NTS LogoSkeptical News for 7 April 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lee Cullum: A problem at its genesis


Pitting intelligent design against Darwin won't work

06:26 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Intelligent design has a fundamental problem: Its proponents refuse to understand who and what they are. Hence, they have created an awkward situation for Southern Methodist University, where a conference called "Darwin vs. Design" is scheduled for McFarlin Auditorium on April 13 and 14. Some scientists at the university have questioned, justifiably, whether this is an appropriate place for a gathering as intellectually confused as this one.

Those who favor intelligent design seek to prove that evolution is impossible because the complexity of human systems is beyond the capacity of the Darwinian process to accomplish. Hence, humankind must have been created by a supreme designer.

Yet they have not toppled Darwin or his theory – and show no signs of coming close to that.

Their mistake is presenting themselves as a science and Charles Darwin as their natural enemy when, in fact, they are arguing from a religious base.

The principal funder of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, sponsor of this confab along with the Christian Legal Society at SMU's Dedman School of Law, is Howard Ahmanson, who long has shown interest in conservative religion.

If advocates of intelligent design would assemble a conference with their own speakers and professors versus, say, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and an evolutionary biologist, that would be a solid and fascinating program.

But putting intelligent design in opposition to Darwin is like offering a program on faith healing versus oncology. Faith healing is worth discussing, but not as a scientific alternative to medical treatment – though some may shun doctors and choose that path.

Science has its own limitations. It need not be regarded as the only avenue to truth. Also, truth and proof are not always the same thing. Sharon Turner, an Episcopal priest, calls the imperative to prove up Intelligent Design the last gasp of the Enlightenment, when religious certainty gave way to the experiments of science. But, she added, there is knowledge that is far deeper than the literal or the scientific.

What she understands is this: For all the gains of the scientific method, it did limit the life of the spirit for those unable to imagine more broadly. Perhaps we were better off when science and philosophy were part of the same discipline. Aristotle, remember, formed his categories of plants and animals with all the assurance of both persuasions.

Certainly Leonardo da Vinci embraced the two worlds as one, which may be the main reason for his current popularity. It did not occur to anyone then that they could be separate.

Perhaps that's what the Discovery Institute is trying to achieve – a return to unity of knowledge. But to do this, adherents of this effort are now the Peter of religion, denying it at every turn.

Sen. John McCain gave the keynote speech at a gathering of the Discovery Institute earlier this year. Several months before, he told a newspaper that he happens to "believe in evolution" but that "Americans should be exposed to every point of view." Should intelligent design "be taught in as a science class?" he asked. "Probably not."

Don't count on Mr. McCain to express that view between now and the 2008 election, but he is right. Intelligent design is not science, and SMU, though unassailable in its defense of free speech, needs to rethink its policy regarding future use of its facilities and their implied prestige.

The university does not have a First Amendment obligation to provide a venue to intellectually suspect arguments, unless they are framed in a way that does not violate settled history (the Holocaust) or settled science. Care must be taken, of course, in discerning which bodies of knowledge are rooted in fact and which are not. But an institution devoted to the life of the mind does have a right and a duty to make those choices.

Lee Cullum is a Dallas journalist and host of "CEO," which airs the last Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m. on KERA-TV. Her e-mail address is lcullum@swbell.net.

Fresh look at clearing up life's mysteriesEditorial comment in The Sunday Times


April 07, 2007 03:00pm

PERTH's Catholic and Anglican archbishops have taken a fresh and welcome approach to an old debate this Easter.

As reported in The Sunday Times today, they want to break new ground by having a religious genre of intelligent design taught in WA public schools.

Even though it doesn't find favour with Education Minister Mark McGowan, it is an interesting and provocative thought.

Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey says that intelligent design would give students an opportunity to question the mysteries of life that science can't explain.

And Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft said: "I think if our classrooms do not allow for the exploration of the spirit, the exploration of the questions of meaning, then we're going to produce ultimately, human beings who have deep emptiness in them"

ID is the term for the controversial theory that, because of the complexities of certain features found in nature, an "intelligent designer" exists as a biblical God or some other superior being.

ID supporters point to various questions that science can't answer to back their claims.

In opposition, are atheists, including many scientists, who believe in the theory of evolution which they say shows that all living things developed naturally from simple organisms over the course of millions of years. Nearly all scientists consider evolution to be a scientific fact.

Renowned author and atheist Richard Dawkins, the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, who passionately rebuts religions of all types in his book The God Delusion has done his share to focus attention on the growing God versus science debate. His is one of a growing number of anti-God books to be published recently.

Prof Dawkins regularly upsets the religious faithful with his forthright and irreverent views. He refers to a quotation at the bottom of one page of his book which states that intelligent design has been unkindly described as creationism in a cheap tuxedo. Some argue that ID and traditional creationism go hand-in-hand; others claim that there are fine differences but important ones.

Prof Dawkins' views spark criticism and anger among many churchgoers, but he strikes a chord with some of those who feel ill at ease with some of the traditional teaching of the Christian church. He makes some pertinent points, in particular: "If you feel trapped in the religion of your upbringing, it would be worth asking yourself how this came about," he writes. "The answer is usually some form of childhood indoctrination. If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents."

Even among devoted Christians this should be food for thought, particularly as far as their children are concerned. .

What logically follows is that religious teaching at all levels and at all ages, but particularly among the young, should be questioned to reach a considered judgment between ID/creationism and evolutionism. After all, there are those who form beliefs somewhere between these extremes.

Easter is an ideal time to raise this issue and there are other things to think about as well as Easter eggs and having a holiday break. For many, Easter is predominantly a time to remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. We should also use Easter to focus on the moral code that religion, and in particular Christianity, offers. Religion should be about doing good to fellow human beings.

And if the teaching of intelligent design was introduced in schools and it resulted in more young people questioning the basis for traditional religious beliefs so that they can make informed judgments, then it would be an effective innovation. We want more than religious dogma for our children.

Royals' favoured hospital at risk as homeopathy backlash gathers pace


The Queen loves it. But alternative medicine centre's future looks uncertain as more NHS trusts axe funding

Denis Campbell and Mary Fitzgerald Sunday April 8, 2007

The Observer

Britain's leading homeopathic hospital, supported by the Queen and the Prince of Wales, is facing crisis because the medical establishment is turning against the remedies used by tens of thousands of people every year.

Dr Ian Fisher, personal homeopath to the Queen and clinical director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, of which the monarch is patron, has written an open letter asking for help to save it. He blames 'an orchestrated campaign' against alternative medicine by some of Britain's most distinguished doctors.

The Queen, an advocate of homeopathy, alongside Catherine Zeta Jones and Sir Paul McCartney, always has 60 vials of alternative remedies in a leather carrier when she travels abroad in case she falls ill. Homeopathic remedies - which use minute and diluted doses of natural substances - have been attacked by scientists as unproven.

'The basic problem is that several Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), the local bodies which pay for NHS care, have stopped, or drastically reduced, their funding of treatment at the RLHH,' said Fisher in the letter. 'If too many PCTs stop funding, the hospital may be forced to close. We are already having to cut our services. PCTs have generally justified their decisions by claiming that scientific evidence of effectiveness for homeopathy and other complementary therapies is lacking.' Twenty-five hospitals from London and southern and eastern England have already either stopped sending any patients to the RLHH or agreed to fund only a handful, Fisher warns.

The Prince of Wales, who has clashed with the medical estabishment several times over his staunch support for alternative therapies, publicly praised the 157-year-old RLHH when he performed the re-opening ceremony there in 2005 after a £20m refurbishment. 'Prince Charles is sympathetic, supportive and concerned. But he doesn't feel it's appropriate to intervene in any way because there's been some adverse publicity before about him "meddling" ', said Fisher last night.

According to Fisher, cutbacks across the NHS are mostly just an excuse for PCTs to stop paying the hospital to treat patients suffering with conditions as diverse as eczema, food intolerance, extreme pain, digestive disorders and cancer. Many have 'effectiveness gap conditions', where conventional medicine has not helped, such as osteo- arthritis of the knee, which the RLHH treats with a course of acupuncture.

Fisher says that the real reason many PCTs have ended their contracts is because they felt pressurised to do so after receiving a letter last year from 13 of Britain's leading doctors urging them not to waste funding on what they described as unproven, ineffective complementary treatments. The signatories included Sir James Black, a past winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, and cancer specialist Michael Baum, who despaired of the NHS paying for 'utterly bogus' alternative therapies such as homeopathy at the same time as it was saying it could not afford to help women across the country by paying for the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at University College London, returned to the attack last night. 'If the Royal London were to close because of PCT deficits we would scarcely miss it,' he said. 'Homeopathy is no better than witchcraft. It's no better than a placebo effect. It's patronising and insulting for adults.'

Baum believes the RLHH, an ornate building in Bloomsbury, in central London, should cease to be a hospital dedicated to homeopathy, a role it has performed since 1849. It currently treats about 9,000 patients a year and costs about £5.5m to run - a tiny sum by NHS standards. 'Instead you could have a centre for palliative and supportive care, which would be of greater benefit and involve half the cost. Rather than losing something, we would gain something,' Baum said.

But Carol Boyce, a homeopath involved in the campaign to save the hospital, said that losing it would deny patients the choice of treatment the government was keen to promote.

Robert Naylor, chief executive of the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, to which the RLHH belongs, last night pledged: 'The trust has no plans to close the RLHH. It is the most important hospital in western Europe in alternative and complementary medicine, and an international centre for these types of treatment.

'There's no danger that the hospital will close. But if there's a national decision by PCTs in unison not to fund homeopathic treatments, we would have to discontinue provision of homeopathic treatment.'

A Department of Health spokeswoman said PCTs were free to decide what forms of treatment they felt willing to pay for and that the ministry could do nothing to prevent the possible closure of such a flagship hospital.

Cure or con?

Homeopathy is hugely divisive. Supporters say it brings relief where other, more conventional treatments have failed; critics claim it is ineffective and medically unproven. It is the best known of a group of alternative therapies, such as reflexology, acupuncture and aromatherapy.

Devised in the late 18th century by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is is based on his principle of 'similia similibus curentur', or 'let like be cured by like': if you give a patient a small, heavily diluted dose of a substance that would create symptoms of illness in a healthy person, they will be cured. Homeopaths dispense remedies, not drugs. Remedies are made from natural ingredients such as extracts of plants, animals and minerals.

Large sections of the medical establishment view homeopathy negatively. 'Study after study has shown it is simply the purest form of placebo. You may as well take a glass of water ,' says Edzard Ernst, the UK's first professor of complementary medicine.

Friday, April 06, 2007

April Fool's Joke or Real?


Category: Intelligent Design

Posted on: April 6, 2007 9:10 AM, by Ed Brayton

Pete Dunkelberg has a post at the Panda's Thumb where he puts up a quote about the mass of information that is staggeringly stupid and asks if you can discern whether it's a genuine quote from a major ID advocate, or a clever parody. I'll paste the quote below the fold:

One of the things I do in my classes to get this idea across to students is I hold up two computer disks. One is loaded with software the other one is blank. And I ask

"What's the difference in mass between these two computer disks as a result of the difference in the information content that they posses?"

And of course the answer is zero - none. There is no difference as a result of the information. And that's because information is a massless quantity. Now if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation explain its origin? How can any material cause explain its origin. And, this is the real fundamental problem that the presence of information in biology has posed. It creates a fundamental challenge to the materialistic evolutionary scenarios because information is a different kind of entity that matter and energy cannot produce. uhm In the nineteenth century we thought that there were two fundamental entities of science: matter and energy. At the beginning of the 21st century we now recognize that there is a third fundamental entity, and it's information. It doesn't - it's not reducible to matter, it's not reducible to energy, but it is still a very important thing that is real, we buy it we sell it, we send it down wires. Now what do we make of the fact that information is present at the very root of all biological function? [picture of DNA] That in biology we have matter we have energy but we also have this third, very important entity, information? The biology of the information age I think poses a fundamental challenge to any materialistic approach to the origin of life.

