NTS LogoSkeptical News for 23 April 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bible literalists prepare for holy museum


Sunday, April 22, 2007

By RYAN CLARK Gannett News Service


Jeremy Huff is sawing, measuring and shaping the planks that will make up part of Noah's Ark.

He is a carpenter. He also is a Christian. And he never thought this would happen to him.

He never thought that one day, he would find the church again. Or that one day, he would read the Bible to his children, and together they would discuss its meaning.

He most certainly did not expect that he would be "saved" on the job.

But amid the construction and painting, workers at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Petersburg say they are completing something special.

For Jeremy Huff, it was personal.

"I've been working here for a few months. And being around everybody, I've started to get closer to the Lord," says Huff, a 28-year-old father of two from Union, Ky. "I guess I was always on my way. I used to go to church, but I got away from it. And I wanted to accept the Lord into my heart, but I didn't really have anyone to help me. Now I think God put me here for a reason, and I'm working for God."

Huff says he owes his transformation to the Creation Museum, the $27 million project in Boone County, Ky., scheduled to open May 28. The museum will incorporate science into the literal history of the Bible and serve as the headquarters for the global Answers in Genesis ministry.

At the museum, each day begins with a morning prayer. Each permanent employee must sign a statement saying he believes the teachings of the ministry. Each must write out his beliefs and turn that in with his resume and references.

It's a nonprofit organization, paid for entirely with private money, so that practice is legal. But the requirements are not mandatory for temporary workers like Huff. He found the Lord on his own, he said, because of the environment in which he was working.

"I didn't know enough before I came here," he says. "I realized I needed more, and I've learned a lot. And I think a lot of other people are going to learn, too."

The 217 staff members in the Answers in Genesis ministry believe in the Bible as a literal truth.

They believe that God created the world in six 24-hour days on a planet just 6,000 years old -- even though accepted scientific theory says Earth and its life forms evolved over billions of years. They believe the Grand Canyon was formed not by erosion over millions of years, but by floodwaters from the biblical Great Flood in a matter of days or weeks.

There's 20-year-old Travis Wilson, originally from a small town about 45 minutes north of Detroit. Wilson was home-schooled, and a bit of an art prodigy who became a sculptor.

After listening to an Answers in Genesis speaker at a local church, he became interested in the literal Bible. When he heard through the church that the ministry was looking for artists to work on the Creation Museum, he decided to move to Kentucky and has been working as a sculptor at the museum for two years.

"I came to faith and the Christian world at 15," Wilson says. "Creationism started it. I learned about Creationism and I thought, "This is it.' Now I feel like there's a greater importance to my life and what I do."

There's Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist in charge of making sure the museum's theories are scientifically accurate.

"Growing up, I always thought the Bible represented science," says the 32-year-old Lisle from Cambridge, Ohio. "I was a teacher, but I didn't feel comfortable knowing that there were other beliefs besides evolution and that I could not teach those beliefs."

And there's 60-year-old Patrick Marsh, the museum's design director. A Los Angeles native, Marsh is a former designer for theme parks like Universal Studios and is charged with making the museum fun. But he also has a deep-rooted faith in Creationism.

"A friend told me about the plans for the museum, and I immediately wanted to be involved, so I wrote a letter to them," Marsh says. "I'd always known about Answers in Genesis, and I was always excited about what they were doing. Now I can create a fun space for people here, but it will be something that will have a lasting impact."

Gene Earnest, a 72-year-old from Cincinnati, has been volunteering for Answers in Genesis since 1995, when he first heard of the ministry.

"Each day is different," he says. "They give me something to build and I do it. This is a ministry I believe in."

While volunteers will always be needed, even after the museum opens, some workers have contracts that will expire at the end of the year. Others say they have been told they will be retained after May 28. But all say they have been affected by their work.

Maybe none more so than carpenter Jeremy Huff.

"My life has definitely improved over the past year since I came to work here and accepted the Lord," he says. "This is the first job I've had where I really enjoy coming to work."

Researchers trace evolution of central nervous system


[Date: 2007-04-23]

Although to the untrained eye, worms and people may appear to have very little, if nothing, in common, researchers from at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have now confirmed that our brains evolved from the same ancestor.

The results of the study, partly funded by the EU, are published in the current issue of Cell. The paper suggests that this common ancestor is none other than a lowly marine worm, called Platynereis dumerilii, the nervous system of which has remained unchanged for eons.

Scientists have known for some time that vertebrates, insects and worms evolved from the same ancestor called Urbilateria. But their central nervous systems are different and were thought to have evolved only after their lineages had split during evolution.

While vertebrates have a central nervous system in the shape of a spinal cord running along their backs, insects and annelid worms like the earthworm have a rope-ladder-like chain of nerve cell clusters on their belly side. Other invertebrates on the other hand have their nerve cells distributed diffusely over their body.

So did the Urbilateria have a central nervous system to begin with and, if so, how might it have looked? Also, how did it give rise to the diverse range of nervous systems seen in animals today? These were the questions the researchers at EMBL sought to answer in their study.

To do so, they investigated the molecular architecture of the trunk nervous system in the annelid Platynereis dumerilii. 'Platynereis can be considered a living fossil,' says Detlev Arendt, who led the study. 'It still lives in the same environment as the last common ancestors used to and has preserved many ancestral features, including a prototype invertebrate CNS [central nervous system].'

Using in vivo time-lapse imaging, the researchers explored how the Platynereis dumerilii's neuroectoderm - the region in embryos that develops into the brain, spinal cord and nervous tissue of the peripheral nervous system - initially forms. They also tracked, using neural differentiation markers, the timing and spatial extent of early neurogenesis - the process by which neurons are created in the brain. This allowed the researchers compare the molecular fingerprint of Platynereis nerve cells with what is known about vertebrates. It revealed some surprising similarities.

'Our findings were overwhelming,' says Alexandru Denes, one of the researchers involved in the study. 'The molecular anatomy of the developing CNS turned out to be virtually the same in vertebrates and Platynereis. Corresponding regions give rise to neuron types with similar molecular fingerprints, and these neurons also go on to form the same neural structures in the annelid worm and vertebrate.'

The new findings support a theory first proposed in 1875 by zoologist Anton Dohrn, which states that vertebrate and annelid nervous systems are of common descent, and that vertebrates turned themselves upside down during the course of evolution.

'This explains perfectly why we find the same centralised CNS on the backside of vertebrates and the bellyside of Platynereis,' explains Dr Arendt says. 'How the inversion occurred and how other invertebrates have modified the ancestral CNS throughout evolution are the next exciting questions for evolutionary biologists.'

For more information, please visit: http://www.cell.com/

Category: Projects
Data Source Provider: Cell and EMBL
Document Reference: Based on study 'A.S. Denes, G. Jékely, D. Arendt et al., Conserved mediolateral molecular architecture of the annelid trunk neuroectoderm reveals common ancestry of bilaterian nervous system centralisation, Cell, 20 April 2007'
Subject Index: Life Sciences; Scientific Research

RCN: 27545

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Creation or Evolution? MCC Instructor offering Creation Science class


Article Posted: 03/28/2007 9:29:52 AM

Jim Garretson has loved science for as long as he can remember. As a child he staged chemical magical shows for his family. He studied all sorts of things under the microscope. He gazed at the heavens in wonder – especially when the things he learned in school differed with what he learned in church.

The McCook Community College Science Instructor said by the time he was in the eighth grade he decided to become a science teacher. "Discovery was just a part of my life," he said. Yet, he also grew up in a Christian environment. Throughout grade school, high school and into college, there was always conflict between the teachings of the church and the science in the classroom.

"For many years this was a problem for me. Evolution just didn't make good sense and for a number of reasons," he said.

Then about 10 years ago, he attended a seminar on creation science. Garretson said creation science looks at the same evidence that evolutionary science looks at, but from a different perspective, that is to say, from a Biblical perspective.

Now Garretson wants to offer that perspective to students – many who still struggle with the same conflicts he encountered. This fall, he will teach "Physics 2990: Creation Science" as a special topics class. He knows that offering the course will likely stir up the sometimes controversial debate of "Creation vs. Evolution" which asks the fundamental questions: "How did we get here? Were we created or did we evolve randomly? Are we the product of purposeful intelligence or are we merely the end result of countless cosmic accidents?"

Garretson said many great scientists from the past were creation scientists even before the term was coined. They believed that God created the universe just as is stated in the Bible. He points out that even today many of the world's top scientists, who are experts in their field, are creationists. He said the conflict need not be there for those who will take the time to study other options.

"I'm not going to attack Evolutionists and I'm not going to try and convert people to the Creationist view, I just want offer a different viewpoint," Garretson said. "Presenting opposing viewpoints is just part of being an educator."

Garretson contends that debates have two sides to an argument but believes on the public debate of Evolution and Creation Science – at least in public school systems -- only one side has been presented.

"This is your chance to hear the other side. Maybe it will change your way of thinking and maybe it won't, but at least you will have heard both sides of the issues," Garretson said. "This better prepares you to make your own decision as to what you want to believe in."

The class we will explore many topics relating to many different areas of science including:

· The age of the earth, the earth's beginning, and where the earth is heading

· The Garden of Eden and life on earth before the flood and the major changes which have taken place since that time

· Dinosaurs in the past as well as in the present

· The flood, ice ages, mountain formation, coal and oil formation, and the Grand Canyon

· History of evolution through the ages and the effect it has had on the world as well as many very influential people

· What is taught in school textbooks, without factual supportive evidence?

Garretson is excited about the opportunity to offer this class at McCook Community College. The class is geared toward traditional college age students but is open to everyone and is being offered on the Fall 2007 class schedule under the physics section (PHYS 2990 Creation Science) Tuesday evenings for three hours of credit. Space will be limited to 30 students.

"College should be a fun experience for students," Garretson said. "Yes, there are always courses that are challenging and courses that may not be of interest, but are still required. But, once in a while, why not take a course just for the fun of it!"

For Garretson, that fun class was instrumental music. He said his music class was a great break from the endless hours of study required as a science major.

"Why not take a class that will allow you to see life as we know it from a different perspective?"

