NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 June 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, June 18, 2007

Should Science Speak to Faith?


June 17, 2007

Two prominent defenders of science exchange their views on how scientists ought to approach religion and its followers

By Lawrence M. Krauss and Richard Dawkins

For an extended version of this article, click here.

Editors' Introduction

Although the authors are both on the side of science, they have not always agreed about the best ways to oppose religiously motivated threats to scientific practice or instruction. Krauss, a leading physicist, frequently steps into the public spotlight to argue in favor of retaining evolutionary theory in school science curricula and keeping pseudoscientific variants of creationism out of them. An open letter he sent to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, urging the pontiff not to build new walls between science and faith, led the Vatican to reaffirm the Catholic Church's acceptance of natural selection as a valid scientific theory.

Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, prolific author and lecturer, is also an eloquent critic of any attempt to undermine scientific reasoning. He has generally shown less interest than Krauss, however, in achieving a peaceful coexistence between science and faith. The title of Dawkins's best-selling book The God Delusion perhaps best summarizes his opinion of religious belief.

These two allies compared notes from the front lines during breaks at a conference devoted to discussing clashes between science and religion held at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego late last year. In a dialogue they re-create here, the authors explained their respective tactics for engaging the enemy and tackled some of the questions that face all scientists when deciding whether and how to talk to the faithful about science: Is the goal to teach science or to discredit religion? Can the two worldviews ever enrich one another? Is religion inherently bad? In an extended version of their conversation available here, the authors also delve into whether science can ever test the "God Hypothesis."

The Authors

Lawrence M. Krauss is Ambrose Swasey Professor and director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University. Author of seven popular books and dozens of commentaries for national publications, radio and television, he also lectures widely on science and public policy. Among his many scientific honors, he has the unique distinction of having received the highest awards from all three U.S. physics societies. In his spare time, he has performed The Planets with the Cleveland Orchestra, served as a Sundance Film Festival judge and written four articles for Scientific American.

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. His nine books have earned him honorary doctorates in literature and science, and he is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. His many prizes include the Cosmos International Prize, the Nakayama Prize for Human Science and the Shakespeare Prize for Distinguished Contributions to British Culture. In 2006 he created the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. New British school guidelines encourage students to play the roles of such figures as Galileo, Darwin and Dawkins while debating science and creationism.

Krauss: Both you and I have devoted a substantial fraction of our time to trying to get people excited about science, while also attempting to explain the bases of our current respective scientific understandings of the universe. So it seems appropriate to ask what the primary goals of a scientist should be when talking or writing about religion. I wonder which is more important: using the contrast between science and religion to teach about science or trying to put religion in its place? I suspect that I want to concentrate more on the first issue, and you want to concentrate more on the second.

I say this because if one is looking to teach people, then it seems clear to me that one needs to reach out to them, to understand where they are coming from, if one is going to seduce them into thinking about science. I often tell teachers, for example, that the biggest mistake any of them can make is to assume that their students are interested in what they are about to say. Teaching is seduction. Telling people, on the other hand, that their deepest beliefs are simply silly—even if they are—and that they should therefore listen to us to learn the truth ultimately defeats subsequent pedagogy. Having said that, if instead the primary purpose in discussing this subject is to put religion in its proper context, then perhaps it is useful to shock people into questioning their beliefs.

Dawkins: The fact that I think religion is bad science, whereas you think it is ancillary to science, is bound to bias us in at least slightly different directions. I agree with you that teaching is seduction, and it could well be bad strategy to alienate your audience before you even start. Maybe I could improve my seduction technique. But nobody admires a dishonest seducer, and I wonder how far you are prepared to go in "reaching out." Presumably you wouldn't reach out to a Flat Earther. Nor, perhaps, to a Young Earth Creationist who thinks the entire universe began after the Middle Stone Age. But perhaps you would reach out to an Old Earth Creationist who thinks God started the whole thing off and then intervened from time to time to help evolution over the difficult jumps. The difference between us is quantitative, only. You are prepared to reach out a little further than I am, but I suspect not all that much further.

Krauss: Let me make clearer what I mean by reaching out. I do not mean capitulating to misconceptions but rather finding a seductive way to demonstrate to people that these are indeed misconceptions. Let me give you one example. I have, on occasion, debated both creationists and alien abduction zealots. Both groups have similar misconceptions about the nature of explanation: they feel that unless you understand everything, you understand nothing. In debates, they pick some obscure claim, say, that in 1962 some set of people in Outer Mongolia all saw a flying saucer hovering above a church. Then they ask if I am familiar with this particular episode, and if I say no, they invariably say, "If you have not studied every such episode, then you cannot argue that alien abduction is unlikely to be happening."

I have found that I can get each group to think about what they are saying by using the other group as a foil. Namely, of the creationists I ask, "Do you believe in flying saucers?" They inevitably say "no." Then I ask, "Why? Have you studied all of the claims?" Similarly, to the alien abduction people I ask, "Do you believe in Young Earth Creationism?" and they say "no," wanting to appear scientific. Then I ask, "Why? Have you studied every single counterclaim?" The point I try to make for each group is that it is quite sensible to base theoretical expectations on a huge quantity of existing evidence, without having studied absolutely every single obscure counterclaim. This "teaching" technique has worked in most cases, except those rare times when it has turned out that I was debating an alien abduction believer who was also a creationist!

Dawkins: I like your clarification of what you mean by reaching out. But let me warn you of how easy it is to be misunderstood. I once wrote in a New York Times book review, "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." That sentence has been quoted again and again in support of the view that I am a bigoted, intolerant, closed-minded, intemperate ranter. But just look at my sentence. It may not be crafted to seduce, but you, Lawrence, know in your heart that it is a simple and sober statement of fact.

Ignorance is no crime. To call somebody ignorant is no insult. All of us are ignorant of most of what there is to know. I am completely ignorant of baseball, and I dare say that you are as completely ignorant of cricket. If I tell somebody who believes the world is 6,000 years old that he is ignorant, I am paying him the compliment of assuming that he is not stupid, insane or wicked.

Krauss: I have to say that I agree completely with you about this. To me, ignorance is often the problem, and, happily, ignorance is most easily addressed. It is not pejorative to suggest that someone is ignorant if they misunderstand scientific issues.

Dawkins: In exchange, I am happy to agree with you that I could, and probably should, have put it more tactfully. I should have reached out more seductively. But there are limits. You would stop short of the following extreme:

"Dear Young Earth Creationist, I deeply respect your belief that the world is 6,000 years old. Nevertheless, I humbly and gently suggest that if you were to read a book on geology, or radioisotope dating, or cosmology, or archaeology, or history, or zoology, you might find it fascinating (along with the Bible of course), and you might begin to see why almost all educated people, including theologians, think the world's age is measured in billions of years, not thousands."

Let me propose an alternative seduction strategy. Instead of pretending to respect dopey opinions, how about a little tough love? Dramatize to the Young Earth Creationist the sheer magnitude of the discrepancy between his beliefs and those of scientists: "6,000 years is not just a little bit different from 4.6 billion years. It is so different that, dear Young Earth Creationist, it is as though you were to claim that the distance from New York to San Francisco is not 3,400 miles but 7.8 yards. Of course, I respect your right to disagree with scientists, but perhaps it wouldn't hurt and offend you too much to be told—as a matter of deductive and indisputable arithmetic—the actual magnitude of the disagreement you've taken on."

Krauss: I don't think your suggestion is "tough love." In fact, it is precisely what I was advocating, namely, a creative and seductive way of driving home the magnitude and nature of such misconceptions. Some people will always remain deluded, in spite of facts, but surely those are not the ones we are trying to reach. Rather it is the vast bulk of the public who may have open minds about science but simply don't know much about it or have never been exposed to scientific evidence. In this regard, let me pose another question, about which you may feel even more strongly: Can science enrich faith, or must it always destroy it?

The question came to me because I was recently asked to speak at a Catholic college at a symposium on science and religion. I guess I was viewed as someone interested in reconciling the two. After agreeing to lecture, I discovered that I had been assigned the title Science Enriching Faith. In spite of my initial qualms, the more I thought about the title, the more rationale I could see for it. The need to believe in a divine intelligence without direct evidence is, for better or worse, a fundamental component of many people's psyches. I do not think we will rid humanity of religious faith any more than we will rid humanity of romantic love or many of the irrational but fundamental aspects of human cognition. While orthogonal from the scientific rational components, they are no less real and perhaps no less worthy of some celebration when we consider our humanity.

Dawkins: As an aside, such pessimism about humanity is popular among rationalists to the point of outright masochism. It is almost as though you and others at the conference where this dialogue began positively relish the idea that humanity is perpetually doomed to unreason. But I think irrationality has nothing to do with romantic love or poetry or the emotions that lie so close to what makes life worth living. Those are not orthogonal to rationality. Perhaps they are tangential to it. In any case, I am all for them, as are you. Positively irrational beliefs and superstitions are a different matter entirely. To accept that we can never be rid of them—that they are an irrevocable part of human nature—is manifestly untrue of you and, I would guess, most of your colleagues and friends. Isn't it therefore rather condescending to assume that humans at large are constitutionally incapable of breaking free of them?

Krauss: I am not so confident that I am rid of irrational beliefs, at least irrational beliefs about myself. But if religious faith is a central part of the life experience of many people, the question, it seems to me, is not how we can rid the world of God but to what extent can science at least moderate this belief and cut out the most irrational and harmful aspects of religious fundamentalism. That is certainly one way science might enrich faith.

In my lecture to the Catholic group, for instance, I took guidance from your latest book and described how scientific principles, including the requirement not to be selective in choosing data, dictate that one cannot pick and choose in one's fundamentalism. If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination because it says so in the Bible, one has to accept the other things that are said in the Bible, including the allowance to kill your children if they are disobedient or validation of the right to sleep with your father if you need to have a child and there are no other men around, and so forth.

Moreover, science can directly debunk many such destructive literal interpretations of scripture, including, for example, the notion that women are simple chattels, which stands counter to what biology tells us about the generic biological roles of females and the intellectual capabilities of women and men in particular. In the same sense that Galileo argued, when he suggested that God would not have given humans brains if "he" did not intend people to use them to study nature, science definitely can thus enrich faith.

Still another benefit science has to offer was presented most cogently by Carl Sagan, who, like you and me, was not a person of faith. Nevertheless, in a posthumous compilation of his 1985 Gifford Lectures in Scotland on science and religion, he makes the point that standard religious wonder is in fact too myopic, too limited. A single world is too puny for a real God. The vast scope of our universe, revealed to us by science, is far grander. Moreover, one might now add, in light of the current vogue in theoretical physics, that a single universe may be too puny and that one might want to start thinking in terms of a host of universes. I hasten to add, however, that enriching faith is far different than providing supporting evidence for faith, which is something that I believe science certainly does not do.

