NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 February 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, February 26, 2007

Other titles on the evolution debate


Posted on Sun, Feb. 25, 2007 BY JEREMY MANIER Chicago Tribune

"The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" by Francis Collins; Free Press.

The author, a giant in genetics research and leader of the Human Genome Project, describes how he came to see his Christian faith as intertwined with his scientific passions.

"Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe" by Simon Conway Morris; Cambridge University Press.

Rejecting intelligent design and the idea of evolution as an aimless process, the Cambridge paleontologist argues that evolution has trends, suggesting that "the Universe is a set-up job."

"The Sacred Depths of Nature" by Ursula Goodenough; Oxford University Press.

A professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Goodenough tries to find room for the spiritual within hard science, sketching a route toward conciliation and a new "planetary ethic."

"Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion" by Edward Larson; Harvard University Press.

Before the Dover, Pa., trial over intelligent design, there was the Scopes monkey trial, which historian Edward Larson retells with exquisite detail and sympathy for those on both sides.

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins; Houghton Mifflin.

Using the same readable style that makes his explanations of evolution so enjoyable, biologist Richard Dawkins tries to slice apart the case for religious belief.

"Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris; Knopf.

A kindred spirit to Dawkins, Sam Harris highlights the negative effects that anti-scientific theology can have on American public life.

"Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" by Daniel C. Dennett; Viking Adult.

The philosopher who wrote "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" takes on the origins of religion and proposes ways of subjecting theological ideas to scientific scrutiny.

"God's Universe" by Owen Gingerich; Belknap.

The prominent historian of astronomy, who played a role in last year's controversy over Pluto's status as a planet, finds a natural accommodation between the findings of science and the solid faith of his Mennonite upbringing.

"Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design and the Future of Faith" by Philip Kitcher; Oxford University Press.

Philip Kitcher, a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, traces modern intelligent-design proposals to some of the earliest religious objections to Charles Darwin's theory and proposes a path of retaining spirituality without religion's supernatural claims.

"Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution" by Kenneth Miller; HarperPerennial.

Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University whose Catholic faith is as strong as his aversion to creationism, demonstrates the truth of evolution and claims it is the brainchild of a loving God.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Inherit the Wind, Redux


How intelligent design and evolution clashed in a Pennsylvania town.

Reviewed by Christine Rosen
Sunday, February 25, 2007; Page BW02


Evolution, Education, Religion, and The Battle for America's Soul

By Edward Humes

Ecco. 380 pp. $25.95

What's in a name? For supporters of the theory of "intelligent design" (ID), a great deal. They argue that the complexity of our universe is best understood as the result of an intelligent cause rather than the undirected process of natural selection described by Charles Darwin, and they want to see this taught in public school science classes. ID is not religious, they argue; it is simply scientific. But critics of ID argue that it is merely a more sophisticated way of promoting "creation science," which rejects evolutionary theory in favor of a literal reading of the book of Genesis and therefore promotes the teaching of religion in public schools.

In 2004, when the Dover, Penn., school board voted to require biology classes to use a supplemental textbook that promoted the theory of intelligent design rather than evolution, the conflict that erupted was about far more than semantics. As Edward Humes describes in this lively and thoughtful book, Dover -- like Dayton, Tenn., during the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" -- became a proving ground for clashing beliefs about the origins of life and constitutional questions about the separation of church and state.

"The scientific community sees the creationist critics of evolution as yahoos, religious zealots, and scientifically suspect charlatans," writes Humes. "The creationists see the evolutionists as immoral and dishonest purveyors of a pseudoreligion called Darwinism that makes God superfluous." Each side is guilty of misrepresenting the other. In Dover, the people on each side believed those on the other were attempting to indoctrinate their children. And everyone soon realized that this local controversy had national implications.

Humes takes the title of his book, Monkey Girl, from the taunt leveled at a child whose mother objected to the new policy. Some parents, including teachers in the school district, viewed intelligent design as a stealth form of creation science. Although many of these parents were Christians (two even taught Sunday school), they felt that teaching ID in a public school classroom improperly injected religion into education. They brought their case, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, with the aid of the ACLU, the National Center for Science Education and lawyers from the Philadelphia firm Pepper Hamilton.

Defending the Dover school board was a Michigan-based public interest law firm, the Thomas More Law Center, and, initially, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a nonprofit research institute that has tried to make ID a palatable alternative to evolutionary theory. As Humes describes it, the Discovery Institute's "seductively reasonable" approach to evolution is "teach the controversy," implying that there is a scientific controversy about evolution, when in fact the controversy is a cultural one. Yet the strategy has proven effective for increasing public awareness about ID, and it has put supporters of evolutionary theory on the defensive.

Although he provides the necessary backstory to the Dover case, the most gripping portions of the book are Humes's descriptions of the trial itself, which began in the fall of 2005. " Kitzmiller became at root everything the original Scopes trial had started out to be but was not," Humes writes. "Back then, the leading scientists had been ready to testify, only to be ruled irrelevant by the creationist judge who presided in Dayton." In Harrisburg, however, scientific experts from both sides argued for 40 days in testimony that often included abstruse discussions of the properties of bacterial flagella.

According to Humes, proponents of intelligent design quickly realized that this would not be their triumphant hour. The experts called by the plaintiffs repeatedly and relentlessly challenged the claims of ID's supporters. The defense also succumbed to internal squabbling.

Although his own sympathies clearly are with the defenders of evolutionary theory, Humes makes a strenuous effort to be fair-minded. He offers a sympathetic portrait of Michael Behe, the Lehigh University biochemist well known for his work on ID and the defense's star expert witness. School board member Bill Buckingham, the driving force behind the ID policy, could easily have come across as an ignorant fundamentalist bully. In Humes's hands, he is a more complex and pitiable figure -- a stubborn, intolerant man who was also in chronic pain and struggling to overcome an addiction to OxyContin but who felt that what he was doing was good for the schoolchildren of Dover.

Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican, emerges as the hero in Humes's tale. In his eloquent ruling for the plaintiffs, which should be read by every student of law, he noted, "This case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy." Even before Jones issued his ruling, the citizens of Dover reached their own verdict: In the next school board election, "every one of the eight incumbents who favored intelligent design was ousted," Humes writes.

Given his talent for narrative and eye for detail, one wishes Humes had delved deeper into the culture that nurtures creationist beliefs. His story would have benefited from a more nuanced examination of Christian fundamentalism (and the ways in which it differs from evangelical Protestantism). For, as Humes himself notes, you need not be a fundamentalist to have sympathy for the scriptural story of creation. "Nearly half the citizenry accepts the idea that God created man in his present form, just as the Bible holds," he writes. "Only a third believes that there is valid scientific evidence to support the theory of evolution."

Given this fact, it is remarkable that we don't see more skirmishes such as the one that erupted in Dover. The Kitzmiller case was not quite the "battle for America's soul" that Humes suggests in his subtitle, but it was an important episode in the country's ongoing struggle to reconcile faith, science and culture. Humes's book is a compelling account of that struggle, and likely not the last salvo in the battle between evolution and intelligent design. ?

Christine Rosen is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and the author of "My Fundamentalist Education."

Monkey Girl


By Steve Giegerich ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 02/25/2007

To those who believe the St. Louis School Board has few peers when it comes to micromanaging educational policy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Humes offers evidence that it could be worse. A lot worse.

In 2004, a board of education conversation about textbooks in Dover, Pa., morphed into a crusade to introduce intelligent design — creationism absent the acknowledgement of a deity — into the curriculum at the local high school.

Soon, the media converged on the small, southern Pennsylvania town.

So, too, did Humes, to tell the story beyond the headlines in riveting detail.

He abandons all pretense of objectivity as he chronicles the Dover controversy from its genesis at the behest of the born-again chairman of the board's curriculum committee, through the fallout in the schools and community, to a federal court case that became a national forum on intelligent design vs. evolution and a denouement that resulted in Dover's throwing intelligent-design proponents out of office.

In Humes' telling, the scientists and lawyers on the side of evolution are the good guys; proponents of intelligent design and creationism are, well, Ann Coulter reincarnate.

The Michigan-based legal outfit that rides into town intent on taking the argument from Dover on to the U.S. Supreme Court falls under the aegis of bigotry practiced under the guise of religion.

The lead attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, Humes writes, made well known his views that "ACLU, federal judges, and the 'homosexual lobby' were 'at war' with Christians . . ."

Wait, there's more.

Attorney Richard Thompson, Humes writes, equates judicial rulings upholding the separation of church and state with genocide.

Make no mistake, "Monkey Girl" (the title stems from the Darwinian aspersion given a student who objected to the introduction of intelligent design to her science class), is not a screed aimed at Coulter disciples.

In painstaking detail, Humes breaks down the politics and the science surrounding the debate over creationism-intelligent design and Darwin's theory of evolution. His descriptions of the science and scientists supporting Darwin as well as the researchers, scientists and ideologues that gave birth to the intelligent-design movement are a product of inexhaustible reporting married to talent.

Biology texts would do well to emulate Humes' articulation of the complexities of natural phenomena.

Drawing on the myriad experts dotting his narrative, Humes concludes that intelligent design "is a purely religious proposition, attempting to disguise its special brand of creationism by refusing to identify the designer."

Normally, the disclosure that a well-humored and fair GOP-appointed federal judge agreed with Humes' assessment would give away the ending of the book. With the Dover outcome already well-documented, however, "Monkey Girl" delivers few surprises.

What Humes offers instead is an educated look at a visceral debate pitting faith against science. That the debate surely didn't end with Dover gives reason for "Monkey Girl" to enter the dialogue.

sgiegerich@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8172

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Museum wants police power

'Answers' asking Fletcher to OK it

By Shelly Whitehead

Post staff reporter

Administrators of Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. have asked Gov. Ernie Fletcher to grant special police powers to their onsite security force.