The answer, of course, is that this is a real quote, said by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute. Sometimes you simply can't parody statements this nonsensical.

SMU Faculty Dodges Intelligent Design Debate


Late yesterday we received notice that the Anthropology department at SMU will not take us up on our invitation for a public dialogue about intelligent design and Darwinian evolution.

Robert Kemper, chair of the Anthropology department writes:

Thank you for your invitation to participate in the Friday night session of your conference. We appreciate your recognition of the value of dialogue on issues that have such opposing viewpoints. Unfortunately, previously scheduled events and prior commitments prevent our department from taking advantage of this opportunity. We nevertheless remain committed to public understanding of these issues, and to providing the public with information to make intelligent choices.

We've yet to hear from the other science departments at SMU that we invited.

It's interesting that these professors are willing to air their complaints and objections in public forums where there is no way for them to be "heatedly debated and discussed."

This isn't unusual. In 2005 the Kansas state board of education invited scientists from all over the world to come and present evidence supporting Darwinian evolution as well as evidence that challenges it. You'll remember that this was highly publicized public event with lots of advance notice. Yet not one single Darwinist had the courage to come and defend the Darwinian viewpoint. Not one. Instead, they sent an attorney who questioned the scientists challenging Darwinian evolution but refused to be questioned himself.

In their opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News yesterday, some SMU science faculty tried to explain how science is done.

In science, progress depends on experimentation and observation using the scientific method. The evidence and reports are usually heatedly debated and discussed, sometimes for years and even decades. Consensus is reached in a nondemocratic way. If the hypothesis is not supported by the evidence, it is rejected.

Really? "Heatedly debated and discussed," well no, not in this instance. And, If the hypothesis is not supported by the evidence, it is rejected. Again, that's not been true of Darwinism. Many of the alleged pieces of evidence proving the "fact" of evolution repeatedly have been shown to lack any basis in reality (Haeckel's embryo drawings, peppered moths, Miller-Urey experiment, etc.), and yet Darwinian evolution is not being rejected on a wide scale. Yet.

At the Darwin vs. Design conference, scientists will be presenting empirical evidence based on observation that supports the theory of intelligent design. Dr. Stephen Meyer will explain how the digital code embedded in DNA is evidence supporting ID. Dr. Michael Behe will explain how the amazing nanotechnology—the molecular machines—are evidence supporting ID. And Dr. Jay Richards will show how the constants of the laws of physics and the incredibly precise fine-tuning of the universe is evidence supporting ID.

How is presenting this information, to an audience that wants to learn about it, in any way a danger to science? It isn't, unless you are a dogmatic Darwinist who can't abide any viewpoint but your own.

Then the profs go off on a wild tangent like some sort of conspiracy theorists.

The organization behind the event, the Discovery Institute, is clear in its agenda: It states that what the SMU science faculty believes to be so useful (science) is a danger to conservative Christianity and should be replaced by its mystical world view.

This is just simply a lie. No one affiliated with Discovery Institute has ever said any such thing. Some scientists, afraid to debate the merits of Darwinian evolution instead turn to making up inane assertions like this one.

Posted by Robert Crowther on April 6, 2007 8:38 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Questioning Creationism


Dale Netherton

Dale Netherton was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa December 30, 1938 and has lived most of his life in Iowa. He spent 22 years working for General Mills as a Plant Services Manager, has a B.S. in Forest Management from Iowa State University, an M.B.A. from Nova University and pregraduate study in philosophy from the State University of Iowa

He has written a book of poetry, had two novellas published,( both books are available on Amazon.com ), written and produced two poetry videos, created a poetry product for photographers, wrote a column for 7 years for a major Eastern Iowa newspaper and is a participant in the Ayn Rand Institute's Atlantis Legacy program.

April 1, 2007

I see by a recent Newsweek poll that 34% of college graduates accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Assuming they were taught to question and think for themselves in college what questions did they avoid (or evade) to come to such a conclusion? Since some questions were obviously not asked during the learning years here are a few to ponder and/or further avoid.

First of all a Biblical account requires a creator. If a creator can exist without being created by something else, why is it required that one believe everything else in existence except a creator has to undergo creation? And what exactly would have to be the nature of a creator? If he could create something from nothing would he not have to be able to visualize a nonexistent? But to visualize a nonexistent is to see what isn't there or has ever been. This is palatable to 34% of college graduates?

Now there have been many arguments offered for the existence of a creator, but all have failed the test of logic. But this is not the ultimate refutation. The ultimate refutation is the burden of proof is on the people positing a creator. They can point to that which exists, but they cannot point to that which made something from nothing. Pointing to the words of ancient soothsayers can hardly qualify as proof. A college graduate who proves his case by hearsay has offered nothing concrete for another human to examine and confirm.

There is a statement from the Bible where the Creator says, "Let there be light". An inquisitive mind would ask," You mean there was a time when there was no light?" All light has a source ,so if first there was light, where did it come from?" You can hardly claim it came from the Creator as by popular accounts he has no material attributes.

" And God said, "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together under one place and let the dry land appear and it was so.". This implies the world was first all water. But we have not found the other planets to be water. The known planets have only land and possibly some have a trace of water. Evidently this discrepancy never occurred to 34% of college graduates. And what of the ice on the polar caps? Was water and ice created simultaneously? Why no mention of ice or the fact that a cold climate was necessary for it's existence? So many questions, so few questioners.

And then God created the animals and the birds and the fish and directed them to multiply. Why? Couldn't he had created a balanced population? Did he not see that some animals would become extinct, some would overpopulate and some could not adapt to the variations in climate? And what did the predators eat if the population of their prey was sparse? Only 34% of the college graduates in America can swallow this as planned.

Now we come to the creation of man. Created in the image of God? But no one has seen or knows what God looks like so how can this be verified? Since man is composed of two sexes this presents a dilemma for the image of God. How can two sexes be portrayed in a single image? Nothing that 34% of the college graduates in America plan to worry about.

Now this is just a small sample from the first page of the book that 34% of the college graduates think is fact. Fact ,mind you. They believe it is a fact there is something that can be in existence yet created existence. They believe something can be pronounced fact if it was uttered by a mystic many ages ago. If it was a part of existence ( i.e it existed ) then that which is existence would not have to have a creator. It would have necessarily preceded anything that existed.

They believe as fact that water preceded land in the formation of the earth. Do they also believe as fact that dry land popped up from a planet totally covered with water? What is the problem with that? How would fresh water lakes exist in the mountains. Is there any evidence that salt water was once covering mountain tops? And if fresh water fish could live in salt water was there a process something like the forbidden word "evolution" that changed them to survive when the rains of fresh water diluted the salt water? Did anyone ask? They believe as fact that all light sources came into existence at once at the command of a spirit. And how can commands to nothing become something? What is there to hear the commands? Ask the educated 34% who don't have to be bothered with questions because they are perfectly willing to call anything fact that they have been told and haven't questioned.

If you start off on the path to knowledge you have to reject the nonsense of faith. Other wise you will believe without evidence and if you do this ,you cannot say you accept it as fact. You can say you accept what someone (either now or in the past ) says as truth, but just accepting it as truth doesn't mean you have proven it to be true or could prove it to anyone else.. Many so called facts have been found to be untrue. It was contended that man could never fly. It was contended that the world would end numerous times. It was contended the world was flat. Once proclaimed a fact. And all the polls and college education in the world is not sufficient to make something so that wasn't so. A Biblical account of creation falls into the category of many people believing something that is not so, is not a fact and is in fact impossible.

Impossible you say, why couldn't creation be true? Funny how asking questions become important to substantiate what has been accepted. Creation can not be true because the concept of a creator is impossible. Simply because one can imagine something or wants something to be true does not make it so. Twenty four percent of college graduates in America can imagine peanuts that talk but have never had a conversation with one. It is impossible because the nature of peanuts ( i.e. their identity ) excludes them from having voice boxes and even though the Planter's spokesman can blab for hours, a real peanut ( as distinguished from an imagined or humanly created image) just sets waiting for consumption or decay. LIkewise it is human invention that creates such concepts as a creator ( look at all the religions of the world ) and their foundation. Man can only imagine what he has some familiarity with such as pink elephants from regular elephants, airplanes from birds, and God from an expansion of human powers and knowledge. To project a man with knowledge and power to do and know anything is to create a God. But this projection is impossible. No man can be all powerful or all knowing and neither can a God he professes exists. For to know everything is to be unable to change the future ( other wise he would not know what would happen ). And to be all powerful would require he could change the future in which case he could not know it. This is not a new argument but is provided for the 24% of college graduates who evidently haven't heard it .

Jay Leno's Jaywalking segment often has college students who show off their wisdom but being unable to answer what many in the audience find simplistic. He must recruit from the 24%. A desire to learn as apart from a desire to please the professor , a peer group or a preacher is a distinction that separates the scholar from the sycophant. Learning what is as apart from learning what others believe is the difference between using your mind and subverting it to the opinions of others. You can get good grades from someone who wants this type of feedback but you won't learn anything , least of all how to think.

There has been a concentrated effort throughout mankind's history to equate thinking with believing. Bu the two cannot be equated. You may say you believe something because you have proven it to be so such as the proof of an algebraic theorem. But you cannot claim knowledge from a belief without substantiation. Substantiation in the form that demonstrates to anyone who investigates your claim that only that conclusion is possible. It is not enough to claim that something is possible to throw it into the realm of reality. Only observing and integrating something with the rest of your knowledge will suffice for further projections of the possible. Leprechauns can be imagined but are not possible. Anything with mystical powers can be imagined ,but possessing mystical powers is not possible for anything no matter how hard it is believed in or how many polls indicate there are believers. Polls are an offshoot of the notion that if a lot of people believe something it must have some credibility. Check out a worldwide poll on the existence of the United States and you might be surprised to find that many in the world do not believe such a place exists.

The knowledge of the people giving feedback to poll takers is a prime ingredient with the findings. Many people are not knowledgeable in the facts supporting evolution or the fallacies of creationism. Thus the polls may lead one to conclude a consensus must point to the truth. This again is the fallacy of believing based on something other than first hand observable fact and latching onto the popularity or intimidation of a perceived majority. This is not education at any level. It is indoctrination by those who want to perpetuate what they have swallowed. And by entering this arena and hoping to never be challenged to verify why you believe as you do ( or offering a flimsy excuse such as I was raised that way ) the challenges you face mount as reality and dreams never seem to mesh. For believing in the impossible leads one to accept the notion that the impossible is possible and a lot of wasted effort pursues disappointment. If the impossible were possible there would be no impossibles. Try growing wings.

SMU profs challenged to debate at Darwin vs. Design conference


Late last week, Discovery Institute sent the letter below from Bruce Chapman to the chairs of the three departments at SMU which were calling for the Darwin vs. Design conference to be removed from campus, inviting them to a debate about intelligent design. It seems that The Dallas Morning News agrees with us that open discussion belongs at a university. On Saturday the DMN ran a brief editorial short on the SMU controversy:

But if there's any place where an idea like this can be examined and debated, you'd think that a university . . . would be it. But a group of SMU professors got the vapors and demanded that the university bar the Discovery Institute from campus. SMU's administration correctly told the prissy profs that the group had every right to be on campus.

Our letter, which was sent on Thursday, follows in its entirety:

I am writing to invite you or a representative from your faculty to participate in a dialogue about the theory of intelligent design on Friday night, April 13th, ahead of the formal commencement of our conference that evening on your campus.

We noted with interest the comment of one of your SMU faculty colleagues, Dr. Bretell, who stated in the Dallas Morning News that the science faculty plan to use the conference "as a teaching moment."