Dawkins: Yes, I love that sentiment of Sagan's, and I'm so glad you picked it out. I summed it up for the publishers of those lectures on the book jacket: "Was Carl Sagan a religious man? He was so much more. He left behind the petty, parochial, medieval world of the conventionally religious; left the theologians, priests and mullahs wallowing in their small-minded spiritual poverty. He left them behind, because he had so much more to be religious about. They have their Bronze Age myths, medieval superstitions and childish wishful thinking. He had the universe." I don't think there is anything I can add in answering your question about whether science can enrich faith. It can, in the sense you and Sagan mean. But I'd hate to be misunderstood as endorsing faith.

Krauss: I want to close with an issue that I think is central to much of the current debate going on among scientists regarding religion: Is religion inherently bad? I confess here that my own views have evolved over the years, although you might argue that I have simply gone soft. There is certainly ample evidence that religion has been responsible for many atrocities, and I have often said, as have you, that no one would fly planes into tall buildings on purpose if it were not for a belief that God was on their side.

As a scientist, I feel that my role is to object when religious belief causes people to teach lies about the world. In this regard, I would argue that one should respect religious sensibilities no more or less than any other metaphysical inclinations, but in particular they should not be respected when they are wrong. By wrong, I mean beliefs that are manifestly in disagreement with empirical evidence. The earth is not 6,000 years old. The sun did not stand still in the sky. The Kennewick Man was not a Umatilla Indian. What we need to try to eradicate is not religious belief, or faith, it is ignorance. Only when faith is threatened by knowledge does it become the enemy.

Dawkins: I think we pretty much agree here. And although "lie" is too strong a word because it implies intention to deceive, I am not one of those who elevate moral arguments above the question of whether religious beliefs are true. I recently had a televised encounter with the veteran British politician Tony Benn, a former minister of technology who calls himself a Christian. It became very clear in the course of our discussion that he had not the slightest interest in whether Christian beliefs are true or not; his only concern was whether they are moral. He objected to science on the grounds that it gave no moral guidance. When I protested that moral guidance is not what science is about, he came close to asking what, then, was the use of science. A classic example of a syndrome the philosopher Daniel Dennett has called "belief in belief."

Other examples include those people who think that whether religious beliefs are true or false is less important than the power of religion to comfort and to give a purpose to life. I imagine you would agree with me that we have no objection to people drawing comfort from wherever they choose and no objection to strong moral compasses. But the question of the moral or consolation value of religion—one way or the other—must be kept separate in our minds from the truth value of religion. I regularly encounter difficulties in persuading religious people of this distinction, which suggests to me that we scientific seducers have an uphill struggle on our hands. 

One man's theory: Humans are evolving into creationists


By Martin Cothran

A new Gallup poll has sent the cultural elite into paroxysms of superciliousness. And if you don't know what that means, then you must not be one of them, but, instead, an unfortunate member of some lower order of thinker. Quite possibly, a Republican. Or even, God help you, a creationist.

A majority of Republicans, according to Gallup, "do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life." This new survey result also shows that, even among non-Republicans, there is a significant minority who do not believe the theory of evolution. In fact, 40 percent of Democrats take a basically creationist position.

The new survey, when considered in light of past surveys showing increasing popular support for creationism in recent years, gives added credence to my theory that human beings are evolving into creationists. People who believe in the survival of the fittest, as it turns out, are less fit for survival. Those who believe in natural selection are losing out in Nature's selection process.

In short, when the final character in the Hall of Man has been added, he will be a guy in a short-sleeve dress shirt with horn-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector who believes the earth is 6,000 years old.

I am still waiting for the recognition and celebrity that is my due for thinking up this revolutionary new addendum to Darwin's theory, but I may have to wait until all the Darwinists have become extinct - until, that is, Nature has finished playing her ultimate practical joke.

Darwinists have completely misinterpreted these survey results (and if this is not evidence of their diminishing status in the gene pool, I don't know what is), seeing in them further evidence of how much smarter they are than all those religious rubes, and how much higher their branch is on the evolutionary tree. But this does nothing more than add to the increasingly formidable body of data suggesting the deterioration of their ability to reason properly and to see the plain truth in front of them - important survivability traits in humans. Their branch on the tree is rotting from the inside, and, if they are not careful, they will only succeed in landing themselves alongside the Tasmanian wolf, the great auk, and the woolly mammoth on Nature's scrap heap.

These new poll results prove, once and for all they think, the tendency of conservative religious people to ignore reason and evidence in favor of faith and reliance on authority. This, of course, assumes that people who believe in Darwinism are all independent-minded people who have come to their views by having gone through some kind of advanced scientific reasoning process, which, of course, is nonsense.

Most people who believe in Darwinism believe in it for the same reason religious people believe in creationism: on the basis of faith and authority. Instead of placing faith in religion, their authority is Science. Creationists have the Bible; evolutionists have the "Origin of the Species." Most people who believe in evolution have no clue why they believe it, other than that's what they are told is believed by Science, that exalted body of knowledge overseen by those higher beings in white laboratory smocks. They can't tell a helium molecule from a hole in the ozone, but they do know this: Science hath spoken.

The idea that most people believe in evolution for any other reason is just wishful - and quite sloppy - thinking, which, if Darwinists didn't have their noses so high up in the air, they would realize. This increasing tendency on the part of Darwinists toward careless reasoning and self-congratulatory rhetoric is a sure sign of a species in decline.

"Pride goeth before the fall" - or, as my theory states it: "Arrogance precedes extinction." Evolutionists are losing their evolutionary edge. The dominance of Darwinism is diminishing.

When the chapter in the book of evolutionary history on the theory of evolution is finally written, there will be little doubt why they went the way of the dodo.

Martin Cothran is senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky.

Publication date: 06-18-2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Majority of Republicans Don't Believe in Evolution


By Michael van der Galien

According to a gallup poll, the majority of Republicans does not believe the theory of evolution to be true. Quite remarkable, one could say, is that "even among non-Republicans there appears to be a significant minority who doubt that evolution adequately explains where humans came from."

Funny enough, "about a quarter of Americans say they believe both in evolution's explanation that humans evolved over millions of years and in the creationist explanation that humans were created as is about 10,000 years ago."

Some results:
Now thinking about how human beings came to exist on Earth, do you, personally, believe in evolution, or not?
Yes: 49%
No: 48%

Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years
Definitely true: 39%
Probably true: 27%
Probably false: 16%
Definitely false: 15%

Furthermore, 38% said that they believed that "beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," against 43% of Americans who said to believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so]."

Furthermore, 30% of Republicans believe in evolution, against 68% who believe that God created mankind in his its present shape. Those numbers are 61% and 37% for Independents respectively; and 57% and 40% for Democrats.

I have to admit that I find the results of this poll to be utterly amazing. In Europe, especially in the Netherlands - I am quite sure - the far majority of people have accepted evolution as the explanation of how mankind came into existence. Of course, there are Christians like me who believe that God guided the process, but most Dutch Christians do - as far as I know - believe that mankind evolved.

This means, of course, that it does not hurt Republican candidates one bit when they say that they do not believe in evolution. It might hurt them with Independents, sure, but if they want to appeal to 'the base' it is probably best for them to say that they believe that God created mankind 10,000 years ago and that the theory of evolution is false.

Fascinating (and to me quite shocking).

Posted on June 11th, 2007 | Permalink

Teen using alternative methods in cancer fight


By Karen Karaszkiewicz, Times Staff Writer Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lindsey Wilson, 16, and her father Scott Wilson go over a letter they received indicating the date and time of a surgery to remove a tumor from her arm at their Woodbine home June 6.

After three months of chemotherapy, 16-year-old Lindsey Wilson still has enough strength to take a brisk half-hour walk almost every day.

The Century High School student and her parents say the $500 to $800 worth of nutritional supplements she takes every month have boosted her energy and well-being in spite of the side effects from her treatments.

In early March, Wilson was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare type of bone or soft tissue tumor that was found in her upper left arm. A CT scan showed the cancer had already spread to her lungs.

Wilson started chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins' Kimmel Cancer Center that month to begin shrinking the mass to make it operable, according to her father, Scott. She is undergoing surgery Tuesday to remove the tumor and will continue chemotherapy through October.

While the regimen has been effective — by the end of May, the tumor had shrunk to half its size and was 80 percent dead, according to her father — the first couple of weeks of treatment left her nauseated and weak.

That was when he and Lindsey's stepmother, Elizabeth, decided to take her to a naturopathic practitioner whom an acquaintance had been seeing while undergoing treatments for prostate cancer. Naturopaths are not licensed by the state.

Dori Luneski, who practices out of her home in Frederick County, has recommended a number of natural remedies ranging from homeopathic drops taken three times a day to supplements that aid digestion to keep Lindsey's immune system healthy, according to Scott Wilson.

The practitioner's recommendations also include daily exercise and a strict diet that requires the Wilsons to shop at organic markets and specialty stores. Lindsey has been told to avoid red meat, dairy products, sugar and wheat and not consume any caffeine, her father said.

Evolution education update: June 15, 2007

The latest book from "intelligent design" proponent Michael Behe is faring poorly with knowledgeable reviewers.


The new book from "intelligent design" proponent Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007), is supposed to present "astounding new findings from the genetics revolution to show that Darwinism cannot account for the sheer complexity and near-miraculous design of life as we know it," according to a press release from the publisher. There were similarly grandiose claims in Behe's previous book, Darwin's Black Box (Free Press, 1996), in which Behe contended that "intelligent design" "must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schroedinger, Pasteur, and Darwin. The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta." Such claims notwithstanding, knowledgeable reviewers were anything but impressed. In his review of Darwin's Black Box for the September-October 1997 issue of American Scientist, for example, Robert Dorit wrote, "as a practicing biologist, and a card-carrying molecular evolutionist, I cannot but find the premise of this book -- that molecular discoveries have plunged a wooden stake through the heart of Darwinian logic -- ludicrous." The Edge of Evolution is faring no better, as three recent reviews demonstrate.

First, writing in the Globe and Mail (June 2, 2007), Michael Ruse offers his assessment with his customary affability, describing Behe as "warm and friendly" and saying that Darwin's Black Box "makes the case for ["intelligent design"] in the most user-friendly manner possible." But he was disappointed by The Edge of Evolution, which in comparison to Darwin's Black Box seemed "a bit of a sad sack. Nothing very much new, old arguments repeated, opposition ignored or dismissed without argument." What seems to interest Ruse the most about The Edge of Evolution is the degree to which it embraces claims that are anathema to young-earth creationists: "What does surprise me is how emphatic Behe now is in putting a distance between himself and the older Creationists. For a start, he stresses his commitment to evolution. He thinks the world of life is as old as is claimed by any more conventional biologist. He also wants to give natural processes of change a role in life's history." But in the end, he finds it saddening: "with so many important issues waiting for attention in our society, I am just a bit depressed that anyone would think that something like ["intelligent design"] is worth pushing or that it gains so much attention others have to spend time refuting it." Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and a Supporter of NCSE.

