from a high school science book. If you went to a public school, chances are that you were taught evolution. But many times school books do not publish this as a theory, but as truth. So long has this claim been perpetuated that many of those in the younger generation dare not challenge it.
However, there has always been a battle of theories accounting, for the origins of life. In the 1920's it was illegal to teach evolution in public schools. Creationism, which teaches the Biblical account that God created everything including life, had been taught since the institution of American schools. The Supreme Court later declared it lawful to include evolution as an alternative theory. As the years progressed, creationism has been eradicated from virtually all public school texts.
As we are entering a new age of technology, science can now dig deeper, probe further and see more clearly with the use of advanced equipment. One such amazing discovery for instance is the complexity of individual cells.
Once thought to be the simplest building block of life – a sort of blob-like jelly, science has revealed it to be one of the most sophisticated electro-mechanical systems in the universe, incorporating superior design far more advanced and efficient than anything ever made by mankind. Professors have devoted their entire careers to the research of systems within these tiny cells – research that cumulatively uncovers only a slight fraction of the cell's mystery.
Within the cell, there are thousands of systems that are known as irreducibly complex. This complicated-sounding term simply means that a system is unable to operate its desired function if any piece is missing. A mouse trap is a simple illustration of irreducible complexity. Removing just one piece of the trap – the base, hammer, spring, catch, or holding bar – and the trap wouldn't work at all. Thousands of other systems in nature are irreducibly complex—and none as simple as our mousetrap example.
Even Darwin himself said in his book, The Origins of Species, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Irreducibly complex systems by definition cannot evolve by numerous small steps because each element must be present at all times. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of components would need to evolve simultaneously for the system to work. Certainly this does not follow Darwin's theory. If one piece needs years to evolve, the system couldn't function and therefore wouldn't be around long enough for it to matter anyway. Something is missing in Darwinian evolution.
The complicated cell, even though it is a major blow to the evolutionary theory, is one of many problems that evolutionists face.
A Growing Concern
Evidentially, many others agree. According to USA today, 400 Ph.D – level scientists recently signed a statement questioning Darwinian evolution. Called the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, it reads, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." This document was signed by professors from distinguished universities such as Yale, Princeton, U.C Berkley, Cambridge, MIT, as well as a Nobel Nominee for Quantum Chemistry and a top researcher at the Smithsonian Institute.
I recently attended a conference at USF called Doctors Who Doubt Darwin which highlighted recent scientific findings conflicting evolution. The event attracted between 3,500 and 4,000 guests and was sponsored by the Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity. Interestingly enough, many professors who are on the forefront of scientific research have concluded that random chance could not account for the complexity found in nature.
One speaker illustrated that if we found a laptop computer on a stump in the forest, we would naturally conclude that it was placed there and had not evolved by chance over time. It would be preposterous to assume that all the precise pieces created themselves and assembled by chance into a complex working machine. However, to use this rationale for the intricate systems in nature has been widely accepted for decades.
When the physics of Newton and Galileo replaced the incomplete scientific theories of Aristotle, a new science emerged seeking to explain the world through natural laws. In recent years, a new scientific movement known as Intelligent Design (ID) seeks to explain the apparent gaps in Darwin's theory by viewing life as a product of an intellectual designer instead of a cosmic accident.
Sounds religious? According to the advocators of ID, their motivation is the pursuit of truth by rigidly following the scientific method – objectively following wherever the evidence leads.
Why wouldn't we want to admit design into science? What's wrong with explaining something as designed by an intelligent agent?
In our everyday lives, it is absolutely necessary to distinguish accident from design. We demand answers to questions like, Did she fall or was she pushed? Did he die accidentally or was this suicide? Was someone just lucky on the stock market or have inside information? It makes perfect sense to demand an answer to a larger question. Is life an accident— a hiccup of cosmic activity, or was it intentionally designed?
Why All the Fuss?
Critics of Intelligent Design contend that this movement is purely religious since it infers design by an intelligent agent. Its apparent similarity with the Biblical account of creation causes alarm to evolutionists. Faith, according to critics, should be taught at home or church, but not in public schools. Advocates of ID, however, propose that more faith is required to accept claims of nature creating itself accidentally than is needed to accept design by intelligence.
If mounting evidence points contrary to Darwinian evolution, why not include alternative theories in school textbooks? By nature, education should present any plausible theories including all objective facts and allow students to decide the answer for themselves. Indoctrination, on the other hand, presents only one side and prohibits any other alternative for consideration. Why not let the students debate it?
HYPERLINK "http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilde:Darwin_ape.jpg" \o "Darwins teorier var omstridte, noe denne satiretegningen av Darwin som ape fra 1871 viser." INCLUDEPICTURE "http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9c/Darwin_ape.jpg/300px-Darwin_ape.jpg" \* MERGEFORMATINET
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The spiritual history of DeSoto County
Through most of the 20th century, an emotionally charged debate between creationists and evolutionists raged throughout America.
The controversy came to DeSoto County High School in 1963, when 22-year-old Gary Parker was hired in the middle of the school year to teach biology. When Parker began teaching that higher forms of life, including humans, evolved from lower forms, parents and local ministers were alarmed and attempted to have him fired.
Gary Parker's association with DeSoto County began when his father, a medical doctor, was hired by the Florida State Hospital in 1947. The hospital was later named the G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hospital. Suzy Brewer, one of Parker's seventh-grade teachers, inspired his interest in science. His interest in teaching grew as he served as a student assistant to English teacher Leota Dozier.
Upon graduation from high school, Parker won a full tuition scholarship to the prestigious Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and earned his bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry and an election to Phi Beta Kappa, the national scholastic honorary society. He then went to Tallahassee to continue his education, with a fellowship at Florida State University. Before classes began in January 1963, however, he happened to see an advertisement for the position of a biology teacher in DeSoto County. Having lost his biology teacher in the middle of the year, DeSoto High School principal Vincent DeShazo was very eager to find a replacement. Parker immediately applied for the job and was hired.
Parker had no idea that his teaching of evolution would offend the residents of DeSoto County. He had never heard evolution challenged in any of his college classes. To him, the Bible was a collection of interesting stories and moral instructions. He did not know that the literal acceptance of the Bible's teaching concerning science and history would be in direct conflict with his teaching of evolution.
In the spring of 1963, Parker innocently, but enthusiastically, taught his five biology classes the basics of evolution. One minister's daughter burst into tears. Parker tried to assure the students they could continue to believe in their religion. But he also thought they would be thrilled to know that they had a biological kinship with moths and pine trees. Many students went home from school that week and said to their parents, "Guess what Mr. Parker said today!"
Some parents requested that Parker be fired. DeShazo, however, was encouraged by Parker's former teachers to be lenient with him. Parker left DeSoto County in the summer of 1964, discouraged by his teaching experience and sorry to leave the county where he grew up and the town where his first child was born. He then continued his education at Ball State College in Muncie, Ind.
Upon graduating with a master's degree, Parker took a job as a biology professor at a liberal arts college. It was there that he came in contact with Dr. Charles Signorino, a chemistry professor at the same college. The professor led Bible studies that Gary attended, mainly because donuts and coffee were served.
After three years of trying to use evolution to disprove the Bible, Parker discovered that science itself disproved evolution. He then became acquainted with the writings of Henry Morris and John Whitcomb. Parker reportedly began to see that evidence was strong for an originally perfect creation, ruined by mankind, destroyed by Noah's flood, and restored to new life through Jesus.
With a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, Parker earned his doctorate in biology, adding a minor in fossil studies. He and his wife, Mary, became fossil enthusiasts, collecting fossils on five continents, helping to excavate mammoths from the Peace River near Arcadia, and publishing over a dozen books on fossils and creation science. Mary helped develop museums for the Institute of Creation Science and Answers in Genesis. Parker taught and lectured internationally on creation, debating numerous evolutionists.
In 1999, Gary and Mary Parker returned to Arcadia. One reason for Parker's return was to set the record straight concerning his stand on creation and evolution. The Parkers presently operate the Creation Adventures Museum at 1220 W. Imogene St. Public and private school groups, home-schoolers and others from throughout Florida visit the museum. The phone number for the museum is 863-494-9558.
Editor's note: This article read by and approved by Dr. Gary Parker, per David Bedell's request.
David Bedell is a member of the DeSoto County Historical Society. He can be reached at bedell.desoto.net.
By DAVID BEDELL
A TOUR OF LIFE'S COMPLEXITY
Featured in the November 2006 issue of National Geographic and on the magazine's website is "A fin is a limb is a wing," by Carl Zimmer (author of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea) and illustrated with photographs by Rosamond Purcell. "Today biologists are beginning to understand the origins of life's complexity -- the exquisite optical mechanism of the eye, the masterly engineering of the arm, the architecture of a flower or a feather, the choreography that allows trillions of cells to cooperate in a single organism," Zimmer writes. "The fundamental answer is clear: In one way or another, all these wonders evolved."
Zimmer explains on his blog, "National Geographic magazine asked me to take a tour of complexity in life and report on the latest research on how it evolved. What struck me over and over again was how scientists studying everything from bacteria to humans are drawn back to the same concepts -- making new copies of old parts, for example, or borrowing parts of one complex trait to evolve a new one. And in each case, complexity opens up the way to diversity, because something [made of] many parts can be rearranged in many ways. There's not yet a general theory for the evolution of complexity, but scientists are certainly converging on some of the same themes."
