NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 November 2006

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

God vs. Science


We revere faith and scientific progress, hunger for miracles and for MRIs. But are the worldviews compatible? TIME convenes a debate


Posted Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006

There are two great debates under the broad heading of Science vs. God. The more familiar over the past few years is the narrower of the two: Can Darwinian evolution withstand the criticisms of Christians who believe that it contradicts the creation account in the Book of Genesis? In recent years, creationism took on new currency as the spiritual progenitor of "intelligent design" (I.D.), a scientifically worded attempt to show that blanks in the evolutionary narrative are more meaningful than its very convincing totality. I.D. lost some of its journalistic heat last December when a federal judge dismissed it as pseudoscience unsuitable for teaching in Pennsylvania schools.

But in fact creationism and I.D. are intimately related to a larger unresolved question, in which the aggressor's role is reversed: Can religion stand up to the progress of science? This debate long predates Darwin, but the antireligion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines' increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience. Brain imaging illustrates--in color!--the physical seat of the will and the passions, challenging the religious concept of a soul independent of glands and gristle. Brain chemists track imbalances that could account for the ecstatic states of visionary saints or, some suggest, of Jesus. Like Freudianism before it, the field of evolutionary psychology generates theories of altruism and even of religion that do not include God. Something called the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology speculates that ours may be but one in a cascade of universes, suddenly bettering the odds that life could have cropped up here accidentally, without divine intervention. (If the probabilities were 1 in a billion, and you've got 300 billion universes, why not?)

Roman Catholicism's Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has dubbed the most fervent of faith-challenging scientists followers of "scientism" or "evolutionism," since they hope science, beyond being a measure, can replace religion as a worldview and a touchstone. It is not an epithet that fits everyone wielding a test tube. But a growing proportion of the profession is experiencing what one major researcher calls "unprecedented outrage" at perceived insults to research and rationality, ranging from the alleged influence of the Christian right on Bush Administration science policy to the fanatic faith of the 9/11 terrorists to intelligent design's ongoing claims. Some are radicalized enough to publicly pick an ancient scab: the idea that science and religion, far from being complementary responses to the unknown, are at utter odds--or, as Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has written bluntly, "Religion and science will always clash." The market seems flooded with books by scientists describing a caged death match between science and God--with science winning, or at least chipping away at faith's underlying verities.

Finding a spokesman for this side of the question was not hard, since Richard Dawkins, perhaps its foremost polemicist, has just come out with The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), the rare volume whose position is so clear it forgoes a subtitle. The five-week New York Times best seller (now at No. 8) attacks faith philosophically and historically as well as scientifically, but leans heavily on Darwinian theory, which was Dawkins' expertise as a young scientist and more recently as an explicator of evolutionary psychology so lucid that he occupies the Charles Simonyi professorship for the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

Dawkins is riding the crest of an atheist literary wave. In 2004, The End of Faith, a multipronged indictment by neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, was published (over 400,000 copies in print). Harris has written a 96-page follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is now No. 14 on the Times list. Last February, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett produced Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which has sold fewer copies but has helped usher the discussion into the public arena.

If Dennett and Harris are almost-scientists (Dennett runs a multidisciplinary scientific-philosophic program), the authors of half a dozen aggressively secular volumes are card carriers: In Moral Minds, Harvard biologist Marc Hauser explores the--nondivine--origins of our sense of right and wrong (September); in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (due in January) by self-described "atheist-reductionist-materialist" biologist Lewis Wolpert, religion is one of those impossible things; Victor Stenger, a physicist-astronomer, has a book coming out titled God: The Failed Hypothesis. Meanwhile, Ann Druyan, widow of archskeptical astrophysicist Carl Sagan, has edited Sagan's unpublished lectures on God and his absence into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience, out this month.

Dawkins and his army have a swarm of articulate theological opponents, of course. But the most ardent of these don't really care very much about science, and an argument in which one party stands immovable on Scripture and the other immobile on the periodic table doesn't get anyone very far. Most Americans occupy the middle ground: we want it all. We want to cheer on science's strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both MRIs and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless. And to balance formidable standard bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony--that, indeed, science is of God.

Informed conciliators have recently become more vocal. Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden has just come out with Evolution and Christian Faith, which provides what she calls a "strong Christian defense" of evolutionary biology, illustrating the discipline's major concepts with biblical passages. Entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a famous skeptic of standard faith, has written The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, urging believers and non-believers to unite over conservation. But foremost of those arguing for common ground is Francis Collins.

Collins' devotion to genetics is, if possible, greater than Dawkins'. Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute since 1993, he headed a multinational 2,400-scientist team that co-mapped the 3 billion biochemical letters of our genetic blueprint, a milestone that then President Bill Clinton honored in a 2000 White House ceremony, comparing the genome chart to Meriwether Lewis' map of his fateful continental exploration. Collins continues to lead his institute in studying the genome and mining it for medical breakthroughs.

He is also a forthright Christian who converted from atheism at age 27 and now finds time to advise young evangelical scientists on how to declare their faith in science's largely agnostic upper reaches. His summer best seller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press), laid out some of the arguments he brought to bear in the 90-minute debate TIME arranged between Dawkins and Collins in our offices at the Time & Life Building in New York City on Sept. 30. Some excerpts from their spirited exchange:

TIME: Professor Dawkins, if one truly understands science, is God then a delusion, as your book title suggests?

DAWKINS: The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer. I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no.

TIME: Dr. Collins, you believe that science is compatible with Christian faith.

COLLINS: Yes. God's existence is either true or not. But calling it a scientific question implies that the tools of science can provide the answer. From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God's existence is outside of science's ability to really weigh in.

TIME: Stephen Jay Gould, a Harvard paleontologist, famously argued that religion and science can coexist, because they occupy separate, airtight boxes. You both seem to disagree.

COLLINS: Gould sets up an artificial wall between the two worldviews that doesn't exist in my life. Because I do believe in God's creative power in having brought it all into being in the first place, I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation.

DAWKINS: I think that Gould's separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it's a very empty idea. There are plenty of places where religion does not keep off the scientific turf. Any belief in miracles is flat contradictory not just to the facts of science but to the spirit of science.

DAWKINS: Yes. For centuries the most powerful argument for God's existence from the physical world was the so-called argument from design: Living things are so beautiful and elegant and so apparently purposeful, they could only have been made by an intelligent designer. But Darwin provided a simpler explanation. His way is a gradual, incremental improvement starting from very simple beginnings and working up step by tiny incremental step to more complexity, more elegance, more adaptive perfection. Each step is not too improbable for us to countenance, but when you add them up cumulatively over millions of years, you get these monsters of improbability, like the human brain and the rain forest. It should warn us against ever again assuming that because something is complicated, God must have done it.

COLLINS: I don't see that Professor Dawkins' basic account of evolution is incompatible with God's having designed it.

TIME: When would this have occurred?

COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.

DAWKINS: I think that's a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.

COLLINS: Who are we to say that that was an odd way to do it? I don't think that it is God's purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us. If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?

TIME: Both your books suggest that if the universal constants, the six or more characteristics of our universe, had varied at all, it would have made life impossible. Dr. Collins, can you provide an example?

COLLINS: The gravitational constant, if it were off by one part in a hundred million million, then the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang would not have occurred in the fashion that was necessary for life to occur. When you look at that evidence, it is very difficult to adopt the view that this was just chance. But if you are willing to consider the possibility of a designer, this becomes a rather plausible explanation for what is otherwise an exceedingly improbable event--namely, our existence.

DAWKINS: People who believe in God conclude there must have been a divine knob twiddler who twiddled the knobs of these half-dozen constants to get them exactly right. The problem is that this says, because something is vastly improbable, we need a God to explain it. But that God himself would be even more improbable. Physicists have come up with other explanations. One is to say that these six constants are not free to vary. Some unified theory will eventually show that they are as locked in as the circumference and the diameter of a circle. That reduces the odds of them all independently just happening to fit the bill. The other way is the multiverse way. That says that maybe the universe we are in is one of a very large number of universes. The vast majority will not contain life because they have the wrong gravitational constant or the wrong this constant or that constant. But as the number of universes climbs, the odds mount that a tiny minority of universes will have the right fine-tuning.

COLLINS: This is an interesting choice. Barring a theoretical resolution, which I think is unlikely, you either have to say there are zillions of parallel universes out there that we can't observe at present or you have to say there was a plan. I actually find the argument of the existence of a God who did the planning more compelling than the bubbling of all these multiverses. So Occam's razor--Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward--leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.

DAWKINS: I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine. What I can't understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you're shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those "How must it have come to be" questions.

DAWKINS: I think that's the mother and father of all cop-outs. It's an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from. Now Dr. Collins says, "Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this." Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don't do that. Scientists say, "We're working on it. We're struggling to understand."

COLLINS: Certainly science should continue to see whether we can find evidence for multiverses that might explain why our own universe seems to be so finely tuned. But I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That's an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as "Why am I here?", "What happens after we die?", "Is there a God?" If you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of God after examining the natural world because it doesn't convince you on a proof basis. But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion.

DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God--it's that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That's God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small--at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case.

TIME: The Book of Genesis has led many conservative Protestants to oppose evolution and some to insist that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

COLLINS: There are sincere believers who interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a very literal way that is inconsistent, frankly, with our knowledge of the universe's age or of how living organisms are related to each other. St. Augustine wrote that basically it is not possible to understand what was being described in Genesis. It was not intended as a science textbook. It was intended as a description of who God was, who we are and what our relationship is supposed to be with God. Augustine explicitly warns against a very narrow perspective that will put our faith at risk of looking ridiculous. If you step back from that one narrow interpretation, what the Bible describes is very consistent with the Big Bang.

DAWKINS: Physicists are working on the Big Bang, and one day they may or may not solve it. However, what Dr. Collins has just been--may I call you Francis?

COLLINS: Oh, please, Richard, do so.

DAWKINS: What Francis was just saying about Genesis was, of course, a little private quarrel between him and his Fundamentalist colleagues ...

COLLINS: It's not so private. It's rather public. [Laughs.]

DAWKINS: ... It would be unseemly for me to enter in except to suggest that he'd save himself an awful lot of trouble if he just simply ceased to give them the time of day. Why bother with these clowns?

COLLINS: Richard, I think we don't do a service to dialogue between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names. That inspires an even more dug-in position. Atheists sometimes come across as a bit arrogant in this regard, and characterizing faith as something only an idiot would attach themselves to is not likely to help your case.

TIME: Dr. Collins, the Resurrection is an essential argument of Christian faith, but doesn't it, along with the virgin birth and lesser miracles, fatally undermine the scientific method, which depends on the constancy of natural laws?

COLLINS: If you're willing to answer yes to a God outside of nature, then there's nothing inconsistent with God on rare occasions choosing to invade the natural world in a way that appears miraculous. If God made the natural laws, why could he not violate them when it was a particularly significant moment for him to do so? And if you accept the idea that Christ was also divine, which I do, then his Resurrection is not in itself a great logical leap.

TIME: Doesn't the very notion of miracles throw off science?

COLLINS: Not at all. If you are in the camp I am, one place where science and faith could touch each other is in the investigation of supposedly miraculous events.

DAWKINS: If ever there was a slamming of the door in the face of constructive investigation, it is the word miracle. To a medieval peasant, a radio would have seemed like a miracle. All kinds of things may happen which we by the lights of today's science would classify as a miracle just as medieval science might a Boeing 747. Francis keeps saying things like "From the perspective of a believer." Once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific--really scientific--credibility. I'm sorry to be so blunt.

COLLINS: Richard, I actually agree with the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.

TIME: Dr. Collins, you have described humanity's moral sense not only as a gift from God but as a signpost that he exists.

COLLINS: There is a whole field of inquiry that has come up in the last 30 or 40 years--some call it sociobiology or evolutionary psychology--relating to where we get our moral sense and why we value the idea of altruism, and locating both answers in behavioral adaptations for the preservation of our genes. But if you believe, and Richard has been articulate in this, that natural selection operates on the individual, not on a group, then why would the individual risk his own DNA doing something selfless to help somebody in a way that might diminish his chance of reproducing? Granted, we may try to help our own family members because they share our DNA. Or help someone else in expectation that they will help us later. But when you look at what we admire as the most generous manifestations of altruism, they are not based on kin selection or reciprocity. An extreme example might be Oskar Schindler risking his life to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers. That's the opposite of saving his genes. We see less dramatic versions every day. Many of us think these qualities may come from God--especially since justice and morality are two of the attributes we most readily identify with God.

DAWKINS: Can I begin with an analogy? Most people understand that sexual lust has to do with propagating genes. Copulation in nature tends to lead to reproduction and so to more genetic copies. But in modern society, most copulations involve contraception, designed precisely to avoid reproduction. Altruism probably has origins like those of lust. In our prehistoric past, we would have lived in extended families, surrounded by kin whose interests we might have wanted to promote because they shared our genes. Now we live in big cities. We are not among kin nor people who will ever reciprocate our good deeds. It doesn't matter. Just as people engaged in sex with contraception are not aware of being motivated by a drive to have babies, it doesn't cross our mind that the reason for do-gooding is based in the fact that our primitive ancestors lived in small groups. But that seems to me to be a highly plausible account for where the desire for morality, the desire for goodness, comes from.

COLLINS: For you to argue that our noblest acts are a misfiring of Darwinian behavior does not do justice to the sense we all have about the absolutes that are involved here of good and evil. Evolution may explain some features of the moral law, but it can't explain why it should have any real significance. If it is solely an evolutionary convenience, there is really no such thing as good or evil. But for me, it is much more than that. The moral law is a reason to think of God as plausible--not just a God who sets the universe in motion but a God who cares about human beings, because we seem uniquely amongst creatures on the planet to have this far-developed sense of morality. What you've said implies that outside of the human mind, tuned by evolutionary processes, good and evil have no meaning. Do you agree with that?