Museum officials say they need the gubernatorial action so their 10- to 20-person security team can gain access to better training and equipment to ensure they can handle the crowds and traffic anticipated when the facility opens May 28.

Construction is nearing completion on the $25 million museum, which provides detailed views of the creationist's argument that the earth was created in six days about 6,000 years ago, as opposed to the multibillion year process that evolutionists espouse.

Though the two strongly held views have formed the basis of heated disputes since well before the history-making Scopes trial of 1925, those behind the Creation Museum say they have not been the targets of any threats. Instead, they say it's their anticipated popularity that's driving their push for more police powers.

"When our crowds do come here, we anticipate traffic-related issues that extend outside the property and we wanted to be in the position to be able to help," said museum Security Director Jeffrey Hawkins.

"So, public safety is really the goal. The goal is not to become an armed encampment or anything like that. ... All we're looking for is to get that special police commission as part of our title so that we would be able to go to training and purchase equipment that only law enforcement personnel can."

Answers in Genesis approached Boone County law and government officials recently seeking to have an ordinance enacted granting them additional police powers, even though the facility falls under the law enforcement jurisdiction of the Boone County Sheriff's Department.

Hawkins said his organization did not seek specific powers, like the right to arrest individuals. Rather, the museum security staff asked the county to specify which additional powers it would grant facility personnel.

Sheriff's department spokesman Deputy Tom Scheben said the county refused to enact such an ordinance. Boone County Administrator Jeff Earlywine could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Scheben said Sheriff Mike Helmig maintains that in order to exercise the powers granted to sworn peace officers in Kentucky, museum security officers would need the same training required of the state's sworn officers.

"They're concerned about people coming onto their property and trying to create a ruckus or do damage. I don't know if they've had any problems yet ... but we've not been out there for anybody trying to create harm," Scheben said.

"Our concern, simply put, was this: If they don't have the training we have ... we are not comfortable with them having arrest powers. If they can obtain that training, just like we do, then there's no problem with them having arrest powers."

But Hawkins said that leaves his force in a Catch-22 situation because his personnel cannot obtain the police academy training that Kentucky police must obtain unless they are first granted police powers by the state. That's why, several weeks ago, the Creation Museum asked Fletcher to grant them that special status.

"There is a state statute that the governor has the right to grant special police powers also," Hawkins said.

"So since the county didn't address it, we sent the inquiry to the governor's office and we haven't heard (back)."

Fletcher's office was not immediately available for comment.

Hawkins - who said he has 26 years of security and law enforcement experience - said what his organization wants is neither unusual nor excessive in comparison with that sought by others working in the security industry nationally.

Hawkins said the commonwealth lags behind most states in its willingness to allocate police powers to private security personnel, who nationally are increasingly being given additional powers to enforce the law on their organization's grounds.

He said security personnel have the right in Kentucky to carry weapons, detain threatening individuals and stop acts that are deemed felonious.

But he said that to best fulfill those responsibilities security personnel at the Creation Museum simply must have training equal to that provided to Kentucky police, which he said his organization is willing to pay for if given the right.

"Our desire was not to become a police department," he said.

"But we anticipate a lot of crowds and any time you have a popular attraction ... security is always going to be a concern, so it's prudent to have a well-trained security department."

Scheben said he is not aware of any previous similar requests by security personnel in Boone County.

He said whether museum security is granted additional police powers or not, sheriff's deputies will continue to serve the site and the people who visit there, just as they do for the rest of the county.

"We will definitely provide whatever services they're going to need," Scheben said. "But at this point we don't know what that's going to be."

Publication date: 02-23-2007


What's New Friday February 23, 2007


Even as these words are being turned into electrons, Senator John McCain is in Seattle delivering the keynote luncheon speech to the Discovery Institute. Eighteen months ago, just as the Dover School Board trial involving "intelligent design" was about to start, McCain came out in favor of teaching "all points of view," http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn090205.html . We have no idea what he is saying now, but it doesn't really matter; McCain is a master at the art of changing positions between breakfast and lunch. Apparently, however, he has decided, for the moment, to challenge Sam Brownback for the support of creationists.


More than five years ago WN called attention to a paper in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine in which researchers at Columbia claimed prayers doubled the success of in-vitro fertilization http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN01/wn100501.html . If total strangers on their knees halfway around the world could suspend the laws of nature, it would be the end of science. WN suggested we pray the study is wrong. Behold! Our prayers were answered: The lead author took his name off the paper and resigned as chair of gynecology; another author landed in prison on an unrelated fraud conviction. The editor of JRM still refused to retract the article. This week, the remaining author, a businessman who owns fertility clinics in Los Angeles and Seoul, was charged by the editor of Fertility and Sterility with plagiarizing the work of a student in Korea on a different paper. The avenging angel was Bruce Flamm, M.D., UC Irvine, who has hounded the authors, Columbia, and JRM relentlessly since the paper was published.


Ironically, even as the fraudulent prayer study was going on in the Columbia medical school, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia, Richard Sloan, wrote an important book condemning those who pander to a superstitious public by claiming to show that religion is good for your health (St. Martin's Press, 2006).


The Daily Mail has obtained a 2002 Ministry of Defense report. Because of the "high value" of finding Bin Laden, MoD resorted to the use of "novices" when "known psychics" refused.


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

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Airline redraws logo as superstitious customers curse 13-ball design


Raf Casert in Zaventem, Belgium
Thursday February 22, 2007
The Guardian

Thirteen dots looked just right to the designer Ronane Hoet. Together they had the perfect balance to form a stylised "b" for the new Belgian carrier Brussels Airlines and the number also matched the destinations it flew to in Africa, a key market. "It was harmony," she said, wistfully.

This week, however, Brussels Airlines workers were adding a 14th ball to the logo on the tail and sides of an Airbus 319 in response to complaints from superstitious customers in the US and Italy.

Immediately after the November announcement that the successor to the merged SN Brussels and Virgin Express would come into operation on March 25 with the 13-ball logo, the firm was flooded with disapproving emails and calls.

"They said they were not pleased with an aircraft with a logo with 13 balls because they think it brings them bad luck," said airline spokesman Geert Sciot.

Hoet was baffled. "We are never surprised by reactions - but that it was that bad? It really took us aback."

But superstition remains firmly ensconced in modern society. Try looking for a 13th floor in some countries, or a 13th row on some planes. "There are many examples in business where people make decisions based on intuitive reasoning which are in fact woefully incorrect, in fact very irrational," said Bruce Hood, a psychology professor at Bristol University. But he said catering for the irrational could be a rational choice. "Why make a decision which flies in the face of what everyone else perceives to be real forces?" he said.

Brussels Airlines could have gone to 12 dots or 14. It chose 14 to avoid connection with the 12 disciples. Luckily, it is not flying to China, where 14 would be a definite no-no; in Mandarin, 14 sounds like the phrase "to want to die".

Team casts new light on roots of primate family tree


A Yale researcher was part of a team of scientists that has shed new light on the origins and earliest stages of primate evolution, showing that the roots of the primate family tree are 10 million years older than previously estimated.

The study, published on the cover of the Jan. 23 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers evidence that a group of archaic mammals called plesiadapiforms are more closely related to modern primates than to flying lemurs, as had previously been proposed.

The research was led by University of Florida paleontologist Jonathan Bloch. The team included Eric Sargis, associate professor of anthropology at Yale, as well as scientists from the University of Winnipeg and Stony Brook University.

The team reconstructed the base of the primate family tree by comparing skeletal and fossil specimens representing more than 85 modern and extinct species. The team also discovered two 56-million-year-old fossils, the most primitive primate skeleton ever described.

The scientists analyzed 173 characteristics of modern primates, tree shrews and flying lemurs with plesiadapiform skeletons to determine their evolutionary relationships. High-resolution CT scanning made fine resolution of inaccessible structures inside the skulls possible.

"This is the first study to bring it all together," says Sargis, who is also assistant curator of vertebrate zoology at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. "The extensive dataset, the number and type of characteristics we were able to compare, and the availability of full skeletons let us test far more than any previous study."

At least five major features characterize modern primates: relatively large brains, enhanced vision and eyes that face forward, a specialized ability to leap, nails instead of claws on at least the first toes, and specialized grasping hands and feet. Plesiadapiforms have some but not all of these traits. The article argues that these early primates may have acquired the traits over 10 million years in incremental changes to exploit their environment.

While the study did not include a molecular evaluation of the samples, according to Sargis, these results are consistent with molecular studies on related living groups. Compatibility with the independent molecular data increases the researchers' confidence in their own results, he says.

Bloch discovered the new plesiadapiform species, Ignacius clarkforkensis and Dryomomys szalayi, just outside Yellowstone National Park in the Bighorn Basin with co-author Doug Boyer, a graduate student in anatomical sciences at Stony Brook. Previously, based on the skulls and isolated bones that had been discovered, some scientists proposed that Ignacius was a gliding mammal related to flying lemurs, while others hypothesized that it was the ancestor of modern humans -- an idea that prompted much debate within the scientific community.

However, analysis of a more complete and well-preserved skeleton by Bloch and his team offers strong phylogenetic evidence supporting the connection between plesiadapiforms and primates.

"These fossil finds from Wyoming show that our earliest primate ancestors were the size of a mouse, ate fruit and lived in the trees," says Bloch, a vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "It is remarkable to think we are still discovering new fossil species in an area studied by paleontologists for over 100 years."

This study places the origins of plesiadapiforms in the Paleocene, about 65 million to 55 million years ago, in the period between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the first appearance of a number of undisputed members of the modern orders of mammals.

"Plesiadapiforms have long been one of the most controversial groups in mammalian phylogeny," says Michael J. Novacek, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. "First, they are somewhere near primates and us. Second, historically they have offered tantalizing, but very often incomplete, fossil evidence. But the specimens in their study are beautifully and spectacularly preserved."

