NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 February 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tabletop fusion claims ignite a furor at Purdue


By Jeremy Manier Tribune staff reporter

Published February 9, 2007

Accusations of research misconduct have roiled the school of nuclear engineering at Purdue University over the last year, stemming from one professor's claims to have discovered a potential source of cheap energy through tabletop nuclear fusion.

The target of the allegations was exonerated this week in an academic report. But the inquiry's end is unlikely to quell the rivalries and professional trash-talking spurred by Purdue engineering professor Rusi Taleyarkhan's work.

Taleyarkhan, who led the controversial research while he was at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, co-authored a paper in 2002 purporting to show "bubble fusion" brought about by intense implosions of bubbles in a liquid bombarded with sound waves. Others have struggled without success to replicate the results, though Taleyarkhan says two little-recognized groups have done so.

The controversy escalated in March, when the journal Nature published a news report quoting scientists at Purdue and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who questioned the authenticity of the bubble fusion results.

That Nature report led Purdue officials to appoint a scholarly committee to investigate claims of wrongdoing. The university on Wednesday announced the panel's finding that "the evidence does not support the allegations of research misconduct."

But the committee's conclusions are unlikely to allay some doubters.

Ken Suslick, a professor of chemistry at the U. of I., said the panel appeared not to have considered an analysis by a UCLA physics team that suggested some of the fusion data may have been manipulated.

Neither Suslick nor other outside experts have directly accused Taleyarkhan of fraud. In an interview Thursday, Taleyarkhan said he considers himself vindicated.

"It was an extremely thorough review of the allegations," Taleyarkhan said of the inquiry. Of his own methods, Taleyarkhan said, "We reported our data just the way it came out."

But Purdue nuclear engineering professor Lefteri Tsoukalas, who recruited Taleyarkhan when Tsoukalas headed Purdue's school of nuclear engineering, still has questions.

Tsoukalas said he resigned in October as head of the nuclear engineering school so he could speak freely about his concerns over the research. That marked a turnaround for Tsoukalas, who in 2002 had directed graduate students to begin bubble fusion research to entice Taleyarkhan to join his faculty.

But then problems started cropping up.

"The more we got into the technique, the more elusive it became, more mysterious, like quicksand," Tsoukalas said.

Tsoukalas said Taleyarkhan claimed in 2005 that Tsoukalas' team had confirmed the fusion findings. In fact, Tsoukalas said, his team had failed to replicate the results.

Some of the strongest claims against Taleyarkhan's work came from a team at UCLA led by physicist Seth Putterman. The UCLA group analyzed the claim that the tabletop fusion device had emitted neutrons--a potential signature of a fusion reaction.

But Putterman's group concluded that the neutrons' properties indicated they were not produced by fusion. Instead, the neutrons had a similar energy spectrum to what would result from the decay of a radioactive substance called californium-252.

In essence, the UCLA team was proposing that the neutron readings had come from a stray piece of radioactive material in Taleyarkhan's lab. It's a charge Taleyarkhan fervently denies.

"We've said this over and over again," Taleyarkhan said. "It's a big `No.'"

Although Taleyarkhan considers himself exonerated, Suslick said the physics community has rejected the research.

"I'm unaware of any reputable scientist" who believes the fusion claim, Suslick said.

Taleyarkhan said he respects Suslick's work on the chemistry of bubble implosions, but the U. of I. professor "has no expertise in nuclear particle detection."

For Tsoukalas, the idea that Taleyarkhan's work was a mirage is painful.


Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Believers accepting evolution


February 10, 2007

Founded by a professor at Butler University, Evolution Sunday reconciles faith and science in churches in Indiana and across the country

By Robert King robert.king@indystar.com

More than 530 congregations across the country, as well as 16 in Indiana, will observe Evolution Sunday this week.


Age: 53.

Founder: Evolution Sunday and the Clergy Letter Project.

Academic titles: Professor of biology and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University.

Religious affiliation: None.


Date: Sunday.

Activities: Sermons, songs, classes and discussion groups.

First celebration: Last year, Feb. 12, 2006 -- the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.

Churches involved in 2006: 467.

Churches involved in 2007: 592, a 27 percent increase.

Web site: www.evolutionsunday.org

Founded by Michael Zimmerman, a professor of biology and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, Evolution Sunday is intended to show that faith and evolutionary science are compatible.

Zimmerman, 53, has no religious affiliation but finds himself leading the effort. His involvement began in 2004 when, as a teacher in Wisconsin, he rallied clergy in the state to sign a letter opposing a local school board's effort to pass anti-evolution policies.

His cause went national in 2005, and more than 10,000 clergy members have signed a letter stating evolution is a "foundational scientific truth."

We spoke with Zimmerman this week about Evolution Sunday, the limits of science and whether he plans to visit a creationism museum opening this spring near Cincinnati.

Question: Evolution Sunday started with your Clergy Letter Project. Tell us what the thinking is behind that.

Answer: The clergy letter is designed to do a couple of things. It is designed to demonstrate to the American people that you can be a good Christian and still accept evolution. It is designed to demonstrate to the American people that those really loud and shrill fundamentalist voices saying you have to choose between modern science and religion are just incorrect. They are producing a false dichotomy. This is not me as an individual speaking, but 10,550 Christian clergy members who have signed the letter. . . . It seems to me the American people are very religious. Many American people don't go to churches regularly, but they consider themselves religious. If you force them to choose between science and religion, they will choose religion. What fundamentalists are trying to make them do is to make that choice. It is a false choice. The second thing the clergy letter does is show that the fundamentalists are not speaking for all Christians. It is trying to reclaim Christianity for what it is designed to be and move it from a political spectrum.

Q: What is Evolution Sunday?

A: What we created Evolution Sunday to do is to elevate the quality of the debate between science and religion. To provide more than sound bites to give people an opportunity in their congregations, in ways that are most comfortable to them, a way to analyze and discuss a very important and complex issue. The way we have created Evolution Sunday is to allow every congregation that wants to participate to do so in the way that is most comfortable for it.

Q: What are some ways people are taking part in Evolution Sunday?

A: I am a biologist. I am not a religious leader. I am certainly not promoting specific activities. However, our Web site lists at least 50 sermons that last year our participants delivered. If ministers want to use those as jumping-off points, that's a way to do things. We have people running adult discussion groups. We have people running confirmation classes. We have people showing videos. We have a group in Boulder, Colorado, taking an interesting maze on their grounds and turning it into an evolutionary timeline.

Q: How can the biblical story of creation be compatible with evolution?

A: They can be perfectly compatible as long as you don't take the Bible to be a science text (and) if you are (not) going to read the Bible literally and accept every word in the Bible as scientific fact -- which virtually nobody does anymore; even the literalists pick and choose what they want to be literal about. If you take the Bible as a great work of art, a great work of morality, a great work that will show people how to live and lead their lives, then there is no problem with the Bible . . . and it doesn't conflict with science at all.

Q: But there are many people who are literalists, and in a number of cases strict literalists. Does that mean evolution is incompatible with their beliefs?

A: Probably. . . . If somebody wants to believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, it is just wrong. Modern science has disproven that idea. It is just wrong. If you want to believe that speciation cannot occur -- that is, the creation of a new species -- we've seen those things occur. We've seen that happen. If that is what your literal interpretation of the Bible says, then science conflicts with that. If what you want to do is say that God created humans in his own image and he used evolution as a mechanism, that's fine.

Q: You talk sometimes about limits of science. What are they?

A: There are whole areas of the human condition that are critically important to all of us that science simply cannot address. That doesn't mean they are unimportant. It just means that the methodology of science can't be used to discuss them. Science can't talk meaningfully about aesthetics. Do you like the color red or blue more? Do you like abstract art or impressionism? Science can't address those issues. Science can't address politics. Science can't address morality. Science can't address religion and the existence of God. . . . They just fall outside of the scientific realm. The people who want to redefine science -- and this is what the intelligent design people and the Discovery Institute people are all about -- to move it away from naturalistic explanations of the material world to include supernatural explanations of the material world. It seems to me these people have science envy.

Q: Looking at the list of churches that are participating in Evolution Sunday, there seem to be a lot of mainline churches but few fundamentalist churches. Do you think you will ever gain traction with those churches?

A: No, probably not. The goal of the Clergy Letter Project is not to change the mind of fundamentalists. If individuals want to believe the world was created 6,000 years ago, that is their right. I'm not trying to change their minds and proselytizing to them to convert them to my way of thinking. What the 10,500 members of the clergy letter project are trying to do is to demonstrate to the broad swath of the American public that this fundamentalist view is only one view of religion in America. It is a view that some people hold. But it is not a dominant view.

Q: While evolution is viewed as foundational and elementary by many scientists, there are some who see flaws in evolutionary thinking and who point out gaps in the fossil record. Do you think that evolution takes a bit of faith as well?

A: No, I don't think it takes any faith. Do we know everything there is to know about evolution? No, of course not. Do we know everything there is to know about any science? By definition, of course not. We are always expanding our horizon. Every time we answer more questions, we ask more. That is what is exciting about science. The fact that there are multiple exciting controversies in the literature about various mechanisms of evolution is why so many people are studying it. The fact that there are controversies within the discipline doesn't mean you throw out the discipline.

Q: Evolution says a lot about how life developed. But we don't hear a lot about ideas on how life began. What is the prevailing scientific theory?

A: That question -- which is not an insignificant question -- is not a question within evolutionary biology. There are people studying the origins of life. There are lots of different hypotheses. They are at the edge of what is scientifically knowable. But they still can be asked in reasonably scientific ways. . . . I am not a cosmologist, and I am not a physicist. I've done a lot of reading in those fields, but I am by no means an expert. The prevailing view in the cosmological universe is that the Big Bang seems to explain the origin of our universe. But that is not an evolutionary perspective.

Q: I received a press release earlier this week about this summer's opening of a $27 million museum near Cincinnati that will be devoted to telling natural history from a Bible-based, anti-evolution standpoint. Do you think you will visit it?

A: Probably not. It is not a museum. It is a theme park. I've never been to Disneyland. I've never been to Disney World. To see dinosaurs and humans cavorting together is just so absurd that it seems meaningless to me. The people like Ken Ham who are running that theme park -- and Ken Ham is the most successful creationist out there right now -- he is an amazing individual. He has laid all the evils of society at the doorstep of evolution . . . that is, we stop accepting evolution, we can defeat AIDS. If that is what he wants taught in our schools, there's a problem.

Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.