DAWKINS: Even the question you're asking has no meaning to me. Good and evil--I don't believe that there is hanging out there, anywhere, something called good and something called evil. I think that there are good things that happen and bad things that happen.

COLLINS: I think that is a fundamental difference between us. I'm glad we identified it.

TIME: Dr. Collins, I know you favor the opening of new stem-cell lines for experimentation. But doesn't the fact that faith has caused some people to rule this out risk creating a perception that religion is preventing science from saving lives?

COLLINS: Let me first say as a disclaimer that I speak as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Executive Branch of the United States government. The impression that people of faith are uniformly opposed to stem-cell research is not documented by surveys. In fact, many people of strong religious conviction think this can be a morally supportable approach.

TIME: But to the extent that a person argues on the basis of faith or Scripture rather than reason, how can scientists respond?

COLLINS: Faith is not the opposite of reason. Faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation. So such discussions between scientists and believers happen quite readily. But neither scientists nor believers always embody the principles precisely. Scientists can have their judgment clouded by their professional aspirations. And the pure truth of faith, which you can think of as this clear spiritual water, is poured into rusty vessels called human beings, and so sometimes the benevolent principles of faith can get distorted as positions are hardened.

DAWKINS: For me, moral questions such as stem-cell research turn upon whether suffering is caused. In this case, clearly none is. The embryos have no nervous system. But that's not an issue discussed publicly. The issue is, Are they human? If you are an absolutist moralist, you say, "These cells are human, and therefore they deserve some kind of special moral treatment." Absolutist morality doesn't have to come from religion but usually does.

We slaughter nonhuman animals in factory farms, and they do have nervous systems and do suffer. People of faith are not very interested in their suffering.

COLLINS: Do humans have a different moral significance than cows in general?

DAWKINS: Humans have more moral responsibility perhaps, because they are capable of reasoning.

TIME: Do the two of you have any concluding thoughts?

COLLINS: I just would like to say that over more than a quarter-century as a scientist and a believer, I find absolutely nothing in conflict between agreeing with Richard in practically all of his conclusions about the natural world, and also saying that I am still able to accept and embrace the possibility that there are answers that science isn't able to provide about the natural world--the questions about why instead of the questions about how. I'm interested in the whys. I find many of those answers in the spiritual realm. That in no way compromises my ability to think rigorously as a scientist.

DAWKINS: My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

With reporting by With reporting by David Bjerklie, Alice Park/New York, Dan Cray/Los Angeles, Jeff Israely/Rome

Debate Over Evolution Not Going Away


by John G. West Posted Nov 14, 2006

The debate over Darwinian evolution is typically framed by the news media as a clash between "right" and "left." Conservatives are presumed to be critical of Darwin's theory, while liberals are presumed to be supportive of it.

As in most cases, reality is more complicated.

There always have been liberal critics of Darwin. In the early 20th Century, progressive reformer William Jennings Bryan fought for women's suffrage, world peace—and against Darwinism. More recently, left-wing novelist Kurt Vonnegut, a self-described "secular humanist," has called our human bodies "miracles of design" and faulted scientists for "pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn't possibly have produced such machines."

Evolution to the Rescue?

Just as there have been critics of Darwin on the left, there continue to be champions of Darwinism on the right. In the last few years, pundits such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and John Derbyshire, along with social scientist James Q. Wilson and political theorist Larry Arnhart, have stoutly defended Darwin's theory and denounced Darwin's critics.

Some of Darwin's conservatives are even promoting Darwinian biology as a way to save conservatism. In his book, The Moral Sense, James Q. Wilson draws on Darwinian biology to support traditional morality. Law professor John O. McGinnis opines that the future success of conservatism depends on evolutionary biology: "Any political movement that hopes to be successful must come to terms with the second rise of Darwinism."

No one has been more articulate in championing evolution on the right than political theorist Larry Arnhart at Northern Illinois University, who in his recent book, Darwinian Conservatism, argues that "[c]onservatives need Charles Darwin ... because a Darwinian science of human nature supports conservatives in their realist view of human imperfectibility and their commitment to ordered liberty. . . ."

Darwin's Allure

The allure of Darwinian conservatism is not hard to understand. While 19th-Century giants such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud have been debunked, Darwin retains his prestige among the elites as a secular saint. Moreover, Darwinists have clothed themselves in the mantle of modern science, successfully stigmatizing those who criticize them as bigoted Bible-thumpers who are "anti-science."

No wonder a number of conservative intellectuals either refrain from becoming involved in the debate over Darwinism or take the side of Darwin as a matter of course. In some quarters, it is regarded as unfashionable or even embarrassing to be on the side of Darwin's critics. And who wants to be unfashionable or embarrassed?

One suspects that this concern for being fashionable has something to do with the dismissive attitude taken by conservative columnists such as George Will and Charles Krauthammer, neither of whom, however, shows evidence of having read or considered the arguments made by intelligent-design proponents. If they had, they would not assert tritely that intelligent design is merely "warmed-over creationism" (Krauthammer) or an attempt "to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education" (Will). Nor would Krauthammer have denounced the Kansas Board of Education for "forcing intelligent design into the statewide biology curriculum" when the board made clear it had done the exact opposite: "We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design. . . ." Which part of the phrase "do not include Intelligent Design" did Krauthammer fail to understand? Sadly, he probably never bothered to look at the Kansas science standards he so excoriates.

It is ironic that such conservatives, who would not trust left-wing reporting about, say, the war in Iraq, apparently will accept wholesale anything the mainstream media report about evolution.

'Random' Redefined

Other, more careful conservatives remain troubled by what they regard as the excesses of Darwinian ideologues, but they seem to think they can tame or neutralize Darwinian evolution by redefining it. For example, physicist Stephen Barr has argued in First Things that neo-Darwinism, properly understood, need not require a process that is "unguided" or "unplanned." "The word 'random' as used in science does not mean uncaused, unplanned, or inexplicable; it means uncorrelated," he writes.

The problem is not that Barr is wrong about the appropriate meaning of "random" but that mainstream Darwinists do not accept his point and never have. Darwinism from the start has been defined as an undirected process. That is its core, and that is why Darwin himself emphasized that "no shadow of reason can be assigned for the belief that variations ... were intentionally and specially guided."

In the Darwinian view, biological structures such as the vertebrate eye, or the wings of butterflies, or the bacterial flagellum, "must have" developed through the interplay of chance (random mutations, according to modern Darwinists) and necessity (natural selection or "survival of the fittest"). The same holds true for the higher animals, including human beings. In the words of Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, "Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind."

Barr may be correct that a more modest Darwinism that does not insist on evolution's being undirected would be harmless, but then it also no longer would be Darwinism. Conservatives cannot resolve the problems with Darwinian evolution merely by offering their own idiosyncratic definition of the term.

Still other conservatives such as Arnhart and Wilson believe that, properly understood, Darwin's theory can be used to support moral universals and temper utopian schemes. But their argument flies in the face of both Darwinism's internal logic and an historical record that demonstrates the opposite.

Promoting Eugenics

For the past hundred years, mainstream Darwinists have drawn on Darwin's theory to promote relativism and utopian social reforms such as eugenics. Of course, these Darwinists could have been wrong, but a strong case can be made that their efforts were logically connected to Darwin's theory.

If one believes that all human behaviors are equally the products of natural selection and that ultimately they all exist because they promote biological survival, it is hard to see an objective ground for condemning any particular behavior. The maternal instinct is natural, according to Darwinism, but so is infanticide. Monogamy is natural, but so are polygamy and adultery. If a certain man prefers five wives to one, who are we to judge? Obviously, natural selection has preserved the desire for multiple wives in that male, so polygamy must be "right" for him.

I am not quarreling here with the attempt by Darwinian conservatives to enlist biology to support traditional morality. I actually agree with them that showing a biological basis for certain moral desires could conceivably reinforce traditional morality—but only if we have reason to assume that those biological desires are somehow normative.

If one believes that natural desires have been implanted in human beings by intelligent design, or even that they represent irreducible and unchanging truths inherent in the universe, it is rational to accept those desires as grounding for a universal code of morality. But Darwinism explicitly denies that natural desires are either the result of intelligent design or an unchanging nature.

According to the Darwinian view, nature may—on occasion—sanction certain traditional virtues because, at the moment, they happen to promote biological survival. But even Darwin would acknowledge, if pressed, that given a different set of circumstances, a radically different conception of morality would be required.

At one point, he said as much: "If, for instance ... men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering."

Darwinian Moral Relativism

Although this startling passage refers to the behavior of hive bees, it is making a point about human morality and how it is ultimately a function of the conditions of survival. Whenever those conditions change, Darwin seems to say, so, too, will the maxims of human morality. Hence, relativism is perfectly rational within the Darwinian universe.

Similarly, if one believes that human progress is dependent on a vigorous struggle for existence, then any diminishment of natural selection in human society will raise legitimate concerns, and efforts to reinstate selection through eugenics may well appear rational. In addition, once one understands the evolving nature of "human nature," it is difficult to see any "in principle" objection to efforts to transform human nature through bioengineering.

Natural selection is a messy, hit-or-miss process of dead ends and false starts. Why shouldn't human beings use their reason to direct their evolution in order to produce a new kind of human being? What is so sacrosanct about existing human dispositions and capacities, since they were produced by such an imperfect and purposeless process?

Conservatives who would rather sit out the evolution controversy need to understand that the current debate is not primarily about religious fundamentalism, nor is it simply an irrelevant rehashing of certain esoteric points of biology and philosophy. Darwinian reductionism has become culturally pervasive and inextricably intertwined with contemporary conflicts over traditional morality, personal responsibility, sex and family, and bioethics.

Darwinism is also central to an important debate about the role of scientific expertise in American society that dates backs to the Progressive era. Darwin's defenders have been at the forefront of promoting technocracy—the claim that scientific experts ultimately have the right to rule free from the normal restraints of democratic accountability. Disparaging the wisdom of ordinary citizens and their elected representatives, dogmatic Darwinists essentially argue that public policy should be dictated by the majority of scientific experts without input from anyone else. Today, this bold assertion is made not just with regard to evolution, but concerning a host of other controversial issues such as sex education, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and global warming. Those on the left declare that any dissent from liberal orthodoxy on these issues represents a "war on science."

Demonizing Dissent

The effort to demonize normal democratic dissent in the area of science and public policy has been fomented by Fenton communications, the far-left public relations firm for such groups as MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, the American Trial Lawyers Association, Greenpeace and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). With funding from the Tides Center, Fenton has set up a group bearing the Orwellian name of the "Campaign to Defend the Constitution" ("DefCon"). According to DefCon, good science just happens to equal the political agenda of the left, and anyone who says otherwise is a "theocrat" who opposes "scientific progress."

Of course, there is much that can be said in favor of the authority of scientific expertise in modern life. In an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world, the need for scientific input on public policy would seem obvious.

While this line of reasoning exhibits a surface persuasiveness, it ignores the natural limits of scientific expertise. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in the 1950s, "government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price, and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value."

Technocracy poses a further difficulty: Experts can be wrong, sometimes egregiously. If the history of "Social Darwinism" in politics shows anything, it is that scientific experts can be as fallible as anyone else. What is true of individual scientists is often true of the scientific community as a whole. For example, eugenics was embraced for decades by America's leading evolutionary biologists and scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Critics of eugenics, meanwhile, were roundly stigmatized as anti-science and religious zealots. Yet the critics were the ones who turned out to be right, while the "consensus" was wrong.

As equal citizens before the law, scientists have every right to inform policymakers of the scientific implications of their actions. But they have no special right to demand that policymakers listen to them alone or to ignore dissidents in their own ranks.

Atmosphere of Intolerance

Even conservatives who accept Darwinian theory, therefore, should think twice before embracing the dogmatic claims to authority made by Darwinists. Such claims have resulted in a concerted effort to shut down honest debate through caricatures and intimidation. While evolutionists continue to portray themselves as the victims of fundamentalist intolerance, in most places today it is the evolutionists who have turned inquisitors.

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

At the Smithsonian Institution, evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, the editor of a respected biology journal, faced retaliation by Smithsonian executives in 2005 after accepting for publication a peer-reviewed article favoring intelligent design. Investigators for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel later concluded that "it is ... clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing [Dr. Sternberg] ... out of the [Smithsonian]."

These efforts to purge the scientific community of any critics of Darwin are fueled by increasingly vehement rhetoric on the part of some evolutionists. In many states, it has become routine to apply the label of "Taliban" to anyone who supports teaching students about scientific criticisms of Darwinian theory.

Biology professor P. Z. Myers at the University of Minnesota, Morris, has demanded "the public firing and humiliation of some teachers" who express their doubts about Darwin. He further says, "It's time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots."

Whatever one's personal view of Darwinism, the current atmosphere of intolerance is unhealthy for science, and it's unhealthy for a free society.

Conservatives who are discomfited by the continuing debate over Darwin's theory need to understand that it is not about to go away. It is not going away, because the accumulating discoveries of science undercut rather than confirm the claims of neo-Darwinism. It is not going away, because Darwinism fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of human nature and the universe. Finally, it is not going away, because free people do not like to be told that there are some questions they are not allowed to ask and some answers they are not allowed to question.

If conservatives want to address root causes rather than just symptoms, they need to join the debate over Darwinism, not scorn it or ignore it.

Dr. West is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and author of "Darwin's Conservatives: The Misguided Quest" (Discovery Institute Press, 2006).

Judge's public comments called activism for Darwinism


Nov 14, 2006 By James Patterson Baptist Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)--Federal Judge John E. Jones III has been on the campaign trail –- not for political office, but in behalf of his ruling upholding Darwinism against Intelligent Design.

