NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 November 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, November 03, 2006

Evolution education update: November 3, 2006

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A summary of recent creationism/evolution controversies around the world, while in Kansas, evolution education is still a factor in electoral campaigns. And kudos for Eugenie C. Scott from the American Anthropological Association.


Although the United States remains the bastion of creationism, the rest of the world is not invulnerable. Creationism is a worldwide phenomenon, in which antievolutionary materials produced by the centers of creationism in the United States are exported overseas, either wholesale or with modifications to suit the local milieu; often there is reimportation, as creationists overseas become major players in their own right and are then welcomed by the legions of creationists in the United States. (The young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis is a case in point: based in Florence, Kentucky, its chief executive officer is the Australian Ken Ham.) Perhaps owing to the spate of media coverage of recent defeats for creationism in the United States -- the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover in December 2005, the Ohio state board of education's removal of the "critical analysis of education" lesson plan in February 2006, and the primary election results for the Kansas state board of education in August 2006 -- stories about evolution education and attempts to compromise it have been in the news around the world.

In Canada, the Quebec Ministry of Education is launching a crackdown on unlicensed evangelical schools, following a complaint from Pierre Daoust, director-general of the Commission Scolaire au Coeur-des-Vallees in Thurso, Quebec, about the failure of such schools to follow the provincial curriculum. Daoust told the National Post (October 24, 2006), "these evangelical schools teach their own courses on creationism and sexuality that don't follow the Quebec curriculum." There are at least thirty unlicensed religious schools in the province; according to the National Post, "[t]he Quebec government has known about unaccredited religion-based schools for years, but has tolerated them for fear of offending the denominations sponsoring them." Education minister Jean-Marc Fournier told the Toronto Globe and Mail (October 26, 2006), "Schools that have a permit must of course follow the curriculum, which includes the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution." In neighboring Ontario, the National Post reported, independent schools are not required to teach either evolution or sex education.

For the story in the National Post, visit:

For the story in the Toronto Globe and Mail, visit:

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Tony Blair downplayed the threat of creationism in British public education, telling New Scientist (November 1, 2006), "I've visited one of the schools in question and as far as I'm aware they are teaching the curriculum in a normal way. If I notice creationism become the mainstream of the education system in this country then that's the time to start worrying." Blair was referring to schools such as those run by the Emmanuel Schools Foundation in a public/private partnership program, which have been in the headlines since 2002 for teaching creationism alongside evolution. Unmentioned were a recent propaganda blitz by a new creationist organization styling itself Truth in Science (see the story in The Times Education Supplement [September 29, 2006]), the chilly response from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and the activities of anticreationist organizations such as the British Centre for Science Education. Not to be missed is a recent detailed discussion in the Financial Times (October 14, 2006) of the prospects of creationism in the United Kingdom.

For New Scientist's interview with Tony Blair, visit:

For the story in The Times Education Supplement, visit:

For the Secretary of State for Education and Skills's response, visit:

For the British Centre for Science Education, visit:

And for the article in the Financial Times, visit:

In Germany, the vice president of the Association of German Biologists, Ulrich Kutschera of the University of Kassel, is expressing concern about creationism after recent comments from the education minister of the state of Hesse, Karin Wolff. In October, Deutsche Welle (November 2, 2006) reports, "Wolff said she believed biblical creation theory should be taught in biology class as a theory, like the theory of evolution." Kutschera, a leading German evolutionary biologist, retorted, "Ms. Wolff should catch up on things and read a science book," adding, "On the one hand there are creationist myths, and on the other hand, there is evolutionary biology." A previous report in Deutsche Welle (December 21, 2005) discussed the attempted inroads of the "intelligent design" movement in Germany; although a German educational spokesperson insisted, "Evolution is taught in biology class in all German schools ... There are no endeavors to change this, nor will there be in the foreseeable future," Kutschera warned, "More emphasis is necessary on biology in German schools in order to counteract the lack of knowledge about evolution."

For the articles in Deutsche Welle, visit:

In Poland, the journal Nature (October 25, 2006) reports, Mirosaw Orzechowski, Poland's deputy education minister, told a newspaper, "The theory of evolution is a lie ... It is an error we have legalized as a common truth." Orzechowski belongs to the League of Polish Families (LPR), which Nature describes as "the ultra-right-wing coalition partner in the conservative Polish government." Although the minister for education, Roman Giertych, also a member of the LPR, is reportedly sympathetic to creationism, the Associated Press reported (October 26, 2006) him as saying, "As long as most scientists in our country say that evolution is the right theory, it will be taught in Poland's schools," and as describing Orzechowski's outburst as his private opinion. In the meantime, the minister of science, Micha Seweryski, stated, "the opinion of a minority will not change teaching in schools." The Polish scientific community expressed its support of evolution education in open letters condemning Orzechowski; Maciej Zylicz, a signatory, told Nature, "However, the point that really requires further discussion is not evolution, but how a minister can say such stupid things."

For the article in Nature (subscription required), visit:

For the Associated Press article (via the International Herald-Tribune), visit:

In Kenya, the National Museums are under pressure by fundamentalist churches to de-emphasize their famous collection of hominid fossils, which include the most complete skeleton yet found of Homo erectus ("Turkana Boy"), unearthed by Richard Leakey's team in 1984. Bishop Bonifes Adoyo, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, which claims to represents churches of 35 denominations with 9 million members, told the Telegraph (August 12, 2006), "Our doctrine is not that we evolved from apes, and we have grave concerns that the museum wants to enhance the prominence of something presented as fact which is just one theory." Leakey responded, "The National Museums of Kenya should be extremely strong in presenting a very forceful case for the evolutionary theory of the origins of mankind," adding, "it must be forthright in defending its right to be at the forefront of this branch of science." The Nairobi Museum Galleries are presently closed for renovation; Wired News (September 18, 2006) reports that the museums plan "to prominently house the [hominid] collection as 'scientific evidence' of evolution when it re-opens in 2007, a representative said."

For the story in the Telegraph, visit:

For the Wired News story, visit:

Finally, in his contribution to a special issue of Nature (November 1, 2006) focusing on science in the Islamic world, Ehsan Masood writes, "In the late nineteenth century, Darwin's On the Origin of Species had a favourable reception in Muslim countries. But that is history, as books, pamphlets and films on creationism are now more popular in Muslim countries, and pro-evolution scientists are afraid to speak out." Because much of the creationist material circulating in the Islamic world is adapted from fundamentalist Christian sources in the United States, NCSE's Nick Matzke observed, "I find it peculiar that Muslims are adopting a doctrine from US groups that regularly bash Islam in a fairly vicious way." Nature's website links to a debate between Matzke and Islamic "intelligent design" proponent Mustafa Aykol on a Muslim on-line forum -- "a first for all concerned," Masood quipped. (Also of possible interest are two 1999 articles on creationism in Turkey published in Reports of the NCSE: Umit Sayin and Aykut Kence's "Islamic Scientific Creationism: A New Challenge in Turkey" and Taner Edis's "Cloning Creationism in Turkey.")

For Masood's article in Nature, visit:

For the Matzke/Aykol debate, visit:

For the articles in Reports of the NCSE, visit:

And why not subscribe to Reports? Visit:


As the November 7, 2006, general election approaches, evolution education continues to be a factor in campaigns across Kansas, even though the results of the August primary election practically guarantee a reversal of the state board of education's November 2005 decision to adopt a set of state science standards that was rewritten, under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists, to impugn the scientific standing of evolution. In the primary election, Sally Cauble, a supporter of evolution education, defeated antievolution incumbent Connie Morris for the Republican nomination in District 5, and Jana Shaver, a supporter of evolution education, defeated antievolution candidate Brad Patzer, son-in-law of antievolution incumbent Iris Van Meter, for the Republican nomination in District 9. Since Cauble and Shaver's Democratic opponents, Tim Cruz and Kent Runyan, also support evolution education, supporters of evolution education are expected to have a 6-4 majority on the board, no matter who prevails in the November election.

As a columnist in the Kansas City Star (August 21, 2006), observed, however, "There's still time for voters to make the board's new moderate majority stronger still. Board members Ken Willard of Hutchinson and John Bacon of Olathe survived their GOP primaries." Willard, a Republican representing District 7, is facing a challenge from Democrat Jack Wempe; Bacon, a Republican representing District 3, is facing a challenge from Democrat Don Weiss. Both Willard and Bacon were avid supporters of the antievolution version of the standards, a decision that continues to attract comment. For example, the Kansas City Star (October 28, 2006), endorsing Weiss and Wempe, described Willard and Bacon as having excited "national ridicule for voting to criticize the theory of evolution in state science standards," while the Johnson County Sun (October 12, 2006), endorsing Weiss, castigated Bacon and his allies for their "antics on evolution instruction," which were "an embarrassment for Kansas around the world."

Evolution education is also emerging as relevant to the gubernatorial race. Incumbent governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, is promising to press for a constitutional amendment to change the state board of education to a purely advisory body, citing in particular the controversy over the place of evolution in the state science standards. Suggesing that the controversy frustrates the state's attempts to attract the bioscience industry, she told the Topeka Capital-Journal (October 11, 2006), "It doesn't give a whole lot of confidence in coming to Kansas." Her Republican opponent, Jim Barnett, reportedly supported the board's adoption of the antievolution version of the standards, commenting, "In a free society, it should be perfectly acceptable to question what is taught and to allow for differences of opinion." The Wichita Eagle's blog (October 21, 2006), subsequently reported Barnett as saying "I believe in evolution," and affirming that he has no problem reconciling evolution with his religious faith.