Among the examples of complexity Zimmer considers in his article is the bacterial flagellum, a favorite of the "intelligent design" movement. He writes, "But by comparing the flagellar proteins to those in other bacterial structures, Mark Pallen of the University of Birmingham in England and his colleagues have found clues to how this intricate mechanism was assembled from simpler parts. ... Pallen proposes that its pieces -- all of which have counterparts in today's microbes -- came together step-by-step over millions of years." On his blog, Zimmer cites a recent paper by Pallen and NCSE's Nick Matzke as a particularly good treatment.
For Zimmer's article in National Geographic, visit:
For Zimmer's entry on his blog, The Loom, visit:
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ASA RAISES ITS VOICE FOR EVOLUTION
In a statement issued on October 18, 2006, the American Sociological Association took a strong stand for the integrity of science education, describing evolution as "a central organizing principle of the biological sciences that is based upon overwhelming empirical evidence from various scientific disciplines." The statement observes, "Efforts to qualify, limit, or exclude the teaching of biological evolution in U.S. public science curricula would adversely affect national science literacy, academic achievement, and technological and scientific advancement. Such efforts would deprive U.S. public school students of their right to genuine and coherent science education, which they need in a world where science and technology are socially and economically vital areas of knowledge."
The statement also expresses the ASA's opposition to "proposals that promote, support, or advocate religious doctrines or ideologies in science education curricula," such as creationism (including "intelligent design"). Emphasizing that the "ASA respects the right of people to hold diverse religious beliefs, including those that reject evolution and related principles of science, as a matter of faith," the statement adds, "Such beliefs, however, should not be promulgated by science educators in the classroom because it would be a disservice to students to present such views as having a basis in science." The statement acknowledges, however, that creationism "as a social movement and pseudoscientific cognitive process" is a legitimate topic for classes in the social sciences.
Founded in 1905, the American Sociological Association is a non-profit membership association dedicated to advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good, with over 14,000 members.
For the ASA's statement (PDF), visit:
For the ASA's website, visit
A "CLEAN BREAK FROM CREATIONISM" IN OHIO
At its October 10, 2006, meeting, the Ohio state board of education decided, by a 14-3 vote, to "discharge" a committee from the task of considering whether it was necessary to replace "critical analysis of evolution" language that the board removed from the state science standards and model lesson plans in February 2006. The significance of the vote, in the words of the Columbus Dispatch (October 11, 2006), is that the board "pulled the plug on its seemingly incessant debate over Darwin's theory of evolution" -- a debate that began in 2002, with the development of Ohio's state science standards.
In 2002, Ohio adopted a set of science standards including a requirement that students be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." When the indicator was introduced, it was widely feared that it would provide a pretext for the introduction of creationist misrepresentations of evolution. In 2004, those fears proved to be justified, when, over the protests of the state's scientific community, the board adopted a corresponding model lesson plan that clearly sought to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution.
Following the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover and the revelation that the board ignored criticisms of the lesson plan from experts at the Ohio Department of Education, the board reversed its decision, voting in February 2006 to remove the "critical analysis" indicator from the standards and to rescind the lesson plan. At the same time, however, the board charged its Achievement Committee to "consider whether the deleted model lesson, Benchmark H and Indicator 23 should be replaced by a different lesson, benchmark, and indicator, and if so, to present any recommendation to the entire State Board for adoption."
"Intelligent design" supporters began work on replacements, starting with a proposal to have students "debate" not only evolution but also global warming and stem cell research. A less contentious curriculum-wide template, which did not specifically list evolution as a topic for debate, followed, but critics argued that the history of "debate" proposals during the development of the lesson plan -- originally entitled "The Great Macroevolution Debate" in one draft -- indicated that the template was similarly intended to portray evolution as scientifically controversial.
Although these proposed replacements were a regular source of controversy, they were developed without any authority from the board; the Achievement Committee never offered a recommendation to the board about whether any replacement was necessary and, in the view of many, was dragging its heels in the fear that the board would vote against any replacement. Finally, after the committee's September 11, 2006, meeting, at which the template was not considered, James L. Craig, co-chair of the committee, promised to kill the "critical analysis" effort, according to Lynn Elfner of the Ohio Academy of Science (as reported in the Canton Repository, October 10, 2006.)
At the committee's October 9, 2006, meeting, however, the template was not even on the agenda and so "critical analysis" was still alive, despite Craig's reported promise. Patricia Princehouse of Ohio Citizens for Science told the Canton Repository (October 10, 2006), "He sandbagged all of us." Confiding "I really don't care for the template," Craig cited the committee's inability to arrive at a consensus as the reason for the failure to vote on the template. Steve Rissing offered a different explanation: Craig "probably feared he would lose the election if he openly moved the template forward, so he made reassuring noises to scientists while claiming ignorance of the progress the template was making."
On October 10, 2006, the second day of the board of education's monthly meeting, supporters of the integrity of evolution education turned out in force, armed with copies of the Repository's article printed on bright yellow paper to catch the attention of members of the board and those attending the meeting, and prepared to use the public comment period to criticize the board for its inaction. As it happened, however, board member Martha Wise, who led February's effort to remove the "critical analysis" language, proposed to discharge the Achievement Committee from any further responsibilities concerning possible replacments from that language. Seconded by Rob Hovis, the motion passed 14-3.
After the vote, Wise told the Columbus Dispatch (October 11, 2006), "It was time to move on." Princehouse thanked the board, saying, "I'm deeply impressed by the leadership and courage of the board with making a clean break from creationism." Similarly, the Dispatch seemed to assume that the controversy over evolution was finally over, headlining its story, "State education board drops evolution debate." However, Achievement Committee co-chair Michael Cochran, angered at the decision, indicated that the battle was not over as far as he was concerned, saying, "I will guarantee you that as long as I am chair of the committee, it's gonna be on the agenda next month."
For the story in the Columbus Dispatch, visit:
For the story in the Canton Repository, visit:
For Ohio Citizens for Science's website, visit:
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
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06:51 AM CDT on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
By WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News
CHRIS BELL, DEMOCRAT
Opposes teaching intelligent design with evolution. "Things we teach kids in science class should have a scientific basis. Based on everything I have seen and heard, I fail to recognize the scientific basis for intelligent design."
KINKY FRIEDMAN, INDEPENDENT
Opposes teaching intelligent design. He says: "I'm against it; there's nothing intelligent about it."
RICK PERRY, REPUBLICAN
Supports teaching intelligent design along with evolutionary theory in science classes. Spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor believes "intelligent design is a valid scientific theory. He believes it should be taught as well."
CAROLE KEETON STRAYHORN, INDEPENDENT
Opposes teaching intelligent design "in science classes." She says: "There may be a place you want to do it – in religion studies. Evolution is a proper subject in a science curriculum."
Intelligent design holds that life is so complex that it must have been guided by some outside intelligent force. Critics say intelligent design and creationism are religion in disguise. Supporters of evolutionary theory, which holds that all life on Earth developed through a series of random mutations and natural selection, say there is substantial scientific evidence for its validity. Texas requires the teaching of evolution in science classes.
The complete works of one of history's greatest scientists, Charles Darwin, are being published online.
The project run by Cambridge University has digitised some 50,000 pages of text and 40,000 images of original publications - all of it searchable.
Surfers with MP3 players can even access downloadable audio files.
The resource is aimed at serious scholars, but can be used by anyone with an interest in Darwin and his theory on the evolution of life.
"The idea is to make these important works as accessible as possible; some people can only get at Darwin that way," said Dr John van Wyhe, the project's director.
One big collection
Dr van Wyhe has spent the past four years searching the globe for copies of Darwin's own materials, and works written about the naturalist and his breakthrough ideas on natural selection.
The historian said he was inspired to build the library at darwin-online.org.uk when his own efforts to study Darwin while at university in Asia were frustrated.
"I wrote to lots of people all over the world to get hold of the texts for the project and I got a really positive reaction because they all liked the idea of there being one big collection," he told BBC News.
Darwin Online features many newly transcribed or never-before-published manuscripts written by the great man.
These include a remarkable field notebook from his famous Beagle voyage to the Galapagos Islands, where detailed observations of the wildlife would later forge his scientific arguments.
The real artefact was stolen in the 1980s and is still missing, but the text has been transcribed from a microfilm copy made two decades earlier.
"It is astonishing to see the notebook that Darwin had in his pocket as he walked around the Galapagos - the scribbled notes that he took as he clambered over the lava," said Randal Keynes, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.
"If people can read it on the web and they learn that it was stolen then I think there is more chance that this very important piece of national heritage is recovered," he told BBC News.
Other texts appearing online for the first time include the first editions of the Journal Of Researches (1839), The Descent Of Man (1871), The Zoology Of The Voyage Of HMS Beagle (1838-43) and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the Origin Of Species, the pivotal tome that elucidated his thoughts on evolution.
There is no charge to use the website. Most texts can be viewed either as colour originals or as fully formatted electronic transcriptions. There are also German, Danish and Russian editions.
Users can also peruse more than 150 supplementary texts, ranging from reference works to contemporary reviews of Darwin's books, obituaries and recollections.
At the moment the site contains about 50% of the materials that will be provided by 2009, the bicentenary of the naturalist's birth.
"The family has always wanted Darwin's papers and manuscripts available to anyone who wants to read them. That everyone around the world can now see them on the web is simply fantastic," said Mr Keynes.