As educators ourselves, we applaud you for this and would like to enhance the teaching opportunity for your students by creating a forum in which your faculty can participate in an open dialogue with proponents of intelligent design—in particular, with our three conference speakers, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. Stephen Meyer, and Dr. Jay Richards.

If you accept our invitation, I will arrange for the first portion of our Friday night program to be devoted to this discussion. We propose the following format: one of our speakers would make a fifteen-minute presentation explaining the merits, from our point of view, of the theory of intelligent design. Then we would invite one of you to make a presentation explaining your main criticisms of the theory. We would then allow your panel to ask us a series of challenging questions of your own choosing. After that we would open the discussion to a few questions from the audience.

We are all committed to respectful scholarly dialogue and to the use of scientific methods of reasoning in the investigation of nature. In our view, science progresses in part as scientists and scholars discuss and evaluate competing interpretations of scientific evidence. We think that the format we are proposing will allow for such discussion and will, therefore, create a teaching moment for all who participate and observe the discussion.

We hope you will join us. May I ask you to respond at your earliest convenience by contacting [deleted].

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Chapman
President, Discovery Institute

Because the letter was sent just last week, it's still too early to tell what the reaction might be. Here's hoping that the profs at SMU are willing to engage in the debate and present their views on ID.

It looks like we're not the only ones waiting. Rod Dreher has a great column over at Beliefnet where he writes, "Sounds good to me. Will the professors agree to participate in this teaching moment? I'd love to hear both sides make their presentation, and I bet I'm not the only one."

Posted by Anika Smith on April 2, 2007 1:04 PM | Permalink

Mammals Took Their Sweet Time to Flourish, Study Shows


By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD Published: March 29, 2007

The mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and other life 65 million years ago apparently did not, contrary to conventional wisdom, immediately clear the way for the rise of today's mammals.

The Delayed Rise of Present-Day Mammals (Nature)In fact, the ancestral branches of most mammals, including primates, rodents and hoofed animals, emerged long before the global extinction and survived it more or less intact. But it was not until at least 10 million to 15 million years afterward that the lineages of living mammals began to flourish in number and diversity.

Some mammals did benefit from the extinction, but these were not closely related to extant lineages and most of them soon died off.

These are the surprising conclusions of a comprehensive study of molecular and fossil data on 4,510 of the 4,554 mammal species known to exist today. The researchers reporting the findings in today's issue of the journal Nature said it was the first virtually complete species-level study of existing mammals.

Writing in the journal, the leaders of the project said the "fuses" leading to the explosive expansion of mammals were not only very much longer than suspected previously, but also challenged the hypothesis that the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period had "a major, direct influence on the diversification of today's mammals."

They said their analysis of more than 40 lineages of existing mammals showed that diversification rates "barely changed" in the aftermath of the extinctions at the boundary of the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. The transforming changes started 10 million years later and lasted until about 35 million years ago.

Other scientists said the "long fuse" model opened a door to a better understanding of the evolutionary history of mammals and will force a re-examination of the ecological and other causes underlying the more recent proliferation of mammals.

The international team that produced the new "super tree" of mammalian evolution was led by Olaf R. P. Bininda-Emonds of the Technical University of Munich in Germany and Andy Purvis of Imperial College in London. Other members included paleontologists, mammalogists, evolutionary biologists and other researchers from Australia, Canada and the United States.

In another article in Nature, David Penny and Matthew J. Phillips of Massey University in New Zealand, who were not involved in the research, wrote, "Inferring a good tree of such scale is groundbreaking, and the methods will be used as a model for tree-of-life studies — whether of birds, flowering plants, invertebrate groups or other organisms."

They also noted that a similar analysis for birds, published recently in the journal Biology Letters, revealed that more than 40 avian lineages survived the mass extinctions. Most paleontologists now say that birds descended from dinosaurs. So in a sense, even dinosaurs in one form escaped the calamity.

Until now, however, most paleontologists had favored a "short fuse" model in which mammals came into their own almost immediately after the dominant reptiles vacated their habitats. Before the extinctions, most mammals were small nocturnal creatures.

The new study confirmed and elaborated on earlier research by molecular biologists indicating that many of today's mammalian orders originated from 100 million to 85 million years ago. The reasons for this evolutionary burst are not clear.

Drawing on both molecular and fossil data, the researchers said they found that the "pivotal macroevolutionary events for those lineages with extant mammalian descendants" occurred well before the mass extinction and long after. They emphasized that the molecular and fossil evidence provided "different parts of this picture, attesting to the value of using both approaches together."

But the researchers conceded that much more research would be required to explain "the delayed rise of present-day mammals."

Ross D. E. MacPhee, a curator of vertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History who was a team member, said paleontologists were previously dubious of the claims by molecular biologists of such an early ancestry of today's mammals. The fossil record of mammals in the Cretaceous period, they contended, was too sparse to support such an interpretation.

"Now we know the ancestors of living mammal groups were there, but in very low numbers," Dr. MacPhee said.

"The big question now is what took the ancestors of modern mammals so long to diversify," he continued. "Evidently we know very little about the macroecological mechanisms that play out after mass extinctions."

Questioning Evolution



Fifty-two of the greatest evolutionists and mathematicians met at Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology (in April 1966) to discuss why evolution was violating so many laws of established science and the laws of probability. The conclusion of this meeting was that the probability of evolution according to the established laws of mathematics was impossible.

Murray Egan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted that an entire new order of natural law would have to be discovered both in chemistry, physics and biology for evolution to have any credibility whatsoever. Even Colin Patterson, senior paleontologist at the British Museum and author of the British Museum magazine "Evolution," admitted that of all the 100,000 fossils in our museums there is not one intermediate link to prove the evolution theory.

It is time to come out of the closet and tell the people.

It is interesting that it was creationists that laid the groundwork for modern science today: Antiseptic surgery, Joseph Wister; bacteriology, Louis Pasteur; calculus, Isaac Newton; celestial mechanics, Johannes Kepler; chemistry, Robert Boyle; comparative anatomy, George Cuvier; computer science, Charles Babbage. All believed in a creator God that made the possibility of science even possible because there was order and design that could be discovered and built upon.

Dr. Karl Popper, one of the greatest living philosophers of science in the world, has admitted that evolution is not even a scientific hypotheses, because every time something in its theory is disproved, it merely changes its theory.

Dr. Popper states it is not a credible science but rather a metaphysical research program. In other words, a religion.

Ken Depledge

©Bradford Publishing 2007

Alternative therapy funds run out


Hundreds of Nottingham residents are calling for a free alternative medicine service to be reinstated.

Impact Integrated Medical Services has offered herbal remedies, acupuncture and chiropractic services in the Radford area for the past three years.

Patients say red tape is holding up funding from Nottingham City Primary Care Trust.

The Trust said it does not know if it will be able to maintain all aspects of the service.

'Experimental' service

Julie McKay, a chiropractor, said the centre had offered a successful service for the area since 2003 with New Deal for Communities funding.

She said their work was popular with GPs because it freed up more time for them to deal with other patients.

The Trust said it "was an experimental service which has achieved some success" but added that New Deal funding expired in March.

"Not all initiatives can be automatically continued without balancing them against other important areas of healthcare, for example diabetes medicine, cancer treatments or new drugs for heart disease or mental health," the Trust said.

A 900-name petition was handed to the chief executive of the Nottingham City PCT on Tuesday.

Impact won the NHS Alliance Acorn award for its service in 2006.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Scientists: Mammal Evolution Only Began Long After Dinosaur Extinction


By Jessica Berman Washington 29 March 2007

An international team of scientists has come up with a new timetable for the evolution of mammals, saying they began to emerge millions of years after the extinction of dinosaurs. VOA's Jessica Berman reports the researchers reached their conclusion by piecing together the ancestral family trees of thousands of animal species.

Every school child learns that mammals began to evolve and diversify almost immediately after dinosaurs died out, leaving a biological niche for the furry creatures to thrive in.

But the director of the University of Georgia's Institute of Evolution, John Gittleman, says that is not the case.

"What we found is that when for the first time you piece together a complete evolutionary tree of the mammals, and this includes all of the species, well over 4,000 species, you find a very different picture," he explained.

Gittleman is co-author of one of a number of papers published in the journal Nature describing the creation of supertrees, which trace mammals back millions of years using all available information, including fossil records, and molecular and genetic data.

Scientists concluded that, although some ancient mammals began to emerge around the demise of the dinosaur 85 million years ago, they were relatively few in number and had not taken full advantage of the ecosystems left after the dinosaurs.

Researchers say that changed 10 million to 15 million years later, when the data show there was a burst of mammalian diversification, or early evolution, among the prehistoric forerunners of today's animals.

Gittleman says scientists do not know why this diversification suddenly took off millions of years after the demise of the dinosaur. They speculate it might have had to do with the emergence of flowering plants.

Gittleman says another possibility is that early mammalian activity was triggered by global warming. He says clues from the past may offer further information about our current climate.

"In contemporary terms, we know that global climate change is something that brings about how species live, where they move, what they start to eat," he added. "And so it may be that by gaining a clear perspective on the past, it may help us explain what is going on today and possibly in the future."

John Gittleman of the University of Georgia's Institute of Evolution.

Museum a marvel of creationism


Scientists roll eyes, but people will go

March 29, 2007



PETERSBURG, Ky. -- Tyrannosaurus rex was a strict vegetarian and lived with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Dinosaurs of every kind were aboard Noah's ark.

Some dinosaurs managed to hang around until just a few hundred years ago.

Exhibits showing all this and more will be at the Creation Museum, a $27-million religious showcase nearing completion in northern Kentucky.

A nonprofit group called Answers in Genesis is building the museum. It is scheduled to open on Memorial Day. Museum and northern Kentucky tourism officials expect it to be a boon to the region, bringing in at least 250,000 visitors in its first year.

But mainstream scientists, who have dubbed it the Fred and Wilma Flintstone Museum, say the museum's message is just plain wrong.

It's not standard science ...

The museum is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible: The world was created in six, 24-hour days, some time between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Humans appeared on Day 6, and they didn't evolve from anything.

Ken Ham, an Australian who is Answers in Genesis' founder and president, said the museum opening will be a significant event in Christendom.

"No one else has ever built a place where you can experience biblical history and merge it with the science," he said.

But Eugenie Scott, a former University of Kentucky anthropologist who is director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, said the information provided in the museum "is not even close to standard science."

Scott visited the museum as part of a British Broadcasting Corp. radio program. Although she didn't get a tour, she saw enough to know that the museum will be professionally done. She said that's worrisome.

"There are going to be students coming into the classroom and saying, 'I just went to this fancy museum and everything you're telling me is rubbish,' " Scott said.

Daniel Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, said the museum will embarrass the state because of the "pseudoscientific, nutty things" it espouses, and because it portrays evolution as the path to ruin.

But the Rev. Bill Henard, senior pastor of Lexington's Porter Memorial Baptist Church, said that Sunday school classes and other groups from his church are likely to visit.

"I think people will enjoy ... being able to see a different side from what some scientific findings have shown," he said.

Henard said he believes in the literal story of creation. "I think you would be surprised to know how many people hold to a young-Earth creation," he said.

... but many agree with it

More than a century and a half after British naturalist Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species," which suggested that life evolved over millions of years from one-cell organisms, quite a few people agree with Henard, pollsters say.

When the Gallup Poll asked Americans about their views on the subject in March 2006, 47% of those polled said that God created humans pretty much in their present form some time in the last 10,000 years. That belief was strongest among those with less education, regular churchgoers, people 65 and older and Republicans.

Like a natural history museum or an amusement park, the Creation Museum will use people's fascination with dinosaurs as a draw.

The museum will have 80 lifelike dinosaur models, some of which move their heads and tails and roar.

"The evolutionists use dinosaurs to promote their world view; we're going to use that to promote our world view," Answers in Genesis spokesman Mark Looy said.