For the column in the Kansas City Star, visit:

For the Kansas City Star's endorsements, visit:

For the Johnson County Sun's endorsement, visit:

For the story in the Topeka Capital-Journal, visit:

For the story on the Wichita Eagle's blog, visit:

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


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott received the 2006 Anthropology in the Media Award, in recognition of "the successful communication of anthropology to the general public through the media," from the American Anthropological Association. According to the announcement in the October 2006 issue of the AAA's newletter Anthropology News:

While responding to creationist claims she sticks to the evidence for evolution without resorting to rhetorical flourish. At the same time, she maintains a profound respect for religious views of the world, and that anti-evolutionism must be understood within a cultural framework. As a tireless and articulate defender of evolution in science curricula, a task that is often thankless and frustrating, Scott has done anthropology a tremendous service.

The American Anthropological Association is the primary professional society of anthropologists in the United States and the world's largest professional organization of individuals interested in anthropology. A physical anthropologist by training, Scott is a long-time member.

For the AAA's website, visit: http://www.aaanet.org/

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

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

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

'Dr. Dino' guilty on all counts


Published - November, 3, 2006

Couple could get more than 200 years

Nicole Lozare @PensacolaNewsJournal.com

Pensacola evangelist and tax protester Kent Hovind winked at his wife and gave her a reassuring smile as he was led away to jail.

Jo Hovind clutched the necktie he had been wearing. She kept her eyes on her husband until he was out of sight.

A 12-person jury deliberated for 2? hours on Thursday before finding the couple guilty of all counts in their tax-fraud case.

Kent Hovind, founder of Creation Science Evangelism and Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola, was found guilty of 58 counts, including failure to pay $845,000 in employee-related taxes. He faces a maximum of 288 years in prison.

Jo Hovind was charged and convicted in 44 of the counts involving evading bank-reporting requirements. She faces up to 225 years in prison but was allowed to remain free pending the couple's sentencing on Jan. 9.

Kent Hovind briefly held onto her arm as the verdict was read. Neither reacted at first. But minutes later, she held her face in her hands.

"Nobody likes to pay taxes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer said in her closing argument. "But we do because it's the law, and he is not above the law."

The jury also granted the prosecution's request for the Hovinds to forfeit $430,400. That amount equals the value of the checks signed and cashed by Jo Hovind in the 44 counts.

U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers released Jo Hovind until sentencing but denied Kent Hovind's request to be released. He most likely will be detained at either Escambia County Jail or Santa Rosa County Jail until sentencing.

Heldmyer said Kent Hovind was a flight risk and a "danger to the community."

His attorney, Alan Richey, argued that the Internal Revenue Service pursued his client because of his religious beliefs.

Kent Hovind, whose life's mission is to debunk evolution, says he and his employees are workers of God and therefore exempt from paying taxes. He pays his employees in cash and does not withhold their taxes or pay his share as an employer.

"There's a difference between wrong and committing a crime," Richey said in his closing argument. "You can do all the wrong things you want and still not commit a crime."

Jo Hovind's attorney, Jerold Barringer, argued that his client was a simple piano teacher and grandmother who was not aware of bank-reporting regulations concerning large amounts of cash. Any cash transaction at a bank more than $10,000 triggers a currency-transaction report forwarded to the IRS. She was found guilty of using several methods to take out just enough money to avoid triggering the report.

The Hovinds and their attorneys declined comment. Their supporters, who took up most of the six rows in Rodgers' courtroom, dwindled in number as the day went on.

Jo Hovind's son, Kent Andrew Hovind, and two women escorted her out of the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Pensacola.

Richard Hogan, an acquaintance of Kent Hovind who observed the last day of the two-week trial, said he felt especially bad for Jo Hovind.

"He was the leader, and she probably went along with him," said Hogan, 53. He first met the Hovinds when their children were homeschooled.

"It's pretty tough to fight Goliath," Hogan said. "The first time the IRS calls, you should go ahead and deal with it. It didn't have to come down to this."


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear David Lines Present

The Force OF Water

The flood of Genesis is central to many creationary concepts. One of the difficulties of communicating this idea is that so many are unaware of the incredibly astonishing things that water can do. David Lines will help us to understand this with astounding examples such as an instant canyon at Lake Grapevine or a petrified logjam on a Colorado mountainside.

David Lines is a technical documentation consultant who has worked in the electronics industry for 33 years, documenting and participating in the microprocessor revolution. He writes technical manuals and papers for various companies, and authored Building Power Supplies, a book sold in Radio Shack stores. He also provides photographic services to corporations. For the past 15 years, David has provided volunteer photo/video documentation for Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose.

Don't miss this fascinating presentation.

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

Tuesday, November 7th, 7:30 PM

Evolution education update: October 20, 2006

Carl Zimmer takes a tour of biological complexity in the pages of National Geographic, while the American Sociological Association takes a stand for the integrity of science education. And is the controversy over evolution education in Ohio finally over?


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:

For NCSE's story on Pallen and Matzke's paper, visit:

And to buy the new edition of Zimmer's Evolution, and benefit NCSE in the process, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0099439824/nationalcenter02


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


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:

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


If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

'48 Hours' Questions Role Of Scientology In Murder, Scientologists Question CBS Ethics



On Saturday, "48 Hours" ran a story about the 2003 murder of Elli Perkins, a murder that her 28-year-old son Jeremy confessed to committing. Jeremy had been hallucinating and behaving erratically before his mother's death, but his parents, devout Scientologists, resisted giving him psychiatric treatment. As "48 Hours" notes, "[s]ome pro-Scientology materials declare that psychiatrists are not only useless, but evil – their medications nothing but poisons." The Perkins' opted to medicate their son primarily with vitamins.

The Scientology community was not happy with the story, which raised the possibility that Elli Perkins might not have been murdered had her son been given psychiatric treatment. The group refused to provide "48 Hours" with an official spokesman and began taking action to influence the broadcast. "They hit us with numerous e-mails and there were some people at CBS or at '48 Hours' who they knew personally, and so there were some personal requests made as well," says CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects Linda Mason.

One of the primary complaints from Scientologists was that CBS News has a conflict of interest in covering the story, since the network counts pharmaceutical companies among its advertisers. The argument was that since these companies make anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs, CBS News wanted to promote them – and that this story was one way to do that. Mason disputes this argument. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she says. "At CBS the sales department and the news department – there is a Chinese wall between them. And we just don't cross. And we've done numerous stories on the ill effects of drugs of various sponsors that are on CBS." After the broadcast aired, Mason estimates that CBS News received "more than 500 letters from scientologists saying that we had been unfair."

Normally, "48 Hours" posts a long narrative of each week's story on its Web site on Saturday, towards the end of the broadcast. The narrative of the Perkins story did not go online until late afternoon Wednesday. According to Mason, this is because the story "was being edited at the last minute, and the broadcast wanted to make sure that they had an accurate transcript before they put it on the web." "48 Hours" was not able to interview the two defenders of Scientology featured in the piece until shortly before the broadcast, because no one from Scientology was made available until that time. "Usually it isn't that tough to get the other side of the story, or more participants in the story," says Mason.

Mason allows that Scientologists are "known as a litigious group, and they are known to resist the telling of stories about Scientology." I asked if this affected the story in any way, or if it discourages news outlets from doing stories that discuss Scientology. She says that it does not. "CBS has done several and '60 Minutes' has done several stories on Scientology, and I believe NBC did something," she says. "I think all of them do when they find a story they want to do and think is worthwhile in telling."

What about the possibility of litigation? "We do stories that we feel stand on their own grounds in the court of law," says Mason.

Posted by Brian Montopoli at 12:16 PM : November 2, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Creationism, design theories threaten science standards


Kyle Scarberry

Of the many issues surrounding the November election in Ohio, one I was surprised to read about recently was the issue of intelligent design being taught in public schools. I realize this issue is one that has sparked much debate across the country, but I had no idea it had relevance to this state election. Apparently, Ohio is a prominent figure in the ongoing feud between proponents of evolution and those that believe in creationism, and this puts pressure on Ohioans to possibly set the bar for the rest of the country.

In 2002, the Ohio Board of Education adopted science standards that encouraged students to seek evidence for and against evolution. While the standards were retracted earlier this year, many scientists viewed them as an attempt to have intelligent design taught in public school science classes. In order to prevent similar standards from developing, scientists have formed a group called Help Ohio Public Education. HOPE was founded with the purpose of giving support to candidates running for the Board of Education that will fight to uphold the constitutional ban on religion in public schools.

Ohio also has innovations on the other side of the issue. In 2007, a museum dedicated to the creation story set forth in the Bible will be opening outside of Cincinnati. The Creation Museum will attempt to offer a new interpretation of scientific evidence by strict adherence to Biblical scripture, and will make claims such that the Earth is only around 6,000 years old and dinosaurs were passengers on Noah's ark.