Second, writing in Science (June 8, 2007), Sean Carroll takes a harder line, contending that in The Edge of Evolution "Behe makes a new set of explicit claims about the limits of Darwinian evolution, claims that are so poorly conceived and readily dispatched that he has unwittingly done his critics a great favor in stating them." "Behe's chief error," he says, "is minimizing the power of natural selection to act cumulatively as traits or molecules evolve stepwise from one state to another via intermediates." The error is manifest both in Behe's reasoning -- Carroll cites a number of problems, particularly a lack of quantitative thinking -- and in his neglect of relevant scientific facts, causing Carroll to wonder, "Is it possible that Behe does not know this body of data? Or does he just choose to ignore it?" He concludes: "The continuing futile attacks by evolution's opponents reminds me of another legendary confrontation, that between Arthur and the Black Knight in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Black Knight, like evolution's challengers, continues to fight even as each of his limbs is hacked off, one by one. ... The knights of ID may profess these blows are 'but a scratch' or 'just a flesh wound,' but the argument for design has no scientific leg to stand on." Carroll is a professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a Supporter of NCSE.

Third, and most thoroughly, Jerry Coyne devotes 7500 words to reviewing The Edge of Evolution in the June 18, 2007, issue of The New Republic, providing a great deal of useful background information in the process. Coyne, like Carroll, worries about the propaganda value of the book, writing, "The general reader, at whom The Edge of Evolution is aimed, is unlikely to find the scientific holes in its arguments. Behe writes clearly and engagingly, and someone lacking formal training in biochemistry and evolutionary biology may be easily snowed by his rhetoric." In fact, however, Behe's arguments betray "a profound, almost willful ignorance of the evolutionary process," and his offered alternative of "intelligent design" is "infinitely malleable in the face of counterevidence, cannot be refuted, and is therefore not science." Coyne summarizes: "Behe's new theory remains the same old mixture of dead science and thinly disguised theology. There is no evidence for his main claim of non-random mutation, and scientists have plenty of evidence against it. His arguments against the Darwinian evolution of complex organisms are flawed and misleading. And there is not a shred of evidence supporting his claim that the goal of evolution is intelligent life." Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

For Ruse's, Carroll's, and Coyne's reviews of The Edge of Evolution, visit:

For Dorit's review of Darwin's Black Box, visit:

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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Getting the Facts Straight


A Viewer's Guide to PBS's Evolution

By: Discovery Institute
Discovery Institute Press
September 1, 2001

In 2001, PBS aired a 7-part series entitled Evolution. Essentially produced and entirely funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, Evolution was produced at a cost of up to $20 million. The series was entirely pro-evolution and did not offer a single interview with a scientist who dissented from evolution. Biola Professor John Mark Reynolds commented about Evolution that "It is easy to be offensive. It is easy to be dull. This series manages the much more difficult task of being both offensive and dull." The Discovery Institute published the not-so-dull "Getting the Facts Straight: A Viewer's Guide to PBS's Evolution" to correct the misinformation in the series.

Only a full read of the Viewer's Guide can give a complete impression of the misinformation in Evolution. The first episode uplifts Darwinian biologists who are religious, but then uses the discredited argument from the backward wiring of the vertebrate eye as evidence against design. An intelligent engineer would have wired it the other way around to avoid creating a miniscule blind spot, so the argument goes. But as biologist Michael Denton and others have noted, backward wiring dramatically improves oxygen flow, a benefit crucial to creatures whose eyes are wired "backwards." The fact that the makers of Evolution were apparently oblivious of this fact suggests just how deep is the myopia among the staunchest defenders of neo-Darwinism.

The second episode purports to document the great evolutionary transitions. To its credit, it calls the Cambrian explosion something of a "mystery" but conveniently leaves out the details concerning many transitional fossils it assures us are out there, choosing instead to employ the hand-waving explanation that evolution undergoes "tinkering." Claims of human evolution are also overblown, given the paucity of fossil evidence documenting a gradual transition from apelike species to homo sapiens.

Episodes three and four obscure the lack of evidence for macroevolutionary change by pointing to extinctions and the longstanding fact of microevolutionary change, such as bacteria's capacity to develop antibiotic resistance. Episode five tackles the question of sex, delving into evolutionary psychology and alleging that human creativity and great intellect arose merely for the purposes of attracting mates. Episode six continues this trend of trying to account for everyday human behavior in purely evolutionary terms.

Episode seven is entitled "What about God?" As the Viewer's Guide notes, the episode spins evolution to look like the victim at the hand of close minded and ignorant religious fundamentalists. Nothing is said about the many teachers of recent years who have faced harsh sanctions for teaching scientific evidence which challenges evolution. Spin and rhetoric are the order of the day as the episode portrays religious individuals who are not evolutionists in a demeaning light. Those who support evolution, however, are portrayed as intellectuals. The Viewer's Guide finally summarizes the underlying message of Evolution:

"Evolution began with the Bible, and now it ends with the Creator. Despite the producers' assurance that they would avoid 'the religious realm,' Evolution has a great deal to say about it … The message is unmistakable. As far as Evolution is concerned, it's OK for people to believe in God, as long as their beliefs don't conflict with Darwinian evolution. A religion that fully accepts Darwin's theory is good. All others are bad." (pg. 109)

Getting the Facts Straight exposes the failure of Evolution to accurately and fairly present the scientific problems with the evidence for Darwinian evolution. More broadly, the viewer's guide reveals the systematic omission of disagreements among evolutionary biologists about the central claims of evolution and also neglects to report the views of any scientists who dispute Darwinism. Evolution is revealed as a biased attack upon religion, despite the fact that the series purported to focus on science. The viewer's guide concludes that this PBS series represents a misuse of taxpayer money to organize and promote a controversial political action agenda.

Getting the Facts Straight: A Viewer's Guide to PBS's Evolution

See also ReviewEvolution.com

Public Schools Still Using PBS's Evolution


Many public schools in the U.S. are still showing biology students the 2001 PBS Evolution series. This 8-hour propaganda extravaganza — like most modern biology textbooks — distorts and exaggerates the evidence to convince people that Darwinism is true. When the series was first released, Discovery Institute published a detailed 150-page Viewer's Guide exposing the distortions and exaggerations. The Guide includes extensive references to the scientific and popular literature, as well as eight activities that teachers and students will find helpful in critically analyzing this work of pro-Darwin propaganda.

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to Getting the Facts Straight: A Viewer's Guide to PBS's Evolution:

The controversy over Darwin's theory of evolution has never been more intense. The American people – and especially American schoolchildren – deserve to know what the fuss is all about. They deserve to know what the evidence shows, what scientists really think, and why – after all these years – there is still widespread opposition to Darwinian evolution.

American public television can and should be used to educate people about this important controversy. The seven-part Evolution series, produced for public television by Clear Blue Sky Productions and the WGBH/NOVA Science Unit, could have been an important contribution in this regard. But Evolution is a work of advocacy, an advertisement not just for Darwinism, but for some of its more extreme manifestations. It distorts the biological evidence, mischaracterizes historical facts, systematically ignores the views of scientists, and misrepresents Darwin's critics in order to convince the American people that evolution is absolutely true – and indispensable to our daily lives.

This Viewer's Guide has been prepared to correct this one-sided presentation. Where Evolution distorts or ignores the facts, this Guide supplies them. Where Evolution ignores or misrepresents its critics, this Guide lets them speak for themselves. Although Evolution promotes the stereotype that all opponents of Darwin's theory are biblical literalists, this Guide was not written to defend biblical literalism, but to defend honest science. It is simply based on the premise that the American people deserve to hear the truth – especially from the television network that they are supporting with their tax money.

Getting the Facts Straight is available for $7.95 (+ S&H) here.

Posted by Jonathan Wells on June 16, 2007 7:54 AM | Permalink

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Recent Comments on Flock of Dodos at Telic Thoughts


Links with more Information:

Hoax of Dodos, a response to inaccuracies in Flock of Dodos

Haeckel's Bogus Embryo Drawings (Clip on YouTube)

There is a thread at Telic Thoughts discussing the Flock of Dodos [FOD] film where I posted a comment last week. I posted the comment after a commenter named "Randy" asked a question about Discovery Institute's responses to the film. I repost the comment below because it clearly explains my position regarding the film, and also provides various useful links for interested readers to visit for more information:

An early commenter named "Randy" asked an interesting question. Having watched FOD a few times now, I understand that many people (including me) will enjoy its humor and its apparent plea for honest communication. But in the final analysis the film does not practice its own lesson: Flock of Dodos promotes a subtle but unambiguous stereotype that ID-proponents are publicity-obsessed liars.

[Note: if you don't believe me because you blissfully hoped that a light-hearted movie could never intend a malicious message, this point was not lost on Pandas Thumb, which reported that one of FOD's "important points" is that "the intelligent design movement consists of nothing but lies invented for a public relations campaign."]

To give one example directly from the film, in FOD Randy Olson says ID is "emerging from public relations firms [and] understands the need to tell simple clean stories not constrained by the truth." Although Randy Olson tries to avoid directly using the word "liar" (probably for legal reasons), he all but uses the word through the imagery (like the scene justaposing Icons of Evolution next to a tabloid), and other discussions of ID proponents.

But the above quote from the film is very representative of the film's pervasive anti-ID stereotype. FOD says ID is merely (1) "emerging from public relations firms" and (2) "understands the need to tell simple clean stories not constrained by the truth."

I like Telic Thoughts because it seems to me that facts matter to people here a lot more than the preferred stereotypes of ID-critics. Let's break Randy Olson's stereotype down:

(1) When Olson says ID is "emerging from public relations firms," this claim comes from the part in his film where he claims that Discovery Institute has a huge $5 million budget which is largely spent on public relations, but not science. This claim is false on many levels. See - here for a rebuttal to FOD's misrepresentations of Discovery Institute's budget.