Jones has spoken to the Anti-Defamation League's executive committee and at his college alma mater in Pennsylvania and given various interviews touting his December 2005 ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board against the teaching of Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania public school biology courses.

Critics at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, meanwhile, describe Jones' ruling and his public comments as a clear case of judicial activism, in addition to challenging the accuracy of various assertions Jones has made. The Discovery Institute is a proponent of the Intelligent Design theory that living organisms are so complex they must have been designed by a higher, but unspecified, intelligence.

Jones recounted in his Anti-Defamation League speech in February that the first sight of the crowd in his courtroom "almost took my breath away. In fact, it took me a few moments to compose myself as the trial started. I had never seen anything like it."

As the attorney for the ACLU-assisted plaintiffs began his opening remarks, Jones said he was "gripped for the very first time with the thought that I might be presiding over something that, at least in its time, was viewed as not only historic, but was perhaps a newer version of the Scopes Monkey Trial. And I had a very palpable sense, a very curious sense, that I could be living history."

He said if a movie of the Dover trial gets made, he'd like for his character to be played by Tom Hanks.

Before the trial, Jones told the media he had watched "Inherit the Wind" for historical and background context -- the Hollywood version of the evolution-versus-creation trial of teacher John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925.

In his ruling, Jones asserted that "no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area" and that his decision "may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial."

In his Anti-Defamation League speech, Jones underscored his ruling by stating, "It's always risky business to divine what the Founding Fathers might think about current developments, but I'm certain, I'm entirely certain, that by deciding the Dover case the way that I did, I performed my duties as a district judge in exactly the way that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created the federal judiciary in Article III of the Constitution."

In a speech at his alma mater, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., Jones characterized the Founding Fathers as believing "that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry."

"At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state," Jones said in May.

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told Baptist Press that Jones misspoke because reason and biblical thinking are inextricably related.

"This is a false antithesis because most of the Founders would have thought that reason and revelation say the same things," West said. "And they talked about this a lot, particularly when it came to morality. If you know that something like theft, the things in the Ten Commandments are wrong, I mean you don't have to be a Christian or Jew to know that theft or adultery is wrong. Reason rightly understood, rightly employed should also teach that and your conscience should teach that, and the Bible says it so they say the same thing."

West and three other associates of the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin, David DeWolf and Jonathan Witt, have written a book, "Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision," which depicts Jones as overstepping his bounds.

Jones, in his ruling, "writes as if he has the right and duty to decide the question of whether Intelligent Design is science for all other judges in the entire United States in the future and, thereby, to legislate the question for the whole country," the Discovery Institute authors write.

And the authors claim that Jones erred in refusing to allow an appearance in the case by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, publisher of the Intelligent Design textbook, "Of Pandas and People," despite the fact that the book was a key element in the Dover controversy.

Attorneys Seth L. Cooper and Leonard G. Brown III, in an article titled, "A Textbook Case of Judicial Activism," on the Discovery Institute's website, add, "In an unusually long district court opinion spanning sixty pages in the federal supplement, Judge Jones reached far beyond the Dover board's ID policy, far beyond the witnesses who testified and far beyond the evidence. In the process, he demonstrated why his refusal to allow FTE into the lawsuit was tragically flawed. Judge Jones demonized the theory of ID as well as FTE and ID theorists and proponents."

Luskin and West said several scientists and academics who either support ID or encourage the study of curricula that assesses Darwinism's scientific pros and cons, have faced persecution, up to and including the loss of their jobs before, during and after the Dover trial.

"The entire trial itself exacerbated the hostile climate toward Intelligent Design," Luskin told Baptist Press. "In the year the trial took place, we saw a huge spike in the number of pro-ID scientists and academic scholars being persecuted at their universities."

For example, University of Idaho President Tim White issued a memo forbidding any other theory of life than evolution from being taught in the university's life, earth and physical science classes shortly before Scott Minnich, a microbiology professor at the university and proponent of Intelligent Design, was to testify at the Dover trial.

Hours after White's letter reached students and staff, the Discovery Institute "blasted the order as an unconstitutional assault on academic freedom and free speech," as the Associated Press put it. The letter was issued just a week before Eugenie C. Scott, an activist who has fought to segregate creationism and Intelligent Design from science classes, was due to speak at the university on the subject "Why Scientists Reject Intelligent Design."

West asserted in his "Evolution News" blog that other professors around the country have also been persecuted in the fallout over the Intelligent Design issue in recent years. At George Mason University, a biology professor was suspended after discussing ID favorably in class; a Mississippi University for Women chemistry professor was removed as head of the division of natural sciences after presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students; a Minnesota high school biology teacher was removed from teaching the subject after expressing doubts about Darwin's theory; and a Washington state high school biology teacher was forced out of two districts because he wanted to inform students about some of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory.

Currently, much of the Discovery Institute's focus is to "see Intelligent Design develop as a scientific research program," Luskin said. "We feel that the political climate right now is too hostile for it to be teachable." But, he noted, "If an individual teacher is going to teach Intelligent Design at their own discretion, we think they should have the right to do that."

As to public education, West said, "What we recommend and have recommended [is] that since students are expected to study Darwinism, make sure that they understand the scientific criticisms that are already well attested in the peer review journal literature. Like the problems with mutation, the problems with understanding how you can get the Cambrian explosion through a Darwin process and how there's a real problem trying to extrapolate micro evolution to get macro evolution. These are things that evolutionists talk about, but they are really censored from the textbooks."

The controversy that led to Jones' ruling began when the Harrisburg-area Dover Area School Board voted 6-3 in October 2004 to make freshman biology classes aware of Intelligent Design by having the following statement read to them:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

`"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments."

The school board action was challenged by 11 parents who were assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Jones, in his ruling, equated Intelligent Design with creationism and said the school board violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause forbidding government-endorsed religion.


Student tapes teacher proselytizing in class


Accept Jesus or 'you belong in hell,' he said

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 BY KEN THORBOURNE JERSEY JOURNAL

A Kearny High School student has accused a history teacher of crossing the line between teaching and preaching -- and he says he's got the tapes to prove it.

Junior Matthew LaClair, 16, said history teacher David Paszkiewicz, who is also a Baptist preacher in town, spent the first week of class lecturing students more about heaven and hell than the colonies and the Constitution.

LaClair said Paszkiewicz told students that if they didn't accept Jesus, "you belong in hell." He also dismissed as unscientific the theories of evolution and the "Big Bang."

LaClair, who described his own religious views as "non-Christian," said he wanted to complain about Paszkiewicz to school administrators, but feared his teacher would deny the charges and that no one would take a student's word against a teacher's.

So, he said, he started taping Paszkiewicz.

"I would never have suspected something like this went on in a public school," LaClair said yesterday. "If I didn't have those CDs, everything would have been dismissed."

The Jersey Journal has listened to the recordings and no one is disputing that it is Paszkiewicz who is speaking.

Paszkiewicz, a teacher at the high school since 1992, did not return phone messages left for him at the high school. Principal Al Somma declined to comment.

Superintendent Robert Mooney, who called Paszkiewicz "a wonderful teacher," said he was aware of the issues raised by LaClair -- and the recordings -- and that "corrective action" would be taken. He refused to elaborate.

As of yesterday, however, Paszkiewicz was still teaching his class, Mooney said.

On Sept. 14 -- the fourth day of class -- Paszkiewicz is on tape saying, "He (God) did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sin on his own body, suffered your pains for you and he's saying, 'Please accept me, believe me.'"

He adds, according to the tapes: "If you reject that, you belong in hell. The outcome is your prerogative. But the way I see it, God himself sent his only son to die for David Paszkiewicz on that cross ... And if you reject that, then it really is to hell with you."

Paszkiewicz didn't limit his religious observations to personal salvation, according to the tapes.

Paszkiewicz shot down the theories of evolution and the "Big Bang" in favor of creationism. He also told his class that dinosaurs were on Noah's ark, LaClair said.

On Oct. 10 -- a month after he first requested a meeting with the principal -- LaClair met with Paszkiewicz, Somma and the head of the social studies department.

At first, Paszkiewicz denied he mixed in religion with his history lesson, and the adults in the room appeared to be buying it, LaClair said. But then he reached into his backpack and produced the CDs.

Think Tank Will Promote Thinking


Advocates Want Science, Not Faith, at Core of Public Policy

By Marc Kaufman Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, November 15,

2006; A19

Concerned that the voice of science and secularism is growing ever fainter in the White House, on Capitol Hill and in culture, a group of prominent scientists and advocates of strict church-state separation yesterday announced formation of a Washington think tank designed to promote "rationalism" as the basis of public policy.

The brainchild of Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, the small public policy office will lobby and sometimes litigate on behalf of science-based decision making and against religion in government affairs.

The announcement was accompanied by release of a "Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism," which bemoans what signers say is a growing lack of understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and the value of a rational approach to life.

"This disdain for science is aggravated by the excessive influence of religious doctrine on our public policies," the declaration says. "We cannot hope to convince those in other countries of the dangers of religious fundamentalism when religious fundamentalists influence our policies at home."

While the speakers at the National Press Club unveiling were highly critical of Bush administration policies regarding stem cell research, global warming, abstinence-only sex education and the teaching of "intelligent design," they said that their group was nonpartisan and that many Democrats were hostile to keeping religion out of public policy.

"Unfortunately, not only do too many well-meaning people base their conceptions of the universe on ancient books -- such as the Bible and the Koran -- rather than scientific inquiry, but politicians of all parties encourage and abet this scientific ignorance," reads the declaration, which was signed by, among others, three Nobel Prize winners.

Kurtz, a professor emeritus in philosophy from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a longtime critic of the influence of religion on public policy, said that the nation needed the equivalent of a "second Enlightenment." He said the methods of science, which have led to much human progress, "are being challenged culturally in the United States today as never before."

Several speakers also had strong words for the media, which they accused of distorting scientific consensus in the name of journalistic balance. David Helfand, chairman of the Columbia University astronomy department, said for instance that while 99 percent of scientists working in the field of climate change are convinced that it is serious and the result of human activity, the views of the 1 percent who disagree are often given equal weight in stories about global warming.

Lawrence M. Krauss, an author and theoretical physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said the scientific community has done a "poor job" of explaining its logic and benefits to the public. He also said scientists have a more active role to play in opposing faith-based governing, which he said the public often rejects once it understands the issues involved.

"In the current climate there is an implicit, if demonstrably false, sense that if your actions are based on a belief in God you are good person, and if they are not you are a bad person," Krauss said. "We should be very concerned that our political system reinforces the notion that the more you pray for guidance, the better suited you are to govern."

The goals of the new group are to establish relationships with sympathetic legislators, provide experts to give testimony before Congress, speak publicly on issues when they are in the news, and submit friend-of-the-court briefs in Supreme Court cases involving science and religion. The Center for Inquiry-Transnational, a nonprofit organization, is funded by memberships.

University of California, San Diego Forces All Freshmen To Attend Anti-ID Lecture


Since 1998, Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, Jonathan Wells, William Dembski, and Paul Nelson have all spoken at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). Now UCSD is striking back. Tonight, anti-ID philosopher of science Robert Pennock is being paid by UCSD's Council of Provosts and the Division of Biological Sciences to speak against intelligent design in a lecture that is free and open to the public in UCSD's RIMAC Arena (which holds about 5000 people). Of course, these groups are all taxpayer-supported. Not only is this free event open to anyone, but TritonLink, the UCSD student website, on its main home-page, reports that Professor Pennock's lecture is mandatory attendance for all freshmen: "All first-quarter freshmen are required to attend the event, which is open to the public":

If a major public biology research university like UCSD is requiring freshmen to attend talks by leading anti-ID philosophers, could the anti-ID bias in the academy be any clearer? Will UCSD later invite a pro-ID speaker which all freshmen are required to hear? I had a great experience at UCSD despite its anti-ID bias. But if you're a student at UCSD (like I was for 5 years, getting my undergraduate and masters degrees), would you consider this mandatory lecture to more closely resemble objective education or one-sided, mandatory indoctrination against intelligent design?

If you're not forced to attend, I say you should still go hear Pennock speak. I chose to take about a dozen courses dealing with evolution in an anti-ID fashion while at UCSD. But if you are forced to attend, what should you expect? Pennock was the anti-ID expert witness in philosophy of science for the plaintiffs during the Kitzmiller trial. I directly observed, in the courtroom, nearly all of Pennock's testimony during the trial. His arguments are fairly standard misrepresentations of intelligent design:

If you attend tonight, you will see him simply claim that ID requires supernatural causation, and therefore is a form of special creationism. He will then explain that science prohibits invoking the supernatural, asserting that a "ground rule" of science is methodological naturalism. He will then conclude that therefore ID is not science. His arguments are easy to refute.

A User's Guide to Refuting Pennock

I can't precisely predict what Pennock will say tonight. But based upon his Kitzmiller testimony, here are my educated predictions about Pennock will say, along with some useful resources for rebuttal:

ID appeals to the supernatural

Whether or not methodological naturalism is a ground rule of science, we can show that ID isn't unscientific by noting that it does not appeal to the supernatural, but respects the limits of science by only invoking intelligent causes which are detected using uniformitarian scientific reasoning. Pennock's claims are easily refuted by looking at what the textbook used in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case says on this point. Conspicuously, that Pennock mentioned none of these quotations in his Kitzmiller testimony (which you would think would be highly relevant to whether ID requires the supernatural):

If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause. But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist. This is no different, really, than if we discovered life did result from natural causes. We still would not know, from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause (Of Pandas and People, pg. 7, 2nd ed, 1993.)

