NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 January 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, January 08, 2007

Online Prayer Helps Cancer Patients


By Robin Lloyd Senior Editor posted: 04 January 2007

Prayer might not cure cancer, but it makes some cancer patients feel psychologically better, new research claims.

Transcripts of online support group sessions for 97 breast cancer patients were analyzed, and researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found an association between improved mental health and patients who used a higher percentage of words such as pray, worship, faith, holy, and God during those sessions.

(Interviews with the patients later on showed that those who use these words were engaging directly in prayer, not just sprinkling those words in their dialogues.)

The association held even when the researchers compared patients with similar levels of religious beliefs. The study did not select for patients of any particular religion, but participants expressed mainly Christian beliefs, although there were a few Native American and Hindu religious quotes in the transcripts.

All in the mind

Patients in the study filled out a survey before participating in the online support sessions and then another one four months later to assess psychological changes. A text analysis program run on the session transcripts revealed that those who used more of the words suggestive of religious beliefs and practices had higher levels of functional well-being, lower levels of negative emotions and felt more strongly that they had control over their situation (or were experiencing self-efficacy).

Bret Shaw, lead author of the study, and his colleagues investigated only the psychological mechanism behind prayer and prayerful words, not issues of divine intervention or physical health, Shaw told LiveScience.

Many cancer patients pray in online support groups to help them cope with their illnesses, Shaw said.

"We think the mechanisms of effect were trusting in God's plan for their life, in believing in an afterlife (reduced negative emotions), self-directing religious coping or presuming that God gives one the skills and resources they need to face their challenges (self-efficacy) and focusing on what's going well in their lives as a gift from God rather than what's not going well (functional well-being)," Shaw said.

"From a psychological standpoint alone, I think that prayer talk may well provide some stress relief that other forms of talk may not. For instance, believing in an afterlife in heaven would presumably reduce one's fear of death to some degree, which is precisely what we found," Shaw said. "Similarly, the idea of a divine power assisting one through an illness may well provide comfort and reduction of distress that one may not expect to find through other forms of talk or thought."

Shaw said that he sees prayer and religious expression, in this study, as a coping mechanism that helps people put a more positive spin on their fate and illness, not as a placebo effect.

Healthy prayer

Some previous research has concluded that prayer has health benefits.

For instance, one study reported that people who regularly attend church have better lung function, regardless of whether they smoke or exercise. Another study stated that regular church-goers live longer—about 2 to 3 years longer than people who attend less frequently or not at all.

Although most doctors are willing to discuss religion with their patients, few of them recommend prayer or pray with their patients. And one large study recently concluded that prayer has no effect on the recovery of patients after heart bypass surgery. Instead, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications, said Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School.

Shaw said it's possible that the results of his study were influenced by the fact that all the study subjects were women.

"It's well known in the literature on online support groups that women are more likely to participate in online support groups, and there is also evidence that they tend to be more expressive in their participation within these groups (which is not necessarily different than findings for face-to-face support groups either)," Shaw said.

It's possible that religious talk in the sessions had some negative effects on patients, Shaw wrote in the study, published in the journal Psycho-Oncology. Previous research has found that some religious coping, such as a belief that one is being punished with illness by God, is associated with diminished mental health and quality of life.

Some participants in Shaw's study reported that they were so averse to the religious talk in the online sessions that they turned away from them.

Wed to Scientology


When marriages in this church hit trouble, couples are ministered to with the aid of an E-meter, writes Ean Higgins

January 08, 2007

SHOULD media mogul James Packer and his fiancee, model Erica Baxter, ever face the strains that occasionally crop up in marriage, their key marital aid may be a device with steel cylinders held in each hand, attached by wires to a screen with dials and meters.

It's the electropsychometer, or E-meter, and it's one element of a church with which Packer and Baxter are flirting: Scientology.

While he hasn't talked about it much, the man who is inheriting a $7 billion fortune has confirmed he's practised the religion that grew out of the following of American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s.

A couple of months ago, Packer told The Australian Financial Review he sometimes spends an hour or so on the religion every couple of days.

"I could well spend that amount of time on it and I think it has been very good for me," Packer told the AFR. "It has been helpful. I have some friends in Scientology that have been very supportive. But I think it's just helped me have a better outlook on life."

Baxter has been seen at the Scientologists' large and well-appointed headquarters in the Sydney suburb of Glebe. News leaked out late last month that the pair are engaged, and if they decide to wed in the Church of Scientology, it will be a huge coup for the church, which claims between 150,000 and 250,000 adherents in Australia. They would be the first big-ticket celebrities in Australia to do so since singer Kate Ceberano, and they would join the ranks of US actor Tom Cruise, who married Katie Holmes in a lavish Scientologist wedding ceremony.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which Packer uses Scientology as his moral compass as he takes control of the vast media and casino empire left him by his father, Kerry. Among other tenets, Scientologists believe in past lives, which can be revealed by "auditing", using the E-meter. They also believe in reincarnation, although, unlike Hindus, they don't have to worry about coming back as a lower form of life. In Scientology, the thetan, or spirit, only returns in a human body.

According to Virginia Stewart, the church's public affairs director in Australia, that belief has a significant - and favourable - effect on how one approaches life and decisions.

Because Scientologists know they're coming back, she says, they want to leave the world a better place for their return, and that has a big influence on how they approach issues such as the environment.

"It means you can't say you're going to live and burn this life because you're not coming back," Stewart says. "We believe we will be back in the future, so it makes you more responsible."


SCIENTOLOGY is based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, an American born in 1911, who studied engineering, but explored Eastern religions.

After war service in the US Navy, Hubbard turned to a profitable career writing science fiction, but then expanded into books on the mind. In 1950, he published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard propounded a technique of "auditing" in which a person unlocks unconscious memories called "engrams", then banishes them, making the subject clear of the reactive mind.

Hubbard then developed a spiritual element to his theories, dividing the human being into three parts: the body, the mind (analytical and reactive) and the thetan, or spirit, which could be reborn in new bodies.

In the US, in the 1950s, according to the Scientology version of history, Hubbard's followers started establishing churches based on his teachings. Hubbard died in 1986, but the religion continues. In 2005, in the online magazine Slate, Michael Crowley wrote: "In 1963, federal agents, suspicious that Hubbard's therapy might pose a health risk, raided the church's Washington, DC, branch. The (Internal Revenue Service) concluded Hubbard was skimming millions of dollars from church funds and revoked Scientology's tax-exempt status."

Scientology Church spokeswoman Virginia Stewart denies the skimming allegation, saying that after a legal battle the allegations were dismissed and tax-exempt status was restored in 1993. She confirms that in 1983, 11 church leaders, including Hubbard's wife, were convicted and sentenced to prison for conspiracy. However, Stewart says Hubbard had no knowledge of the conspiracy, noting that while he was named as a co-conspirator, he was never indicted.

Ean Higgins

Critics of Scientology suggest the religion is kooky and designed to lure the unsuspecting into parting with their money. Not so, according to Stewart, who says a lot of the criticisms are based on malicious exaggerations and misinterpretations. It's not true that the church believes in aliens, she says: the teachings are silent on this question.

It is true that every Scientologist church in the world has an office reserved for Hubbard, even though he's been dead for two decades. Stewart says Hubbard used to travel the world and hold talks, so an office was made available for him in every city where the Scientologists had a church.

"It's not true that we believe he is one day going to come back to life as L. Ron Hubbard, but the office is just a mark of respect for him: Scientologists believe things should remain constant," Stewart says.

Also maliciously untrue, says Stewart, is that Hubbard once said "if you want to become a millionaire, invent a religion". Followers of Hubbard's writings, not Hubbard, created the church, she says, and Hubbard was independently wealthy long before.

And it is also not true that if a married couple are both Scientologists and one of them leaves the church, the remaining one is shunned by the church.

However, it is true that the spouse remaining in the church is discouraged from participating in church activities while the couple is at loggerheads, because, Stewart says, it would be fruitless to go through auditing while so much tension exists in the individual concerned. The couple is asked to resolve any antagonism between them over church membership.

If Packer, 39, and Baxter, 29, do get married by a Scientologist minister, they will have to choose from one of five ceremonies based on the poetic readings of Hubbard. In the traditional ceremony chosen by Cruise and Holmes, which was lampooned by critics, the minister would say to Packer: "Now, James, girls need clothes, and food and tender happiness and frills. A pan, a comb, perhaps a cat. All caprice, if you will, but still they need them. Do you then provide? Do you?"

However, lest critics think the ceremony is chauvinistic and Baxter would be destined to accept a life as a dutiful housewife, the minister also says: "For times are changed and woman's place is not a hearth or home but striding out to victory beside her husband's side."

Packer took an interest in the Church of Scientology after the break-up of his marriage to Jodhi Meares. He would no doubt wish to ensure he does not go the same way with Baxter, and Scientologists make a specialty of marriage counselling with the E-meter.

In Scientology, part of the general path to truth and understanding is to be "audited" by a minister using the E-meter, which is used as an aid, Scientologist literature says, in "having one's attention directed to some long-buried source of emotional charge".

The subject takes an electrode in each hand and a small electric current is passed through them. "When you're having a thought, there's a different energy in the carrier wave, a change in electrical current," says Alex Kutuzov, a Scientologist who operates E-meters.

Such thoughts produce increased resistance to the electrical charge, and they can be measured on the meter by the auditor, she says. Applied to marriage counselling, according to Scientology, the E-meter can be used to great effect in helping a counsellor get to the root of dispute between a couple.

At the Scientologist headquarters in Glebe, The Australian was shown a short film made by the Scientologists' production house in the US. It features actors such as Jennifer Hannon, Jack Armstrong and Michael Roberts, and the plot involves a couple in the grips of marital problems. Greg (Armstrong), who appears to be a high-flying advertising executive, is angry that his wife, Lauren (Hannon), has bought him a hugely expensive watch, a reflection, he says, of her perennial propensity to spend beyond their means.

Lauren says she's tired of being hard done by and asks for a divorce, and Greg agrees. But, at the urging of a colleague, Greg goes to the Church of Scientology, meets a minister (Roberts) and, after various interventions, he and Lauren agree to the E-meter procedure.

The minister, over several days, repeatedly asks Greg and Lauren two questions, his eyes glued to the E-meter: "Greg, what have you done to Lauren?" and "Greg, what have you withheld from Lauren?" Bit by bit, they blurt out the truth to each other. Greg, it turns out, is a serial, but not particularly successful, gambler. Lauren, driven by loneliness, had an affair with an old school friend.

As the minister maintains a sphinx-like impassivity, the couple have a cathartic relief from guilt, realise they still love each other, and live happily ever after.

According to the Scientologists, the E-meter helps the minister identify important thoughts to help guide the audit. Some observers might take the view that the E-Meter gives the impression to subjects that the minister has a lie detector, so it's best to tell the truth.

A prominent Sydney relationship counsellor, Elizabeth Shaw, is not convinced. "I don't see them walking out of there feeling good," Shaw says of Greg and Lauren.

"As a partner, you would feel tormented, outraged and confused if those admissions were presented to you, and the presence of the minister would leave you uncertain about what you were allowed to be angry about," she says.