(2) When Olson says ID is "not constrained by the truth" (i.e. all but saying ID proponents are liars), this comes from the part of his film where he claims Jonathan Wells falsely claimed that modern biology textbooks have used Haeckel's fraudulent embryo drawings to promote evolution. Despite the confident-sounding puffing on this issue from Olson and his friends (like P.Z. Myers), FOD's claims about Haeckel are effectively rebutted by mainstream publications by acknowledging that Haeckel's drawings are reproduced in modern textbooks, and sometimes even noting that they are in there being used to promote evolution, including:

  • Stephen Jay Gould, "Abscheulich! (Atrocious!): Haeckel's Distortions did not help Darwin," Natural History Magazine (March, 2000).
  • Michael K. Richardson et al., "There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development," Anatomy and Embryology, Vol. 196:91–106 (1997).
  • James Glanz, "Biology Text Illustrations More Fiction than Fact," New York Times (April 8, 2001).
  • (Ah for the good-old days these papers represent, when Darwinists admitted that modern textbooks have had problems with their usage of Haeckel's drawings, and they were trying to fix things and move on with dignity. Now Randy Olson and his friends have tried a different tack by denying that modern textbooks have had any problems in their usage of Haeckel and accusing ID-proponents of being "not constrained by the truth" (i.e. lying) for claiming the textbooks have had problems.)

    "Randy" asked why Discovery Institute has responded to the flim. Interestingly, I can't find any responses from Discovery posted prior to about February, 2007, and the film came out in April / May of 2006. But bear in mind that Randy Olson started this current debate by making false claims in FOD attacking Jonathan Wells and Discovery Institute. So I don't think anyone can blame Discovery Institute for defending Jonathan Wells and refuting with great detail and many examples from modern textbooks Olson's false information. Some of Discovery Institute's refutations of Olson's claims regarding Haeckel's drawings and Jonathan Wells can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I know there's a lot there, but I encourage readers who watched FOD to check out some of these rebuttals and compare them to what FOD claims.

    In the end, I think Mike Gene quite accurately captures "the core problem" faced by some Darwinists that FOD targets to encourage them to better cover-up their elitist dogmatism when opposing ID. But unfortunately I think Mike Gene misses the underlying stereotype in the film: On the surface Flock of Dodos provides an entertaining show and purports to have a good message for all. But one of its main underlying messages is essentially this:

    ID proponents are either stupid bumpkins or rich, slick liars, but if you're a Darwinist, you shouldn't say that explicitly publicly of you'll look elitist and be counterproductive by turning people off from evolution.

    Olson leads his fellow Darwinists by example by trying to portray ID-proponents exactly in that light and getting that message across without sounding elitist and dogmatic. But the anti-ID stereotype message is still there nonetheless, and that's why we should not fall for Randy Olson's false information and his stereotype of ID-proponents.

    I hope Telic Thoughts readers will examine the facts for themselves and, I hope, reject such stereotypes against ID proponents.

    Posted by Casey Luskin on June 13, 2007 6:35 AM | Permalink

    Bush Nominates Surgeon General Who Supports 'Ex-Gay' Therapy


    By Max Blumenthal, HuffingtonPost.com. Posted June 12, 2007.

    The concept of "ex-gay" therapy, repudiated by the medical world, will be thoroughly examined when Bush's new surgeon general nominee comes up for confirmation. Tools

    James Holsinger, President George W. Bush's nominee for Surgeon General, has a dark view of homosexuals. In a 1991 paper, Holsinger describes homosexual sex in sickeningly lurid language. "Fist fornication," "sphincter injuries," "lacerations," "perforations" and "deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism," are some of the terms Holsinger concocted to describe acts with which he suggests at least medical familiarity (a case of participant observation, perhaps?). At the same paper, Holsinger puzzlingly issues no warnings about the dangers of heterosexual sex in his paper. To him, only "anal eroticism" is a health peril.

    Holsinger's allies -- those who lobbied the White House for his nomination -- include James Dobson's Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation. They have predictably cast his confirmation battle as a religious test, alleging that his homophobia is a reflection of orthodox Christian views. To oppose Holsinger on the grounds of his anti-gay sentiments, the right says, is to discriminate against him simply for being a bible-believing Christian. Why should he have to check his Christianity at the church exit door? they ask. This worn-out appeal to the Christian right's victimhood complex distracts from the most salient argument against Holsinger's confirmation -- which is exactly what it is intended to do.

    For a moment let's put aside the moral case against Holsinger's confirmation, and objectively examine his qualifications for America's top doctor. Holsinger and his wife were founders of Hope Springs Community Church. This church, according to its pastor, Rev. David Calhoun, has an "ex-gay" ministry that administers "reparative therapy" to people who no longer wish to be gay. "We see that as an issue not of orientation but a lifestyle," Calhoun says. "We have people who seek to walk out of that lifestyle."

    Holsinger believes in ex-gay therapy. He therefore views homosexuality as a curable disease. Every major, reputable medical organization rejects ex-gay therapy and the notion that homosexuality constitutes a mental illness. Every single one. The most notable of these organizations is the American Psychological Association, the country's largest organization of mental health professionals. In 1974, the APA stopped listing homosexuality as a mental disorder; last year, the group issued a pointed repudiation to the ideological proponents of ex-gay therapy. (It's worth adding that conversion therapy supporters have not produced one single word of peer-reviewed work to support their theories).

    Holsinger's belief in discredited, crack-pot "conversion" therapy puts him in direct conflict with virtually the entire American medical community. Holsinger can believe in radical evangelical doctrine and he can hold bigoted views. As lamentable as these traits are, they don't necessarily disqualify him for Surgeon General -- though they certainly cast a dark shadow over his nomination. What instantly disqualifies Holsinger is his rejection of medical science. He can be politically incorrect, but he can't be medically incorrect.

    If history is any guide, conservatism and respect for science are not mutually exclusive. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the co-author of a strident anti-abortion tract with evangelical dominionist godfather Francis Schaeffer, respected science. In the face of massive resistance from right-wing activists, Koop used his prestige to advocate for sex education and condom use to stanch the rising epidemic of AIDS. For Koop's stand on medical principle, his one-time allies pressured Reagan into forcing him to resign. There is no indication Holsinger will follow Koop's principled path.

    When Holsinger goes before the Senate, ex-gay therapy goes on trial. He and his Republican supporters should be compelled to state their views on homosexuality and the crackpot practice the Christian right employs to "cure" people of it. Is homosexuality a treatable disease and how do they know it? (This question should be asked of GOP presidential contenders as well). If and when Holsinger's nomination goes down in flames, ex-gay therapy will have received its most decisive repudiation yet.

    Max Blumenthal is a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute based in Washington, DC. Read his blog at maxblumenthal.blogspot.com.

    Science Historian Sees Behe's Edge of Evolution as a Cultural Earthquake


    Will the summer of 2007 be remembered for largest Darwin-related cultural earthquake to date? Dr. Thomas Woodward, author of Darwin Strikes Back, thinks it just might.

    Beyondthenews.com today published Woodward's review of Behe's The Edge of Evolution. Woodward says the book "is shaping up as a major turning point in the growing controversy between Darwinian evolution and the movement known as Intelligent Design."

    Behe's first ID book, Darwin's Black Box, broke new ground in the debate over natural selection, and Woodward sees Edge of Evolution doing the same in regards to random mutations.

    For example, Behe asks, where can we draw the line between what random mutations can do in biology and what they cannot do? To his own surprise, new genetic data recently unearthed from the cellular hard drives of humans and microbes led him to "draw the line" much lower on the scale of complexity than where he would have just ten years ago. Random mutations just break things; they don't make things.

    Read the full review at Beyondthenews.com.

    Posted by Robert Crowther on June 15, 2007 10:51 AM | Permalink

    Creation vs evolution


    June 26, 2007 12:57 PM

    World-renowned creationist John Mackay, a research geologist, said he plans to blow the ''evolution theory'' out of the water with a presentation at Camden Civic Centre on Tuesday, June 26.

    Mr Mackay said he once believed that the earth could be billions of years old, but ''evidence'' in rocks does not support that theory. He believes it is less than 10,000 years old.

    ''Fossils support the biblical record from Genesis to Goliath as being the real history of the world,'' Mr Mackay said.

    The former science teacher is also the international director of Creation Research, a faith ministry which proclaims Jesus Christ as creator and saviour.

    His free presentation will be from 7.15pm to 9pm. Details: 4655 4611 or www.creationresearch.net

    Sal Cordova Quote Mines Nature (I'm shocked!)


    Category: Evolution Denialism

    Posted on: June 15, 2007 6:00 AM, by MarkH

    I just knew it. The second I read this abstract I just knew that the Uncommon Descent cranks would dust off their old "Junk DNA" harangue and suggest that if it wasn't for them, no one would believe that all that non-coding DNA had a purpose. Sal Cordova obliged, and it's the usual embarrassing misread of our literature.

    Heaven forbid that scientists should be so brash as to not infer purpose into everything without studying it first. I've been waiting to use "promiscuous teleology" in a post, I guess this is my chance. But that's not even necessary in this case, this is such an egregious misreading of this result by Cordova that we can nail him just on his lack of reading comprehension and knowledge of biology, let alone his historical revisionism. That is if we're not assuming he's being purposefully dishonest - given his history of quote-mining that wouldn't be stretch.

    Let's start with a timeline of non-coding DNA:

    The most important thing to remember about creationists is their complete inability to appreciate a timeline. In this case, the term "Junk" as applied to DNA originated in 1972 with Susumu Ohno. It was kind of a null hypothesis - that there was no obvious function for such huge amounts of non-coding DNA so some of it might just be filler.

    Evidence already existed in 1972 for the function of some non-coding DNA. Probably starting from the discovery by Barbara McClintock of transposons it was known that repeat elements and non-coding regions could serve a functional and/or evolutionary purpose.

    The creationists however, make it sound as though once Ohno suggested the junk hypothesis, that all biologists just sat on their hands and stopped working on non-coding DNA. However biologists were already intensely studying it - contrary to the rather idiotic assertions of the evolution denialists that ignoring junk was some great "mistake" that we're trying to recover from.

    A decade before this Jacob and Monod figured out the lac operon - and that it was controlled by a promoter or a non-coding region. The terminology of junk, while popularized widely, wasn't believed. It's not like all the molecular biologists in the world took the cue from Ohno and just dropped their pipettes and walked away. Non-coding DNA was an active field of study at the time, if anything the only false assumption was that things like promoter regions would only be immediately adjacent to genes - within 100 base-pairs - and that it was then hard to account for all that additional space between genes. That is, until around 1981 with the discovery that upstream promoter elements could be thousands of base pairs away.

    Promoter research was intense throughout the 80s, and with the advent of PCR in 1984, molecular methods became exponentially more powerful. Day by day, the function of non-coding elements of the genome was being analyzed and dissected. Promoters were being used to drive expression of transgenes in experimental animals, they were being mutated. Regulatory elements were being discovered as well as the transcription factors they bind. In other words, no one thought that non-coding DNA was really junk. After all, the best way to find the regions that were important was through conservation analysis - which requires that natural selection preserve the most important regions for gene regulation. By comparing a similar sequence across species, the areas of high conservation turn out to be the ones that are responsible for controlling genes, the intervening sequence that his highly mutable is often just spacer. But that's not the only thing discovered in non-coding DNA, even without funding from the Discovery Institute, rebel scientists studying the junk against the wishes of the Darwinian orthodoxy have discovered in humans things like micro-RNAs, non-coding RNAs that appear to be critical for gene regulation. They've discovered various RNA molecules that are critical to protein function, and some that have their own enzymatic functions. For decades following Ohno's suggestion of the null hypothesis (creationists do have a problem distinguishing between hypothesis and theory) functions of non-coding DNA were being elucidated.