Monkey Girl


March 28, 2007

The past is never dead. It's not even past. --
William Faulkner, "Requiem for a Nun"

It ain't what you don't know that gets you, it's the things you know that ain't so. -- Attributed to Mark Twain, anonymous and Josh Billings

When I said I thought it would be kind of good to learn more about evolution, some other kids started calling me Monkey Girl. 'Cause they said God made them, but that I must've come from chimps. – 14 year old daughter of Tammy Kitzmiller, Dover, PA resident

BOOK REVIEW: 'Monkey Girl' Explores Dover, PA Intelligent Design Versus Evolution Case; It's Also an Examination of America's Cultural Divide

By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

I was busy with many things in the fall and winter of 2005 and missed the media coverage of Kitzmiller, et al v Dover Area School District, which resulted in a federal court ruling in Pennsylvania that equated so-called "intelligent design" in the Dover (PA) Area School District with creationism. The latter had been banned in public schools following the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court Edwards decision.

Thanks to "Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul" (Ecco, a HarperCollins Imprint, 400 pages, $25.95) Edward Humes gives the wondering reader an exhaustive yet readable account about something that a lot of people thought had been settled a long time ago: The teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in the nation's public schools.

I had heard rumblings of intelligent design/creationism cases in Kansas a few years ago, but the Pennsylvania case -- the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century -- was an eye-opener to me. The 130-page decision by Federal District Judge John E. Jones III, handed down after 40 days of testimony, equated the Dover school board's actions in promoting intelligent design with a creationism.

The case pitted the science teachers and concerned parents of the rural district south of York, PA – and 30 miles from the Three-Mile Island Nuclear power plant -- against fundamentalist religion backers on the school board led by former police office Bill Buckingham who repeatedly denied that the nation's founders had separated church and state.

Humes describes how Buckingham bullied the other school board members into formulating a one-minute speech that was designed to be read to the students in Dover, stating that there are alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution, first enunciated in the British scientist's landmark 1859 "The Origin of Species." (The book's full title is "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.") In addition to the speech, the board bought supplemental textbooks promoting intelligent design.

About the "Scopes Monkey Trial": It was a show trial in Dayton, Tenn. in the summer of 1925, with science teacher John Scopes allowing himself to be the guinea pig in a battle between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

Humes notes it was also an attempt to bring money into the coffers of the small eastern Tennessee town as well as test the validity of Tennessee's anti-evolution law, the Butler act, passed in early 1925. It ended up making the place north of Chattanooga the nation's laughingstock. For more about the trial, which inspired first the 1955 play followed by the 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind," see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scopes_Trial

Sensing an opportunity for a definitive test of "intelligent design," the Thomas More Law Center, founded -- and funded -- by Domino's Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan, supplied lawyers for the defense. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, was also involved on the defense side.

On the other side, the American Civil Liberties Union provided support and enlisted the aid of a prominent Philadelphia law firm to work for free – pro bono – for the plaintiffs. In his chapter titled "Send Lawyers, Geeks, and Money" (all of the chapters are cleverly titled with titles like "Monkey Suit" and "The Waters of Kansas Part.") Humes describes the scientists and other experts enlisted by both sides to present their arguments for and against Charles Darwin.

Humes is fair and balanced, but he obviously believes in evolution, as do most educated Americans, according to a Gallup Poll taken in November 2004 (see page 354 in the notes section for a detailed breakout of the results by education, place of residence, religion, church attendance, etc.). Essentially, the poll revealed that Southerners are most likely to be supporters of creationism or intelligent design and not believe in Darwin. People in the West tend to believe in evolution. The more people attend church, the less likely they are to believe in evolution and the more formally educated a person is, the less likely he/she believes in creationism, the poll reveals.

The plaintiffs were anything but Godless, Humes points out, with most of them believing Christians and a few even teaching Sunday school. Buckingham was an OxyContin addict, with the drug taken at first to relieve excruciating back pain. Humes makes every effort to be fair to this conflicted former cop and ex-Marine.

Humes provides enough back story in the first half of the book on the culture clash between believers of evolution and those who believe in a "young Earth," created about 6,000 years ago, with people and dinosaurs coexisting, to justify his ambitious subtitle. The second half of "Monkey Girl" is devoted to the trial itself, held without a jury in the Federal Courthouse in Harrisburg, PA, the state capital.

The defense at first was delighted with the choice of Judge Jones, a 2002 George W. Bush appointee, a solid Republican and a friend of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. But the judge surprised everyone with his independence of thought, Humes shows, making him the eventual hero of "Monkey Girl," at least to supporters of evolution.

Lively, entertaining and authoritative, "Monkey Girl" is an important book for anyone wishing to understand the complexities of American culture. If you thought the battle over evolution has been fought and won in the wake of the Kitzmiller decision, you don't know the power of proponents of creationism and "intelligent design." I'm glad I'm not a science teacher in 21st Century America!

Publisher's web site: www.eccobooks.com

Link to text of decision of Judge John E. Jones III :

Kingdom of Love


Creationists drop religion for intelligence

by Rikki Hall

Creationists welcomed their new leaders to Knoxville last weekend for a convention held by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle non-profit that acts as a publishing house and endowment for proponents of intelligent design (ID). The institute supports a dozen senior fellows and more than two dozen other scientists. Staff scientists are working to develop an intelligent design curriculum, and advance copies of Explore Evolution , a biology textbook soon to be released by the organization, were available at the convention. Program Director Stephen Meyer told the crowd it is "premature" to teach intelligent design in public schools. Meyer said, "We encourage people not to push this in schools right now."

Such honesty is a refreshing trait in the new generation of Creationists. By abandoning traditional Creationist arguments, intelligent design advocates gained breathing room. In his best-selling 1996 book Darwin's Black Box , featured afternoon speaker Michael Behe admits evolution by descent with variation is a powerful and valid explanation for observable biological change, and convention moderator Lee Strobel said of the panel of speakers, "We all admit evolution exists." Strobel even said public schools should "teach more evolution."

Instead of attacking evolutionary theory, ID proponents claim to have discovered new evidence. In his book, Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, declared modern molecular techniques had lifted the lid on conventional biology, revealing complex chemical cascades and molecular machines too elaborate to be explained by evolutionary theory. ID proponents claim there is too much information in genes to have accumulated naturally, too much biodiversity appearing too rapidly in the fossil record and molecular devices too complex to assemble by chance. The heart of their approach is "the design inference," an age-old philosophical notion positing that we can perceive whether something formed by chance or by design. A watch implies a watchmaker.

Philosopher Jay Richards told the audience there are too many universal constants set too precisely to have aligned perfectly by chance, so there must be a purpose to our existence. He has discovered that purpose. Earth is positioned not only within the solar system's narrow life-friendly zone, but also within the galaxy's astronomer-friendly zone. We are perfectly positioned to see what is around us, so our purpose is to discover.

Such proclamations get at the core of ID proponents' motivation, which is to preserve room in the universe for purpose and meaning. Their real opponent is not evolution, but materialism, which is a cornerstone of not just biology, but all science. They feel science has grabbed too much of the world and left no place for God.

Behe's book was carefully stripped of religious content, God reduced to "an intelligent agent," and Christianity similarly reduced to lurking at the Knoxville convention. Dozens of volunteers from Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Campus Navigators and other local groups wore yellow shirts emblazoned simply "Darwin vs. Design," and overt religious symbols and slogans were largely absent from displays and literature. There was no opening prayer. The four speakers discussed their personal faith only in passing.

Lee Strobel, a law student turned journalist, explained how his wife's conversion to Christianity caused him to revisit his atheism and discover evidence of a designer in the universe. Strobel's Yale law degree was not the only elite credential. Meyer earned a degree in philosophy of science from Cambridge, Richards a degree from Princeton, and Professor Behe a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

For $55 ($5 for students), attendees saw all four speakers, a few video clips promoting intelligent design, and a question-and-answer session moderated by Strobel, the only speaker not a Discovery-Institute fellow. In addition to advance copies of the new textbook, DVDs were available for purchase, and donors earned their choice of eight books published by Discovery Institute, one title for donations of $100 or more, three titles for donations over $300.

Both Behe and Meyer expect to publish books this year, Meyer promising predictions derived from intelligent design and a discussion of how ID can be falsified, one of the formal requirements for elevating a philosophical argument to the status of scientific theory. Though he readily admits ID is not ready for public science classes, Meyer brims with confidence that he has scientists "on the defensive." After the scheduled talks, his advice for fans was, "Don't let them intimidate you."

Meyer published a philosophical criticism of evolution in a small peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington , in August 2004. The journal is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, and the managing editor has come under fire from Smithsonian biologist Jonathan Coddington and others. Meyer's paper argued that the sudden appearance of diverse animal phyla in Cambrian fossils represents too much new information for evolution to explain and therefore suggests the work of a "rational agent."

The Cambrian Explosion is not the mystery Meyer wishes it to be. Immediately preceded geologically by early evidence of tissues, organs and multicellular life, the Cambrian era also marks the first appearance of calcium-hardened tissues like bones and shells. Hard-bodied creatures are far more likely to leave fossil traces than their soft-bodied ancestors, and this combination of increased fossilization and emerging multicellular life accounts for the abundance of Cambrian fossils.

Because Meyer does not discuss how his "rational agent" might have acted nor attempt to quantify how much information is too much, his argument remains philosophical, not scientific. The relatively young branch of mathematics called information theory could help ID proponents strengthen their case, but their forays into math appear limited to irrelevant exaggerations of biological probabilities and absurd claims like Strobel's "Nature can't produce information."

Behe's notion of "irreducible complexity" could be expressed mathematically, but he seems uninterested in doing so. When asked about this, he said, "One problem with developing mathematical formulas is that your audience is necessarily limited." Like Creationism, ID is an idea tailored for a friendly crowd, not for skeptics. Though convention promoters promised evidence for Darwinian evolution would be presented along with evidence for ID, all the speakers favored intelligent design, and UT graduate students handing out literature on evolution were forced to stand on the Clinch Avenue viaduct, too far from convention-center doors to interact with most attendees.

Leaders of the ID movement are scientifically literate. Meyer in particular is a serious student of the philosophy of science, clever and articulate enough to debate critics when necessary. Whether he is in a controlled environment before a friendly crowd or being interviewed for TV or radio, Meyer's art is in what he does not say.