Surely the intelligent design explanation has unanswered questions of its own. But unanswered questions, which exist on both sides, are an essential part of healthy science; they define the areas of needed research. Questions often expose hidden errors that have impeded the progress of science. For example, the place of intelligent design in science has been troubling for more than a century. That is because on the whole, scientists from within Western culture failed to distinguish between intelligence, which can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural, which cannot. Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science (Of Pandas and People, pg. 126-127, 2nd ed, 1993).

The idea that life had an intelligent source is hardly unique to Christian fundamentalism. Advocates of design have included not only Christians and other religious theists, but pantheists, Greek and Enlightenment philosophers and now include many modern scientists who describe themselves as religiously agnostic. Moreover, the concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs and normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source (Of Pandas and People, pg. 161, 2nd ed, 1993).

Clearly intelligent design refers to intelligent causes, and does not try to speculate about religious questions about the nature or identity of the designer, because ID theory respects the epistemological limits of scientific inquiry. This is not an attempt to dodge legal rulings or be coy, but is a serious attempt to construct a scientific theory which respect the limits of science. Indeed many ID-proponents who believe in God (such as me) are very open about that fact, and we also note that the belief that God is the designer is a personal religious belief and not a conclusion of ID-theory. ID only detects intelligent causes.

Indeed, the Pandas textbook seems to adopt methodological naturalism, Pennock's favorite definitional "ground rule" of science. Pandas thus states: "intelligence ... can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural ... cannot." So ID doesn't even violate methodological naturalism which Pennock will assert is a "ground rule" of science. For a more detailed discussion, read Traipsing Into Evolution.

Out-Of-Context Quotations of ID-Proponents Talking about God

As he did during his Kitzmiller testimony, Pennock may cite out-of-context quotations from ID-proponents where they discuss their religious beliefs in God. These egregious misquotes do not represent what ID-proponents actually think are the conclusions of ID theory, but are rather their personal religious beliefs. A detailed discussion of some of these common misquotes can be found here.

Mongering the Motives of ID-Proponents

Pennock may assert that ID-proponents are religiously motivated. There are multiple ways to address or rebut this argument. First, what motivation did the famous atheist philosopher Antony Flew have to say, "It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design"? Flew's statement demonstrates that ID is based upon empirical science. Second, what about Darwinist motives? Many of them seem to have explicitly anti-religious inspiration for promoting evolution. See here for documentation of anti-religious motives of some leading Darwinists, and here for documentation of the anti-religious beliefs of some leading Darwinists.

Making Much Ado About the Wedge Document

Pennock may discuss the "Wedge Document," asserting that it claims that ID seeks to insert the supernatural into science. This is not true, as is seen in The "Wedge Document": "So What?". For another discussion of the Wedge Document, including documentation of the anti-religious documents endorsed by many leading Darwinists, see here.

References to his Avida Paper as a Refutation of Irreducible Complexity

Pennock may also discuss a paper he co-authored in Nature which used computer simulations to attempt to evolve complexity. The first question here is why is a philosopher co-authoring a technical paper on computer simulations of evolution in the most prominent scientific journal in the world? The answer? Because this was a politically charged paper which Pennock coauthored to ensure that the other authors, who were actually scientists, toed the Darwinian party line. Given the political nature of this paper, it comes as no surprise that it stacks the deck in favor of evolution. The individual mutations which were pre-programmed to occur were scarcely a few steps away from the target function the program sought to evolve. This paper poses no challenge to intelligent design, and a fairly detailed discussion can be found here. If there is no scientific controversy over evolution here, why are Darwinists publishing papers in Nature co-authored by anti-ID philosophers, to defend (albeit inadequately) Darwinism from the challenges of intelligent design?

The Principle of Methodological Equivalence:

Once you understand that Pennock is misrepresenting intelligent design when he claims it requires supernatural causation, you should keep this principle in mind as you listen to Pennock:

Science is a way of knowing. When assessing whether a given claim is scientific, all that matters is if an empirically-based, scientific methodology of knowing is given to back the claim. Alleging that a claim is religious and unscientific because of (a) the larger philosophical implications of the claim, (b) the religious beliefs of the claimant, (c) the motives of the claimant, or (d) some historical relationship between certain types of religious persons and that claim, uses an irrelevant argument. Evolutionists should consider this carefully because intelligent design and evolution are methodologically equivalent: Any argument invoking (a) through (d) to disqualify intelligent design from being science would similarly disqualify evolution from being science, if the facts and the argument were applied fairly.

ID is a positive, empirically based argument which does not appeal to the supernatural, which makes its arguments using uniformitarian reasoning and a scientific way of knowing, and no amount of motive-mongering by Pennock can change that fact.

Given that I'm a UCSD alum, I have a few friends attending the event. Perhaps Professor Pennock will even be kind enough to mention this blog post in his mandatory lecture to all UCSD freshmen. If you need help responding to anything Professor Pennock says, or would like to report on the event, feel free to e-mail me at cluskin@discovery.org.

Posted by Casey Luskin on November 14, 2006 5:39 PM | Permalink

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

National Geographic Evolution Article Discusses Evidence that Supports Intelligent Design (Part I)


National Geographic's pro-evolution articles sometimes come off like advertisements for Darwin (for an analysis of a prior ad, see here). Its November, 2006 issue has an article, "From Fins to Wings," by Carl Zimmer which quotes Harvard microbiologist Howard Berg saying "The basic idea of evolution is so elegant, so beautiful, so simple." With such a ringing endorsement, I expected the article to urge me to buy evolution at the local grocery store! Zimmer's article, however, was better than many past evolution-endorsements in National Geographic. Past articles used icons like Haeckel's false "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" concept and antibiotic resistance to sell evolution. While Zimmer's present article retains the fallacious "the human eye was poorly designed" icon, it improves the treatment of embryology, discusses extreme conservation of developmental genes, and even tackles the biological complexity. In short, it discusses much evidence which ID-proponents legitimately claim challenges Neo-Darwinism or supports ID.

Haeckel Just Won't Die

After over 100 years, biologists are still making mistakes reminiscent of Haeckel's distortions. This article asserts that "[t]he early embryos of three different vertebrates--a fish, a chicken, and a human--look much the same." To his credit, Zimmer doesn't endorse Haeckel, however his statement is misleading because vertebrate embryos start off very different and then converge upon a similar stage partway through development--the stage that Zimmer selectively displays in his article. This "hourglass" pattern of development is shown in the graphic below:

This diagram by Jody Sjogren from page 100 of Jonathan Wells's book, Icons of Evolution, shows that vertebrate embryos start off quite differently. Zimmer's diagram selectively displays embryos from the encircled stage where they are most similar.

These facts don't so fit neatly with Zimmer's claim that "[e]volution often reshapes organisms by tinkering with the genes that control development" because the hourglass pattern of development shows that transitions from fishlike development ultimately into other forms of development would require radical restructuring (not "tinkering") from the earliest stages of development.

The Simple Evolution of Complexity

The article called evolution a "simple" process. In our experience, does a "simple" process generate the type of vast complexity found throughout biology? The article tackles the evolution of the flagellum, but the only evidence hard it provides is the Type 3 Secretion System. Dembski refuted this argument long ago:

[F]inding a subsystem of a functional system that performs some other function is hardly an argument for the original system evolving from that other system. One might just as well say that because the motor of a motorcycle can be used as a blender, therefore the motor evolved into the motorcycle. Perhaps, but not without intelligent design. Indeed, multipart, tightly integrated functional systems almost invariably contain multipart subsystems that serve some different function. At best the TTSS represents one possible step in the indirect Darwinian evolution of the bacterial flagellum. But that still wouldn't constitute a solution to the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. What's needed is a complete evolutionary path and not merely a possible oasis along the way. To claim otherwise is like saying we can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we've discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Evolutionary biology needs to do better than that.

(Still Spinning Just Fine: A Response to Ken Miller by William Dembski)

Here is Zimmer's attempt to meet Dembski's call to "do better":

It all started with a pump-and-syringe assembly like those found on pathogens. In time, the syringe acquired a long needle, then a flexible hook at its base. Eventually it was linked with a power source: another kind of pump found in the cell membranes of many bacteria. Once the structure had a motor that could make it spin, the needle turned into a propellor, and microbes had new mobility.

Like one of Rudyard Kipling's just-so-stories, there are no details here, just assertions which don't address any of the actual biochemical complexities of acquiring flagellar motility. Zimmer quotes Mark Pallen on the origin of the flagellum, but Zimmer would have been most accurate to inform the public what Pallen recently wrote in Nature Reviews Microbiology: "the flagellar research community has scarcely begun to consider how these systems have evolved." (Mark J. Pallen and Nicholas J. Matzke, "From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella," Nature Reviews Microbiology, [Sept. 5, 2006].)

With its irreducibly complex nature and machinelike properties, perhaps the simplest explanation for the origin of the flagellum is intelligent design.

Posted by Casey Luskin on November 12, 2006 12:23 PM | Permalink

Nearly half the U.S. population believes the earth is less than 10,000 years old? Say it ain't so!



Dear Cecil:

I saw an article the other day saying that 45 percent of the U.S. population believes that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. That would certainly explain the election results of the past few years, but I don't believe it. A near majority of Americans simply cannot be that retarded. I looked on the Web and did find a claim that a 2004 study showed this. But it provided no cite and I haven't been able to find any such study. Does it exist, or is this just an urban myth being passed witlessly around by the lower grade of media? (Don't use my name if you publish this, as it could affect my military contracts.) — Anonymous, via e-mail

Cecil replies:

Before you start excoriating the numbskulls, bub, you'd better make sure you've got the facts straight yourself. Though some percentage of Americans doubtless believes in a "young earth" (i.e., our planet is less than 10,000 years old), as far as I can tell that wasn't the subject of the 2004 study. Most likely what you heard about was a 2004 Gallup poll that asked about the less bizarre though still pretty out-there belief that humanity is less than 10,000 years old. Gallup first surveyed U.S. adults on this score in 1982 and has asked the same question several times since, most recently in May 2006. Participants can choose one of three answers:

"God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." It's fair to describe this as the creationist view.

"Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process." We'll call this the theistic view.

"Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process." I'll term this the naturalist view.

Between 1982 and 2006, the number subscribing to the creationist view has ranged from 44 to 47 percent, while those who buy the naturalist take on things account for 9 to 13 percent. The middle-ground theistic position gets 35 to 40 percent of the vote. There's no clear trend over the 24 years; if anything, the naturalists have gained a few percentage points. Polls by the Pew Research Center and NBC News have found similar support for creationist belief, while surveys by CBS News from 2004 to 2006 and a 2005 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll give it a slim majority, at 51 to 53 percent.

To a degree, survey results reflect how the question is framed. Pew Research notes that its polls have found much wider belief in evolution than Gallup's, 26 percent versus 13 percent. The reason, Pew speculates, is that it doesn't mention God in the choices it offers participants, while Gallup does. Not wishing to declare themselves unbelievers, more Gallup respondents opt for the wishy-washy theist choice. The creationist numbers, on the other hand, can't be so easily explained away. Face it — despite seemingly abundant scientific evidence that humans are part of a primate family tree going back tens of millions of years, roughly half the country isn't having any of it.

If you've a mind to put a blue state/red state, slicks/yokels spin on matters, the polls offer lots of ammunition. A 2005 Harris poll reported that 73 percent of Republicans believed in creationism as opposed to 58 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents. (The numbers are higher across the board likely because of phrasing that, again, seemed to equate creationism with belief in God.) This poll also found that people in the northeast and west were much less likely to believe in creationism than those in the south and midwest, and that people over age 55 were much more likely to believe than those under. A 1991 Gallup survey found that college graduates were less than half as likely to believe in creationism as those lacking a high school diploma. Likewise, those with an income greater than $50,000 per year were half as likely to be creationists as those with an income under $20,000. In 1997 Gallup reported that 5 percent of scientists believed in creationism, which depending on how you look at it is either alarming or a relief.

How does the U.S. compare with other countries in terms of belief in evolution? Not so hot. A study of attitudes in 34 countries published in Science in 2006 shows that the United States ranks last in popular acceptance of evolution except for Turkey. Almost 40 percent of Americans in this study flatly rejected evolution, whereas the comparable numbers in European countries and Japan ranged from 7 to 15 percent. That may partly reflect U.S. high school kids' dismal math and science scores relative to other developed countries, which to my mind underscores a home truth: the more you know, the less you take on faith.


So what's with all the dinosaurs?


The world's first Creationist museum - dedicated to the idea that the creation of the world, as told in Genesis, is factually correct - will soon open. Stephen Bates is given a sneak preview and asks: was there really a tyrannosaurus in the Bible?

Monday November 13, 2006 The Guardian

Just off the interstate, a couple of junctions down from Cincinnati's international airport, over the state line in rural Kentucky, the finishing touches are being put to an impressive-looking building. When it is finished and open to the public next summer, it may, quite possibly, be one of the weirdest museums in the world.

The Creation Museum - motto: "Prepare to Believe!" - will be the first institution in the world whose contents, with the exception of a few turtles swimming in an artificial pond, are entirely fake. It is dedicated to the proposition that the account of the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis is completely correct, and its mission is to convince visitors through a mixture of animatronic models, tableaux and a strangely Disneyfied version of the Bible story.

Its designer, Patrick Marsh, used to work at Universal Studios in Los Angeles and then in Japan before he saw the light, opened his soul to Jesus, and was born anew. "The Bible is the only thing that gives you the full picture," he says. "Other religions don't have that, and, as for scientists, so much of what they believe is pretty fuzzy about life and its origins ... oh, this is a great place to work, I will tell you that."