Co-author Mary Silcox, professor of anthropology at the University of Winnipeg, notes, "The results of this study suggest that plesiadapiforms are the critical taxa to study in understanding the earliest phases of human evolution. As such, they should be of very broad interest to biologists, paleontologists and anthropologists."

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Field Museum of Natural History, Yale University, Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada), University of Winnipeg, the Paleobiological Fund and The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

-- By Janet Rettig Emanue

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Evolution education update: February 16, 2007

In Kansas, the state board of education voted to restore evolution to the state's science standards. Meanwhile, Elliott Sober explains what is wrong with "intelligent design" and Edward Humes decries the propagation of "the awful and pervasive straw-man image of evolution."


On February 13, 2007, the Kansas state board of education voted 6-4 to approve a set of state science education standards in which evolution is treated in a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible way. These standards replace a set adopted in November 2005, in which evolution was systematically misrepresented as scientifically controversial. Those standards were the subject of intense criticism from scientific and educational organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association. Subsequently, the balance of power on the board changed, and supporters of the integrity of science education, who now enjoy a 6-4 majority on the board, quickly moved to restore evolution. Referring to the new standards, Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science told the Associated Press (February 14, 2007), "Those standards represent mainstream scientific consensus about both what science is and what evolution is."

A different Associated Press story (February 14, 2007) emphasized the role played by the two new members of the board, Sally Cauble and Jana Shaver, both Republicans. Both argued that the board should have deferred to the consensus of the committee of scientists and educators who wrote the original set of standards, which the board subsequently rewrote under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists to impugn the scientific standard of evolution. "When you ask a committee to do something, and they do their time, and they give their knowledge, and you think they're worthy of that because you've asked them to serve on that committee, then you ought to let the process follow through," Cauble was quoted as saying. Similarly, Shaver said, "I looked at what the scientists and what people in the mainstream in the science community said about the standards and what they thought would be best for science education in Kansas."

The antievolution version of the standards was not in place long enough to be felt in the classrooms, or so the superintendent of the Wichita school system told the Associated Press: "We haven't changed our science books. We haven't changed our science curriculum ... I guess it's one of those things, if you wait long enough, this too shall pass." The February 13 vote was the board's fifth revision to the state science standards within eight years. But there is no guarantee that evolution's place in the standards is secure: the Associated Press's story observes, "State law will require the board to update the standards again by 2014, and elections before then could give conservatives a majority again." Nationally, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott predicted, attempts to compromise evolution education without mentioning supposed alternatives such as "intelligent design" will recur: "'evidence against evolution' is the creationism du jour."

For the first Associated Press story (via the Lawrence Journal-World), visit:

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

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


Writing in the Quarterly Review of Biology (March 2007, vol. 82, no. 1, pp. 3-8), Elliott Sober answers the question, "What is wrong with intelligent design?" in a particularly clear and informative way. Sober focuses on what he calls "mini-ID": the claim "that the complex adaptations that organisms display (e.g., the vertebrate eye) were crafted by an intelligent designer." After discussing problems with two standard criticisms -- that it is unfalsifiable and that it is refuted by the many imperfect adaptations found in nature -- Sober argues that mini-ID cannot be tested against evolutionary explanations of adaptations, writing, "When scientific theories compete with each other, the usual pattern is that independently attested auxiliary propositions allow the theories to make predictions that disagree with each other. No such auxiliary propositions allow mini-ID to do this." Sober concludes, "It is easy enough to construct a version of ID that accommodates a set of observations already known, but it also is easy to construct a version of ID that conflicts with what we have already observed. Neither undertaking results in substantive science, nor is there any point in constructing a version of ID that is so minimalistic that it fails to say much of anything about what we observe. In all its forms, ID fails to constitute a serious alternative to evolutionary theory." A Supporter of NCSE, Sober is Hans Reichenbach Professor and Henry Vilas Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

For Sober's article (PDF), visit:


Writing in the Los Angeles Times (February 12, 2007), Edward Humes commemorated Darwin Day by addressing the pervasive misunderstanding of evolution by the public. "There are really two theories of evolution," he explains. "There is the genuine scientific theory, and there is the talk-radio pretend version, designed not to enlighten but to deceive and enrage. ... The evidence against Darwin is overwhelming, the purveyors of talk-radio evolution rail, yet scientists embrace his ideas because they want to promote atheism." But in fact, "[t]hose claims are made up by critics to get people riled up -- paving the way for pleasing alternatives like intelligent design."

The purveyors of "the awful and pervasive straw-man image of evolution" are all too effective, Humes laments. Not only did Judge Jones, who presided over the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, receive death threats after his decision, but also "teachers across the nation tell me they feel compelled to downplay or skip evolution lessons to avoid controversy; one L.A.-area high school instructor said she is the only one of five science teachers on her faculty to even mention evolution in class, notwithstanding a clear state mandate to teach it." (Compare the results of NSTA's March 2005 informal survey, according to which almost a third of teachers reported experiencing pressure to downplay evolution.)

Humes is the author of Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul (Ecco, 2006), which centers on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case; the reviewer for the Chicago Tribune (February 4, 2007), wrote, "Clearly based on exhaustive reporting that takes the reader from the hard benches of a Harrisburg, Pa., federal district courtroom to the kitchen tables of Dover families whose children were taunted as 'monkey girls,' Humes' fast-moving, richly detailed book reads like a suspense novel. ... Humes may be the most successful so far in making a complicated issue accessible and in putting human faces on both sides of the evolution divide."

For Humes's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, visit:

For NSTA's survey, visit:

For information about Monkey Girl, visit:

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

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

What's New Friday February 16, 2007


The closing of the PEAR laboratory at Princeton, after 28 years of non-accomplishment, may be a sign of declining interest in the paranormal, or it may just be an anomaly. Either way, Princeton University endured the embarrassment without compromising on the principle of tenure, which protects the right to hold minority views. Science is conditional. If someone comes up with better measurements or a better analysis, the textbooks are rewritten. The problem is that in the paranormal world, nothing ever gets better. In recent years, PEAR became the focus of the Global Consciousness Project, involving a hundred or so researchers at dozens of sites around the world, looking at the output of random number generators (RNGs). Exciting huh? They report "deviations from randomness" before major disasters, such as 9/11 and the "Christmas tsunami" in the Indian Ocean. They believe this is evidence of global consciousness. Or maybe RNGs are causing disasters http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn021805.html ?


"Scientist of faith" is an oxymoron. The University of Rhode Island recently accepted the dissertation of a doctoral candidate in paleontology, Marcus Ross, who just happens to also be a young-Earth creationist. His thesis is on mosasaurs, that lived 65 million years before Ross believes Earth was created. How does Ross deal with this? He says he uses different paradigms. Most scientists who regard themselves as religious, and there are many, interpret the scriptures metaphorically. Even so, they often partition their lives, treating faith as a virtue on one side of the partition, and a scientific sin on the other. Dr. Ross, meanwhile, now teaches earth science at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. He can't do much harm there. Wonder what paradigm he uses? As the song goes, "Brother can you paradigm?"


Tuesday, the Kansas board of education scrapped creationist- inspired science education standards that represented Darwinian evolution as scientifically controversial. Only adopted in November 2005 http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn111105.html the anti-evolution standards had not yet had any effect. Instead, the voters replaced the school board, and the new board replaced the science education standards. We can only imagine what new strategy creationists will come up.


A year ago Purdue announced a full review of the "bubble fusion" claims of Rusi Taleyarkhan, but four months later a story in Nature raised serious questions about the pace and secrecy of the review. This week, the university seemed to clear him, but supplied little detail. Taleyarkhan says he feels vindicated. Others are not so sure. It doesn't seem quite over.

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

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org

Ian Stevenson Dies at 88; Studied Claims of Past Lives


By MARGALIT FOX Published: February 18, 2007

Ian Stevenson, an academic psychiatrist who 45 years ago abandoned Freud as too unscientific and turned to the paranormal as a tool with which to plumb the human psyche, died on Feb. 8 in Charlottesville, Va. He was 88 and had lived in Charlottesville for many years.

The cause was pneumonia, his brother, Dr. Kerr White, said.

Until his retirement in 2002, Dr. Stevenson was the head of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia; he had founded the division in 1967. Formerly called the Division of Personality Studies, it is part of the university's department of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences. Among the phenomena that the division investigates, according to its Web site, are children who claim to remember previous lives, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, apparitions and after-death communications, and deathbed visions.

With the planned closing later this month of the Princeton University laboratory devoted to studying telekinesis and extrasensory perception, the University of Virginia center remains one of the few academic facilities of its kind in the country.

Dr. Stevenson was internationally famous for his research into what he sometimes called "survival of personality after death," popularly referred to as reincarnation. In his view, reincarnation, along with heredity and environment, offered a possible explanation for a range of personality traits, including phobias, unusual abilities and gender dysphoria. For decades, he traveled the world, recording cases of children who claimed to recall lives as other people in other places, stories he then sought to verify.

Logging tens of thousands of miles each year, Dr. Stevenson recorded more than 2,500 cases, which he published in a series of technical books. Among them are "Cases of the Reincarnation Type" (University Press of Virginia, 1975-1983); "Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation" (University Press of Virginia, 1987); and his major work, "Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects" (Praeger, 1997), at 2,268 pages.

Dr. Stevenson was the subject of a nonfiction book, "Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives" (Simon & Schuster, 1999), by Tom Shroder, a journalist at The Washington Post.

In one case, as Dr. Stevenson recounted it, a newborn girl in Sri Lanka screamed whenever she was carried near a bus or a bath. When she was old enough to talk, he said, she recounted a previous life as a girl of 8 or 9 who drowned after a bus knocked her into a flooded rice paddy; later investigation found the family of just such a dead girl living four or five kilometers away. The two families, Dr. Stevenson said, were believed to have had no contact.

Spurned by most academic scientists, Dr. Stevenson was to his supporters a misunderstood genius, bravely pushing the boundaries of science. To his detractors, he was earnest, dogged but ultimately misguided, led astray by gullibility, wishful thinking and a tendency to see science where others saw superstition.