But some couples say the overall Scientology marriage counselling process, which includes watching the film, doing the E-meter sessions, and two marriage courses - How to Improve Your Marriage and Success through Communications - has worked wonders for them.

Melbourne couple Anna Gee, 39, and Wayne Curnuck, 36, both of whom have been Scientologists for some years, say they turned to the marriage counselling a few weeks ago after their relationship became strained.

"We started arguing over silly things," Curnuck, an industrial instrumentation technician, tells The Australian. "We tried to sit down and talk about it, but it didn't work."

At the same time, however, Curnuck says, "We actually love each other a lot. The thought of not being with each other was not a pleasant thought." The E-meter sessions were, he says, "pretty intense". "You're hearing about what you don't want to hear, and what you're afraid to hear."

The result, however, was great. "The person has had a relief from telling their partner. It's beautiful," says Gee, a stylist.

The E-meter, she says, was essential, enabling the minister to tell when all the bad things had been said by watching the needle on the meter. "The sessions run to an end result, until the needle floats," she says.

It's now all roses for Curnuck and Gee: they are so happy and in love following the Scientologist intervention that they have decided to get married and are discussing which Scientologist ceremony to choose.

Gee, who says she does not regard the Catholicism in which she was raised as being in conflict with Scientology, says that Scientology provides a way of applying religion to real-life situations. "It's very, very practical."

So too, Scientologists say, is a simple key tenet when it comes to marriage: a couple should never go to sleep without resolving an issue between them.

It will be something Packer and Baxter will no doubt take to heart as they gaze out over the Pacific from their luxury fortress apartment overlooking Sydney's Bondi Beach each night.

Group seeks to reconcile faith, science


January 7, 2007

By Diane Haag dhaag@gannett.com

Science and religion no longer are conflicting ideas for two local physicians. They prefer to battle science with science. Through the Christian group Reasons to Believe, they have found a way to reconcile science, religion and Scripture.

"Our society is so anti-God, but this says it's OK to believe," said Dr. Bruce Hennigan. "He's out there. You can look in the sky and see him."

The organization sponsors scientific research into the questions of creation. It believes that the Bible is without error, and that scripture is supported by science. On the biblical account of creation, it has concluded that "day" means a long period of time, so God created the universe over thousands of years.

Both men had to grapple with their own faith before getting involved with Reasons to Believe.

A radiologist and lifelong Christian, Hennigan's partners started asking him some tough questions about 12 years ago. They wanted to know about creation and what he believed: science or God?

"I couldn't answer from anything but a biblical perspective," he said.

He started doing some research and came across a book, "Creator and Cosmos," by astronomer Hugh Ross, who founded the organization. Hennigan studied the science, theology and philosophy behind the movement and took classes to become a volunteer apologist.

"It was like the whole universe opened up," he said. "They don't ask me any questions anymore because I can answer them."

About the same time, Dr. Stephen Patton, a local nephrologist, also completed the apologist training. Reasons to Believe sent each doctor an e-mail with the other's contact information.

They started talking and hoped to form a local chapter of the group. Chapters are usually in bigger cities, but they want to be able to host studies or speak at churches.

"We think we have information people really need to know," Patton said.

Patton had never given much thought to the version in Genesis, even though he had been taught about evolution in school, until he started getting more involved in church about eight years ago. He was presented with the seven-day creation teachings common in Evangelical churches.

"I was a Christian and I thought that's what a Christian had to believe," Patton said.

That theory, sometimes called "young-Earth creationism," is prominently supported by the group Answers in Genesis, which has made several presentations at local churches. It supports a strict reading of the Bible to the exclusion of outside sources and concludes that the earth was created in seven 24-hour days about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

On the other extreme is a strict scientific approach which denies the existence of a creator and said all things came about through natural processes and evolution.

The difference between young-earth theories and science were problematic to Patton, but he accepted them. A book recommendation from his daughter two and a half years ago led him to the Hugh Ross model. To Patton, that presented "complete harmony" of his faith and his knowledge of science.

"Reason to Believe offers a scientific, testable, Bible-based model," for creation, Patton said.

It follows the standard scientific process of peer-review and has established a data base that makes no concessions to evolution, Patton said.

Debates over creation have raged particularly since the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 which argued about the method to be taught in public schools. A scientific model won, but Patton says the great thing about Reasons to Believe is that it can be taught in schools because the science is solid.

"When the court ruled against creation, it ruled against the science," he said.

Because the Reasons to Believe theory is a sort of middle ground in the creation discussion, Patton fears resistance from churches as they try to present lectures at local churches.

Hennigan has been able to take his expertise and pass it along at his church, Brookwood Baptist. The church pastor, the Rev. Mark Sutton, said he has folks from both young- and old-Earth camps, but has never seen it be a problem.

Personally, he supports the Reasons to Believe model, but said there's certainly room for interpretation.

"Some people get hung up on that kind of stuff. I don't care. I know God did it," Sutton said. "I lean (toward old earth) because that's what our senses seem to tell us, that's what physics tell us. I don't believe God would try to fool us."

On the scientific side, they see some suppression of these ideas that support the possibility of a creator.

"To see that made me angry," Hennigan said. "In the last 20 years, scientific discoveries have shown an element of design and evidence of a creator."

The debate attracts such ire because it cuts to the core of what people believe and how they build their world view, Patton said. Atheists don't want to believe in a creator, and Christians see it as attacking the Bible.

"If you have a naturalistic approach, there is no God, no truth, and you end up with a society that will crumble from within," Hennigan said. "Part of my passion is for a God-centered point of view. "» We're here for a purpose and we have to change our lives. We might be accountable to someone."

As they build up a stronger chapter of Reasons to Believe, the doctors hope to find a way to reach the unchurched.

"Our main goal isn't to stir up trouble in the church but approach the unbeliever community," Patton said. "It's important to people on the evangelistic side who have this huge barrier."

In praise of an alternate creation theory


The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster gains infamy and faith

January 07, 2007 Leslie Scrivener Toronto Star

From the department of one scientific theory is as good as another, comes the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The theory goes like this: the Earth and all living things were created by a Supreme Being, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and though there are no witnesses to creation, there are written accounts of it.

In time, men and women heard of the spaghetti monster and came to worship him. And as the word spread, a gospel was written and churches were established in his name.

And artists, inspired by his word, drew his image – a tangled mass of pasta, with two generous meatballs, and googly eyes protruding from stalks.

Since the Flying Spaghetti Monster was revealed in 2005, millions have seen his image or read about him and his teachings, on the Internet site www.venganza.org and also in a book published last year, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The FSM, the idea of Bobby Henderson, a 26-year-old physics graduate from Oregon State University, first took shape as satire. He read that a school board in Kansas was going to teach alternatives to evolution in science classes and wrote a letter suggesting that if the theory of Intelligent Design was going to be in the curriculum, educators might as well be open to lots of other theories on the origins of life.

"Let us remember there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster," he wrote.

Henderson tells people that the spaghetti monster revealed itself to him and fired by inspiration he sat up one night, crafted his letter and put it online.

The object of his concern was the theory of Intelligent Design which holds that nature in all its variety and complexity could not have evolved through random mutation or natural selection, but needed the guiding hand of what proponents call "the intelligent cause," which remains unnamed. They do not support Darwin's theory of evolution, calling it a "purposeless process."

Critics say Intelligent Design is the scientific offspring of creationism, a Bible-based belief popular among the religious right in the U.S., but renamed to disguise its Christian agenda. Creationism, with its religious overtones, was being defeated in the U.S. courts – it's unconstitutional to advocate religion in schools – so the more scientific-sounding Intelligent Design theory was promoted. Furthermore, they say Intelligent Design adds a scientific gloss to creationist theory, which maintains that Earth is no more than 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs roamed Earth with humans and that a great flood covered the earth in 2348 BC and among other events, carved the Grand Canyon. (Most scientists agree the canyon was created over millions of years.)

"I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country and, eventually, the world. One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence."

To illustrate his concept, Henderson included a drawing of the spaghetti monster creating a mountain, trees and a midget. "Remember, we are all His creatures," he added.

The notion of a flying spaghetti monster as creator was so deliciously funny it became an Internet sensation. Henderson, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz., says that his site gets 30,000 "unique visits" a day, but about 400,000 hits a day with links to other sites. The movement took wings when it was picked up the BoingBoing website.

It has spawned a whacky, creative subculture of devotees who make FSM knitted hats, hold street demonstrations, create posters, on-line games, even a stained glass window. "Anything that takes effort – it's all amazing to me," he says in an email.

Henderson, who says he is still looking for "interesting" work, has in the meantime become entrepreneurial and is earning a living selling FSM mugs, T-shirts and iPod covers online. It pays the bills, he says.

Like most "religious" movements there have been schisms among the adherents, who call themselves Pastafarians. "There's a few break away groups. I'm okay with it but do think they sort of missed the point. The satire doesn't depend on it being a Flying Spaghetti Monster as opposed to a Purple Linguini Monster or whatever."

Unlike most religious movements, his is peaceful, says Henderson. "We've never started a war and have never killed others for their opposing beliefs."

While FSM has spread its noodly appendages around the world, Intelligent Design advocates, who have introduced their theories in U.S. public schools, have not fared so well in the courts where pro-evolution parents groups have challenged them.

Last month the Cobb County Board of Education in suburban Atlanta, Ga., announced it had given up its legal battle to keep stickers that read, "evolution is a theory, not a fact" in high school science books.

The board agreed to not to alter information on evolution in the textbooks and to pay $166,659 toward the legal fees of the pro-evolution parents who'd sued the board in 2002.

Those costs were small compared to the precedent setting case in Dover, Penn. In 2004 teachers were required to read an evolution disclaimer in high school science class and propose Intelligent Design as an alternative theory. The board also recommended an alternative biology text, Pandas and People, a book promoted by creationists.

When teachers refused to read the disclaimer, board administrators were called in to read it instead. A parents group took the board to court and in December, 2005, a federal judge ruled that Intelligent Design was a form of creationism, wasn't science and violated the separation of church and state. "It was a huge defeat, because they had been searching for a test case," says Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Centre for Science in Education, in Oakland, Calif.

The settlement cost the board $1 million (U.S.). Branch says and has served as a deterrent to other boards that were set on introducing theories of Intelligent Design, some to placate a fundamentalist constituency.

In addition to the judicial defeats, supporters of Intelligent Design have been losing their seats in school board elections. More moderate candidates in the 2005 elections replaced eight ID supporters on the Dover school board.

After hearing of the election results, evangelist Pat Robertson said this: "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city ... "

Why the vitriol on matters of faith? Despite the levity of the spaghetti monster, Henderson has attracted so many attacks he has a section on his website devoted to hate mail. "This idea or bullcrap that you invented is blasphemy and I do believe that you need to stop or you will burn in hell," reads a recent posting.