    But what does the creationist mind of Sal Cordova think of this timeline? Well, apparently the study of non-coding DNA started in 1997.

    Behe 10 years ago, in Darwin's Black Box (DBB) suggested junk DNA may not be junk after all. Behe has been vindicated by the facts, Miller refuted.

    Wow. What a stunning insight from Behe! Decades after every other scientist in the world began to study and decode the function of non-coding DNA, he figured out it might be useful for something. What a genius! Give that guy a Nobel! He predicted, from the future mind you, what would happen in the past! What an accomplishment!

    Not content to just let it go at that level of idiocy, Cordova then, true to his nature, quote-mines the article:

    Finally, there is at least one other interesting fact in this article: "the ENCODE effort found about half of functional elements in the human genome do not appear to have been obviously constrained during evolution". This means these designs NOT attributable to natural selection. Features in the genome have been shown not to be likely products of "slight successive modifications". How I love science!

    At least one other? Holy crap is that an understatement. This has got to be the most important paper in transcription in years. As Razib points out in his analysis, there's enough here for 5 or 6 papers full of interesting facts. But onto his allegation that these results are a sign that, " these designs NOT attributable to natural selection". Aside from the obvious promiscuous teleology (hehe), what is Cordova's major failure in reading comprehension? Can anyone figure it out?

    Well, aside from the obvious hilarity of a creationist using the results of sequence conservation analysis across different mammals for his advantage, the answer of course is in the very next paragraph, which as a creationist quote-miner, Cordova would never bother to report. From the Science Daily article.

    According to ENCODE researchers, this lack of evolutionary constraint may indicate that many species' genomes contain a pool of functional elements, including RNA transcripts, that provide no specific benefits in terms of survival or reproduction. As this pool turns over during evolutionary time, researchers speculate it may serve as a "warehouse for natural selection" by acting as a source of functional elements unique to each species and of elements that perform the similar functions among species despite having sequences that appear dissimilar.

    It's also worth including this passage from the Nature paper.

    Surprisingly, many functional elements are seemingly unconstrained across mammalian evolution. This suggests the possibility of a large pool of neutral elements that are biochemically active but provide no specific benefit to the organism. This pool may serve as a 'warehouse' for natural selection, potentially acting as the source of lineage-specific elements and functionally conserved but non-orthologous elements between species.

    You see, these elements are "functional" in that they do something, but not necessarily to the benefit of the organism. It suggests rather than part of being an integral part of the "design" of an organism, they are merely tolerated. They aren't harmful enough to effect survivability, and not critical enough for natural selection to maintain them under constraint. They may serve a long-term advantage for natural selection - that has yet to be determined - but they certainly aren't critical for the function of the organism.

    If anything, this is the opposite of what intelligent design would predict. These sequences have a function, it's just not particularly useful for the organism.

    That's some good quote mining there Sal.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Intelligent Design and the Death of the "Junk-DNA" Neo-Darwinian Paradigm


    Two recent news articles are discussing the death of the junk-DNA icon of Neo-Darwinism. Wired Magazine has an article pejoratively titled "One Scientist's Junk Is a Creationist's Treasure" that emphasizes the positive point that intelligent design has made successful predictions on the question of "junk-DNA." The article reports:

    [A] surprising group is embracing the results: intelligent-design advocates. Since the early '70s, many scientists have believed that a large amount of many organisms' DNA is useless junk. But recently, genome researchers are finding that these "noncoding" genome regions are responsible for important biological functions.

    The Wired Magazine article then quotes Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer explaining that this is a prediction of intelligent design that was largely unexpected under neo-Darwinian thought:

    "It is a confirmation of a natural empirical prediction or expectation of the theory of intelligent design, and it disconfirms the neo-Darwinian hypothesis," said Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

    The Wired Magazine article openly and unashamedly confuses intelligent design with creationism, but it does admit that ID proponents are making positive predictions about the scientific data:

    Advocates like Meyer are increasingly latching onto scientific evidence to support the theory of intelligent design, a modern arm of creationism that claims life is not the result of natural selection but of an intelligent creator. Most scientists believe that intelligent design is not science. But Meyer says the opossum data supports intelligent design's prediction that junk DNA sequences aren't random, but important genetic material. It's an argument Meyer makes in his yet-to-be-published manuscript, The DNA Enigma.

    Another article in the Washington Post similarly discusses the death of the junk-DNA paradigm of Neo-Darwinism:

    The first concerted effort to understand all the inner workings of the DNA molecule is overturning a host of long-held assumptions about the nature of genes and their role in human health and evolution. ... The findings, from a project involving hundreds of scientists in 11 countries and detailed in 29 papers being published today, confirm growing suspicions that the stretches of "junk DNA" flanking hardworking genes are not junk at all. But the study goes further, indicating for the first time that the vast majority of the 3 billion "letters" of the human genetic code are busily toiling at an array of previously invisible tasks.

    (Rick Weiss, "Intricate Toiling Found In Nooks of DNA Once Believed to Stand Idle," Washington Post, June 14, 2007)

    The Washington Post article explains that scientists are finally "being forced to pay attention to our non-gene DNA sequences." What were the consequences of their failure to suspect function for junk-DNA? The article explains how there may be real-world medical consequences of the failure to presume function for non-coding DNA:

    But much of it seems to be playing crucial roles: regulating genes, keeping chromosomes properly packaged or helping to control the spectacularly complicated process of cell division, which is key to life and also is at the root of cancer. .... [S]everal recent studies have found that people are more likely to have Type 2 diabetes and other diseases if they have small mutations in non-gene parts of their DNA that were thought to be medically irrelevant.

    Could neo-Darwinism have stopped science from investigating the causes of these medical problems?

    Intelligent Design has Long Predicted This Day

    Proponents of intelligent design have long maintained that Neo-Darwinism's widely held assumption that our cells contain much genetic "junk" is both dangerous to the progress of science and wrong. As I explain here, design theorists recognize that "Intelligent agents typically create functional things," and thus Jonathan Wells has suggested, "From an ID perspective, however, it is extremely unlikely that an organism would expend its resources on preserving and transmitting so much 'junk'." [4] Design theorists have thus been predicting the death of the junk-DNA paradigm for many years:

    As far back as 1994, pro-ID scientist and Discovery Institute fellow Forrest Mims had warned in a letter to Science[1] against assuming that 'junk' DNA was 'useless.'" Science wouldn't print Mims' letter, but soon thereafter, in 1998, leading ID theorist William Dembski repeated this sentiment in First Things:

    [Intelligent] design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term "junk DNA." Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as "junk" merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how "non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development." Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it.

    (William Dembski, "Intelligent Science and Design," First Things, Vol. 86:21-27 (October 1998))

    In 2002, Dr. Richard Sternberg surveyed the literature and found extensive evidence for function of certain types of junk-DNA and argued that "neo-Darwinian 'narratives' have been the primary obstacle to elucidating the effects of these enigmatic components of chromosomes."[1] Sternberg concluded that "the selfish DNA narrative and allied frameworks must join the other 'icons' of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory that, despite their variance with empirical evidence, nevertheless persist in the literature."[2]

    Soon thereafter, an article in Scientific American explained that "the introns within genes and the long stretches of intergenic DNA between genes ... 'were immediately assumed to be evolutionary junk.'" John S. Mattick, director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia was then quoted saying this might have been "one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology."[3]

    The next year, in 2004, pro-ID molecular biologist Jonathan Wells argued that "The fact that 'junk DNA' is not junk has emerged not because of evolutionary theory but in spite of it. On the other hand, people asking research questions in an ID framework would presumably have been looking for the functions of non-coding regions of DNA all along, and we might now know considerably more about them."[4]

    Then in 2005, Sternberg and leading geneticist James A. Shapiro conclude that "one day, we will think of what used to be called 'junk DNA' as a critical component of truly 'expert' cellular control regimes."[5] It seems that day may have come.

    It seems beyond dispute that the Neo-Darwinian paradigm led to a false presumption that non-coding DNA lacks function, and that this presumption has resulted in real-world negative consequences for molecular biology and even for medicine. Moreover, it can no longer seriously be maintained that intelligent design is a science stopper: under an intelligent design approach to investigating non-coding DNA, the false presumptions of Neo-Darwinism might have been avoided.


    [1] Forrest Mims, Rejected Letter to the Editor to Science, December 1, 1994.

    [2] Richard v. Sternberg, "On the Roles of Repetitive DNA Elements in the Context of a Unified Genomic– Epigenetic System," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 981: 154–188 (2002).

    [3] Wayt T. Gibbs, "The Unseen Genome: Gems Among the Junk," Scientific American (Nov. 2003).

    [4] Jonathan Wells, "Using Intelligent Design Theory to Guide Scientific Research," Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, 3.1.2 (Nov. 2004).

    [5] Richard v. Sternberg and James A. Shapiro, "How Repeated Retroelements format genome function," Cytogenetic and Genome Research, Vol. 110: 108–116 (2005).

    Posted by Casey Luskin on June 15, 2007 3:03 PM | Permalink

    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Cover Story: Fantastic World


    Creation Museum tells a whopper of a tale, with a literal interpretation of Genesis only the beginning

    BY Lew Moores | Posted 06/13/2007

    Gene Kritsky, evolutionary biologist, walked through the museum. With a camera strap around his neck, he listened to the sound of falling water and walked past a model of a child offering a carrot to a squirrel as two model juvenile dinosaurs played just feet away, past a glass display of live finches, past a dinosaur model perched on a ledge, looked down at another display and learned that poison dart frogs were once benign creatures, "very good," just like every living creature until Adam went and sinned.

    Kritsky raised his camera to his eye and captured the images, this record of life explained through another lens called the Book of Genesis. A film crew from the BBC approached, lifted camera to shoulder and asked Kritsky for an explanation: What is the Creation Museum all about?

    "It's bait-and-switch," Kritsky would explain moments later, BBC interview concluded. Get them in with dinosaurs, then let the message morph. Adam sins, Noah's ark arrives.

    Then it's on to more biblical history and on to a subterranean world that is wrought by sin and animated with a basement of lurid graffiti garishly lit that exposes and excoriates abortion, homosexuality, pornography.

    Evolution and the culture wars. In this dank, subway-like atmosphere of headlines that scream of teen pregnancies and drugs among those other vices, AiG and the museum tries to connect the dots.