Seebach: Reaching out to Christians on evolution

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/opinion_columnists/article/0,2777,DRMN_23972_5341618,00.html Thursday's e-mail from the anti-evolution Discovery Institute headlined "Ranks of Scientists Doubting Darwin's Theory on the Rise" and claimed that "another 100 scientists" have joined those ranks, bringing the total to more than 700. Worldwide.

Are you impressed? Then consider this. As of the same day, the Clergy Letter Project had 10,555 signatures to its open letter, which avows, "We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children."

I am aware that neither scientific nor religious truth is established by popularity polls, but the Discovery Institute wanted to play that game, and they have lost it. Also, what scientists think may not change reality, but reality affects what scientists think and do, so their views are indirect but credible evidence for the correctness of the principles accepted in their field.

The Clergy Letter Project was begun by Michael Zimmerman, then at the University of Wisconsin but now dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University in Indianapolis. Last year, the project sponsored the first "Evolution Sunday," when pastors devoted their sermons or congregational study groups to the topic. The date was Feb. 12, 2006, the 197th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and 467 congregations participated.

This year's Evolution Sunday is tomorrow, and 598 congregations are signed up, 16 of them in Colorado, up from 11 last year, including five participating both years.

The Rev. Hal Chorpenning, senior minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Fort Collins, preached a sermon last year, "The God of Evolution," which I found online at the clergy project (evolutionsunday.org), so I asked him via e-mail whether there was any particular reason why the church wasn't on this year's list. Primarily, he said, "because the idea of evolution is so noncontroversial in our congregation." He added that the response was very positive, and also that after he wrote an Op-Ed for The Coloradoan, the church had "an upsurge in new visitors who are looking for a church that welcomes their minds and their hearts in worship."

The lists of participating churches and signatories to the letter are almost entirely from mainline Protestant churches. There are only a few Catholics, and Zimmerman said by e-mail that is "a simple artifact of how we searched for people to sign The Letter in the first place." It was easier to find names and e-mail addresses for some denominations than others.

In a comment on the weblog pandasthumb.org, Zimmerman said that the clergy letter was explicitly limited to Christian clergy. "Since it is fundamentalist Christian ministers who have been shouting to the American people that they must choose between religion and science, it seemed reasonable to have thousands upon thousands of Christian clergy assert otherwise." He went on, "It simply wouldn't be very persuasive to have leaders of other religions saying to Christians that Christian fundamentalist ministers are not speaking for all Christians."

He also wrote, "The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday are not designed to change the minds of fundamentalists. Rather, our goal is to educate the vast majority of Christians who, if told they have to choose between religion and modern science, are likely to opt for religion."

But Evolution Sunday has a broader purpose than the letter, and next year Zimmerman plans to actively recruit members of other faiths. He's even thinking about changing the name to "Evolution Weekend." Watch for it in 2008.

Linda Seebach is an editorial writer for the News. She can be reached by telephone at (303) 954-2519 or by e-mail at seebach@RockyMountainNews.com.

Friday, February 09, 2007



Congress slams Smithsonian's anti-religious attacks

Report documents 'invidious discrimination' in campaign against Darwin dissenters

Posted: December 16, 2006 1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Bob Unruh © 2006 WorldNetDaily.com

A new report from the U.S. House of Representatives has condemned officials at the Smithsonian Institution for imposing a religious test on scientists who work there. And it suggests their attacks on a scientist who just edited an article on intelligent design are just the tip of the iceberg of an industry-wide fear of anything that suggests man might not have come from a puddle of sludge.

The report, which cited a "strong religious and political component" in the dispute, was prompted by a complaint from Dr. Richard Sternberg, who holds biology doctorates from Binghamton and Florida International universities and has served as a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

It was prepared for U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the subcommittee of criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, and easily confirmed Sternberg's harassment and discrimination allegations that his managers criticized him, created a hostile work environment for him, and now have demoted him because of the article, which he didn't even write.

The report, called "Intolerance and the Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian," suggests that a special federal law giving scientists "freedom of speech" regarding evolution and other theories might be needed to protect Sternberg and others.

"Because of the Smithsonian's continuous refusal to take action in the Sternberg case, Congress should consider statutory language that would protect the free speech rights regarding evolution of scientists at all federally-funded institutions," the report recommended.

The Sternberg case came to light in 2005, but "evidence has accumulated of widespread invidious discrimination against other qualified scientists who dissent from Darwinian theory and/or who are supportive of intelligent design," the report continued.

"In November, 2005, for example, National Public Radio reported that it had talked with 18 university professors and scientists who subscribe to intelligent design. Most would not speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs. One untenured professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia wrote that talking to NPR would be, quote, 'the kiss of death.' Another said, 'There is no way I would reveal myself prior to obtaining tenure,'" the report found.

"In another case, the president of the University of Idaho issued a letter forbidding faculty from teaching alternatives to Darwin's theory in science classes there. The widespread hostility of many scientists to criticisms of Darwinian theory makes further violations in this area by federally-funded institutions likely," it concluded.

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute told WND it's simply egregious that federal officials can use federal time, federal resources, federal money and federal influence to stamp on anything that doesn't agree with their own personal beliefs and faith.

The clash arose after Sternberg, who edited the scientific journal "Proceedings" that legally was separate from Smithsonian but occasionally got some public support, published a peer-reviewed article by the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer, who is a proponent of intelligent design.

Sternberg told a reporter that evolutionary scientists were discussing the issue, and he thought it worth bringing to the table for discussion.

He said his superiors were enraged and tried to force him to leave the institution, and when he wouldn't, as the report now confirms, an e-mail campaign approaching defamation was launched to discredit him.

The new congressional report notes that "Smithsonian scientists" assembled a plan "to punish Dr. Sternberg by seeking to remove him as a Research Associate," and also conspired "to publicly smear him with false information on government time using government e-mails."

"NMNH officials have made clear their intent to prevent any scientist publicly skeptical of Darwinian theory from ever being appointed as a Research Associate, no matter how sterling his or her professional credentials or research. This intent – made clear in e-mails from 2004 – was most recently made evident when Dr. Sternberg was told he could not renew his Research Associateship, but could instead apply to be a Research Collaborator, a position, which … was reserved for 'academically less qualified associates,'" the report said.

"This is discrimination, plain and simple," it found.

Sternberg's complaint to the Office of Special Council, which protects federal employees from untoward actions because of their viewpoints, was unable to result in action because technically he was not an "employee."

But the congressional report made up for that in its scathing condemnation of the Smithsonian.

"Specifically, the OSC found that had Dr. Sternberg been protected by Title V of U.S. Code, the NMNH staff would have violated Section 2303 (b) (10) referring to the prohibition on personnel to discriminate against an employee for non-job related activities. Additionally, the OSC found that 'there is a strong religious and political component to the actions taken after the publication of the Meyer article,'" the new report said.

The OSC report told Sternberg: "Our preliminary investigation indicates that retaliation came in many forms. It came in the form of attempts to change your working conditions and even proposals to change how the SI retains and deals with future RAs. During the process you were personally investigated and your professional competence attacked. Misinformation was disseminated throughout the SI and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false. It is also clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI."

"After two years of denials and stonewalling by Smithsonian bureaucrats, a congressional investigation now confirms a campaign of harassment and smears against evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, whose only 'crime' was his honest skepticism of Darwinian dogma," said West. "It's outrageous that the federal government would sanction such blatant discrimination. This is clearly an infringement of Dr. Sternberg's free speech rights."

Sternberg, according to the report, said it's now clear he was "targeted for retaliation and harassment" specifically because he allowed publication of an article critical of neo-Darwinism "and that was considered an unpardonable heresy."

The report said Smithsonian officials acknowledged they wanted to pressure Sternberg to leave and did so by making his life there as difficult as possible. And the report said there's nothing innocuous about a "supervisory authority inquiring into Sternberg's religious and political beliefs."

The organization also grilled Sternberg on whether he "was religious," "was a Republican," "was a fundamentalist," and "was a conservative."

The report also reveals the federal officials conspired with officials at the National Center for Science Education to "spy" on Sternberg.

West said the treatment to which Sternberg was subjected would be the equivalent of a federal supervisor telling an employee: "We found out you've gone to a 'gay' rights rally, therefore you can't have access to our facilities."

"If that happened people would be up in arms," West told WND.

But in this case, one other scientist even joked about those beliefs from the "Bible Belt," and mockingly reported, "the most fun we had by far was when my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the 'under dog' part..."

In the original article, entitled "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," Meyer argued that the theory of intelligent design explains the origin of the genetic information in new life forms better than current materialistic theories of evolution.

Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.

The Discovery Institute is a national, non-profit, non-partisan policy and research organization. It has programs on a variety of issues, including regional transportation development, economics and technology policy, legal reform, and bioethics.

It also was involved in another issue in just recent days, when it issued a report that confirmed a historic judicial ruling against intelligent design theory hailed as a "broad, stinging rebuke" and a "masterpiece of wit, scholarship and clear thinking" actually was "cut and pasted" from a brief by ACLU lawyers.

The Discovery Institute report said one year ago, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones' 139-page ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover declared unconstitutional a school board policy that required students of a ninth-grade biology class in the Dover Area School District to hear a one-minute statement that said evolution is a theory and intelligent design "is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."

But an analysis by the Discovery Institute concludes about 90.9 percent – 5,458 words of his 6,004-word section on intelligent design as science – was taken virtually verbatim from the ACLU's proposed "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" submitted to Jones nearly a month before his ruling.

The Smithsonian could not be reached for comment.

Cardinal Expands Censorship Question


It was gratifying to read the AP account of Cardinal Schoenborn's lecture in New York last night and to note the way that His Eminence once again set the media and others straight on the position of the Catholic Church. It won't make any difference to the Darwinists, of course, because, depending on their audience, they hold either that the Church has accepted Darwinism or that the Catholic Church is just an enemy of reason. Don't confuse Darwinists with evidence on anything.

Earlier yesterday the Cardinal of Vienna (and senior editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) also heard some discussions on evolution by various scholars, including Discovery Institute senior fellow (and biochemist) Michael Behe. Mike reports that the Cardinal made a point of talking with him and was truly enthusiastic and encouraging. Mike made it clear in his own remarks that the scientific theory of ID doesn't tread on the roles of theology or philosophy. Science can do many things, including detect design, but it cannot take over roles that properly belong to religion and philosophy. ID definitely is compatible with these other ways of knowing, of course.

Personally, for me the most satisfying part of the Cardinal's lecture was his critique of court-ordered censorship of ID in school rooms. It seems to have escaped the New York Times and many other opinion leaders that the Kitzmiller (Dover) decision was about that subject. The court had no capacity to judge ID on its scientific merits, but it did have an obligation to speak to First Amendment issues. Sadly, the judge, as we have shown, took over 90 percent of his ruling on ID right out of the ACLU brief—factual errors and all. None of the details presumably matter to the Cardinal, just the blatant effort at censorship.