So this is the Bible story, as truth. Apart from the dinosaurs, that is. As you stand in the museum's lobby - the only part of the building approaching completion - you are surrounded by life-size dinosaur models, some moving and occasionally grunting as they chew the cud.Beside the turtle pool, two animatronic, brown-complexioned children, demurely dressed in Hiawatha-like buckskin, gravely flutter with movement. Behind them lurk two small Tyrannosaurus Rexes. This scene is meant to date from before the Fall of Man and, apparently, dinosaurs.

Theological scholars may have noticed that there are, in fact, no dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible - and here lies the Creationists' first problem. Since there are undoubtedly dinosaur bones and since, according to the Creationists, the world is only 6,000 years old - a calculation devised by the 17th-century Bishop Ussher, counting back through the Bible to the Creation, a formula more or less accepted by the museum - dinosaurs must be shoehorned in somewhere, along with the Babylonians, Egyptians and the other ancient civilisations. As for the Grand Canyon - no problem: that was, of course, created in a few months by Noah's Flood.

But what, I ask wonderingly, about those fossilised remains of early man-like creatures? Marsh knows all about that: "There are no such things. Humans are basically as you see them today. Those skeletons they've found, what's the word? ... they could have been deformed, diseased or something. I've seen people like that running round the streets of New York."

Nothing can dent the designer's zeal as he leads us gingerly through the labyrinth of rooms still under construction, with bits of wood, and the odd dinosaur head occasionally blocking our path. The light of keenness shines from the faces of the workers, too, as they chisel out mountain sides and work out where to put the Tree of Life. They greet us cheerily as we pass.

They, too, know they are doing the Lord's Work, and each has signed a contract saying they believe in the Seven Days of Creation theory. Mornings on this construction site start with prayer meetings. Don't think for a minute that this is some sort of crazy little hole-in-the-corner project. The museum is costing $25m (£13m) and all but $3m has already been raised from private donations. It is strategically placed, too - not in the middle of nowhere, but within six hours' drive of two-thirds of the entire population of the US. And, as we know, up to 50 million of them do believe that the Bible's account of Creation is literally true.

We pass the site where one day an animatronic Adam will squat beside the Tree. With this commitment to authenticity, I find myself asking what they are doing about the fig leaf. Marsh considers this gravely and replies: "He is appropriately positioned, so he can be modest. There will be a lamb or something there next to him. We are very careful about that: some of our donors are scared to death about nudity."

The same will go for the scene where Eve is created out of Adam's rib, apparently, and parents will be warned that little children may be scared by the authenticity of some of the scenes. "Absolutely, because we are in there, being faithful to scripture."

A little licence is allowed, however, where the Bible falls down on the details. The depiction of a wall-sized section of Noah's Ark is based, not on the traditional picture of a flat-decked boat, but one designed by navy engineers with a keel and bows, which might, at least, have floated. "You can surmise," says Marsh. When you get inside, there's nifty computer software telling you how they fitted all the animals in, too.

The museum's research scientist, Dr Jason Lisle, has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He realised he was a Christian while he was an undergraduate, but didn't spread it around: "People get very emotional about the issue. I don't believe we should ever be obnoxious about our faith. I just kept quiet." And how did he pass the exams? "I never lied, but if I was asked a question about the age of the universe, I answered from my knowledge of the topic, not my beliefs."

The museum's planetarium is his pride and joy. Lisle writes the commentary. "Amazing! God has a name for each star," it says, and: "The sun's distance from earth did not happen by chance." There is much more in this vein, but not what God thought he was doing when he made Pluto, or why.

Now, we are taken to meet Ken Ham, the museum's director and its inspiration. Ham is an Australian, a former science teacher - though not, he is at pains to say, a scientist - and he has been working on the project for much of the past 20 years since moving to the US. "You'd never find something like this in Australia," he says. "If you want to get the message out, it has to be here."

Reassuringly, on the wall outside his office, are three framed photographs of the former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh - "cricket's never really caught on over here" - and inside, on his bookshelves, is a wooden model of a platypus. On top of the shelves is an array of fluffy poodle toys, as well as cuddly dinosaurs. "Poodles are degenerate mutants of dogs. I say that in my lectures and people present them to me as gifts."

Ham is a large man with a chin-hugging beard like an Old Testament prophet or an old-fashioned preacher, both of which he is, in a way. He lectures all over the world and spent a month in Britain earlier in the summer spreading the message to the faithful in parish halls from Cornwall to Scotland. "We want to try to convince people using observational science," he says. "It's done very gently but forthrightly. We give both sides, which is more than the Science Museum in London does."

This is true in that the Creation museum does include an animatronic evolutionist archaeologist, sitting beside a creationist, at one point. But there's no space for an animatronic Charles Darwin to fit alongside King David and his harp.

On the shelf behind Ham's desk lie several surprising books, including Richard Dawkins' latest. "I've skipped through it. The thing is, Dawkins does not have infinite knowledge or understanding himself. He's got a position, too, it's just a different one from ours. The Bible makes sense and is overwhelmingly confirmed by observable science. It does not confirm the belief in evolution."

But if you believe in the Bible, why do you need to seek scientific credibility, and why are Creationists so reluctant to put their theories to peer review, I ask?

"I would give the same answer as Dawkins. He believes there is no God and nothing you could say would convince him otherwise. You are dealing with an origins issue. If you don't have the information, you cannot be sure. Nothing contradicts the Bible's account of the origins."

We wander across to the bookshop, which, far from being another biblical epic, is done up like a medieval castle, framed with heraldic shields and filled with images of dragons - dragons, you see, being what dinosaurs became. It is full of books with titles such as Infallible Proofs, The Lie, The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved and even a DVD entitled Arguments Creationists Should Not Use. As we finish the tour, Ham tells us about the museum's website, AnswersInGenesis.org. They are expecting 300,000 visitors a year. "You've not seen anything yet," he says with a smile.

New Book Examines Misguided Quest of Darwin's Conservatives


SEATTLE– While conservatives are presumed to be critical of Darwin's theory, many on the right, such as George Will, James Q. Wilson, and Larry Arnhart, have mounted a vigorous defense of Darwinism. As Discovery Institute's John West explains in his new book, Darwin's Conservatives: The Misguided Quest (Discovery Institute Press, 2006), their attempts to reconcile conservatism and Darwinian biology misunderstand both.

In this small but incisive book, Dr. John G. West addresses how Darwin's theory, contrary to its conservative champions, manifestly does not reinforce the teachings of conservatism. "John West rolls through the arguments for a pro-Darwin conservatism like an Abrams tank leveling a street barricade: methodically and irresistibly," declares noted conservative thinker and writer George Gilder. "If there are any conservative Darwinists left after this rout, it's only because they won't stand and fight."

According to West, Darwinism promotes moral relativism rather than traditional morality. It fosters utopianism rather than limited government. It is corrosive, rather than supportive, of both free will and religious belief. Finally, and most importantly, Darwinian evolution is in tension with the scientific evidence, and conservatism cannot hope to strengthen itself by relying on Darwinism's increasingly shaky empirical foundations.

This book issues a challenge to conservatives they cannot afford to ignore. According to William Dembski, author of The Design Revolution, "Conservative pundits all too often have a blind spot for that outdated Victorian creation myth known as Darwinism… finally, here is a book that holds their feet to the fire and sets the record straight." According to Steven Hayward, author of The Age of Reagan, "No one can consider themselves fully acquainted with the issue of intelligent design without confronting the serious critique in this book." And Prof. J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas, Austin, hails the book for "showing clearly that Darwinism is not a source of conservative insight into human nature, but only a source of confusion."

Discovery Institute will celebrate Dr. West's new work with a book release party on December 13, 2006. The event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about Darwin's Conservatives, click here.

To be released as a trade paperback in November, Darwin's Conservatives: The Misguided Quest is 160 pages and has a suggested retail price of $14.95.

Dr. John G. West is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. Formerly the chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, Dr. West has written, edited, or co-authored ten books, including Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision and The Politics of Revelation and Reason.

Posted by Anika Smith on November 13, 2006 9:44 AM | Permalink

Did Neanderthal tryst help human brains?


November 7, 2006 BY MARK J. KONKOL Staff Reporter

In a report sure to stir controversy, University of Chicago researchers suggest that 37,000 years ago a human had sex with a Neanderthal and our brains are better for it today.

Researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Chicago studied the structure of the microcephalin gene -- known to play a role in regulating brain size -- and found an advantageous gene variation important for brain development.

"Our study provides definitive genetic evidence that humans might have interbred [with Neanderthals] and that interbreeding was important for the evolution of human biology," said Bruce Lahn, the study's lead researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The scientists determined the gene variation originated about the time humans and Neanderthals coexisted. Lahn said a single event of interbreeding could have introduced the Neanderthal gene variation into the human gene pool.

The report -- published Monday in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- suggests a modern human and Neanderthal produced a hybrid that mated with other humans. And the gene variation spread to alter brain biology in 70 percent of the human population today.

Lahn says he's sure there's plenty of scientists who will argue it's not true -- that the new finding goes against a prominent theory that figures modern humans and Neanderthals never mated.

But Lahn contends the timeline of the gene's origin 1.1 million years ago and its introduction to humans 37,000 years ago agrees with "the contact between and evolutionary history of Neanderthals and humans."


Could our big brains come from Neanderthals?


Study: Gene could only be passed by interbreeding with humans

Updated: 6:09 p.m. CT Nov 7, 2006

WASHINGTON - Neanderthals may have given the modern humans who replaced them a priceless gift — a gene that helped them develop superior brains, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

And the only way they could have provided that gift would have been by interbreeding, the team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Chicago said.

Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides indirect evidence that modern Homo sapiens and so-called Neanderthals interbred at some point when they lived side by side in Europe.

"Finding evidence of mixing is not all that surprising. But our study demonstrates the possibility that interbreeding contributed advantageous variants into the human gene pool that subsequently spread," said Bruce Lahn, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the University of Chicago who led the study.

Scientists have been debating whether Neanderthals, who died out about 35,000 years ago, ever bred with modern Homo sapiens. Neanderthals are considered more primitive, with robust bones but a smaller intellects than modern humans.

Lahn's team found a brain gene that appears to have entered the human lineage about 1.1 million years ago, and that has a modern form, or allele, that appeared about 37,000 years ago — right before Neanderthals became extinct.

"The gene microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size during development and has experienced positive selection in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens," the researchers wrote.

Positive selection means the gene conferred some sort of advantage, so that people who had it were more likely to have descendants than people who did not. Lahn's team estimated that 70 percent of all living humans have this type D variant of the gene.

"By no means do these findings constitute definitive proof that a Neanderthal was the source of the original copy of the D allele. However, our evidence shows that it is one of the best candidates," Lahn said.

The researchers reached their conclusions by doing a statistical analysis of the DNA sequence of microcephalin, which is known to play a role in regulating brain size in humans. Mutations in the human gene cause development of a much smaller brain, a condition called microcephaly.

They noted that this D allele is very common in Europe, where Neanderthals lived, and more rare in Africa, where they did not. Lahn said it is not yet clear what advantage the D allele gives the human brain.

"The D alleles may not even change brain size; they may only make the brain a bit more efficient if it indeed affects brain function," Lahn said.

Now his team is looking for evidence of Neanderthal origin for other human genes.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

Neanderthals in Gene Pool, Study Suggests


November 9, 2006 By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Scientists have found new genetic evidence that they say may answer the longstanding question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals interbred when they co-existed thousands of years ago. The answer is: probably yes, though not often.

In research being published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists reported that matings between Neanderthals and modern humans presumably accounted for the presence of a variant of the gene that regulates brain size.

Bruce T. Lahn of the University of Chicago, the report's senior author, said the findings demonstrated that such interbreeding with relative species, those on the brink of extinction, contributed to the evolutionary success of modern humans.

Other researchers in evolutionary biology said the new study offered strong support for the long-disputed idea that archaic species like Neanderthals contributed to the modern human gene pool.

Two other reports of DNA studies of possible mixing of human and related genes are expected to be published in the next few weeks.

Both genetic and fossil studies show that anatomically modern humans emerged 200,000 years ago in Africa and migrated into Europe 40,000 years ago. In about 10,000 years, Europe's longtime inhabitants, Neanderthals, became extinct. The mainstream interpretation is that modern humans somehow replaced them without interbreeding.

In previous research, Dr. Lahn and associates discovered that a gene for brain size called microcephalin underwent a significant change 37,000 years ago. Its modified variant, or allele, appeared to confer a fitness advantage on those who possessed it. It is now present in about 70 percent of the world's population.

The new research focused on the two classes of alleles of the brain gene. One appeared to have emerged 1.1 million years ago in an archaic Homo lineage that led to Neanderthals and was separate from the immediate predecessors of modern humans. The 37,000-year date for the other variant immediately suggested a connection with Neanderthals.

Dr. Lahn said it did not necessarily show that interbreeding was widespread. It could have been a rare, perhaps even single, event.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Monday, November 13, 2006

A question of faith


Monday, November 13, 2006

By GARY ROBBINS The Orange County Register

I posed a couple of questions a few weeks ago that lit up my e-mail account and desk phone:

Do you believe that scientists are trying to undermine the public's belief in the existence of God? And can a person simultaneously believe in God and in the findings of science?

I was moved to ask the questions because Richard Dawkins, the famed British evolutionary biologist who has long ridiculed people of faith, was speaking at Caltech. Rarely have his criticisms been sharper than they are in his new book, "The God Delusion."

More than 125 of our readers – everyone from chemists to clerics to clerks – responded to my questions, shedding more light than heat. Here are excerpts from my electronic mail bag.

Philip H. Schwartz, director, National Human Neural Stem Cell Resource, Children's Hospital of Orange County, Orange:

There are a significant number of scientists, including myself, who believe in God and have an active and enduring faith. That being said, most scientists of faith tend to be silent about it in the presence of other researchers or in public forums. Talking openly about their faith can be academic suicide as scientists who are strongly anti-religious may sit on committees that are responsible for academic hiring or advancement. That's why that, as a group, scientists can be seen as trying to undermine the public's belief in God, particularly in the classroom setting.