The museum also has a reproduction of a portion of the Grand Canyon. The message there is that it was created very quickly, from the waters from Noah's flood.

The fossils in rock layers there and in many other places around the world are of animals that drowned in the flood, the museum says.

Admission will be $19.95, $14.95 for seniors and $9.95 for children 5 and older.

French scientists rebut US, Muslim creationism


(Reuters) Updated: 2007-03-27 17:20

With creationism now coming in Christian and Muslim versions, scientists, teachers and theologians in France are debating ways to counteract what they see as growing religious attacks on science.

An undated image showing a prehistoric crocodile, a human and a dinosaur. With creationism now coming in Christian and Muslim versions, scientists, teachers and theologians in France are debating ways to counteract what they see as growing religious attacks on science. [Reuters]

Bible-based criticism of evolution, once limited to Protestant fundamentalists in the United States, has become an issue in France now that Pope Benedict and some leading Catholic theologians have criticized the neo-Darwinist view of creation.

An Islamist publisher in Turkey mass-mailed a lavishly illustrated Muslim creationist book to schools across France recently, prompting the Education Ministry to proscribe the volume and question the way the story of life is taught here.

The Bible and the Koran say God directly created the world and everything in it. In Christianity, fundamentalists believe this literally but the largest denomination, Catholicism, and most mainline Protestant churches read it more symbolically.

This literalism led Christian fundamentalists to reject the theory of evolution elaborated in the 19th century by Charles Darwin, the foundation stone of modern biology. Muslim scholars also dispute evolution but have not made this a major issue.

"There is a growing distrust of science in public opinion, especially among the young, and that worries us," said Philippe Deterre, a research biologist and Catholic priest who organized a colloquium on creationism for scientists at the weekend.

"There are many issues that go beyond strictly scientific or strictly theological explanations," he said at the colloquium in this university town southwest of Paris. Deterre's Blaise Pascal Network promotes understanding between science and religion.

Barred from teaching creationism in US public schools, some conservative Christians now advocate the "intelligent design" argument that some forms of life are too complex to have simply evolved. Scientists call this creationism in disguise.

These American concerns caught notice in Europe after Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a confidant of Pope Benedict, attacked neo-Darwinist theories in 2005 in what seemed to be a move to ally the Catholic Church with "intelligent design."

Growing Issues In France

These theoretical debates became a pressing issue in France last month when schools unexpectedly received free copies of an "Atlas of Creation" by Turkish Islamist Harun Yahya that blames Darwinism for everything from terrorism to Nazism.

Herve Le Guyader, a University of Paris biology professor who advised the Education Ministry on the Atlas, said high school biology teachers needed more training now to respond to the increasingly open challenges to the theory of evolution.

"It's often taught in a simplistic way," he said. "We have to give them the philosophical arguments they need to respond."

Paleontologist Marc Godinot said creationists and their critics drew overblown conclusions from a theory that explains how life developed but not how it was created. The ultimate origin of life is not a question science can answer, he said.

Creationists reject evolution because some scientists say the role of chance in it proves that life has no final meaning.

"We have to decode this, but that's a job for philosophers and theologians," Godinot said . "Creation is actually a big mystery."

Jacques Arnould, a Catholic priest who works at France's National Center for Space Research, said Christians in Europe should not look down with bemusement at creationists abroad.

"They are believers, as we are," the Dominican theologian told the meeting of about 100, mostly Catholic scientists with a few Muslims as well. "There are Christian, Muslim and Jewish approaches that we have to respect."

Arnould said the question of life's purpose arose naturally in biology class but science could not answer it. Instead of offering simple creationism, he said, theologians should develop views that respect modern science and faith in a divine purpose.

He said Catholic thinkers should update "natural theology," the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) that married philosophy and science in a view that dominated European thought until the 18th-century Enlightenment divorced the two fields.

"Natural theology was based on the knowledge of the time," said Arnould. "That knowledge keeps changing, so natural theology has to change too."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Then What is Ken Miller Talking About?: Miller Passes the Blame, Promotes a Straw Man


William Dembski reports that Ken Miller responded to the BBC Documentary and my recent claim that he misrepresented Dembski's work. In short, Miller now claims he wasn't talking about Dembski and passes the blame on to the BBC for misleading editing and blames "Discovery Institute" for believing what the documentary plainly said. Most of Miller's response blames the BBC documentary's editors for making it appear as if he were talking about Dembski by sandwiching Miller's comments between narrator's comments stating Miller is rebutting Dembski, and interspersing Miller's comments with numerous shots of Dembski. Directly after Miller's comments, the narrator said, "For Miller, Dembski's math did not add up." But does Miller's explanation of the situation now "add up"? Readers can decide for themselves after considering these points:

(1) Miller admits he has a hazy memory of what happened:

Miller writes, "I do not remember the exact question that prompted my response." He claims he doesn't remember the question he was asked, but he claims he does remember he wasn't talking about Dembski. Miller's admission of a fading memory on this matter does not inspire confidence for the things he claims he does remember. After all, in the documentary Miller clearly states he is critiquing the "mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design," and Dembski is widely recognized as the leading mathematical theorist in the ID movement. Dembski seems a likely target for Miller's comments.

(2) Miller has a history of misrepresenting intelligent design arguments:

Miller attempts to pass the blame to Discovery Institute, saying we "should know better," implying we should not think he would misrepresent Dembski. This reminds us how, in 2003, Dembski told Miller that Miller "should know better" than to claim that ID necessarily requires "the direct and active involvement of an outside designer." Yet in this very BBC documentary, Miller repeats the same false claim, saying, "By the terms of the advocates of intelligent design themselves, the designer creates outside of nature, supernaturally..." (time index 39:25) Shouldn't Miller "know better" than to make such claims? Based upon this example and many others, we "know" that Miller at times misrepresents the arguments of ID-theorists.

(3) Miller admits that the documentary makes it look like he's talking about Dembski:

Miller admits that the documentary "does mislead the viewer" to think he's talking about Dembski. After all, just before the statements of Miller that I quoted, the narrator states: "Also on his [Miller's] hit list, Dembski's criticism of evolution." Miller then speaks, giving his misrepresentations, while the video simultaneously shows numerous shots of Dembski himself. As noted, directly afterward Miller is done speaking the narrator says, "For Miller, Dembski's math did not add up." Clearly, the BBC Documentary gives every indication that Miller was talking about Dembski. If the editors were fair, then one would presume that the question Miller was asked referred to Dembski, which is why they felt justified in framing this section as a response from Miller to Dembski. But Miller claims (despite a bad memory) that he was not talking about Dembski. If we assume Miller's explanation of the situation is true, then according to Miller's admission that the documentary "does mislead the viewer," then I did nothing wrong. I simply watched the video and took away the message any reasonable viewer would take: the context strongly indicates that Miller was talking about Dembski.

But even if Miller's account is true, this does not let him off the hook:

(4) If Miller wasn't talking about Dembski, he's still promoting a straw man view:

Assuming Miller wasn't talking about Dembski, the question remains: Then what is Ken Miller talking about? We know what Miller did say, but no ID-proponent argues that mere improbability is enough to infer design nor do they argue that some inconsequential but unlikely event (like a hand dealt in a game of cards) is enough to falsify neo-Darwinian evolution. Design theorists acknowledge that improbable events happen all the time. When inferring design, they always couple improbability with some specification. One commenter on Dembski's blog, "gpuccio," explained this point clearly:

As far as I know, nobody in the ID field has ever made the silly argument that Miller criticizes. Everybody, instead, in the ID field, constantly mentions the CSI argument due to Dembski, and so clearly and beautifully explained in many of his writing.

Dembski skeptically replied to Miller, "Apologies are therefore in order. Miller, far from blatantly misrepresenting me, was merely setting up a strawman."

Perhaps the BBC's misleading narration and editing is to blame for part of this problem, but that does not let Miller off the hook. Regardless of whether Miller intended to bring Dembski into this, Miller's rebuttal doesn't address the types of arguments that proponents make, especially when it comes to the math behind the theory of ID. If Miller's explanation is correct, the he seems to misrepresent the arguments of not just William Dembski, but ID in general.

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 27, 2007 1:31 PM | Permalink

Free speech at Southern Methodist University


Monday, March 26, 2007

My colleague Jeff Weiss had a nice piece in the Dallas Morning News this weekend about members of the faculty at Southern Methodist University up in arms over a planned presentation of intelligent design theory on campus. The Discovery Institute of Seattle is the presenter, and the program is sponsored by the Christian Legal Society at the university. From the story:

Science professors upset about a presentation on "Intelligent Design" fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down.

The "Darwin vs. Design" conference, co-sponsored by the SMU law school's Christian Legal Society, will say that a designer with the power to shape the cosmos is the best explanation for aspects of life and the universe. The event is produced by the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based organization that says it has scientific evidence for its claims.

The anthropology department at SMU begged to differ:

"These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits," said the letter sent to administrators by the department. "They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask."

Similar letters were sent by the biology and geology departments.

The university is not going to cancel the event, interim provost Tom Tunks said Friday. The official response is a statement that the event to be held in McFarlin Auditorium April 13-14 is not endorsed by the school:

"Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU's endorsement of the presenters' views," the statement said.

What snots these academics be. Let's say for the sake of argument that the ID crowd is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. If that were any reason to keep someone off campus, many faculty members would have to clear out by sundown. The school administration is exactly right: a university is a free marketplace of ideas. The solution to speech you find unreasonable is to provide a reasoned rebuttal. Not this:

Many SMU science professors say they are worried that merely allowing "Darwin vs. Design" on campus could give the public impression that Intelligent Design has support from scientists at the school.

Oh, please. If the school allowed the Young Socialist Alliance to meet in the student union, nobody would be under the slightest impression that the school's political science faculty had been infilitrated by Marxists. And Jeff reports that some of the professors likened ID supporters to Holocaust deniers. What a bunch of obnoxious hysterics.

We have far more to fear from professors who would ban from a university campus a (non-violent) viewpoint they don't like than we do from the idea that some college student might come to believe that the universe is the product of an intelligent mind (which all theists believe in some sense anyway). The funniest aspect of all this was captured by Jeff Weiss in his blog afterword (in which he disputes as well with the Discovery folks, though he says they were honest in their portrayal of the event, while the SMU profs were not):

And finally, it is a matter of some irony that the science professors protest a presentation they say is essentially religious, to take place at a university that still has "Methodist" as its middle name.

posted by Crunchy Con @ 1:59 PM | Permalink

Monday, March 26, 2007

$27 million anti-evolution museum to open soon


Posted on Mon, Mar. 26, 2007


PETERSBURG --Tyrannosaurus rex was a strict vegetarian, and lived with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

There were dinosaurs of every kind aboard Noah's ark. Some dinosaurs managed to hang around until just a few hundred years ago. The legend of St. George slaying the dragon? That probably was a dinosaur.

Exhibits showing all this and more will be at the Creation Museum, a $27 million religious showcase nearing completion in Northern Kentucky.

The museum, in Boone County near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, is being built by a non-profit group called Answers in Genesis. It is scheduled to open on Memorial Day. Museum and Northern Kentucky tourism officials are expecting it to be a boon to the region, bringing in at least 250,000 visitors in its first year.

It already is getting media attention. Newspapers and television stations from Europe, Asia and Australia have visited, and CNN was there Friday.

But mainstream scientists, who have dubbed it The Fred and Wilma Flintstone Museum, say the museum's message is just plain wrong.

The museum is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible: The world was created in six, 24-hour days, some time between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Humans appeared on Day 6, and they didn't evolve from anything.

Ken Ham, an Australian who is Answers in Genesis' $120,000-a-year founder and president, says the museum opening will be a significant event in Christendom.

"No one else has ever built a place where you can experience biblical history and merge it with the science," he said.

47 percent agree

But Eugenie Scott, a former University of Kentucky anthropologist who is director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, said the information provided in the museum "is not even close to standard science."