ID proponents say evolution leaves everything to chance. They don't mention that chance is only the raw material upon which natural selection operates. They say evolution is purposeless, but the theory implicitly endows all life with the purpose of reproduction. That purpose might be too sexual to sit comfortably with Christians, but evolution can be viewed as an unbroken chain of motherly love stretching back through human history into our mammalian, reptilian and more primitive forebears. We are family back to the first cells, and before that, it was momma muck that obeyed God's command to bring forth life.

Perhaps the biggest secret ID proponents do not want to discuss is that there is no conflict between Biblical creation and science. Evolution is a love story just like the Bible.

Rikki Hall is managing editor and publisher of Hellbender Press, a non-profit environmental education journal.

Is Homeopathy Explained by the Placebo Effect?


Friday, March 30, 2007

A Nature commentary blasts homeopathic medicine taught in some British universities as little better than the placebo effect. The commentator may be missing the point.

By David Ewing Duncan

Medical science is once again pounding on alternative medicine--that is, treatments and cures that science cannot or has not validated. But the fact remains that many people who chew on tree bark and quaff bitter-tasting concoctions swear that they work, and industries that are virtually unregulated happily supply the remedies and the lore and testimonials about how the latest potions are miracle cures for everything from cancer to acne.

Some of these treatments date back centuries to when shamans and healers discovered plants that seemed to alleviate disease. For instance, in old Europe, to relieve pain and reduce fever, physicians including Hippocrates gave patients a bitter powder ground down from the bark of willow trees--a substance that led to the development of aspirin.

Homeopathy is not so ancient. Launched in the late 17th century by the German physician Samuel Hahnmann, homeopathic medicine contends that the natural chemicals that cause symptoms in healthy people will, when given to patients in minute amounts, cause those symptoms to go away. Hahnmann surmised that the tiny amounts triggered the body's defenses to fend off the symptoms. Homeopathy is also associated with a holistic approach to treating people: practitioners spending time comforting and talking to patients and tending to their spiritual life as part of the healing.

Homeopathy remains popular in Europe and is taught in many medical schools. Yet only a few universities actually award Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in homeopathy, including six universities in the United Kingdom.

Modern science, however, has found no evidence that homeopathy works. In a commentary in this week's Nature, pharmacologist David Calquhoun of the University College in London derides the BS degree programs in the United Kingdom for teaching "anti-science." A report in the same issue compares the teaching of homeopathy to students pursuing a BS degree in the United Kingdom with attempts to teach creationism as scientific fact in U.S. schools. The suggestion is that both are in the realm of pseudoscience.

Yet legions of patients are convinced that homeopathy and other alternative medicines work, leading scientists to surmise that these remedies have a placebo effect.

This comes as many drugs developed by scientists in drug companies fail in human trials because the active ingredient that researchers so painstakingly identified and tested turns out to work no better than a placebo. Drugs derived from natural products have a particularly high placebo effect--meaning that when patients think they might be getting a drug derived from a plant, they want it to work so badly that in many cases it does.

In a 2000 article about the placebo effect published in the New York Times Magazine, the writer Margaret Talbot offered,

"The truth is that the placebo effect is huge -- anywhere between 35 and 75 percent of patients benefit from taking a dummy pill in studies of new drugs -- so huge, in fact, that it should probably be put to conscious use in clinical practice, even if we do not entirely understand how it works. For centuries, Western medicine consisted of almost nothing but the placebo effect. The patient who got better after a bleeding -- or a dose of fox lung, wood lice, tartar emetic or any of the other charming staples of the 19th-century pharmacopoeia -- got better either in spite of them or because of their symbolic value. Such patients believed in the cure and in the authority of the bewigged gentlemen administering it, and the belief gave them hope and the hope helped make them well."

Rather than deriding such practices as homeopathic medicine as quackery, modern science should endeavor to better understand why they seem to work--or at least why so many people believe that their health improves when they consume, say, a potion containing tiny amounts of aloe to treat their hemorrhoids. A growing body of science also suggests that patients get better more quickly when physicians and other healers treat them more holistically--a problem for medical doctors in the United States today who are forced by insurers to spend only a few minutes on each patient.

People getting well after erroneously believing that they have had surgery or after taking a sugar pill--this is powerful medicine, but why? Learning the answer seems like an interesting project for science, and it might shed some light on why those shamans dancing around fires--not to mention the degree candidates in British universities learning about extracts of lavender--might know something that today's scientists do not.

Report: Giles, Jim, "Degrees in homeopathy slated as unscientific" Nature 446, 352-353 (22 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/446352a;

Commentary: Colquhoun, David, "Science degrees without the science", Nature 446, 373-374 (22 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/446373a;

Monkeying around with the theory of evolution


01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 1, 2007

MONKEY GIRL: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul

by Edward Humes.

HarperCollins. 380 pages. $25.95.

By Luther Spoehr Special to The Journal

Despite its unhelpful title (it's a schoolyard slur, first mentioned on page 183), journalist Edward Humes' story of the "second Scopes trial," Kitzmiller v. Dover, is a clear-eyed, thorough, and persuasive rendition of the latest battle over teaching evolution in the public schools.

In 2004 the Dover, Pa., school board decided that, before being taught about evolution, students must be read a brief statement informing them that "[Darwin's] Theory is not a fact." Students were instructed to "keep an open mind" and consider consulting a "reference book, Of Pandas and People," that would tell them about intelligent design, an alternative to evolution. Finally: "there will be no other discussion of this issue." Bad policy. Worse prediction.

Angry parents, many of them church-goers, saw the move as an unconstitutional attempt to sneak creationism into the science curriculum and religion back into the schools. They sued. Soon both sides in the argument were lining up allies, and the little town of Dover found itself in the national spotlight.

The first half of the book goes a little slowly as Humes painstakingly sets the stage. He recounts how almost a century and a half of research has confirmed Darwin's theory of evolution and reviews the history of persistent resistance to evolutionary theory in this country, mostly by religious fundamentalists. Most important, he shows that this resistance does not consist of random outbursts in the Bible Belt, but has become an organized national effort, spurred by groups such as the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center, and funded by wealthy conservatives such as Thomas Monaghan (of Domino's Pizza).

A March 2005 survey by the National Science Teachers Association found that "nearly a third of those who responded felt pressure by students and parents to include creationism, intelligent design, or other alternatives to evolution in their science classrooms."

Thanks partly to the drama inherent in courtroom confrontation, the narrative's pace quickens when Humes comes to the trial, held in the fall of 2005. Unfortunately for the school board, internal bickering depleted the ranks of their expert witnesses and left Lehigh University's Michael Behe, best known for his theory of "irreducible complexity," pretty much alone to defend intelligent design as science. The plaintiffs fielded a scientific all-star team, including Brown University biologist Ken Miller, "affable and articulate," a Catholic and an evolutionist (and co-author of the textbook that sparked the showdown).

By trial's end, they had reduced "irreducible complexity" to rubble. In his decision, Judge John Jones, a conservative Republican, stingingly rejected the school board's policy. Predictably, this promptly inspired the usual polemicists to denounce him as an "activist judge." So the war isn't over. But as it continues, readers of Humes' invaluable book will know whom to root for, and why.

MONKEY GIRL: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul

Interview: Jay Richards Elaborates on the Controversy Over Intelligent Design


Fri, Mar. 30, 2007 Posted: 18:37:04 PM EST

Intelligent design (ID), a theory that argues that complex living organisms must have been created by a "designer," continues to cause disagreements all around the nation. Schools find themselves having to take a position on what they believe, and to either hold Darwinian evolution to be true or give this new emerging model a chance.

In a recent incident, science professors at Southern Methodist University (SMU) are adamantly objecting to a "Darwin vs. Design" conference that will be held on its campus, explaining that ID is complete nonsense. The debate between the two sides continues to grow.

One ID proponent, Jay Richards, research fellow of the Acton Institute and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, recently spoke at a recent "Darwin vs. Design" conference in Knoxville, Tenn. He strongly urges people to question the validity of evolution, and hopes that ID can gain more support in the future.

Apart from his busy schedule, Richards was able to squeeze in an interview with The Christian Post to give his take the recent storm over the origins of life.

CP: There has been a lot of controversy over intelligent design and efforts to have it taught in schools. Especially at Southern Methodist University, the professors there have been extremely resistant to allowing even a conference on its campus. How do you feel about the situation right now? What is your take on it?

Richards: Well, I think intelligent design is a controversial idea, but it's also an idea that's been debated in all of western history. In fact in polls, the vast majority of people believe that the universe is a product of intelligent design and purpose.

The problem is what developed in the 19th Century; the widespread idea called scientific materialism became, essentially, the intellectual orthodoxy. It basically says that, to explain anything scientifically, it has to be explained in purely materialistic terms. What that means is that if you have some argument or evidence for nature that evokes intelligent cause, immediately it's labeled as non-science or pseudoscience or at the very least religion. In that sense, by attaching the label of religion to it, the person is essentially trying to privatize it, so it doesn't have to be considered public evidence.

But the point of intelligent design's argument is that it's based on public evidence, the evidence from nature and the natural world. It's not based off parochial interpretations, from say, Genesis 1. A good designer argument is an argument in that anyone can participate in it, because it's based off things that are publicly acceptable.

CP: Some have found the recent uproar at SMU over the upcoming "Darwin vs. Design" conference surprising because SMU is a religiously based-institution. Were you expecting the intelligent design conference at SMU to be more warmly greeted than other places because of that?

Richards: What's funny about the controversy is that, of course, SMU stands for Southern Methodist University. But what a lot of people don't realize is that the materialistic worldview is so widespread that even in schools that have Christian names, there's still not a whole lot of challenging when it comes to the materialist worldview. I'm frankly not at all surprised that the faculty at SMU didn't react any differently had they been a state school. In fact, sometimes, they are even more zealous to defend the territory, because colleagues at secular institutions might suspect something religious is going on.

It seems perplexing to people that the faculty at Southern Methodist University would object to arguments from science that would confirm some belief they have as Christians. But the truth of the matter is that scientific materialism is so pervasive that it is almost as common in Christian universities as it is at state universities.

CP: What do you think is the most difficult thing when trying to promote intelligent design, and do you feel that it is any closer to being accepted as something that could go into schools?

Richards: Well, let me bracket off the school question, because I think that any idea that is going to be widely discussed, or certainly, mandated in a public school, needs to gain a hearing in the public at large. None of us involved in the intelligent design debate think that ID should be imposed from the top down like some government bureaucrat.