Since our critics always like to put words—and policy positions—in our mouths, let me remind the reader that Discovery Institute does not support requiring the teaching of ID, only the teaching of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Like Cardinal Schoenborn we also support academic freedom on the subject of intelligent design. Let the critics therefore deal with the true issue of censorship.

Today Discovery announced that another 100 scientists have signed the Dissent from Darwin list. It now totals 700 names. One of the new signers is Dr. Michael Egnor, award winning professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at SUNY (Stony Brook). Says Dr. Egnor, "Darwinism plays no role in medicine. Period." And "Darwinists have not shown any evidence that natural selection is capable of generating significant amounts of information."

He and Cardinal Schoenborn are on the same page: Let people debate this issue openly. Don't try to hide the evidence or shut down the controversy. That is a dead end not only for education, but for science.

Posted by Bruce Chapman on February 8, 2007 4:34 PM | Permalink

Ranks of Scientists Doubting Darwin's Theory on the Rise

Over 700 Scientists Have Signed Scientific Dissent From Darwinism



SEATTLE, Feb. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Another 100 scientists have joined the ranks of scientists from around the world publicly stating their doubts about the veracity of Darwin's theory of evolution.

"Darwinism is a hoax that has been perpetrated for 150 years," says dissent list signer Dr. Michael Egnor. "It's a trivial idea that has been elevated to the status of the scientific theory that governs modern biology." Egnor is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook and an award winning brain surgeon named one of New York's best doctors by New York Magazine.

Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture today announced that over 700 scientists from around the world have now signed a statement expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution. The statement, located online at http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org, reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." "We know intuitively that Darwinism can accomplish some things, but not others," added Egnor. "The question is what is that boundary? Does the information content in living things exceed that boundary? Darwinists have never faced those questions. They've never asked scientifically, can random mutation and natural selection generate the information content in living things."

"More scientists than ever before are now standing up and saying that it is time to rethink Darwin's theory of evolution in light of new scientific evidence that shows the theory is inadequate," said John West, associate director of the Center for science & Culture. "Darwinists are busy making up holidays to turn Charles Darwin into a saint, even as the evidence supporting his theory crumbles and more and more scientific challenges to it emerge."

The list of signatories includes member scientists from National Academies of Science in Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, India (Hindustan), Nigeria, Poland, and the United States. Many of the signers are professors or researchers at major universities and international research institutions such as Cambridge University, Moscow State University, Chitose Institute of Science & Technology in Japan, Ben-Gurion University in Israel, MIT, The Smithsonian and Princeton.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

How Should Scientists Work with the Media and How Should Journalists Report on the Debate Over Evolution?


The Scidev Network is run out of the UK and seems to be focused on Latin America, South America, Africa, the Middle-East and Asia.

The Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) aims to provide reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the developing world.

The organization "aims to provide reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the developing world" with their goal being "to help both individuals and organisations in developing countries make informed decisions about how science and technology can improve economic and social development." They have an interesting section of their website devoted to explaining to scientists and non-journalists how to work with the media and how to communicate their messages to reporters.

Two recent articles caught my interest immediately, "Explaining controversial issues to the media and the public" and "Reporting on controversies in science." I'm always interested in seeing how people are advising the public to convey their message, as well as how journalist are being advised on how to report those stories.

The first article on explaining controversies to the media provided several very good points which scientists on both sides of the Darwin debate would be well advised to heed:

In many cases, scientists can make it more difficult for the public or journalists to understand an issue clearly. They may speculate casually about the implications of preliminary findings that have not been fully examined. They may use jargon that proves impenetrable to the layperson.

I work with scientists all the time. And it is sometimes difficult to get them to remember that not everybody is an expert in evo-devo or paleontology. They have to craft their message to the level of the audience they are addressing, which, for people with PhDs, is sometimes not that easy.

Some additional points made by the author:

Ultimately, you are seeking to leave your audience with a clear understanding, neither exaggerating nor underplaying the controversy that surrounds the issue. You should be willing to acknowledge conflicts and to explain clearly why they exist, even if your own views put you firmly on one side of an argument.

You may also be asked to comment on the motivations of individuals who are involved in a controversial issue, because these can add 'colour' to a story. Be careful not to cause offence, and do not speculate. In many cases, opposing views in a controversy are honestly held, and the protagonists and their supporters will hardly welcome comments that cast doubt on their integrity, for instance by suggesting they have an ulterior motive for their views.

Remember that some degree of uncertainty exists in almost every area of science. Be prepared to explain how significant the evidence is and make sure you recognise when other scientists might credibly offer different interpretations of it. Make a clear distinction between evidence and the conclusions drawn from it. Even when the evidence is inconclusive, you should indicate where the weight of evidence and opinion lies, although there is a chance that a minority view may ultimately be proved correct. (emphasis mine)

Imagine if most of the reporting on the origins debate followed these same guidelines. All we have ever required of the media is accuracy and fairness. If reporters are going to quote three evolutionary biologists supporting Darwinian evolution, they also should try to quote scientists who are critics of Darwinism, letting them make their case in their own words and respond to any rebuttals. This is what is known as civil debate. Some reporters are better than others, and hopefully we can encourage more of them to be responsible.

The second article, "Reporting on controversies in science", also had some good advice.

Journalists are obliged to be inquisitive, sceptical and fair to all sides of the debate. They cannot be sure of being right, but they can try to be responsible.

But remember that mostly scientists will be telling you something that seems to be the case, at that moment, on the evidence of the latest research. They are unlikely to be lying ... But they may be mistaken, misled or just too fond of a theory to give it up. If in doubt, talk to a scientist from a competing research group. (again, emphasis is mine)

Distinguished scientists tend to be more confident, and more persuasive, than younger researchers; but they are, in some cases, just as likely to be wrong.

A reporter's job is to report the latest evidence, the latest twist in a debate.

Compare this to the advice given last year by Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet in "Undoing Darwin" in the Columbia Journalism Review. Mooney and Nesbit are upset that ID might ever get fair and balanced treatment by the media, when clearly there is no debate and Darwinian evolution is a fact (if not a downright law of nature in their point of view).

As evolution, driven by such events, shifts out of scientific realms and into political and legal ones, it ceases to be covered by context-oriented science reporters and is instead bounced to political pages, opinion pages, and television news. And all these venues, in their various ways, tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing "controversy" exists over evolutionary science. This notion may be politically convenient, but it is false.

Their idea of good science writing is to report that Darwinian evolution is a fact, and ID is not science. Any paper that doesn't do this consistently gets into trouble — even those who do side with them, but somehow let things slip through the cracks, are taken to task.

At two elite national papers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, the opinion pages sided heavily with evolution. But even there a false sense of scientific controversy was arguably abetted when The New York Times allowed Michael Behe, the prominent ID proponent, to write a full-length op-ed explaining why his is a "scientific" critique of evolution.

One might expect that Pravda adhere to party dictated guidelines like these when writing about communism. But when writing about science does a reporter have to report only what the AAAS dictates? Mooney and Nesbit think so.

Perhaps journalists should consider that, unlike other social controversies — over abortion or gay marriage, for instance — the evolution debate is not solely a matter of subjective morality or political opinion. Rather, a definitive standard has been set by the scientific community on the science of evolution, and can easily be used to evaluate competing claims. Scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have taken strong stances affirming that evolution is the bedrock of modern biology. In such a situation, journalistic coverage that helps fan the flames of a nonexistent scientific controversy (and misrepresents what's actually known) simply isn't appropriate.

News editors are advised to:

At the very least, newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing "both sides" of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims.

At least when it comes to the opinion pages, Mooney and Nesbit are willing to ease up a little bit and actually let some opinions get published. But hey editors, don't let your sense of fairness get carried away!

When it comes to opinion pages, meanwhile, there's certainly more room for dissent because of the nature of the forum — but that doesn't mean editorial-page editors can't act as responsible gatekeepers.

Maybe Mooney and Nesbit should familiarize themselves with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Part of the preamble it states that "The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues." It doesn't say to present what another association deems is fair, or to report only one side of an issue.

If they want to be professional journalists then here are three points from the code of ethics that Mooney and Nesbit need to work on.

Posted by Robert Crowther on January 15, 2007 11:38 AM | Permalink

Thursday, February 08, 2007

AEI Critiques of Warming Questioned


Think Tank Defends Money Offers to Challenge Climate Report

By Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, February 5, 2007; Page A04

A Washington-based think tank has been soliciting critiques of the just-released international assessment of the evidence on climate change, a move that prompted some academics and environmentalists to accuse the group of seeking to distort the latest evidence for global warming.

Advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the Public Interest Research Group questioned why the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has offered $10,000 to academics willing to contribute to a book on climate- change policy, an overture that was first reported Friday in London's Guardian newspaper.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Jane Kochersperger, who noted that AEI has received funding from Exxon Mobil in recent years, said yesterday that the think tank "has clearly hit a new low . . . when it's throwing out cash awards under the rubric of 'reason' to create confusion on the status of climate science. Americans are still suffering the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, and it's clearly time for policymakers on both sides of the aisle to take substantive action on global warming and ignore Exxon Mobil's disinformation campaign via climate skeptics."

AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green -- one of two researchers who has sought to commission the critiques -- said in an interview that his group is examining the policy debate on global warming, not the science.

"It's completely policy-oriented," said Green, adding that a third of the academics AEI solicited for the project are interested in participating. "Somebody wants to distort this."

In July 2006, Green and AEI resident scholar Steven F. Hayward -- both of whom have questioned the need for caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gasses linked to global warming -- started soliciting essays from academics on the then-upcoming report on global warming by the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The survey's authors, who hail from more than 100 countries, said in their report Friday that they are at least 90 percent certain that human activity accounted for climate change over the past 50 years.

"The purpose of the project is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process, especially as it bears on policy responses to climate change," the two men wrote. "As with any large-scale 'consensus' process, the IPCC is susceptible to self-selection bias in its personnel, resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent, and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work of the complete Working Group reports."

At least two academics -- Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor Gerald North and Texas A&M climate researcher Steven Schroeder -- turned down AEI's offer because they feared their work would be politicized.

Schroeder, who has worked with Green in the past and has questioned some aspects of traditional climate modeling, said in an interview that he did not think AEI would have skewed his results. But he added that he worried his contribution might have been published alongside "off-the-wall ideas" questioning the existence of global warming.