October 19, 2006 06:14am
AFTER four decades of bending spoons, halting clocks, reading minds, and penning metaphysical thrillers, Uri Geller is seeking a paranormal protege.
A reality television show being produced in Israel, where Geller grew up, will feature 10 contestants vying for the title of "heir" to the world-famous celebrity psychic.
"The format will be something like American Idol. We will keep the performances that are most riveting and amazing," Geller said today.
He said viewers with "intuitive powers" would also be invited to call in and compete.
Geller, 59, declined to elaborate on what supernatural skills the contestants claimed to have.
He was also silent on whether clairvoyants - who might be assumed to have an edge in predicting judges' votes - were taking part.
He described the prize, simply, as "huge".
Keshet, a franchise of Israel's Channel Two television, confirmed on its website that the show was being produced, but gave no further details.
"This is not a show where people have to prove to me that they are for real," Geller said.
"I just want to be amazed."
He stressed he had no plans to retire.
John Roach for National Geographic News
October 18, 2006
A fish that swam on an ancient barrier reef in Australia 380 million years ago had fins and nostrils remarkably similar to the limbs and ears of the first four-limbed creatures to walk on land, according to a new study.
Four-limbed land animals, also known as tetrapods, such as modern amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, evolved from lobed-finned fish.
That transition from water to land has long fascinated scientists, but the fossil record of how it occurred is still incomplete.
The new finding suggests that certain aspects of tetrapod ears and limbs can be traced much further back in "fishy looking" fish than had been previously known, says John Long, head of sciences at Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.
"They were just cunningly disguised in the fossil record by their more fishlike overall features," he said in an email interview.
"They tell us that evolution progresses steadily but often hides the evidence until a really well preserved fossil like this turns up."
Long and colleagues report their findings in tomorrow's issue of the science journal Nature.
The team analyzed a remarkably well preserved fossil specimen of a fish called Gogonasus.
Previously the lobed-finned fish—which was about 12 inches (30 centimeters) long and covered in diamond-shaped scales—was known only from crushed or fragmented fossil remains.
But the new specimen, discovered last year in Western Australia, is nearly complete, with an almost intact skull, body, and fin bones (map of Australia).
Among the most remarkable features are slits on the roof of the skull called spiracles that scientists had previously seen only in creatures more closely related to tetrapods, such as the "missing link" fish Tiktaalik. (Related story: "Fossil Fish With 'Limbs' Is Missing Link" [April 5, 2006].)
Tiktaalik, the closest known fish ancestor to land tetrapods, had fins with armlike skeletal structures, a head that moved independently of its body, and spiracles on the top of its head.
"This Gogonasus fish shows similar adaptation for air breathing that we see in creatures much closer to tetrapods," said Jennifer Clack, a paleontologist and tetrapod expert at the University of Cambridge in England. Clack was not involved in the new study.
In more advanced tetrapods, spiracle structures became ears, Clack adds.
Long and colleagues also describe Gogonasus' fins in detail for the first time, showing they are stout and robust like those in early tetrapods.
"In simple terms, Gogonasus is a missing link between fishes that look like fish and the more amphibian-like elpistosteglians [tetrapod-like fishes such as Tiktaalik]," Long said.
Prior to the discovery of Gogonasus, tetrapod-like fish were known mostly from the Northern Hemisphere, raising the question of how tetrapods got to the Southern Hemisphere.
"The marine environment of Gogonasus means that tetrapod-like fishes and tetrapods probably had more marine dispersal ability than previously thought," Long said.
The early tetrapod-like fish could have swum around the world, Cambridge's Clack adds.
However, Gogonasus may have evolved its tetrapod-like features independently of the first fishes to crawl out of water onto land, she says.
"It's possible the features we are seeing in Gogonasus—the air breathing and limb characters—are in fact evolved in parallel, in fact have nothing to do with those in tetrapods. They perhaps derived similar mechanisms quite independently," she said.
"We'll need a lot more work to sort that one out."
Poland's deputy education minister has called for the removal of the theory of evolution from the country's schools. Miroslaw Orzechowki, a minister in the far-right political party, the League of Polish Families, branded the theory of evolution as "a lie, an error that we have legalized as a common truth."
The theory of evolution is commonly taught as the explanation for the state of existing animals and plants, and is thought to conflict with the creation theory, whereby God created all life on the planet in it's current form.
"We are not going to withdraw Darwin's theory from the school books, he said, "but we should start to discuss it."
"We should not teach lies, just as we should not teach bad instead of good, or ugliness instead of beauty," he added.
Are leading Darwinists succeeding in promoting a religion-friendly image? Prominent evolutionists have used warfare imagery to call upon people to "fight" against intelligent design and other forms of evolution-skepticism, including various religions. In a recent article about a talk on The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins told a crowd in Kansas, "I know you here are in the front-line trench against powerful forces of darkness… Fight the good fight" against the "the 'rotten logic' of intelligent design and creationism," which he claims argue the religious viewpoint that "God did it." (As noted yesterday, the article is factually challenged, as it repeatedly incorrectly calls Dawkins a "physicist," when he is actually a zoologist and evolutionary biologist.)
In a similar fashion, Gerald Weissmann, writing in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology ("FASEB") Journal where he is editor-in-chief, wrote "The facts of evolution: fighting the Endarkenment," where he argues that "much of society at large is beating a hasty retreat to the dark ages" because "superstition threatens our schools and Bible-thumpers preach that Darwin got it wrong." Weissman expresses dismay that "[a] third of Americans believe that the Judeo-Christian Bible is the word of God to be taken literally, word for word." Using tactics reminiscient of a general trying to inspire his forces, he envisions winning a war against "zealots of all stripes" through his call that "[e]xperimental science is our defense—perhaps our best defense—against humbug and the Endarkenment."
Finally, Michael Ruse, who views intelligent design as a version of creationist religious beliefs, explained in Playboy Magazine that intelligent design and Biblical literalism must be fought because they are "evil" and denigrate "great religion":
I think intelligent-design theory and its companions are nasty, cramping, soul-destroying reversions to the more unfortunate aspects of 19th century America. Although I am not a Christian, I look on these ideas as putrid scabs on the body of a great religion. … But if you are going to fight moral evil—and creationism in its various forms is a moral evil—you need to understand what you are fighting and why.
Ruse goes on to say that "[t]raditional Christians hate biblical literalism as much as atheists do—more, in fact, because it sullies their religion" and that non-religious evolutionists should unite with Christian theistic evolutionists against such sects because "in fighting Hitler [Churchill and Roosevelt] realized they had to work with the Soviet Union. Evolutionists of all kinds must likewise work together to fight creationism."
Somehow I doubt that most readers of Playboy needed to be convinced by Ruse's militant call to action against both the scientific theory of intelligent design, and various types of religious viewpoints.
Posted by Casey Luskin on October 18, 2006 2:23 PM | Permalink
October 18, 2006
By www.andnetwork .com
When scientists found 18,000-year-old bones of a small, humanlike creature on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, they concluded that the bones represented a new species in the human family tree that they named Homo floresiensis.
Their interpretation was widely accepted by the scientific community and heralded by the popular press around the world. Because of its very short stature, H. floresiensis was soon dubbed the "Hobbit."
But now, a new research has comprehensively and convincingly rubbished the case that the small skull represent a new species of hominid, as was claimed in a study published which was published two years ago in the journal Nature.
Instead, the new finding is claiming that the skull is most likely that of a small-bodied modern human who suffered from a genetic condition known as microcephaly, which is characterized by a small head.
"It's no accident that this supposedly new species of hominid was dubbed the 'Hobbit;'" said Dr Robert R. Martin, Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum and lead author of the paper. "It is simply fanciful to imagine that this fossil represents anything other than a modern human."
The new study is the most wide-ranging, multidisciplinary assessment of the problems associated with the interpretation of the 18,000-year-old Flores hominid yet to be published. The authors include experts on:
scaling effects of body size, notably with respect to the brain: Dr. Martin and Dr. Ann M. MacLarnon, School of Human & Life Sciences, Roehampton University in London;
clinical and genetic aspects of human microcephaly: Dr. William B. Dobyns, Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago; and
This is just one of four separate research teams that have recently published evidence indicating concluding that the Flores hominid is far more likely to be a small-bodied modern human suffering from a micro-cephaly than a new species derived from Homo erectus, as was claimed in the original Nature paper.
Significantly, the second most recent publication to conclude that the "Hobbit" was microcephalic - another multidimensional study that was published in the September 5, 2006, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - includes a co-author who was also a co-author of the original publication in Nature. That scientist, R.P. Soejono of the National Archaeological Research Centre in Jakarta, Indonesia, now writes that the Flores hominid was microcephalic rather than a new hominid species.
The starting point for the new research in Anatomical Record was the realisation that the brain of the Flores skull (at 400 cc, the size of a grapefruit and less than one-third of the normal size for a modern human) is simply too small to fit anything previously known about human brain evolution. In addition, the stone tools found at the same site include types of tools that have only been reported for our own species, Homo sapiens.
Brain size of the Flores hominid, originally called Homo floresiensis, is known only from the main specimen discovered there, the LB1 skeleton. Skeletal fragments have been attributed to eight other individuals, but nothing can be said about their brain sizes. (They are small-bodied, but that has never been at issue.)