"I think he was trying to figure things out, but he just didn't follow elementary proper standards," said Leonard Angel, a philosopher of religion at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "but you do have to look carefully to see it; that's why he's been very persuasive to many people."

Professor Angel has reviewed Dr. Stevenson's work for publications, among them the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, that promote rational explanation of claims of the paranormal.

For his part, Dr. Stevenson emphasized that the information he collected was meant only to suggest that reincarnation was possible, not to prove it beyond doubt.

"Some of it's terribly fascinating," he told The Washington Post in 1978. "One child in India claims to have once lived in Kansas. And of course there is the rubbish. We dismiss any cases of Venusian fantasies."

Ian Pretyman Stevenson was born on Oct. 31, 1918, in Montreal and reared in Ottawa. His father, a journalist born in Scotland, was the Canadian correspondent for The Times of London. His mother had a keen interest in theosophy, the system of semireligious mystical beliefs popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dr. Stevenson would credit her vast library of books on the subject with creating his interest in spiritual phenomena.

Dr. Stevenson earned a bachelor of science degree from McGill University in 1942 and a medical degree there the next year. After psychiatric training, he taught at Louisiana State University, and in 1957, at 38, he became chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Virginia.

But over the next few years, Dr. Stevenson came to feel that there were aspects of human personality that neither Freudian nor behavioral theories could account for. In 1961, inspired partly by a trip to India, he began to study reincarnation.

Dr. Stevenson's first wife, Octavia Reynolds, whom he married in 1947, died in 1983. He is survived by his second wife, Margaret Pertzoff, whom he married in 1985. Also surviving are a sister, Edith Meisner, of Knowlton, Quebec; and his brother, Dr. White, of Charlottesville.

Asked repeatedly whether he believed in reincarnation, Dr. Stevenson was publicly circumspect. But tucked away in a file cabinet in the Division of Perceptual Studies is an ordinary combination lock, which Dr. Stevenson bought and locked nearly 40 years ago. He had set the combination himself.

As a colleague in the division, Emily Williams Kelly, explained in a telephone interview on Wednesday, Dr. Stevenson based the combination on a secret mnemonic device — a particular word or a sentence, perhaps — known only to him.

"He did say, that if he found himself able, he would try to communicate that," Ms. Kelly said. "Presumably, if someone had a vivid dream about him, in which there seemed to be a word or a phrase that kept being repeated — I don't quite know how it would work — if it seemed promising enough, we would try to open it using the combination suggested."

Thus far, Ms. Kelly said, the lock has remained firmly shut.

New genetic link to autism


Feb 19, 2007 06:40 AM Megan Ogilvie Health Reporter

An international team of researchers led by Canadian scientists has honed in on the genetic underpinnings of autism, one of the most common and debilitating developmental disorders in children.

Previous studies have suggested between eight and 20 different genes are linked to autism, which affects an estimated one in 165 children.

"But the new data suggests there are more genes involved than we would have expected before," said Stephen Scherer, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children and co-author of the study published online yesterday in the journal Nature Genetics. He estimates 100 genes could be involved or work in combination to cause autism.

Scherer said it took a global effort to co-ordinate the research, a feat that could not have been accomplished by one lab alone.

The five-year collaboration, part of the Autism Genome Project, involved more than 130 scientists in 50 institutions in 19 countries, and cost $20 million.

"To make this happen is unbelievable," said Scherer, who led the Canadian team with Peter Szatmari, director of the Offord Centre for Child Studies in Hamilton.

Autism spectrum disorder can cause a range of symptoms in children, including repetitive behaviours and impaired language development and social interaction. The disorder affects x four times as many boys as girls.

To search for autism-susceptibility genes, the scientists collected DNA samples from 1,600 families from around the world with at least two members with autism spectrum disorder. They then scanned their entire genome to look for regions shared by people with autism.

The search led scientists to a previously unidentified area on chromosome 11, which they now believe harbours genes that increase the risk for autism.

They also used a technology pioneered at the Hospital for Sick Children, where they looked for copy number variations — long stretches of genetic material that either have missing or extra DNA. They found shared copy number variations in between 5 and 10 per cent of the families.

The analysis also uncovered a link between autism and the deletion in part of a gene known as neurexin 1, one of a family of genes important in communication between neurons in the brain.

The findings point the way for scientists to dig deeper into the genome to look for similar regions and molecular pathways that could cause autism.

James Kennedy, head of neuroscience research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, called it "a landmark study" that will have long-ranging implications for autism research.

"We expect many genes cause autism, maybe dozens," said Kennedy, who was not part of the study. "To even find one of them is a great step forward."

Szatmari said researchers have long known that autism is an inherited genetic disorder, but no one knew how it was passed on.

"We now know which haystack the needle is located in and, even more than that, we also have a better idea of where that needle is located," he said. "We really will be able to now, in the next five years, to hone in on candidate genes and candidate regions to identify those genes and DNA sequences that seem to have gone wrong or have led to autism."

The findings will help researchers come up with diagnostic methods for autism spectrum disorders, said Szatmari.

"We're still diagnosing them too late," he said. "If we can derive diagnostic tests for some forms of autism ..... and lower the age of diagnosis to 24 months or 18 months, that will be really important. The earlier children get interventions, the better the outcome will be."

Every week parents of autistic children ask Wendy Roberts, a developmental pediatrician and co-director of the autism research unit at Sick Kids, whether there are prenatal tests to screen for autism. "At this point, we say that we can't."

The study won't have any immediate impact on clinical practice, said Roberts, a co-author of the study. It will take time to design a prenatal test for autism, precisely because there are so many genes involved.

Roberts collected data from Toronto-area parents, including John. He didn't want to use his last name because of the huge stigma still attached to autism spectrum disorders.

In the past, many parents blamed themselves for the onset of the disorder, looking to diet or even childhood immunizations for the cause.

John and his wife always believed there was nothing they could have done to prevent their 6-year-old son Michael's autism and the research confirms it. Now they know Michael — who has difficulty communicating with people — has a deletion in one of his chromosomes. Their older son does not have autism.

"How do you ensure that genes are passed on intact without any missing things? You can't," John said. "That's just nature. We're not going to fret about it and we encourage all parents not to fret about it, either."

They knew the study wouldn't lead to a cure for Michael or even a new treatment for his symptoms.

"But it's a start," said John. "It may help him when he's an adult. And in 10, 20 or 30 years it may lead to treatments for other children that have this type of diagnosis."

U.S. has more science smarts - sort of


By Randolph E. Schmid, AP Science Writer | February 18, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO --People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that researchers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extraterrestrial aliens.

In 1988 only about 10 percent knew enough about science to understand reports in major newspapers, a figure that grew to 28 percent by 2005, according to Jon D. Miller, a Michigan State University professor. He presented his findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The improvement largely reflects the requirement that all college students have at least some science courses, Miller said. This way, they can better keep up with new developments through the media.

A panel of researchers expressed concern that people are giving increasing credence to pseudoscience such as the visits of space aliens, lucky numbers and horoscopes.

In addition, these researchers noted an increase in college students who report they are "unsure" about creationism as compared with evolution.

More recent generations know more factual material about science, said Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University. But, she said, when it comes to pseudoscience, "the news is not good."

One problem, she said, is that pseudoscience can speak to the meaning of life in ways that science does not.

For example, for many women having a good life still depends on whom they marry, she said.

"What does astrology speak to? Love relationships," Losh said, noting that belief in horoscopes is much higher among women than men.

The disclosure that former first lady Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer resulted in widespread derision in the media, but few younger people remember that episode today, she said.

Miller said most readers of horoscopes are women, contributing to the listing of "female" as a leading negative factor in science literacy. Women also tended to take fewer college science courses, he said.

Belief in abduction by space aliens is also on the rise, Losh said.

"It's not surprising that the generation that grew up on `Twilight Zone' and early `Star Trek' television endorsed a link between UFOs and alien spacecraft," she said.

Pseudoscience discussion is often absent from the classroom, Losh said, so "we have basically left it up to the media."

Raymond Eve of the University of Texas at Arlington had mixed news in surveys of students at an unnamed Midwestern university.

The share that believed aliens had visited Earth fell from 25 percent in 1983 to 15 percent in 2006. There was also a decline in belief in "Bigfoot" and in whether psychics can predict the future.

But there also has been a drop in the number of people who believe evolution correctly explains the development of life on Earth and an increase in those who believe mankind was created about 10,000 years ago.

Miller said a second major negative factor to scientific literacy was religious fundamentalism and aging.

Having taken college science courses was a strong positive influence, followed by overall education and informal science learning through the media. Having children at home also resulted in adults being more scientifically informed, he said.

Nick Allum of the University of Surry in England suggested belief in astrology might be a simple misunderstanding of the question, with people confusing astrology with astronomy.

In one European study about 25 percent of people said they thought astrology was very scientific. But when the question was rephrased to horoscopes that fell to about 7 percent.

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© Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

Pig powder helps regrow finger


By Malcolm Ritter Associated Press

AL BEHRMAN/Associated Press

Researchers are trying to find ways to regrow fingers - and some day, even limbs - with tricks that sound like magic spells from a Harry Potter novel.

There's the guy who sliced off a fingertip but grew it back, after he treated the wound with an extract of pig bladder. And the scientists who grow extra arms on salamanders. And the laboratory mice with the eerie ability to heal themselves.

This summer, scientists are planning to see whether the powdered pig extract can help injured soldiers regrow parts of their fingers. And a large federally funded project is trying to unlock the secrets of how some animals regrow body parts so well, with hopes of applying the lessons to humans.

The implications for regrowing fingers go beyond the cosmetic. People who are missing all or most of their fingers, as from an explosion or a fire, often can't pick things up, brush their teeth or button a button. If they could grow even a small stub, it could make a huge difference in their lives.