"We worried our work could be misused even if we produced a reasonable report," Schroeder said. "While any human endeavor can be criticized, the IPCC system greatly exceeds the cooperation, openness and scientific rigorousness of the process applied to any other problem area that has significant effects on society."

Faced with such resistance, AEI modified its proposal last month and sent out a new round of offers, asking academics to contribute to a book examining the broad policy options for dealing with global warming.

Hayward and Green wrote that "climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called 'skeptics' and so-called 'alarmists' with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy descriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimensions."

Several environmental activists and climate scientists questioned why AEI would offer a $10,000 honorarium to scientists to critique the IPCC survey. Andrew Dessler, another Texas A&M atmospheric science professor, who has worked with both Schroeder and North, said the move represents an effort by climate skeptics to create "reasonable doubt" in the minds of policymakers who are debating whether to limit greenhouse gases.

AEI President Christopher DeMuth issued a letter Friday saying his group will continue to challenge orthodox thinking on climate change: "The effort to anathematize opposing views is the standard recourse of the ideologue; one of AEI's highest purposes, here as in many other contentious areas, is to ensure that such efforts to do not succeed."

Judging Intelligent Design


By Chuck Colson Christian Post Guest Columnist

Mon, Feb. 05 2007 01:04 PM ET

Judge John Jones once told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he became a judge hoping that someday he would have a chance "to rule in matters of great importance."

Well, last year he got his chance. He ruled on Kitzmiller v. Dover, holding that you could not teach intelligent design in public schools. But given what's leaked out about his decision, Judge Jones is not likely to be remembered as "an outstanding thinker," as Time magazine called him. Instead, we might remember him as the judge who let a litigant write his opinion.

Maybe I am an idealist, but going back to law school, I have always respected judges. I believe they take seriously their oath to uphold the laws and the Constitution and to rule impartially. Sad to say, this judge apparently did not.

Maybe I should not have been surprised because, two months before the case was heard, the judge said in a newspaper interview that he was going to go see Inherit the Wind, the old film about the Scopes trial, hopelessly biased toward the evolutionists' view. He said he wanted to do it to get a context for hearing the Dover case. I wrote him and explained that it is historically inaccurate; he never replied.

Now it turns out that even as the media was praising Judge Jones for his brilliant insights, the Discovery Institute found that ACLU attorneys had actually written key sections of the ruling. In the section on intelligent design, more than 90 percent "was taken virtually verbatim from the ACLU's proposed 'Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law'," so says the Discovery Institute.

Thus, as the Discovery Institute notes, the central part of the ruling reflects no original, deliberative activity or independent examination of the record on the judge's part.

And that's not all. The problem when you let somebody else write your decision is that they may make a mistake. And you, then, look silly.

For example, Jones misrepresented biochemist Michael Behe; he claimed that Behe said that articles purporting to explain the evolution of the immune system were not good enough. But what Behe actually said was: "It's not that they aren't good enough. It's simply that they are addressed to a different subject." This came right out of the ACLU's writings.

Jones also claimed that intelligent design "is not supported by any peer-reviewed . . . publications." Again, wrong and, again, straight from the ACLU's brief.

This, it turns out, is not even the first time or maybe the worst of Judge Jones passing off other people's words as his own. In a commencement address, he "employed direct quotations from the book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America," according to World magazine, "without providing citation or indication that he was quoting."

As World magazine noted, none of what Judge Jones did in the Dover decision amounts to a violation of judicial ethics. But other judges will hardly be impressed, which is a good thing since the press are saying this is a precedent for future cases.

The Old Testament warns judges: "You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality." Cutting and pasting from one side's brief does not say much for impartiality—something for you to point out next time someone throws the Dover decision in your face.

From BreakPoint®, February 2, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries

Russian Orthodox Church Demands End to Communist Practice of Exclusive Darwinism in Schools


Tuesday February 6, 2007

By John-Henry Westen

MOSCOW, February 6, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Speaking at an education conference in the Kremlin Monday, the spiritual leader of Russian Orthodox Christians demanded that the communist practice of mandating the exclusive teaching of Darwinian evolution in schools be brought to an end. With government officials in attendance, Patriarch Alexy II advocated teaching biblical creation.

"Teaching the biblical theory of the world's creation will not harm students," he said. "If people choose to believe that they descended from apes, let them, but without imposing their opinions on others."

While Russia is moving away from dogmatic Darwinian instruction, in Canada the province of Quebec is mandating it. LifeSiteNews.com reported in October that the province's Ministry of Education has ordered that private Christian schools must teach sex education and Darwin's theory of evolution or face closure. (see coverage: http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/oct/06102404.html )

As the battle in schools over the competing theories of creation and evolution heated in the United States, proponents of evolution falsely maintained that virtually all scientists believe evolution to be true. In reaction, the Discovery Institute launched a public statement by scientists opposed to Darwinian evolution. Last year over 500 doctoral scientists signed the statement publicly expressing their scepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution.

The statement reads: "We are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." (see coverage: http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/feb/06022204.html)

See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

To Criticize Darwinism is to Preserve the Faith says Toronto Priest and Seminary Prof. http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/jun/06061408.html

(c) Copyright: LifeSiteNews.com is a production of Interim Publishing. Permission to republish is granted (with limitation*) but acknowledgement of source is *REQUIRED* (use LifeSiteNews.com).

Intelligent Design not so intelligent


Published: Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Jonathan Dudley

Shortly after the publication of my last column, "Evolution Sunday not so benign" (Jan. 24), I received an e-mail from a gentleman at the Discovery Institute. This Seattle-based think-tank seeks "to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies." Apparently, my column manifested scientific materialism and, true to form, this man targeted it for defeat. In particular, he argued that I had not adequately treated the theory of biological origins called Intelligent Design, or ID.

I agree. But I'm not alone. Few scientists or philosophers from respectable academic institutions have given serious consideration to ID. This theory — which asserts that some forms of biological life are irreducibly complex, and thus could not have been put together by the step-by-step process of evolution — is usually dismissed off-hand as pseudoscientific nonsense or countered by emphasizing the "overwhelming evidence" for evolution. Neither approach deals effectively with the complaints of ID supporters. The former only inflames IDers' sentiments and inspires more vigorous campaigning against the theory of evolution. The latter ignores the fact that ID is just as concerned with philosophy as it is with empirical evidence. Thus, though I will argue in this column that the theory of Intelligent Design itself lacks intelligent design, I will do so on both philosophical and empirical grounds.

So first, is ID "pseudoscientific nonsense"? I'd rather avoid the pejorative label "nonsense," but I certainly think "pseudoscientific" is apt. Modern science is characterized by what philosophers call "methodological naturalism" — the pragmatic assumption that every physical phenomenon has a natural, versus a supernatural, explanation. This is to be distinguished from "metaphysical naturalism" — the ontological assumption that physical reality is all that exists. When IDers use the term "scientific materialism," they effectively refer to the latter assumption.

Since ID invokes a supernatural being to explain the formation of "irreducibly complex" physical structures, it does not employ methodological naturalism. Thus, by modern standards, it cannot be called "science."

Here IDers rightfully object: Just because modern science is characterized by methodological naturalism, that does not mean that it should be. The above characterization of science is descriptive, not normative. Fair enough. Perhaps "science" should be re-defined, allowing the explanation of natural phenomena by both natural and supernatural means. Indeed, if God exists and created the universe, why shouldn't we look for God's supernatural intervention in natural affairs?

Two responses can be given to this argument. First, defining science by methodological naturalism does not mean we shouldn't look for supernatural intervention. It just prevents science from relying on that possibility to explain physical events. Second, methodological naturalism is a good thing for science. Imagine what would happen if it were abandoned. If the problem is difficult or the mechanism "irreducibly complex," divine intervention could be invoked, allowing the scientist to effectively give up and move on. If this approach were taken, even if God did occasionally intervene, many problems with naturalistic solutions would never be solved, being mistakenly categorized as cases of ID.

In response, the IDer might object that their "scientists" can identify an instance of ID without ceasing to search for a naturalistic explanation. This may be true in principle, but has certainly not been true in practice. In the face of "irreducibly complex" biochemical structures, most scientists have rolled up their sleeves and worked to demystify the complexity; IDers, in contrast, have plugged in their Intelligent Designer and derided further inquiry as "scientific materialism." Even if IDers give up this strategy, a major question remains: Why continue searching for a naturalistic explanation if you believe there isn't one?

In addressing anomalies in the theory of evolution, IDers have made an audacious assertion: We cannot now resolve these anomalies and we will never be able to resolve them. In light of the history of science, this assertion is audacious indeed — the vast majority of gaps filled with God, including many proposed by IDer Michael Behe in "Darwin's Black Box," have been subsequently filled with naturalistic explanations.

Perhaps it's little wonder that the main dissemination of ID theory has occurred not through peer-reviewed journals, but through Web sites and popular-release books.

If those at the Discovery Institute truly want to "defeat scientific materialism," perhaps they would be better served taking a cue from evangelical Christians doing respectable science. Francis Collins GRD '74, ex-director of the Human Genome Project, might be a good place to start. Those at the Discovery Institute could join Collins in emphasizing why evolutionary theory is not incompatible with belief in the supernatural. Yet they have persisted in a strategy that manifestly lacks an intelligent design: advancing a pseudoscientific theory through non-academic publications, suggesting a redefinition of science that would dramatically hinder scientific progress, making indefensible claims about the future and, in the process, supporting scientific materialism by diminishing the credibility of those who believe in the supernatural.

Jonathan Dudley is a student at the Divinity School and a molecular oncology researcher at Yale School of Medicine.

Intelligent design sparks heated religious debate


Theories discussed by group

CAROLYN CRIST Issue date: 2/7/07 Section: News

The question of how the universe was created sparks hot debate across the world, and discussions at the University today may shed light on the answer.

The Christian Faculty Forum will host a debate on the theory of intelligent design at 7:30 p.m. in the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center on Riverbend Road.

The debate will cover the legitimacy of intelligent design as a theory for the universe's origins. It is seen as an alternative to the theory of evolutionary biology.

"Every year we find an issue on the edge of faith and science and invite professors to debate from a scientific perspective," said Russ Carlson, a member of the forum's steering committee.

Paul Nelson, who received his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Chicago, will present a 30-minute "pro" view for intelligent design. He is also a fellow of the Discovery Institute in Seattle and a faculty member at Biola University in Los Angeles, Calif.

Chris Peterson, a University professor in the plant biology department, will present a 30-minute perspective against the theory.

A 30-minute question-and-answer session will follow.