The new exhaustive research shows that the LB1 brain is simply too small to have been derived from H. erectus by evolutionary dwarfing, as was claimed by those who discovered it. In fact, the size of the brain corresponds very closely to the average value for modern human microcephalics. Microcephaly is a term that covers many conditions. There are more than 400 different human genes for which mutations can result in small brain size. Accordingly, there is a correspondingly wide range of different syndromes that are recognized in clinical practice. Many syndromes involve pronounced deficits ("low-functioning microcephaly"), but some have milder effects ("high-functioning microcephaly"), permitting survival into adulthood and a surprising degree of behavioral competence in certain cases. Microcephaly is often associated with severely reduced stature, but some microcephalics have relatively normal body size.
Because the LB1 skeleton is clearly that of an adult, it should obviously be compared with "high-functioning" modern human microcephalics rather than with "low-functioning" microcephalics who died early. The new study shows that skulls and brain casts from two modern human microcephalics who survived into adulthood are actually quite similar to those of the LB1 specimen. This supports the likelihood that LB1 was microcephalic.
Also, it has been claimed that LB1 had unusually large teeth ("megadonty"). However, it turns out that the teeth are not particularly large, after allowing for the expected effect of dwarfing. They are actually closely similar in size to those of a modern human microcephalic.
Another area of controversy concerns the stone tools discovered in association with the Flores fossils. Initially, the discoverers claimed that the tools were sophisticated, as indeed they are. More recently, continuity has been claimed with tools from Mata Menge on Flores that are purportedly 800,000 years ago. This is simply implausible, according to the authors of the new research.
"Nobody has even claimed cultural continuity in stone tool technology over such a long period (800,000 to 18,000 years ago)," Dr. Phillips said. "To do so ignores the significance of tools found with the LB1 skeleton that were made with the advanced prepared-core technique, otherwise confined to Neanderthals and modern humans."
There has been too much media hype and not enough sound scientific evaluation surrounding this discovery, Martin concluded. "Science needs more balance and less acrimony as we continue to unravel this discovery."
Travis McSherley, an editor at Breakpoint online, has an insightful author interview with CSC senior fellow Jonathan Witt, co-author of A Meaningful World. Last week, Breakpoint highlighted the importance of A Meaningful World with back to back commentaries on the book (here and here).
As Chuck Colson and Mark Earley have pointed out in BreakPoint commentaries on the book, this is not the typical defense of the intelligent design theory. One finds it somewhat overwhelming to go from an in-depth analysis of the writing style of Shakespeare to a discussion of the atomic makeup of the elements. And it is a bold venture to draw from so many widely varying sources in science and culture in order to draw a picture, as it were, of a universe that is finely tuned and awe-inspiring, and perhaps observed only by a few billion sentient life forms on one isolated planet.
The conclusion, however, is fairly simple: order, function, and consistency all represent evidence of purpose. Naturalism demands that purpose and meaning must, at root, be stripped away. But the human heart clamors for something deeper, while human experience—even in art and science—testifies to a world not simply enslaved to the whims of chance.
Read the full interview here.
Posted by Robert Crowther on October 17, 2006 10:54 AM | Permalink
By Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Article Launched:10/15/2006 12:00:00 AM PDT
The issue kept arising. Whenever Moorpark College professors John Baker and Janice Daurio would talk about science in class, a confrontational hand would inevitably interrupt the lesson.
"Well, what about this? My sacred book says that," Baker recalled.
So anthropologist Baker and philosopher Daurio collaborated to provide the college community with a forum for learning about and discussing the relationship between science and religion.
They lined up lectures by 10 faculty members and outside experts. And they won administrative support for dedicating the 2006-07 academic year as "The Year of Science and Religion."
"This keeps coming up with students and they assume and argue for a position of conflict between science and region," Daurio said.
Religious people, particularly Christians, have long been perceived as threatened by science and, therefore, hostile to its claims. But that assumption is increasingly false.
"When people tell you that Christians are stupid, there are some, but that is not the point," the Rev. Mark Brewer, senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, said during a recent sermon titled How Stupid Are We?'
"The point is that science and Scripture, definitely good science, are in harmony together. Now, this does not intend to be a science book," Brewer said, holding up his Bible. "It does intend to be, where it teaches, not only a spiritual book, a historical book."
Last year brought the strong push by the Discovery Institute and other Christians for so-called "intelligent design," which doesn't disregard evolution but claims life is too complex to occur without a creator.
Recently, two prominent scientists published books sharing their belief in the God above. Owen Gingerich, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics penned "God's Universe," and Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, wrote "The Language of God."
These scientists, like some others, have found harmony between the book of life and the book of nature.
"It never seemed to me there was a contradiction. ... They are both different ways of knowing about the world," said Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University and author of "Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution."
"Science is the best method we have, the only method we have to understand the nature of the material world, how it works, what the history of this planet has been like. And what religion tells us is the meaning of our place in that world. It's different sides of the same coin."
Far from universal, belief in God is still a minority view among scientists. Several polls have found about 40 percent of scientists believe in God, but only 10 percent of those elected to the National Academy of Sciences, according to a 1996 survey by Edward Larson of the University of Georgia and Larry Witham, an author who has written about scientists' religious beliefs.
Science and religion "are not compatible," said Nathan Bupp, spokesman for the Center for Inquiry, an Amherst, N.Y.-based organization that seeks to "promote and defend reason, science and freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor."
"They are entirely two different ways of knowing, and they tell us two different things about the world," Bupp said. "Religion is a kind of metaphorical poetry about existence. It is not grounded in empirical facts. Science tries to use rational inquiry and rational deliberation to try to figure out ways to handle the perplexities of human living."
The origin of The Year of Science and Religion began last winter. The Dover, Pa., trial regarding whether schools could teach intelligent design had just concluded, and Baker and Daurio met for coffee and talked about the national debate over what public schools should teach regarding the origins of life.
Over the course of a few cups, the conversation evolved into planning a supplemental curriculum for students, faculty and neighbors of Moorpark College. They took their plans to the college president and vice president a few days later, and the idea was embraced.
"One of the things that we need to learn to do as a society is be able to listen and understand opposing points of view and the various points of view to make informed decisions," said Pam Eddinger, the college's executive vice president for student learning.
"The word perspective' is key to everything we are doing, to have that really well-rounded understanding that there is more than one truth out there."
Several classes, including world history, were relocated to the Performing Arts Center for the first public lecture, given by the Rev. William R. Stoeger, a Catholic priest and astrophysicist at the Vatican Observatory Research Group. It was titled "Creation and Evolution: From Conflict to Conversation."
"Science will never explain how you got from something to nothing," said Stoeger, who believes the universe is 13.7 billion years old and that it underwent the big bang. "Creation is not an event. Creation is a question of ultimate dependence."
"Whether it is the big bang or evolutionary theory," he later added, "the idea is that science answers a lot of our questions, but science doesn't answer the ultimate question."
It was at this point the lecture turned spiritual. "My belief as a scientist and as a priest - as a believer - is that God's dream for creation is God sharing with all God's creation."
Baker and Daurio said everyone involved with the program had to agree to respect the beliefs of others and that speakers will represent multiple religions and offer different worldviews.
"This is not a church-and-state discussion," Eddinger said. "This is a discussion about an intellectual issue that is out there; this is a discussion about perspective and listening to various points and view and being educated."
For more information about Moorpark College's Year of Science and Religion, go to www.moorparkcollege.edu/yearof. Scheduled lecture topics include biological evolution, radiometric dating and, led by the publisher of Skeptics Magazine, the power of belief.
Yesterday, longtime ID supporter Chuck Colson gave the first of two BreakPoint radio commentaries praising A Meaningful World by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt. While Mr. Colson is familiar with many of the arguments for design, he was quick to note that A Meaningful World is
about so much more than the narrow concept that many people have of "intelligent design." Their book's subtitle helps explain their idea: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature. It's an original and utterly fascinating approach to the subject.
Wiker and Witt have taken the argument for design to another level, posing questions that Darwinism is utterly incapable of answering, as Prison Fellowship Ministries President Mark Earley pointed out in today's radio commentary:
The authors ask that, if the world was born out of chance, how is it that nature acts according to rational laws? If we're all here because of random and meaningless events, it doesn't make sense that, one, there are mathematical and scientific laws that govern our world, and, two, that our efforts could discover what those laws are. We would be fumbling in the darkness of randomness, looking for explanations that didn't even exist.
But the universe is full of patterns—patterns that extend to the smallest particles of an atom, that can be seen in the orderliness of the periodic table of elements. Furthermore, they're patterns that the human mind could discover and comprehend. How does random chance explain all that?
Wiker and Witt's argument for design is at once elegant and relevant, something that BreakPoint's readers seem to understand. Since the commentaries have been published, Amazon.com shows A Meaningful World to be selling fast.
Posted by Anika Smith on October 13, 2006 10:06 AM | Permalink
By Sekai Nippo
TOKYO -- Why has the Intelligent Design (ID) movement grown so rapidly and with such increasing impact? Considering the relatively short history of the ID movement, such rapid growth is rather remarkable.
The origin of the ID movement was a small meeting of scientists at the California seaside resort of Pajaro Dunes. The meeting, convened by Phillip Johnson, professor of constitutional law at the University of California Berkeley, began as an informal discussion the fundamental issues of the origin and evolution of life. Johnson is the author of "Darwin on Trial," published in 1991.