Scott visited the museum recently as part of a British Broadcasting Corp. radio program. Although she didn't get a tour, she saw enough to know that the museum will be professionally done. And, she says, that's worrisome.

"There are going to be students coming into the classroom and saying, 'I just went to this fancy museum and everything you're telling me is rubbish,' " Scott said.

Daniel Phelps of Lexington, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, says the museum will embarrass the state because of the "pseudoscientific-nutty things" it espouses, and because it portrays evolution as the path to ruin.

But the Rev. Bill Henard, senior pastor of Lexington's Porter Memorial Baptist Church, said that Sunday school classes and other groups from his church are likely to visit.

"I think people will enjoy ... being able to see a different side from what some scientific findings have shown," he said.

Henard said he believes in the literal story of creation, adding that "I think you would be surprised to know how many people hold to a young-Earth creation."

More than a century and a half after British naturalist Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, which suggested that life evolved over millions of years from one-cell organisms, quite a few people agree with Henard, pollsters say.

When the Gallup Poll asked people about their views on the subject last March, 47 percent of Americans polled said that God created humans pretty much in their present form some time in the last 10,000 years. That belief was strongest among those with less education, regular churchgoers, people 65 and older, and Republicans.

Recruiting dinosaurs

Like a natural history museum or an amusement park, the Creation Museum will use people's fascination with dinosaurs as a draw.

There will be 80 lifelike dinosaur models, some of which move their heads and tails and roar.

"The evolutionists use dinosaurs to promote their world view; we're going to use that to promote our world view," Answers in Genesis spokesman Mark Looy said.

More than 50 videos will be shown at the various exhibits, and a "special-effects" theater will have seats that shake as visitors are hit with tiny mists of water. The opening show features an animatronic young woman struggling with her belief in God, while two angels that she can't see are on the screen behind her. Ham describes it as the only part of the museum that is "lighthearted" and "edgy."

The museum has a planetarium. But its programs, unlike those at other planetariums, will say that the light from the stars we see did not take millions of years to get here.

There also is a reproduction of a portion of the Grand Canyon. The message there is that it was created very quickly, from the waters from Noah's flood. The fossils in rock layers there and in many other places around the world are of animals that drowned in the flood, the museum says.

Some of the exhibits would be the envy of any natural history museum.

There are, for example, 10,000 minerals from a collection that was donated to the museum, fossil dinosaur eggs from China that Ham says are worth $40,000, and a donated collection of dinosaur toys that has been valued at $50,000.

There also will be an exhibit suggesting that belief in evolution is the root of most of modern society's evils. It shows models of children leaving a church where the minister believes in evolution. Soon the girl is on the phone to Planned Parenthood, while the boy cruises the Internet for pornography sites.

The museum already has generated international publicity and criticism.

Comedian Bill Maher, who often mocks religion, came by last month. Looy said he snuck in for a half-hour interview with Ham, who didn't know who he was.

The museum and Answers in Genesis also are the unflattering subject of a chapter of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. The book, published last year, is by former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges.

Tom Caradonio, president of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Commission, said the museum is expected to bring plenty of people to the region, including religious conventions.

Asked about the contention that the museum will embarrass the state, Caradonio noted that Lexington allows betting on horses at Keeneland Race Course, which some find objectionable.

"I learned a long time ago in this industry that if we had to make moral judgments, we would probably end up selling nothing," he said.

Herald-Leader news researcher Lu-Ann Farrar contributed to this article. Reach Andy Mead at 231-3319; 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319; or amead@herald-leader.com.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's cheaper and has no nasty side-effects



Last updated at 09:44am on 24th May 2006 Many people who read the headlines might think that our health service is awash with complementary treatments. But nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, less than one per cent of the NHS budget is spent on these so-called "alternative therapies" - everything from chiropractic and acupuncture to herbalism and massage.

What's more, these therapies are cheaper and, in many cases, have a more positive effect on a patient's general well-being than conventional drugs.

For many alternative therapies, there is also concrete evidence of the specific health benefits and financial savings. In France and Germany, where there is much greater integration of conventional and alternative medicine, the pluses are numerous.

Around 20 per cent of all GPs in France practise acupuncture and their patients consistently require fewer antibiotics and steroids than those who are treated using only conventional means.

And in Britain, over the past five years, alternative treatments have been shown not only to ease symptoms, but to be more cost-effective than conventional drugs.

A clinical trial of the effects of acupuncture on migraine sufferers, for example, produced heartening results. When 400 migraine sufferers were studied, those treated with acupuncture made 25 per cent fewer visits to specialists and 15 per cent fewer visits to their GPs than those relying solely on the most common prescription drug, Naramig.

And over the course of a year, those being treated conventionally suffered headaches for three weeks longer than the people treated with acupuncture. Although the acupuncture sessions were more expensive than the conventional medicine in this instance, their effects lasted twice as long.

Another good example is herbalism. As a remedy for depression, studies have consistently shown that the herbal preparation St John's Wort outperforms prescription anti-depressants. It also has fewer side-effects. While anti-depressants can increase suicidal tendencies and cause side-effects such as muscle pain in some patients, the only real downside of St John's Wort is that it can interfere with the effectiveness of other medicines, including the contraceptive pill when taken by women.

I first encountered the alternative approach to medicine more than 30 years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge studying medicine. On a field trip to China, I was astonished to see a woman having surgery on her abdomen without an anaesthetic. To manage the pain, all she had was three little acupuncture needles in her left ear.

This was something I hadn't been taught in any Cambridge lecture and even now, more than a quarter of a century later, there is still huge resistance to anything labelled "alternative" by the medical fraternity.

The sad truth is that the profits made by the drugs companies are so often the driving force behind accepted conventional medicine. And since there is no commercial gain to be derived from prescribing alternative therapies, the conventional medical world resists them. You can't patent a herb or an acupuncture needle, so there simply aren't the profit margins to be made.

But my greatest misgiving about the prospect of removing these treatments from the NHS is the detrimental effect it will undoubtedly have on patients.

The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, where I work, is an NHS hospital. Patients come to us for an integrated treatment programme of both conventional and alternativetherapies. If alternative medicine is forced underground, it is the patients who will suffer.

Time and again, they tell us how grateful they are to receive all their treatment in one place, rather than traipsing from one clinic to the next.

What's more, they know that the alternative therapists at the Royal London are recognised by conventional medical practitioners, and they don't have to worry about trying to verify the qualifications of alternative therapists themselves.

If these therapies are no longer available in mainstream medicine and patients have to go to private clinics instead, it will not only increase inequality of care, but affect the stress levels of sick patients.

Without this integrated approach, patients will lose out. But so, too, will NHS accountants, who will be faced with a rising bill for the treatment of an increasingly ill population with expensive conventional drugs.

Dr Fisher is clinical director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and homeopath to the Queen.

Biology Teacher Fired for 'Polluting' Evolution Lesson with Bible


By The Associated Press

Tue, Mar. 20 2007 02:57 PM ET

SISTERS, Ore. (AP) - During his eight days as a part-time high school biology teacher, Kris Helphinstine included Biblical references in material he provided to students and gave a PowerPoint presentation that made links between evolution, Nazi Germany and Planned Parenthood.

That was enough for the Sisters School Board, which fired the teacher Monday night for deviating from the curriculum on the theory of evolution.

"I think his performance was not just a little bit over the line," board member Jeff Smith said. "It was a severe contradiction of what we trust teachers to do in our classrooms."

Helphinstine, 27, said in a phone interview with The Bulletin newspaper of Bend that he included the supplemental material to teach students about bias in sources, and his only agenda was to teach critical thinking.

"Critical thinking is vital to scientific inquiry," said Helphinstine, who has a master's degree in science from Oregon State. "My whole purpose was to give accurate information and to get them thinking."

Helphinstine said he did not teach the idea that God created the world. "I never taught creationism," he said. "I know what it is, and I went out of my way not to teach it."

Parent John Rahm told the newspaper that he became concerned when his freshman daughter said she was confused by the supplemental material provided by Helphinstine.

"He took passages that had all kinds of Biblical references," Rahm said. "It prevented her from learning what she needed to learn."

Board members met with Helphinstine privately for about 90 minutes before the meeting. The teacher did not stay for the public portion.

"How many minds did he pollute?" Dan Harrison, the father of a student in Helphinstine's class, said at the meeting. "It's a thinly veiled attempt to hide his own agenda."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press

What is Wrong with Sober's Attack on ID? (Part I): Defining ID and its Historical Origins


University of Wisconsin philosopher Elliott Sober has published an article in Quarterly Review of Biology entitled, "What is Wrong With Intelligent Design?" It seems that mainstream biology journals are more than willing to publish articles attacking intelligent design (ID) while choosing not to include any companion piece supporting ID. Regardless, from Sober's article it would appear that very little is wrong with ID because he ultimately fails to disclose the predictions of the theory. He starts by defining ID fairly well in a vague sense, stating "mini-ID is that … complex adaptations that organisms display (e.g., the vertebrate eye) were crafted by an intelligent designer." He even acknowledges that those who state the designer is supernatural "go beyond mini-ID's single claim." But he wrongly asserts that the reason that "proponents of ID think that mini-ID is so important" is for constitutional concerns, failing to recognize the real reason is due to a bona fide desire to stay within the scientific realm.

The actual history of ID shows that in 1982, the astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle (an atheist who did not express sympathy for Biblical creationism) was perhaps the first scientist to use the term "intelligent design" in its modern form, arguing that "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 of order must be the outcome of intelligent design." (Fred Hoyle, Evolution From Space (The Omni Lecture), pg. 28 (1982). Soon after, this modern usage of the term "intelligent design" was also adopted by chemist Charles Thaxton. Thaxton used the term "intelligent design" prior to the Edwards v. Aguillard case and explained his reasons for preferring ID over creationism:

"I wasn't comfortable with the typical vocabulary that for the most part creationists were using because it didn't express what I was trying to do. They were wanting to bring God into the discussion, and I was wanting to stay within the empirical domain and do what you can do legitimately there."

Thaxton, who is a chemist and not a lawyer, adopted ID out of a desire to respect the limits of scientific inquiry, not as some conspiracy to avoid a Supreme Court ruling. No matter how often Darwinists might say otherwise, the fact of the matter remains that ID was first promoted as a legitimate scientific alternative to Darwinism that had key differences from creationism. Sober is wrong to claim that ID was developed because creationism had a "Constitutional problem." It seems clear that ID was developed by scientists due to the unobjectional motive of constructing a theory which stayed within the empirical domain.

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 21, 2007 1:01 AM | Permalink

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Finney says he may drop creationism question


NASHVILLE (AP) — The state senator who proposed forcing Tennessee's top education official to answer if a supreme being created the universe said he may stop pushing the matter.

"I'm not sure I'm going forward with that," Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The (Maryville) Daily Times from his Nashville office. "I'm probably going to reword it anyway. This may not be the time and place for that."

Finney cited a workload with other legislation as one reason to reconsider the resolution he introduced, which asks Education Commissioner Lana Seivers to answer whether the universe "has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned, and purposeless occurrences."

Finney previously has said he wants the department to say there's no scientific proof for the theory of evolution and to let schools teach creationism or intelligent design.

"I probably made a mistake in approaching it from a creation aspect, which raises red flags," Finney said Tuesday. "People get so sensitive about whether children might be exposed to any sort of religious thing."

A Senate colleague asked the state attorney general to clarify whether the question to Seivers violated the state constitution, which holds that "no political or religious test" can be required as a qualification for state office.

An attorney general ruling issued Tuesday said the question was permissible because it wasn't the same as a "test."

If Finney proceeds with the resolution, it only has to pass the Republican-controlled Senate and won't be considered by the Democratic-controlled House or the governor.