Last month, a website of the Discovery Institute, which advocates for Intelligent Design, devoted more than a page on a blog to the FSM celebration of Christmas, saying it was disrespectful of the Christian holiday. FSM greeting cards show an adaptation of Michelangelo's Creation of Man fresco, with the spaghetti monster reaching out to touch Adam's fingertip. Another showed a baby spaghetti monster in the manger between Joseph and Mary. "I can appreciate humour, but it's also clear that the images are intended to mock traditional religion," Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute wrote.

While the U.S., the most religious country in the Western world, is a hotbed of evolution—creationism conflict, the battle has spread beyond North America. In Russia, a 15-year-old girl sued the St. Petersburg education committee saying that her Grade 10 biology textbooks instruction on evolution offends her religious beliefs

Last fall, a group known as Truth in Science sent information packets including DVDs, on Intelligent Design to science department heads of every secondary school in the United Kingdom. The education minister has now agreed to allow Intelligent Design to be "explored" in religious education classes, the Sunday Times reported last month.

The news was welcomed by Andrew McIntosh, the Leeds university engineering professor who heads Truth in Science and who told the Times that evolutionary theory should be taught critically and space must be given to "credible alternative theories" such as Intelligent Design.

To some this is alarming. "The devil is in the details," says Branch. "If you're going to say creationism is a credible alternative to evolution, it's a bad thing no matter if you say it in the science or home-ec or religion classroom. One can teach about creationism and its historical and theological significance. To describe it is not a problem. To advocate it is a problem."

Most provinces in Canada have organizations devoted to creationism or Intelligent Design, says Jason Wiles who manages the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University, a collaboration with Harvard University.

"There are growing movements for anti-evolution activity in Canada," he says. "Lots of creation groups are trying to get ID or other types of creationism into the schools. There are summer camps, magazines and websites."

Countering these movements are the writings of Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist author of the bestselling book The God Delusion; scientists who have been urged to adopt the oratory style and fervour of evangelists as they tell their story of the universe unfolding; and weapons of satire and humour.

But some satires, including the spaghetti monster, are so frivolous they will neither open people's minds nor influence them, except in an oblique way, Branch says.

As creationists understand they are being made fun of and try to differentiate between their own position and that portrayed in satire, they may inadvertently show their hand. "They reveal that their position rests on a narrowly religious view," says Branch. "This is always handy, especially when their position is advertised as non-religious, as with `Intelligent Design' or proposals for `critical analysis of evolution.'"

The Discovery Institute's blog illustrates that, he says. "Why would mocking traditional religion be of concern to a purely scientific organization?"

Mostly, FSM seems to have the greatest impact among anti-creationist activists, who need the chance to blow off steam, says Branch. "Keeping track of creationist activity and combating it is a tiring and often thankless chore and enjoying light hearted fun at the opposition's expense is probably healthy."

Nick Matzke, in the evolutionist's corner, faces each new challenge the creationists bring


Sam Whiting

Sunday, January 7, 2007

There are no microscopes at the National Center for Science Education in Oakland. They don't look at the small picture. They are watching the big one -- the ongoing war between evolutionists and creationists. Nick Matzke, 30, is both foot soldier and tactician.

On the organization

We are the only nonprofit that focuses on the creation-evolution debate in the U.S. We oppose efforts to teach creationism and various other attempts to suppress or weaken the teaching of evolution.

On creationist theory

The key issue is supernatural intervention in the history of life. Creationists are attempting to legitimate that as a scientific view.

On evolution

The big idea in evolution is common ancestry. Organisms are related to each other if you go back far enough.

On exposure

When I was a little kid, my dear grandmother, who is a conservative Lutheran, would send creationist materials to me. Newspapers and magazines and books for kids. I was exposed to the creationist worldview early on and I developed a skeptical view. As a kid I was a big fan of dinosaurs and you pick up evolution just from that.

On education

I went to Valparaiso University in Indiana. I was raised Lutheran and it's a Lutheran school.

On roommate disharmony

I had a number of young, rich, creationist roommates. All through college we would argue about this, so I started to follow the intelligent-design movement, which is the new version of creationism that appeared in the 1990s.

On not letting it go

I joined one of these Internet groups. We called ourselves "creationism watchers" and we tracked what they are doing. This has now become the Panda's Thumb blog, the group that obsesses over what the creationists are doing and why their arguments are wrong.

On making a job out of it

I joined the National Center for Science Education in early 2004 and in the summer a school board in Dover, Pa., passed a policy requiring intelligent design. They did it explicitly to bring a court challenge from the ACLU and other groups. I got put on this case as the science nerd for the lawyers and also the history-of-creationism nerd.

On the trial

People were comparing it to the Scopes Trial, the famous 1925 monkey trial. I did not testify but I did go there for the whole six-week trial and I sat with the lawyers and whispered in their ear and gave them all sorts of advice.

On the ruling

It was 139-page opinion and the judge ruled for our side on every single point.

On the next battlefront

We commonly say "creationism doesn't go extinct. It evolves." You get the courts to block one strategy and they just switch the name to something else. The new challenge is something called "critical analysis of evolution." I think it's been at least 20 states this year where creationists are pushing some sort of policy. We're the group that tracks that.

On believing

I'm agnostic now. An ultimate question like this might just not be answerable. It may be a leap of faith to take either position, either atheism or theism.

On needing more schooling

I'm planning to go to grad school next year and do a Ph.D in evolution. I'd like to go to Berkeley in the integrative biology program.

On going back to church

I go on holidays when I'm back with the family. Some people that used to be Christian end up becoming really hostile to religion. I don't think science has all the answers, for sure.

E-mail Sam Whiting at swhiting@sfchronicle.com.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

DVD Attempts To Support Scientologists' Claims Of Harmful Effects Of Psychiatry


Created: 1/5/2007 10:34:59 PM Last updated: 1/5/2007 11:31:13 PM

By Cordell Whitlock

(KSDK) - The Church of Scientology claims psychiatry is responsible for school shootings and even racism. Now the group has picked a very public place to spread its message.

In 1969, the group founded the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. The Commission has brought a traveling exhibit to Missouri that is highly critical of psychiatry.Advertisement

"When I walk around and meet random people on the street a very large majority of them either have been harmed by a psychiatrist or they know someone who has," says Moritz Farbstein, a local member of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

Farbstein admits he makes sweeping statements when talking about psychiatry. His organization sponsors an exhibit called Psychiatry: An Industry of Death appearing in St. Louis this month. The exhibit includes several DVD viewing stations.

"They present interviews by psychiatrists (and) psychiatric victims giving examples of the horrific side effects of psychiatric treatment," says Farbstein.

An Industry Of Death will be on display inside the Capitol rotunda in Jefferson City in two weeks. Those opposed to the group's viewpoints have already sent e-mails to the Capitol.

"This is the people's building and we are content neutral," said Richard Aubuchon of the Office of Government Administration. The office handles bookings for the rotunda.

Psychiatry and organizations linked to Scientology have locked horns before. After Tom Cruise publicly called psychiatry a "pseudo-science," the American Psychiatric Association issued this response:

"Rigorous, published, peer-reviewed research clearly demonstrates that treatment of mental illness works. It is unfortunate that in the face of this remarkable scientific and clinical progress that a small number of individuals and groups persist in questioning its legitimacy."

An Industry of Death is at Westfield South County Mall in south St. Louis County and America's Center in downtown St. Louis this weekend. It will be at the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 18.

Evolution education update: December 8, 2006

Encouraging news from Ohio and from the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Flock of Dodos is going to be shown at Darwin Day celebrations in museums around the country, and the video of Eugenie C. Scott's recent talk in Kansas is now available on-line.


As Ohio's Governor Bob Taft (R) prepares to leave office, he is planning to appoint four new members to the state board of education. In the past few years, the state board of education was frequently embroiled in assaults on evolution education, such as unsuccessful attempts to include "intelligent design" in the state science standards in 2002, the incorporation of a "critical analysis of evolution" indicator in the standards in 2002, the adoption of a "critical analysis of evolution" model lesson plan in 2004, and unsuccessful attempts to revive "critical analysis" after the board voted in 2006 to rescind the lesson plan and indicator.

Now, however, the Columbus Dispatch (December 6, 2006) reports that Taft "will not name anyone who doesn't back the teaching of evolution." Taft told the newspaper, "I want people who are really committed to teaching good science in school, and I think that intelligent design does not play a role in the science curriculum." He also expressed regret about previous appointees who supported the teaching of "intelligent design" in Ohio's public schools. Taft's successor, Ken Strickland (D), is expected to support the integrity of science education; during his campaign, he told the Dispatch (July 23, 2006), "Science ought to be taught in our classrooms. Intelligent design should not be taught as science."

For the story in the Columbus Dispatch, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=OH


In the latest from the United Kingdom, the Guardian (December 7, 2006) reported that the British government is preparing to "write to schools telling them that controversial teaching materials promoting creationism should not be used in science lessons." The materials in question, which include two "intelligent design" DVDs, were sent to the science heads of every secondary school in the United Kingdom by a new creationist group styling itself Truth in Science. Although the government had already stated that the Truth in Science materials were inappropriate for science classes, there was widespread concern that its disclaimers were insufficient.

The Guardian also reported that the Nobel laureate John Sulston denounced creationism in a recent lecture at the British Museum, quoting him as saying, "[Pupils] are somehow being told these agendas are alternative ways of looking at things. They are not at all ... One is science -- a rational thought process which will carry us forward into the indefinite future. The other is a cop-out and they should not be juxtaposed in science lessons." Sulston is the latest in a string of British scientists to have condemned the incursions of "intelligent design" in public education, along with Lord Rees (the curent president of the Royal Society), Lord May (Rees's predecessor), Lewis Wolpert, and Richard Dawkins.

For the story in the Guardian, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in the United Kingdom, visit:


Randy Olson's Flock of Dodos, the hilarious documentary that examines both sides of the controversy over the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, is scheduled to be shown at over fifteen museums across the country as part of their Darwin Day celebrations, on or around February 12, 2007. New Scientist describes Flock of Dodos as "a film that will appeal to the average person on either side ... without condescension, poking lighthearted fun at everyone." Screenings are already scheduled in Boston, Denver, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Seattle, St. Louis, and Tampa -- and more are being added.

For information about Flock of Dodos in general, visit:

For information about its Darwin Day events, visit:


On November 16, 2006, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott spoke on "Faith, Reason, and Assumption in Understanding the Natural World" as part of the Difficult Dialogues at the Commons lecture series on Knowledge: Faith and Reason, sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. Now her lecture is available (in RealPlayer format) on-line. Other lectures in the series include Kenneth R. Miller's "God, Darwin, and Design: Creationism's Second Coming," Judge John E. Jones III's "Judicial Independence and Kitzmiller v. Dover et al.," and Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion"; all of these lectures are also available on-line.

For the on-line versions of these lectures, visit:

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

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

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

Herbal remedy fails test at soothing menopause


Researchers report that the popular supplement black cohosh is no more effective in treating hot flashes than a placebo.

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer December 19, 2006

The widely used herbal remedy black cohosh does nothing to eliminate hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms of menopause, either alone or in combination with other herbs, federally sponsored researchers reported Monday.

Thousands of women use the supplement, but a controlled trial reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed it was no more effective than a placebo. Only estrogen significantly reduced hot flashes.