James Bachman, dean, School of Theology, Concordia University, Irvine:

I don't think that science itself is anti-God, but I do think that the success of science has made people materially comfortable and has also given them the possibility of thinking that life can be reduced to "nature is all there is."

Paul B. Whittemore, clinical psychologist, Newport Beach:

Many scientists who denounce religious belief are mostly speaking against religious groups who are authoritarian and who are opposed to individual freedom. Many scientists do not realize that there are numerous sophisticated interpretations of religious beliefs which are neither authoritarian nor simple-minded.

Peter Evans, attorney, Huntington Beach:

Scientists aren't trying to undermine anything, they are only trying to determine the truth. If the truth upsets someone's religious belief, then that is their problem. When Galileo reported that the Earth was not really the center of the universe and that it circled the sun, the Catholic Inquisition threatened him with death and torture because his position was considered heresy and contrary to the Bible. So a better question might be: Does religion try to undermine scientific fact?

Brian L. Hunt, engineer, Costa Mesa:

Until recently, most scientists were religious and believed that they were discovering God's handiwork. The modern conflicts have arisen as science has greatly expanded the frontiers of knowledge into areas that were the domain of religion. The examples are numerous: The origin of the Earth and solar system, the development of the universe from its first … fractions of a second, the development of life forms through evolution, the mind as a product of the brain, and an emerging scientific explanation of morality as a product of evolution.

Delbert Scott, overseer, Studebaker Road Church of Christ, Long Beach:

Atheistic scientists like Richard Dawkins are definitely trying to destroy people's belief in God. Why? Power, control, money. They are evangelical evolutionists, very religious people attempting to convert people to their religion.

David Worchester, aerospace engineer, La Habra:

I am a believer in God and also find that modern science supports my belief. The more one knows about the latest findings of quantum mechanics, biology and physics, the more comfortable one is about the biblical account of creation in Genesis. The Bible actually predates the findings of science by millennia (e.g., Job 28 and Job 38).

Paul Rosenau, industrial designer, Santa Ana:

We should all look in awe at the grandeur of the universe and try to comprehend its extremes. We should likewise look in awe at the single-cell organism that can propel itself without muscles and twirls its flagellum with a nano-sized electric motor. We should all look in awe at our own ability to investigate and understand these things; trying to comprehend what seems incomprehensible. Scientific discovery and appreciation enhances our view of the complex world around us and in us. That appreciation is quite easily applied to the God who created it all.

Barbara Boethling, medical biller, Huntington Beach:

I do not believe scientists, in general, are making a conscious effort to undermine the public's belief in the existence of God. I don't think they need to. I believe that science itself debunks the myth of the supernatural quite nicely with every passing moment. Enlightening so many people consumed by the myth of the existence of God, though, is still a long and desperate ordeal. This is because of the woeful ignorance of the public due to lack of science education and study of subjects such as logic. I am often filled with despair when I consider how backward the public is when it comes to reason. They don't even presume to question religion, i.e., ideas formulated back in the distant past as a result of fear and ignorance. Fear is a powerful thing that prevents people from questioning what they suspect is false.

John Olmstead, emeritus professor of chemistry, Cal State Fullerton:

Looking at modern science, it seems clear that there is an inherent contradiction between evolutionary biology and fundamentalist Christianity. For that matter, there is an inherent contradiction between all aspects of evolution – stellar, terrestrial and biological – and fundamentalist beliefs; but there is no inherent contradiction between belief in a higher being and evolution. Evolution is an elegant mechanism by which the unfathomable complexity of the universe came to be. Anyone has to marvel at this, and those who are religiously inclined will praise God for setting evolution into motion.

CONTACT US: Register science editor Gary Robbins can be reached at 714-796-7970 or grobbins@ocregister.com. Read his daily science blog at blogs.ocregister.com/sciencedude

Pro-Evolution Candidates, Supported by Academics, Sweep to Victory in Ohio


November 13, 2006

Ohio voters last week elected four people to the state's 17-member Board of Education who support teaching evolution in the public schools, defeating candidates who advocated teaching "alternatives" to the widely held theory that scientists consider the cornerstone of biology.

The defeated candidates included an incumbent, Deborah Owens Fink, a faculty member at the University of Akron. She was a leading advocate of a model curriculum — which the board adopted in 2002 and rescinded in February — that encouraged students to challenge evolution. Critics called the curriculum a backdoor attempt to teach "intelligent design," which holds that scientific evidence indicates that life is so complex that it must have been the work of a creator.

In an October interview with The New York Times, Ms. Owens Fink described as "laughable" the idea that there is a scientific consensus on evolution. She was beaten by Tom Sawyer, a former Akron mayor, congressman, and teacher.

The four, victorious pro-evolution candidates were supported by a statewide coalition, Help Ohio Public Education, that included 75 faculty members at Case Western Reserve University.

Posted on Nov 13, 04:22 PM | Permalink

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Evolution education update: November 10, 2006

Election results dominate the news, with a clear victory for evolution education in Ohio, a disappointing result in Kansas, and a defeat for the most influential ally of "intelligent design" in Congress. Plus: what inspired Eugenie C. Scott?


In a closely watched race, Tom Sawyer handily defeated incumbent Deborah Owens-Fink for the District 7 seat on the Ohio state board of education. Evolution education was a key issue in the race; on the board, Owens-Fink consistently supported antievolution measures, including the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" model lesson plan, which was rescinded by the board in February 2006, and dismissed the National Academy of Sciences as "a group of so-called scientists." Defending her stance to The New York Times (October 26, 2006), she described the idea that there is a scientific consensus on evolution as "laughable."

Sawyer, in contrast, told the Akron Beacon-Journal (October 23, 2006) that evolution is "grounded in numerous basic sciences and is itself a foundational life science. By contrast, creationism in its many forms is not science but theology." But the campaign was not solely about evolution, he subsequently explained to the Beacon-Journal (November 8, 2006): the evolution debate "was a metaphor for the failure of some members of the state board of education to understand the larger issues facing education in Ohio. I mean funding, quality and governance."

Owens-Fink and Sawyer aired their views during a radio discussion entitled "Evolution's Effect on Voters," broadcast on October 26, 2006, by WCPN, and available on-line in MP3 format; also on the show were "intelligent design" sympathizer Chris Williams and Brown University cell biologist Kenneth Miller, then stumping for Sawyer and other pro-evolution-education state board of education candidates in Ohio. (A high point occurred when Williams claimed that evolution delayed the discovery of small interfering RNA, and Miller replied by remarking that Craig Mello, who won a Nobel Prize in 2006 for his work on RNA interference, was a student in the first biology class he taught.)

In the four-way race, Sawyer received 54% of the vote to Owens-Fink's 29%, David Kovacs's 12%, and John Jones's 9%, according to the Associated Press. The Beacon-Journal reports that Owens-Fink's campaign spent over $100,000, while Sawyer's spent about $50,000 -- both "unusually large sums for a state school board race." Sawyer also enjoyed the support of the pro-science-education coalition Help Ohio Public Education, organized by Lawrence M. Krauss and Patricia Princehouse at Case Western Reserve University and Steve Rissing at the Ohio State University.

Pro-science candidates prevailed elsewhere in Ohio. In District 4, incumbent G. R. "Sam" Schloemer handily defeated challenger John Hritz, described by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (October 22, 2006) as "a conservative millionaire who wants to include alternatives to Darwinism in science class." In District 2, John Bender narrowly triumphed in a four-way race with 37% of the vote; his closest rival, Kathleen McGarvey, who won 35% of the vote, was described by the Plain Dealer as "sympathetic to teaching alternatives to evolution." And in District 8, Deborah L. Cain defeated incumbent Jim Craig, who was criticized for ambivalence about the "critical analysis" effort.

The result of Ohio's gubernatorial election is also relevant, since eight seats on the state board of education are filled by gubernatorial appointment. Responding to a question from the Columbus Dispatch (July 23, 2006), Democrat Ted Strickland said, "Science ought to be taught in our classrooms. Intelligent design should not be taught as science," while Republican Ken Blackwell said, "I believe in intelligent design, and I believe that it should be taught in schools as an elective," adding, "And I don't see it as having met the generally accepted criteria as a science." Strickland won in the November 7, 2006, election, with 60% of the vote.

For the Akron Beacon-Journal's story, visit:

For the "Evolution's Effect on Voters" broadcast, visit:

For the Columbus Dispatch's story, visit:

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


Two antievolution incumbents retained their seats on the Kansas state board of education, meaning that supporters of the integrity of science education will have only a 6-4 majority on the new board. 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 were expected to have at least a 6-4 majority on the board, no matter who prevails in the November election, and to press for a reversal of the antievolution version of the state science standards, rewritten under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists and adopted by the board in November 2005. As it happens, Cauble defeated Cruz by 65% to 35%, and Shaver defeated Runyan by 55% to 45%.

But in District 3, John Bacon, a Republican, prevailed over his Democratic challenger, Don Weiss, by 55% to 45%, and in District 7, Ken Willard, a Republican, prevailed over his Democratic challenger, Jack Wempe, by 51% to 49%. Both Willard and Bacon were avid supporters of the antievolution version of the state science standards adopted in November 2005, and their views on evolution education were deemed relevant during the race, with the Kansas City Star (October 28, 2006) describing Willard and Bacon as having excited "national ridicule for voting to criticize the theory of evolution in state science standards," and the Johnson County Sun (October 12, 2006) castigating Bacon and his allies for their "antics on evolution instruction," which were "an embarrassment for Kansas around the world." Despite their re-election, the Associated Press (November 8, 2006) observed, "Come January, moderates will be calling the shots and one of the first things they're expected to do is rework the science testing standards for students to once again make them more pro-evolution oriented."

Also in Kansas, incumbent governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, defeated her Republican opponent Jim Barnett by 58% to 41%. Sebelius issued a statement deploring the adoption of the antievolution standards in November 2005, and subsequently told the Topeka Capital-Journal (October 11, 2006) that she intended to work toward a constitutional amendment to change the state board of education to a purely advisory body, in large part because of the controversy over the place of evolution in the state science standards. Barnett told the Johnson County Sun (July 13, 2006) that public schools should be allowed to teach "intelligent design" in science classes, adding, "I believe all views should be taught, but these decisions should be made by local school boards without state mandates or restrictions." And incumbent attorney general Phill Kline, a Republican, was defeated by his Democratic opponent Paul Morrison by 58% to 42%; in February 2005, Kline offered to defend the state board of education if it were to decide to require warning labels about evolution to be placed in biology textbooks.

For the Associated Press story (via the Wichita Eagle), visit:

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


Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who as the chair of the Senate Republican Conference is considered the third most powerful Republican in the United States Senate, was defeated by his Democratic opponent Bob Casey Jr., who received 59% of the vote to Santorum's 41% in the November 7, 2006, general election. Santorum was perhaps the most influential political ally of the "intelligent design" movement, a connection on which Casey's campaign capitalized. United Press International (November 7, 2006) reported: "Ads cited his intervention in the dispute about disconnecting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and his attempt to amend the 'No Child Left Behind Act' to teach the controversy between evolution and intelligent design." (For more on the so-called Santorum Amendment, see Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott, "The Antievolution Law that Wasn't.")

Santorum's views on "intelligent design" were also cited in the endorsement of Casey by the York Daily Record (October 29, 2006), which described him as "[t]oo involved in the losing side of the divisive Dover intelligent design flap (remember, he was on the advisory board of the legal group that helped spawn that fiasco, praised the school board for 'taking a stand' on ID -- then resigned from the legal group's board after the judge's decision)." Santorum also contributed a preface to Darwin's Nemesis (InterVarsity Press, 2006), a collection of essays in honor of the godfather of the "intelligent design" movement, Phillip Johnson, in which he expresses gratitude to Johnson for help "in my efforts to inject a renewed and unbiased understanding of science and its practice into the curricula of our public schools."

For the United Press International story (via the Washington Times), visit:

For "The Antievolution Law that Wasn't" (PDF), visit:

For the York Daily Record's editorial, visit:


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was among a group of "key thinkers in science, technology, and medicine" surveyed by the on-line periodical Spiked in collaboration with the research-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer. They were asked the simple question: "What inspired you to take up science?" "I don't know," Scott begins her reply, "maybe packs of feral dogs." A practical interest in canine territorial behavior, coupled with a chance exposure to a college-level anthropology text, yielded a persisting fascination with evolution on her part, even though the subject was avoided in her high school biology class. "I had to wait until I got to college to study evolution," Scott concludes, "and I've been learning about it ever since."

For Scott's essay on Spiked, visit:

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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Which will go extinct first, evolution or ID?


Last night my wife and I headed into the city to view Randy Olson's film Flock of Dodos at the American Museum of Natural History. The film was pretty good, sometimes making little diversions that didn't seem to mean very much to the more important aspects of the film, but it did raise some key points in the debate between science and theology that is occurring in America. Indeed, it seems that even though scientists are coming up with new information all the time, they are terrible at conveying the information to the public, whereas groups like Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute know how to do PR and do it well. I've already gone over my personal feelings about evolution and ID on this blog is previous posts (see "Why Intelligent Design isn't science" and "Why Evolution beats Creationism in the classroom, every time" if the mood strikes you), but if nothing else the film made me wonder how science is communicated to the public, and often this seems to hold the key to acceptance of ideas.