I do think that the biggest impediment for ID getting a better hearing is what I would call a 'Scope's Monkey Trial stereotype.' In part, it's this idea from American history since 1925 that conveys whether a teacher can express Darwin's theory of evolution. At that time, the issue was whether the state could suppress the discussion of Darwinism. The issue actually has fled to the opposite direction since then. So now the question is whether the teacher is even free to discuss criticism of Darwinism. Now, even if the teacher tries to raise criticism of Darwinism apart from an argument for intelligent design, they can find themselves a target of a lawsuit.

The problem is that this issue is not easily squeezed into this iron box of the Scope's Monkey Trial, and there are much more complicated and subtle issues here. It's not simply a question of whether God created the universe in six 24-hour days or whether a teacher should be able to teach about Darwinism. All of us in the design movement believe that teachers should be able to talk freely and openly about Darwinism. We expect that means teaching both its strengths and weaknesses and not simply a one-sided propagandistic presentation of the evidence.

CP: I've heard many people say that intelligent design is simply evolution, except that it's evolution with a creator molding that. Do you think that's a fair assessment or are there much larger differences between evolution and intelligent design?

Richards: Intelligent design is essentially a theory about the detection of design. It's not a theory that specifically says which individual species where designed, or something like that.

Design is consistent with a variety of different natural histories. One instance is that we have one general universal common descent, that all organisms share a common ancestor. The main difference is that, for Darwinism, this is related to the Darwinian mechanism. Any design view of evolution is going to do real work; there will be real design in the process. It's not going to be a purely impersonal process like natural selection.

Also, it's not just that a designer does real work, but that it's detectable. When you look at biological forms, we would see the activities of an intelligent agent. That's the main point of intelligent design theory. It's the detectability of intelligent agency.

There's actually agreement between design theory and the details of natural history, such as that organisms do share common ancestry with one another. Some people might call themselves anti-evolutionists, but they are really just anti-Darwinists. They have this belief in God, but in their science, they are orthodox Darwinists. And the others would say that I believe in evolution in some sense, but I also believe that there's real design at work in the process. That's the sort of point of discrimination when it comes to design, whether design can be explanatory or whether it's detectable.

CP: Should intelligent design be put into schools, would you want it taught as a separate class or simply alongside evolution?

Richards: In terms of a topic, the design argument is about biology or about chemistry or about astronomy or physics. Those are all scientific disciplines, so obviously, it is relevant to science class. It wouldn't be in the discussion of, say, social studies or literature.

My own view is that Darwinism, the Darwinian theory of evolution, should be fully and honestly taught, including its strength and weakness. Teachers should be ready to explain the issue of intelligent design, but nobody should be forced to.

Doug Huntington
Christian Post Reporter

Weighing in on Design (vs. Darwinism)


Roger Parks, Contributing Writer

Issue date: 4/20/07 Section: Opinion

It's been a couple of days now since the controversial and oh-so-dangerous ("harming us with pseudoscience," to quote Ben Wells) conference on Darwinism vs. Design hosted by the machiavellian Discovery Institute at the invitation of Dedman Law School's Christian Legal Society. As an educated lay person (though not a biologist or anthropologist), I would like to respond to the hue and cry over the trampled rights and freedoms of materialists, agnostics and atheists everywhere.

Newsflash: Mainstream science has chosen, a priori, to ignore massive evidence (evidence, I said, not proof) of a designer, or creator, if you will. Arguments from design go at least as far back as Plato, predating Christian arguments by centuries (see "Teleological Argument" in Wikipedia, for example, for a helpful summary). To make the leap from "I accept no evidence that would point to a designer" to "Everything can be explained without invoking a designer" requires one to have one's head in the sand, or in some other location that does not receive much sunshine. I, for one, am weary of this arrogant stranglehold on knowledge, and science so-called, as if there were a single scientist or philosopher anywhere in the world who was there when it all happened (evolution, creation, the Big Bang) and saw God not do it!

This is not to dismiss evolution as an elegant and powerful theory, nor any other theory based on observation alone. It is only to call for a little humility in interpreting the evidence. And it is not my intention here to champion the Discovery Institute, per se, other than to say, "Thank God someone is stepping up to provide a little balance." One of its nefarious goals is to "drive a wedge" into "scientific materialism"? (To quote Ben Wells in Friday's Daily Campus, and the six "brave friends" in Tuesday's edition). It's about time. Bring it on. Scientific materialists have been force-feeding me their one-sided perspective on reality for way too long.

Point: If there is no creator, or if he (or she) set the universe in motion, then took a long vacation, what we observe around us is the best and only evidence we have for the origin of the Universe, the origins of species, etc. Counterpoint: If there is a Creator, then what we see around us is at best the debris of the creation event, whatever form it may have taken. Would you put much confidence in a Theory of French Cuisine based only on an analysis of the egg and flour spillage on the countertop and floor?

"Unlike any other force in our world, science has the power to save or destroy humanity," says Ben Wells. Give me a major break, Ben. Science is a wonderful, exciting, powerful tool. Yes, it is now abundantly clear that technology has the power to destroy humanity. I see absolutely no evidence that it has the power to save us. While I recognize your concerns about injecting one's religious beliefs into science, this is precisely what scientific materialism has done and is doing! By deciding a priori, in the face of much evidence, that God is irrelevant, you have already made a religious, or if you prefer, metaphysical, determination. Enough already! Let's hear the other side of the story for a change. No, Intelligent Design may not yet be a mature theory. Darwinism has a 150-year head start! But at least it's a promising alternative (in the view of many). And although the Discovery Institute has a clear Christian agenda, no one has forbidden Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or Jains from weighing in on the issue.

Roger Parks is a Spanish lecturer at SMU. He can be reached at rlparks@smu.edu.

The universe has a designer, speakers say


Posted on Apr 20, 2007 | by Gregory Tomlin

DALLAS (BP)--Science, when done right, points powerfully to a designer whose characteristics "just happen to match the descriptions of the God of the Bible," author and Christian apologist Lee Strobel said during a conference on the theory of Intelligent Design at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Once an avowed atheist and journalist who investigated the evidence for Christianity and creation prior to his conversion, Strobel said all materialistic theories have failed to explain the origin of life or how any part of the universe became habitable.

"The universe is fine-tuned on a razor's edge in a way that defies chance. It is better explained by the existence of a Creator," Strobel said. "It seems logical and rational that, if there is a God, that He would leave evidence behind for us to find Him."

Strobel was joined by noted scientists Stephen Meyer, Jay Richards and Michael Behe for the "Darwin vs. Design" presentation of the Center for Science & Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group of researchers exploring the worldview implications of science. The Christian Legal Society at SMU's Dedman Law School sponsored the April 13-14 sessions.

Not everyone, however, welcomed the scientists proposing Intelligent Design. At least three SMU professors lodged protests against the conference, which they claimed would promote a "mystical world view" lacking scientific credibility.

Seven students also protested inside the conference, holding up signs with questions related to Darwinian evolution. SMU police escorted two students out of the conference after the students attempted to move closer to the stage where Strobel, Meyer, Richards and Behe were speaking to an audience of more than 1,500.

An editorial in the daily campus newspaper also lambasted the proponents of Intelligent Design for "preaching a religious message masked in a capsule of pseudoscience."

The editorial, written by SMU anthropology student Ben Wells, said the Discovery Institute is a political action group that "fights to create a theistic worldview that corrupts science to fit the doctrines of evangelical and literal Christians who are unable to reconcile their religious beliefs with the material world."

But Meyer, director of the Center for Science & Culture and editor of "Darwinism, Design and Public Education," said neither he nor his colleagues are part of any political group. He also said the theory of Intelligent Design is not faith-based.

"The theory of Intelligent Design is an evidence-based theory. It is not faith-based, as TIME magazine said, but it does have larger implications and I think that's where most people get confused. The key is a distinction between the evidence and the implications," Meyer said.

Behe, known for his groundbreaking work, "Darwin's Black Box," said he and the other scientists are doing what they were trained to do -- that is, ruling nothing out of bounds in the quest for the truth. But much of the scientific establishment, he said, has nonetheless ruled the ideas of Intelligent Design deficient "as a matter of principle" because they work against the status quo. Many in the scientific community remain loyal to the teachings of Charles Darwin.

"I was told that we were supposed to follow the evidence wherever it leads," said Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. "Intelligent Design seems to point strongly beyond nature and seems to have philosophical, maybe even theological implications. That makes a lot of people nervous, and they think that science should avoid any theory that seems to have such strong extra-scientific implications."

Darwin's Black Box, regarded by WORLD magazine as one of the 100 most important books of the 20th century, dealt a heavy blow to neo-Darwinism when Behe argued for the idea of "irreducible complexity." According to Behe, life is run by thousands of complex "machines" in cells. These machines are designed in such a way that the cell cannot function without any one of its multiple parts.

Design, Behe contends, is not mystical; it is quantitative. The purposeful arrangement of parts in a cell implies design, and even neo-Darwinians -- scientists who still hold to evolutionary theory despite modern advances in science that purport to prove the theory false -- agree that cells at least "appear to be designed." In the end, however, these scientists claim that the structure of the cell was achieved either by chance or by a combination of chance and necessity, Behe said.

Meyer said cells prove design because they do what even supercomputers cannot do -- they produce and transmit trillions of specific bits of information in a "digital" genetic code. Darwin, he said, had no concept of this code -- known today as DNA.

In 1869, T.H. Huxley, then called "Darwin's Bulldog" for his strident defense of evolutionary theory, regarded the cell as "a single homogenous globule of plasm." In other words, Meyer said, Darwin and Huxley believed life was made up in its simplest form of a kind of "chemical Jell-O." Today, however, life is regarded as an information phenomenon, with specific and complex messages being communicated from cells, Meyer said.

"Blind chance is not a significant explanation for the origin of the information in the DNA molecule," Meyer said, claiming that there apparently is no limit to the information DNA can contain. "We don't have anything in nature that can suggest information can arise from undirected processes."

Just as the view of the cell changed in the last century, so did the view of the cosmos, said Richards, a research fellow and director of media with the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is the coauthor of "The Privileged Planet," recently adapted into a documentary that aired on PBS stations around the country.

Richards quoted Carl Sagan, the famed 20th-century scientist and science fiction author, who said the "cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be." Sagan believed in a materialistic explanation for the universe, one in which the universe and matter are infinite, and was offering a "doctrinal statement" in defense of his ideas.