"In the doses we used, and the way we used it, it did not work," said epidemiologist Katherine M. Newton of Group Health, a health system based in Seattle, who led the study. "The findings will certainly be a disappointment to women. It would have been nice to find something that is safe and effective."

The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, both components of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Carol M. Mangione of UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine wrote in an editorial accompanying the study that physicians and women will have to look elsewhere for help, and unfortunately there are few alternatives.

About 2 million American women turn 50 each year, and about 80% of them have at least some symptoms of menopause.

A 2002 federal study showed that women who underwent estrogen replacement therapy had an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. For many women, black cohosh has become the primary alternative to hormone therapy.

Newton and her colleagues studied 351 women, age 45 to 55. Half were in the midst of menopause and half were post-menopausal. They averaged about six symptoms per day.

The women were divided into five groups. One group got 160 milligrams a day of black cohosh. A second group got a mixture of nine herbs plus 200 milligrams of black cohosh per day. The third got the herb mixture and were encouraged to eat more soy foods. The fourth got estrogen, with or without progestin. And the fifth got a placebo.

Women receiving either black cohosh or the herb mixture had an average reduction of 0.5 symptoms per day compared with those in the placebo group, a statistically insignificant finding.

Women receiving estrogen, in contrast, had a reduction of four symptoms per day. Those consuming soy actually had more symptoms, for reasons that are not clear.

The good news, Newton said, is that over the year, symptoms in the placebo group were gradually reduced by about 30%.

"The really strong message we need to get out is that menopause is a natural event, it is not an illness, and the symptoms are self-limiting," said Newton, who is not affiliated with any supplement or hormone manufacturer.

If the symptoms are too powerful, then women should take hormones in the lowest dose possible and for the shortest time possible, she said.


Evolution education update: December 19, 2006

A special mid-week update: there is a settlement in Selman v. Cobb County, the case that challenged the constitutionality of a textbook disclaimer sticker that described evolution as "a theory, not a fact." In 2002, the Cobb County Board of Education, pressured by local creationists, adopted the stickers, and eleven parents subsequently filed suit, with a trial following in late 2004. On January 13, 2005, Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that the stickers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, writing, "the Court believes that an informed, reasonable observer would interpret the Sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion. ... an informed, reasonable observer would understand the School Board to be endorsing the viewpoint of Christian fundamentalists and creationists that evolution is a problematic theory lacking an adequate foundation."

The board chose to appeal the decision, however. While the appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals was in progress, the stickers were removed from the textbooks, pursuant to Judge Cooper's order, which the board unsuccessfully sought to have stayed. After oral arguments in December 2005, on May 25, 2006, a three-judge panel vacated the decision, primarily because of concerns about the evidence introduced at trial concerning the adoption of the stickers; the panel's decision emphasized that "we want to make it clear that we do not intend to make any implicit rulings on any of the legal issues that arise from the facts once they are found on remand." The case was then remanded to the trial court for further evidential proceedings, which could have involved a full retrial.

Preparing for a possible retrial, the ACLU of Georgia (which, with Atlanta lawyer Michael Manely, represented the plaintiffs in the trial) was joined by lawyers from the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton. AU and Pepper Hamilton brought their expertise from Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case in which teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional. As in Kitzmiller, Brown University's Kenneth R. Miller and McGill University's Brian Alters were recruited to serve as expert witnesses, as was NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. In the event, however, the preparation for a retrial was unnecessary, as the Cobb County Board of Education signed a settlement agreement on December 19, 2006.

In the agreement, the board and the school district are enjoined not only from "restoring to the science textbooks of students in the Cobb County schools any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other warnings or disclaimers bearing language substantially similar to that used on the sticker that is the subject of this action" but also from taking any of a number of actions that "would prevent or hinder the teaching of evolution," including making oral or written disclaimers about evolution or Darwin, placing statements in textbooks about "creationism, creation science, intelligent design, or any other religious view concerning the origins of life or the origins of human beings," and "excising or redacting materials on evolution in students' science textbooks." The agreement is binding in perpetuity.

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "The settlement was clearly in the best interests of both the district and the plaintiffs. The district was spared a lengthy, divisive, and expensive trial that it was practically bound to lose again, especially faced with the winning team from the landmark case Kitzmiller v. Dover. And although the plaintiffs were already successful in ensuring that the misleading stickers were removed from the textbooks, the settlement agreement explicitly forbids the board and the district from doing anything in the future that would compromise the integrity of evolution education in Cobb County. That means that the real winners today are the kids, who will be free to learn about evolution -- the central principle of the biological sciences -- without the distortions of a narrow religious agenda."

In a December 19, 2006, press release from Americans United, the Reverend Barry W. Lynn lauded the settlement, saying, "Cobb County school officials have taken the right step to ensure that their students receive a quality education." Lead plaintiff Jeffrey Selman commented, "The settlement brings to an end a long battle to keep our science classes free of political or religious agendas, adding, "I am very pleased that the Cobb school board has dropped its defense of the anti-evolution policy. The board should be commended for taking this action." The chair of the board, Teresa Plenge, expressed her satisfaction at the result to the Associated Press (December 19, 2006), explaining, "we faced the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial ... With this agreement, it is done and we now have a clean slate for the new year."

For American United's press release, visit:

For the Associated Press story (via CNN), visit:

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

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

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

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

Evolution education update: December 22, 2006

Praise for the settlement in Selman v. Cobb County, and kudos to NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott from her alma mater. And again a chance to vote for NCSE -- if you're a Working Assets customer.


Newspapers in Georgia are hailing the settlement in Selman v. Cobb County, the case that challenged the constitutionality of a textbook warning sticker that described evolution as "a theory, not a fact." The plaintiffs won the trial, but on appeal the verdict was vacated, due primarily to concerns about the evidence, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. On December 19, 2006, a settlement was announced in which the Cobb County Board of Education agreed not to restore the warning sticker, not to take any of a number of actions that "would prevent or hinder the teaching of evolution" (including "excising or redacting materials on evolution" in textbooks), and to reimburse $166,659 of the plaintiffs' legal fees.

The Marietta Daily Journal (December 21, 2006) editorially commented, "The Cobb school board finally admitted the obvious on Tuesday: that its 'evolution sticker' case had devolved into a waste of time, tax dollars and educators' attention. As a result, it took the long-overdue step of pulling the plug on its federal court appeal of a lower-court ruling that said the evolution disclaimer stickers the board had ordered placed in all high school science textbooks were unconstitutional." Noting that the board spent about $109,000 to pay its own attorneys, the editorialist added, "Just think how many teachers could have been hired with that $275,000 or so the board wasted on something that never should have been an issue in the first place."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (December 21, 2006) praised the board for the settlement, writing, "From a tax-frittering, pseudo-science muddle, the board seems to be evolving into a deliberate and engaged panel capable of putting the reputation and credibility of the district ahead of politics or personal creeds." Describing the evolution sticker fiasco as expensive and embarassing, the editorialist also noted that the controversy "dominated too much of the school board's time in the last four years and contributed to the defeat of two sitting board members in the most recent elections." The editorialist concluded, "The school board should not create additional burdens for the schools through its own arrogance in pursuing agendas that have neither public support nor the public good at their core."

Mike King, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, offered (December 21, 2006) a different, and harsher, perspective. "The current edition of the much-maligned Cobb County school board is limping off the stage," King wrote. "In what might be seen as a lame-duck valedictory, the board is giving up its four-year campaign to ensure that Cobb County students haven't been duped by teachers into believing the evolution theory." King suggests that the board misunderstood its constituency -- "Truth is, there never has been widespread support within the county to change the way human biology should be taught. It has always been the work of a handful of anti-evolution zealots" -- and concludes, "But, for now, this era of embarrassment for the Cobb County school district seems, thankfully, to be drawing to a close."

Civil liberties groups are also hailing the settlement. ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Debbie Seagraves welcomed the settlement, saying, "I commend the brave parents in Cobb County who have fought for more than four years to ensure that their children receive proper science education in their public schools ... We are proud that we were able to represent them in their courageous struggle." The Reverend Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State explained, "Cobb County school officials have taken the right step to ensure that their students receive a quality education ... Students should be taught sound science, and the curriculum should not be altered at the behest of aggressive religious groups."

Shelley Rose, the Interim Southeast Region Director of the Anti-Defamation League commented, "The real winners here are the students," adding, "The stickers should never have been placed in textbooks, and the Board's action only served to divide the community and undermine science education, which is so critical to our children's future success. We hope that this settlement heals the divisions and puts the focus back on science education." The ADL presented lead plaintiff Jeffrey Selman with its "Unsung Hero Award" in 2002, and also submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs when the case was appealed. (All eight of the briefs supporting the plaintiffs are available on NCSE's website.)

Additionally, Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education -- the state's grassroots group dedicated to promoting scientific literacy and excellence in science education -- issued a press release commending the board for agreeing to the settlement. "The action taken by the Board means that limited resources can be directed to where they have always belonged, in the classroom," said GCISE's secretary, Ron Matson, a biology professor at Kennesaw State University. "It further ensures that the Cobb County science curriculum meets the Georgia Performance Standards and that students will understand the central role evolution plays in all biological sciences."

For NCSE's story on the settlement, visit:

For the Marietta Daily Journal's editorial, visit:

For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial, visit:

For Mike King's column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, visit:

For the press releases from the ACLU, Americans United, and the ADL, visit:

For the friend-of-the-court briefs, visit:

For GCISE's press release, visit:

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


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott received an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, on December 17, 2006, in recognition of her dedication to promoting the sound teaching of science in schools across the country. The citation read in part:


Dr. Scott was named the first executive director of the National Center for Science Education in 1986. Since then, she has worked with educators, parents, scientists, clergy, school boards and other elected officials, and concerned citizens to keep evolution in public school science education.

Under her leadership, the center has pursued this goal by providing information that it hopes will lead to community consensus rather than confrontation. Particularly important in NCSE's success has been the building of coalitions of scientists, teachers, clergy and concerned parents to support the teaching of evolution in communities and states.

Her 2004 book, Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, was reviewed positively by publications as diverse as The New York Times Book Review and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. It was praised by creationists and evolutionists alike for its even-handedness and accuracy in presenting the controversy.

Her work reflects her perspective that science teachers should teach students accurate and accepted science as it is understood by scientists, and that political pressure should not determine the science curriculum. Her work also reflects her conviction that citizens need to be scientifically literate, and that an understanding of evolution is central to this literacy. To this end she has labored for 20 years at NCSE to promote a better public understanding of science and of the science of evolution.


The honor was especially meaningful to Scott, who earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees at the university. The honorary degree was Scott's fourth; she received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from McGill University in 2003, the Ohio State University in 2005, and Mount Holyoke College in May 2006.

For the announcement from the UWM Department of Biological Sciences, visit:


NCSE is again slated to be a beneficiary of Working Assets, the telephone company established "to help busy people make a difference in the world through everyday activities like talking on the phone. Every time a customer uses one of Working Assets' donation-linked services (Long Distance, Wireless and Credit Card), the company donates a portion of the charges to nonprofit groups working to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable." Every year, the donation pool is allocated among the groups supported by Working Assets in proportion to the customers' votes. The more votes NCSE gets, the more money we get!