    Evolution: hacking back the tree of life


    13 June 2007

    Laura Spinney Magazine issue 2608

    IF YOU want to know how all living things are related, don't bother looking in any textbook that's more than a few years old. Chances are that the tree of life you find there will be wrong. Since they began delving into DNA, biologists have been finding that organisms with features that look alike are often not as closely related as they had thought. These are turbulent times in the world of phylogeny, yet there has been one rule that evolutionary biologists felt they could cling to: the amount of complexity in the living world has always been on the increase. Now even that is in doubt.

    While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity - humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas - recent findings suggest that some of our very early ancestors were far more sophisticated than we have given them credit for. If so, then much of that precocious complexity has been lost by subsequent generations as they evolved into new species. "The whole concept of a gradualist tree, with one thing branching off after another and the last to branch off, the vertebrates, being the most complex, is wrong," says Detlev Arendt, an evolutionary and developmental biologist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

    The idea of loss in evolution is not new. We know that snakes lost their legs, as did whales, and that our own ancestors lost body hair. However, the latest evidence suggests that the extent of loss might have been seriously underestimated. Some evolutionary biologists now suggest that loss - at every level, from genes and types of cells to whole anatomical features and life stages - is the key to understanding evolution and the relatedness of living things. Proponents of this idea argue that classical phylogeny has been built on rotten foundations, and tinkering with it will not put it right. Instead, they say, we need to rethink the process of evolution itself.

    It is not hard to see how the mistake might have happened. In the past, the tree of life was constructed on ...

    The complete article is 2603 words long.

    VA giving alternative medicine more credence


    By Carol Ann Alaimo - The Associated Press

    Posted : Thursday Jun 14, 2007 9:01:06 EDT

    TUCSON, Ariz. — The Iraq veteran in George Gafner's Tucson office had a problem that confounded his doctors and his wife: Since returning from the war, he was impotent, for no reason that medical science could detect.

    Gafner, a therapist at the city's veterans hospital, suggested hypnosis to see if the soldier's unconscious mind might yield a clue.

    In a dimly lighted room, with flute music playing in the background, the young man leaned back in a recliner, closed his eyes and counted backward, drifting into a dreamlike state.

    The Tucson VA Medical Center is one of many U.S. veterans hospitals tapping the mind-body connection to treat chronic pain, insomnia, combat-related stress and other disorders.

    Nontraditional practices such as hypnosis, acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback and native healing ceremonies have become so common that the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities are now paying closer attention to the trend.

    Alternative medicine "is an area of intense interest among the general population, and veterans are no exception," said Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, head of the VA Field Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, set up last year to look at the effectiveness of such practices.

    In a 2002 survey of veterans hospitals nationwide, Ezeji-Okoye said, about 84 percent of respondents said they offered one or more nontraditional therapies. The Tucson hospital offers three: hypnosis, biofeedback and the services of an American Indian healer.

    The proliferation of such practices is not without concern, Ezeji-Okoye said. Many have little scientific proof of effectiveness and some aren't regulated by licensing authorities, he said.

    Still, committee members are "keeping an open mind," said Ezeji-Okoye, who spent a month in China as a medical student observing Eastern practices such as acupuncture.

    The advisory group will make recommendations to the VA on which practices are working and what kind of staff training is needed to protect patients.

    Among Tucson veterans, there's no shortage of believers.

    Former soldier Donald Rayos was one of first on the scene of a widely publicized air tragedy in 1982, when an Air Florida jet crashed into a bridge near the Pentagon and plunged into the Potomac River. Memories of the carnage helped fuel a long battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Rayos, 50, said hypnotherapy has helped him cope with his raw nerves, raging outbursts and tendency to avoid others.

    "It takes the edge off," he said. "It helps me soften my memories and set them aside, even though you never forget."

    Gafner, a licensed clinical social worker and director of family therapy training at the Tucson VA, is a believer, too. He has been practicing hypnotherapy there for more than a decade.

    He agrees there isn't much hard proof of its effectiveness. Little research exists, he said, because results are hard to measure when conditions vary so much among patients.

    Of the 200 to 300 patients he hypnotizes each year, more than half say it helped them to some degree, Gafner said.

    Army veteran Lance Dickinson, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, said hypnosis helped alleviate decades of suffering from rage, alienation and "terrible, screaming nightmares" linked to his wartime service.

    Dickinson, 61, also takes part in American Indian ceremonies at Tucson's VA.

    The hospital has a contract with a traditional Native American counselor, sometimes referred to as a medicine man, who stresses Native American beliefs about the links between mind, body and spirit, registered nurse Yvonne Garcia said. She is the hospital's advocate and case manager for American Indian veterans.

    Sometimes the healer lays his hands on patients. Or he may burn sage, tobacco or sweet grass. Such activities are done in addition to modern medical treatments, Garcia said.

    The Tucson hospital also holds Indian "talking circles," in which a stone or feather is passed clockwise around a group as members speak one by one. Dickinson said taking part in those sessions has taught him compassion for others and for himself.

    "The native people are very accepting and forgiving," he said. "And that has helped me to accept and forgive myself."

    Plain Talk About Mike Behe's New Book, The Edge of Evolution


    The folllowing is from a sympathetic academic observer:

    Having watched the spectacle of the Panda's Thumb feeding frenzy, not to mention the Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne reviews (and more are coming), I wanted to pass on a bit of plain talk about Mike Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution (EE). 1. Don't expect the sort of reviews that met Darwin's Black Box (DBB) — but not because EE is inferior to DBB. Far from it.

    In 1996, when DBB appeared, Mike was a largely unknown biochemistry professor. Now the name "Michael Behe" is known worldwide, by millions, who either love and admire Mike, or wish he were dead. EE will face a MUCH tougher reception than DBB, simply from the intervening 11 years of controversy. Reviewers will be openly gunning for Mike, mainly because of what they perceive him to represent. A writer like Mike, who challenges received scientific opinion, gets one chance to meet his readership without prejudice. Mike got that chance with DBB. In June 2007, by contrast, it's open season on a famous dissenter.

    2. But Mike will come out of the hail of bullets in good shape. Here's why.

    The experimental (observational) evidence strongly supporting Mike's arguments in EE is far more extensive than most of his readers, including many professional biologists, will know. Mike could include only a small portion of that evidence in his new book. Moreoever -- and this is the great beauty of EE -- Mike's arguments are rich with testable implications, in terms of current model systems and data from populations genetics, etc. Thus, unlike the "Well, you say Darwinism can't, but I say it can" character of much of the debate surrounding DBB (he said, she said, who knows?), EE focuses the biological community's attention on what can actually be known about the limits of Darwinian processes, with Mike arguing that we can know and detect those limits. The main point is this: If Mike is right that we can know, or locate, the edge of Darwinian processes, the question can be settled with evidence. In other words, the debate in months to come won't be "Who knows what evolution might have done in the deep mists of time?"

    Rather, Mike can say, hey -- let's go to the evidence. The coming debate around EE thus promises to be very fruitful for ID, and for getting the biological (and larger) community to think about what evolutionary theory has actually demonstrated, versus what it has assumed.

    3. READ THE BOOK before you take seriously wild-eyed, ill-informed criticisms of it. And when you do read reviews, factor in point (1), above. Let's not be naïve and think Mike is drawing dispassionate, open-minded reviewers. There will be a great deal of rhetorical mud and misdirection to wash off, in the months to come, before the genuine biological issues can be properly addressed.

    EE opens up a wide range of important questions for biology. Once the mud is washed off, and the evidence engaged, we'll find the center of this debate will have moved again, as it did with DBB.

    Posted by Robert Crowther on June 14, 2007 8:09 AM | Permalink

    Fine print of DNA map may rewrite evolution


    Mark Henderson, London June 15, 2007

    AN in-depth examination of the human DNA map has turned basic biology concepts upside-down and may even rewrite the book on evolution and some causes of disease, researchers said yesterday.

    The first "parts list" of genetic elements that are biologically active in the body has revealed that DNA functions in a much more complex fashion than once assumed, offering insights into the inherited roots of diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

    The work of the Encode Consortium - the acronym stands for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements - also sheds important light on the genetic differences that separate humans from chimpanzees and other species.

    While the human genome is made up of about three billion DNA "letters", only about 3 per cent of these are known to contribute to 22,000 or so genes - DNA "sentences" containing instructions for making proteins that control the body's chemical reactions. Most of the remaining 97 per cent has traditionally been thought of as "junk DNA", which appeared to be an evolutionary relic that performed no tasks of significance.

    The new research shows that much of this junk DNA is chemically active in ways that influence how genes are switched on and off. Mutations in these regulatory genetic regions are thus likely to explain some of our varying susceptibility to disease - some have already been linked to Type 2 diabetes and prostate tumours.

    While most of our genes are shared with other organisms, much more of our junk DNA is peculiar to our species: 99 per cent of human and chimpanzee genes are identical.

    As there is more variation in the junk, this could influence traits such as intelligence and language.

    Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute, near Cambridge, led the analysis. The consortium, which published its results yesterday in Nature and Genome Research, set out to examine what every bit of DNA does by looking in detail at 30million letters or base pairs - 1 per cent of the genome.

    About 3 per cent of the DNA - the genes - was found to be transcribed into the signalling molecule RNA and then to make proteins. Another 6 per cent previously regarded as junk, however, was unexpectedly found to be written into RNA without producing proteins. It is this part of the genome that appears to play a critical regulatory role, controlling when genes are active or silent.

    Some of this active DNA outside genes, however, appears to make RNA without affecting the functions of cells - it is chemically alive but neutral.

    While scientists do not yet know what proportion is neutral, or why, one theory is that it provides a stock of genetic material from which potentially useful mutations can arise to drive evolution. "It may be a kind of warehouse for natural selection," Dr Birney said.

    "Evolution seems to have kept this around for a reason, to somehow set itself up for the future. It is a bit like Pop Idol - if you throw the net widely, you can pick up talent."

    The Times

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Don't Know Much Biology


    by Jerry Coyne • Posted June 11, 2007 02:34 PM

    In an essay commissioned by Edge, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne writes about creationist presidential candidates, the fallacies they promote, and public servants' responsibility to be scientifically literate.

    Suppose we asked a group of Presidential candidates if they believed in the existence of atoms, and a third of them said "no"? That would be a truly appalling show of scientific illiteracy, would it not? And all the more shocking coming from those who aspire to run a technologically sophisticated nation.

    Yet something like this happened a week ago during the Republican presidential debate. When the moderator asked nine candidates to raise their hands if they "didn't believe in evolution," three hands went into the air—those of Senator Sam Brownback, Governor Mike Huckabee, and Representative Tom Tancredo. Although I am a biologist who has found himself battling creationism frequently throughout his professional life, I was still mortified. Because there is just as much evidence for the fact of evolution as there is for the existence of atoms, anyone raising his hand must have been grossly misinformed.