But then there was Hubble, the powerful space telescope that revealed an expanding universe. If the universe was expanding, Richards said, scientists could calculate when it began at a point of "zero volume and infinite density."

That means that all of the matter in the universe would need to fit into a space less than the size of a pinhead -- and that could not have occurred, Richards said. Matter had to spring into existence from someplace, making it and the universe finite.

"There's no more dramatic change than from the materialistic view of the 19th century, which claimed that the material universe had always existed, to the view now in the 20th and 21st centuries that the universe had a beginning," Richards said.

"Matter is a crummy candidate for the ultimate explanation of existing reality," Richards said. "We all know that if something comes into existence, if it begins to exist, it had to have a cause."

Richards also said that the factors that make Earth habitable for human beings are not mere accidents of the cosmos. He said that for life to flourish on Earth, as many as 30 variables had to be met, among them a planet with an iron core that produces a magnetic field, a stabilizing moon that keeps the Earth tilted on its axis, the right atmosphere, the right planetary neighbors, the right single star around which planets orbit and the right galaxy in the "galactic habitable zone."

That these conditions were met "suggests conspiracy rather than coincidence," Richards said.


This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. For more information on intelligent design and a full list of resources, log onto the Discovery Institute website at www.discovery.org.

Fossilised trees mystery solved


A Cardiff fossil expert has identified a pair of 385-million-year-old trees, thought to be among the world's oldest.

American researchers found fossilised remains in New York state two years ago, but their identity was unknown.

They called in Dr Christopher Berry from Cardiff University, who confirmed the remains are from the Genus Wattieza, a fern-like plant which formed earth's first known forests.

Dr Berry described the discovery as a "spectacular" find.

The upright stumps of fossilised trees were first uncovered after a flash flood in Gilboa, New York, more than a century ago.

But until two further fossils were found two years ago, which had fallen sideways with their trunk, branches, twigs and crown still intact, no-one knew what the entire trees looked like.

The American team called in Dr Berry, who has 17 years of tree fossil expertise, to help.

Dr Berry, of Cardiff university's School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, said it was a "spectacular find" which had allowed scientists to recreate early forest ecosystems.

"This was also a significant moment in the history of the planet," he said.

"The rise of the forests removed a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This caused temperatures to drop and the planet became very similar to its present-day condition.

"Branches from the trees would have fallen to the floor and decayed, providing a new food chain for the bugs living below."

Dr Berry worked with colleagues from Binghamton University, New York and from New York State Museum.

Their findings are published in the 19 April edition of the scientific journal Nature.

Evolution education update: April 20, 2007

The Economist provides a useful report on the global spread of creationism, while the Wellcome Trust provides a useful resource on evolution for high-schoolers and their teachers.


A special report in the April 19, 2007, edition of The Economist -- exotically datelined "Istanbul, Moscow, and Rome" -- discusses the continued global spread of creationism. The incidents discussed are the dissemination of a book preaching Islamic creationism in France, the controversy over the display of hominid fossils in Kenya, the unsuccessful lawsuit over teaching evolution in Russia, and, at length, the current discussion within the Catholic Church. Creationism, the article suggests, is likely to continue to spread, especially in the developing world where fundamentalist versions of Christianity and Islam are expanding.

The report notes, "As these examples from around the world show, the debate over creation, evolution and religion is rapidly going global. Until recently, all the hottest public arguments had taken place in the United States, where school boards in many districts and states tried to restrict the teaching of Darwin's idea that life in its myriad forms evolved through a natural process of adaptation to changing conditions." Kitzmiller v. Dover is cited as delivering "a body-blow" to "Darwin-bashers": "the verdict made it much harder for school boards in other parts of America to mandate curbs on the teaching of evolution, as many have tried to do -- to the horror of most professional scientists."

For the story in The Economist, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events around the world, visit:


The January 2007 issue of Big Picture -- a publication of the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom that seeks to provide high-school students with "up-to-date information on research findings in biomedicine, and the social and ethical implications of this research" -- is devoted to evolution. The first page of the lively and colorful sixteen-page issue explains the plan: "Why does Darwinian evolution raise controversy when, say, quantum mechanics scarcely registers on the public consciousness? This issue of Big Picture looks at the theory of evolution, the evidence that supports it, unanswered questions and the history of public reaction."

Included are discussions of the history of the development of evolutionary theory, the tree of life, evolution in action (including pathogen evolution), current unanswered questions (including the origin of life and the relevance of evolutionary explanations to human behavior), and the social and religious impact of evolution in Darwin's day and in our own. Creationism is discussed in the latter section, with a discussion of the varying religious reactions to evolution, a brief treatment of creationism (singling out the 1925 Scopes trial and the 2005 trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover as the landmark events), and a discussion of the nature of science. The Wellcome Trust is an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal health.

For information about the issue, visit:

For the issue itself (PDF), visit:

For the complete list of articles on the topic, visit:


If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

A Wellcome resource on evolution


The January 2007 issue of Big Picture -- a publication of the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom that seeks to provide high-school students with "up-to-date information on research findings in biomedicine, and the social and ethical implications of this research" -- is devoted to evolution. The first page of the lively and colorful sixteen-page issue (PDF) explains the plan: "Why does Darwinian evolution raise controversy when, say, quantum mechanics scarcely registers on the public consciousness? This issue of Big Picture looks at the theory of evolution, the evidence that supports it, unanswered questions and the history of public reaction."

Included are discussions of the history of the development of evolutionary theory, the tree of life, evolution in action (including pathogen evolution), current unanswered questions (including the origin of life and the relevance of evolutionary explanations to human behavior), and the social and religious impact of evolution in Darwin's day and in our own. Creationism is discussed in the latter section, with a discussion of the varying religious reactions to evolution, a brief treatment of creationism (singling out the 1925 Scopes trial and the 2005 trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover as the landmark events), and a discussion of the nature of science. The Wellcome Trust is an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal health.

April 20, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Indian professors to teach science of Ayurveda in US


New Delhi, March 31 (PTI): Till now many Americans could benefit from Ayurveda treatment, but now they can learn for themselves the ancient Indian science of medicine in their own homeland.

Ayurveda experts from Mumbai and Pune are conducting a six-week course in traditional Indian system of medicine at various medical schools, including at the prestigious Harvard and Rutgers University, in the United States from May.

Medical students, resident doctors, faculty and practicising physicians are likely to attend the free-of-cost ayurveda classes, organised in nine medical schools across the US by the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH).

Navin Shah, co-founder of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin in the US, who has been the brain behind this programme, said that India has not been able to promote their alternative medicinal system, as the Chinese and Koreans, who have made significant inroads in the US.

The Ministry of Health is sending two Ayurveda professors -- H S Palep from Mumbai and Tanuja Nesari from Pune -- to the United States to impart knowledge of Ayurveda to US doctors.

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

If successful, the courses can be a part of the Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) under the medical curriculum in the US education system.

Shah said in the US the concept of healing the mind, body and soul was fast gaining popularity and ayurveda can make a niche for itself in the alternative medicine sector.

"Alternative medicine has a 40-billion-dollar market in the US and traditional systems of medicines of China, Korea and Mexico have cornered a lion's share," he said.

Ayurveda has been able to capture a share of just 200 million dollars, which is very minisicule compared to its actual potential, he said.

The classes might encourage many American graduates to come to India and learn the craft and could be great potential clientele for India, he said.

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

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

"They are ready to fund the research," he said.

Philosopher Jay Richards Interviewed on ID Issues


CSC senior fellow and Acton Institute Research Fellow Jay Richards was interviewed by The Christian Post about the current controversy over the Darwin vs. Design conference coming up at SMU next month. As if often the case, the question of how evolution should be taught is more pressing for reporters than the scientific evidence at the foundation of either Darwinism or intelligent design. So, how does Richard's weigh in on the what should be taught question?

I do think that the biggest impediment for ID getting a better hearing is what I would call a 'Scope's Monkey Trial stereotype.' In part, it's this idea from American history since 1925 that conveys whether a teacher can express Darwin's theory of evolution. At that time, the issue was whether the state could suppress the discussion of Darwinism. The issue actually has fled to the opposite direction since then. So now the question is whether the teacher is even free to discuss criticism of Darwinism. Now, even if the teacher tries to raise criticism of Darwinism apart from an argument for intelligent design, they can find themselves a target of a lawsuit.

The rest of the interview is available here.

Richards is no one trick pony. See here for his latest film endeavor, "The Call of the Entrepreneur," which will be highlighted at a special Discovery Institute screening in April.

Posted by Robert Crowther on March 31, 2007 9:46 AM | Permalink

How Harun Yahya and the Discovery Institute changed my mind


Category: Chatter

Posted on: April 1, 2007 1:03 PM, by Josh Rosenau

In preparing myself for Taner Edis's presentation in two days (April 3rd, 7 pm in the Alderson theater), I've done some reading about Islamic perspectives on science.

It turns out that there's a group in Turkey called Harun Yahya. They've worked with American creationists like Ken Ham and Duane Gish, but have really improved the arguments. If Ham and Gish are the Henry Ford's of creationism, Harun Yahya is the Toyota, cheaper, higher quality, and more efficient. The fact of the matter is, I'm sold, and not just on creationism.

Part of what Harun Yahya has going for it is the way it integrates arguments not just from old-line creationist groups, but from more modern groups like the Discovery Institute. I heard former Harun Yahya writer Mustafa Akyol testify in favor of the Intelligent Design Network's science standards a couple years ago, and found his presentation really compelling. The Muslim world hates us because of the MTV and its materialism. If being a creationist will appease Osama bin Laden, I'd better do what Akyol and Harun Yahya say.

As I've read more of their work, I find that the real strength of Harun Yahya's argument is that it has such a strong foundation in the spiritual. Their arguments led me to see science differently, and to see religion differently. Did you know that the Quran predicted everything we have learned about embyrology, cosmology, and the atmosphere? Thanks to Harun Yahya and its arguments rooted in good old American creationism, I see that Islam is the one true faith.

Once I learned that they had given up on Holocaust denial, I knew that they wouldn't lead me astray. Now they understand that the Holocaust happened because of Darwin, not because of evil German Nazis. Of course, they still think that Jews (and Masons) are responsible for the conspiracy that keeps evolution so popular. That's why I've got to convert.