If you're already a Working Assets customer, you can vote on-line until December 31, 2006: http://www.workingassets.com/voting/

If you're interested in becoming a Working Assets customer, visit: http://www.workingassets.com/

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

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

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

Evolution education update: December 29, 2006

Just in time for the long holiday weekend, Eugenie C. Scott and Kenneth R. Miller's expert witness statements for the retrial of Selman v. Cobb County are now available on-line. So is a video of Robert T. Pennock's recent talk at the University of California, San Diego. And a final chance to vote for NCSE -- if you're a Working Assets customer.


After Selman v. Cobb County, the case that challenged the constitutionality of a textbook warning sticker that described evolution as "a theory, not a fact," was remanded to the trial court, the legal team for the plaintiffs recruited three expert witnesses for the possible retrial: McGill University's Brian Alters and Brown University's Kenneth R. Miller, both of whom served as expert witnesses in Kitzmiller v. Dover, as well as NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. The case was settled, so there will be no need for their testimony. But for anyone curious to know what they would have said, the expert witness statements that Scott and Miller submitted are available on NCSE's website. (We hope to add Alters's statement later.)

In her statement, Scott discussed "the nature of science; how the scientific definitions of 'theory' and 'fact' differ from those used among the general public; the history of the creationism/evolution controversy, including the various forms of creationism and the history of antievolution policies (such as 'evidence against evolution' and 'theory not fact' policies) and their relationship to creationism; the history of the creationism/evolution controversy in Georgia and Cobb County; why 'theory not fact' language is inappropriate educational pedagogy; and other topics relating to the teaching of both evolution and creationism."

Miller (a Supporter of NCSE) addressed the scientific status of evolution theory, the treatment of evolution in Miller and Levine's Biology (the biology textbook used in Cobb County's high schools), the language of the textbook warning sticker, and the educational impact of the sticker. Miller argued that the sticker "singles out evolution in a way that misrepresents its scientific standing, misleads students as to the nature of science theories, conveys a false sense of certainty with regard to other scientific theories, and serves, as far as I am able to tell, no scientific or educational purpose," and described it as "counter-productive to good science education."

For Scott's expert witness statement (PDF), visit:

For Miller's expert witness statement (PDF), visit:

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


Robert T. Pennock spoke on "The Ground Rules of Science: Why the Judge Ruled Intelligent Design Creationism Out of Court" at the University of California, San Diego, on November 14, 2006. A professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, Pennock is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism (MIT Press, 1999) and the editor of Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics (MIT Press, 2001); he testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Toward the end of his talk, Pennock summarized the take-home message with a trio of two-word phrases: "not science," "creationism relabeled," and "breathtaking inanity." A video of his talk is now available on-line in RealPlayer format.

For Pennock's "The Ground Rules of Science," visit:


NCSE is again slated to be a beneficiary of Working Assets, the telephone company established "to help busy people make a difference in the world through everyday activities like talking on the phone. Every time a customer uses one of Working Assets' donation-linked services (Long Distance, Wireless and Credit Card), the company donates a portion of the charges to nonprofit groups working to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable." Every year, the donation pool is allocated among the groups supported by Working Assets in proportion to the customers' votes. The more votes NCSE gets, the more money we get!

If you're already a Working Assets customer, you can vote on-line until December 31, 2006:

If you're interested in becoming a Working Assets customer, visit: http://www.workingassets.com/

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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

With best wishes for the new year,

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

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

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

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp

Adam, Eve and T-Rex: Museums feature science and God



NOBLE, Okla. — Thomas Sharp holds science degrees from Purdue University and the University of Oklahoma but believes dinosaurs and humans once walked the Earth together and the world is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old.

The office of the Creation Truth Foundation, founded by Sharp in 1989 and based in a Main Street storefront in Noble, is decorated with fossils and framed Bible verses. Sharp sees no contradiction between the two. A prehistoric petrified shell is showcased next to a plaque in the front room that reads "Trust in the Lord with all your heart…"

"If we reject the book of Genesis, then where do we pick up after that?" Sharp said. "If you want to believe in the legitimacy of God, then you have to start from the beginning."

His latest endeavor is opening a museum devoted to debunking the theory of evolution in Dallas. The 20,000-square-foot museum just off of Interstate 35 in Dallas will feature 15-18 first-generation replicas of dinosaur skeletons and exhibits on the Great Flood and the Garden of Eden.

The building that will house the Museum of Earth History in Dallas is already near completion, Sharp said, and he expects the facility to open its doors to the public sometime in 2007. Christ For the Nations Institute, a Christian educational organization based in Dallas, is helping fund the museum's completion.

Sharp said his agenda isn't to get creationism taught in public schools, or convert people to his belief system, but he wants to give Christians a way to teach their children about science.

"I don't believe we can change our multi-cultural environment," Sharp said. "But I'd like to help Bible believers to hold their heads up and raise their children to fear the Lord."

CFT, with its staff of nine, produces Biblical creationist school curricula for Christian schools and home-schoolers with titles like "Putting the Pieces Together," a two-semester guide for grades 7-12 on science, history, philosophy and political science from a Biblical perspective. The CFT Web site sells children's books with titles like "Dinosaurs of Eden," which teaches children that Noah brought Dinosaurs aboard the Ark.

Sharp, a former pastor who holds a doctorate with an emphasis in the philosophy of religion and science from South Florida Bible College and Seminary, has toured the country with a trailer of dinosaur bones and fossils, speaking to churches and other religious groups.

"Creation isn't a scientific debate, its a religious one," Sharp said.

Sharp said he struggled to justify his Christian beliefs while studying evolution in college and believes young people reject Christianity as they grow up because of the public school system's secular curriculum, he said.

"I struggled with (evolution), feared it, and was challenged by it in school," Sharp said. "I was 33 years old before I got up the courage to read Darwin's 'The Origin of the Species,' and when I finally did, I said, 'Is that all there is to it?'"

Sharp is already the president and co-founder of the Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs, Ark., which has attracted more than 60,000 visitors from all 50 states and more than 10 foreign countries since it opened in 2005, Sharp said.

The Dallas museum will be twice the size of the Eureka Springs branch, he said.

Sharp said he hope to open five or six more museums across the country in his lifetime.

While reactions to his efforts have been positive for the most part, Sharp said, he does get hate mail every once and a while.

"It's a reaction to clashing world views," Sharp said. "I choose not to insult my opponents; I choose to win."

Brianna Bailey writes for The Norman (Okla.) Transcript.

Ancient folk herbs show new promise


Centuries-old remedies may lead to better medicine, a Mayo Clinic collaboration finds.

By Maura Lerner, Star Tribune

Last update: January 04, 2007 – 10:10 AM

A few years ago, Eric Buenz came across a 17th-century book on herbal medicine.

And he wondered if its ancient folk wisdom could withstand a little scientific scrutiny.

So Buenz, then a graduate student at the Mayo Clinic, and a colleague decided to test a tree extract that the book claimed could cure diarrhea.

What they found was that the potion, made from the nuts of the atun tree, works a lot like an antibiotic, killing various types of bacteria.

And in a report in the British Medical Journal this month, they explain how a 300-year-old text by a Dutch naturalist named Rumphius could help scientists in their search for new and better drugs.

"It was lost traditional knowledge," Buenz said.

Buenz, 29, traveled to Samoa to collect the nuts and consult with shamans. "And we tested it and it worked."

Mayo and the scientists have obtained a patent on the medicinal properties of the atun tree nut, in hopes someone might develop it into a drug.

"Our findings," they wrote in the journal, "show that potential drugs can be identified by searching historical herbal texts."

In a way it's not surprising, because many prescription drugs come from natural substances, said Dr. Brent Bauer, one of the co-authors and director of the Mayo Clinic's complementary and integrative medicine program.

"There's a reason why they chose the plants they did, why they prepared them the way they did," he said of traditional healers. "The fact that we can somewhat validate ancient knowledge is cool because a lot of this ancient knowledge is disappearing."

Burning manuscripts

In this case, the "ancient knowledge" probably would have disappeared if not for the dogged persistence of Georg Everhard Rumphius, a mercenary with the Dutch East India Company, whose story is recounted in the Dec. 23 British Medical Journal article.

In 1657, he started collecting plants on the Indonesian island of Ambon and recording their medicinal uses in a text that he illustrated himself. Thirty years later, his manuscripts burned in a fire.

"At that point I'd be reaching for the Prozac or something," Bauer said. "He goes back and just starts writing it all over again."

Rumphius, who was then blind, dictated the second manuscript and commissioned new illustrations. But this, too, was destroyed when the ship transporting the book to Holland was sunk by the French navy.

Rather than "surrender to despair," the authors note, he reworked his surviving notes and completed seven volumes of the book, called Ambonese Herbal.

Fast forward to the 21st century: The surviving copies were essentially gathering dust in rare-book collections until a Dutch-language professor decided to translate part of the text into English.

And Buenz stumbled onto the translation at a botanical library in Hawaii.

Buenz, a scientist who had studied folk medicine while on a fellowship in Samoa, was fascinated.

He and Bauer searched the Rumphius text for references to herbal medicines, and compared them to a database of known medicinal plants. The atun nut/diarrhea treatment was a new one, so they decided to test it.

'An historic Bengay'

Buenz, who now owns his own research company called BioSciential in Rochester, returned to Samoa, where healers use the nut to make a sweet-smelling massage oil for sore muscles -- "an historic Bengay," he said, laughing.

He returned to the United States with the nut, ground it up and mixed it with alcohol. In the lab, it killed two types of bacteria, Staphylococcus and Enterococcus (but didn't touch the E. coli).

For now, they don't know if it will work beyond the test tube. "That's the million-dollar question," Bauer said.

If anything ever comes of it, he added, they would share the profits with the native healers who helped them.

But the larger message, he said, is that there may be more to learn from the ancients.

"It should keep us somewhat humble," he said.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384 • mlerner@startribune.com

In Russia, a test of God vs. Darwin


By Erika Niedowski Sun Foreign Reporter

Originally published January 3, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia // This nation's first-ever lawsuit on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution began with a biology textbook, a bunch of bananas and a man dressed in a monkey suit.

And it only got more tangled from there.

The student who brought the case, saying the teaching of evolution offends her religion, has accused her school of trying to flunk her as punishment for speaking up.

The principal has suggested that the girl and her family are not being driven by devout beliefs, but by a push for publicity.

And people on both sides - including the Russian Orthodox Church and one of the textbook's authors - are locked in a debate that touches not only on Darwin's observations on the origin of species but on atheism, Marxism-Leninism and the fall of civilizations.

The case revolves around 16-year-old Mariya Shraiber, who says her biology text presents a one-sided version of life's origins based on Darwin's theory and is dismissive of the view that God made man. The lawsuit challenges Darwin's theory as anti-religious, atheistic and unproven. It quotes the textbook as referring to biblical teachings as "legends" and calling it "stupidity" to assume that God created the world.