"On this particular topic with pros and cons, even agnostics question the evolutionary process, and the most evangelical Christians are opposed to the idea of intelligent design," Carlson said.

The Christian Faculty Forum invites professors each year to speak on academic topics with a Christian world-view.

"Both presenters consider themselves Christians but speak on the different sides, so it will be really interesting," said Carlson.

Past speakers have debated the existence of God, relativism, absolute truth and Darwinism.

The Christian Faculty Forum will also sponsor an hour-long lunchtime discussion, "Is Intelligent Design on Its Last Leg?" at 12:15 p.m. today in the Coverdell Center.

In light of the political climate, the forum hopes to answer the question, 'is intelligent design near extinction?'

Nelson, who will present the pro case at the evening debate, will explain his view from his forthcoming scholarly book, "On Common Descent." It critically evaluates the theory of common descent.

A complimentary lunch will be provided to those who RSVP to jhager@clm.org.

Darwin Day puts spotlight on intelligent design


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

'Flock of Dodos' sparks debate


Evolutionary biologist turned filmmaker Randy Olson wishes his former colleagues were more like intelligent design proponents at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

"I admire them for their communication skills," Olson said recently. "It's frustrating that the science world is so deeply stuck in the mud."

But Discovery Institute officials do not admire Olson or his new film, "Flock of Dodos" -- a sort of Michael Moore-style documentary that features interviews with supporters of intelligent design and evolution, scientific explanations, cartoon dodo birds and Olson's mother, Muffy "Moose" Olson, whose Kansas neighbor is an intelligent design spokesman.

"There are several things that are just egregiously wrong to the point of being a hoax," John West, associate director for the institute's Center for Science and Culture, said of Olson's film. "He must think his audience is a flock of dodos."

Nevertheless, Olson's film is coming to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle on Monday -- Charles Darwin's birthday -- while the Discovery Institute marks the same occasion with a lecture and discussion on "Darwin Day and the Deification of Charles Darwin."

Evolution includes the ideas that plants and animals can change from one generation to the next and that different species descend from common ancestors. Discovery's intelligent design proponents concede the first kind of evolution but challenge the second. They say some sort of intelligent designer is a more likely explanation for the ordered complexity found in nature.

Olson, a University of Washington graduate, is polite to the intelligent design proponents he interviews in the film, in a bemused way.

"It just kind of hurts my ears to listen to them," he said. "It's like being French and listening to Americans criticizing your accent."

In his most graphic rebuttal in the film, he explains how rabbits, because of a poor organ arrangement, must excrete their food, then eat it a second time.

Intelligent design isn't science, Olson said. "What it is, is intuition."

But the purpose of the film isn't just to bash intelligent design. His bigger goal is examining how the movement has done such a good job promoting doubt of a well-established scientific theory, while scientists have defended evolution so badly.

"Scientists are unbelievably inept at communication," he said. "There is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the doing of science for any kinds of mistakes or shortcomings, but when it comes to the communication, people can get up there and stutter and scratch their nose and turn their back to the audience."

If scientists don't adapt, Olson suggests, they could end up like the dodo -- an ungainly, flightless bird that went extinct within 80 years of their first sighting around 1600, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

Olson illustrates scientists' attitude by bringing a flock of them together for a night of poker and discussion, then positing that the intelligent design people are nicer.

"Who would you rather play poker with?" he asks.

And that's why scientists are losing the debate, Olson says. Well that, he says, and the Discovery Institute's multimillion-dollar budget.

In the film, Olson says the Discovery Institute didn't return his phone messages or e-mails, even after a prominent intelligent design proponent wrote a supportive letter. He says he finally reached an institute director, who said institute leaders were too busy to talk.

Olson said last month that he planned to paint a flattering picture of the institute. But, he said, when Discovery officials wouldn't talk he was left pointing out their right-wing funding sources, a much-criticized fundraising memo (which details their wider motives) and their links to the communications firm behind the Swift Boat Veterans ads that helped sink Democrat John Kerry's presidential bid.

Discovery Institute officials now counter that Olson inflated and inaccurately portrayed their budget and connections, and he got it wrong in his singular example of a supposed error in the book "Icons of Evolution," by Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the Center for Science and Culture.

West and Discovery Institute communications director Robert Crowther both said they didn't talk to Olson for the film because they didn't think he would be fair and accurate.

"And we were right," Crowther said, but he noted that Wells did talk with Olson on camera.

Olson shot his film in 2005 and it has been shown since last year, mostly on college campuses, including the University of Washington, and at last October's conference of the Association of Science-Technology Centers in Louisville, Ky.

"They all roared with laughter," Olson said. "Immediately after everybody said: 'We want this for Darwin Day.' "

The fact that 30 science centers, including the Pacific Science Center, are showing the film is particularly notable because the evolution controversy has made some museums cautious.

Smithsonian Institution officials and scientists drew heat from both sides for renting an auditorium to the Discovery Institute in 2005 and for allegedly mistreating a biologist who included an intelligent design paper in a journal he edited. Olson said American Museum of Natural History officials declined to let him film its dodo exhibit, and Smithsonian officials scuttled his planned interview with an entomologist there and declined to screen his documentary.

"We didn't want to have anything to do with the film," Smithsonian spokesman Randall Kremer said.

The problem was more about the lighthearted tone than the content, Kremer said. "We tend to take our science very seriously here."

Showing the film fits the Pacific Science Center's mission, said Joe Barnes, the center's vice president of marketing.

"We believe that science centers have a responsibility to present this important scientific issue so the public can be better informed," he said.

But Discovery Institute officials deemed Olson's film unworthy of the science center.

"I think that they let their quality control go down to show this," West said.

Meanwhile, Discovery Institute officials have followed the growth of Darwin Day, West said. "We sort of want to inject some truth and reality into the Darwin Day celebrations," West said.

Mark Terry, co-founder and science department chairman of The Northwest School in Seattle, got Olson's message.

"Scientists don't do a good job of educating the public," said Terry, who has written essays and given speeches defending evolution over intelligent design.

Terry started teaching about intelligent design as a social movement with a long history. But he said real scientific concepts are too complicated to explain in a debate, and teachers do not have time to spend refuting intelligent design in classrooms.

"In terms of what's going on in science today, it's really off-the-charts irrelevant," he said. "What we study is what happens in science."

Back at the Discovery Institute, West said he doesn't want schools teaching intelligent design or putting disclaimers about evolution on textbooks.

"This is a big distraction for the scientists, who should be focusing on science," he said. "We don't think it should be illegal. ... But we don't think it should be mandated."

What West does want is for schools to teach what he sees as the problems with Darwinian evolution.

"Students should know about the controversy," he said.


The Pacific Science Center is scheduled to show "Flock of Dodos" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Feb. 12.

On Wednesday, filmmaker Randy Olson and Carl Bergstrom, an associate professor in the University of Washington's biology department, will be on hand to answer questions.

Details online: flockofdodos.com, pacsci.org,darwinday.org.


The Discovery Institute will Webcast "ID the Future," about intelligent design, at idthefuture.com on Charles Darwin's birthday, Feb. 12. For details: discovery.org, 206-292-0401, Ext. 153.

The Discovery Institute's Web site includes information about their critiques of evolution and ideas about intelligent design. For information from evolution defenders, see the University of California Museum of Paleontology's evolution Web site, at evolution.berkeley.edu

P-I reporter Aubrey Cohen can be reached at 206-448-8362 or aubreycohen@seattlepi.com.

Darwin Day


By: Jake Bakkila 02/07/2007

Cornell University and the Paleontological Research Institution are holding a five day celebration of events from Feb. 8 to 12 honoring the great British naturalist Charles Darwin and his ideas. The series of events, cumulatively called "Darwin Day," will take place both at Cornell University and in PRI's Museum of the Earth and feature lectures, readings from plays, panel discussions, film screens and more.

"The first thing done called Darwin Day was in 1980, and it's picked up steam since then," said Warren D. Allmon, Director of PRI. "Everyone realizes that it's a very good excuse to teach people about evolution."

Charles Darwin is best-known as being the historical focal figure who helped bring the theory of evolution by natural selection into acceptance within the field of science. His book, The Origin of Species, is cited as one of the most influential scientific works of the modern era. And even though Darwin has been dead for over a century, and his beliefs have enjoyed near-complete acceptance among scientists for decades, there is still a vocal opposition to evolution.

"There is a belief that evolution is somehow less than other science, which of course, is not true at all. Evolution is the basis for modern biology."

Darwin Day events take place across America and the world around Darwin's birthday, Feb. 12, but this is only the second year in Ithaca that an organized Darwin Day has taken place.

"'Darwin Day' is an occasion that everyone can take to observe the scientific and cultural details of Darwin's ideas," said Allmon.

"We had had a party for Darwin last year," said Amy Naim, Director of Marketing and Communications at PRI. "And now, this year, we're partnering with Cornell to do a series of events."

"Last year it was put together really quickly," explained Allmon. "And the only organizing concept was that we have something for everybody: for scientists, for non-scientists, and for families and students. This years theme is 'Evolution and Human Nature,' and we have a much broader series of events."

PRI and the Museum of the Earth are natural choices to co-host the event with Cornell for many reasons.

"Last year we were in the news a lot because Warren wrote a guide, called 'Evolution and Creationism,' to address a lot of the challenges that Creationists were bringing up," said Naim, adding that the Dover School court ruling in favor of evolution last year helped attract attention to the guide. "A lot of different organizations across the country wound up taking his guide and using it and putting it in classes... all across the nation, people were using it."

"We've had challenges from Creationists," she continued, "who'd come in and attack us a little verbally, and talk about Creationism and things that don't really have anything to do with what we teach here in the museum, which is science. So that's really one of the reasons that Warren wrote the guide."

In addition to the many events for the public over Darwin Day, there is also going to be an 'Evolution Workshop for Teachers,' that will focus on how to teach the subject of evolution in places where students and parents might have doubts or arguments.

"Teachers are a very heterogeneous mix on the topic of evolution," said Allmon. "Some have been there for 25 years teaching, and know more about teaching evolution than I do, but some others are scared to death....You try to address both the master teachers, who are there to brush up on details, and also still address the novice teacher, who might have never taught it before, and wants to know what to say if a student asks if evolution is against religion."

Allmon hopes that events like Darwin Day allow for the community to get access to educators, events and panels that will help explain the truth about science to people who might otherwise not have the resources.

"There has not been significant question about Darwin's theories in the scientific community since 1880, and yet more than half of America still has doubts," he said. "Darwin Day is an opportunity to bridge the gap of scientific understanding."

For a listing of Darwin Day events, visit www.priweb.org/darwinday.html.