The claims made by the Creation Museum really show how much of a danger religion can be to science, especially when it is disguised as science in an educational setting. But the issue of intelligent design (ID) is one that does not appear to be so black and white. ID is said to be an idea founded on scientific data, and its proponents claim that it is a scientific theory that should be regarded as equivalent or even superior to other scientific theories, such as evolution. The basic idea is that the complexity of life and the universe is so great and so specifically dependent on incredibly small variables that the only reasonable explanation is an intelligent cause.

But ID is not a scientific theory, and it is just as dangerous to science as any other form of creationism. While the arguments appear to be scientific and non-religious, there is actually no data to support any of the claims. Evolution, while created as a theory based on similar observations, has genetic and fossil evidence supporting what it proposes. ID has no such evidence; there are no instances, except within dated religious doctrine, that suggest there must necessarily be a creator and any belief otherwise must be made on faith alone.

It is true that one should not jump to accept all scientific theory as fact—just look at what environmentalists are saying these days. But what should be accepted is a clear distinction between faith and reason and a realization that faith has no place in a public school classroom, just as science has no place in a church. Organizations like HOPE understand the dangers of faith-based theories masquerading as science, and the Democratic candidates they support may be what is needed to protect Ohio's educational system.

What's New?


Books & Culture, September/October 2006

The Science Pages

Two biologists claim to close a "major gap in Darwin's theory" of evolution.

by Jonathan Wells

The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma
by Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart
Yale Univ. Press, 2005
314 pp., $30

Darwinian evolution is widely advertised to be a fact, as firmly established as the shape of the Earth. Defenders of the theory insist that there is no scientific controversy over it, and people who question or criticize it are typically accused of being ignorant or religiously motivated. Yet every few years a book comes along—written by scientists—claiming to remedy some major flaw in evolutionary theory.

The Plausibility of Life, by Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart, is such a book. Gerhart is an eminent cell and developmental biologist, now retired after a distinguished career at the University of California at Berkeley; Kirschner—once Gerhart's graduate student (as was I)—is an equally eminent biologist, now a department chair at Harvard University. According to the book's jacket, the authors close "a major gap in Darwin's theory" and thereby provide "a timely scientific rebuttal to critics of evolution who champion 'intelligent design.'"

The "major gap" in Darwin's theory is the origin of novelty: new variations, physiologies, anatomies, and behaviors. According to Kirschner and Gerhart, Darwin's theory rests on three pillars: natural selection, heredity, and variation. Darwin provided the first, and Mendelian and molecular genetics provided the second, but until now "a major weakness remained, casting all else in doubt." That weakness has been the origin of new variations: "Ignorance about novelty is at the heart of skepticism about evolution, and resolving its origins is necessary to complete our understanding of Darwin's theory." Indeed, the "cardinal issue in evolution is the origin of complex and heritable variations," and the authors maintain that until now no one has dealt adequately with this issue. "The plausibility of life," they write, "rests on the plausibility of generating novelty, and that in turn rests on mechanisms newly uncovered in biology."

Such variations must arise in the embryo, so Kirschner and Gerhart write that "understanding the organization, growth and development of the organism is essential to complete Darwin's theory." Although Darwinists largely ignored embryology for a hundred years, many biologists in the late 20th century realized that we need to understand embryo development before we can hope to understand evolution. This realization led to the field of "evolutionary developmental biology," or "evo-devo." The Plausibility of Life is a contribution to this field.

To overcome the weakness in existing evolutionary theory, Kirschner and Gerhart propose what they call "a major new scientific theory: facilitated variation." The authors note that organisms consist of "core processes" that have apparently been "conserved" since their evolution from a common ancestor. The most basic of these are found in all living organisms from bacteria to humans; for example, dna replication, protein synthesis, and metabolic pathways. Kirschner and Gerhart acknowledge that they have no explanation for the origin of these in the first living cell. "Evidence is completely lacking about what preceded this early cellular ancestor," they write. "Everything about evolution before the bacteria-like life forms is sheer conjecture."

There are other major transitions in the history of life that Kirschner and Gerhart also concede remain unexplained. One of these was the "invention" of the first eukaryotes, cells with nuclei that are very different from bacteria. "Generating the first eukaryotic cell was a major and enduring accomplishment," they write. "Extensive innovation showed up in the complexity and organization of the eukaryotic ancestor." Another major transition was the origin of multicellular organisms, which require complex mechanisms for cells to aggregate and communicate with each other. Still another unexplained transition was the origin of animal body plans in the Cambrian explosion. "Once again," write Kirschner and Gerhart, "a new suite of cellular and multicellular functions emerged rather quickly and was conserved to the present."

Some other major transitions that Kirschner and Gerhart concede remain unexplained are the origin of limbs in the first land vertebrates, the origin of neural crest cells that sculpt the heads and nervous systems of vertebrates, and the origin of the neocortex in vertebrate brains. "The origin of these processes and properties would seem to be the primary events of evolution, requiring high novelty," but the authors admit they cannot explain them. So, what does their theory explain?

Their theory purports to explain how organisms that share a given set of conserved core processes—say, land vertebrates—can diversify into a wide variety of forms. Kirschner and Gerhart argue that although the core processes themselves are conserved over evolutionary time, and invariant ("constrained") in the process of embryo development, they are interconnected by "exploratory behaviors" and "weak linkages" that are "compartmentalized" in the embryo. These three characteristics "deconstrain" development and facilitate the emergence of new variations. This "facilitated variation," they argue, makes it "easy" for organisms to evolve.

For example, when a limb develops in the embryo of a land vertebrate, nerve cells (core processes) in the spinal cord send out extensions in many directions (exploratory behavior), but only those that encounter signals from targets (more core processes) in the developing limb survive and establish functioning connections (weak linkages). If an extra embryonic limb is artificially grafted onto the side of a chick embryo, the added targets cause the stabilization and connection of more nerve extensions, and the chick develops five limbs instead of four. The core processes are the nerve cells and the targets; the exploratory behavior is the sending out of extensions; the weak linkages are the signals; and compartmentalization enables forelimbs and hindlimbs to develop differently.

Kirschner and Gerhart propose that slight changes in the regulation of these mechanisms would make it "easy" to rearrange core processes in the course of evolution. "Throughout biology," they write, "individual core processes are constructed so that new linkages can easily be forged and broken… . The implications for evolution are powerful, for if complex development is elicited by simple signals, then changes in complex development may be achieved by changing the amount or location of these simple signals, rather than by changing a highly integrated and complex process."

The authors compare exploratory behavior in an embryo to random variation in a species, and they compare stabilization by target signals to natural selection. But variation and selection, whether in the laboratory, on the farm, or in the wild, have never been observed to produce a new species. Variation and selection produce only minor changes within existing species.

Similarly, exploratory behavior and weak linkage have never been observed to change the species of an embryo. Any embryo that completes its development becomes the organism it was programmed to become. Exploratory behavior and weak linkage notwithstanding, the endpoint of embryo development appears to be predetermined—by some factor or factors missing from Kirschner and Gerhart's equation.

So the analogy between variation and exploratory behavior, between selection and weak linkage, may be more revealing than the authors realize. Like variation and selection, exploratory behavior and weak linkage have never been observed to produce a new species, much less species with new kinds of limbs.

Where, then, is the evidence that "facilitated variations" can produce heritable changes that lead to evolutionary novelty? Kirschner and Gerhart write:

At some point, such heritable regulatory changes will be created in a test animal in the laboratory, generating a trait intentionally drawing on various conserved processes. At that point, doubters would have to admit that if humans can generate [such] variation in the laboratory in a manner consistent with known evolutionary changes, perhaps it is plausible that facilitated variation has generated change in nature. Such experiments are just now becoming feasible.

The authors describe only one such experiment. In 2004, biologists at Harvard and Princeton reported a correlation between beak differences in Galápagos finches and levels of a particular protein in their embryos. Birds with deeper beaks had more of the protein. The same biologists then altered the amount of that protein in chicken embryos and found corresponding changes in beak shape. Yet the researchers presented no evidence that the changes were heritable, and they did not produce a breed of chickens with modified beaks, much less anything approaching an evolutionary novelty.

In the 1970s, two of the researchers (Peter and Rosemary Grant) had conducted a field study of finches on the Galápagos Islands. When a severe drought killed most of the finches in 1977, the survivors had, on average, slightly deeper beaks that enabled them to crack the tough surviving seeds. The Grants had witnessed natural selection in action. Nevertheless, when the rains returned the average beak size went back to normal. No net evolution occurred.

In the 2004 laboratory experiment, the Grants and their colleagues merely identified a protein that may have been involved in producing differences in beak sizes in the finches. Like the field study, the laboratory study found no real evolution—not even within an existing species.

Nevertheless, Kirschner and Gerhart are optimistic: "We can expect that the increased study of evolution and development, coupled with genomic analysis, will provide more and more examples of the use of facilitated variation in specific evolutionary events." With this iou in hand, the authors proclaim that "the apparent weaknesses surrounding novelty… have now been corrected." This "should help open-minded people at all levels of scientific sophistication to realize that although many scientific questions remain in evolution and embryology, there are no apparent gaping holes in our theoretical understanding of evolution." Thus "it is no longer accurate to say that science cannot explain the generation of novelty."