    I don't know whether to attribute the show of hands to the candidates' ignorance of the mountain of evidence for evolution, or to a cynical desire to pander to a public that largely rejects evolution (more than half of Americans do). But I do know that it means that our country is in trouble. As science becomes more and more important in dealing with the world's problems, Americans are falling farther and farther behind in scientific literacy. Among citizens of industrialized nations, Americans rank near the bottom in their understanding of math and science. Over half of all Americans don't know that the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, and nearly half think that humans once lived, Flintstone-like, alongside dinosaurs.

    Now maybe evolutionary biology isn't going to propel America into the forefront of world science, but creationism (and its gussied-up descendant "Intelligent Design") is not just a campaign against evolution--it's a campaign against science itself and the scientific method. By pretending that evolution is on shaky ground, and asserting that religion can contribute to our understanding of nature, creationists confuse people about the very form and character of scientific evidence. This confusion can only hurt our ability to make rational judgments about important social issues, like global warming, that involve science.

    Senator Brownback showed this poisonous mixture of scientific ignorance and religious dogmatism in a May 31 op-ed piece in The New York Times ("What I Think About Evolution"), written to clarify why he raised his hand to dissent from Darwinism. The first thing that's clear is that Brownback displays a fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary biology. He claims that there is "no one single theory of evolution," citing punctuated equilibrium as an alternative to Darwinism. (He's apparently implying that there might be something dubious about evolution because there's a multiplicity of theories).

    Well, he is wrong here for two reasons. First, the hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium is no longer widely accepted, and second (as its proponent Stephen Jay Gould repeatedly averred), it was conceived as an expansion of Darwinism, not an alternative to it. There is only one going theory of evolution, and it is this: organisms evolved gradually over time and split into different species, and the main engine of evolutionary change was natural selection. Sure, some details of these processes are unsettled, but there is no argument among biologists about the main claims.

    Brownback also presents the familiar creationist misrepresentation of evolution as a chance process, claiming that "man . . . is merely the chance product of random mutations." He doesn't seem to know that while mutations occur by chance, natural selection, which builds complex bodies by saving the most adaptive mutations, emphatically does not. Like all species, man is a product of both chance and lawfulness.

    Lifting another claim from the creationist handbook, Brownback limits the ability of evolution to making only "the small changes that take place within a species." That's just false. Yes, evolution makes small changes, but over time they add up to big ones. As the old proverb goes, take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. The evolution of amphibians from fish, reptiles from amphibians, birds from reptiles, and humans from apelike ancestors—all of these are amply documented in the fossil record. For decades, creationists have lovingly perpetuated this myth, that evolution can make small changes but not big ones, oblivious to the mounting evidence, not just from the fossil record, but from genetics, biogeography, embryology, and geology.

    What is this evidence? First, there are the evolutionary changes, big and small, that we see occurring over eons as we dig fossils out of deeper and deeper layers of rock. There is also the discovery of fossil "missing links" that demonstrate the common ancestry of diverse groups (for example, between reptiles and mammals). Organisms also show developmental features that can be understood only by assuming they evolved from ancestors that were quite different. (Human embryos, for example, develop a coat of hair in their seventh month in utero, which is then shed before birth. It makes no sense except as a remnant of a permanent coat of hair that developed in embryos of our primate ancestors).

    Evolution is also shown by the presence of vestigial organs, like the nonfunctional pelvis of whales and the tiny, useless wings of the flightless kiwi bird, that attest to the descent of species from others in which those organs were functional. And there is the distribution of organisms on the Earth, such as the absence of indigenous mammals and amphibians on oceanic islands that nevertheless harbor a plethora of birds and insects—a pattern that can be understood only as a result of dispersal and evolution. Finally, there is ample evidence for natural selection producing evolutionary adaptations, ranging from antibiotic resistance in bacteria to the evolution of stouter beaks in birds that eat hard seeds.

    Senator Brownback, along with his two dissenting colleagues, really should be forced to answer a rather more embarrassing question: who is responsible for their being so misinformed? Where did they learn the so-called "problems" with evolution: at their mothers' knees, or in Sunday school? Or perhaps from reading books; and, if so, what books, and who recommended them? Doesn't a public servant have a responsibility to stay informed across a wide spectrum of topics and issues?

    Given how Brownback plays fast and loose with the facts, or ignores them altogether, it's fair to ask why the New York Times went along with publishing misleading statements about evolution. Doesn't somebody at the Times keep an eye out for gross errors of fact on the editorial pages? Brownback is surely entitled to say that science can't tell us how we should behave, but is he also entitled to misrepresent the central principle of biology? An opinion is an opinion, but it's not a very good one when based on "facts" that just aren't so.

    Brownback's misunderstanding of science is more dangerous than his ignorance of evolution, and should be disconcerting to educators and parents hoping to see their children educated properly. He rejects evolution if "it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence." Using that criterion he'd have to reject all of science, including physics and chemistry!

    Science simply doesn't deal with hypotheses about a guiding intelligence, or supernatural phenomena like miracles, because science is the search for rational explanations of natural phenomena. We don't reject the supernatural merely because we have an overweening philosophical commitment to materialism; we reject it because entertaining the supernatural has never helped us understand the natural world. Alchemy, faith healing, astrology, creationism—none of these perspectives has advanced our understanding of nature by one iota. So Brownback's proposal to bring faith to the table of science is misguided: "As science continues to explore the details of man's origin, faith can do its part as well." What part? Where are faith's testable predictions or falsifiable hypotheses about human origins?

    Brownback's ill-conceived accommodationism between science and faith extends to the notion of truth itself. He accepts the common view that "science seeks to discover the truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths." Nearly all scientists would object to the word "created" in this sentence, but in any case it's doubtful whether any "truth" (in the sense of something that conforms to fact) can be gained through spirituality alone.

    Scientific truths are facts agreed on by all observers using scientific methods. The formula for water is H2O, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, and the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. These are matters that can be verified empirically by any scientist, be she Muslim, Catholic, or Hindu.

    But what is "spiritual truth"? It is simply what someone believes to be true, without any need for evidence. One man's spiritual truth is another man's spiritual lie. Jesus may be the son of God to Christians, but not to Muslims. The Inuit creation story begins with a pair of giants who chopped off their daughter's fingers, which became seals, whales, walrus, and salmon. There have been thousands of religions, and thousands of religious "spiritual truths," but many of them conflict with each other, and some of them conflict with science.

    Many Americans, for example, have been taught by their religion to believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. The Inuits are wrong too: whales didn't come from detached digits but from land mammals. And those "spiritual truths" that aren't palpably false are systematically immune to challenge or rational investigation. There is simply no way to find out of them is really "true", just as we can't know which religion, if any, is "true." Is there any need, then, to speak of spiritual truths? Shouldn't we just call them "beliefs based on faith alone?" When "faith does its part," then, what does it contribute to our understanding of the way things are?

    Most ominous is Brownback's absolute, dead certainty about the nature of the world and the reason why we're here. (He gets it all from the Bible, of course).

    "The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded."

    "I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose."

    ". . the process of creation—and indeed life today—is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him."

    And this:

    "While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man's origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science."

    Whether he knows it or not, Brownback's forthright declarations, denying any possibility that empirical matters of fact might differ from those assumed by his creed, amount to nothing less than a rejection of the whole institution of science. Who is "we", and where did "our" conviction and certainty come from? Would Brownback believe these "spiritual truths" if he hadn't been taught them as a child, or brought up in the United States instead of China?

    According to Brownback, we should reject scientific findings if they conflict with our faith, but accept them if they're compatible. But the scientific evidence says that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago. Are we supposed to reject this as "atheistic theology" (an oxymoron if there ever was one)? The religious conviction that "man" is unique in ways that really matter is compelling in many ways—surely our language, art, music, and science itself are unique products of life on this planet—but holding our uniqueness to be a dogma immune to scientific analysis is an arrogant, and ultimately foolhardy, declaration of authority.

    This attitude has enormous political—and educational—implications. What happens if scientific truth conflicts with a politician's "spiritual truth"? This is not a theoretical problem, but a real one, as we see in debates about stem-cell research, abortion, genetic engineering, and global warming. Ignorance about evolution may be widespread, but it's not nearly as dangerous as dogmatic certainty about the real world based on faith alone.

    Don't Know Much Biology, written by Jerry Coyne, posted on June 11, 2007 02:34 PM

    Ancient healing method: REFLEXOLOGY



    Published June 12, 2007

    Charmaine Power doesn't take as many drugs since she started going for regular reflexology treatments. The La Plata, Md., resident has had restless leg syndrome and kidney, colon and thyroid trouble.

    After doing reflexology, her doctors have taken her off three prescription medications, she says. She still takes thyroid medication.

    "The doctors are absolutely utterly amazed," Ms. Power says. "In some people certain things work, so don't knock it until you try it."

    Reflexology is an ancient pressure-point technique used to help the body heal itself. The treatment is practiced by many alternative medicine doctors.

    "Overall, I feel much better after a visit," Ms. Power says. "It's great you can do something like that and not have to take a drug for it."

    Right now, the Chicago-based American Medical Association does not have policy specific to reflexology, says Dr. Ronald M. Davis, AMA president-elect.

    The AMA supports evidence-based, scientifically proven medicine, and well-designed, stringently controlled research should be done to evaluate alternative therapies, Dr. Davis says. Given the growing public interest in alternative therapies, accurate, balanced education and communication about alternative therapies are vital for both patients and physicians, he says.

    Patients should talk to their doctor about the potential harm that might result from choosing alternative therapies, Dr. Davis says.

    The first documented case of reflexology was in Egypt in 2330 B.C., says Catherine Vestraci, a reflexologist at Southern Maryland Alternative Healing in Lusby, Md. She is a nationally certified reflexologist through the American Reflexology Certification Board in Gulfport, Fla. Ms. Power has been Ms. Vestraci's client for five years.

    "Nothing lasts through all the cultures of the world for that long unless it works," Ms. Vestraci says.

    Usually the feet, and sometimes the hands and ears, are worked during a reflexology session, she says. She works acupressure points with thumb-walking and finger-walking techniques.

    "It's not like a foot rub, which would be a massage," Ms. Vestraci says. "The strokes that I use are deep and focused and specific."

    There are more than 7,200 nerve endings on each foot, she says, making each foot a microcosm of that side of the body. Applying acupressure breaks up congestion, increases circulation and helps to facilitate the body's ability to heal itself, she says.

    Congestion is the term used by reflexologists to describe when a noted abnormality occurs in the body. It can be determined by feeling crystal-like pebbles on the bottom of the foot, skin changes in the foot and structural abnormalities or tenderness in the foot.

    "It is amazingly relaxing and de-stressing," Ms. Vestraci says about reflexology. "People find that they are recharged with energy."