And the lessons learned from studying regrowth of fingers and limbs could aid the larger field of regenerative medicine, perhaps someday helping people replace damaged parts of their hearts and spinal cords, and heal wounds and burns with new skin instead of scar.

But that's in the future. For now, consider the situation of Lee Spievack, a hobby-store salesman in Cincinnati, as he regarded his severed right middle finger one evening in August 2005.

He had been helping a customer with an engine on a model airplane behind the shop. He knew the motor was risky because it required somebody to turn the prop backward to make it run the right way.

"I pointed to it," Spievack recalled the other day, "and said, 'You need to get rid of this engine, it's too dangerous.' And I put my finger through the prop."

He'd misjudged the distance to the spinning plastic prop. It sliced off his fingertip, leaving just a bit of the nail bed. The missing piece, three-eighths of an inch long, was never found.

An emergency room doctor wrapped up the rest of his finger and sent him to a hand surgeon, who recommended a skin graft to cover what was left of his finger. What was gone, it appeared, was gone forever.

If Spievack, now 68, had been a toddler, things might have been different. Up to about age 2, people can consistently regrow fingertips, says Dr. Stephen Badylak, a regeneration expert at the University of Pittsburgh. But that's rare in adults, he said.

Spievack, however, did have a major advantage: a brother, Alan, a former Harvard surgeon who'd founded a company called ACell Inc. that makes an extract of pig bladder for promoting healing and tissue regeneration.

It helps horses regrow ligaments, for example, and the federal government has given clearance to market it for use in people. Similar formulations have been used in many people to do things like treat ulcers and other wounds and help make cartilage.

The summer before Lee Spievack's accident, Dr. Alan Spievack had used it on a neighbor who'd cut his fingertip off on a table saw. The man's fingertip grew back over four to six weeks, Alan Spievack said.

Lee Spievack took his brother's advice to forget about a skin graft and try the pig powder.

Soon a shipment of the stuff arrived, and Lee Spievack started applying it every two days. Within four weeks his finger had regained its original length, he says, and in four months "it looked like my normal finger."

Spievack said it's a little hard, as if calloused, and there's a slight scar on the end. The nail continues to grow at twice the speed of his other nails.

"All my fingers in this cold weather have cracked except that one," he said.

All in all, he said, "I'm quite impressed."

None of this proves the powder was responsible. But those outcomes have helped inspire an effort to try the powder this summer at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on soldiers who have far more disabling finger loss because of burns.

Fingers are particularly vulnerable to burns because they are small and their skin is thin, says David Baer, a wound specialist at the base who's working on the federally funded project. The five to 10 patients in the project will be chosen because they have major losses in all their fingers and thumbs, preventing them from performing the pinching motion they need to hold a toothbrush, for example.

The soldiers will have the end of a finger stub reopened surgically, with the powder applied three times a week.

Nobody is talking about regrowing an entire finger. The hope is to grow enough of a finger, maybe even less than an inch, to do pinching.

And it is just a hope.

"This is a real shot in the dark," says Badylak, who's participating in the project. "There's literally nothing else these individuals have to try. They have nothing to lose."

But from a scientific standpoint, he said, "this isn't ready for prime time."

For one thing, it's not completely clear what happened inside Lee Spievack's finger.

The broad outline is pretty straightforward. The powder is mostly collagen and a variety of substances, without any pig cells, said Badylak, who's a scientific adviser to ACell. It forms microscopic scaffolding for incoming human cells to occupy, and it emits chemical signals to encourage those cells to regenerate tissue, he said.

Those signals don't specifically say "make a finger," but cells pick up that message from their surroundings, he said.

"We're not smart enough to figure out how to regrow a finger," Badylak said. "Maybe what we can do is bring all the pieces of the puzzle to the right place and then let Mother Nature take its course."

But "we are very uninformed about how all of this works," Badylak said. "There's a lot more that we don't know than we do know."

Some animals, of course, can regenerate tissue without help from any powder. Badylak and other scientists are involved in a separate, Pentagon-funded project to uncover and harness their secrets. This work might some day lead to regenerating entire limbs. One animal they're studying is the salamander, a star of the regeneration field. Chop off a salamander's arm, and it will grow back in a matter of weeks.

Why? The short answer is that rather than making a scar to heal quickly, as people do, the salamander forms a mound of cells called a blastema. This is a regeneration factory. If you cut off a salamander hand and transplant the resulting blastema to the creature's back, it will grow out a hand there.

David Gardiner at the University of California, Irvine, is studying the secrets of the salamander by growing extra arms on the creatures. That allows for more controlled conditions than amputating arms and trying to follow what happens, he said.

So how do you make a salamander grow an extra arm? Make a shallow wound on the upper arm. Reroute a nerve to the site so it will pump out critical chemical signals that promote the creation of blastema cells. And insert a tiny piece of skin from the other side of limb you just wounded, to help provide a blueprint for what needs to be done.

The recipe sounds like "you put it in a cauldron under a full moon," Gardiner observed.

The creatures are so lethargic it's hard to tell if they can use their extra arms, he noted. But the research shows that beyond establishing a blueprint for a new arm, this mix of cells sends out a chemical SOS to attract other kinds of cells from the salamander's body to help construct a new appendage.

Just how many chemical signals are involved, and what they are, remain to be discovered.

Then there's the specially bred mouse strain that befuddled Ellen Heber-Katz a decade ago, and has since become a focus of her research.

Heber-Katz, of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, was using the mouse strain known as MRL in a study of autoimmune diseases. Her team punched tiny holes in the animals' ears as markers. About three weeks later, Heber-Katz noticed a troubling thing.

"There were no ear holes," she recalled the other day. "We ear-punched again, and they closed up and disappeared. ... We were just so shocked."

Like salamanders, the mice were growing blastemas instead of scars. They also heal damage to their hearts.

But for regrowing digits, even this mouse falls short. If a toe is cut off at some point other than the tip, the remnant produces a cell mass that looks like a small blastema, but it doesn't grow the missing part back. (An ordinary mouse just develops a scar.)

At least, the MRL mouse "looks like it's trying," Heber-Katz said. Publication date: 02-19-2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Editorial: Teach scientific theories, not faith, in classrooms


Web Posted: 02/18/2007 01:36 PM CST

San Antonio Express-News

Kansas and Cobb County, Ga., welcome to the 20th century.

Sure, most of the rest of the nation is already seven years into the 21st century. But the public school systems that serve the Midwestern state and the bustling suburbs northwest of Atlanta have just managed to move past 1925.

That's when a Tennessee court upheld a law banning the teaching in public schools of any theory that denies the biblical story of divine creation.

In 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education replaced scientific standards for its science curricula with intelligent design. This month, a newly constituted board voted to restore mainstream scientific thought to the classroom.

In 2002, the Cobb County School Board ordered a sticker affixed to the inside cover of high school biology textbooks with the following message:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

In December, board members voted to end a long legal battle and remove the stickers.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court found efforts to prohibit the teaching of evolution were an unconstitutional effort to tailor education to religious doctrine. There's no reason to believe the court would rule any differently today.

No other scientific theories — not Newton's laws of motion, Mendel's theory of heredity or Einstein's theory of relativity — are the subjects of such obvious efforts to advance a religious and political agenda in the classroom.

Keeping science in the classroom and faith at home and in houses of worship best serves the students of all public school systems.

Americans lag only Turkey in discrediting evolution


By Jeremy Lipps, Bay City News Service

February 17, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A leading American scientist claims that European science understanding is more evolved than the United States, where only 40 percent of Americans believe in evolution, just half the 80 percent rate of several European nations.

Jon Miller, a professor in political science at Michigan State University who spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium in San Francisco Friday, said religion and politics play major roles in undermining the hard earned knowledge that led to the widely accepted theory of evolution.

Miller points a finger at "by the book'' religions like those practiced by fundamentalists in the United States and Iraq.

"Fundamentalists in this country say everything you need to know is in the Bible, period. Islamists say everything you need to know is in the Koran, period,'' Miller said.

According to Miller, the United States ranks second in discounting evolution, just after Turkey.

In a paper published in the journal Science, Miller stated that two in five Americans reject the concept of evolution and another one in five is unsure about evolution.

To contrast the United States' 40 percent of people who do believe in evolution, more than 80 percent of people in Iceland, Denmark and Sweden accepted the concept of evolution, according to Miller.

Miller also blames the Republican Party for waning belief in evolution.

The Republican Party uses a candidate's belief as a litmus test for his candidacy, according to Miller.

"There is no major political party in Europe that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform,'' Miller said. "In the United States there are people who think it is a political advantage to discount evolution.''

The American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium is being held Feb. 15 to 19 in San Francisco. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of science around the world.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc.

2 evolution theories drive debate


By Edward Humes - Special to the Los Angeles Times

Monday, February 19, 2007

When I first arrived at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa., for what was billed as the second coming of the Scopes "monkey trial," a man mingling with the media gaggle handed me an invitation to a lecture titled "Why Evolution Is Stupid." The fellow advised me to come hear the truth about Charles Darwin's dangerous idea. Then he jerked a thumb toward the courtroom and said, "You're sure not going to hear it in there."

I had gone to Harrisburg just more than a year ago to research a book, expecting cutting-edge arguments for the theory of evolution pitted against an upstart movement called "intelligent design," which claims there is evidence of a master designer inside living cells. And hear them I did, in frequently riveting (and occasionally stupefying) detail, as the judge considered whether teaching intelligent design in public schools breached the wall separating church and state.

And yet that invitation and the angry, volatile town meeting it led me to that week proved even more enlightening. It showed me an essential truth of the culture wars in the United States: There are really two theories of evolution. There is the genuine scientific theory, and there is the talk-radio pretend version, designed not to enlighten but to deceive and enrage.