While the bulk of their book is devoted to making the case for their theory of facilitated variation, Kirschner and Gerhart also apply their argument to current controversies regarding the theory of intelligent design (id). They claim that "some traditional religious groups" have "exaggerated and fabricated weaknesses in evolutionary theory in order to discredit it." According to the authors, after the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the teaching of biblical creationism in public school science classes, opponents of evolution turned to id to find "ways around the U.S. Constitution to question evolution and to force its removal from the public school curriculum."

Yet Kirschner and Gerhart misunderstand intelligent design and its history. id maintains that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than unguided natural processes. Since design is inferred from evidence, not deduced from Scripture or religious doctrine, id is clearly not the same as biblical creationism. Nor have major proponents of id tried to force the removal of evolution from public school curricula; instead, they advocate a "teach the controversy" approach that exposes students to the evidence and scientific arguments for and against evolutionary theory.

Nevertheless, according to Kirschner and Gerhart the "promulgators of intelligent design are merely covertly advocating their own religious agenda and have no desire to hear alternatives based on modern molecular and developmental research." They hope that "other more open-minded people may be influenced by arguments for the plausibility or implausibility of generating novelty in evolution."

The authors mention only one id proponent by name in the main text of their book: Michael Behe. They write: "Behe uses elaborate biochemical examples to intimidate us into believing that the complexity of living cells is beyond understanding." But this misrepresents Behe's position, which is that complexity is understandable—as the result of intelligent design.

In his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Behe quotes Darwin: "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." Behe then asks: "What type of biological system could not be formed by 'numerous, successive, slight modifications'?" And he answers: "Well, for starters, a system that is irreducibly complex. By irreducibly complex, I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."

As the title of Behe's book indicates, the inner workings of the cell were a mystery (a "black box") for Darwin. Modern biochemistry, however, has uncovered many irreducibly complex systems inside living cells. Not only do these pose a problem for Darwin's theory, but according to Behe they also point to design: "Inferring that biochemical systems were designed by an intelligent agent is a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science. It comes simply from the hard work that biochemistry has done over the past forty years, combined with a consideration of the way in which we reach conclusions of design every day."

Behe describes several examples of irreducible complexity. One of these is the biochemistry of vision, which involves a series of specialized molecules that detect light and convert it to nerve impulses. This is the only one of Behe's examples that Kirschner and Gerhart take on.

"In Behe's particular example," they write,

we know that the signaling pathway from the visual pigment (which is itself conserved from bacteria to humans) to the electrical channel in the cell that receives the light impulses in the retina is, in fact, a concatenation of conserved processes common to eukaryotic cells. Furthermore, these processes all have a capacity for weak linkage so that they can be easily wired in different circuits… . Behe sees the constraint in particular designs, but not the deconstraint these designs provide.

By acknowledging that Behe "sees the constraint in particular designs," Kirschner and Gerhart implicitly concede Behe's main point, which concerns only the irreducible complexity of the conserved core processes. Behe's argument is untouched by the fact that the basic components may be wired together in a variety of ways. Yet Kirschner and Gerhart do not even attempt to explain the complexity in those components; they merely assert that intelligent design was unnecessary. "The great innovations of core processes were not magical moments of creation," they write, "but periods of extensive modification of both protein structure and function." Like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, the core processes just grow'd.

Kirschner and Gerhart also criticize Phillip Johnson and me (without mentioning us by name, except in the notes). Darwin thought that "the embryos of the most distinct species belonging to the same class are closely similar, but become, when fully developed, widely dissimilar," and that this provided "by far the strongest" evidence for his theory that all vertebrates are descended from a common ancestor. In the revised 1993 edition of Darwin On Trial, however, Johnson pointed out that Darwin was mistaken: Vertebrate embryos actually start out very dissimilar, then they become similar midway through development before diverging again. Darwinists typically dismiss this inconvenient discrepancy by arguing that early development can evolve easily. In other words, they simply assume the truth of their theory, then use it to explain why early vertebrate embryos are so different. What had been the strongest evidence for the theory turns out to be false, but the theory is taken to be true anyway and the anomalous evidence is explained away. According to Kirschner and Gerhart, this somehow transforms dissimilarities in early vertebrate embryos "from a confounding paradox of evolution to one of its strongest arguments."

In my book Icons of Evolution, I pointed out that using structural similarity ("homology") as evidence for Darwinian evolution is problematic. Without an unguided natural mechanism, it is impossible to establish that similarities are due to common ancestry rather than common design. Kirschner and Gerhart argue that their theory solves the problem. Maybe. Maybe not. It would help if they could provide good evidence for their theory, but the best they can do is promise us that such evidence will be forthcoming. In the meantime, they expect us to believe that "the modern molecular evidence for homology, its development, and its evolution, is unassailable."

So what are we to make of The Plausibility of Life? Its authors claim to complete Darwin's theory by closing its last remaining major gap, yet they concede that the completed theory has no explanation for the origin of core processes in the first cells, the first eukaryotes, the first multicellular organisms, animal body plans, or vertebrate limbs, heads and brains. There seem to be more gaps in evolutionary theory now than there were before Kirschner and Gerhart got started.

Perhaps it would be fairer to overlook the authors' inflated rhetoric and judge them merely on the basis of their limited theory of facilitated variation. Even if we grant the existence of conserved core processes, have Kirschner and Gerhart succeeded in explaining how land vertebrates diversified into lizards, birds, mice, whales, bats, and humans? Although they assure us that evidence will be forthcoming, the mechanisms they propose—exploratory behavior, weak linkages, and compartmentalization—have never been observed to produce anything like the novelties needed by evolution. If a century of embryology has taught us anything, it is that we can fiddle with these mechanisms all we want in a mouse embryo, and there are only three possible outcomes: a normal mouse, a deformed mouse, or a dead mouse.

Despite the dubious nature of their theoretical proposal, Kirschner and Gerhart imply that anyone who continues to be skeptical of Darwinian evolution is close-minded. In particular, people who think that intelligent design might provide a better explanation for some features of living things are dismissed as ignorant, religiously motivated, and covertly seeking ways to evade the law. Like many of their fellow Darwinists, Kirschner and Gerhart ultimately resort to personal insults.

Does the theory of facilitated variation make life plausible? Not at all, since it assumes the existence of life in the first place. Does the theory of facilitated variation rebut intelligent design? Not at all, since it assumes the existence of irreducibly complex core processes in the first place. The principal take-home lesson from The Plausibility of Life is that evolutionary theory still suffers from major weaknesses, but anyone who says so without reaffirming Darwinism and condemning id is a close-minded, ignorant, Bible-thumping subverter of the Constitution.

Where's the novelty in that?

Jonathan Wells has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in theology from Yale University. Currently a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, he is author most recently of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, just published by Regnery.

Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Books & Culture magazine.

The God Delusion



Richard Dawkins
2006, Houghton Mifflin; 416p.
creationism, education, religion

Dawkins, the world's most famous atheist, maintains that he does not thrive on confrontation, but his title suggests otherwise. There is no compromise in these chapters; when Dawkins sees a false doctrine or faulty reasoning, he marshals the considerable power of his accessible writing and measured polemics. Dawkins is funny at times (even when it is obvious he has an "How can they possibly believe that?" exasperation), always clear, often gentle, seldom angry, and generally persuasive, although quite possibly there will be few who are persuaded. His discussion of evolution in particular is illuminating. This book will be delightful reading for nonbelievers, and a challenge for others. It is a personal manifesto of appealing clarity and passion.

[ Reviewed by Rob Hardy, robhardy@earthlink.net ]

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

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Widespread creationism teaching would worry Blair


LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview published on Wednesday he would be worried if creationism entered mainstream teaching in schools.

Creationism -- the view that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- has long been at the centre of controversy in the United States, where conservative Christians reject Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

A row broke out in Britain earlier this year after a private foundation that funds several schools in northern England was accused of teaching creationism in science classes.

The foundation said it taught evolution but said creation beliefs could be mentioned in some scientific discussions.

In an interview with New Scientist magazine, Blair said talk of some schools teaching creationism was sometimes hugely exaggerated.

"I've visited one of the schools in question and as far as I'm aware they are teaching the curriculum in a normal way," he said.

"If I notice creationism becoming the mainstream of the education system in this country then that's the time to start worrying," he said.

Blair, who is due to give a lecture on the future of British science on Friday, said science was almost as important as economic stability to the future of the British economy.

"If we do not take the opportunities that are there for us in science then we are not going to have a successful modern economy," he said. "We will be out-competed on labour costs".

"We've got to give the country a great deal more confidence about science and its place in the future," he said.

Blair, who confessed he was very poor at science at school, advised scientists to "fight the battles you need to fight".

He said he wouldn't bother fighting a great battle over homeopathy, for example, but said the scientific community had to engage in a "very strong and deep" dialogue with wider society over the possibilities of genetics.

Blair attacked the media over its reporting of a controversy over giving a triple measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to children.

The debate originated with a medical study, now widely rejected, linking the MMR vaccination to autism.

The scare led to a drop in the number of parents wanting their children vaccinated, leading doctors to fear some children could catch a potentially fatal disease.

"The reporting of MMR was disgraceful. There was no real scientific basis for the allegations that were made and it's caused a great deal of difficulty," Blair said.

(c) Reuters 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Anti-Science" is the New Left Wing Smear


We notice a trend on the left to denounce scientists who disagree with a social policy objective of the left as "anti-science." It's a major theme on the evolution issue. Now it is true, too, on the issue of whether global warming is as big a danger as the Al Gore sorts say and what contribution human activity makes to the problem. And as a Washington Post article shows, the materialist left have decided that medical professors who promote reproductive medicine that doesn't include abortion or test tube fertilization because of moral scruples are being denounced as "anti-science," too.