Egnor and natural selection


Category: Evolution • Intelligent Design • just plain dumb • religion and science
Posted on: March 16, 2007 7:22 PM, by Mike Dunford

Neurosurgeon and recent addition to the Discovery Institute's Media Complaints Division blog Dr. Michael Egnor is at it again. He's responded to Burt's latest response to his prior response to Burt's earlier response to his - you get the drift. Burt's been doing a great job of responding to Egnor, and I don't want to step on his toes, but Egnor says a couple of things this time that I think would benefit from the perspective of someone who is studying evolutionary biology.

First, though, I'd like to address this delightful bit of less-than-honest rhetoric:

In addition, a common Darwinist argument is that the presence on medical school faculties of scientists who study some aspects of evolutionary biology is evidence that evolutionary biology is indispensable to medicine. That argument is flawed, but it does raise an important issue.

Actually, Dr. Egnor, if you look back through your exchange with Dr. Humburg, you will see that you were the one who brought up faculty composition at medical schools. If you'll recall, you said this in your opening entry:

Doctors don't study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no 'professors of evolution' in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools.

Let's look at the sequence of events one more time:

1: Egnor argues that the lack of "professors of evolution" in medical schools is evidence that evolution is irrelevant to medicine.

2: Burt points out the fact that there are plenty of medical school professors who have research programs that focus on evolution.

3: Egnor claims that Burt was arguing that the presence of evolutionary biologists (aka "professors of evolution") is evidence that evolution is relevant to medicine.

4: Egnor claims that the argument in point 3 is flawed.

Nice chain of argument there.

Now, on to evolutionary biology.

Egnor writes:

These fine scientists do not, however, contribute to medicine by studying or teaching evolutionary biology. They contribute to medicine by their work in anatomy, or physiology, or microbiology, or molecular biology. The central assertion of Darwinism--that all biological complexity arises by random heritable variation and natural selection--is of interest to evolutionary biologists (and to those of us who disagree with it), but the assertion that randomness is the raw material for all biological complexity plays no role in medical education or research. Darwin's assertion of randomness is irrelevant not only to medicine, but to much of biological science. Darwinism is, in Phillip Skell's apt phrase, a narrative gloss applied to biology and highly superfluous. Teaching medical students about the anatomy of the brain or the molecular structure of DNA is very important. Teaching students about Darwinian speculations about the random origins of the brain or of DNA adds nothing to students' knowledge of medicine.

As someone who studies evolutionary biology, I have a lot of problems with Egnor's description of it. To be blunt, it's a strawman, pretty much from top to bottom.

Let's start with Egnor's description of the "central assertion of Darwinism." Actually, before we get to the description, I have a problem with that phrase itself. The mechanism of evolution by natural selection is not an "assertion." It is a theory. It is not a dogmatic truth that must be accepted. It is a hypothesis that has been tested, retested, and tested some more, and that has done quite well along the way.

Moving on to the description itself, Egnor claims that "Darwinism" "asserts:"

that all biological complexity arises by random heritable variation and natural selection

Egnor, like many other anti-evolutionists, seems to object more to the "random" nature of evolution than anything else. In this case, I find that to be more than a little funny, since the only difference between what Darwin actually argued and what Egnor thinks Darwin argued results from Egnor's use of the word "random."

The theory of evolution by natural selection simply states that species change as a result of the process of natural selection acting on heritable variations. For the purposes of natural selection, it doesn't matter whether the variation is random or not. Given a set of heritable variations that result in different probabilities of successful reproduction, natural selection will act to increase the frequency of the variants that make reproduction more likely. If, tomorrow, I were to use genetic techniques to add a new gene to a wild population, natural selection would act on the gene I added in the same way that it acts on any other gene.

So, if "random" isn't a necessary condition of natural selection, where does it come from?

In science, "randomness" is a null hypothesis. It is the default position that we take unless there is strong evidence that this is not the case. This is not unique to evolution. It's the way almost all scientific hypotheses are tested these days. If you want to know if a finding is significant, you usually ask if the differences between the things you are looking at differ from what you would expect if random chance was the only factor involved.

In genetics, the null hypothesis is that mutations occur randomly. If there is enough evidence that mutations are taking place in a non-random fashion under certain circumstances, the null hypothesis will be rejected under those circumstances. There are different types of mutation. For most of those, the null has not been rejected. "Random mutation" is not an assertion of evolutionary biology. It is our best scientific understanding of how mutation takes place, it is an easily tested null hypothesis that has not been rejected.

If you don't like the idea that mutations are random, your argument isn't with Darwin. It's with nature.

Moving on, Egnor talks about "Darwin's assertion of randomness." Here's what Darwin actually had to say about why he treated variation as random (this quote comes from the beginning of chapter 5 of the 6th edition of Origin of Species):

I have hitherto sometimes spoken as if the variations - so common and multiform with organic beings under domestication, and in a lesser degree with those under nature - were due to chance. This, of course, is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation.

Darwin, like modern scientists, did not assert that variation was random. He simply used it as a null hypothesis.

Now we get to the last, and most objectionable, part of Egnor's mischaracterization of evolution:

Teaching students about Darwinian speculations about the random origins of the brain or of DNA adds nothing to students' knowledge of medicine.

I know of absolutely no evolutionary biologist who would call the origin of the brain - or, for that matter, the eye, the stomach, the heart, the lungs, the gills, the fins, etc - "random." Natural selection is a fundamentally non-random process. It does not preserve variants at random. It selects (hence the name) variants non-randomly, based on their effect on the organism's ability to produce the next variation.

Anyone who thinks that natural selection is a random process clearly does not understand natural selection, and is definitely not qualified to discuss evolution.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype



Published: March 13, 2007

Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.

Don J. Easterbrook, a geology professor, has cited "inaccuracies" in "An Inconvenient Truth."

But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

"I don't want to pick on Al Gore," Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. "But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data."

Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made "the most important and salient points" about climate change, if not "some nuances and distinctions" scientists might want. "The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger," he said, adding, "I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand."

Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in "An Inconvenient Truth," which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for "getting the message out," Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were "overselling our certainty about knowing the future."

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe's recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

"He's a very polarizing figure in the science community," said Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental scientist who is a colleague of Dr. Vranes at the University of Colorado center. "Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person, and become a referendum on Mr. Gore."

"An Inconvenient Truth," directed by Davis Guggenheim, was released last May and took in more than $46 million, making it one of the top-grossing documentaries ever. The companion book by Mr. Gore quickly became a best seller, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times list.

Mr. Gore depicted a future in which temperatures soar, ice sheets melt, seas rise, hurricanes batter the coasts and people die en masse. "Unless we act boldly," he wrote, "our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes."

He clearly has supporters among leading scientists, who commend his popularizations and call his science basically sound. In December, he spoke in San Francisco to the American Geophysical Union and got a reception fit for a rock star from thousands of attendees.

"He has credibility in this community," said Tim Killeen, the group's president and director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a top group studying climate change. "There's no question he's read a lot and is able to respond in a very effective way."

Some backers concede minor inaccuracies but see them as reasonable for a politician. James E. Hansen, an environmental scientist, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top adviser to Mr. Gore, said, "Al does an exceptionally good job of seeing the forest for the trees," adding that Mr. Gore often did so "better than scientists."

Still, Dr. Hansen said, the former vice president's work may hold "imperfections" and "technical flaws." He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

"We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is," Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. "On the other hand," Dr. Hansen said, "he has the bottom line right: most storms, at least those driven by the latent heat of vaporization, will tend to be stronger, or have the potential to be stronger, in a warmer climate."

In his e-mail message, Mr. Gore defended his work as fundamentally accurate. "Of course," he said, "there will always be questions around the edges of the science, and we have to rely upon the scientific community to continue to ask and to challenge and to answer those questions."

He said "not every single adviser" agreed with him on every point, "but we do agree on the fundamentals" — that warming is real and caused by humans.

Mr. Gore added that he perceived no general backlash among scientists against his work. "I have received a great deal of positive feedback," he said. "I have also received comments about items that should be changed, and I have updated the book and slideshow to reflect these comments." He gave no specifics on which points he had revised.

He said that after 30 years of trying to communicate the dangers of global warming, "I think that I'm finally getting a little better at it."

While reviewers tended to praise the book and movie, vocal skeptics of global warming protested almost immediately. Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who has long expressed skepticism about dire climate predictions, accused Mr. Gore in The Wall Street Journal of "shrill alarmism."

Some of Mr. Gore's centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe's warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore's message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world's seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. "Climate change is a real and serious problem" that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. "The cacophony of screaming," he added, "does not help."

So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore's portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.

Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore's film did "indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios." But the June report, he added, shows "that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years."

Other critics have zeroed in on Mr. Gore's claim that the energy industry ran a "disinformation campaign" that produced false discord on global warming. The truth, he said, was that virtually all unbiased scientists agreed that humans were the main culprits. But Benny J. Peiser, a social anthropologist in Britain who runs the Cambridge-Conference Network, or CCNet, an Internet newsletter on climate change and natural disasters, challenged the claim of scientific consensus with examples of pointed disagreement.

"Hardly a week goes by," Dr. Peiser said, "without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory," including some reports that offer alternatives to human activity for global warming.

Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.

"Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet," Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. "Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change."

In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore's claim that "our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this" threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to "20 times greater than the warming in the past century."

Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore's assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. "I've never been paid a nickel by an oil company," Dr. Easterbrook told the group. "And I'm not a Republican."

Biologists, too, have gotten into the act. In January, Paul Reiter, an active skeptic of global warming's effects and director of the insects and infectious diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, faulted Mr. Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria.

"For 12 years, my colleagues and I have protested against the unsubstantiated claims," Dr. Reiter wrote in The International Herald Tribune. "We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts."

Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton who advised Mr. Gore on the book and movie, said that reasonable scientists disagreed on the malaria issue and other points that the critics had raised. In general, he said, Mr. Gore had distinguished himself for integrity.

"On balance, he did quite well — a credible and entertaining job on a difficult subject," Dr. Oppenheimer said. "For that, he deserves a lot of credit. If you rake him over the coals, you're going to find people who disagree. But in terms of the big picture, he got it right."

Commentary: Intelligent design supporters find new, creative ways to get their message out


Dave Thomas Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Thomas, a physicist and mathematician, is president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason (www.nmsr.org). He is co-host of the group's "Science Watch," which airs Saturdays at 2 p.m. on KABQ-AM (1350).

In this session of the New Mexico Legislature, no fewer than two bills and two resolutions supporting "intelligent design creationism" were proposed.

Rep. W. C. "Dub" Williams, a Glencoe Republican, sponsored two measures in the House, while the corresponding Senate measures were put forward by Sen. Steve Komadina, a Corrales Republican.

The carefully crafted "academic freedom" measures made no specific mention of intelligent design. But it was clearly the driving purpose behind these, which would have permitted and encouraged teachers to present so-called weaknesses of evolution science in biology classes.

The measures would have also have given students the "right and freedom to reach their own conclusions about biological origins."

We don't encourage students to "reach their own conclusions" on how to add fractions. Why should we suddenly do so with the biosciences?

Make no mistake, the only academic freedom involved in these measures is the freedom to teach creationism in science class.

The legislation doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Both House measures had been tabled, and the Senate measures may not even get to committee before adjournment this week.

While supporters insisted that "this is about science, not religion," Williams was much more honest. At a hearing Jan. 29 in the House Judiciary Committee on the memorial, Williams declared: "What we evolved from we will never figure out. There are many people who are absolutely convinced God did all of this, and if you have the faith I have, God did it all."

After hearing from several scientists and teachers opposed to the bill at an Education Committee hearing Feb. 21, Williams graciously tabled his own bill.

These unnecessary measures would have given students the power to decide how they will be tested in the science of biology. Current state standards already recognize the rights of students to have their own religious views.

Just because this legislation may have failed, however, we shouldn't be complacent about intelligent design creationists.