From now on, just call me Yunis Khan, the name assigned to me by the Arabic Name Generator. Has anyone got a Quran I can borrow, just until I get my own?

Update: I learned shocking new facts at midnight of April 2, and have had to rethink this post.

Teach Creationism in Human Evolution


Staff Editorial

Issue date: 4/2/07 Section: Foreplay

PrintEmail Article Tools Page 1 of 1 EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was published in an April Fool's Day edition of Student Life. Its content is not factual.

Washington University claims to promote an environment of open intellectual inquiry and to value the diverse interests of Washington University undergraduates. With the education of students as the primary concern, we expect our professors to keep abreast of the latest theories and advancements in their disciplines. Yet on this very campus we have found an abhorrent stifling of academic progress right beneath our very eyes: Professor Richard Smith's "Introduction to Human Evolution" course in the anthropology department. In order to enhance the quality of education at Washington University, we implore Professor Smith to begin teaching the theory of strict Creationism.

Professor Smith's class is notoriously under-enrolled and unpopular with students. You can hear crickets chirping when Smith takes the stage in Brown 100. Students only begrudgingly enroll in the course when shut out from other, more desirable choices and leave the course completely uninformed by the semester's worth of information regarding the so-called "evolution" of humans. He uses big words - australopithecine, Homo habilis, Paranthropus robustus - and fancy dental ratios (Does anyone really understand what 2:1:2:3 means?), but we are not fooled. We see behind the increasing cranial capacities and reduction of the post-orbital ridge. We are sick of this mumbo jumbo that is, as Professor Smith admits, only a theory. Given the course's lagging enrollment, it seems that we are not the only ones dissatisfied with "Introduction to Human Evolution."

We believe that Smith's course could be enhanced by exploring the more respected theory of Creationism. Rather than sticking to the antiquated notion that humans evolved from lesser organisms, University professors ought to move towards the future by endorsing the more scientifically-sound view that the universe, humanity, life on earth and this very campus were created by a supernatural deity (this may or may not be the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that's a whole other staff editorial). The theory of Creationism enjoys strong support from the scientists around the world, and it's time that support arrived at Washington University.

The American education system has taught us that we must accept that which is written, and we must not question any source as legitimate as that of the Bible, which teaches Creationism and the story of Adam and Eve. After hundreds of years of Christendom being the dominant source of knowledge, who are we to teach anything but the established truth?

Poll: Half of Americans Reject Evolution


Baptist Press

NASHVILLE -- Roughly half of Americans reject the theory of evolution and instead believe that God created humans in their present form in the past 10,000 years, according to a new Newsweek poll.

The survey of 1,004 adults, conducted March 28-29, found that 48 percent of Americans believe God made humans "pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Another 30 percent believe humans evolved over millions of years, with God guiding the process -- a belief sometimes called theistic evolution. Only 13 percent believe in a God-less evolution.

It is but the latest poll showing that a large number of Americans discount evolution -- despite the fact it is promoted as true within the mainstream media, academia and culture at large.

Among other polls:

A Gallup poll of 1,002 adults last May found that 46 percent of Americans believed God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years. Thirty-six percent believed in theistic evolution, and 13 percent believed in evolution with God not playing a role.

A Harris poll of 1,000 adults in June 2005 found that 64 percent believed "human beings were created directly by God," 22 percent said humans "evolved from earlier species" and 10 percent believed humans "are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them." In a separate question, only 38 percent said humans "developed from earlier species."

The Newsweek poll also found that 91 percent of Americans profess a belief in God, and only 3 percent describe themselves as an atheist.

© Copyright 2007 Baptist Press

Taner Edis on Muslim creationism


Category: Creationism • Culture Wars

Posted on: April 5, 2007 2:05 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University, came to KU a couple days ago to talk about his research into creationism in the Muslim world. That research most recently led to his book An Illusion of Harmony: Science And Religion in Islam.

Dr. Edis grew up and went to college in Turkey, which is where a lot of modern Islamic creationism originates. Understanding why that should be the case, helps explain why sees claims of harmony between science and Islam as illusory.

A common trope in discussing the history of science relates to the era when science proceeded apace in the Islamic world, while languishing through the Medieval era in Europe. That era in history is offered as evidence that Islam is supportive and even harmonious with science.

What Edis argues is that even in that era, and certainly today, science in the Muslim world is seen through the lens of technology. Improvements in living conditions and advancement of a people or a nation through technological advances are good. Connecting those technical advances to broader theoretical frameworks has always been seen as a dangerous and potentially heretical act. Islamic philosophers have would argue that the Quran provides the necessary overarching framework, and that attempts by the sciences to usurp any part of that role have always found resistance.

Thus, efforts to harmonize science and Islam have tended to focus on finding ways to show that particular scientific discoveries are explained by the Quran. The Prophet referred to the seven levels of the heavens, so exegetes seek to identify seven meteorological or astronomical layers. Vague descriptions of the formation of a fetus are presented as perfect brief descriptions of modern embryology. As Edis writes, "it is striking how little writers of the science-in-the-Quran genre know about science. … [T]hey conceive of science as a set of practical applications and concrete facts to be collected and organized like stamps. This view is not even medieval; medieval science at least enriched its stamp collections with an elaborate God-centered perception of nature."

Connoisseurs of American creationism will recognize this as a strategy employed by Answers in Genesis, Henry Morris and family, or Walter Brown, among others. Indeed, Turkish creationist groups have borrowed and translated American creationist works (excising all references to the Bible) and presented those arguments as evidence against Darwin and for the scientific validity of the Quran as science text.

By Edis's account, creationism in Turkey is a response to modernity, and to the influx of scientific expertise and ideas from abroad. The main targets of creationist literature are not hard-core Islamists, but the moderate Islamists who occupy a prominent position in the center of that nation's politics. Unlike America, where creationism is regarded as a fringe belief (despite majority support for some creationist beliefs), creationism in Turkey is widely held to be at the vital center of the culture wars which define one critical axis in their national political spectrum.

Edis told me "It's no accident that creationism to this level emerged in Turkey, as the most westernized of Islamic countries. Harun Yahya is obviously looking for people who are interesting in a more devout, traditional form of religiosity, but live in very nontraditional circumstances and very much respect science as a cognitive authority. The same parallels exist in the United States as well. … The creationists appeal to people who really do live in a sort of high tech environment and really respect science deeply. Creationists are actually puzzled by the suggestion that they are anti-science."

Groups like that formed around the pseudonymous Harun Yahya are well-funded efforts to promote various forms of creationism to that broad center. Hundreds of books purporting to be written by Harun Yahya, they have been translated into 30 languages, all available for free on the web, and at low cost on high quality paper in bookstores in Turkey, Europe, America, and elsewhere. Where the money comes from isn't clear, but the financial resources must be immense.

HY also organizes conferences and public speeches, in many cases with assistance from the government. Because of social pressures and the conflation of science with technology, there is a rich pool of Turkish scientists available to speak alongside American and English "scientists" like Paul Nelson in opposition to evolution.

Bringing in foreign supporters plays into the perception of science as a tool of progress (as opposed to a tool for testing knowledge). The moderates who are targeted by Harun Yahya are Islamist in a mode that is pro-Western; presenting creationism as something acceptable to the West helps draw them in.

Harun Yahya translated their books to English and to other western European languages before translating them to Arabic. Their target audience is the Muslim diaspora to France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and England, more than Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Edis attributes that, and the relative silence of the evolution battles in the Middle East (except for Egypt) to the fact that evolution simply has not penetrated those societies. Egyptian researchers have gotten into trouble for promoting ideas similar to the theistic evolution that is fairly common in America.

Muslim immigrants in Europe tend to be from the poorer, less educated strata of society – analogous I suppose to Mexicans in America. Creationist literature is a way to fight the secularizing or Christianizing influence of those societies, while letting people feel like they are engaging with the technical and technological advancements around them.

When I asked about the influence of Harun Yahya and other forms of Muslim creationism in America, Edis pointed out that Muslim immigrants to America tend to come from the wealthier, more educated, and often more secular strata of society. They tend to be more comfortable integrating religious interpretation to their scientific knowledge, and attempts to force science to conform to the Quran tend to be less appealing to them.

By Edis's account, Turkey seems like the sort of place American creationists wish they lived in. Edis writes "In the Muslim world, thinkers such as [author of Scientific Creationism Henry] Morris are more common, and their influence is more penetrating." Turkish textbooks are reprinted each year by the Ministry of Education, with creationist messages added when Islamists win elections and removed when secularists retake the seats. Creationism occupies the general support of the public, and creationists are held out as respectable scientists. The community of scientists has been maumaued into silence through social pressure, political interference, and even threats of violence.

I asked what scientists could do to support the pro-science community in the Muslim world, and he told me that the only realistic thing is to be a resource for those researchers and those pro-science forces. A pro-evolution push in Turkey will come from the political secularists, currently out of power, and people in the scientific community. The effort could benefit by sharing lessons-learned with scientists in Turkey and presenting experts to counter the offensive by Harun Yahya and its allies in the Discovery Institute. Other than that, Edis was very pessimistic about the future of evolution in the Islamic world.

Evolutionist raises creationism fears


April 4, 2007

Science journalist Denyse O'Leary believes Canadian advocates of the theory of evolution are attempting to "import a controversy" by claiming, as the Toronto Star reported, that God-centred instruction on the origins of life is "creeping into this country's public school science classes and it's up to parents to do something about it."

According to the Star, biologist Brian Alters, director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University, contends that teachers are bowing to pressure from parents who want their children to be taught either creationism or intelligent design.

He said "informal research" shows that about one-third of science teachers report feeling this pressure, and that most respond by avoiding altogether any mention of either evolution or creationism. And that, in his view, undermines scientific education by making it seem that both are of equal merit.

Compared to the United States, where the ongoing debate over creationism versus evolution is out in the open, Alters believes that here in Canada – as the Star phrased it – "the encroachment of creationism is much more stealth."

"If you know you are going to get a lot of flak, there are ways to dance around it," Alter said.

But O'Leary counters that the real problem in Canadian schools is that students are exposed to nothing but evolution. "[Alter] and his colleagues are essentially importing a controversy that doesn't exist here," she said.