Sitting in for the panel discussion was a man from the New York Times, explaining how the current "debate" over global warming is similar to that involving evolution. There are scientists who have found rising carbon dioxide levels in the ocean, ecological changes, etc. and point to the reality that global warming is happening. More studies have been done taking into account the effect of earth's natural processes on temperature and plotting those against mankinds toxic contributions to the atmosphere, and the curve clearly shows that we are indeed contributing to the climate change. The problem is there are other "authorities" who claim that global warming isn't occurring or that we have nothing to do with it, but often upon closer inspection these people hold ties to oil companies or hold degrees in mechanical engineering rather than climatology. The guest from the Times explained that the media in general should report honestly, but all criticism of an idea isn't equal- it's up to the reporter to be critical of both sides and come up with what is actually going on rather than taking everyone's word for it. In fact most times global warming seems to be more of a matter than personal opinion than science, most people I talk to about it having strong feelings either way but never looking at the studies that have been done. This ties into the ID debate because organizations like the Discovery Institute have yearly budgets that reach into the millions of dollars (5 million in the case of DI) and they focus upon publishing popular media and pamphlets rather than doing real research, all the while shouting "Teach the controversy!" The truth is, the biggest controversy in evolution at the moment is wether to keep the Linnean system of classification or apply a new cladistic approach called Taxon that does away with a lot of the old labels, not intelligent design vs. evolution.

It's easy to come up with provocative, appealing lies than to try and explain the truth. It's easier to form a negative, spiritually-based argument against evolution than try to explain punctuated equilibria or the Red Queen (a theory that says species are constantly changing in order to stay in place, similiar to what some people call the "evolutionary arms race" between animals & plants, animals & animals, etc.). Because many of the ideas prevalent in intelligent design would not be published in peer-reviewed journals like Science or Nature, they must be put out in popular books that people are all too eager to snap up, believing that there's some major rift in scientific consensus. It would be great if there were more people like Stephen Jay Gould (who passed away in 2002) who were great science popularizers and took time to explain to the public what was going on, but many scientists simply want to do their research, publish their papers, and if they ever talk to the media they need a "media coach" so they don't bore the reporter to death. I doubt anyone's every going to write a best-seller about the nitrogen cycle or the relationship between coral and their symbionts, and thus so much great information only becomes known when an individual takes a personal interest and goes wading through the availible literature. Simply put, many scientists aren't very good at public relations and the most people read is a story in TIME or the science section of the New York Times, if that. People like easily-digestible, uncomplicated data that fits their worldview, and it seems like asking the public to pick up some books and make up their own minds is a little too much to ask sometimes. Issues like evolution and global warming come up and everyone's got an opinion, but how many people really know anything other than what they choose to absorb or what's easiest to understand?

Simply put, scientists need to do a better job at sharing their knowledge with the world. Some things aren't likely to interest the public at large, but even so we need more people who are interpreters of science and say why a certain find is important or significant. Scientists are often isolated among themselves, gravitating to one field or specialty when what is relevant in one field is relevant in another. It seems that the current evolution debate has a lot to do with a lack of effort on the part of scientists in explaining how evolution works, why it's important, and why it does not do away with religion. Groups like AiG and the DI will continue to push popular books and films on people, feeding ideas at a grassroots level, continuing this illusion that creationism and intelligent design are science. I hope to contribute to science not only through research in the years to come, but with sharing it with as many people as I can through blogs and (hopefully) books, for if I don't share what I've learned, have I learned anything at all?

Family takes alternative steps to help autistic girls


11/12/06 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom

Morris Twp. parents believe vaccines at fault


MORRIS TWP. -- For years, Jonathan Rose and Gayle DeLong did the best they could for their daughters, both of whom are autistic, going beyond simple special education programs and trying commonly accepted methods to improve their behavior.

Then, in April 2005, David Kirby's book, "Evidence of Harm," which explores a possible link between mercury in vaccines and the explosion in cases of autism, made them think they could do more.

Now, almost 18 months after starting their daughters on a strict regimen of alternative therapies that includes near round-the-clock vitamins and supplements, a gluten-free diet and hyperbaric oxygen treatments, they finally feel they are really helping Jenny, 10, and Flora, 6.

"Both our daughters have shown clear improvement,"Jonathan Rose said.

"Jenny enters conversations more easily, and Flora has more eye contact," DeLong said. "Concerning school, Jenny continues to do well. Her grades are going from mainly Bs to As and a few Bs ... (Flora) has trouble focusing, but does well once she is focused."

Possibly treatable

The big news, Rose said: "Autism may be treatable, even curable."

This view, like questions about whether childhood immunizations have caused the meteoric rise in autistic children, is hotly debated.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's position is that there is no cure for the numerous disorders that fall under the umbrella of autism. The agency pushes traditional educational and behavioral treatments, as well as the use of some medicines to relieve symptoms.

Not everyone even agrees that there has been a real increase in cases of autism over the last two decades, despite the data.

The number of students in the United States considered autistic has risen from about 5,200 in 1991 to more than 192,000 last year, federal education statistics show. That's an increase of close to 4,000 percent. Where the autistic represented one-tenth of 1 percent of all special education students in 1991, they comprised more than 3 percent of the total in 2005.

In New Jersey, nearly 7,400 children in special education classes -- or five of every 1,000 students -- were considered autistic last year, according to the state Department of Education. That's an increase of 60 percent in three years.

Today, the CDC estimates that as many as 1 in 166 children across the country has autism.

Some researchers say the rise is due to an increase in classification of children as autistic -- the definition was only fully recognized by all states in 1994 -- but others say the data don't support that because there haven't been declines in any other special education categories.

Many parents and several organizations believe an increase in childhood vaccinations caused the increase.

Rose and DeLong, both college professors, said their daughters each were diagnosed with autism around age 3½. They used the typically prescribed treatment: behavior analysis and modification techniques with both. These helped Jenny, but not Flora.

Vaccine theory

Then the couple read "Evidence of Harm." In his book, Kirby says it's impossible to say whether the thimerosal, which is about half mercury, used as a preservative in vaccines, causes autism in some children, but he lays out a convincing case that it might. The book notes that two series of shots were added to the vaccination schedule in the 1990s, around the same time the dramatic increases in autism began.

Appearing on "Meet the Press" in August 2005, Kirby said the amount of mercury injected into children during that time far exceeded federal safety limits. For instance, at age 2 months, children got three shots totaling 62.5 micrograms of mercury, which was about 125 times higher than the level considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Mercury is toxic," Kirby said. "It's a known neurotoxin. If it gets into the brain, it could stay there virtually forever ...We really need to look at what this mercury is doing inside the bodies and brains of these children if we're going to solve this mystery one way or another."

There's no question for Rose and DeLong.

"We believe the mercury in vaccines caused our daughters'autism," Rose said. "The symptoms of mercury poisoning and autism are the same."

So with a cause, they searched for a cure.

Last summer, they found Dr. Stuart Freedenfeld, who practices in Stockton, Hunterdon County. He is one of a number of doctors working with the California-based Autism Research Institute on autism causes and treatments. Freedenfeld began treating autistic patients -- he's seen about 400 -- nine years ago.

"Mercury, aluminum, nickel, we find high levels of toxic metals in a good number of children," Freedenfeld said. "What we do with these children some might look at and say it's alternative medicine. It's not. It's very well-documented medicine."

He believes, as do many other doctors and researchers, that it's a combination of toxins in a child's system and a genetic inability on the part of only some to handle them that leads to autism. That explains why so many children who have been vaccinated or exposed to other toxins don't develop problems.

The treatment centers around chelation, which involves administering substances to help rid the body of mercury and other toxins.

Freedenfeld performs tests to determine the levels of toxins in a child's system and then tailors a plan of supplements, including magnesium, zinc, some B vitamins and essential oils, to the child's needs. He also strongly recommends a diet free of gluten and casein -wheat and dairy -- because almost 90 percent of autistic children have trouble digesting those and they can act as morphine-like drugs in a child's system. He may recommend other therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen treatment, as well.

One cabinet in the Rose kitchen, plus a shelf in the refrigerator, are devoted to all the supplements for the girls and DeLong, who had herself tested and also had high levels of mercury in her system. There are creams, injections and intravenous pushes, in addition to pills. The girls receive their first supplement at 6:30 a.m. and their last at 11 p.m.

'30 supplements a day'

"There are about 30 supplements a day and we have to do them at certain times," said DeLong, adding the girls are good about sitting for injections.

The couple recently bought a home hyperbaric oxygen chamber, inside which a person breathes pure oxygen, for DeLong and the girls, having had success from a series of treatments through Freedenfeld's office.

The couple tracks their daughters' progress with thick pink and blue binders that hold medical results, which show a reduction in mercury and other toxins in their systems, and, in Jenny's case, higher scores on school standardized tests.

More important are the behavioral results they see, which are not as easy to quantify, but just as real, they said.

It's hard to tell there's anything amiss with Jenny. She plays with her younger sister, smiles for a camera and willingly tells a visitor she doesn't mind all the medicines she takes.

"I like it when it's chocolate," she said of one protein powder.

"The place where I see the most improvement is socially,"said Susan Mizrahi, a teacher at Woodland School, who had Jenny in third grade, before the alternative therapies, and now has her in fifth grade. "She socializes with other students on the playground: She talks to them; she plays games with them. It's definitely a huge improvement.

"She always got it academically, but now she raises her hand and asks questions in class, too."

Flora's gains are not as apparent. She reads Dr. Seuss books and likes to watch "Little Einsteins." But she is quieter and uncomfortable around visitors. Yet just the fact that she can tolerate two strangers in her home without becoming upset is an improvement.

The couple believe Flora's case has been tougher to treat because, in addition to her regular vaccinations, she also was getting a flu shot each year at her wellness checkup, since her birthday falls in the winter. An August baby, Jenny has never gotten a flu shot. While the federal Food and Drug Administration conducted a review that found no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal in vaccines, it got drugmakers to virtually eliminate its use. Flu vaccines are among the only ones that still contain any substantial amounts of thimerosal today.

Hope of recovery

The California-based Autism Research Institute says children can recover from autism.

"We have found that an extremely individualized approach to each child leads to the best outcomes," said Matt Kabler, an ARI spokesman. "Children have recovered in as little as two years and others are in the process of recovering for many more years."

But Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the U.S. Institute of Medicine, cautioned that there is no clinical proof that chelation is effective in relieving the behaviors of autism.

"When you have a single story and a repeated story of an experience that a parent has with a treatment like chelation, you have to keep in mind that the history of medicine is strewn with discarded treatments that people at one time believed in very, very strongly," said Fineberg, who appeared on "Meet the Press"with Kirby. "When you have one case after another, it's one anecdote after another, and the plural of anecdote in scientific terms is not evidence."

"Most children see improvement from the very first visit,"Freedenfeld said. "I'm not going to stop until their children are fully recovered, that's my promise to parents."

He estimated that about 20 percent of his patients see a full recovery and as many as 60 percent see marked improvement.

"From data collected from thousands of parents, chelation, special diets and supplementation (vitamin and mineral) are the most effective biomedical therapies," said Matt Kabler, a spokesman for the ARI. "Unfortunately, the mainstream medical community does not believe that autism is treatable and therefore most of these alternative interventions that are working are not covered by most insurance companies."

In the case of the Rose girls, insurance has covered only a small portion of their costs.

"We've gone to some personal expense," said Jonathan Rose, but the couple believes it's worth it.

Freedenfeld said insurance won't cover vitamins and different foods, though it will cover his office visits.

"But what's worse, they'll pay to put the toxins into the children," he said.

Colleen O'Dea can be reached at (973) 428-6655 or codea@gannett.com.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and E.O. Wilson on the gospel of science


November 12, 2006

BOOK REVIEW Science vs. religion

By Robert Lee Hotz

The God DelusionRichard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin: 406 pp., $27

Letter to a Christian NationSam Harris
Alfred A. Knopf: 98 pp., $16.95

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
E.O. Wilson
W.W. Norton: 160 pp., $21.95

What a problem religious faith poses for learned men of empirical mind. How it baffles, angers, frightens them, prompts them to domesticate it or uproot it, leaf and bough. In a trio of new books, three scientists — an English evolutionary theorist, a bestselling philosopher-turned-neuroscientist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist — take Christianity to task. Their works comprise a new testament for atheists, in which science is the only acceptable gospel.

"I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented," Richard Dawkins writes in "The God Delusion," a sustained literary assault on what he considers the dangerous fallacies of revealed religion.

Dawkins — author of eight previous books, including "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker," and the Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford — is easily the most imaginative theorist of evolutionary biology alive today and also its most combative. There is no more staunch defender of the scientific method in the culture wars over creationist beliefs than this handsome, hawk-faced don; no more influential advocate of reason and rationality; certainly no 21st century raisonneur more openly scornful of his religious adversaries. Few scientists are so irredeemably reductionist.

As Dawkins sees it, there is no heaven, no hell, no spark of the divine, just the periodic table of elements, enduring physical laws and the rule of natural selection. Moreover, he holds that science is the only rightful arbiter of knowledge about the universe and human nature, laying claim not only to what can be known but also to the meaning of the unknowable. His atheism is a linear dogma as old as doubt.

It is his professed faith that the universe can be understood — and solely through empirical human inquiry. In proposing this doctrine, Dawkins is himself a fundamentalist, rejecting any compromise or accommodation. He argues for his materialist worldview in an imperious manner, revealing more about the struggle for hierarchy and authority than about the failure of spirituality or the elusive nature of the divine. "What are these ultimate questions in whose presence religion is an honoured guest and science must respectfully slink away?" he asks. "What expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot?"

Scattering secular fatwas with abandon, Dawkins assumes the mantle of an ayatollah of atheism. "Faith is evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument," he writes. The God of the Old Testament is "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." As for the New, Jesus, as conventionally viewed, is a "milksop."

To Dawkins, a religious upbringing is a form of child abuse. Any scientist who sees traces of the divine in the inexplicable mysteries of cosmology or life's origins is guilty of "intellectual high treason." Mystical experience, he speculates, may be only a form of temporal lobe epilepsy.