Twelve scientists including Johnson gathered there. Participants included Dr. Michael Behe, biochemist, Dr. William Dembski, mathematician, Dr. Stephen Meyer, scientific and philosophical historian and geophysicist, Dr. Dean Kenyon, chemist, Dr. Jonathan Wells, biologist, and Dr. Paul Nelson, biologist—all of whom are leading scientists in the ID movement today.
This serious, face-to-face exchange of opinions about origin and evolution of life became a major turning point for all the participants. Says Dr. Nelson, "as each participant shared his doubts about Darwinism, a new way of thinking gradually emerged."
This meeting generated a stream of scientists seriously searching for answers to the origin and evolution of life. The main thrust of the ID movement emerged in November 1996, when about 200 scientists gathered at the "Mere Creation" conference at Biola University in Los Angeles. Dr. Henry Schaefer, Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry, who signed "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," participated in the conference.
Frustration over Darwinism
Dr. Behe published "Darwin's Black Box – The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" in autumn 1996, and Dr. William Dembski published "The Design Inference" in 1998. These two books are recognized as the basic pillars of ID theory. National Review and World Magazine voted "Darwin's Black Box" as one of the100 most important books of the 20th century.
Numerous relevant books and articles, as well as DVDs understandable to high school students, have been subsequently published, expanding the movement further. This led to "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," a statement signed by 600 doctoral scientists from around the world publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution.
One reason the movement has developed so rapidly in such a short time was the accumulated frustration felt by scientists bound by the limits of materialistic and Darwinian frames of thought. With the dramatic advances in astrophysics, biology and biochemistry in the past half century, many scientists have come to entertain doubts and voice frustration about the idea that the universe and life originated and evolved through a purely materialistic process. This suppressed frustration has erupted in a wake of emerging ID theoreticians.
The history and background of the ID movement shows that ID theory cannot simply be brushed aside as a version of creationism, which seeks to interpret the natural world through Biblical scripture.
The CATO Institute event with Michael Shermer and our own Senior Fellow, Jonathan Wells, is now available online. Here are a few notes.
Dr. Shermer covered mostly philosophical arguments for Darwinism and against ID—the one exception being the co-option argument which Mike Behe and others have responded to repeatedly. I will only note here that critics continue to have it both ways: they say ID is not science, yet they also claim to have scientific objections to it. Or similarly, many say "ID is not testable or falsifiable…oh, and by the way, we've already tested it and shown it to be false."
Second, judging from Dr. Shermer's remarks yesterday, I do not believe that he really takes neo-Darwinism seriously in at least one key respect. What I mean is this: he said that nature "does look designed" but then went on to say that in fact it is designed—by evolution, that is. Okay fine. This is clever enough, and if he is saying that things appear designed but are in reality not designed, then this is nothing new. Richard Dawkins and others have said as much. But then Shermer goes on to say "eyes are designed to see" and "the wing is designed to fly" but in a bottom-up manner. He does not seem, however, to notice the conflict here. Natural selection has no foresight. It cannot plan ahead. Thus, if the magical powers of natural selection really did build the amazing vertebrate eye or a bird's wing, then the eye is not designed for seeing, and the wing is not designed for flying. Rather, they are both frozen accidents. Natural selection preserved a genetic accident. But Shermer wants to keep the teleological language when all he can truly say is that eyes see and wings help an organism fly. But by slight of hand he personifies "evolution," really a process of differential death and reproduction, and says these were "designed, as it were, by evolution." This may not at first seem very important, but I believe this clarification helps to underscore the radical claim of Darwinism. Something as amazingly complex as the vertebrate eye, according to Darwinism, was never really intended to see.
Third, Shermer thinks "a really important point" in this debate is the question of who designed the designer. Forgive me if I think this is a bit sophomoric. (I'm ashamed to admit that I was briefly impressed with this argument from Bertrand Russell when I was in high school.) As Dr. Wells noted in the question period, everyone comes to a point where they must posit something eternal. Theists claim it is God; and materialists like Shermer claim it is matter. (For more, see Jay Richards's response to this argument here.)
But the more important point to notice is that Shermer claims that we "must" search until we find a bottom-up material explanation for everything. Now Dr. Shermer is certainly entitled to his view that there in fact is such an explanation for everything, but what does this amount to? This amounts to defining science as philosophical materialism. What if the ancient Greek philosophers were right, and there is not a bottom up explanation for some features of the natural world? And what if there is empirical evidence of this, as ID scientists claim? Should we deny such evidence because the materialist presupposition says we must keep searching for a mindless cause for a given phenomenon? Or should we follow the evidence, even if it points to an intelligent cause?
When Dr. Wells spoke, he mainly focused on the science Shermer employs as evidence for Darwinism in Why Darwin Matters. Shermer rounds up the usual suspects: the shoddy whale transition, the supposed backward-wiring of the vertebrate eye, and the extrapolation from micro- to macro-evolution. Wells disputed them all. For more, see his new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism & Intelligent Design.
Watch and decide for yourself.
Many thanks to David Boaz of CATO for being a good moderator and a gracious host.
Posted by Logan Gage on October 14, 2006 8:15 AM | Permalink
PERPETUUM MOBILE: GAS PRICES STIMULATE MORE ZERO-POINT DREAMS.
About five times a year somebody comes out with a new device to make free energy. Most involve magnetic fields. See for example http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn082506.html. The oldest perhaps was Perigrinus in 1269, who proposed a magnet to attract iron teeth arranged around a wheel. Once you started it moving, inertia was supposed to carry it beyond the difficult gap to the next tooth. I tire of debunking these things, but this week a reporter called about Magnetic Power, Inc. He said deep-pocket investors, are putting money in it. They always do. MPI says its "Quantum Dynamos" tap the "Virtual Photon Flux, a limitless source of energy." Inventors used to call that "perpetual motion," but the Patent office won't patent perpetual motion machines. That was only a policy of the Patent office before 1985. It became case law after Joe Newman sued in federal court to force the Patent Office to issue a patent for his "infinite source of energy" (Quigg v. Newman) and lost.
DOVER EFFECT: MICHIGAN STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION BACKS DARWIN.
Michigan had been targeted by the Discovery Institute in an effort to include intelligent design along with evolution in public school science curricula. However, following the Dover decision in federal court (Kitzmiller), the intelligent design move was reduced to trying to soften support for evolution. Instead, the Michigan Board solidified its support for evolution.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.
Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org
EVOLUTION SAFE IN MICHIGAN
At its October 10, 2006, meeting, the Michigan state board of education voted unanimously to approve a set of content expectations for the new high school graduation requirements in science in which evolution is appropriately treated. Previously, in September, the board voted to defer considering the content expectations for a month, at the behest of antievolution legislators who apparently sought to lobby for the weakening of evolution. But in the end, the Detroit Free Press (October 11, 2006) reported, it was "clear which concept won the debate between evolution and intelligent design." A press release issued on October 10, 2006, by the Michigan Department of Education emphasized, "In approving the Science content expectations, the State Board also solidified its strong support for Evolution."
The treatment of evolution in the content expectations was in fact slightly improved, thanks to the testimony of concerned citizens, including the Michigan Science Teachers Association and Robert T. Pennock and Gregory Forbes of Michigan Citizens for Science. The Grand Rapids Press (October 11, 2006) reported, "Kids in biology will now have to 'Explain how a new species or variety originates (rather than "may originate") through the natural process of evolution.' They also will be asked to show how fossil records, comparative anatomy and other evidence [support] the theory of evolution rather than 'may' support it." These revisions are especially striking, since antievolutionist legislators were reportedly pushing to have "may" replaced with "may or may not" (Detroit Free Press, September 14, 2006).
Members of the board of education were outspoken about their support for the integrity of evolution education. The board's vice president, John C. Austin, was quoted in the Michigan Department of Education's press release as explaining, "We do not want to create any uncertainty in the Board's support of Evolution ... We need to send a clear statement that there is no ambiguity on the part of the Board that Evolution is good science." Board member Reginald Turner agreed, "Science supports Evolution in the way it's set forth in the content expectations before us," adding, "The word 'may' clouds the science of Evolution after decades of scientific evidence, and is inconsistent with what we know about Evolution today."
For the Detroit Free Press's story, visit:
For the Michigan Department of Education's press release, visit:
For the Grand Rapid Press's story, visit: http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/base/news-32/116057832617050.xml&coll=6
For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Michigan, visit:
JUDGE JONES INTERVIEWED BY THE LUTHERAN
The October 2006 issue of The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is devoted to the relationship between evolution and religion. Included is a detailed interview with Judge John E. Jones III, the judge who ruled against the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in his December 20, 2005, decision in Kitzmiller. Jones is a Lutheran himself, a fact widely noted by the media during the Kitzmiller trial.
The Lutheran's coverage of Jones is notable for delving into the judge's religious upbringing in more depth than previous media coverage. Jones relates that he was raised by Presbyterian parents in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, but since there was no Presbyterian congregation in the town, the family joined a United Church of Christ congregation, where Jones was confirmed. In 1982, after marrying a Lutheran, Jones joined Trinity Lutheran Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which he and his family still attend today.
In the interview, Jones stressed the importance of judicial independence and the relationship between the law and politics. Replying to critics who objected to Jones's ruling that "intelligent design" is a specific religious position and not science, Jones explained, "Both sides asked me to render a decision on that precise issue," continuing, "Had I not done so, there was every chance that this same issue would have arisen before another tribunal."