O'Leary added: "He needs to find examples of fundamentalist teachers promoting their ideas in the classroom. That will get him funding."

One year ago, as the Montreal Gazette reported at the time, the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council denied Alter's application for a $40,000 grant to study how the growing popularity of intelligent design south of the border is eroding the acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada.

The panel that reviewed the request said Alter had failed to provide "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct."

In 2005, Alters was a key witness on behalf of parents in Pennsylvania who had sued their local school board over a policy that required biology teachers to tell Grade 9 students that evolution "was not a fact" and that there are other theories including intelligent design. That policy was ruled unconstitutional and was quickly rescinded.

Placebo or Protector?


Rachel A. Ankeny*

Dr. Golem
How to Think About Medicine
by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005. 258 pp. $25, Ł17.50. ISBN 9780226113661.

The traditional Jewish myth of the golem centers on a human-like creature created by humans out of clay and water. It will follow orders and is very powerful yet also is a bit stupid and clumsy and hence dangerous. The golem has become a familiar trope in popular culture, making appearances in literary novels such as Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum (1) and even in the Pokémon games. It serves as an especially appropriate framing metaphor for the series of books focused on science and technology by the sociologists and science studies scholars Harry Collins (Cardiff University) and Trevor Pinch (Cornell University) (2, 3). In this latest installment, Dr. Golem, we are taken on a tour of the "messiness" that characterizes medicine in order to reflect on the complexities inherent in medical science and practice and on how we should make medical choices given these uncertainties.

To illustrate medicine's recognized fallibility, the authors present a series of case studies that popularize existing scholarly accounts. These range from familiar debates over the definition of death and contested disease categories such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia to more mundane interactions with the medical establishment such as uncertainties over the diagnosis of tonsillitis. It is likely that our perceptions of medicine, unlike most other branches of science and technology, already include some knowledge of its successes and failures and of the gaps in its existing theories. Nonetheless, documenting examples of these failures and gaps is a useful exercise, in part as an antidote to increasing public confidence that cures and answers are just around the corner. This has been evident in much of the hype surrounding genetic, stem cell, and cancer research.

The book explores eight topics, beginning with the placebo effect. Collins and Pinch describe it as "the hole in the heart of medicine" as it encapsulates the problematic nature of nonscientific aspects of medicine and their impact on any attempts to scientize medicine. A provocative chapter covers the dubious acceptance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They note that critics have argued that CPR at best is nothing more than a "passing ritual" (whose primary use is to allow families more time with a dying loved one) and at worst is dangerous and a substantial waste of resources in terms of training and equipment. A less successful chapter on "alternative medicine" focuses on the early-1970s controversy that surrounded Linus Pauling's championing of large doses of vitamin C as a cure for cancer. This case study fails to do justice to the original scholarly research on which it is based. Nor does it provide an adequate examination of the complex issues associated with today's complementary and alternative medical theories and practices (which are only briefly touched within the placebo chapter).

Collins and Pinch also integrate some of their own experiences with medicine into their narrative. Although these personal threads may sometimes annoy a more scholarly-minded reader, they do help illustrate disagreements between the authors (for instance, about measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination). The authors emphasize that this book forced them to consider not only what to think but also what to do--what choices to make when faced with difficult medical decisions. The claim that medicine is golem-like is far from novel, and as the authors put it: "The really hard question that remains is, 'Knowing medicine is fallible, what should we do?'"

Although Dr. Golem indeed may lead readers to reflect on their experiences with medicine and its limitations (particularly with regard to prognosis and therapy), it unfortunately fails to provide much guidance about what in fact patients should do in light of this knowledge. For example--perhaps because the book arose implicitly in parallel to considerations of science and technology--there is little engagement with issues of personal values and ethics in relation to medical decision-making or with the political, social, and economic contexts within which medicine (particularly in underdeveloped countries) is practiced. Nor do the authors examine the art or craft of medicine in any detail. Hence they ignore long-standing debates in the philosophy of medicine over the other skills (such as communication and diagnostic talent) that are clearly central to good medical practice. In fact, they set up an odd dichotomy between medicine as science and medicine as "succor," which implicitly denies that nonscientific forms of knowledge might play important roles beyond providing comfort when science cannot cure--a striking omission for scholars quick to recognize alternative forms of expertise in other settings. They leave underexplored the hybrid nature of medicine as a pragmatic, scientific, artistic, and social undertaking.

In a sense, Collins and Pinch appear to have used Dr. Golem to confront their own personal demons: faced with the need to make personal, life-and-death decisions, they seem to want to hold medicine to higher standards than we might hold other forms of science. The problem is that when viewed in this limited and idealized way, medicine falls so far short that it is unclear how we should understand the implications of these case studies for any medical choices with which we might be faced.


U. Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (Secker and Warburg, London, 1989).
H. Collins, T. Pinch, The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1993); reviewed by U. Segerstrĺle, Science 263, 837 (1994).
H. Collins, T. Pinch, The Golem at Large: What You Should Know About Technology (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1998).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Applications of Evolution 1: The Erythrina Gall Wasp


Posted on: April 18, 2007 4:22 PM, by Mike Dunford

This is a repost: Unlike some of the folks here, there really aren't that many of my articles over at the old blog that I thought were worth bringing over here. This is one of the exceptions. It's the first post in a series about the effects of a new invasive insect species on an endemic tree found in Hawaii. I'll be bringing the remaining posts in the series over here over the course of the next week or so. Once I've moved them all over here, I'll post an update on the entire situation.

This article was originally posted on the old blog on 16 August, 2005. I have not updated this post in any way, and I did not confirm that the links are still valid.

Invasive species are nothing new to the Islands of Hawai'i. The first invasive species arrived with, and included, the first Polynesian settlers. Although there does appear to be some evidence that they may have caused the extinction of a few endemic species, the effects of these invasions were most likely relatively minor. Since the first western contact with the islands, the number of invasive species present has skyrocketed, causing a massive ecological disaster. If you want proof of the severity, you need not look any farther than the fact that Hawaii contains well less than 1% of the total land area of the US, but has over a third of the listed endangered species in the US.

At the moment, there is a new invasive species that is making the news here in Hawai'i: a species of "gall wasp" that has been wrecking havoc on trees of the genus Erythrina in Singapore, Taiwan, and a number of other places was found in a valley on Oahu in April. Since then, it has been found in a large number of other places on Oahu, and has started to turn up on other islands, including Maui, and a number of scientists believe that it poses a serious threat to a culturally-significant endemic plant - the Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwichensis). The threat is being taken so seriously that scientists have reportedly begun to bank Wiliwlil seeds as a precaution in case the extant population is completely lost.

So what does this have to do with evolution?

Individual species do not evolve in a vacuum. They evolve in an environment, and natural selection favors the preservation of variations that increase the chances for an organism to survive within that environment. This is common knowedge. What people sometimes forget, however, is that when we discuss the "environment" that an organism evolves in, we are talking about much, much more than just the climate. The evolutionary environment also includes every other species of organism that has any sort of effect on it. Species evolve within the ecosystem or ecosystems that they inhabit, and they evolve as a part of those ecosystems.

So what happens when people - either intentionally or inadvertantly - introduce a species to a new habitat? That's a broad question, and one where the answer is obviously going to depend on a lot of things - not least, what the new species is, and where it is being introduced. (Biology can be really annoying that way, with the answers to so many questions depending on specific circumstances.)

Since the broad question isn't really answerable, let's narrow it in a way that is tailored to these specific circumstances: what happens if you introduce a pest species (either parasite or predator) into a new, hospitable environment that contains a species that is closely related to the pest's usual target? That is a very complexly worded question, but it has a simple answer. Nothing good is going to happen.

In the case of the Erythrina gall wasp, this is exactly what happened. The gall wasp is not native to Hawai'i, and it did not evolve here. This means that up until now, it has not been a part of the evolutionary environment for any of the native species. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the native species has no natural defences against the gall wasp. At the same time, the gall wasp has now found itself in an environment where it has lots of access to a number of species that it can use, and which completely lacks any of it's normal predators. In short, it's gall wasp heaven out here - at least until the Erythrina are all gone.

In fact, the wild success of the gall wasp is one of the reasons that we can tell that it is an invasive, rather than a previously undiscovered native. Its mode of reproduction damages the trees that it uses, if too many wasps use the same tree. Right now, that is exactly what is happening in Hawaii, and it is happening to such an extent as to kill the trees. If it continues to happen at current rates, it is quite possible that the entire genus Erythrina will be wiped out across the Hawaiian Islands. The wasps are loving life right now, but they are actually not in a situation that bodes well for their long-term success in Hawaii - if the current trend continues, they will fall victim to their own success. This indicates that it is not likely that this species evolved here. If it had, one would expect that it would have a lifestyle that would not be so massively counterproductive in the long term. That is not, I should add, because evolution looks forward to see what will work in the long term, but because an organism that has evolved here has already been here for the "long term".

Evolution explains why invasive species can be such a major problem. And evolution, combined with a bit of thought, also can provide us with some possible solutions. With an invasion like this, where the insects involved are tiny and the number of hosts enormous, chemical methods of insect control are normally ineffective. The only real hope for permanently controlling the problem is to find some sort of biological control method. This is normally a natural parasite or predator of the pest. Of course, this can be risky, since the biological control agent is itself an invasive species. If you are not careful, you can easily wind up with a situation that is similar to the children's song about the old lady who swallowed the fly:

She swallowed the goat to catch the dog ...
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird ...
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wriggled and jiggled and wiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly

Ultimately, however, it may be impossible to save the Wiliwili without some sort of biological control. So let's assume that a decision is made to look for one. Normally, we would look to the species' native habitat to find a parasite or predator. Unfortunately, we don't actually know what the native range of this species actually is. It was only described for the first time last year, and it seems to be an invasive in all of the places that it has been found. The world is a really big place, and we have a limited amount of time until the Wiliwili follows countless other Hawaiian species into extinction. So where do we start to look?

Africa. Since this species hasn't been described from there at all yet, what makes us think that we should look there?


There are a number of related species of gall wasp in South Africa, including some that utilize Erythrina trees. There are also Erythrina trees that are native to this area. As I understand it from conversations with other grad students here, these trees do not appear to be experiencing the same sort of massive infestation that is being seen here in Hawaii. This indicates that one of two things is happening there. Either the South African Erythrina have an innate defence mechanism protecting them from the gall wasps (this is unlikely, as the gall wasps can and do breed using these trees) or there is something else, most likely a predator or parasite, keeping their population in check. This is the type of more stable ecological relationship that we expect to see in areas where the species evolved.