At the same time we hear, a la Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion are properly "non-overlapping magisteria," that one is about facts and the other values. But it seems that whatever science can do it should do and values ignored. When someone tries to guide science with moral values he is attacked as "anti-science."

Slowly, the ultimate claims of materialism are made plain, and scientism—the ideology—bares its teeth.

Institute Practices Reproductive Medicine -- and Catholicism
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2006; A14

OMAHA -- Craig Turczynski traveled from Texas to find ways to help infertile women that do not conflict with his religious beliefs. Cherie LeFevre came from St. Louis to learn how to treat her OB-GYN patients in obedience to her Catholicism. Amie Holmes flew from Ohio so she could practice medicine in conformity with church teachings when she graduates from medical school.

On a journey that would blend the aura of a pilgrimage with the ambience of a medical seminar, the three arrived at an unassuming three-story red-brick building on a quiet side street in this Missouri River city.

Their destination was the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, which has become perhaps the most prominent women's health center serving Catholics and other doctors, medical students and patients who object for religious reasons to in vitro fertilization, contraceptives and other aspects of modern reproductive medicine.

"We have built a new women's health science," said Thomas W. Hilgers, who runs the institute. "Our system works cooperatively with the natural fertility cycle and enables doctors to treat women and married couples, especially Catholic married couples, in a way that allows them to live out their faith."

Hilgers and his supporters say the approach, called "natural procreative technology" or "NaProTechnology," can address a spectrum of women's health issues, including family planning, premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and infertility, without the use of birth control pills, sterilization, abortion or in vitro fertilization (IVF). Instead, Hilgers said, he uses diagnostics, hormones and surgery to identify and treat underlying causes of reproductive ailments that other doctors often miss.

Although the institute is not formally affiliated with the church, Hilgers's work is endorsed by groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Medical Association.

But many mainstream authorities question Hilgers's assertions that his techniques are equal or even superior to standard therapies. They worry that women are being misled and given unproven, ineffective treatments, denying them the best available care.

"This is anti-science," said Anita L. Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Los Angeles. "I respect people's personal values. But I am deeply concerned that they are giving treatments and making claims that are not scientifically proven as safe and effective."

Although some independent experts say that some of the institute's offerings may be acceptable alternatives for religious patients, as long as they are fully informed about their options, others view its work as a disturbing example of religion intruding into secular society.

"Combining medicine and religion is dangerous," said the Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. "This tendency is creeping into our health-care system."

The trend will become particularly worrisome, some say, if religiously shaped medicine begins to displace and curtail access to standard medical care.

"If you look at what's happened with abortion services being severely limited in large parts of the country, this is not at all an unrealistic fear," said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The controversy is part of a larger debate over the relationship between religion and medicine, which is being sparked by conflicts between patients and religious health-care workers who refuse to provide care they find offensive, citing a "right of conscience." Such clashes are becoming increasingly common because of the rising religiosity in the United States and the advent of therapies that raise moral quandaries for some, such as the "morning-after" pill, IVF and embryonic stem cell research.

"Many Christians, whether in or out of the Catholic Church, have deep concerns about some of these new technologies," said Gene Rudd, associate executive director of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "This is the kind of thing that offers an alternative for those with these values."

Inspired by Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which condemned artificial birth control, Hilgers began by helping to develop, with colleagues at nearby Creighton University, a natural family planning method called the Creighton Model, which involves meticulously charting a woman's monthly cycle. But Hilgers goes beyond simply offering an alternative form of birth control.

An obstetrician-gynecologist and reproductive surgeon who trained at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Hilgers said he combines the charting system with intensive hormonal and ultrasound studies for better diagnoses. He said he can then restore fertility and treat other ailments through individually tailored therapies, such as targeted hormones and surgical techniques he developed for conditions including blocked fallopian tubes, pelvic adhesions and endometriosis.

"We can look at a woman's cycles in ways that others simply can't," Hilgers said during an interview in his office, surrounded by images of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. "We work cooperatively with a woman's cycle rather than suppressing it or destroying it. Many women come to us after years of being frustrated by the treatment they received elsewhere."

That was the case for Cami Carlson, 33, of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who came to the institute after five years of futile efforts to become pregnant with the help of her OB-GYN and a fertility specialist. Because Carlson is Catholic, in vitro fertilization was out of the question.

"Life is God's to create," Carlson said, echoing the sentiment of half a dozen other women from around the United States and Mexico interviewed this month while being treated at the clinic. "It's a huge sense of peace knowing that we're going about things in a morally sound manner."

The institute, which is attracting more than 700 new patients a year, melds modern medical facilities with the philosophy and symbols of Catholicism. The waiting room greets patients with a bust of the Madonna and Child and an illuminated stained-glass crucifix. Bulletin boards titled "Miracle Baby Hall of Fame" are filled with snapshots of children. Down the hall is a fully accredited lab for analyzing hormones. An ultrasound suite downstairs is equipped with the latest technology. A large statue of St. Therese stands in a stairway leading to the Chapel of the Holy Family, where Mass is celebrated weekly.

While most of the patients are Catholic, Hilgers accepts anyone. He said they are drawn by his holistic approach, attentive care and superior outcomes.

"Mainstream gynecology and reproductive medicine take a Band-Aid approach. Our success rates tend to be much, much better," Hilgers said.

Those claims are sharply disputed by mainstream OB-GYNs and fertility specialists.

"I don't think he understands what a traditional reproductive endocrinologist really does," said Jamie Grifo, a New York University fertility specialist. "It's simply a myth that we don't look for the underlying disease."

Experts also question how "natural" Hilgers's techniques are if they employ hormonal supplementation, and they criticize him for not publishing studies in medical journals so his methods can be evaluated independently.

"They might as well be advocating prayer for infertility," said Richard Paul, a fertility expert at the University of Southern California. "The reason that this is dangerous is because women have a biological clock, and while they are using up time with less effective therapies, time may run out."

Hilgers countered that his work is based on numerous research papers that he and others published in well-known journals earlier in his career, and that he has compiled the results of his more recent studies in a 1,243-page textbook he produced in 2004.

"The people who publish the journals are all of a certain mind-set, and that mind-set is contraception, sterilization, abortion and IVF," Hilgers said. "They reject things I submit to them and say, 'What value is this?' "

To spread his methods, Hilgers sponsors a multifaceted training program and invites recent medical school graduates to spend a year studying with him.

"This allows me to practice in a way that I see as truly good for my patients and uphold the dignity of life," said Catherine Keefe, who is in the midst of a one-year fellowship at the institute after completing her OB-GYN residency at the University of Illinois at Peoria.

The institute also instructs laypeople on how to teach the Creighton system, and it has more than 1,000 "educators" and more than 100 centers offering the system around the United States and overseas.

In addition, it offers intensive seminars every fall and spring for doctors, residents, medical students and others.

"This place has just been booming. . . . It's just incredible. And we're only at the beginning," Hilgers said. He said he has trained more than 300 doctors in the United States and overseas, including several in the Washington area.

This year's fall immersion course drew Turczynski, LeFevre, Holmes and eight other doctors, residents and medical students. For eight days this month at a hotel near the institute, the participants gathered early each morning for Mass before spending 12 hours in lectures. They will return in the spring for a follow-up session that will certify them as NaProTechnology "medical consultants."

Turczynski quit his job as head of an infertility laboratory in Shreveport, La., because he decided that creating embryos in a laboratory was wrong. He became disturbed that some of the embryos might be discarded or used for research, and that his work might help unmarried or same-sex couples have children.

"I would like to stay in the field in a way that doesn't conflict with my moral beliefs and the church's teaching," Turczynski said.

LeFevre, the St. Louis OB-GYN, decided after her daughter's first communion that she could no longer prescribe birth control pills, do sterilizations or participate in IVF. Holmes, the medical student, converted to Catholicism and pledged to devote her practice to her new faith when she graduates.

Some trainees took vacation time and paid for the course themselves. Others received funding from their schools or residencies and will get credit toward their medical education. The course is certified through Creighton University.

"In those areas where the culture of medicine differs from what the church teaches," said Karen Saroki, who is incorporating Hilgers's training into a family-practice residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "this will enable me to follow what the church teaches."

Posted by Bruce Chapman on October 31, 2006 6:05 PM | Permalink

Second Verse Same as the First: Practice Science, Follow the Evidence Where it Leads


I might have titled this post, "Eastern Mystics Join Western Fundamentalist Conspiracy," except that there are those out there that would howl to the highest that I had finally admitted we are fundamentalists with a secret conspiracy. (First, I'm fundamentally not a fundamentalist, and the so-called "secret conspiracy" is neither secret nor a conspiracy.) Instead, I have a title that neatly sums up the point made in the Asian Tribune today, titled Is our evolving universe an intelligent design?, by essayist Vasantha Raja. It is an excellent article in which Raja shows that following the evidence where it leads isn't a fundamentalist conspiracy to convert the world in whichever direction at all, it is rather what the scientific method should really be about.