- Jake Bakkila

©Ithaca Times 2007

Professor says evolution, creationism not scientific debate

Jenny Colton Senior Staff Writer

The battle of evolution and creation in America is a debate of culture, not science, said one of the leading authorities on the history and philosophy of Darwinism evolutionary theory.

Michael Ruse, a philosophy professor at Florida State University examined the history of the American evolution-creation debate Tuesday in his lecture titled "The Evolution-Creation Controversy: A Very American Story."

"I don't really think it's a question to do with science," Ruse said. "I think it's much more a cultural divide that we've got, and until we realize that, we're not going to get anywhere toward solving it or resolving it."

Ruse said a division exists in American society between two groups of theorists: evolutionists, also called the "Brights," and Intelligent Design Theorists.

Both of these groups think that to accept one belief, they must reject the other, Ruse said.

For example, evolutionists think that to believe in evolution, they must reject religion, and vise versa.

"What makes this discussion very interesting is that we've got thinking people on both sides," Ruse said.

The question then is why people have this debate between the two sides, Ruse said.

To explain the origins of the debate, Ruse gave a history of the evolution-creation debate, starting with the early years of Christianity.

The enlightenment of the 18th century was one of the most important events for western Christianity because "for the first time people faced the awful possibility that Christianity might not be true," he said.

At this time, Christians were encountering people with sophisticated religions in the East, such as the Chinese and Indians, whose religions had no mention of Jesus.

People responded in two ways to this discovery: with faith or with reason, Ruse said.

The response of faith eventually led to creationism theism in America, while the response of reason led to evolutionist theism.

Ruse continued with a history of the life of Charles Darwin and the development of his theory of evolution, which led to his publishing of "The Origin of Species" in 1859.

Darwin was not denying Christian beliefs with the publishing of his theory, Ruse said. Several other events led to the religious battle that began in America about Darwin's theories, he said.

Ruse said one of these events was a movement started by Thomas Henry Huxley, a professor from London. Huxley started summer schools in the 19th century for teachers and instructed them in new disciplines of science, including evolution. Huxley promoted evolution as the new religion of the time, pushing it against Christianity, Ruse said.

"This sort of thing is the kind of way evolution got hijacked, if you like, in the 19th century," Ruse said. "I don't think it was hijacked for bad reasons. I don't think Huxley was an evil person; I'm not saying that. I'm saying, though, that he got an agenda and evolution was being used in this agenda, not as a regular science, but as a kind of metaphysic kind of ideology."

Other occurrences in America caused the creation-evolution battle to grow, including the Second Great Awakening, which caused people to read and interpret the Bible literally, and the split of the North and South after the Civil War, which caused the people of the South to use the issue of evolution as part of their reasoning to hate the people of the North.

Ruse said evolution wasn't and isn't now, a scientific theory, and people are not worrying about the scientific issues of it like fossil records.

"What they're seeing is evolution is half of a particular ideology that one half wants to endorse and the other half loathes," he said.

Some attendees to the lecture said they thought Ruse did a good job speaking about the controversial issue of the evolution-creation debate.

"I thought he was great," said Jason Davenport, a biochemistry graduate student. "I personally am a Christian and I thought he took a really neutral stance, but wasn't afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of it."

Zoology junior Nathan Potter said he liked how Ruse spoke about the history of the controversy.

"One of things I thought was really fascinating about it, how it kind of looked at it from a historical perspective," Potter said. "It wasn't just a science debate, where they're trying to find the facts. It's actually looking at the motives behind it. That's something I see missing from a lot of other scientific debates."

Human Origins Go on Display


By Ker Than LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 07 February 2007 12:55 pm ET

NEW YORK—Three vials tucked into a corner of the American Museum of Natural History in New York might be small, but their contents are remarkable: The white powder suspended in clear liquid within is human, chimp and extremely rare Neanderthal DNA.

"You'll notice that there's very little there," Rob DeSalle, curator in the museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology, said about the Neanderthal sample. "As a matter of fact, we had to amplify it using polymerase chain reaction to get it to give us anything."

The vial of human DNA contains the genomes of about 30 geographically and ethnically diverse people who work at the Museum.

"My DNA is in there," DeSalle admitted.

The DNA vials are part of an ambitious new exhibition on human evolution opening at the museum this weekend that explores not only where we came from, but also what makes us human and our species' future.

Entire exhibitions could be created around any one of these topics, but the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins aims to address all three, and it is largely successful.

Three questions

During a media preview of the exhibition here on Tuesday, museum President Ellen Futter explained that the Hall is designed to explore three fundamental questions about human evolution: "Where did we come from? Who are we? What lies ahead for us?"

For answers, the exhibition draws upon findings from two seemingly disparate sciences. One is paleoanthropology, the study of hominid fossils, and the other a relatively new field of genomics that focuses on the function of genes.

"The Spitzer Hall of Human Origins is the first major exhibition hall of its kind to present the fossil record and genomic science side by side, offering mutually reinforcing evidence that tells a grand and sweeping story of humanity," Futter said.

As a preview of this dual approach, visitors entering the exhibition are greeted by three skeletons—a chimp, a modern human and a Neanderthal—posed against a multimedia backdrop depicting images of cells and genetic material [image].

Throughout the hall, visitors can view human evolution through the lenses of fossil specimens as well as depictions of genetic discoveries.

"The paleoanthropological story can tell us certain things, and the genomics story can tell us certain things," said Rob DeSalle, who is also a co-curator of the new exhibition. "Sometimes they overlap. When they do, it's satisfying that they agree so well."

The two fields reinforce and complement one another, DeSalle said. Scientists rely mostly on fossils to glean information about the what, when and where of our ancient ancestors, but use DNA to patch together a family tree of sorts, including how modern humans are related to one another and evolutionary ancestors. Genetic analyses have also proved useful for understanding which traits make us human.

"For instance, how did we obtain symbolic logic?" DeSalle said. "Those changes are almost certainly in the make-up of our brain, and the makeup of our brain is controlled by our genomes."

The stars our destination?

One of the first things visitors see upon entering the exhibition is a large mural depicting extinct primates that lived millions of years ago swinging through a sparse jungle canopy. Upon leaving the exhibition, one of the last items people will see is a poster, text against a background of glowing stars, speculating about whether our species might one day seed planets beyond Earth.

Sandwiched between these symbols of humanity's past and possible future are a plethora of fossils, artifacts, skeletal reconstructions and dioramas representing more than 7 million years of hominid evolution.

At center stage is a full-sized reconstruction of a diminutive Australopithecus couple, dubbed "Lucy" and "Desi," walking together across an open plain covered in ash from a then-recent volcanic eruption 3.5 million years ago [image].

Other exhibition notables include an interactive "Tree of Life" showing how humans are related to hundreds of other species, a reconstructed "Hobbit" skull and Neanderthal skeleton, and a step-by-step tutorial showing how sculptors recreate the faces of our hominid ancestors from skull fragments.

A rock engraving of a horse [image] dating back to the Ice Age, 25,000 years ago, is a favorite of Hall of Human Origin's co-curator Ian Tattersall. "That's a masterpiece that's on display there," said Tattersall, who is also acurator in the museum's Division of Anthropology.

Opposite the DNA vials is a cast of a Neanderthal skullcap discovered in 1856; it represents the first recognized proof that other kinds of humans once walked the Earth and marks the start of paleoanthropology as a field of study.

Dioramas remind visitors that for most of human history, our hominid ancestors were vulnerable, often prey rather than predator, and at the mercy of the elements. In one of these windows to the past, an unsuspecting Homo erectus is about to be pounced upon by a giant hyena. Nearby in another diorama, a Homo ergaster couple defends an antelope carcass against a vulture and jackal [image].

Two other dioramas reveal a Neanderthal family making tools and preparing animal hides, and Cro Magnons dressed in warm animal fur and living in a hut constructed of mammoth bones and tusks.

What it means to be human

The last section of the Hall of Human Origins explores the things that make us human, such as language, art and tool use. It also touches upon the problems and dilemmas that modern humans face as a result of our technology and intelligence, including the promises and pitfalls of genetic engineering and our impact on the environment.

The challenges confronting modern humans are "very, very different from the challenges our ancestors faced, largely because they are challenges of our own making," Tattersall told LiveScience. "In a sense, there's something truly new and unprecedented about our species. We are changing the world in ways that no other species has managed to do, and we have to find some way of coping with that."

Tattersall believes a main message of the exhibition is that "if we are going to survive and come into some kind of equilibrium with the world, we have to do it in the context of ourselves as we are. We can't wait for evolution to come in on its white horse and fine tune us a bit more so that we'll react in a more responsible way with the world around us."

The Hall of Human Origins will open to the public on Feb. 10, 2007.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A chance to help NCSE's archives!

NCSE's archives house a unique trove of material on the creationism/evolution controversy, and we regard it as part of our mission to preserve it for posterity -- as well as for occasions such as Kitzmiller v. Dover, where NCSE's archives helped to establish the creationist antecedents of the "intelligent design" movement. We cordially invite you now to help NCSE's archives keep up-to-date by purchasing books for NCSE through our wish list at Amazon.com.

February 6, 2007

Ancient Skeleton Focus of Modern Debate


Feb 6th - 11:18pm

By ANTHONY MITCHELL Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya's national museum, locked away in a plain-looking cabinet, is one of mankind's oldest relics: Turkana Boy, as he is known, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm _ one pitting scientists against Kenya's powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution vs. creationism _ once largely confined to the United States _ has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

He's calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room _ along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.

Against him is one of the planet's best-known fossil hunters, Richard Leakey, whose team unearthed the bones at Nariokotome in West Turkana, in the desolate, far northern reaches of Kenya in 1984.

"Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Leakey, who founded the museum's prehistory department, told The Associated Press. "The bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved."

Among the 160,000 fossils due to go on display is an imprint of a lizard left in sedimentary rock, dating back 200 million years, at a time when the Earth's continents were only beginning to separate.

Dinosaur fossils and a bone from an early human ancestor, dating back 7 million years, will also be on show along with the bones of short-necked giraffes and elephants whose tusks protrude from their lower jaws.

They provide the clearest and unrivaled record yet of evolution and the origins of man, say scientists.

But the highlight will be the 5-foot-3 Turkana Boy, who died at age 12 and whose skeleton had been preserved in marshland before its discovery.

It will form the center stage of the exhibition to be launched in July following a $10.5 million renovation of the National Museums of Kenya, financed by the European Union. The EU says it has no concerns over the displays and that the museum was free to exhibit what it wished.