In all this, Dawkins is just warming to the evangelical task he has set himself: to convert readers of a religious turn of mind to atheism. Yet much of his artful jeremiad is designed not to persuade those wavering on the verge of reason and rationality but rather to enrage believers of any sort, in order to bolster "atheist pride." He casts atheism in America as a civil rights issue — something like gay rights, save that instead of tolerance and equality under the law, he seeks elimination of other beliefs. Although stoutly proclaiming his opposition to all religions, he spends little time on the perceived shortcomings of Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains or Muslims. He ridicules the Bible but not the Koran. Buddhism and Confucianism, he says, aren't worth his effort. Zen doesn't come up. He reserves his ire for the Christian religion — most particularly Christianity as practiced by fundamentalist sects in parts of the United States. "The genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the Founding Fathers would have been horrified," he writes.

Clearly, Dawkins is deeply angered by recent court fights and school board clashes prompted by the incursions of intelligent design — a movement, championed by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, that maintains there is empirical evidence in nature for the existence of a guided creation. Federal courts have struck down efforts to force the teaching of such religious beliefs in public-school science classrooms. Dawkins properly gives the promoters of these false doctrines about the science of human origins a dose of their own overheated rhetoric.

Science and religion have not always been estranged; indeed, science began as a form of worship. The careful observation of God's creation was thought to be a more reliable form of revelation. Francis Bacon, one of the founders of modern science, argued in 1605 that reason properly reveals God. Humankind cannot "search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy," he wrote, "but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both."

Likewise, the astronomer Galileo Galilei held in 1615 that spiritual truth is to be found in the Bible and in nature alike: "For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects, nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature's actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible." Nature, he wrote, is "the observant executrix of God's commands."

Certainly, science as a tool of inquiry is unsurpassed, having proved to be the most reliable way to investigate the physical universe: rigorous yet open to revision, verifiable, conditional and self-correcting. Religion's focus, the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science observes, is on the meaning of things. "Different contexts of knowing require different forms of knowledge," the world's largest general scientific organization noted in "The Evolution Dialogues," a recent analysis of the roles of religion and science.

Humanity does seem to be getting more enlightened, on the whole. Dawkins isn't sure why, noting that some natural law may be at work: "It is probably not a single force like gravity, but a complex interplay of disparate forces like the one that propels Moore's Law, describing the exponential increase in computer power." If human understanding evolves, surely the ability to apprehend the divine also evolves to keep pace, even if organized religion lags behind.

In "Letter to a Christian Nation," Sam Harris, a Stanford University-trained philosopher, also takes dead aim at the Christian right. His short epistle sets out, in the spirit of Dawkins' book, to "demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms." Harris too is most troubled by the religious excesses of Christianity in the United States. "Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one's friends," Harris writes. A religious upbringing of any sort is a "ludicrous obscenity," but (also as in Dawkins' book) the excesses of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs play hardly any part in his critique of belief.

Nevertheless, Harris fervently advocates the eradication of all religions. Religious faith may have served some useful purpose in the eons before humanity invented hedge funds, HDTV and the public support of science, he suggests, but surely it serves no valuable function now. "Any intellectually honest person will admit that he does not know why the universe exists," Harris writes. "Scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. Religious believers do not.... An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse."

It falls to E.O. Wilson, a Harvard University evolutionary biologist, to hope for some useful cooperation. He'd like to save the endangered planet, and as a secular humanist he seeks the help of fundamentalist Christians in preserving the world's savaged environment by calling on a shared sense of stewardship.

In Wilson's new book, "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth," the difference in tone is striking. It cannot be solely because he is the best writer of the three — he's twice won a Pulitzer for nonfiction — or the more accomplished scientist. A pioneer in the study of the evolution of behavior, Wilson is the founder of sociobiology and has been awarded the National Medal of Science, among other honors. A reader cannot help but think it is because Wilson was raised a Southern Baptist in Birmingham, Ala. Although he long ago abandoned the hard-shell evangelical Christian faith of his childhood, he acknowledges its lingering lyrical and spiritual power. Rarely has the divide between secular science and revealed religion been bridged so gracefully.

"For you, the glory of an unseen divinity," Wilson writes, addressing a Southern Baptist pastor. "For me, the glory of the universe revealed at last. For you, the belief in God made flesh to save mankind; for me, the belief in Promethean fire seized to set men free. You have found your final truth; I am still searching. I may be wrong, you may be wrong. We may both be partly right." With a cadence worthy of the Book of Common Prayer, Wilson continues: "Let us see, then, if we can, and you are willing to, meet on the near side of metaphysics in order to deal with the real world we share." Robert Lee Hotz is a Times staff writer.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Complementary medicine has a role in the treatment of allergic diseases


By SooToday.com Staff SooToday.com Saturday, November 11, 2006



Complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) has increased tremendously in popularity in the United States.

At a symposium held at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), a team of experts discussed the safety and efficacy of CAM for the management of allergic diseases.

"As the United States has reached the 300 million person mark and with the world population approaching 7 billion, only 10 percent and at most to 30 percent of our health care is actually delivered by what we consider conventional or biomedical-oriented practitioners," said Leonard Bielory, MD, professor of medicine, pediatrics and ophthalmology, and director, Asthma & Allergy Research Center at UMDNJ - New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

"The remaining 70 to 90 percent ranges from self-care according to folk principles to care given in an organized health care system based on an alternative tradition or practice," said Dr. Bielory.

Under the broad umbrella term of CAM fall a very wide and diverse number of modalities.

These include the use of herbals, vitamins and other supplements, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic medicine, massage therapy, and Ayurveda.

Often included into this mix are energy therapies such as Qi gong and bioelectromagnetic treatments, as well as mind-body practices that encompass prayer, meditation or even dance.

CAM for allergic diseases

This topic is of great importance to the subspecialty of allergy and immunology because one of the most common reasons that patients turn to CAM is for treating allergic diseases.

"Although the most commonly used CAM is related to prayer, the most commonly reported CAM adverse events tend to be 'allergic' reactions from herbal agents that include urticaria, contact dermatitis, and anaphylaxis," said Dr. Bielory.

However, the possibility of more serious side effects exists, and some of the agents may have unfavorable interactions with prescription drugs.

One survey found that 12 percent of asthmatic patients were using eucalyptus oil, which can reduce mucous membrane inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and act as a decongestant.

However, eucalyptus oil can increase the effect on the central nervous system of drugs such as Ativan, Valium, barbiturates, narcotics, alcohol, and some antidepressants.

Echinacea is commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis and the common cold, but it can trigger an allergic reaction in patients who have allergies to plants in the Asteraceae or Compositae family (ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies).

Anaphylaxis is also a potential side effect.

The FDA has determined that there is no scientific evidence to support the use of Echinacea in the common cold.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

"There has been a recent surge of interest in TCM in Western countries, as it is low cost and has shown favorable safety profiles," said Xiu-Min Li, MD, an associate professor of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

She is also director of the Center of Excellence for Chinese Herbal Therapy for Allergy and Asthma funded by NIH.

Herbal therapy is in the mainstream of modern medical practice in China for treating asthma, although the role for TCM in Western countries has not been established as there are no FDA-approved botanical drugs for treating asthma.

Dr. Li and colleagues have received a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to investigate a three-herb Chinese formula known as ASHMI, as a therapy for allergic asthma.

Studies of the herbal formula first looked at its mechanism of action in an animal model, characterized the active components of the herbs, and have completed an investigation with asthma patients.

The study, conducted as a collaborative project with Weifang Asthma Hospital in China, investigated the efficacy and safety of ASHMI in 91 patients with asthma.

In this randomized, double-blind active-controlled study, patients received either ASHMI or prednisone for four weeks.

"In the animal study, we found that ASHMI was effective in suppressing AHR, eosinophilic inflammation and airway remodeling, and had an immunomodulatory effect on Th1/Th2 responses," said Dr. Li.

"In our clinical trial, there was significantly improved lung function and symptom scores in patients who used ASHMI," said Dr. Li. "There was a beneficial immunoregulatory effect on Th1/Th2 balance. This study indicates that ASHMI may be an effective, safe, and well-tolerated botanical drug."

There is an ongoing FDA approved clinical trial at Mount Sinai School of Medicine to investigate whether ASHMI can reduce or replace corticosteroids in persistent moderate-to-severe asthma.


Another area of growing interest is in the use of probiotics to both treat and prevent allergic disorders.

Probiotics are cultures of potentially beneficial bacteria of the healthy gut microflora.

"Microflora or healthy bacteria within the gut appear to be an important part of our mucosal protection while also supporting healthy bowel functions," said Renata J. M. Engler, M.D., from the Uniformed Service University of Health Sciences at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. "When the healthy bacterial flora is disrupted as with antibiotic therapy, illnesses such as vaginitis and serious bowel infections may occur more easily. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that the healthy bacteria may interact beneficially with the immune system overall.

"Although too early to translate into specific clinical recommendations, the evolving data suggest that probiotics may have a role in modulating the natural history of atopic dermatitis in the infant, particularly through the mother before the birth of the infant," she said.

Probiotics are currently proposed as beneficial for the treatment of acute diarrhea in both adults and children, the prevention of diarrhea caused by antibiotics, and to support remission of pouchitis.

"Further study is needed to define the optimum use of probiotics in the treatment and prevention of allergic diseases," said Dr. Engler.

Patient information on allergic diseases including asthma is available by calling the ACAAI toll free number at (800) 842-7777 or visiting its Web site at http://www.acaai.org


The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The college, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Neanderthals in Gene Pool, Study Suggests


By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD Published: November 9, 2006

Scientists have found new genetic evidence that they say may answer the longstanding question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals interbred when they co-existed thousands of years ago. The answer is: probably yes, though not often.

In research being published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists reported that matings between Neanderthals and modern humans presumably accounted for the presence of a variant of the gene that regulates brain size.

Bruce T. Lahn of the University of Chicago, the report's senior author, said the findings demonstrated that such interbreeding with relative species, those on the brink of extinction, contributed to the evolutionary success of modern humans.

Other researchers in evolutionary biology said the new study offered strong support for the long-disputed idea that archaic species like Neanderthals contributed to the modern human gene pool.

Two other reports of DNA studies of possible mixing of human and related genes are expected to be published in the next few weeks.

Both genetic and fossil studies show that anatomically modern humans emerged 200,000 years ago in Africa and migrated into Europe 40,000 years ago. In about 10,000 years, Europe's longtime inhabitants, Neanderthals, became extinct. The mainstream interpretation is that modern humans somehow replaced them without interbreeding.

In previous research, Dr. Lahn and associates discovered that a gene for brain size called microcephalin underwent a significant change 37,000 years ago. Its modified variant, or allele, appeared to confer a fitness advantage on those who possessed it. It is now present in about 70 percent of the world's population.

The new research focused on the two classes of alleles of the brain gene. One appeared to have emerged 1.1 million years ago in an archaic Homo lineage that led to Neanderthals and was separate from the immediate predecessors of modern humans. The 37,000-year date for the other variant immediately suggested a connection with Neanderthals.

Dr. Lahn said it did not necessarily show that interbreeding was widespread. It could have been a rare, perhaps even single, event.

Voters pick proponents of evolution for board


Article published Thursday, November 9, 2006



Voters across the state Tuesday picked pro-evolution candidates for the in favor of those on the intelligent design side of a long-running debate over how to teach public school students about the origins of life.

Sixteen people ran for five of the 11 elected seats on the 19-member board. The remaining seats are appointed by the governor.

John Bender, a Democrat from Avon, according to unofficial results, defeated three other candidates for the District 2 seat that covers Erie, Huron, Lorain, Lucas, Wood, part of Ottawa, and part of Seneca counties.

The results are not final because absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted. Mr. Bender said yesterday that he is cautiously optimistic about his election.

The Ohio Board of Education has for about four years attracted national attention over the debate about evolution and intelligent design in the state's curriculum guidelines.

The race is traditionally non-controversial, but this time was closely watched and in some ways, pitted God against Charles Darwin.

Mr. Bender, 67, served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from January, 1993, to December, 2000. He said intelligent design has no place in science courses.

The apparent runner-up, Kathleen McGervey, 38, a Republican also from Avon, said during her campaign that she has no trouble with the teaching of evolution.

In District 7, which includes the Akron area, pro-evolution candidate Tom Sawyer defeated conservative incumbent Deborah Owens Fink. Ms. Fink led the fight on the state board against teaching only evolution.

In District 4, which covers Cincinnati, pro-evolution candidate G.R. Schloemer defeated John Hirtz, a conservative who supported alternatives to evolution in science classrooms.

The board voted 14-3 last month in favor of ending attempts to change curriculum to include "critical analysis" of evolution and other issues.

Evolution supporters claimed "critical analysis" would open the door to introducing into Ohio's science classrooms intelligent design - the theory that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher force rather than evolving from more primitive forms.

Evolution detractor voted off Ohio board


Republican Fink had favored teaching both evidence against and for evolution in state schools.

By Associated Press

Thursday, November 09, 2006

COLUMBUS — A state board of education member who vocally supported teaching evidence against evolution alongside evidence supporting the theory has lost her bid for re-election.

Deborah Owens Fink, a Richfield Republican and board member since 1999, lost the Tuesday election to former U.S. Rep. Tom Sawyer, a pro-evolution Democrat from Akron recruited to run by a group of scientists. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results showed Sawyer earning 54 percent, or 157,798 of the votes, compared with Owens Fink's 29 percent, or 83,641 votes.

The current board stripped wording that added analysis of evolution to its science lesson plans after last year's case in Dover, Pa., where a federal judge banned the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution. Last month the school board voted to end its debate over teaching evolution.

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