According to Raja:

What follows below does not approve or reject the visions of any particular religion. But the point I want to make is that scientists can seriously consider the Intelligent Design model without committing to the existence of a personal God; also through it science can enhance the scientific enterprise's heuristic power and overcome the ongoing creationist/evolutionist dichotomy.

Throughout the article Raja comes back to the problems with the scientific method as it is currently understood and used throughout the scientific community –namely, that it is in actuality methodological naturalism– and is hampering, and likely even cutting off, productive lines of scientific research.

However, the problems seem to occur at least from two sources: one, the naturalist tendency to resort to chance, random or accidental processes of unthinking matter to explain mystifyingly complex phenomena; two, dogmatic adherence to 'gradual evolution' when the processes in the world have clearly defied it in favour of 'qualitative leaps'.

In The Design Revolution, William Dembski writes:

The idea here is that science is a method for investigating nature and that to understand nature scientists must only invoke 'natural processes.' In this context the term 'natural processes' means processes operating entirely according to unbroken natural laws and characterized by chance and necessity. … One of the consequences of methodolocial naturalism is to exclude intelligent design from science.

Anyone who has seen Dembski, or Stephen Meyer or Paul Nelson or Jonathan Wells, or any other of CSC's senior scientists speak about intelligent design will be familiar with how methodological naturalism simply rules out intelligent design in any way, shape or form before research is even undertaken. ID is simply not given a seat at the table.

Franklin M. Harold wrote in The Way of the Cell, (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 205)

We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity (Behe 1996); but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations. (emphasis mine)

That is exactly the sort of scientific method about which Raja is writing.

Raja points out the same simple fact that we have been emphasizing for years whenever we ask scientists to simply follow the evidence where it leads.

It's not whether a theory has religious or anti-religious implications that determines its scientific validity, but whether it is grounded in evidence. The more we learn about the evidence, the more it points to intelligent design as a better explanation than Darwinian evolution for many features of living things.

Raja argues that the enourmous amounts of genetic information found in DNA could not have arisen simply by chance and necessity alone, saying "the immense amounts of complex information needed in systematically creating higher life-forms cannot be conceivably explained as products of gradual mutation." He is open to the inference to design as a better explanation. Stephen Meyer has eloquently and repeatedly made this argument. Whenever we find complex information, we find intelligence as the source of that information.

As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, "Information habitually arises from conscious activity." A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind, that of a software engineer or programmer. Similarly, the information in a book or newspaper column ultimately derives from a writer—from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause. Thus, what we know about the present cause and effect structure of the world suggests intelligent design as an obvious explanation for the information necessary to build living systems.

As he relates the insistence of the scientific community to adhere to methodolifical naturalism as the scientific method, Raja continually hits the nail on the head:

Thus, the restriction on our legitimate capacity to abstract from what is externally given to us seems to me to be a major problem in science. This seems to be another limitation of scientific methodology as it stands today. …

The point I am trying to drive home is this: The 'Intelligent Design' hypothesis needs not in any way hamper the scientists' effort to develop a convincing model that explains the evolving universe through itself. But the scientists may well have to get rid of their own prejudices originating primarily from the empiricist world outlook to do so.

So it isn't just Western fundamentalists who see the inference to design as the best explanation for the complexity and diversity of life we see in the universe. Here is someone who is approaching the subject from a different viewpoint, and yet he sees what is universally true, that in science we have to follow the evidence where it leads. This is an example of someone making design arguments who is perhaps further from a fundamentalist than even I am.

Posted by Robert Crowther on October 30, 2006 8:36 PM | Permalink

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Acupuncture, massage offer students medical alternative


Kelly Morgan

Issue date: 10/30/06 Section: News

When Erika Nyhus, a CU psychology graduate student, fractured a vertebra in a snowboarding accident in December 2005, she was disappointed by her doctor's prognosis.

"I had muscle damage and scar tissue build-up in my back. I was having a lot of trouble hiking and biking, and my doctor said it would take 10 years for the scar tissue to heal on its own," Nyhus said.

Nyhus was impatient and wanted to get back on her feet to do what she loves.

"I was on pain medication, and physical therapy helped temporarily, but I was still having trouble doing the things I wanted to do," Nyhus said.

Eventually, Nyhus' doctor recommended she see the acupuncturist at Wardenburg Health Center.

"I've had seven or eight sessions so far, and the scar tissue is almost gone. I might have to come back every few months to keep up with it, but I'm almost done with the regular sessions," Nyhus said.

Acupuncture and massage are the most popular forms of alternative medicine offered at Wardenburg. The health center began offering massage therapy about eight years ago and acupuncture three years ago, according to Robin Kolble, a staff member from the Student Wellness Program.

"It's truly a student-driven phenomenon," Kolble said. "Our traditional practitioners have been pretty open about it; they're comfortable using both ends of the spectrum."

Kolble notes that there have been several medical studies pointing to the effectiveness of alternative medicine.

According to the Sports Medicine department, health care is multi-faceted: It is both a science and an art.

So far, demand for alternative medicine at Wardenburg has been steady.

"We see a lot of people recovering from sports injuries," said Jennifer McLemore, a licensed acupuncturist who is currently treating Nyhus. "We never started off slow. We started with a 3-week waiting list. I would say that we're just at the right flow currently."

In acupuncture, needles are used to stimulate points along the body's energy flow channels to help balance the body's natural health. Stress, women's health issues, pain and digestive and immune system issues are the most common reasons patients seek acupuncture, according to McLemore.

"The stress of being in a university environment is big for a lot of my patients," McLemore said.

The acupuncture clinic is open Mondays and Wednesdays and sees six to eight patients each day, according to McLemore.

"I'm always booked, but I do wish more people knew about it," said Gerald Munir, a certified massage therapist at Wardenburg. He sees four patients each Tuesday and Friday.

Munir agrees the university environment can be very stressful, and he helps a lot of patients with stress-related problems.

"Stress is bigger than anything for my patients," Munir said. "People's bodies just don't function well when they're under a lot of stress."

Sometimes this alternative medicine has proved better than other major options.

"I've seen people who think that they have to get surgery for something, (and then they) get better with a massage. If you try it, you see that, yeah, it does work. It's good medicine," Munir said.

McLemore and Munir both say they see an almost equal number of students versus faculty and staff.

Janet Denny, an administrator in the Sports Medicine department, receives acupuncture once a week and massage therapy once a month for stress and fatigue.

"It's excellent, it's a balance thing for your body," Denny said. "It's about taking care of yourself."

Self-care is one of the signature characteristics of alternative medicine, according to Kolble.

"There's a dichotomy. Some people like to care for themselves, and some people like going to the doctor in a more traditional way. We have to cater to both types of people," Kolble said.

Carly Everitt, a staff member in the Women's Clinic at Wardenburg, began receiving acupuncture for issues with allergies, stress and appetite. She tried anti-inflammatory medication for neck pain, but said it wasn't effective in the long run.

"Since I've been doing it I haven't had any problems," Everitt said. "It's wonderful, I recommend it highly."

The Sports Medicine department employs acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, orthopedists and physical therapists. Massage therapy costs $40 per session and acupuncture costs $35, a discounted rate, according to McLemore. The costs of the other treatments vary depending on a patient's needs.

The Student Wellness Program, which has an office in the UMC, hosts events like the Holistic Health Fair each semester, and offers cold-care advice, chair massages, relaxation and stress management tools throughout the academic year.

Cave fossils are early Europeans


Archaeologists have identified fossils belonging to some of the earliest modern humans to settle in Europe.

The research team has dated six bones found in the Pestera Muierii cave, Romania, to 30,000 years ago.

The finds also raise questions about the possible place of Neanderthals in modern human ancestry.

Details of the discoveries appear in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We've known for some time that the earliest modern humans in Europe are a funny-looking bunch

The human bones were first identified at the Pestera Muierii (Cave of the Old Woman) cave in 1952, but have now been reassessed.

Interesting mix

Only a handful of modern human remains older than 28,000 years old are known from Europe.

Erik Trinkaus from Washington University in St Louis and colleagues obtained radiocarbon dates directly from the fossils and analysed their anatomical form.

The results showed that the fossils were 30,000 years old and had the diagnostic features of modern humans (Homo sapiens).

But Professor Trinkaus and his colleagues argue, controversially, that the bones also display features that were characteristic of our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).

Neanderthals appear in the European fossil record about 400,000 years ago. At their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east.

Modern humans are thought to have entered Europe about 40,000 years ago, and within 10,000 years, the Neanderthals had largely disappeared from the continent.

By 24,000 years ago, the last survivors vanished from their refuge in the Iberian Peninsula.

Ice Age liaisons?

While many researchers think Neanderthals were simply driven to extinction - either by climate change or competition with the moderns - a handful of scientists believe they interbred with the incomers and contributed to the modern human gene pool.

Professor Trinkaus and his co-researchers point to several anatomical features of the Romanian bones that are either primitive-looking or characteristic of Neanderthals.

These include a large "occipital bun", a bump or bulge at the back of the skull, as well as other features of the lower jaw and shoulder blade.

"These data reinforce the mosaic nature of these early modern Europeans and the complex dynamics of human reproductive patterns when modern humans dispersed westward across Europe," Professor Trinkaus and his colleagues wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Strict population replacement of the Neanderthals is no longer tenable."

Rugged looks

Professor Clive Gamble, from Royal Holloway in London, UK, said the discoveries would yield valuable information about early modern humans in Europe; but he was cautious about the evidence for interbreeding with Neanderthals.