The talk-radio version had a packed town hall up in arms at the "Why Evolution Is Stupid" lecture. In this version of the theory, scientists supposedly believe that all life is accidental, a random crash of molecules that magically produced flowers, horses and humans — a scenario as unlikely as a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747. Humans come from monkeys in this theory, just popping into existence one day. The evidence against Darwin is overwhelming, the purveyors of talk-radio evolution rail, yet scientists embrace his ideas because they want to promote atheism.

These are just a few highlights of the awful and pervasive straw-man image of evolution that pundits harp about in books and editorials and, yes, on talk radio, and this cartoon version really is stupid. No wonder most Americans reject evolution in poll after poll.

But then there is the real theory of evolution, the one that was on display in that Harrisburg courtroom, for which there is overwhelming evidence in labs, fossils, computer simulations and DNA studies. Most Americans have not heard of it. Teachers give it short shrift in schools because the subject upsets too many parents who only know the talk-radio version. But real evolution isn't random; it doesn't say man came from monkeys. Those claims are made up by critics to get people riled up — paving the way for pleasing alternatives such as intelligent design.

Real evolutionary theory explains how life forms change across generations by passing on helpful traits to their offspring, a process that, after millions of years, gradually transforms one species into another. This does not happen randomly but through nature's tendency to reward the most successful organisms and kill the rest. This is why germs grow resistant to antibiotics and why some turtles are sea animals and others survive quite nicely in the desert, and why dinosaurs — and more than 99 percent of all other species that have ever lived on Earth — are extinct.

The environment changes. The recipe for survival changes with it. And life changes to keep up — or it dies. Darwin's signature insight is both brilliant and elegantly, brutally simple.

The real theory of evolution does not try to explain how life originated — that remains a mystery. The truth is that many scientists accept evolution and believe in God — and in a natural world so complete that it strives toward perfection all on its own, without need of a supernatural designer to keep it going.

The judge in Pennsylvania eventually found that real evolution was not stupid; that intelligent design was religion, not science, and that the school board in Dover, Pa., whose actions had precipitated this replay of Scopes, was out of line. Judge John E. Jones III was rewarded for his sensible and well-documented ruling with death threats. Such is the power of talk-radio evolution.

Judge Jones has since told me that his only regret in the case is that he did not bend the rules to allow live TV coverage so more people could see the powerful evidence supporting his decision. Because the one thing the prophets of talk-radio evolution have, it seems, is the loudest megaphone.

— Edward Humes is the author, most recently, of "Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul."

Research papers under-report evolution


February 19, 2007 @ 4:22PM - posted by John Timmer

It's often said that part of the public's lack of a grip on the science of evolution comes from the fact that its consequences don't play a concrete role in the day-to-day lives of people. But the emergence of antibiotic resistance and diseases such as HIV and the avian flu would suggest that the consequences are real and in the news on a regular basis. An Open Access paper in PLoS Biology suggests an alternative explanation: scientists themselves are to blame.

The people involved in this study wondered how antibiotic resistance, a major health threat that arises and spreads via evolutionary processes, is portrayed in the scientific literature itself. After an extensive literature search, they chose 30 articles on the topic, half from journals focused on evolution and the other half from general biomedical journals. When these papers were analyzed for word choice, some striking patterns emerged. Despite addressing the same topic, the papers appeared to be using a different language.

In evolutionary journals, the term "evolution" was used to represent the concept in two-thirds of the potential occurrences; in general biomedical literature, it dropped to less than three percent, replaced by terms like "emerging," "spreading," and "increasing." Similar results came when other concepts were examined, as the evolutionary literature used the correct technical term, while biomedical literature erupted in a festival of euphemisms. With rare exceptions, papers in biomedical journals actually got evolutionary concepts right; they simply refused to refer to them by name. It was so pronounced that the paper's title used "the E-word" to refer to evolution.

Clearly, the general public does not look at the biomedical literature, so what's the harm? The harm comes when the press gets involved. The study showed that press reports on published research used the term "evolution" in proportion to its use by a paper's authors. If they don't use "evolution," the press won't, and the public won't see it. The authors go on to show that this treatment of evolution as a concept that must not be named comes at a time when the use of the term in the title of papers and grant proposals is on a general upward trend, suggesting that studies of antibiotic resistance are lagging the field as a whole.

The authors wrap up with a powerful closing statement:

The evolution of antimicrobial resistance has resulted in 2- to 3-fold increases in mortality of hospitalized patients, has increased the length of hospital stays, and has dramatically increased the costs of treatment. It is doubtful that the theory of gravity (a force that can neither be seen nor touched, and for which physicists have no agreed upon explanation) would be so readily accepted by the public were it not for the fact that ignoring it can have lethal results. This brief survey shows that by explicitly using evolutionary terminology, biomedical researchers could greatly help convey to the layperson that evolution is not a topic to be innocuously relegated to the armchair confines of political or religious debate. Like gravity, evolution is an everyday process that directly impacts our health and well-being, and promoting rather than obscuring this fact should be an essential activity of all researchers.

Even if scientists do get better at conveying the importance of evolution, however, it may not be enough, as scientists also have to contend with an active misinformation campaign on the topic.

So You Believe in Evolution-But Which Type?


Zachary Buckler

February 19, 2007

Many people believe that evolution probably happened.

But I have to ask you which type of evolution do you believe is probably real? Do you believe that all 6 types of evolution probably happened? I believe that all 6 types of evolution did not happen. I am going to explain the six types of evolution and why they are not true.

First of all there is cosmic evolution. This type of evolution refers to the big bang. There are countless reasons why this theory is faulty. Here is one. How could a great burst of energy come from nothing. Several evolutionist are starting to back away from this theory, do to the many problems

The second type of evolution is Chemical evolution. The big bang supposedly produced hydrogen and helium. Now where did the other materials of the earth come from such as iron? Hydrogen and helium can form iron.

The third type of evolution is stellar evolution. This is the beliefe that the stars are changing or evolving and that there are currently new stars forming from nothing. This is not true. No one has ever seen a new star appear. All people have seen are stars burning and disintegrating.

The fourth type of evolution is organic evolution. Organice evolution claims that something came from nothing. This is also known as spontaneous generation. For example, according to the article "The Death of Spontaneous Generation (1668-1859)" by Russell Levine and Chris Evers, "...a seventeenth century recipe for the spontaneous production of mice required placing sweaty underwear and husks of wheat in an open-mouthed jar, then waiting for about 21 days, during which time it was alleged that the sweat from the underwear would penetrate the husks of wheat, changing them into mice."

The fifth type of evolution is macro evolution. This theory holds that an animal can change into another animal. We have never found any fossils or any animals today that change into another animal. And this leads me into the final type of evolution which I do not believe is a type of evolution at all.

The sixth type of evolution is called microevolution. This is not evolution at all, but people like to call this evolution. These are variations on animals. For example we see big dogs and we see little dogs. But they are still dogs. These dogs are not evolving into different types of animals.

So if you say that you believe in evolution. Tell me what type or types of evolution you believe in. You can have faith in evolution if you want. But having faith in any type evolution is illogical and not based on science.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hoyle Uses the Term "Intelligent Design" in a 1982 Work Making a Design Inference for the Origin of Life


[Edited] Bilbo of Telic Thoughts ... [references] an early, notable use of the term "intelligent design," this one by one of the 20th century's leading scientists, agnostic Fred Hoyle:

On January 12th, 1982, Sir Fred Hoyle delivered the Omni Lecture at the Royal Institution, London, entitled "Evolution from Space," which was later reprinted in a book by the same title ... In it he discussed the overwhelming improbability of getting the enzymes needed for even the simplest form of life to function by chance.

... The difference between an intelligent ordering, whether of words, fruit boxes, amino acids, or the Rubik cube, and merely random shufflings can be fantastically large, even as large as a number that would fill the whole volume of Shakespeare's plays with its zeros. So if one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design [my emphasis]. No other possibility I have been able to think of in pondering this issue over quite a long time seems to me to have anything like as high a possibility of being true. (27-28)

... [The Hoyle passage] renders all the more implausible the anti-ID claim that intelligent design is just creationism repackaged after a 1987 Supreme Court ruling against biblical creationism. First, like the seminal work of intelligent design, The Mystery of Life's Origin (1984), Hoyle's design argument predates the 1987 ruling by several years. Second, Hoyle wasn't a Christian. He wasn't a Jew. He wasn't even a theist. He was an agnostic who thought the intelligence responsible for first life must have come from within the universe.

Third, and also like The Mystery of Life's Origin, Hoyle based his design inference purely on physical evidence and neither appealed to, nor attempted to reconcile his argument with, a particular reading of the Genesis account of creation. Thus, even if it came to light that Hoyle secretly wore bad shoes, attended a Holy Roller congregation in the back woods of Alabama, and peppered all his private conversations with "Praise Gawd!" it wouldn't matter: the substance of his design argument was based on physical evidence rather than Scriptural authority and therefore should be judged on the physical evidence rather than on any hidden motives he may or may not have had.

Hoyle also contributed to the revival of design thinking in the modern era through his work on, and discussion of, the fine tuning of the physical constants of nature. I discuss his contribution, and the history of intelligent design, here. Bilbo's Telic Thoughts piece is here.

The irony, of course, is that "Bilbo" ... [called attention to the Hoyle passage]—a Telic Thoughts contributor forced to adopt a pseudonym so that he can proceed, to borrow Hoyle's words, "directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion." Scientists of good will, on every side of the origins controversy, need to fight to restore both academic and intellectual freedom to origins science.

In particular, evolutionists who prize academic freedom—those occupying secure industry positions, tenured positions, or full professorships—need at last to put those positions to use, even if it means an uncomfortable moment or two at the next cocktail party. Will a true liberal from the ranks of prominent evolutionists please stand up and defend the rights of academic scientists who see a role for intelligent causation in the history of life and the universe?

Note: The original mistakenly described Bilbo as having "discovered" the passage.