Watch for continued calls for classroom presentation of so-called weaknesses in evolution. In mainstream science, evolution is spectacularly successful, and supported by literally millions of observations. The only weaknesses brought forth are invariably warmed-over creationist pseudoscience - the "Cambrian explosion" can't be explained; complexity can't evolve; study of past events is mere speculation; and on and on.

Look out for complaints that simply teaching the scientific method - testing real-world (natural) explanations - somehow denies even the possibility of a guiding intelligence above it all. Science is not "atheism" just because it cannot invoke supernatural causality.

Intelligent design creationism proponents demonize everyone who doesn't accept their specific sectarian tenet - that God created unique "kinds," and would never use evolution - as "Darwinists" and "atheists."

They have the audacity to think they know the mind of God, and that they should keep the rest of us in line. The president of the New Mexico Intelligent Design Network, Joe Renick, went as far as calling Judge John E. Jones (who ruled that intelligent design is just a form of creationism in the Dover, Penn., ruling of 2005) one of the "federal judges who drink the same Kool-Aid as the Darwinists," invoking images of cult leader Jim Jones leading a mass suicide in Guyana.

In public, they will claim intelligent design is not creationism, but only "science." But on the Jan. 13, 2005, "Family News In Focus," James Dobson's radio news program, Renick revealed his agenda: "If there's no transcendent designer or creator, such as the God of Genesis, well then, that's going to say a whole lot about what this life is about and what it means."

The latest intelligent design creationism effort is underway, and it involves giving science teachers copies of infomercial videos, under the auspices of the New Mexico Science Foundation. But the Public Education Department has repeatedly said intelligent design has no place in New Mexico science classes. These videos are not acceptable for class use. The material cleverly makes no mention of creation, or God, but instead links to the National Science Foundation and quotes Albert Einstein.

Yet, the webmaster for the foundation is Mark Burton, a high-ranking member of the Creation Science Fellowship of New Mexico, a creationist organization committed to biblical inerrancy, Noah's flood and a 6,000-year-old Earth.

Looking at the foundation's material, you realize that it's the same old Cheshire cat - young Earth creationism - but all that can be seen is the grin.

Creationists aren't going away. They're just getting sneakier.

From Jaw to Ear: Transition Fossil Reveals Ear Evolution in Action


March 14, 2007

Now hear this: early mammal fossil shows how sensitive ear bones evolved

By David Biello

The mammal ear is a very precise system for hearing—enabling everything from human appreciation of music to the echolocation of bats. Three tiny bones known as ossicles—the hammer (malleus), anvil (incus) and stirrup (stapes)—work together to propagate sound from the outside world to the tympanic membrane, otherwise known as the eardrum. From there, the sound is transmitted to the brain and informs the listener about pitch, intensity and even location.

But it has been a mystery how this delicate system evolved from the cruder listening organs of our reptilian ancestors. Paleontologists have scoured fossil records in search of signs of how the jawbones of reptiles migrated and became the middle ear of mammals. Now Zhe-Xi Luo of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and his colleagues have found one: Yanoconodon allini, an intermediate between modern mammals and their distant ancestors. "It helps to show a transitional structure in the long process of evolution of mammal ears," Luo says.

The Luo team found the new tiny mammal—just five inches (12.7 centimeters) long—in the Yan Mountains of Hebei Province in China. Similar rocks in other formations date to the Mesozoic era 125 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed Earth and early mammals are thought to have been relegated to scurrying through the undergrowth. Yanoconodon sports three cusps on its molars for feeding on insects and worms as well as a long body compared with its stubby limbs, ideal for scrabbling in the dirt for dinner. "This particular mammal has a very long body but relatively short limbs," Luo says. "By looking at the claw structure, hand bones and foot bones, our general interpretation is that it is a mammal that lived on the ground surface or perhaps was capable of digging."

More importantly, the nearly complete fossil shows a separation between the jawbones and the inner-ear bones, but one that is incomplete. Yanoconodon's stirrup, anvil and hammer bones are still connected to the jaw by another bone—gone from adult modern mammals. In fact, they display the same layout as mammal embryos do today, before the cartilage precursors of the jaw and ear bones separate during gestation. "Reptiles have [a] jaw full of ear bones from mammals and mammals have an ear full of jawbones of reptiles," Luo notes. "Proportion of the ear bones [is] already like those of modern mammals [in this animal] but the reptilian connection to the jaw is retained."

This means Yanoconodon not only picked up the high frequencies associated with modern mammal hearing but also the vibrations transmitted through the ground. "It has not completely lost this ability to sensitively detect ground vibrations through the jaw but has gained some of the modern mammal ability to hear airborne sounds," Luo adds.

The extinct early mammal had some other unusual features, including more vertebrae than any terrestrial mammal alive today. This means that in this feature it closely resembled monotremes (egg-laying mammals like the platypus), whereas other features brought it closer to marsupials and placental mammals. Regardless, it represents a key middle step in evolving the exquisitely sensitive modern mammal ear.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Catholic degree ploy?


Published: Friday, March 9, 2007

A recent page-one story in the New York Times (NYT), "Believing Scripture but Playing by Science's Rules" (Feb. 12), caught my attention because it evoked similarities, in my mind at least, with the current process of admissions to doctoral programs in theology and Bible at Catholic universities.

The NYT article focuses on Marcus Ross, a former doctoral student in the field of paleontology at the University of Rhode Island, who completed his dissertation in December. The fact that he received a doctorate has raised serious concerns for some faculty members at URI and elsewhere around the country.

Dr. Ross happens to be a deeply committed evangelical Protestant who has a firm religious belief in creationism, and specifically that the universe is at most only 10,000 years old.

On the other hand, his 197-page dissertation acknowledges that a particular type of marine reptile, the mosasaur, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era --- about 65 million years ago!

The student's dissertation director regards the scientific scholarship behind the dissertation as "impeccable," and he has assured skeptical colleagues that his student had worked "within a strictly scientific framework," indeed a "conventional" one.

In an interview with the NYT, Dr. Ross characterized the methods and theories of paleontology as one "paradigm" for studying the past, while Scripture offers another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. But he admitted that, as a young earth creationist, he has a different view. It is a matter of "separating the different paradigms."

He compared his situation at the University of Rhode Island to a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side orientation. Students, he said, hold "all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate. What's that to anybody else?"

What seems telling about this story and others like it, not only in the geosciences but also in theology and biblical studies, is that this individual is now teaching earth science at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, an institution founded and led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

Dr. Ross reports that he is using a "conventional scientific text" for his course, but that he doesn't impose its content on his students, "anymore than I was required" to accept the evolutionist views of his teachers in Rhode Island.

According to the NYT, Dr. Ross has written and spoken on scientific subjects "with a creationist bent." He also appeared on a DVD while still a graduate student, arguing that "intelligent design" (a re-configured form of creationism) offered a better explanation of the development of animal life than evolution.

Online information about the DVD identified Mr. Ross as "pursuing a Ph.D. in geosciences" at the University of Rhode Island. "It is this use of a secular credential to support creationist views that worries many scientists," the New York Times reports.

There was a similar case in which another creationist, Kurt Wise, who declined to be interviewed, received a doctorate at Harvard in 1989 under the direction of the late paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould. Since then, according to one observer, Dr. Wise, who teaches at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, has been "lionized" by the creationist/intelligent design community because he has a degree from Harvard.

Some scientists are now arguing that applicants who believe, as a matter of religious faith, that creationism alone can explain the origins of the universe should not be admitted to doctoral programs in the natural sciences, no matter how high their scores on their graduate records exams (GREs).

Such students, they insist, are unlikely to consider the content of their classes with a genuinely open mind. Moreover, their real motive for applying to prestigious university programs may be to gain academic credibility for their creationist views in their later writings, lectures and media appearances.

Although I am aware of no study of a parallel situation at Catholic universities, I have had some measure of experience reading applications from a relatively small number of candidates who had received their undergraduate and/or Masters degrees from Protestant fundamentalist/evangelical institutions or like-minded Catholic schools, and who have also registered high scores on their GREs.

The same questions arise that scientists have raised in the NYT article. Will these applicants be truly open to learning at a mainline Catholic university? Will they avoid taking courses from specific professors? Do they want the doctorate from a major Catholic university primarily for credibility's sake? Will they subsequently apply to teach at mainline institutions, or will they gravitate to schools which share their essentially static views of theology and biblical interpretation?

In fairness to everyone involved, someone should do such a study.

Father Richard P. McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Minnesota students learn alternative care at Hawaii hospital


By KARIN STANTON For The Associated Press

The Associated Press - Saturday, March 10, 2007


For decades Earl Bakken, the inventor of a version of the pacemaker, has had a vision of medicine that advocates treating the whole person - body, mind and spirit.

Now, the 83-year-old electrical engineer - who also founded North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea - has the chance to pass along some of his ideas to future doctors.

"High tech is probably 20 percent of what we need to heal somebody," Bakken said last month. "Most hospitals forget about the 80 percent that is so extremely important to completely heal a patient.

"I'm not bemoaning the science, but we need to keep the human side of caring," he told six fourth-year medical students who were part of a three-week University of Minnesota course at the hospital on the Big Island.

The course offers them a chance to experience the healing powers of acupuncture, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, biofeedback techniques and other nontraditional treatments.

Anna Magembe, 29, a University of Minnesota student from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, said she was excited to study in Hawaii, where natural and nontraditional methods long have been a part of the culture.

"It's just more accepted here," the dermatology specialist said. "In my limited experience, patients always ask about alternative medicine and I never had an answer."

After taking the Hawaii course, Magembe said she had some of the answers.

"It's a very good idea for us to experience all these things and then we're more easily able to extrapolate that to help our patients," she said.

Magembe especially valued learning about meditation.

"That's something I'd never tried before and it's something I can incorporate into treatment plans right away," she said.

Sara Rademacher, 29, of Afton, Minn., said she was hoped the course would help demystify some of the alternative therapies and techniques.

"They give it a lot of lip service in medical school, but there are no role models for it. Here, they are talking about things we have been waiting to hear," Rademacher said during the orientation last month. "There's a frustration of feeling something was missing in treatment."

After three weeks studying with some of the top alternative therapy practitioners on the Big Island, Rademacher, who plans to specialize in radiology, said she also has learned how to better deal with the pressures and stresses that come with being a doctor.

"I came here most for me, to make myself a better person," she said.

During the community hospital's blended medicine course, she discovered a newfound love of yoga.

"I'm already freaking out that I won't find a good place in Minnesota my first week back," Rademacher said. "I just fell in love with it here and I don't want to lapse for even a week."

Learning how to care for themselves is a major part of the course for the young medical professionals, said Dr. Ken Riff, the Minnesota faculty member who guides the students.

"You can't offer healing to others if you are not healthy yourself," Riff said.

This was just the third year of the elective course, but Riff said it already is so popular, next year's class is full.

"The students love it," he said. "They say it's changed how they will be doctors and how they'll heal people."

On her first day in Hawaii, Anne Pylkas said she hoped the course would help her keep up with her patients.

Pylkas, 26, of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., acknowledged the Internet has given people a huge resource, allowing patients to explore alternative therapies in addition to visiting a regular doctor.

"I know my patients will be into it," she said. "I also really want to know about what's out there." As part of their final presentation, students prepared an integrated health care plan for a family member or friend suffering from various ailments.

For example, Pylkas recommended her father continue monitoring his diet and taking medication to treat heart problems, but she had some new ideas to help him overcome an old knee injury and migraine headaches.

"A month ago, I wouldn't have recommended acupuncture, the herbal supplements, meditation or the osteopathy," Pylkas said. "Although I think maybe I'm a little more excited to introduce him to yoga than he will be."

North Hawaii Community Hospital is a 42-bed, full-service, acute-care medical center that opened in 1996, dedicated to innovation in emergency care and preventive health care. It serves 35,000 residents and visitors across an area of more than 1,000 square miles of the Big Island.