"It's quite disrespectful," said Mariya, who has short fingernails painted bright pink, multiple earrings in each ear and a fondness for poetry. "I believe we have the right to learn not only the theory of evolution, but creationism as well."

Education officials counter that the book, used by the vast majority of Russian high school students, presents various views and that the secular state is in the business of teaching science, not religion.

"I don't think it created a problem worth a lawsuit," said Andrei Polozov, principal at School No. 148 in St. Petersburg, known as Cervantes Gymnasium. "If a student disagrees with this or that, he's most welcome to express his point of view."

The lawsuit, which names the municipal education committee and federal education ministry as defendants, seeks amendments to the textbook. It also asks for something that Mariya's lawyer, Konstantin Romanov, says is appropriate when someone has been offended: an apology.

Mariya, who does not attend church, says the lawsuit was her idea. But she is weary of the publicity, forming her finger and thumb into the shape of a pistol and holding it to her temple when asked if she is tired of giving interviews.

She did not attend the first two court hearings and seems far less interested in the outcome than her father, Kirill Shraiber, who spoke to the court on her behalf, and Anton Vuima, a family friend who heads a public relations firm called Spiritual Heritage.

Vuima, whose firm goes by the slogan, "We Create Sensations," believes that nothing short of society's collapse is at stake when it comes to the teaching of evolution. He, like the lawsuit, contends that Darwinism, while not a political ideology, stems from Marxist-Leninist ideology; after all, both Darwin and Karl Marx, who is said to have offered to dedicate Das Kapital to the scientist, wrote of grand struggles for survival.

Before launching the current "information war" against Darwin - which includes the Web site antidarvin.com and a special number that is accepting text-message "votes" for and against the scientist - Vuima set out to determine how society as a whole had become so morally bankrupt.

He decided, in short, that it was because of a lack of faith in God. And, by his logic, since Darwin's theory as presented in schools essentially teaches that there is no God, Darwin himself is the enemy.

"If we want to have a high level of morality, not just in Russia but all over the world, we have to challenge Darwin's theory," Vuima said. "Darwin's theory kills morality. It denies the copyright of God."

Mariya's lawyer frames the argument in decidedly less sweeping, more legalistic, terms: "Secular education should not be based on offending the feelings of religious believers," Romanov said.

The Shraibers announced their plans for the lawsuit at a March news conference that featured free bananas. In July, when they mailed the paperwork to court, they were accompanied by an actor in a monkey suit - a stunt since dubbed "stupid" by Romanov, who asked that the monkey not come near him.

"That was his idea," said Mariya, pointing to her father, a graphic artist who runs an advertising firm.

Mariya says the publicity makes her uncomfortable. She dyed her hair jet black and has taken to wearing a hood in public.

The Russian Orthodox Church is standing behind her. The Rev. Artemy Skripkin, head of the youth department of the St. Petersburg patriarchate, attended court hearings in a show of support. The next, perhaps final, one is scheduled for February.

"We consider it inadmissible when one theory - the theory of Darwin - is presented as the only true theory," Skripkin said. "Russia has always been presented as an atheist country. We are not all atheists.

"What this school is advocating is atheism, which is wrong."

But Sergei Mamontov, one of the authors, says the book doesn't advocate anything - except the teaching of science. Taking offense to Darwinism, in his view, is like taking offense to the theories of Einstein or Copernicus.

"In middle and high school, students learn scientific theory - and not religious theory - for one simple reason: Nobody is able to prove religious theories," said Mamontov, a professor of biology at Russian State Medical University and a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. "You just have to believe in them."

Mariya is scheduled to graduate from Cervantes Gymnasium next year, but it is unclear whether she will be able to do so. As she explained recently on a day that she skipped school to do two more interviews, she expects up to six failing grades at the end of the term. Her father is trying to get her into another school, but says he can't find one that will accept her.

She seems uncertain how to respond when asked whether her lawsuit - and the principles outlined in it - are worth the effort.

"I think," she said, "I should do something good in life."


ExxonMobil cultivates global warming doubt -report


03 Jan 2007 20:30:32 GMT Source: Reuters

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Energy giant ExxonMobil borrowed tactics from the tobacco industry to raise doubt about climate change, spending $16 million on groups that question global warming, a science watchdog group said on Wednesday.

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said at a telephone news conference releasing the report.

An ExxonMobil spokesman did not respond immediately to calls for comment.

The union, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said ExxonMobil, the world's biggest publicly traded corporation, had succeeded in parlaying a relatively modest investment into unwarranted public doubt on findings that have been overwhelmingly endorsed by mainstream science.

ExxonMobil did this by using the same methods used for decades by the U.S. tobacco industry, the report said, including:

-- raising doubts about even the most undisputed science;

-- funding a variety of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform;

-- recruiting a number of vocal climate change contrarians;

-- portraying its opposition to action as a quest for "sound science" rather than business self-interest;

-- using its access to the Bush administration to shape federal communications and policies on global warming.


U.S. tobacco companies used these tactics for decades to hide the hazards of smoking, and were found liable in federal court last year for violating racketeering laws.

Global warming has been blamed for stronger hurricanes, more wildfires and worse droughts. While there have been cycles of warming and cooling throughout Earth's history, the last 30 years have seen a steep warming trend which most scientists say is due to emission of so-called greenhouse gases by the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, factories and power plants.

ExxonMobil has funded legitimate scientific studies on climate change, the watchdog report said, but noted it has also spent approximately $16 million between 1998 and 2005 on 43 organizations that have cast doubt on the reality of human-caused global warming.

The report said these have ranged from $30,000 for the group Africa Fighting Malaria, which argues on its Web site against urgent action on climate change, to $1.6 million to the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business think tank in Washington.

James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography and director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, noted a 2005 statement issued by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 10 science academies from other countries, affirming that "climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action."

"This report reveals for the first time the degree to which efforts to exaggerate uncertainty in climate science produce non scientific reports designed to cast doubt on published scientific climate studies have been orchestrated by ExxonMobil," McCarthy said at the news conference.

Ancient global warming was jarring, not subtle, study finds


By Robert Lee Hotz, Times Staff Writer January 5, 2007

Foreshadowing potential climate chaos to come, early global warming caused unexpectedly severe and erratic temperature swings as rising levels of greenhouse gases helped transform Earth, a team led by researchers at UC Davis said Thursday.

The global transition from ice age to greenhouse 300 million years ago was marked by repeated dips and rises in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and wild swings in temperature, with drastic effects on forests and vegetation, the researchers reported in the journal Science.

"It was a real yo-yo," said UC Davis geochemist Isabel Montanez, who led researchers from five universities and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in a project funded by the National Science Foundation. "Should we expect similar but faster climate behavior in the future? One has to question whether that is where we are headed."

The provocative insight into planetary climate change counters the traditional view that global warming could be gradual and its regional effects easily anticipated.

Over several million years, carbon dioxide in the ancient atmosphere increased from about 280 parts per million to 2,000 ppm, the same increase that experts expect by the end of this century as remaining reserves of fossil fuels are burned.

No one knows the reason for so much variation in carbon dioxide levels 300 million years ago, but as modern industrial activity continues to pump greenhouse gases into the air at rapid rates, the unpredictable climate changes that took millions of years to unfold naturally could be compressed into a few centuries or less today, several experts said.

Carbon dioxide levels last year reached 380 ppm, rising at almost twice the rate of a decade ago, experts said. Average global temperatures have been rising about 0.36 of a degree Fahrenheit per decade for the last 30 years.

Still, the transformation of ancient Earth documented by Montanez and her colleagues makes the current spate of extreme weather events — extended droughts, killing heat waves and powerful hurricane seasons — appear mild by comparison.

From a planet whose landscape was buried in ice miles thick, the Earth convulsed into an ice-free world covered in drifts of wind-blown dust and sparse vegetation, in spasm after spasm of temperature shifts that rose and fell 7 to 18 degrees at a time, Montanez said.

The scientists studied the late Paleozoic period, between 305 million and 265 million years ago, when Earth was far different.

Land masses were gridlocked in a single super-continent largely sheathed in ice. Shallow seas regularly rose and fell. The sun was weaker. The atmosphere's chemistry was different. And, in this single epoch, life experienced its greatest expansion in diversity of forms, followed abruptly by its largest mass extinction.

Just as during the modern era, however, the Earth of the late Paleozoic was shifting from an ice age to a warmer greenhouse world — the only other era in the planet's history to experience such a transition, said Yale University geochemist Robert Berner, an expert on climate and evolution who was not involved in the research.

"This is the closest thing we have to a direct analogue to the future," said geoscientist Lee Kump at Pennsylvania State University, who also was not a member of the research team. "If we want to better understand the [contemporary] climate response, we have to go back to this late Paleozoic period."

Like diggers after dinosaur fossils, the researchers attacked ancient sediments in gullies, road cuts and stream beds with picks, shovels and bulldozers in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Texas.

After five years, they had compiled the first carefully dated and cross-referenced archive of the period's primeval soils and fossil plant matter, they reported.

Geochemical analysis of iron oxides and isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen revealed telling evidence of temperature variation, rainfall patterns and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels through 40 million years of the Paleozoic, covering the period of major climate warming. They correlated those findings with an analysis of shellfish fossil remains, to compare those findings against marine carbon levels.

"It is an extraordinary improvement on past estimates," said Yale paleoclimate expert Mark Pagani, who was not involved in the research.

Instead of a relatively gradual transition from a cold world to a warm one, as many scientists had believed occurred, Montanez and her colleagues found fever spikes of climate change correlated with fluctuating levels of carbon dioxide, like a seismometer graph of the myriad tremors before and after a major earthquake.

"CO2 goes up and temperature goes up. It drops and temperature drops," Montanez said.

"It suggests," she said, "that the normal behavior in major climate transitions is instability, erratic temperature behavior and carbon dioxide changes."


Evolution education update: January 5, 2007

There is renewed controversy about the sale of a young-earth creationist book in bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park. Meanwhile, Ronald L. Numbers is interviewed in Salon, and Brian Alters's export witness statement from Selman v. Cobb County is now available on-line.


Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- "a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values" -- is charging the National Park Service with stalling on a promised review of a creationist book sold at the bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park. Although the park's bookstores are operated by a separate non-profit organization, the Grand Canyon Association, the National Park Service is responsible for approving the items that are sold there. In August 2003, the NPS approved the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, edited by Tom Vail and published by Master Books, the publishing arm of the Institute for Creation Research. A Different View expounds a young-earth creationist view of the geology of the canyon, and proclaims that "all contributions have been peer-reviewed to ensure a consistent and biblical perspective." In his review of the book, the geologist Wilfred Elders described it as "'Exhibit A' of a new, slick strategy by biblical literalists to proselytize using a beautifully illustrated, multi-authored book about a spectacular and world-famous geological feature," adding, "Allowing the sale of this book within the National Park was unfortunate. In the minds of some buyers, this could imply NPS approval of young-earth creationists and their religious proselytizing."