Responding to accusations that his decision was judicial "activism" and betrayed his political allies, Jones commented, "[A]s a federal judge, I'm charged with focusing on legal precedents, the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. ... If I had disregarded the facts and invented a new test, other than those tests offered by the Supreme Court, that would have made me an activist judge. These values are not Republican or Democratic. They are American values."
For the interview in The Lutheran, visit:
For NCSE's previous coverage of Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:
ASM RAISES ITS VOICE FOR EVOLUTION
The American Society for Microbiology -- the world's largest scientific society of individuals interested in the microbiological sciences, with over 43,000 members in the United States and abroad -- recently issued a strong policy statement discussing the scientific basis for evolution. Taking examples from the ASM's specialty of microbiology, the statement notes:
In microbiology, the validity of evolutionary principles is supported by  readily demonstrated mutation, recombination and selection, which are the fundamental mechanisms of evolution;  comparisons based on genomic data that support a common ancestry of life; and  observable rates of genetic change and the extent of genomic diversity which indicate that divergence has occurred over a very long scale of geologic time, and testify to the great antiquity of life on Earth. Thus, microorganisms illustrate evolution in action, and microbiologists have been able to make use of the microbes' evolutionary capacity in the development of life-improving and life-saving innovations in medicine, agriculture, and for the environment.
In contrast, the statement adds, "proposed alternatives to evolution, such as intelligent design and other forms of creationism, are not scientific, in part because they fail to provide a framework for useful, testable predictions." The statement concludes with a suggestion for educational policymakers: "It is important that society and future generations recognize the legitimacy of testable, verified, fact-based learning about the origins and diversity of life."
To read the ASM's statement, visit:
NOT IN OUR CLASSROOMS IN CHURCH AND STATE
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott discussed the new book Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools, which she coedited with NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch, with Church and State, the monthly journal of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In the interview, which appears in the October 2006 issue of Church and State, Scott succinctly outlines the case against teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools:
ID should not be taught both for pedagogical and legal reasons. The few scientific claims that ID makes are not supported by the evidence, and the view of science it incorporates is greatly different than that of mainstream science. ID is therefore pedagogically unsuitable for presentation in a science class. And, because it is a sectarian religious dogma, it should not be advocated in the public schools in any class. In summary, intelligent design is a sectarian religious dogma masquerading as science.
She also discusses the history, diversity, and destiny of the creationist movement -- "as long as such a large percentage of the American population believes that they have to choose between evolution and their faith, we will have controversies about the teaching of evolution," she concludes -- and the need for continued vigilance: "Know what your school board members stand for when it comes to the teaching of evolution. Support candidates who will do a good job. It's a cliche, but you get the government you deserve."
For the interview in Church and State, visit:
For information about Not in Our Classrooms, visit:
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
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Friday 13 October 2006
There should be more to scepticism than angry rants about stupid religious people or New Age mysticism.
Responding to the apparent rise and rise of 'bunk' - creationism, homeopathy, fad diets and bad science - a new movement of sceptics is mobilising to defend the world against an 'attack on science' in public life. But does this army of professional and armchair scientists and philosophers challenge strange ideas about health, the universe and everything to paint a rational picture of the world, or does it sometimes share them?
Writing on his website about a recent article that complained about medical research being dominated by a 'scientific research paradigm… acting as a fascist structure', Godfather of scepticism and debunking, James Randi said: 'If this is indeed serious, it's an attack on rationality, on the scientific method, on reason, by people who should know better.' Indeed they should know better, but is not knowing better really an 'attack on rationality' or simply irrational? Randi seems to have lost faith in rationalism's power of explanation and be worried that people lack the ability to make up their own minds. So what is scepticism then?
'Swoopy', the presenter of Skeptic Magazine's podcast, tells us that you are a sceptic 'if you think that a lot of the things that you see on the TV and the media are just wrong, and if you think that you're getting the wrong message from pretty much everything all around you and your voice isn't being heard'. This kind of scepticism seems to owe more to Swoopy and Randi's personal anxieties and infantile dysphoria than any real threat to the world. After all, it could just as well be the homeopathic practitioner who considers himself voiceless, freethinking, and a victim of the wrong messages in society. The problem seems to be less about the actual substance of certain ideas, and more that the way that minds have been made up is the result of campaigns executed by religious zealots, greedy people, private interest, and even the Republican Party. It's as though the world's ills could be explained by the cynical exploitation of the general public's scientific illiteracy by a network of agendas.
Reducing the world's problems to a 'pathology' of thoughts, schemes to 'promote science' through PR and education are seen as the way to 'immunise' the public against ideas that are not in their interest. That certainly seems to be how Californians Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell see it. In 2004, they set up the brights movement with the intention of creating a positive label for a 'worldview free of supernatural or mystical deities, forces, and entities' and avoiding the stigma attached to atheism in the USA. 'The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet' says Daniel Dennet, professor of philosophy and an 'enthusiastic bright'. 'As an adult white married male with financial security, I am not in the habit of considering myself a member of any minority in need of protection… But now I'm beginning to feel some heat, and although it's not uncomfortable yet, I've come to realize it's time to sound the alarm.' Rather than advancing a positive vision of how the world might be, brights seem to be about appealing for victim status because the world doesn't recognise their identity, which like 'gay' 'black' and 'disabled' ought to entitle them to 'a voice'. The brights tell us more about what they don't believe than what they do believe.
The view of scepticism that emerges is that it feels impotent, is terrified of the world, and lacks trust in other people's ability to determine their own interests or make their own decisions. The leading thinkers of the loose movement of sceptics end up coming across not as confident individuals who have radical visions about how to use their rationalist outlook to change the world, but rather as timid souls, keen to advance the idea that that world is a dangerous place, made all the more dangerous by ideas themselves.
Bad ideas are surely poison, but the sceptic movement is unable to offer us a great deal of insight as to why people actually swallow them. Instead of attempting to understand why ideas may take purchase in the public from historical, social, or material perspectives, many leading sceptics prefer to explain the take up of bad ideas as the transmission of 'memes'. According to Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine and former parapsychologist, 'the self is not the initiator of actions, it does not "have" consciousness, and it does not "do" the deliberating.' Just as many of today's social problems such as addiction, violence, and criminality are frequently blamed on genes, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet and Susan Blackmore explain the failure of rationalism and success of religion in metaphysical terms of agents competing for resources in the environment of our collective mind. This idea that the self, its autonomy, and consciousness are illusions allows sceptics to reduce humans to mindless beings which lack an understanding of their own interests and therefore need to be controlled. Such determinism, though, is exactly what creates the ideas that scepticism should want to confront. The idea that 'units of cultural information' have their own drives which humans are subject to, is as irrational as the idea that destiny is governed by the configuration of stars, or balances of energy within our bodies, or the visitations of aliens.
The idea that we need to be told what we can believe is a theme throughout the sceptical movement. '[W]e are the watchmen who guard against bad ideas in order to discover good ideas, consumer advocates of critical thinking who, through the guidelines of science, establish a mark at which to aim' writes Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, and director of the Skeptics Society.
Far from seeking rationalism, scepticism is increasingly a search for authority. There are no clear ideas about why it is wrong to believe in a god that does not exist, nor why it is wrong to believe that aliens have landed in Area 51, other than it is simply not true, and may therefore give somebody who doesn't deserve it some kind of authority or influence. In seeking to explain the irrationality of the world, the sceptical movement does little to confront the fears, anxieties, paranoia and sense of powerlessness, which irrational movements seem to gain currency by. It indulges the same fantasies, and the same appeals to external truths to answer existential questions about life, and begs for authority to answer the world's problems. Where fad diets appeal to our fears about our health, debunkers appeal to the idea that the body is vulnerable, and so the fad is dangerous. Where religious ideas seek existential comfort, scepticism too searches for certainties to explain why we are here. Where bad ideas are used to exert undue influence over our decisions, good ideas also seem to defer to authority.
Where science once sought to explain the natural world, it is now more a tool of introspection. The role of science has been diminished to providing narcissistic comfort from the terrifying nightmares it constructs about how we are bad for ourselves. The president of the Royal Society, Sir Martin Rees places his bets that by the year 2020, either bioterror or bioerror will have caused a single event resulting in the deaths of over a million people and that by the year 2100 the chances of human extinction will be 50/50. Rees can think of more reasons not to do science than reasons why we should. There is little between his alternative visions of the future - tragic apocalypses on the one hand, or mere survival on the other. He is charged with doing science's PR, but his words look more like blackmail.
When scientific leaders are not brilliant individuals whose insight and learning can fashion a better future, but merely people who project their own insecurities downward, there is little to wonder about why people turn off from science, don't do physics A-levels, and buy into hocus-pocus to make themselves feel better. It's open season on making stuff up, and Lord Rees seems to be doing as much of that as Gillian McKeith.
Sceptics and rationalists ought to be taking a look at their own ideas to find out why they fail to find purchase in the public imagination. Putting science and rationalism back on the map is going to take more than PR, angry rants about stupid religious people, or teaching kids that 'science is cool'. We don't need a police force to protect us from bad ideas. We just need better ideas.
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Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Date: October 12, 2006
Scientists have found new evidence that the Bering Strait near Alaska flooded into the Arctic Ocean about 11,000 years ago, about 1,000 years earlier than widely believed, closing off the land bridge thought to be the major route for human migration from Asia to the Americas.