Posted by Jonathan Witt on February 19, 2007 10:19 AM | Permalink

Christians should not embrace unbelievers' ideas on evolution


A rebuttal by Douglas Wellman

Posted on Mon, Feb. 19, 2007email thisprint this

Al Kuelling's Feb. 8 guest column was deficient in several areas.

His criticism of Intelligent Design as merely "repackaged creationism" is false. Even evolutionists are beginning to concede this. In a column in the Jan. 9 Guardian, evolutionist Richard Buggs contends that ID is a scientifically valid theory. Further, atheists and agnostics, such as Michael Denton, are among ID's proponents.

Kuelling's unsubstantiated charge that ID proponents mislead the courts is also false. He also doesn't mention that the judge in the Dover, PA case lifted his evaluation of ID's scientific merit nearly word for word, including misrepresentations, from the ACLU's proposed "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law." The Discovery Institute reports:

"For example, Jones claimed that biochemist Michael Behe, when asked about articles purporting to explain the evolution of the immune system, responded that the articles were 'not good enough.' Behe actually said the exact opposite: "It's not that they aren't good enough. It's simply that they are addressed to a different subject." Jones' misrepresentation of Behe came directly from the ACLU's proposed findings.

In any case, Keulling's reliance on the courts is dubious. Courts are no more authorities on what constitutes science than on who qualifies as human (see the Dred Scott decision).

Today, we are told that science must be limited to materialistic explanations. This is a problematic approach in that an a priori decision to exclude a particular class of explanation is dogmatism, not science. Imagine if archaeology were subject to the same restrictions.

In contrast, most branches of modern science were pioneered by creationists. For instance, Newton, recently voted the greatest scientist who ever lived, was a creationist. Today, many scientists follow their lead. John Baumgartner and Emil Silvestru are both leading authorities in their fields – plate tectonics and cave geology, respectively.

Kuelling needs to ask himself: If science is so threatened by the consideration of nonmaterialistic explanations, how is it that the founders of modern science laid so solid a foundation based upon those very premises? And why shouldn't modern scientists follow their example?

To understand what prompted this profound redefinition of science, consider the comment by British zoologist and anatomist D.M.S. Watson: "Evolution is a theory universally accepted, not because it has been observed to occur or…can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible."

Note that his acceptance of evolution is not based upon science, but upon his desire to write God out of the equation.

One might wonder why ID and creationism pose such threats to evolutionists (witness all the fretting over Answers in Genesis' soon-to-open world-class Creation Museum). After all, if the evidence for evolution is so compelling, why are evolutionists working so hard to suppress contrary views? Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, has said, "In my opinion, using creation and evolution as topics for critical-thinking exercises in primary and secondary schools is virtually guaranteed to confuse students about evolution and may lead them to reject one of the major themes in science."

Simply put, evolutionists are not confident in their own theory. Why else would Scott urge evolutionists to "avoid debates. If your local campus Christian fellowship asks you to defend evolution, please decline. … you probably will get beaten"?

Finally, Kuelling voices concern that creationists are chasing Christians out of the church. On the contrary. Evolutionists such as biologist E.O. Wilson and Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, have related that their exposure to evolutionary theory was the death knell of their once-fervent faith.

There is no reason, scientific or otherwise, for Christians to adulterate their faith with that of unbelievers.

Douglas Wellman is a resident of Fort Wayne.

Intelligent Design Scientists Will Showcase Evidence Challenging Evolution at Knoxville Conference


KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- What is intelligent design and what scientific evidence supports it? Why is it so controversial? How does it differ from Darwin's theory of evolution? Is there a purpose to the universe? What new scientific facts are turning evolutionary theories upside down? This one-day conference will answer these and other intriguing questions.

The emerging scientific theory of intelligent design is a hot topic at universities and research institutions around the world, and is now the focus of a day-long conference called Darwin vs. Design, coming to the Knoxville Convention Center on March 24th. Join The New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel and a panel of scientists and experts at the Darwin vs. Design Conference as they explain the evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution and the emerging scientific theory of intelligent design Saturday, March 24th. Featured speakers include:

-- Lee Strobel, journalist and bestselling author of The Case for a Creator.

-- Dr. Stephen Meyer, Director, Center for Science and Culture (CSC) at Discovery Institute, and co-editor of Darwinism, Design, and Public Education

-- Dr. Michael Behe, Lehigh University biochemist and author of the bestselling book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and CSC senior fellow

-- Dr. Jay Richards, co-author of The Privileged Planet, and CSC senior fellow Attendees will interact with intelligent design scientists and philosophers whose discoveries in cosmology, biology, physics, and DNA present astonishing scientific evidence that is overturning the evolutionary thinking of the past. Conference goers will hear firsthand the astounding implications these discoveries are having on our society, our politics and our culture.

The conference is $55 for General Admission and $5 for Students (with valid ID at time of admission). Advance purchase group rates are also available by contacting conferences@discovery.org. Purchase tickets online at http://www.ticketweb.com (use key word Darwin). For more information visit the conference webpage at http://www.darwinvsdesign.com.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Teachers adjust to changes in evolution standards


Published February 16, 2007 10:40 pm

Baxter Springs High School biology teacher Arthur Commons has found an upside to the shifting standards that govern the teaching of evolution in the state.

By Roger McKinney rmckinney@joplinglobe.com

Baxter Springs High School biology teacher Arthur Commons has found an upside to the shifting standards that govern the teaching of evolution in the state.

"I think it sparks interest in students," he said.

"It keeps the evolution and intelligent-design debate fresh," Commons said in an e-mail. "Anything that causes students to think and be more interested in education and what they are being taught can be used as a positive tool."

The Kansas Board of Education just this week adopted the fifth change in state science standards related to evolution in eight years, restoring mainstream scientific views and removing criticism of it that the previous board added.

Commons noted that the changes in the state standard have not altered the way he has taught evolution.

"Even if they don't 'buy into' an explanation, they still need not be ignorant of ideas that are out there," Commons wrote. "They also need to be aware of many fallacies being taught by both sides of the issue. Being well-informed of others' beliefs allows students to make logical, well-thought-out decisions for themselves."

Mary Kirkpatrick, who teaches chemistry, physics and physical science at Baxter Springs High School, said the switching by the state board makes education difficult for teachers, pupils and school boards.

"It's a mess," Kirkpatrick said. "It's horrible. It makes it difficult to know what standards to teach the kids. It's difficult for textbook selection."

Kirkpatrick said that many times the state board's decisions have been guided by politics and not science.

"It seems as though whoever is elected, their views are imposed," she said.

Columbus High School biology teacher Buddy Derfelt said adjusting to the changing state standards on evolution isn't difficult.

"Not at all," Derfelt said. "Teachers should be able to handle whatever the state throws at them. We just follow what the state tells us to do."

Derfelt said the evolution debate has been highlighted to such an extent that it overshadows other issues in science as well as society in general.

Apology Sought for Lawmaker's Memo Linking Evolution, Jewish Text


By Greg Bluestein Associated Press Writer

Sat, Feb. 17 2007 09:57 AM ET

ATLANTA (AP) - A Jewish organization is demanding an apology from a Georgia legislator after a memo using his name claims that evolution was a myth propagated by an ancient Jewish sect.

The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to state Rep. Ben Bridges Thursday chastising him for penning the "highly offensive" memo, which attributes the Big Bang theory to writings in the Kabbalah, a Jewish text.

Bridges has denied writing the dispatch, although one of his closest political allies, Marshall Hall, said the legislator gave him the approval to draft the memo.

The memo asks readers to challenge the "evolution monopoly in the schools" by logging onto Hall's anti-evolution Web site, http://www.fixedearth.com.

Hall, a 76-year-old former high school teacher whose wife ran Bridges' election campaign, said that neither the site or the memo is anti-Semitic. "I think they tar people with that brush a little too readily," he said.

The Jewish group, however, is unconvinced and asked Bridges to immediately apologize.

"Your memo conjures up repugnant images of Judaism used for thousands of years to smear the Jewish people as cult-like and manipulative," wrote Bill Nigut, the league's Southeast regional director.

The memo has been distributed to lawmakers in California and Texas, where it gained attention after Warren Chisum, a leading lawmaker, circulated it to members of a state budget-writing committee.

"Indisputable evidence - long hidden but now available to everyone - demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," the memo said. "This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic 'holy book' Kabbala dating back at least two millennia."

Chisum later told the Dallas Morning News he was just trying to do a "Good Samaritan" deed for Bridges. "If that's a sin, well, shoot me," he told the newspaper.

Bridges, a Republican lawmaker from north Georgia, has long opposed the teaching of evolution in Georgia classrooms and has introduced legislation requiring only that "scientific fact" be taught in school.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.

Evolution's 'odd man out'


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Researchers have said that modern human beings and not the brow-ridged, large-nosed Neanderthals may be the oddity in the history of human evolution.

Erik Trinkaus, professor of anthropology at Washington University, in his study in the journal of Current Anthropology said that study based on fossils has revealed that the straight line from chimps to the common ancestor should go down to the Neanderthals, and modern humans should be the off branch.

For his study, Prof Trinkaus examined fossil records identifying traits, which seemed to be genetic markers—those not greatly influenced by environment, life ways and wear and tear.

He was careful to examine traits that appear to be largely independent of each other to avoid redundancy.

His findings revealed that modern humans and not Neanderthals belonged to the unusual group.

"I wanted to see to what extent Neanderthals are derived, that is distinct, from the ancestral form. I also wanted to see the extent to which modern humans are derived relative to the ancestral form. What I came up with is that modern humans have about twice as many uniquely derived traits than do the Neanderthals," said Prof Trinkaus.

"In the broader sweep of human evolution, the more unusual group is not Neanderthals, whom we tend to look at as strange, weird and unusual, but it's us—Modern Humans. The more academic implication of this research is that we should not be trying to explain the Neanderthals, which is what most people have tried to do, including myself, in the past. We wonder why Neanderthals look unusual and we want to explain that. What I'm saying is that we've been asking the wrong questions," he added.