After the sale of A Different View was approved, the superintendent of the park appealed to the NPS headquarters for "a review of the book in terms of its appropriateness," and the Chief of the Park Service's Geologic Resources Division recommended its removal, saying that it "does not use accurate, professional and scholarly knowledge; is not based on science but a specific religious doctrine; does not further the public's understanding of the Grand Canyon's existence; [and] does not further the mission of the National Park Service." Meanwhile, the sale of the book became a matter of public controversy: Elders's review appeared in Eos (the weekly newsletter of the American Geophysical Union); the presidents of the American Paleontological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Association of American State Geologists, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, the American Geological Institute, and the Geological Society of America signed a joint letter to the NPS, urging that A Different View be removed "from shelves where buyers are given the impression that the book is about earth science and its content endorsed by the National Park Service"; and stories about the controversy appeared in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. A spokesperson for the NPS repeatedly assured the press and Congress that the promised review would be forthcoming.

In a December 28, 2006, press release, however, PEER charged, "Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park." Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, commented, "As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan." In a December 28, 2006, letter, PEER urged the new director of NPS, Mary Bomar, to remove the book from sale at the park's bookstores and museums as well as to "[p]rovide training to the interpretive staff at Grand Canyon NP regarding how to answer questions from the public concerning the geologic age of the Canyon and related matters; and ... [a]pprove an updated version of the long-stalled pamphlet 'National Park Service Geologic Interpretive Programs: Distinguishing Science from Religion' for distribution to agency interpretive staff." It ought to be noted that PEER is not charging the NPS with forbidding its interpretive staff to present the scientific facts about the canyon's age and geology, but only with not providing its staff with the resources it needs to do so effectively, especially when faced with park visitors who have questions about, or even embrace, views that reject those facts on religious grounds.

Prompted by PEER's press release, the controversy over the sale of A Different View is beginning to attract attention again in the media, with the Arizona Daily Sun (January 4, 2007) offering a report in which a spokesperson for the NPS was quoted as saying, "We do not use the creationist text in our teaching, nor do we endorse its content. However, it is not our place to censor alternate beliefs." But the Sacramento Bee (January 4, 2007) suggested, in a forceful and cogent editorial entitled "Don't use parks to promote creationism," "A new year and a new National Park Service director mark an opportunity for change. Here's an easy one. Settle the 3-year-old controversy about a creationist account of the Grand Canyon." The editorial argued that "Mary Bomar, the new National Park Service director, should send a message that programs and materials in national parks present the best scientific evidence and don't endorse any particular religious beliefs," and concluded by urging Bomar to "fix this easily and quickly: Remove the book from sale from within the park; its proper place is for sale in private bookstores outside the public park. Equally important, finish the long-delayed pamphlet 'National Park Service Geologic Interpretive Program: Distinguishing Science from Religion' and distribute it to park rangers. The nation's public parks are not the place to promote religious theories about the formation and development of Earth."

A spokesperson for the NPS, David Barna, told The New York Times (January 5, 2007) that there was no formal review of whether the bookstores ought to discontinue selling A Different View in part because of differences among the NPS's specialists. According to the Times, "When officials got together to discuss the book, the geologists and natural resource specialists would say, 'Get this book out of here,' Mr. Barna said. 'But the education and interpretation people would say: 'Wait a minute. If your science is so sound, the fact that there are differences of opinion should not scare you away.'" In a written statement, the Times reported, Barna "notes that Park Service management policies require reliance on 'the best scientific evidence available' and, as a result, rangers tell visitors that "the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years." But the Times also reported that "the guidelines also say that material available from concessionaires in national parks should adhere to the standards used to evaluate Park Service materials." PEER's executive director Jeff Ruch was quoted as contending that selling the book promoted fundamentalist Christian views: "This is government establishment of religion in a fairly fundamental way, if you pardon the pun."

For Wilfred Elders's review of the book at issue, visit:

For a discussion of the controversy over its sale, visit:

For PEER's press release, visit:

For PEER's letter to the new director of the NPS (PDF), visit:

For the story in the Arizona Daily Sun, visit:

For the editorial in the Sacramento Bee, visit:

And for the story in The New York Times, visit:


The historian of creationism Ronald L. Numbers was interviewed by Salon (January 2, 2007). His interviewer, Steve Paulson, summarizes: "Numbers says much of what we think about anti-evolutionism is wrong. For one thing, it's hardly a monolithic movement. There are, in fact, fierce battles between creationists of different stripes. And the 'creation scientists' who believe in a literal reading of the Bible have, in turn, little in common with the leaders of intelligent design. Numbers also dismisses the whole idea of warfare between science and religion going back to the scientific revolution. He argues this is a modern myth that serves both Christian fundamentalists and secular scientists." Numbers is the author of the classic historical account The Creationists, recently reissued (Harvard University Press, 2006) with two new chapters (on creationism abroad and on "intelligent design").

To read the interview of Numbers (free site pass required), visit:

To purchase the expanded edition of The Creationists (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:


Along with Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University and NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, Brian Alters of McGill University was recruited to testify for the plaintiffs in the retrial of Selman v. Cobb County -- the case that challenged the constitutionality of textbook warning stickers describing evolution as "a theory, not a fact." Since the case was settled, Alters will not testify, but his statement is now available on NCSE's website. In it, Alters (a member of NCSE's board of directors) summarized, "The effect of the Sticker Policy will be to: (1) engender student misconceptions about evolution and the nature of science, (2) require science teachers to use poor pedagogy, (3) require science teachers to disregard findings of the scientific community, (4) require science teachers to disregard recommendations of their national professional science teacher associations, (5) contradict teachers' professional preparation and professional development, and (6) improperly prepare students for postsecondary science education at secular schools."

For Alters's expert witness statement (PDF), visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Georgia, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=GA http://www2.ncseweb.org/selman/

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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.

With best wishes for the new year,

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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Evolution is reality


January 05, 2007

I was disappointed to read the letter in support of intelligent design. That all life descended with modifications from common ancestors is not theory, it is fact. ID proponents ignore the vast mountains of evidence and grasp one biological puzzle, declaring it proof of their assertions? No reputable biologist on earth disputes the reality of evolution and studies in DNA are now sealing the deal.

The letter mentioned that the discovery of microscopic machines was proof of ID. It's flagella of bacteria that use proteins like a motor. It's a question not fully solved. Three known ways this complexity could have evolved are parallel evolution, discarding redundant functions and adopting a function. No science is advanced by declaring questions unsolvable.

I read that 45 percent of U.S. citizens believe the earth to be 6,000 to 10,000 years old. If true, it means we have a dangerous crisis in our educational system.

We are further diminished by the fact that out of the top 21 developed countries, our 12th-graders rank 16th in science and 19th in math. Carl Sagan said, "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."

Ray Melnik

Salisbury Mills

John Derbyshire at NRO Had a Bad Christmas… or Something


John Derbyshire, the vitriolic anti-ID crusader over at National Review Online, must have had a really bad Christmas. Or something. In his post-Christmas column at NRO, he is more shrill and bombastic in his denunciations of ID than ever, if that's possible.

At the same time Derbyshire criticizes supporters of ID for their supposedly "ad hominem" arguments, he also: (1) accuses "ID fanatics" of threatening the life of Judge Jones of Kitzmiller v. Dover fame; (2) denounces "the whole ID business… [as] riddled with dishonesty"; (3) lashes out at "Intelligent Design buncombe and its shifty promoters"; (4) says that while he "daresay there are some honest and sincere people pushing the ID agenda… taken as a whole, it is all a bit shabby and ignoble"; (5) insinuates that ID proponents are money-grubbing low-lifes who are mostly interested in "merrily raising funds… whizzing round the country on their junkets… collecting their book royalties, and disdaining to do anything as grubbily tedious as actual scientific research." Derbyshire seems to be competing with himself to see how many ad hominem attacks he can include in a single column. Such outbursts must be embarrassing for National Review, a fine publication which used to be a model of reasoned debate and thoughtful analysis. It still is in most areas, but Derbyshire's intemperate rants don't do it any credit. It says something when PBS has been more fair-minded in its coverage of ID than a writer at NRO (see here and here). Derbyshire is entitled to his viewpoint, of course. Unfortunately, he shows very little evidence of having read both sides of the current debate, instead relying almost wholly on such impeccable sources as Barbara Forrest, the long-time board member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association who seems to think that anyone who supports ID wants to impose theocracy.

For the record, ID scientists not only do scientific research and produce scholarly publications, they often face persecution and intimidation if they express their views openly. Indeed, as the case of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian Institution shows, a scientist who merely treats intelligent design with an open-mind is liable to be subjected to harassment and discrimination. And the insinuation by Derbyshire that ID proponents are somehow in it for the money rather than because of their sincere beliefs about the evidence is the sort of baseless smear one would usually expect from the far-left, not a writer for National Review. The claim is also laughable, given the fact that the entire ID program at Discovery Institute receives far less funding than the budget, say, of the biology program at a single major state university; it also receives far less funding than the budgets of the major Biblical "creationist" groups. If ID scholars are making a difference, it's not because of the power of their pocketbooks, it's because of the power of their ideas.

The very shrillness of the attacks by Derbyshire and other anti-ID zealots exposes the bankruptcy of their position. Unable to respond to the substantive arguments being put forward by ID proponents (except when they caricature them), these critics increasingly rely on trying to demonize supporters of ID. But in the process they only discredit themselves.

Posted by John West on January 5, 2007 3:10 PM | Permalink

Jesus spotted on a tree in Florida


"Jesus don't just pop up like that. If you know the word of Jesus and you believe in Jesus, then there you go. He does exist."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Man-made religious decorations are a common sight at this time of year, but the image on a tree in an Arlington man's front yard is natural and some neighbors have begun calling it a holy tree, according to a WJXT-TV report.

Neighbors near Daryl Brown's Arlington home said a tree in his yard bears the image of Jesus. The likeness has created a buzz in the neighborhood and has many residents at a loss for words.

"I see the face, eyes, and you can see the crown," said one neighbor.

"I can't say what I feel, I just feel it," said another neighbor.

The image was discovered a week before Christmas by a woman walking her dog, the report said. Overjoyed by what she saw, the woman shared the news with her neighbor.

"Nancy said, 'Would you like to see something? Just make sure you see it. I don't want to have to show it to you first," Brown said.

Brown recently moved to Arlington from Texas. He said the tree has given him and his family comfort as a symbol that everything is going to be OK in their new home.

"It's a blessing for me just coming to town, getting introduced and meeting new people out here ... When she showed me that, I said, 'OK, there is a Jesus.'" Brown said.

Similar to other cases of similar sightings, there will be skeptics. However, Brown said no skeptic could convince him the image is anything but Jesus Christ.

"Jesus don't just pop up like that. If you know the word of Jesus and you believe in Jesus, then there you go. He does exist," Brown said.

The woman who discovered the image told WJXT-TV that she moved to the neighborhood after she retired to find some peace and quiet, but that she did not realize she would find Jesus. She said every time she walks her dog she is comforted knowing Jesus is watching over her.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Evangelist sued for claiming that God heals


By Sadie Gray

Published: 02 January 2007

A tele-evangelist with a large following across the United States is being sued by relatives over her claim that prayer cured her brother's throat cancer.