Preparing a gravity core for deployment. (Photo by Mary Carman, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)Ads by Google Advertise on this site
Knowledge of climate change and sea level rise in the Arctic Ocean has been limited because sediment cores collected from the floor of the Arctic Ocean have been taken from locations where sediment has accumulated only about one centimeter (less than one-half inch) every 1,000 years. Such slow rates make it impossible for scientists to distinguish between one millennium and the next.
In a paper in the October issue of Geology magazine, lead author Lloyd Keigwin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and colleagues from WHOI, Neal Driscoll from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Julie Brigham-Grette of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst report results from three new core sites north and west of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea. At these locations, accumulation of sediment is more than 100 times greater than at previous sites, allowing identification of climate changes that were previously unseen. During the expeditions, the researchers extracted the longest piston core ever obtained from the Arctic region.
The Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean covers part of the continental shelf exposed when sea level fell during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago. When sea level was low the climate in the area was more continental across a large area of the Arctic, and when sea level was high the flow of water from the North Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, where the sill depth is 50 meters (165 feet), affected the freshwater and nutrient balance of the Arctic and the North Atlantic. The traditional view that humans and fauna migrated across the exposed shelf before flooding has been challenged by recent studies suggesting a maritime route for migration.
"Although we have only a few cores, this is the first evidence of flooding of the Chukchi Sea by 11,000 years ago, at least 1,000 years before previously thought," Keigwin said. "The new data are also consistent with data from other recent studies, and show potential for developing ocean and climate histories of this region."
Keigwin, a senior scientist in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department, and colleagues surveyed and collected cores from many locations in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in 2002 to study climate and sea level. Cores from these sites reveal that rising sea level flooded the Bering Strait about 12,000 years before present. Since 7,000 years ago, very little sediment has eroded from Alaska compared to before that time, and beginning about 4,000 years ago there has been a decline in biological productivity that may have resulted from increased sea ice or decreased nutrient supply from the Bering Strait.
"Our research suggests there was more ice present in the region during the last glacial period than previously thought," said co-author Neal Driscoll, a professor in the Geosciences Research Division at Scripps Oceanography. "Evidence of an increased sedimentation rate, along with deep valleys cut into the continental shelf when sea level was rising rapidly during the deglaciation, helped guide us to that result. Additional ice in this region of the Arctic is an important discovery, and is significant in helping our understanding of climate models, circulation and precipitation during glacial periods."
Cores from Hope Valley on the Chukchi shelf and Barrow Canyon off Point Barrow, Alaska contain high resolution records of climate, sea-level change and the history of the sediment source. The researchers sampled the cores to identify skeletons of animals, known as foraminifera, that can be traced to specific water and atmospheric temperatures. The samples were also radiocarbon dated at the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry facility at WHOI.
The cores were collected during a cruise in 2002 on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Oak Foundation.
World Record Award Ceremony at the Frankfurt International Book Fair 2006 for L. Ron Hubbard presenting "The World's Most Published Author" and "Most Translated Author." Guinness World Records honoured Hubbard by awarding him two new world records. The first confirmed that he is the world's most published author with 1084 works exceeding the record held by Brazilian author Jose Carlos Ryoki with 1,058. Guinness also officially verified that Hubbard exceeded his own previous record as the world's most translated author when his works were published in six more languages raising the record from 65 to 71.
Frankfurt, Germany (PRWEB) October 11, 2006 -- Tens of thousands of authors, publishers and book industry professionals gathered this October at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest and most important event for the international publishing industry. Many of the publishers' stands featured the books of hundreds of authors. Unique among them is New Era Publications, which publishes the work of only one author, L. Ron Hubbard.
Guinness World Records choose to honour Hubbard at the Book Fair by awarding him two new world records. The first confirmed that he is the world's most published author with 1084 works exceeding the record held by Brazilian author Jose Carlos Ryoki with 1,058. Guinness also officially verified that Hubbard exceeded his own previous record as the world's most translated author when his works were published in six more languages raising the record from 65 to 71.
Mr. Kalyan Shah, President of India's Publishers And Booksellers Guild, the organizers of the Kolkata Book Fair, the world's largest consumer book fair, presented the Guinness World Record certificates to L. Ron Hubbards literary agency, Author Services Inc. (Los Angeles). Shah described Hubbard as "one of the world's most influential authors whose many works of fiction and non-fiction have both entertained and enlightened readers on all continents and contributed to our emerging global culture. He is not only a publishing phenomena, his works are a treasure to be shared by all who believe that humanity can find solutions to its many problems and build a better world for all."
The languages in which books by L. Ron Hubbard are available include Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Basque, Belo Russian, Bengali, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dari-Farsi, Dutch, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Guarani, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Kazakh, Khmer, Kirundi, Korean, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malayalam, Mexican, Mongolian, Nepalese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbian, Sinhalese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Taiwanese, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Xhosa and Zulu.
New Era Publications also announced the release in 2007 of a new collection of 200 of Hubbard's early fiction works, titled Stories from a Golden Age, as well as a new line of his non-fiction works.
The total sales of Hubbard's fiction and non-fiction works have surpassed 230 million copies with 19 New York Times best-sellers.
Brian Handwerk for National Geographic News
October 11, 2006
Small changes in Earth's orbit and tilt may have regulated the cyclical rise and fall of many prehistoric mammal species, new research suggests.
Earth's orbital patterns are believed to drive long-term climate change.
Over millions of years these climatic shifts may have regularly spawned events that give rise to new mammal species.
They may have also caused the periodic extinctions that doomed other mammal lineages to oblivion, says a team of researchers led by paleontologist Jan van Dam of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
"The question of climate's role in causing both evolution and extinction has been a big area of contention," said Tony Barnosky, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Barnosky is not affiliated with van Dam's new research, which will appear in tomorrow's edition of the journal Nature.
The work is the first to document direct correlations between changes in Earth's orbit and patterns of speciation—the rise of new species—and extinction.
"I think they've nicely demonstrated a correlation between periodic climate events and what we'd recognize as normal turnover in fauna that would happen over and over again," Barnosky said.
Life and Death
Van Dam and colleagues combed through a fossil record from central Spain spanning some 22 million years—from 24.5 to 2.5 million years ago (map of Spain).
They studied about 80,000 fossils, predominately molars and premolars, to reveal when 132 different species of small rodents first arose—and when the animals disappeared.
The fossils, found scattered across more than 200 sites, appear to reveal a striking symmetry between the rise and fall of small mammal species and two cyclical "wobbles" in Earth's orbit. (Related: "Did Million-Year-Long Eruptions Cause Mass Extinction?" [May 2, 2006].)
The longer of the two cycles peaks about every 2.5 million years. This peak occurs when Earth's orbit around the sun most closely resembles a perfect circle. Most times Earth's orbit has a more oval shape.
A second cycle, of million-year peaks, occurs when the planet is tilted at a more extreme angle on its axis.
While Earth's tilt is currently 23.5 degrees, it cycles between 22 and 25 degrees. More tilt causes more severe seasonal differences.
Both of these regular "wobbles" are believed to significantly impact Earth's climate.
Analogous to the shorter Milankovitch cycles described in 1941, long climate cycles may result in periods of cooling, expanding ice sheets, and altered precipitation patterns.
Such long-term climate changes could explain the rise and subsequent fall of many species, van Dam's team says.
"During shorter time periods migration is the normal response to climate change," van Dam said. In these cases, mammals move to new habitats rather than adapt to changes in their current ranges.
"Apparently it requires more extreme change of longer duration for extinctions or to bring new species into existence."
"This is the first time someone has really shown the periodicity [of speciation, extinction, and climate change] on a timescale of several millions of years," said Elisabeth Vrba, a paleontologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
"Mammal species do not respond to closely spaced cycles—they return to the status quo much too quickly," she said.
Vrba was not involved in the current research, but she is the creator of the "turnover pulse hypothesis." The concept suggests that major climactic changes spurred "pulses" of speciation, evolution, and extinction.
Mammalian species are typically believed to survive for an average of 2.5 million years, so van Dam and colleagues' work may present a striking explanation for previously recorded data.
"What's been well worked out is that there is an overall background rate of extinction during the past 60 million years," Berkeley's Barnosky said.
"What has not been worked out, except here, is a relation between these extinctions, migrations, and speciations and periodic climate cycles."
If orbit-driven climate change did cause species to appear and vanish, Yale's Vrba stresses that such events are quite different from catastrophic extinctions such as the Permian period die-off that eliminated some 70 percent of all land species and whose cause remains a mystery. Orbital climate change is more like geological business as usual.
"Mass extinctions, as far as we know, are not periodical," she said. "They are a very different kettle of fish.
"These [orbital cycles] are cycles of extinction and also speciation, where mammal species may be [arising] at the start of one of these cycles and bowing out at the other end," she said.
"It's part of the regular climactic heartbeat present throughout geological time."
Not everyone is convinced that the research is on the right track.
John Alroy is a research biologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California.
In 2000 Alroy published a similar time series analyses of North American mammals (with co-authors Paul Koch and Jim Zachos from the University of California, Santa Cruz) that found no connection between climate changes and originations/extinctions.
He suggests that the new study used far too little data by identifying only 132 species over such a lengthy time period, which included many intervals of speciation and extinction.
He further suggests that the apparent periodicity of speciation and extinction is likely just a statistical artifact.
"At best, it suggests that you get more fossils in some climate regimes than others, which is not of biological interest," Alroy said.
"When you have certain climates, you have better rocks for preserving fossils, so you find more of them and then find more 'origination' and 'extinction' events that are in the wrong place," he continued.