"We've known for some time that the earliest modern humans in Europe are a funny-looking bunch. They are a distinctive looking lot - very heavily built, particularly in the skulls," he told the BBC.

"The question is whether these robust features show that they were up to no good with Neanderthal women behind boulders on the tundra, or whether they were just a very rugged population.

"I think, really, the only way to tell would be to look at their ancient DNA. When DNA was extracted from the classic Neanderthal skeleton, the last ancestor between modern humans and Neanderthals turned out to have lived 600,000 years ago."

Similar claims have also surrounded early human skulls from Mladec in the Czech Republic and the skeleton of a male child unearthed in 1998 at the Abrigo do Lagar Velho rockshelter in Portugal.

The Lagar Velho boy, who died about 25,000 years ago, has been described as a "hybrid", with a mixture of modern and Neanderthal features.

Mass copying of genes speeds up evolution


In the latest issue of PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Swedish-American team of researchers show how selective gene amplification-­mass copying of a specific gene­-can increase the speed with which organisms adapt to their environment.

All organisms can amplify parts of their DNA under certain conditions, and the variants that have an increased amount of one special gene can gain survival advantages when they are exposed to various types of external conditions, such as stress in the form of antibiotics (bacteria), chemotherapy (humans), or insecticides (insects).

In this study the researchers show that the bacteria Salmonella typhimurium uses several different mechanisms to increase the number of copies of a gene that helps the cell use the sugar lactose as a source of nourishment.

"When the bacterium's gene for making use of lactose is inefficient, that is, when the bacterium has an ineffective enzyme for breaking down lactose, mutant bacteria are favored instead, with up to a hundred-fold rise in the number of copies of the gene," says Professor Dan Andersson, one of those behind the study.

This has two consequences: on the one hand, the bacterium manages to grow on lactose because the amount of the inefficient enzyme increases and, on the other hand, the chances increase that the bacterium will develop a mutation in one of these 100 identical genes leading to an improvement in the enzyme function. The scientists also show that amplification proceeds stepwise: first, a large region is duplicated and then smaller regions within that region are amplified to high numbers of copies. According to Dan Andersson, it is probably much more common than was previously thought, which is extremely exciting.

"And they are important, since this means that evolutionary changes can take place at a considerably higher speed. One reason the extent of this has been underestimated is their inherent instability, which makes them difficult to study in laboratory experiments."

Unhappy Halloween for witch


A German witch had a bad Halloween after a Munich court ordered her to refund over £600 for a failed love potion.

Tina Schultz, 37, from southern Germany, paid witch Madam Mitternacht £670 to make her former lover return to her.

But, after he failed to be influenced, the lovesick woman turned to the courts.

They ruled the witch had breached trade description rules by selling a product that did not work and ordered the fee refunded.

The German justice system ruled that a love potion is an "impossible service" and therefore was a false claim.

Argentine fossil points to largest bird ever found


Fearsome creature that roamed prehistoric Patagonia was 10 feet tall with a skull larger than a horse's.

By Robert Lee Hotz, Times Staff Writer October 26, 2006

A curious teenager in Argentina has discovered the fossil skull of the biggest bird ever found — a swift, flightless predator 10 feet tall that pursued its prey across the steppes of Patagonia 15 million years ago, researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County announced Wednesday.

The skull, tapering to a cruel beak curved like a brush hook, belongs to a previously unknown offshoot of extinct birds known as phorusrhacids — "terror birds."

Weighing perhaps 400 pounds, the bird most likely preyed on rodents the size of sheep that once grazed on the South American savanna.

"It is an unbelievable creature," said paleontologist Luis Chiappe, director of the museum's Dinosaur Institute, who documented the find in the journal Nature. "This is the largest known bird, with a skull bigger than a horse's head."

Measuring more than 28 inches long, the fossil skull is at least 10% bigger than the largest previously known species, Chiappe and his colleagues reported.

An Argentine high school student, Guillermo Aguirre-Zabiala, found the fossil two years ago among the rock outcrops between two houses by the railroad station in his village east of Bariloche.

The young man was so galvanized by his discovery that he changed his course of study from psychology to paleontology and Earth science, Chiappe said. "This discovery has shaped his life."

The fossil also is altering how scientists understand the evolution of South America's largest prehistoric terror birds.

Until now, scientists thought that these unusual flightless birds had become more portly and less agile as they evolved into bigger and bigger carnivores.

The slender leg and foot bones found with the immense skull, however, closely resemble those of a typical running bird, the scientists reported.

"It was a speedy bird," Chiappe said. "I am not saying this animal ran as fast as an ostrich, but it was clearly a good runner."


An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong


October 31, 2006 Books on Science

Who doesn't know the difference between right and wrong? Yet that essential knowledge, generally assumed to come from parental teaching or religious or legal instruction, could turn out to have a quite different origin.

Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys. The animals' feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality.

Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, "Moral Minds" (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously.

Dr. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. But it is an idea that he roots in solid ground, including his own and others' work with primates and in empirical results derived by moral philosophers.

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.

Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Dr. Hauser writes, implying "that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine." Dr. Hauser argues that the moral grammar operates in much the same way as the universal grammar proposed by the linguist Noam Chomsky as the innate neural machinery for language. The universal grammar is a system of rules for generating syntax and vocabulary but does not specify any particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.

The moral grammar too, in Dr. Hauser's view, is a system for generating moral behavior and not a list of specific rules. It constrains human behavior so tightly that many rules are in fact the same or very similar in every society — do as you would be done by; care for children and the weak; don't kill; avoid adultery and incest; don't cheat, steal or lie.

But it also allows for variations, since cultures can assign different weights to the elements of the grammar's calculations. Thus one society may ban abortion, another may see infanticide as a moral duty in certain circumstances. Or as Kipling observed, "The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Katmandu, and the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban."

Matters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists. Dr. Hauser's proposal is an attempt to claim the subject for science, in particular for evolutionary biology. The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value.

Much of the present evidence for the moral grammar is indirect. Some of it comes from psychological tests of children, showing that they have an innate sense of fairness that starts to unfold at age 4. Some comes from ingenious dilemmas devised to show a subconscious moral judgment generator at work. These are known by the moral philosophers who developed them as "trolley problems."

Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?

Most people say it is.

Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?

Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.

Why does the moral grammar generate such different judgments in apparently similar situations? It makes a distinction, Dr. Hauser writes, between a foreseen harm (the train killing the person on the track) and an intended harm (throwing the person in front of the train), despite the fact that the consequences are the same in either case. It also rates killing an animal as more acceptable than killing a person.

Many people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, Dr. Hauser says, a sign that it is being made at inaccessible levels of the mind. This inability challenges the general belief that moral behavior is learned. For if people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, how can they teach it?

Dr. Hauser began his research career in animal communication, working with vervet monkeys in Kenya and with birds. He is the author of a standard textbook on the subject, "The Evolution of Communication." He began to take an interest in the human animal in 1992 after psychologists devised experiments that allowed one to infer what babies are thinking. He found he could repeat many of these experiments in cotton-top tamarins, allowing the cognitive capacities of infants to be set in an evolutionary framework.

His proposal of a moral grammar emerges from a collaboration with Mr. Chomsky, who had taken an interest in Dr. Hauser's ideas about animal communication. In 2002 they wrote, with Dr. Tecumseh Fitch, an unusual article arguing that the faculty of language must have developed as an adaptation of some neural system possessed by animals, perhaps one used in navigation. From this interaction Dr. Hauser developed the idea that moral behavior, like language behavior, is acquired with the help of an innate set of rules that unfolds early in a child's development.

Social animals, he believes, possess the rudiments of a moral system in that they can recognize cheating or deviations from expected behavior. But they generally lack the psychological mechanisms on which the pervasive reciprocity of human society is based, like the ability to remember bad behavior, quantify its costs, recall prior interactions with an individual and punish offenders. "Lions cooperate on the hunt, but there is no punishment for laggards," Dr. Hauser said.

The moral grammar now universal among people presumably evolved to its final shape during the hunter-gatherer phase of the human past, before the dispersal from the ancestral homeland in northeast Africa some 50,000 years ago. This may be why events before our eyes carry far greater moral weight than happenings far away, Dr. Hauser believes, since in those days one never had to care about people remote from one's environment.

Dr. Hauser believes that the moral grammar may have evolved through the evolutionary mechanism known as group selection. A group bound by altruism toward its members and rigorous discouragement of cheaters would be more likely to prevail over a less cohesive society, so genes for moral grammar would become more common.

Many evolutionary biologists frown on the idea of group selection, noting that genes cannot become more frequent unless they benefit the individual who carries them, and a person who contributes altruistically to people not related to him will reduce his own fitness and leave fewer offspring.

But though group selection has not been proved to occur in animals, Dr. Hauser believes that it may have operated in people because of their greater social conformity and willingness to punish or ostracize those who disobey moral codes.

"That permits strong group cohesion you don't see in other animals, which may make for group selection," he said.

His proposal for an innate moral grammar, if people pay attention to it, could ruffle many feathers. His fellow biologists may raise eyebrows at proposing such a big idea when much of the supporting evidence has yet to be acquired. Moral philosophers may not welcome a biologist's bid to annex their turf, despite Dr. Hauser's expressed desire to collaborate with them.