Darlene Bishop's claims appear in her book, Your Life Follows Your Words, which fails to mention that her brother, the songwriter Darrell "Wayne" Perry, died of the disease 18 months ago.

Mr Perry's four children have filed a lawsuit against their aunt for wrongful death, claiming that she persuaded him to stop chemotherapy and to depend instead upon God's healing.

Mrs Bishop, who is co-pastor at a 4,000-congregation Ohio church, also claims that prayer cured her of breast cancer.

In her blog she dismissed the allegations as "complete lies", adding that he had been in remission for more than a year when the book was published.

What's New Friday January 5, 2007

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 5 Jan 07 Washington, DC


The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on Wednesday describing Exxon Mobil's efforts to manipulate public opinion on Global Warming. In doing so the report further exposes the role of Steven J. Milloy, the notorious "Junkman" who wrote Junk Science Judo (CATO, 2001), and a column for Fox News. WN reported a year ago that Milloy, who masquerades as a fearless debunker of bad science, in real life works for oil and tobacco giants http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn020306.html.


Somewhere between six thousand and six million years is as close as they can come. The six million year figure comes from adding up the ages of the geologic strata exposed on the canyon walls. You get six thousand years by adding up the "begats" in the Old Testament until you get back to Noah. So which is it? Three years ago, bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park began selling "Grand Canyon: A Different View," approved by the Park Service. The book explains that runoff from Noah's flood carved the canyon http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN04/wn010204.html. A promised review of whether the book should be sold in the Park stalled "over issues of church and state." Whoa! Geology is not church or state, it's science. Mary Bomar, Director of the National Park Service since October, should be called on to keep this silly religious tract out of National Park bookstores.


During a recent prayer retreat, God told him that a terrorist attack on the U.S. late in 2007 will result in a "mass killing". Robertson relayed God's message to "The 700 Club" on Tuesday. "The Lord didn't say nuclear, but I do believe it will be something like that." "I have a relatively good track record," he said. "Sometimes I miss." It's not clear whether God mumbles, or Robertson takes poor notes, but maybe in the future he could take along a recorder. He once asked God to unleash hurricanes on sinful Florida, but if sin leads to hurricanes, Florida has been sinful since they began keeping weather records.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

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Indian experts to teach Ayurveda in US schools


New Delhi, Jan 5. (PTI): In a bid to make alternative medicine more popular in the US, Indian experts may soon start teaching medical students about Ayurveda in some of America's best colleges.

"The proposal is in the pipeline. We want to make Indian alternative medicine more popular in the west," Shiv Basant, Joint Secretary in the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy(AYUSH), told PTI.

The Ayurveda experts are likely to take a short course for the US medical students under the Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) in 16 colleges.

Basant said, for the past two years they have initiated international exchange programmes to promote India's traditional medicinal system.

"For the past two years in Connecticut our experts have been teaching medical students and graduates about alternative medicines. This programme would be an extension," he said.

Navin Shah, who is the founder and past president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin in the US and who has been trying to promote this programme, said that as India has not been able to advocate their alternative system, Chinese and Koreans are benefiting in America.

Shah, a famous urologist based in Washington DC and who was here in connection with the programme, said he has already attended a meeting of 16 college deans and their representatives at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC on the matter.

"There is tremendous interest on the subject. Interest has also been shown by American medical students and graduates to come to India and take a one-year course in Ayurveda," he said.

Shah said, the National Health Institute has shown interest for a joint Indo-US research on Ayurveda.

"They are ready to fund the research. It will be a great thing for India," he said.

He said students, faculty members and graduates of four colleges of Wasghinton DC, four of New York, two of Baltimore, and three each of Philadelphia and Boston would be attending the Ayurveda classes.

"The only condition we have stipulated is that these experts should be able to scientifically validate that they have been able to cure the diseases," he said.

The students would not be charged any fees for attending the classes, he said. "For the first time, we will not charge them. Maybe later, we would do that, but it is yet to be decided," he said.

He said, they are yet to decide about the two experts. "In America, the concept is now to heal mind-body-and soul and this could be done through Ayurveda," he said.

Shah said, the classes might encourage many American graduates to come to India and learn the craft."

"They could be great potential cliental for India," he said.

When the Non-religious Tell the Religious to Accept Evolution


I don't necessarily believe that religion has to always be incompatible with evolution, but it's always amusing when unreligious people try to convince the religious that Darwinism is highly compatible with religion. The famous example is of course Eugenie Scott, a signatory of the Third Humanist Manifesto, who recommends that biology teachers discuss pro-evolution theological viewpoints in public schools. This past week has revealed two more examples of attempts by unreligious scholars telling the public that religion and evolution are compatible:

H. Allen Orr

In an article in the latest issue of New York Review of Books, evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr attacks Dawkins for fighting against religion and says, "it's far from certain that there is an ineluctable conflict between the acceptance of evolutionary mechanism and the belief that, as William James put it, 'the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe.'" But Orr also acknowledges: "I don't pretend to know whether there's more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins's general conclusion is right."

Ronald Numbers

Another attempt to sway the religious was made by famous historian of creationism, Ronald Numbers. His article in Journal of Clinical Investigation last summer gave minimal indication that evolution and religion can conflict:

[T]he creationists have fostered a false duality between science and religion. A majority of people do not hold a literal young-earth interpretation of the Bible. The clerical community has a shared interest in keeping science and religion apart. They do not want religion to be presented as science and, like a large block of religious scientists, do not see any conflict between religious belief and evolutionary theory.

Additionally, in a recent interview, Numbers said that Dawkins' arguments against religion do "a terrible disservice to public policy in the United States." Yet in the same interview Numbers himself discusses how evolution influenced his drift away from religion. Numbers explained that while he was at "Berkeley in the '60s as a graduate student in history and learned to read critically," he was "exposed to critiques of young earth creationism" and subsequently abandoned his belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Today the noted historian of the evolution-debate claims in the interview that he has no religious beliefs, even though he desires to believe:

What are your religious beliefs now?

I don't have any.

Are you an atheist?

I don't think so. I think that's a belief -- that there's no God. I really wanted to have religious beliefs for a long time. I miss not having the certainty of religious knowledge that I grew up with. But after a number of years of trying to resolve these issues, I decided they're not resolvable. So I think the term "agnostic" would be best for me.

(Seeing the light -- of science: Ronald Numbers -- a former Seventh-day Adventist and author of the definitive history of creationism -- discusses his break with the church, whether creationists are less intelligent and why Galileo wasn't really a martyr, by Steve Paulson (Salon.com)

Numbers also gives his view as to why so many non-religious Darwinists ardently advocate that evolution and religion do not conflict:

In the United States, the 90 percent who are theists far outnumber the 10 percent who are nontheists. So you want to remember that you are a minority, and that you need to get along, so some compromise might be in order. I'm not suggesting that he should compromise his own views. But by arguing not only that the implications of evolution for him are atheistic but that evolution is inherently atheistic is a risky thing.

Numbers seems to be suggesting that many non-religious Darwinists promote the view that evolution and religion do not conflict because of pragmatic concerns, as they desire to create an environment which is friendlier towards the non-religious. If Numbers is correct, then this would explain why non-religious Darwinists so commonly tell the religious that they should accept evolution.

Posted by Casey Luskin on January 4, 2007 2:13 PM | Permalink

Creationism believer joins state board



COLUMBUS - In one of the quietest, most overlooked elections on Nov. 7, an amazing thing happened in an Ohio state school board race in Southwest Ohio. A little-known West Chester mom who'd never won elected public office knocked off an incumbent.

Susan Haverkos, who spent $3,500 of her own money on her campaign, defeated school board member Tom Gunlock and two other opponents. Gunlock and the other candidates each spent three times as much, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Haverkos emphasized support for teaching intelligent design in 10th-grade science classes - an issue over which the 19-member board has clashed.

Haverkos has described herself as Christian and conservative - but stresses that she's representing all residents of the district, which covers Butler, Miami, and Montgomery counties and part of Darke County.

"I didn't come here with any preconceived notions and I'm not a one-issue person," she said at a December board meeting. She officially takes office on Monday.

"You can't cover up that you're a Christian, and I wouldn't want to. But I represent constituents with a million different opinions, and each one is going to get my complete attention and respect," Haverkos said.

During the campaign, she was quoted by a Dayton Daily News blog as saying, "Did we come out of bubbling ooze or did we come out of something else? That question, to say it's been solved, is a stretch."

Intelligent design holds that Earth and all living beings came about from an intelligent creator.

"I'm interested in art in the classroom and programs for gifted children," she said. "I want to respectfully listen to everyone and try to change the polarized political environment that has guided this board."

Haverkos said she wants her daughter to make up her own mind about evolution and not have it dictated to her in a middle school science class.

That position, known as "teaching the controversy," has been discarded by organizations made up of scientists and academics such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Inter-University Council of Ohio and the Ohio Academy of Science.

Haverkos, 45, and her husband, Mark, own and operate an Internet and technology equipment business.

Don't use parks to promote creationism


Article Last Updated: 01/05/2007 09:07:13 AM PST

A NEW YEAR and a new National Park Service director mark an opportunity for change. Here's an easy one. Settle the 3-year-old controversy about a creationist account of the Grand Canyon.

Approved for sale by a 5-member panel of the National Park Service and Grand Canyon Association in July 2003, the book "Grand Canyon, a Different View," published by Canyon Ministries, urges readers to "see the canyon from a biblical perspective and understand how it fits into the flood of Noah." The book proclaims that the layers of the Grand Canyon formed through a single catastrophic flood — the flood of Noah — a few thousand years ago, not by the slow erosion of the Colorado River over millions of years.

Mary Bomar, the new National Park Service director, should send a message that programs and materials in national parks present the best scientific evidence and don't endorse any particular religious beliefs.

Wilfred Elders, a University of California, Riverside, geologist, brought this issue to the attention of the larger public, writing that the book is not a "geological treatise," but rather part of a "new, slick strategy to proselytize by biblical literalists." Allowing the sale of the book within the national park could imply that the National Park Service approves "of young Earth creationists and their religious proselytizing."

The park service requires three standards for products sold in Grand Canyon National Park: support of interpretive themes, accuracy of information and appropriateness. The review panel's park service representative indicated that the creationist book was neither accurate nor inaccurate, and gave it neither high nor low marks for support of interpretive themes and appropriateness — yet inexplicably recommended approval.

David Shaver, chief of the park service's Geologic Resources Division, followed with a January 2004 memo, which said the book "does not use accurate, professional and scholarly knowledge; is not based on science but a specific religious doctrine; does not further the public's understanding of the Grand Canyon's existence; does not further the mission of the National Park Service." He concluded that the book shouldn't have been approved for sale in national parks stores. He was ignored.

Bomar, the park service director, can fix this quickly: Remove the book from sale within the park; its proper place is for sale in private bookstores outside the public park. Equally important, finish the long-delayed pamphlet "National Park Service Geologic Interpretive Program: Distinguishing Science from Religion" and distribute it to park rangers. The nation's public parks are not the place to promote religious theories about the formation and development of Earth.

Sacramento Bee


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