    Reflexology is famous for being colon cleansing, she says. It also especially helps women in the last trimester of their pregnancies who are having problems with sleeplessness and constipation.

    Bree Whitlock, 26, of Mechanicsville, Md., used reflexology while she was pregnant. After starting her second trimester, she became convinced of the benefits it provided.

    During her last trimester, she went for one session a week. Because Mrs. Whitlock had gained 30 pounds over the course of her pregnancy, people thought she would be miserable. Even though she has delivered the baby, she is planning to continue the treatments for relaxation.

    "Reflexology gave me more energy," Mrs. Whitlock says. "I just felt good in the last trimester."

    One session usually lasts between 45 minutes and one hour, says Mayuri Sobti, a reflexologist and naturopathic doctor at Tulsi Holistic Living in Northwest. She is a nationally certified reflexologist through the American Reflexology Certification Board. She charges $80 for a one-hour visit.

    Reflexology works on the underlying causes of health imbalances, rather than symptoms, she says. It is based on the theory of energy zones in the body. The feet are divided into four lateral zones and five vertical zones. The toes relate to the head, the ball of the foot corresponds with the chest, and the arch of the foot to the abdomen. The heel relates to the pelvic and hip area.

    If a zone in the foot is stimulated, it should have positive health effects on the organs, glands, circulatory system and nervous system that lie within that zone, she says.

    The primary benefit of reflexology is that it promotes circulation to every cell in the body. Another benefit is relieving stress, she says.

    "When you improve circulation, you bring in more oxygen and nutrients and you remove waste from that part of the body," Ms. Sobti says. "When we improve circulation, you allow the organ to heal itself."

    Whatever a person's condition, reflexology is a safe, noninvasive treatment, says Chari Moye, founder and director of the Baltimore School of Reflexology. She is a nationally certified reflexologist through the American Reflexology Certification Board.

    Everybody has some health problems, she says. No matter what the issue, reflexology can bring some relief. Of all her clients, Mrs. Moye is most pleased at the positive results with her son, who is now 23. When he was 14, he had a macular hole in his retina. Within four to six months of receiving reflexology treatments, his sight improved from 20/200 to 20/40. She also used reflexology to help her husband recover from shock after a car accident.

    "A lot of times, people fall asleep by the second foot," Mrs. Moye says. "I think that's a good thing. I feel so lucky to do this. You get to make people feel good."

    After undergoing a few sessions, people can try to work on their own feet at home, she says.

    "You can always press harder than someone else," Mrs. Moye says. "From a teaching perspective, if you did it professionally or not, it would be a good thing to know to help your family and friends. It's a fabulous tool to have."

    Copyright © 2007 News World Communications, Inc.

    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    "Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement"


    The Center for Inquiry released a new position paper, "Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement: Its true nature and goals," on May 29, 2007. Written by Barbara Forrest, the paper (PDF) examines "the ID movement's organization, its historical and legal background, its strategy and aims, and its public policy implications," arguing that, "In promoting 'intelligent design theory' -- a term that is essentially code for the religious belief in a supernatural creator -- as a purported scientific alternative to evolutionary theory, the ID movement continues the decades-long attempt by creationists either to minimize the teaching of evolution or to gain equal time for yet another form of creationism in American public schools. Accordingly, the ID creationist movement threatens both the education of the nation's children and the constitutional separation of church and state, which protects the religious freedom of every American."

    Barbara Forrest is a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of NCSE's board of directors; with Paul R. Gross she wrote Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004), the definitive exposé of the "intelligent design" movement's so-called Wedge strategy, recently published in paperback with a new chapter about Kitzmiller v. Dover. Forrest testified for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller trial, and Judge Jones wrote in his ruling, "Dr. Barbara Forrest ... has thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled the history of ID in her book and other writings for her testimony in this case. Her testimony, and the exhibits ... admitted with it, provide a wealth of statements by ID leaders that reveal ID's religious, philosophical, and cultural content." The Center for Inquiry seeks "to promote and defend reason, science, and freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor."

    June 7, 2007

    Poll shows Americans believe in both evolution, creationism


    USA Today Jun. 7, 2007 05:12 PM

    WASHINGTON - Majorities of Americans in a new USA Today/Gallup Poll say evolution and creationism are both likely explanations for life on Earth - underscoring the complexities of an issue that has put Republican presidential candidates on the spot in recent weeks.

    Two-thirds in the poll said creationism, the idea that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years, is definitely or probably true. More than half, 52 percent, said evolution, the idea that humans evolved from less advanced life-forms over millions of years, is definitely or probably true. All told, 25 percent say both creationism and evolution are definitely or probably true.

    Geoffrey Layman, a politics and religion expert at the University of Maryland, says people are trying to reconcile science and religion. "They might believe the science, or they might see the science as hard to dismiss, and they don't necessarily take Genesis to be literal," he says. "But they do think that God played some role in directing this evolutionary process."

    At a debate of 10 Republican candidates May 3, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee raised their hands when asked who did not believe in evolution.

    "For me it's as simple as In the beginning, God created heaven and earth,' " Huckabee told reporters Wednesday. Does he believe humans descended from primates? "No, I don't."

    Huckabee says the issue doesn't belong in a presidential race. Seven in 10 in the poll agreed it is "not really relevant."

    Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and astronomer at Case Western Reserve University said the candidates' stance was a danger sign. "Evolution happened whether or not a candidate believes in it," he said, adding presidents should not let "religious or ideological beliefs trump reality."

    Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said the three make the GOP "look like it's a front for the Flat Earth Society" and that could turn off independents.

    In the poll, 53 percent said it would make no difference to them if a candidate rejected evolution; 29 percent said they'd be less likely to vote for such a candidate and 15 percent said they'd be more likely.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007



    JUNE 6, 2007
    Let 'em talk ... doesn't mean we have to listen


    About that new museum in Kentucky? The one that gives the creationist take on natural history? It was inevitable, you know. Pollsters have found that nearly 50 percent of Americans believe in the Biblical creation story. Remember ... how Earth and the accompanying universe were cooked up by God about 6,000 years back, how dinosaurs coexisted with Adam and Eve, and how the Grand Canyon was carved out by the Great Flood instead of taking millions of years to form?

    Not coincidentally, exactly 50 percent of all Americans are below average in intelligence. I don't have to prove that. It should be self-evident, as how there would be no such thing as an "average" at all if half the people weren't above it, and half below. Some of you may be thinking it's not so simple ... that it's one of those Bell curve configurations where most of us are essentially the same—the same being average—and the farther we get from the big hump in the middle, the fewer there are with either remarkable intelligence, or a remarkable lack of intelligence. To those people, I say stop kidding yourselves. Just because we don't have intelligence gauges that can measure precisely the infinitesimal gradations in brainpower that distinguish us from one another doesn't mean they don't exist. And somewhere in the world, there is one and only one man or woman who is exactly in the middle, intelligence-wise. Everyone else is either smarter than him (her), or dumber.

    So then, what more do we need to explain why half of all Americans believe in the Biblical creation story?

    "Yoo-hoo, Bill!" you scold. "Aren't you forgetting that some proponents of creationism have Ph.D.s and teach in prestigious universities? Surely, youcan't be saying that every last creationist is on the stupid downslope of the intelligence hump?"

    I answer: I acknowledge there are a handful of well-educated and clever people who have come up with thin shreds of what seem like evidence that God created everything just like it says in Genesis ... all of which goes to enhance the theory that evolution is the operating principle not only in the biological realm, but the behavioral one, too. Biologically, Nature throws just about everything at the wall at least once to see what sticks: elephants with long hair, mammals that fly, birds that don't, orchids that grow in Scotland and Tasmanian rodents that lay eggs. Behaviorally, Nature is just as capricious and experimental: Nazi Jews, born-again gays, conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. So there is nothing unusual about a few intelligent and well-educated creationists, other than their rarity.

    But I come today not to argue the relative merits of creationism and evolution, or to try to convince any of those foggy 50-percenters away from their particular brand of wishful thinking. The reverse, in fact, is what I propose. After hearing of this silly museum in Kentucky, I have come to the conclusion it's time to stop trying to argue with these people or convince them of anything. We've wasted enough time in offering them an operational understanding of the world around them. Repeatedly and vociferously, they have refused to be influenced by the evidence and, indeed, have gone to absurd lengths to interpret that evidence more to their liking. (For instance, a creationist explanation as to why dinosaurs didn't make short work of Adam and his family was that all dinosaurs must have been plant-eaters. You see? If the facts don't fit ... just make up some new facts.)

    So as far as I'm concerned, we have to move on. Look, we aren't letting the Amish or Rastafarians or Jehovah'sWitnesses stand in our way to a more erudite society, are we? So why should we allow creationists to continue to gum up the works?

    "Yoo-hoo, Bill!" you cry. "What about their children? Is it not incumbent upon us to educate the innocent babes of the self-deluded so that they might one day rise above the squalor of superstition and ignorance?"

    I answer: It is precisely for their children that I propose this. I mean, every time we hear they've done something more to get attention—the Kentucky museum, for example, or the legal bombs they keep throwing at school districts, or trying to repackage the old creation myth in a new "Intelligent Design" wrapper, or all their other attempts to elevate creationism to the level of real science and devalue real science to the level of creationism—it is their children who pay the dearest price. It is their children who must be thinking, "Well golly, if this particular fairy tale gets so much publicity over all the other fairy tales, there must be something to the fairy tale." It is their children, not mine, who must continue to struggle in the muck and mud of pre-Darwin consciousness, simply because we have allowed these primitives and their hayseed voodoo so much of our scrutiny. And hopefully, it is their children who, one day, may decide they've had their fill of being regarded as a curious cultural aberration on the path to the future and will come respectfully to their biology teachers, hands out and minds open: "Mr. So-'n'-So, could you explain to me what all this 'evolution' stuff is about? I really wanna understand."

    It's not like I'm suggesting we put creationists on reservations or anything like that. All I'm proposing is that we ignore them. Pass on by. Walk around them without making eye contact and keep going without looking back. If they want to remain the intellectually bereft bums clogging the sidewalks of modern thought, that's their choice, but it's high time we evolved beyond having to worry about how we might accommodate them. Instead, let them worry about why they are being left out. Let them feel like they could stand a little educational up-grading, instead of them making us feel like we have to lower the standards just to include them. I mean, what's the point of having above-average intelligence around if all it does is perpetually compromise with the "below" crowd?

    And listen, if this works on the creationists, what's to say we couldn't use the same technique on a few other groups that get way more than the attention they deserve? Take those idiots who still insist there's no such thing as global warming. At least the creationists are relatively harmless, but anyone who's still spouting the "no sound science" line could prove dangerous. Let's all pretend we don't even hear them anymore, and see if they don't just fade away.