He said researchers have for so long looked the wrong way at our ancient ancestors.

"The most unusual characteristics throughout human anatomy occur in Modern Humans. If we want to better understand human evolution, we should be asking why Modern Humans are so unusual, not why the Neanderthals are divergent. Modern Humans, for example, are the only people who lack brow ridges. We are the only ones who have seriously shortened faces. We are the only ones with very reduced internal nasal cavities. We also have a number of detailed features of the limb skeleton that are unique," he said.

"Every palaeontologist will define the traits a little differently. If you really wanted to, you could make the case that Neanderthals look stranger than we do. But if you are reasonably honest about it, I think it would be extraordinarily difficult to make Neanderthals more derived than Modern Humans," he added. — ANI

Friday, February 16, 2007

'Flock of Dodos' takes lighthearted look at science


By: Tessa Strasser Issue date: 2/15/07 Section: Wild Life

The Loft Cinema, ever the entrepreneur, celebrated Darwin's birthday Monday by participating in a mass screening of "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus."

Randy Olson narrates this documentary on the debate between evolution and intelligent design. School board arbitration on the issue in Kansas, where Olson grew up, spurred him to participate. Two battles were fought in Kansas over bringing in creationism, then intelligent design after creationism failed to be ratified.

Supporters of intelligent design argue that some parts of evolution are correct, but there are too many holes in the theory. Thus, because the world is so complex and full of unexplainable elements, there must be some greater power at work.

Proponents of evolution are vehemently against that concept; just because there are gaps in our knowledge that haven't been filled, they say, doesn't mean they won't be. Science doesn't always have immediate answers, they say.

Some of the documentary features Olson pointing out flaws in the scientists' approach, including their lack of communication skills. They don't know how to present the facts in quick, interesting "sound bites," he shows. So, Olson uses quick light comedic animation to get debaters' points across more simply. At times, he almost mocks the scientists for using too much jargon; when they use big words, he flashes a dictionary definition on the screen. Olson also uses dry, sarcastic dialogue running in the background to keep the mood from becoming too serious.

Even though Olson has a background that favors evolution, the documentary doesn't come off as horribly biased. (Many of the intelligent design supporters probably wouldn't have signed on had that been the case.) He lets them slowly make fools of themselves without even realizing it. One staunch supporter admits that his background is only in chemistry; when Olson questions him, he can barely explain the fundamentals of biology. Olson lets the facts speak for themselves rather than interjecting too much commentary, a la Michael Moore.

A question underlies the film: If evolution is so grounded in fact, why has the intelligent design crowd garnered so much success pushing its agenda? Olson attributes it to the amount of funding the intelligent design group has, such as PR firms who are better at providing talking points. But can putting a pretty enough bow on a package really be enough to trick people if there's nothing inside of the box?

Tracking down "Flock of Dodos" may be as difficult as finding facts in intelligent design. Currently, it doesn't have a distributor, but once it does, the Loft said they hope to bring it back for more showings.

In Europe's Mailbag: A Glossy Attack on Evolution


Science 16 February 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5814, p. 925

DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5814.925a

Martin Enserink

PARIS--It's the most gorgeous-looking attack on evolution seen in a long time: That's the consensus among European scientists who in recent weeks have received unsolicited free copies of the Atlas of Creation. The 768-page, lavishly produced tome was written by Harun Yahya, a Turkish author who denounces Darwinism as the source of many evils, including 9/11. Its publisher has sent hundreds if not thousands of copies of the book to researchers in at least four countries in Western Europe.

A source of amusement to some, the book has troubled and outraged others--especially in France, where a French translation landed in the mailboxes of hundreds of high school directors and librarians. "This is a nasty attack on our education system," says evolutionary biologist Armand de Ricqlès of the Collège de France, who worries that the book might touch off a battle over the teaching of evolution in Europe. French Education Minister Gilles de Robien swiftly warned schools to keep the book out of pupils' hands.

Harun Yahya is the pen name of Adnan Oktar, the head of the Foundation for Scientific Research (BAV) in Ankara, which has promoted Islamic creationism since 1997 (Science, 18 May 2001, p. 1286). Yahya is credited with hundreds of books; he is "more like a brand name" for a group of writers he leads, says Taner Edis, a Turkish-born physicist at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, who has studied Islamic creationism.

Yahya accepts that the world is billions of years old but rejects the concept of evolutionary change. More than 500 pages in the Atlas of Creation (the first in a series of seven volumes) are filled with pictures of fossils, accompanied by modern-day organisms that look strikingly similar--proof, Yahya says, that evolution theory is false. It's an "absurdly ridiculous" logic, says Gerdien de Jong, one of five biologists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who received a copy.

Within Turkey, BAV has been "quite successful" in promoting creationism, says biologist Aykut Kence of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. One recent survey found that more than 50% of biology teachers in secondary education "are not sure about the validity of evolution," says Kence. Yahya's books have also been translated into Arabic, Urdu, and other languages of the Islamic world.

How BAV can afford mass distribution of books, as well as a plethora of DVDs and Web sites in several languages, is unclear. Rumors abound--for instance, about Saudi or U.S. backers--but Turkish law makes finding out the facts very difficult, Edis says. In an e-mailed response to questions, a spokesperson for Yahya declined to address finances. He added that France "can gather up and burn all the books, just like in the days of the Nazis, … yet the collapse of Darwinism cannot be prevented by prohibitions and bans."

French scientists say they need to operate carefully so as not to inflame tensions with France's sizable Muslim minority. But a response is needed, says de Ricqlès, if only to arm teachers with counterarguments. Kence says he and others have tried to promote evolution, but he says he never engages in direct debates with creationists, because that would enhance their credibility.

Meanwhile, some readers were trying to find new uses for Yahya's book last week. Ecologist Michael Hassell of Imperial College London says he's using the 5-kilogram opus as a lamp stand. His colleague Peter Knight, another recipient, says he donated his copy to his ecology group--"I hope they found it was biodegradable and recyclable," he says.

Parents Of Dead Teen Try To Tighten Naturopath Requirements


Parents Of Sean Flanigan Push For Naturopaths To Get Licensed

POSTED: 6:58 pm MST February 15, 2007
UPDATED: 7:24 pm MST February 15, 2007

DENVER -- A couple who lost their 19-year-old son said they blame his death on a man who claimed to be a naturopathic doctor.

On Thursday, David and Laura Flanigan told state legislatures their story with the hope of making it a requirement for naturopathic doctors to get licensed in the ongoing argument about conventional medicine versus alternative medicine and where the two overlap.

David and Laura Flanigan told lawmakers they didn't want others to go through their heartbreak.

As their son Sean was battling terminal cancer, they said they turned to alternative therapies.

"When you're told that your son is going to be saved, the thought of, 'Oh, how real can this be?' escapes you," David Flanigan said.

Brian O'Connell presented himself as a naturopathic doctor, though he had no real medical training.

He gave Sean a dangerous blood-cleansing treatment that only hastened his death.

O'Connell is now serving a 13-year prison sentence after admitting to criminal negligent homicide in the death of Flanigan.

"It's hard but we know we have to do it for Sean because he doesn't have a voice right now and we have to be that voice for him," Laura Flanigan said.

Lawmakers were shown phony diplomas in naturopathic health, a part, they said, of a growing problem.

But legitimate providers said the required licensing will only put them out of work.

"There are also countless traditional natural health care practitioners in good standing and work ethically to perform their duties in natural health and they want to help consumers," said naturopathic doctor Cheryl Strum.

The Flanigans said they believe in naturopathic medicine but that it needs to be better regulated. They said they thought they had checked O'Connell out. They said he had a wall full of diplomas, but it turned out they were all meaningless.

Previous Stories:
March 27, 2006: Naturopath Sentenced For Injecting Teen With Hydrogen Peroxide
February 1, 2006: Naturopath Pleads Guilty To Negligent Homicide
January 31, 2006: Naturopath Stands Trial, Accused Of Killing Patient
March 31, 2004: Naturopathic Practitioner Arrested In Wheat Ridge

Copyright 2007 by TheDenverChannel.com.

Bill Would Regulate Alternative Health Care


Feb 15, 2007 4:48 pm US/Mountain

Poll: Should alternative health care providers be regulated by the state?

Terry Jessup Reporting

(CBS4) DENVER A mother and father whose son died after he was treated by a phony physician asked for tougher laws regulating naturopathic medicine Thursday.

The bill to regulate alternative health care practitioners was up before the House Health and Human Services Committee.

It is a reaction to Sean Flanagan's tragic death, but the bill is controversial and complicated and there are no less than 32 witnesses signed up to testify about it.

Nineteen-year-old Sean Flanagan died from cancer after his family took him to a naturopathic clinic for treatment. The name on the literature read "Dr." Brian O'Connell.

"Unfortunately, the man that we took Sean to was not licensed to have any kind of medical background," Sean's mother Laura said. "He gave Sean some type of medicine that is not regulated. Some of it is illegal in this country and we didn't know."

Ten days later, Sean died. His parents lobbied for a bill that would require that Colorado license qualified naturopathic physicians.

"There's nobody that these naturopaths are accountable to," Sean's father Dave said. "He's in jail now, but our son had to die, and at least two to three others that had to go to the emergency room, from his office, from his treatment. That's the reason why he's in jail."

O'Connell entered a plea bargain and is now serving 13 years on manslaughter and other charges, but natural and holistic medicine supporters said to use Sean's death as a reason to over-regulate all practitioners of alternative medicine would put them out of business.

"The death of the young man; everybody's sorry about that and sad about that," said Boyd Landry of the Coalition for Natural Health. "The system worked. The guy went to jail. This bill would not have kept that from happening, and that's something we all have to keep in mind, we're overreacting."

Nearly three dozen people were scheduled to testify at the hearing. The hearing will still in session Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

(© MMVII CBS Television Stations, Inc.

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