"The stretches with low turnover are simply stretches with little sampling. The basic reason is that if you have no data, you can't show a species was present, so you can't show it originated or went extinct at that point."
State board says it's science
October 11, 2006
BY LORI HIGGINS
FREE PRESS EDUCATION WRITER
In the beginning
The three theories of how life began:
Evolution: Charles Darwin's theory that life evolved in tiny stages, each stage more adaptable to the current conditions than the last through a process called natural selection.
Creationism: Basically holds that God created all life and includes the explanation found in the Bible, in Genesis.
Intelligent design: Agrees with natural selection but says some life forms, such as humans, are too complex to have been created by accident so there must have been an intelligent designer. It does not discuss the designer's identity.
LANSING -- New high school science curriculum guidelines approved Tuesday by the State Board of Education make clear which concept won the debate between evolution and intelligent design.
Teachers should teach evolution in science class, the board said unanimously. It did not endorse intelligent design, though teachers can still discuss it in class.
Referring to evolution, John Austin, board vice president and a Democrat from Ann Arbor, said, "It is not untested science."
The board also removed ambiguous language that could lead some to question the validity of evolution.
The eight-member board sets expectations for what teachers should teach, but it's up to local schools and educators to implement the recommendations, and it's conceivable a teacher could decide to teach intelligent design anyway, as long as the course expectations are met.
Tuesday's action came a month after board members delayed voting on the science curriculum at the request of key Republicans in the state Legislature, who said they wanted more time to provide input.
The board did not address all the concerns of State Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo, who made several recommendations in a Sept. 26 letter to the board. Palmer supports teaching intelligent design in science classes and wants a national review of the state's new science expectations. He also wants to ensure a science curriculum that enforces critical thinking skills and allows students to question prevailing theories, whether they are evolution, global warming or plate tectonics.
"It's imperative that students learn there are still unanswered questions and controversies surrounding a lot of theories out there," Palmer said.
Most scientists view intelligent design as a nonscientific religion-based belief. It's the hypothesis that an unseen intelligent force, rather than natural selection, caused certain traits in life forms. Natural selection is the basis of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Intelligent design proponents say evolution cannot explain some differences between species, a concept John Tuinstra, a Dorr resident, tried to get across to the board Tuesday morning.
"The public ... favors teaching both sides of the question," Tuinstra said, noting that not teaching intelligent design limits critical thinking.
A week after the board opted to delay its ruling, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos said schools should be allowed to teach intelligent design. Gov. Jennifer Granholm supports teaching evolution in science classes, but has said intelligent design can be covered in comparative religion or philosophy class.
Palmer, while pleased that the board adopted his recommendation to include more language regarding critical thinking in science classes, said he is concerned about the removal of the word "may" from two of the expectations in biology that deal with evolution. In one example, the word "may" is removed from this sentence: "Explain how a new species or variety may originate through the evolutionary process of natural selection."
"That's going in the wrong direction. That's not critical thinking. That's assuming it's a fact," Palmer said.
But many people who support the teaching of evolution say leaving in the word "may" could lead to misinterpretation.
Palmer said part of the state's new graduation requirements passed by the Legislature this year -- give lawmakers the power to withhold accreditation of schools if curriculum expectations are not being implemented properly. He said he might consider using that power if, when an annual review of the expectations is done next year, he isn't satisfied with the science curriculum.
"No one wants to go there, because we do have a good working relationship with the board," he said. But it's an option to ensure schools are teaching what they should.
While intelligent design has its supporters, few spoke at Tuesday's board meeting. And the teaching of it has failed in the courts. Last December, a federal judge struck down a Pennsylvania school district's requirement that intelligent design be taught, saying it is based on religious beliefs and is unconstitutional if taught in public schools as science.
The science expectations approved Tuesday cover concepts that should be taught in earth science, biology, physics and chemistry, and ensure that the state's students, regardless of what district they reside in, will receive the same curriculum. The expectations don't specifically say intelligent design should not be taught, and State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said the state would have little way of knowing if a teacher opted to teach it.
If a teacher were discovered teaching intelligent design, Flanagan said, "that would be a local control issue."
Asked whether teaching intelligent design in a science classroom would be considered illegal, Flanagan responded: "Illegal is a strong word. We expect teachers will teach what was approved today."
Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on Wed, Oct. 11, 2006
HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH Associated Press
LAWRENCE, Kan. - Alan Detrich is gluing together hundreds of pebble-sized pieces of fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops bones to create a sculpture of Jesus lying in his tomb.
Another of Detrich's sculptures features a fossilized T. rex tooth.
He believes dinosaurs were among God's first creations and that their remains are the ideal artistic medium with which to get people talking about evolution, a theory he considers implausible.
"I'm doing something no one else can do, and I think I can find a market for it," he said. "No one else is making religious icons out of dinosaur bones. The only way I can fail is if I quit trying."
Detrich, a mostly retired fossil hunter who has a master's degree in fine arts from Wichita State University, thinks his unusual background led him to this point.
As a fossil hunter, his claim to fame is a nearly complete T. rex that he and his brother, Robert, came across in 1992 in South Dakota. Detrich said the remnants of the meat eater, dubbed Samson, are worth millions but won't reveal their exact worth because he signed a nondisclosure agreement with the buyer, British corporate raider Graham Ferguson Lacey.
Its skull is "among the best if not the best of any T. rex ever found," said Matt Lamanna, assistant curator for vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, which cleaned and studied it.
Neither Detrich nor his brother are trained paleontologists. Their interest was sparked by their father, an oil explorer, who brought home core samples filled with fossils to show his sons.
"So I've always been exposed to the earth and the abundance of fossil here," Detrich said during a recent interview at a coffee shop near the University of Kansas, where he took classes last year in paleontology and art, casting more than $100,000 in gold to include in his sculptures.
He lives in a Best Western hotel, despite several lucrative discoveries - Samson among them - that generated enough publicity to land him on a list of the top 50 single men in a 2001 issue of People magazine.
As a young man, Detrich invested in oil while also running an antiques business in the western Kansas town of Great Bend. He said the oil hunting taught him about fossils, and the antiques shop taught him another lesson: "The money is where the pizzaz is."
He continued: "If it looks like it will eat a 10-year-old boy, it's a big winner."
He was soon unearthing a type of prehistoric underwater predator that resembles a dragon from the bottom of what was once a giant ocean - now the Kansas prairie. The giant sea creatures, called mosasaurs, are worth big money to collectors from Asian countries where the dragon is a symbol of power in folklore and art.
One of Detrich's finds now resides near a collector's swimming pool. Other fossil finds are in overseas museums.
The Samson T. rex is heading overseas as well after a New Jersey-based preparation firm recently finished cleaning and mounting the skeleton. Lacey has not announced where Samson will be displayed.
Over the years, Detrich has often found himself at odds with the scientific community, which generally supports the theory of evolution and prefers to see trained paleontologists uncovering fossils.
Scientists, like Lamanna, also frown upon selling fossils, saying they should be donated instead.
Detrich is aware of the criticism but dismisses it, saying fossil hunting is a risky, expensive business.
"They treat me like a pirate, like a capitalist pirate - one notch short of Enron - because I'm selling these treasures," he said. "It's really global economics. What's wrong with selling these to the world if they've got the money? Really, it's free trade."
Detrich also defends the use of fossils in his art. He said they are not part of larger specimens so their scientific value is limited.
But the artist and collector believes his work is serving a higher cause by promoting his belief in intelligent design, which holds that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by some kind of higher being. He has even announced plans to run in 2008 for the Kansas Board of Education, whose members have fought intermittently for nearly a decade over the teaching of evolution.
"Is it so hard to believe in God?" he asked. "I think it's harder to believe we evolved from apes."
Raised Catholic, he dreams of his creations residing one day in the Vatican's museums alongside other religious-themed creations from modern-day artists. He plans to head to Italy this year to make his case.
"Any artist recognized in history has made religious art," Detrich said. "This is 21st century religious art. No one has ever built Jesus from dinosaur bones."
ON THE NET
Alan Detrich: http://www.spearofjesus.com/
Posted on Wed, Oct. 11, 2006
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state school board voted to end its debate over teaching evolution for now, stopping a committee's consideration of whether to replace an eliminated lesson plan that encouraged students to seek evidence for and against the concept.
The Ohio Board of Education voted 14-3 on Tuesday to set aside further debate of teaching guidelines that would say students should form judgments of controversial topics using critical analysis.
Critics said the proposal could provide an opening for religion-based challenges to evolution, such as intelligent design, the idea that DNA and other aspects of life are so complex that they're best explained as the intervention of a higher power.
The board voted in February to delete the lesson plan, but had referred it back to the committee for further review in the context of state science standards.
Board member Martha Wise of Avon said she pressed to end the discussion because the issue was overshadowing the board's work.
"It was time to move on," she said, adding that a new board might feel differently.
Voters will pick candidates for five of the board's 11 elected seats in November. The governor appoints the eight other board members, and four of those terms expire this year.
Committee co-chairman Michael Cochran of Blacklick, who voted against Wise's motion, said he would keep the debate alive.
"I will guarantee you that as long as I am chair of the committee, it's gonna be on the agenda next month," he said.
One of the critics of lesson plan, Patricia Princehouse, who teaches philosophy and evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said she approved of the board's action Tuesday.
"I'm deeply impressed by the leadership and courage of the board with making a clean break from creationism," she said.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com