Followers of creationism believe in the literal truth of the Genesis account in the Bible that God created the world in six days. Bishop Adoyo believes the world was created 12,000 years ago, with man appearing 6,000 years later. He says each biblical day was equivalent to 1,000 Earth years.

Adoyo's evangelical coalition is the only religious group voicing concern about the exhibition.

Leakey fears the ideological spat may provoke an attack on the priceless collection, one largely found during the 1920s by his paleontologist parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, who passed their fossil-hunting traditions on to him.

The museum, which attracts around 100,000 visitors a year, is taking no chances.

Turkana Boy will be displayed in a private room, with limited access and behind a glass screen with 24-hour closed-circuit TV. Security guards will be at the entrance.

"There are issues about the security," said Dr. Emma Mbua, the head of paleontology at the museum. "These fossils are irreplaceable and we wouldn't want anything to happen to them."

Insurance coverage could run into millions of dollars, she added.

Mbua, a Protestant, is a little taken aback at the controversy but has no problems reconciling her own faith to the scientific evidence.

"Evolution is a fact," adds Mbua, who has run the department for the last five years.

"Turkana Boy is our jewel," she said. "For the first time, we will be taking him out of the strong room and showing our heritage to the world."

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

He's calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room _ along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.

Against him is one of the planet's best-known fossil hunters, Richard Leakey, whose team unearthed the bones at Nariokotome in West Turkana, in the desolate, far northern reaches of Kenya in 1984.

"Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Leakey, who founded the museum's prehistory department, told The Associated Press. "The bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved."

Among the 160,000 fossils due to go on display is an imprint of a lizard left in sedimentary rock, dating back 200 million years, at a time when the Earth's continents were only beginning to separate.

Dinosaur fossils and a bone from an early human ancestor, dating back 7 million years, will also be on show along with the bones of short-necked giraffes and elephants whose tusks protrude from their lower jaws.

They provide the clearest and unrivaled record yet of evolution and the origins of man, say scientists.

But the highlight will be the 5-foot-3 Turkana Boy, who died at age 12 and whose skeleton had been preserved in marshland before its discovery.

It will form the center stage of the exhibition to be launched in July following a $10.5 million renovation of the National Museums of Kenya, financed by the European Union. The EU says it has no concerns over the displays and that the museum was free to exhibit what it wished.

Followers of creationism believe in the literal truth of the Genesis account in the Bible that God created the world in six days. Bishop Adoyo believes the world was created 12,000 years ago, with man appearing 6,000 years later. He says each biblical day was equivalent to 1,000 Earth years.

Adoyo's evangelical coalition is the only religious group voicing concern about the exhibition.

Leakey fears the ideological spat may provoke an attack on the priceless collection, one largely found during the 1920s by his paleontologist parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, who passed their fossil-hunting traditions on to him.

Turkana Boy will be displayed in a private room, with limited access and behind a glass screen with 24-hour closed-circuit TV. Security guards will be at the entrance.

"There are issues about the security," said Dr. Emma Mbua, the head of paleontology at the museum. "These fossils are irreplaceable and we wouldn't want anything to happen to them."

Insurance coverage could run into millions of dollars, she added.

Mbua, a Protestant, is a little taken aback at the controversy but has no problems reconciling her own faith to the scientific evidence.

"Evolution is a fact," adds Mbua, who has run the department for the last five years.

"Turkana Boy is our jewel," she said. "For the first time, we will be taking him out of the strong room and showing our heritage to the world."

(Copyright 2007 The Associated Press

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Alternative therapy put on trial


An experiment in allowing NHS patients easier access to alternative and complementary therapies has been launched by NI Secretary Peter Hain.

The £200,000 year-long trial will run in two health practices in Londonderry and Belfast. The main focus will be on anxiety and musculoskeletal problems.

GPs in these areas will now be able to refer patients for therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy and massage.

Mr Hain said it would help those who could not afford treatments privately.

"I am certain, as a user of complementary medicine myself, that this has the potential to improve health substantially," he said.

""For the first time, GPs will be able to refer patients directly to a complementary therapist if they feel their patient could benefit from the treatment, and indeed if it is the patient's wish.

"It will bring together both the mainstream and complementary sectors in what I hope will be the start of a process which will lead to full roll-out across the province."

Mr Hain said he was "delighted that Northern Ireland is leading the way in integrating complementary and alternative therapies into the National Health Service".

The pilot will be available to patients registered with participating GPs attached to the Community Treatment and Care Centre, Hollywood Arches, east Belfast and Racecourse Medical at Shantallow Health Centre in Derry.

The pilot, announced last October by Health Minister Paul Goggins, will be run by Get Well UK, a not-for-profit organisation which promotes greater access to complementary and alternative medicine.

Does Darwinism Cause Terrorism?


Creationism Makes Strange Bedfellows

America's Evangelicals may have a scored a most unlikely ally in their crusade for creationism! Over the last fortnight, thousands of schools across France have been mysteriously receiving copies of a "lavishly illustrated" Turkish book attacking Darwinism. Titled The Atlas of Creation, the 768-page, large-print tomes attempt not only to debunk Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, but also to paint it as "the true source of terrorism." French education officials were baffled by the question of the book's source, but emphasized that such teachings "have no place in our schools."

More mysterious than the source or the reasoning, perhaps, may be the book's author, Harun Yahya. Some claim that's the pen name of "a reclusive Islamic teacher named Adnan Oktar," while others think it is more likely a consortium of fundamentalist authors. Either way, "Atlas" seemingly blames "survival of the fittest" for just about everything from racism and Nazism, to communism and terrorism, because of its ties to atheism and materialism (speaking of which). Unlike many American Evangelicals though, the author or authors acknowledge that earth may be more than a few thousand years old. But since these two groups have seen eye-to-eye so infrequently over the years, perhaps they can look to this text as a source of inspiration in their battle against progressive seculars. After all, isn't the enemy of my enemy my friend?

By Emil Steiner | February 5, 2007; 11:28 AM ET

Monday, February 05, 2007

Writer missed point of Evolution Sunday


Published: Monday, February 5, 2007

Michael Zimmerman

In his recent opinion piece ("Churches shouldn't buy into Darwinists' ploys," 1/29), Jonathan Wells attacks me, Evolution Sunday and evolutionary biology. His attack is far from the mark on all counts.

Since I only have limited space, and since virtually every major, professional scientific society in the world has issued statements in support of evolution, I'll ignore his attack on science as simply misguided and idiosyncratic.

Let me set the record straight about me and Evolution Sunday, however. And let me assert that Wells' "scholarship" in this area is so poor that it can't help but call into question his competence in other areas, or the underlying motives for his attacks.

Wells is correct that the idea for Evolution Sunday originated with me. Trivially, however, he is incorrect when he says that I am a "University of Wisconsin evolutionary biologist." I am the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University in Indianapolis, and I have been here for over seven months, having moved from the University of Wisconsin in June.

More significantly, however, he says that I created Evolution Sunday in response to the following policy adopted by the school board of Grantsburg, Wisc.: "Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design."

Absolutely untrue!

Wells goes on to say that "Zimmerman called the policy a decision "to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance."


The fact of the matter is that the policy quoted above was what the Grantsburg, Wis., school board adopted after many of us attacked their original policy and brought worldwide attention to their creationist agenda. Those of us who fought the school board declared victory after their creationist policy was jettisoned and this new one was adopted. My only concern with the policy that was adopted was that it seemed to set an awfully ambitious agenda for middle and high school students.

But for Wells to claim that I opposed the policy whose passage I celebrated, and then to assert that I opposed "analyzing Darwinism's strengths and weaknesses," is laughable.

He also completely misses the point of Evolution Sunday. He asserts that "it is not evolution in general, but Darwin's particular theory (Darwinism) that Evolution Sunday celebrates." The term "Darwinism" has never appeared on any material associated with Evolution Sunday. Indeed, "Darwinism" is a term that is almost exclusively used by creationists to attack evolution. The modern concept of evolution has evolved to an enormous extent since Charles Darwin first published "On the Origin of Species" that it simply makes no sense to talk of Darwinism, except in a historical setting.

Beyond that, however, the purposes of Evolution Sunday have been absolutely clear from the outset. The event is designed to provide an opportunity for congregations around the world to discuss the compatibility of religion and science, to investigate why religion and modern science need not be at war with one another. The event is designed to demonstrate that those shrill fundamentalist voices that assert that people must choose between religion and science are simply incorrect, that they are presenting a false dichotomy, that no such choice needs to be made. Indeed, one of the purposes of Evolution Sunday is to help elevate the nature of the debate on this topic from those who simply shout, "Accept evolution and you'll go to hell." Finally, one of the purposes of Evolution Sunday is to bring attention to the Clergy Letter, a letter signed by more than 10,500 Christian clergy members. This letter makes it clear that thousands upon thousands of Christian clergy members have no problem embracing their faith as well as evolution.

But don't just take my word for Wells' lapses. Go to the Evolution Sunday Web site and read the original documents for yourself. It's too bad that Wells apparently didn't bother to do that.

Michael Zimmerman is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University. He is the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which is the sponsor of Evolution Sunday.

National Park Service Now Distancing Itself from Creationist Book It Approved


Evolving Grand Canyon Position Leaves Unanswered Questions

By: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Published: Jan 16, 2007 at 08:30

The National Park Service insists that it does not teach creationism or endorse the view that the Grand Canyon is the product of Noah's Flood, according to a new agency public statement posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite this statement, the agency will continue selling a book making those "Young Earth" claims about the origin of the canyon - a book that top agency officials approved over the objections of its own park superintendent.

In a statement issued by the National Park Service (NPS) Chief of Public Affairs, David Barna, on January 4th, the agency contends that park rangers have been instructed to "use the following explanation for the age of the geologic features at Grand Canyon…The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years and that the Grand Canyon itself is probably less than five to six million years old."

The statement adds, "Since 2003 the park bookstore has been selling a book that gives a Creationist view of the formation of the Grand Canyon, claiming that the canyon is less than six thousand years old…We do not use the Creationist text in our teaching nor do we endorse its content."

While this is the first time that the Park Service has gone on record distancing itself from the book, Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, on sale in park bookstores, the Barna statement does not explain:

* Why did the Park Service approve it for sale? Under agency rules, park officials are only to allow display materials of the highest accuracy and which support approved park interpretive themes in its bookstores;

* What happened to the "policy review" on the book promised in public statements and in letters to members of Congress by Barna and other NPS officials?

* Why has NPS refused for the past five years to issue the pamphlet entitled "Geologic Interpretive Programs: Distinguishing Science from Religion" providing guidance to park rangers and other interpretive staff on how to answer questions relating to creationism, evolution and related topics?