On the Net:

North Hawaii Community Hospital: http://www.northhawaiicommunityhospital.org

The Theocratic Agenda Is Heading for a Statehouse Near You


By Rob Boston, Church and State. Posted March 10, 2007.

Well-coordinated "faith-based" initiatives and anti-evolution lobbying in state capitols from New Jersey to Colorado signal a stealth national strategy by Religious Right organizations.

Utah seems like a strange state to experiment with voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools.

Politically and culturally, the Beehive State is dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Seventy percent of the state's residents belong to the church. Most Mormons are content to send their children to public schools, where they are often released during the school day for religious instruction offsite. There aren't even many private schools in Utah.

Yet last month, the Utah legislature fast-tracked a sweeping voucher bill. It whipped through the House and Senate and was quickly signed by Gov. John Huntsman Jr. The measure contains no income cap and would offer vouchers ranging from $500 to $3,000 to virtually every student in the state. Regulation is light: Participating schools would have to enroll at least 40 students, provide results of standardized tests and submit to an outside audit once every four years.

What happened? Voucher opponents say it all boils down to one acronym: ALEC.

The letters stand for American Legislative Exchange Council. This shadowy, but well-funded organization of libertarian-oriented business interests, put Utah under a full-court press.

The Salt Lake Tribune outlined ALEC's strategy recently: "Gather lawmakers in one place (with taxpayer subsidies), establish first-name relationships, then hand out 'model' legislation co-written by -- guess who? -- corporate America."

The newspaper quoted Alan Rosenthal, Rutgers University professor of public policy, who said, "From the point of view of the corporations, they have devised themselves an extremely effective organization." (The group's budget is $6 million annually.)

The Tribune noted that Utah Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble (R-Provo) is the state chairman for ALEC and that he traveled, on the taxpayers' dime, to ALEC functions in Chicago, Texas, San Francisco and Washington in 2005 and 2006.

Utah isn't the only state that faces a high-stakes battle over vouchers this year. Similar battles are brewing in Georgia, Texas and other states. These bills are examples of a new wave of attacks on separation of church and state in state legislatures.

The assaults are by no means limited to efforts to aid religious education. Other bills focus on issues like religion in public schools, controversies related to marriage, the display of religious symbols by government and the teaching of "intelligent design" creationism in public schools.

The spate of new state-based attacks on church-state separation is a stark reminder that the fight to maintain the wall of separation between church and state never ends. The outlook in Congress might be brighter in light of recent political changes, but many states remain roiling cauldrons of controversy.

"The states are always wildcards," said Rachel Joseph Marah, who has been monitoring legislative activity all over the country for Americans United. "Bills can pop up and begin moving with little notice. We always have to be on guard."

A recent survey by Americans United found bills threatening the separation of church and state pending in a number of states. A round-up follows:

Vouchers and tuition tax credits

Voucher advocates in Georgia are so desperate to pass a plan giving tax aid to religious and other private schools that they hope to sneak one in through the back door by exploiting a vulnerable population: students with special needs.

The measure, Senate Bill 10, also known as the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act, would allocate state money to students with disabilities, encouraging them to transfer to private schools.

When the measure was unveiled in January, Holli Cash, a member of the Cobb County School Board, was unimpressed.

Cash, whose daughter has Down's Syndrome, saw through the ruse immediately. By establishing vouchers for a sympathetic population, advocates could then expand the plan to encompass others.

"I think it's just another way to get vouchers for the chosen few," Cash told the Marietta Daily Journal. "It's just another voucher bill."

Cash noted that most private schools in the Atlanta area require testing for admission, and most aren't interested in taking on special-needs students.

Other opponents pointed out that some private schools offer therapies for special-needs students that are unproven and that these institutions tend to be lightly regulated.

The scheme may seem especially callous. Most parents of children with special needs are eager, after all, to get them the best education possible. Playing on these parents' concerns to gain a foothold for vouchers underscores the extreme measures voucher advocates are willing to employ.

Church-state separation advocates there say the fight in Georgia could have major implications. Voucher advocates, they fear, plan to use the special-education bill to force a test case in the state courts in an effort to drum up support for watering down the strict church-state separation language in the Georgia Constitution.

Efforts to overturn the language outright have failed in recent years, and voucher boosters may believe that a manufactured controversy over tax aid to religious schools in the courts will swing public opinion their way.

A similar strategy is unfolding in at least one other state -- Texas. Lawmakers there are pitching vouchers as a way to help students with autism and other special needs.

In addition, San Antonio businessman James Leininger is pressing the legislature to pass a law mandating that Texas take over a privately funded voucher program that he has run for the past 10 years.

Thanks to Leininger's persistence, voucher bills are a constant feature of the Texas legislature. He spent $50 million during the 2006 election cycle to aid pro-voucher candidates. Last month, Leininger and his backers arranged for thousands of parochial school students to descend on the capitol in Austin to turn up the heat on lawmakers.

The Austin American-Statesman described Leininger recently as "a quiet political force in recent years, shying away from public comment while giving pro-voucher candidates millions."

Aside from Georgia and Texas, at least a dozen states are considering bills that would establish voucher plans or offer tuition tax credits. They include Arizona. The state already has a voucher plan aimed at special-education students and students in foster care. The Arizona Capital Times reported in January that legislators are expected to push for an expansion of the program this year.

In South Carolina, a bill allocating vouchers for special-education students is pending. Late last year, a lame-duck session of the Ohio legislature passed a law expanding the state's voucher program by increasing the number of schools deemed academically struggling from 99 to 212. The new governor, Ted Strickland, is no fan of vouchers, meaning that the issue could resurface.

Based on bills introduced in previous years and measures that were pre-filed, staff members at Americans United expect to see bills offering tuition tax credits or deductions to private school patrons in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. A bill that would subsidize private-school transportation costs is pending in California.

Some of these bills may be based on model legislation offered by ALEC. The corporate-run lobby sees states as a laboratory for its radical form of privatization of public services. (ALEC is so extreme it opposes the federal government's efforts to crack down on drunk driving by imposing a uniform blood-alcohol level on the states.) ALEC is offering model tuition tax credit legislation and voucher legislation aimed at children in foster care, based on the Arizona model.

The group's executive director, Lori Roman, is no stranger to church-state controversy. She formerly served as chief of staff at the faith-based office at the U.S. Department of Education. Previously, she oversaw school-choice programs for the department.

Faith-Based Initiatives

Several states are expected to see battles over expanding so-called "faith-based" initiatives or formalizing such offices.

A major fight is expected in Texas, where bills that would greatly expand the faith-based concept have been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The Senate version of the bill, S.B. 200, would expand the role of faith-based groups in programs relating to drug and alcohol abuse, marriage-enrichment programs and community revitalization.

Ohio governor Strickland has signaled an interest in restructuring faith-based efforts in that state. A report from Strickland's transition team has recommended that taxpayer-funded faith-based groups shift their focus from marriage-enrichment programs and efforts aimed at prisoners re-entering society to addressing poverty and children and families in the state. Some social conservatives are concerned about the move, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Creationism/attacks on evolution

The National Center for Science Education in California expects to see several attacks on evolution in the states this year. Two states got out of the box early. In New Mexico, Republican state Rep. W.C. "Dub" Williams introduced a resolution saying public-school teachers should have "the right and freedom to objectively inform students of any scientific information that is relevant to both strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and protect teachers from reassignment for doing so, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

Williams' strategy is in line with the thinking of "intelligent design" proponents these days: Rather than promote creationism head on, they push laws designed to undercut evolution by making it appear that the theory is not sound scientifically.

The bill was tabled in the House on a 7-4 vote but a version remains alive in the New Mexico Senate.

A Mississippi bill that would have required public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution appears to be dead. House Bill 625 was introduced by state Rep. Mike Lott, a Republican, but was rejected by a House committee on Jan. 30. Public sympathy for creationism runs high in Mississippi, but legislators were probably aware that the Lott measure would run afoul of the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard, which struck down a similar "balanced treatment" law in Louisiana.

In an effort to be proactive, some Montana legislators have put forth a resolution criticizing intelligent design, but the measure is not expected to pass.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, said he expects to see more proposed legislation attacking the teaching of evolution as the legislative year pushes forward.

"We would not be surprised to see anti-evolution legislation introduced in Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and possibly Utah," Branch said. He added that in some states, notably Colorado and Utah, attacks on evolution are buried in larger measures that purport to protect academic freedom or freedom of religion.

Other church-state issues

At least two states are facing attempts to pass laws approving certain types of government-supported religion.

State Sen. Chris Buttars of Utah wants to pass a state law that he says will expand religious liberty. Critics say it will open a can of worms. S.B. 1171 would ostensibly prevent government from interfering with the free exercise of religion. Opponents say the measure is unnecessary because those rights are already protected by the U.S. and Utah constitutions. They believe Buttars, a longtime proponent of Religious Right causes, is trying to find ways to increase governmental involvement with religion under the guise of religious free exercise.

Buttars' bill passed the Senate Government Operations Committee in January.

Among the most galling measures is a proposed state constitutional amendment in Virginia. HJ 724, introduced by Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr., would amend the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson, to permit government-sanctioned prayer and the recognition of "religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including public schools." (The language is lifted from a proposed federal constitutional amendment offered by former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma.)

In Kentucky, lawmakers will consider HR 4, a resolution that calls on Congress to pass a bill designed to make it harder for people to bring church-state lawsuits into the federal courts.

A similar but even more extreme measure is pending in Arizona. Sen. Karen Johnson, a Republican from Mesa, is sponsoring a bill that would bar state courts from being able to intervene in any cases that challenge "the acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government."

The bill, SCR 1026, is of dubious constitutionality. Nevertheless, Johnson insists she is serious. She told the Arizona Daily Star, "But we're supposed to have religion in everything -- the opportunity to have religion in everything. I want religion in government, I want my government to have a faith-based perspective."

Another strange bill has surfaced in New Hampshire. State Rep. Daniel Itse has introduced a bill that opponents charge would essentially ban clergy from performing same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Itse, who also backs a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, denied that is his intent. But opponents of the measure say they're flummoxed. Same-sex marriage is not legal in New Hampshire, although some clergy perform ceremonies for couples that are recognized only by those religious groups.

"I think it's meant to quash clergy who are talking about officiating at what they would define as a marriage and not caring whether or not the couple had a valid marriage license," Rabbi Richard Klein of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord told the Associated Press.

• • •

This preliminary list is by no means complete. As the year goes forward, Americans United expects to see more dangerous bills introduced in the state legislatures. Those that are not defeated may lead to litigation. Utah's voucher bill, for example, would seem a good candidate for court action. Two provisions of the Utah Constitution explicitly forbid diverting public funds for religious purposes. Several Religious Right groups, such as state affiliates of Focus on the Family, livid over last November's election results and the change of leadership in the House and Senate, are putting renewed emphasis on state legislatures.

In a recent message to supporters, Tom Minnery, senior vice president of James Dobson's Focus on the Family Action, cited the organization's work opposing stem-cell research in Missouri and legal abortion in South Dakota, both of which appeared on ballot referenda in November.

Although the outcomes were not favorable to the Religious Right, Minnery said he was cheered by the close votes and activism of the conservative Christian community. He vowed to continue the group's work in the states.

"The heart of it all is an informed electorate," wrote Minnery. "If church people understand the issues, and become motivated to act on what they know, they will turn this country around. The incredible swing in those Missouri polls and the stouthearted stand for life in South Dakota convince me of that. Yes, our side lost on both of these ballot measures, but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this was not the end, nor was it the beginning of the end; it was, rather, the end of the beginning. We will prevail eventually."

That vow, say staff members at Americans United, underscores that the Religious Right, despite political setbacks, never gives up. It's a reminder of why we shouldn't as well.

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