I don't know whether or not sufficient funding will be found to do this, but I predict that a thorough study of the gall wasps in South Africa will turn up a predator and/or parasite capable of controlling the gall wasp population. (Or that the Erythrina trees have a defence mechanism protecting them from gall wasps.) I also predict that, again pending sufficient funding, that molecular studies will show that the wasps invading Hawaii are relatively closely related to species from South Africa.

Looking back over this long post, I see that evolution is actually extremely informative in this case - both in understanding what is happening, and as a tool to help develop responses to the situation. To summarize, this is what evolution allows us to do in this situation:

1) Identify the gall wasp as being more likely to be invasive than endemic
2) Understand why this invasive has such a bad effect on the Wiliwili.
3) Identify biological control as a possible method of containment.
4) Narrow the search for the home range of the organism.
5) Predict future findings.

This is all just something to keep in mind the next time that a creationist tries to convince you that evolution is just airy speculation, with no real practical use. That might be what creationists wish were the case, but the reality is actually much different. Evolution is used as a basic tool in the biological sciences, and it often has real-world, practical implications. This particular example comes from the field of invasion biology, but other examples can be found in all other areas of the biological sciences.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Darwin vs. Design conference


A perspective from one group of students

Issue date: 4/17/07 Section: The Mix

Considering the way in which the Discovery Institute describes its mission in all of its articles and speeches, one would think that it really does support some sort of science, some sort of new-age way to learn about the world and that all it really wants to do is simply make our education more complete.

However, when one actually attends the "conferences," or as I like to call them, "indoctrination seminars," its true face is shown.

Five of my brave friends and I decided to take an informed and conscious stand against the Discovery Institute on Friday. We decided to silently protest the "debate," which was called "Darwin vs. Design," though they failed to have anyone representing the Darwinian viewpoint, by disseminating facts and information regarding the institute.

I did some research and typed up a flier that consisted of nothing more than quotes from the institute's own policy paper, known as the Wedge Document. The following are the most profound quotes, which we distributed, found in this document:

- "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

- Under "Governing Goals:" "To replace materialistic explanations with theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

- Under "Twenty Year Goals:" "To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life."

One look at these quotes indicates the true goals behind the Institute's little conference.

They are not teaching science, but instead are preaching religion as science. Now, none of us has any problems with Creationism or Intelligent Design, so long as it is understood that it is personal belief and not science. Teach it in history class. Teach it in religion class. But do not teach it in science class, because science is the study of the natural world and thus cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, who operates and exists in the supernatural world.

So, armed with these quotes and with some posters which displayed questions regarding the fact that if ID is true, why are there so many unintelligent "designs" present, we entered McFarlin Auditorium.

We began handing out fliers and were receiving mixed reviews - until a tall, lanky, and toothy man jittered his way over to us and demanded to know who was handing out these fliers. We all took responsibility, and he began ripping the flyers out of our hands, saying that we could not distribute anything of the sort. I told him we paid to go to school here and that we were students who could walk anywhere on our campus, and that it just so happened that we walked into McFarlin, and it also just so happened that we had fliers to distribute.

He didn't take too kindly to that, and in two minutes' time, we had two police officers who all of a sudden had a real job to do watching us instead of sleeping the night away in the back. I'm sure if we had been distributing thank-you notes expressing our gratitude for the institute coming to our campus, he would've given us a warmer reception.

Then a hall manager spoke to us about being respectful to those who paid to use the auditorium. I replied that the next time I want to buy some personal freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom to protest, I would just rent out McFarlin and start making up rules.

Anyway, the event got underway and the six of us felt as though we were in church. The first speaker was a journalist (who happened to be oh-so-qualified on the topic at hand) who told us that he used to be an atheist (I think he meant "a theist," judging from his fervor) because of biology class. But then when he started trying to understand science (which happens so often in the halls of journalism school), he realized that science had come to its limit in being able to explain the world around us and that it was a lesser leap of faith to believe in God than to believe in Darwin.

He also decided to preach about how he believed the world's creator and designer was the "God of the Bible," as he said. That's interesting, seeing as how he said nothing of the God of the Jews, Muslims and other religions; apparently Christianity's God is the only one we have to believe in. And his entire speech dealt with differentiating atheists from Christians, where he seemed to use the word atheist as a synonym for "Darwinist" or "evolutionist."

At this point, we were fed up with the sheer lack of science being discussed. (Remember, ID theorists claim to support a science, not a religion.) So we held up our signs. They bore questions such as, "Why do we have wisdom teeth if they do not fit our jaws?" and "Why did it take 20 species of elephant to go extinct to get two species that survived?" and "Why do the ribosomes (protein synthesizing machinery) in our mitochondria match those of bacteria?" to name a few.

Well, after holding up these signs for a while, the men on stage noticed and decided to answer one of them. They chose the last one, regarding ribosomes. Immediately, the only person on stage with any knowledge of biology, Michael Behe, took up the question.

His answer was that ID theory does not allow for explanations regarding interspecies commonalities such as those implied in the question.

In short, his answer was that he couldn't explain it with ID theory.

But then he went on, describing how a Creator may have given humans similar ribosomes for no good reason. His logic was that when one sees a car with a radio, one can ask how that radio got there and there are many explanations.

One such explanation was provided by Behe, and it was so very realistic: He said the radio could've fallen from an apartment and landed in the car, suggesting that a Creator could have simply thrown ribosomes all over the place, and they just landed in humans by chance. Very likely, indeed.

Over the course of the event, two of my friends decided to stand up slightly and move a row ahead. When they did, they were manhandled by SMU's finest officers and escorted out.

Good job, boys in blue. Way to stifle freedom of expression while disallowing people to stand up for two seconds. I'm glad you're keeping our campus safe.

The four of us decided to stay behind after receiving a text from our two friends letting us know they were safe. However, that was not the last text we received that night, because after that, my friend Mahmud and I began receiving hate text messages, telling us to "shove your sign up your ass" and to "shut the f*** up." All very Christian indeed.

The night was wrapped up when, somehow, one of our flyers made it to the front of the stage, where the journalist asked the other men on stage about the quote regarding the institute's true purpose (see first quote mentioned above) being that it wants to replace modern science with "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

To my shock, one of the men on stage said, "Yes that's true, and I don't see anything scandalous about that."

Nothing scandalous about trying to replace science with Christianity? Nothing scandalous about the fact that religion keeps being brought up during what is supposed to be a scientific conference? Clearly, the institute's dictionary must define the word "scandalous" differently from the dictionaries we own, because it sure appears to be pretty scandalous. And that sums up the night in question, after it ended with us being escorted out by the police.

My friends, if you care anything at all about this matter, then I would urge you to research it yourselves, as we did, and see who is giving you the information. The Discovery Institute has an agenda, and it is a very serious one. If it has its way, then in 20 years, it will "permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life."

Be warned, George Orwell, be warned.

Francis Goldshmid: Junior, Biology B.S., Chemistry B.A.

Nicolas Sanchez: Junior, Biology B.S., Italian minor

Jani Brackett: Junior, Biology B.S., German B.A.

Desiree Brooks: Sophomore, Biology B.S., Chemistry B.A.

Ati Nayeb: Junior, Phsycology major, Biology and Chemistry minors

Mahmud Shurafa: Biology and Spanish double major

On Evolution: Distinguishing mere beliefs from the facts


By Rick Protz Tuesday, April 17, 2007

According to the recent letter, "Theology, Science Don't Mix" (March 30), "evolutionary theory … is based on observable data." It would, however, seem quite plain that evolution is actually based on unobservable data, if for no other reason than that the past is, by nature, unobservable, untestable and unrepeatable. Though we'd love to, we can't go see it.

We're often told, for instance, that the early earth had a chemical- and nutrient-rich primordial soup. Was anyone able to test its chemical composition? No. Was anyone able to observe the soup? No. Can we demonstrate its location, extent, depth, breadth, temperature and makeup? No. And because we can't observe it, the answers to these questions are hypothetical and subject to change. They are assumptions. The scientific method is a valuable tool, but it nevertheless has its limits.

We're also told that life began in this soup not by any plan or design, but purely by chance, that this happened once and that all life is descended from this event. This is a fundamental evolutionary belief, foundational to the whole scenario, but is it an observable data? No. Do we at present observe the spontaneous generation of life from non-living matter? No. Instead, we observe that life comes from life. There is no scientific reason to believe in spontaneous generation. It is a philosophical/religious belief. It is an article of faith.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having beliefs. In fact, it's unavoidable — we all have them. But we should be careful to maintain the distinction between belief and testable, observable fact. When it comes to origins issues, we all have the same facts, and we all base our interpretation of those facts on our own religious/philosophical perspective, scientists included. We must do this because no one could observe the origin of matter and life (except, of course, God). Thus, we are all on equal footing regarding origins — faith. Thus, also, theology and science do mix. Everyone mixes them because there is so much we don't and can't know through science; instead, we must believe, suppose and assume. Did you think scientists don't have beliefs?

Is it even possible for life to arise from non-living matter, scientifically speaking — by chance? It's an interesting question given that science is essentially the study of cause-and-effect relationships — things that are not by chance. But how does one demonstrate a chance occurrence? By definition, it may never happen again, and to structure an experiment would be to remove it from the realm of chance. It would seem that doing nothing is allowing chance to take its course, so, in fact, every day is an experimental test of whether life arises spontaneously by chance. And every day we get the same answer — no. Why is it so hard to accept that answer?

There is the additional problem of information. Life operates on the basis of coded instructions in the genes, and this information must be organized not randomly, but very precisely, for an organism to live. We can build a computer and program it, but we can't build a single living cell and program it (it too would need a program). If we did, it would not be by chance, but by design and effort. It would seem abundantly clear that such a thing does not, and in fact could not, happen by chance.

We also have the problem of irreducible complexity. Even a mousetrap minus a single part ceases to function (again, read "Darwin's Black Box"). Every living thing, even a single cell, is vastly more complex, with many essential structures and processes, minus any one of which the cell cannot live.

The observable data clearly points not toward, but away from, evolution.

(Protz lives in Napa.)

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