The Barna statement notes "This book is sold in the inspirational section of the bookstore" but omits the fact that this "inspirational" section was created after PEER exposed the fact that the book was being sold as a "natural history." The inspirational section now includes anthropological works on Native American culture but no other work remotely resembling the Vail book.

The new Park Service statement implies it will keep selling the creationist book for the foreseeable future, despite protests from the agency's own specialists that the book's approval violated Park Service rules.

"Our only point is that the Park Service should stop selling the book with a government seal of approval," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Nonetheless, we are delighted that the Park Service has, after three years, finally chosen to publicly and unambiguously acknowledge that the Grand Canyon is the product of evolutionary geologic forces."

Read the new Park Service position statement on Grand Canyon.

See also 07_16_1_canyon_response.pdf, editor.

Creation or Evolution? Yes!


Francis Collins issues a call to stand on the middle ground.

Interview by Stan Guthrie | posted 1/16/2007 08:55AM

Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, reconciles his Christian faith with scientific theory, including evolution, in The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006). Stan Guthrie, CT's senior associate editor, interviewed Collins.

How does evolution fit with your Christian faith?

[Evolution] may seem to us like a slow, inefficient, and even random process, but to God—who's not limited by space or time—it all came together in the blink of an eye. And for us who have been given the gift of intelligence and the ability to appreciate the wonders of the natural world that he created, to have now learned about this evolutionary creative process is a source of awe and wonder. I find these discoveries are completely compatible with everything I know about God through the Scriptures.

If evolution is true, don't atheists have a point?

No. To simply rule out of order any questions that go beyond the natural world is a circular argument. This leaves out profoundly important spiritual questions, such as why we are here, if there is a God, and what happens after we die. Those are questions that science is not really designed to answer. You have to look in another place, using another kind of approach. And for me that's faith.

Why did you write this book?

I encounter many young people who have been raised in homes where faith was practiced and who have encountered the evidence from science about the age of the earth and about evolution and who are in crisis. They are led to believe by what they are hearing from atheistic scientists on the one hand and fundamentalist believers on the other that they have to make a choice. This is a terrible thing to ask of a young person.

Some of them simply walk away from both, convinced that science is godless and that faith is not to be trusted, because it asks them to disbelieve facts that now seem absolutely incontrovertible. This is an unnecessary choice. I don't think our future will be well served by having either science or faith win this battle.

My heart goes out to sincere believers who feel threatened by evolution and who feel that they have to maintain their position against it in order to prove their allegiance to God. But if God used this process and gave us the chance to discover it, then it seems anachronistic, to say the least, that we would feel we have to defend him against our own scientific conclusions. God is the author of all truth. You can find him in the laboratory as well as in the cathedral. He's the God of the Bible; he's the God of the genome. He did it all.

If evolution and the Christian faith go together, then what's all the fuss about?

One of the main reasons I wrote The Language of God was to try to put forward a comfortable synthesis of what science teaches us about the natural world and what faith teaches us about God. Yet it seems to be a pretty well kept secret these days that the scientific approach and the spiritual approach are compatible. I think we've allowed for too long extreme voices to dominate the stage in a way that has led many people to assume that's all there is. The thesis of my book is that there is no need for this battle. In fact, it's a destructive battle. And we as a society would be well served to recover that happy middle ground where people have been for most of human history.

Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today

'Out of Africa' humans went through further evolution in Europe


Washington, Jan 16 (ANI): It's a known fact that the earliest humans in Europe came from Africa some 40000 years back, but what perhaps is not known is that they were not really modern humans as we know them today, but were going through an evolutionary phase.

The international team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis studied a 35000-year-old cranium discovered in the Pestera cu Oase, in western Romania. The skull is from the first 5,000 years of the apparent occupation of Europe by modern humans, and is the earliest largely complete example of an early modern human skull known from the continent.

Findings revealed that the cranium had no expressly Neanderthal traits, those of its immediate predecessors in Europe.

"Yet, its combination of modern and archaic features can be used to reinforce arguments for some degree of mixture of Neanderthals and modern humans, inferences that have been made from other early modern European fossils. In addition to its large face and retreating forehead, it has the largest cheek teeth so far known for an otherwise anatomically modern human," the team wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

According to the study, modern humans emerged within eastern Africa some 150,000 years ago, spread temporarily into extreme southwest Asia and into southern Africa, and then through northern Africa into Europe around 40,000 years ago.

Helene Rougier, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow, and Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology, at Washington University, who were part of the team, said the Oase 2 cranium was particularly important as it showed that the earliest modern humans in Europe were not completely "modern".

"I think that what this find really shows is the ongoing nature of human evolution. Technically, this skull is a modern human, but humans as we know them today have evolved considerably since then," said Dr Trinkaus. (ANI)

'Monkey Girl' by Edward Humes


The Dover, Pa., court battle over intelligent design vs. the theory of evolution

By Kit R. Roane, Kit R. Roane is a senior writer with U.S. News & World Report.

I didn't expect to be surprised by Edward Humes' "Monkey Girl." In many ways, I'd already lived it. My teenage years were spent in a relatively rural area of East Texas, where a God of a decidedly fundamentalist stripe held sway. A pastor's view seemed behind nearly everything my peers said and about half of what they did. Although I wasn't particularly religious, religion was not something I could escape. To date that pretty girl, I had to go a few rounds at her father's Baptist church. When a good friend of mine — the first to get me drunk — found Jesus, he expected me to come along for the ride.

So I know the pervasive power of religious fundamentalism in America. Or at least I thought I did. Humes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has opened my eyes. I only wish I could close them again.

"Monkey Girl" is the story of the Dover, Pa., school board's attempt in 2004 to "balance" the well-tested scientific theory of evolution with a faith-based version of human origins. The board's headlong plunge into an expensive legal battle for the souls of Dover's young people makes for an explosive and colorful read. The contest pitted a pregnant Sunday-school teacher, who knew religion when she saw it and didn't want it in science class, against a former cop steeped in creationism and OxyContin. His withdrawal from the drug would be blamed for some of the less-than-Christian treatment of his evolutionarily inclined opponents, who were verbally and profanely bludgeoned for trying to keep Dover's science classrooms religion-free.

Although Humes attempts to keep an even keel in reporting on this maelstrom, he clearly has a hard time finding much good to say about some of evolution's opponents, expressing amazement at the "near-total incuriosity and ignorance" of a board member who admitted "chirpily" on the stand that she was opposed to a science she didn't understand and was helping to ram through a creationist textbook she had never actually read. Such displays, he adds, shocked even the presiding judge, a conservative jurist and devout Christian — and, indeed, he ended by ruling against the school board.

Humes is a good storyteller, and "Monkey Girl" (the title refers to the epithet schoolmates hurled at the daughter of one of the board's opponents) is full of vivid descriptions and interesting facts. Were you aware, for instance, that the 1925 Scopes trial, a litmus test for a Tennessee law that criminalized the teaching of evolution, was ginned up at a Dayton, Tenn., drugstore by town leaders who wanted to revive Dayton's moribund economy with a show trial? John T. Scopes, the high school football coach and a part-time science teacher, agreed to help, Humes writes, because "it sounded like great fun."

Where Humes especially shines is in his careful explication of the history of this larger fight over how human beings arose and what God's role — if any — was in their creation. The Dover case was more than simply a reflection of the poor state of the U.S. educational system or an illumination of how religion and science might collide in one small town. Instead, Humes explains, it was the latest salvo in a long-standing war on evolutionary thought that can be traced back to 1859 and Charles Darwin's seminal work on the subject, "The Origin of Species" — a book that, in the eyes of most believers, threatened to turn God's masterpiece into "nothing more than a happy accident … no better (or worse) than a marsupial or mollusk."

Though it's easy to see why Darwin's theory continues to agitate those inclined toward biblical literalism, Humes points out that many faiths — Roman Catholicism, for example — have come to terms with evolution. Those who don't accept Darwin's premise often mischaracterize it; for instance, Darwin never said that human beings were descended from monkeys, despite this favored refrain of the creationists. Humes also notes that those who embrace the Bible's account of human origins might find more contradictions or gaps there than they would like. Though the Bible's moral lessons are timeless, Genesis, if taken literally, soon becomes contradictory, claiming at one point that man and woman were created simultaneously and at another that Eve was made sometime later, from Adam's rib.

In Dover and elsewhere, the anti-evolution argument was carried forward by a bit of ingenious hocus-pocus called "intelligent design," a theory that is little more than creationism in new, more complicated clothing. Championed by a retired UC Berkeley law professor named Phillip E. Johnson and the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, intelligent design is brilliant mainly for what it doesn't say. Explicit references to God are eliminated. Instead, intelligent-design advocates insist that gaps in evolutionary data equal flaws in evolutionary theory. Their mantra has been to "teach the controversy," eschewing direct religious connotations in favor of emphasizing life's "irreducible complexity," which, they argue, points toward the hand of a mysterious force, an intelligent designer.

Johnson exhibits little of the fire and brimstone of his creationist counterparts. But Humes demonstrates that beneath the gentle exterior lurks the mind of a trial lawyer, one bent on the destruction of evolutionary theory. Humes explains Johnson's game plan thus: "Hammer the wedge into the tree of science hard enough, … add the alternative of intelligent design, and the tree will fall."

In support of this reading, Humes cites the Discovery Institute's 1998 "Wedge Document," which promises to replace evolutionary materialism with "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." The primary educational text of the intelligent-design movement, "Of Pandas and People," began life as a creationist tome called "Creation Biology," and the title, Humes notes, was just about the only thing changed in the book after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creation science wasn't a science. The other updates consisted of such things as stripping out references to creation and creationism and replacing them with the phrase "intelligent design."

Humes' conclusion is that none of these facts may matter in the end. The ultimate veracity of evolutionary theory and the mountains of geologic and genetic evidence supporting it mean little to true believers. These evolutionary doubters, Humes notes, include about 25% of the nation's science teachers. The apocalyptic "Left Behind" series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, remains a bestseller, and creationist Kent Hovind's homespun arguments against the evidence for evolution provided by the fossil record ("If I got buried on top of a hamster, does that prove he's my grandpa?") still raise the roof on tour. Nor are believers dissuaded by the numerous court decisions that have tossed religious interpretations of human origins out of science classes.

In what must come as a cruel twist to evolutionists, nature may carry part of the blame here. Recent evidence, Humes writes, suggests that human beings are "genetically disposed to believe in mysteries, miracles, God, and faith."

But whatever the cause of this stubborn persistence of belief, it is certain that the Dover court's decision will not mark the end of the battle over evolution.

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