Nevertheless, researchers' idea of a good hypothesis is one that generates interesting and testable predictions. By this criterion, the proposal of an innate moral grammar seems unlikely to disappoint.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Who wrote Richard Dawkins's new book?


This past Tuesday, Richard Dawkins spoke at DC's famous Politics & Prose bookstore, reading from his new book "The God Delusion." One philosophically astute questioner, American Enterprise Institute's Joe Manzari, had the following exchange with Dr. Dawkins:

Manzari: Dr. Dawkins thank you for your comments. The thing I have appreciated most about your comments is your consistency in the things I've seen you've written. One of the areas that I wanted to ask you about, and the place where I think there is an inconsistency, and I hoped you would clarify, is that in what I've read you seem to take a position of a strong determinist who says that what we see around us is the product of physical laws playing themselves out; but on the other hand it would seem that you would do things like taking credit for writing this book and things like that. But it would seem, and this isn't to be funny, that the consistent position would be that necessarily the authoring of this book, from the initial conditions of the big bang, it was set that this would be the product of what we see today. I would take it that that would be the consistent position but I wanted to know what you thought about that.

Dawkins: The philosophical question of determinism is a very difficult question. It's not one I discuss in this book, indeed in any other book that I've ever talked about. Now an extreme determinist, as the questioner says, might say that everything we do, everything we think, everything that we write has been determined from the beginning of time in which case the very idea of taking credit for anything doesn't seem to make any sense. Now I don't actually know what I actually think about that, I haven't taken up a position about that, it's not part of my remit to talk about the philosophical issue of determinism. What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don't feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, "Oh well he couldn't help doing it, he was determined by his molecules." Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won't start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that's what we all ought to... Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is "Oh they were just determined by their molecules." It's stupid to punish them. What we should do is say "This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced." I can't bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. And so again I might take a …

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.

Manzari: Thank you.

It appears to me that reality is biting back at Dr. Dawkins. As Mr. Manzari pointed out to me in a recent interview (which will be featured here on the ID the Future podcast), Dawkins is finding it hard to live out his worldview with consistency. It is just plain hard to act as though one does not possess agency. It reminds one of the attempts of materialists to purge their language of "folk psychology," claiming for instance, "the C-fibers in this left lobe are firing like crazy," rather than saying, "I feel a headache." It is simply hard to speak this way, which should prompt one to ask, "Why?"

For those interested in the cross section of Darwinism and free agency, I heartily recommend Angus Menuge's "Agents Under Fire."

Posted by Logan Gage on October 28, 2006 11:52 AM | Permalink

British Press Engages in Selective Motive Mongering


We've recently discussed the media bias against intelligent design (ID) (see here and here). As also reported, the British Independent published a harshly anti-ID article adopting the rhetoric of ID-critics as if it were reportable fact. This same article made much ado about the alleged religious motives of proponents of intelligent design. Yet The Independent relies upon the British Humanist Association (BHA) as an authority which opposes teaching ID. This BHA has an anti-religious agenda which instructs people to live "without religious [belief]". The BHA seeks "an end" to the "privileged position of religion – and Christianity in particular" in society. For The Independent to harp upon the alleged religious motives of ID-proponents and ignore all potential anti-religious motives of ID-critics is not only poor scholarship and biased journalism, it is blatant hypocrisy. However, as discussed below, what matters is the scientific evidence, because motives are irrelevant in scientific discourse.

More Anti-Religious Motives of British Darwinists

On its web page defining humanism, BHA links to the Third Humanist Manifesto, which claims that "[h]umans are … the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing." The manifesto is published by the American Humanist Association, which in 1996 named Britain's own Richard Dawkins as its "Humanist of the Year." During his acceptance speech, Dawkins announced that "[f]aith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate." Indeed, according to the current cover of Wired Magazine, Dawkins is presently part of a "Crusade Against Religion":

Meanwhile, pro-ID British bloggers have revealed that the recently formed British Center for Science Education (BCSE) was founded by a group of secular humanists with anti-religious agendas and was born out of a group called "BlackShadow" run by vocal atheists. BlackShadow's website has clear political and cultural goals: it solicits explicit support from a peculiar collection of groups as it invites those who are "gay, liberal, a single mum, a cohabitee, a believer in evolution, or an atheistic or agnostic" to oppose ID.

Clearly some British Darwinists have an anti-religious agenda associated with various political and cultural goals, one of which seems to be to eradicate religion from the public sphere.

Motives Don't Matter

Evolution is a legitimate scientific theory which deserves to be taught in schools. If some of Britain's leading evolutionist advocates are avowed atheists with an agenda to eradicate religion, so what? That doesn't make evolution any less scientific. Similarly, ID is an empirical argument about the cause-and-effect relationship between intelligence and information in cells which uses the scientific method to make its claims. If some believe it has larger religious implications, so what? Evolution is apparently being used to advance analogous anti-religious political agendas in Britain.

The personal religious—or anti-religious—beliefs or motives of scientists do not disqualify their bona fide scientific views from the classroom. But The Independent selectively harps upon the supposed religious motives of ID-proponents in Britain, while ignoring the blatantly anti-religious motives of the very authorities it quotes against ID.

If The Independent wants to play the motive-mongering game, it should consider how the teaching of evolution in Britain's biology classrooms would be affected in light of the anti-religious agenda of leading evolution advocates in Britain, such as Dawkins, the BCSE, and The Independent's preferred authority opposing intelligent design: the British Humanist Association.

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 28, 2006 2:35 AM | Permalink

FTC and FDA Act Against Internet Vendors of Fraudulent Diabetes Cures and Treatments


Measures are Part of Coordinated Effort by United States, Mexico and Canada

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), working with government agencies in Mexico and Canada, have launched a drive to stop deceptive Internet advertisements and sales of products misrepresented as cures or treatments for diabetes. The ongoing joint campaign has so far included approximately 180 warning letters and other advisories sent to online outlets in the three countries.

"We will continue working with our partners in the U.S. and internationally to make sure scammers have no place to hide," said Lydia Parnes, Director of FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The Internet can be a great source of information, but it also is a billboard for ads that promise miracle cures for diabetes and other serious diseases. Our advice to consumers: 'Be smart, be skeptical' when evaluating health claims online."

"We will not tolerate practices that raise false hopes and bilk consumers of precious health care dollars," said Margaret O'K. Glavin, FDA's Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. "Diabetes requires effective treatments and aggressive management, not bogus and unproven products."

The joint diabetes initiative to stop commercial sale of fraudulent therapies originated with a Web surf for "hidden traps" by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), an organization of law enforcement authorities, members of the Mexico, United States, and Canada Health Fraud Working Group (MUCH), and the attorneys general offices of Alaska, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. MUCH, which consists of regulatory officials from health, consumer and competition protection agencies in the three North American countries, had previously conducted a campaign against fraudulent weight-loss products.

Using the results of the Internet sweep, FTC sent warning letters for deceptive ads to 84 domestic and 7 Canadian Web sites targeting U.S. consumers, and referred an additional 21 sites to foreign governments. About a quarter of the firms have already changed their claims or removed their pages from the Internet, and several others are in contact with FTC.

Today, FDA announced it has issued warning letters to 24 firms marketing dietary supplement products with claims to treat, cure, prevent or mitigate diabetes (see link to Warning Letters at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/dialist.html ). The FDA letters warn firms that failure to promptly correct the violations may result in enforcement action without further notice, which may include seizure of violative products and/or injunctions against the manufacturers and distributors.

FTC is also announcing today a new consumer education campaign to teach consumers how to avoid phony diabetes cures. The materials encourage consumers to "Be smart, be skeptical!" and will be available in English, Spanish, and French (see [Web link]. One component is a "teaser" Web site available at http://wemarket4u.net/glucobate/index.html. At first glance, the site appears to be advertising a cure for diabetes called Glucobate, but when consumers click for more information on ordering the product, it reveals information about avoiding ads for phony cure-alls in the future. The new education materials, including a bookmark and consumer alert, are being introduced in time for Diabetes Awareness Month in November. The American Dietetic Association has agreed to help disseminate the information.

FDA has developed a strategy to focus its enforcement efforts in the area of dietary supplements, and today's announcement is one important action under that strategy. The strategy was designed to address illegal dietary supplement ingredients and ensure integrity and truthful labeling of dietary supplements. One emphasis is on claims aimed at patients with serious diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Within the last twelve months, the agency has sent more than 100 warning letters and other advisories to Internet firms and has seized products at one firm.

In addition, the agency maintains special Web sites, in English and Spanish, which amplify the agency's counsel to consumers to check with their doctor, nurse or pharmacist before trying any new health care product. These materials cover a broad range of subjects of special interest to patients with diabetes (see http://www.fda.gov/diabetes/; http://www.fda.gov/diabetes/pills.html; http://www.fda.gov/opacom/lowlit/diabetes.html; and http://www.fda.gov/opacom/lowlit/sdiabetes.html), as well as more general health care information.

About the Federal Trade Commission

FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints) or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad.

About the Food and Drug Administration

FDA protects and advances the public health by regulating the nation's food supply (except for meat and poultry, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), as well as all human drugs, biological products such as vaccines, medical devices, tissues for transplantation, devices that emit radiation and cosmetics, and animal drugs.

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