Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Press Release 07-102
Study improves our understanding of evolution by identifying steps in the evolution of a protein over the last 450 million years.
August 16, 2007
Scientists have, for the first time, identified the atomic structure of an ancient protein and revealed in unprecedented detail how it evolved into an important protein in humans and other vertebrates. In doing so, the scientists also addressed some long-standing controversies in evolutionary genetics.
"Never before have we seen so clearly, so far back in time," said Joe Thornton of the University of Oregon. "We were able to see the precise mechanisms by which evolution molded a tiny molecular machine at the atomic level, and to reconstruct the order of events by which history unfolded."
A paper describing the protein's evolution appears August 16 in Science Express, an online publication where the journal Science promotes selected research before regular publication.
A detailed understanding of the evolution of proteins--the workhorses of every cell--has long eluded evolutionary biologists, largely because ancient proteins have not been available for direct study. But in a study that was partially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Thornton and Jamie Bridgham, a postdoctoral scientist, used state-of-the-art computational and molecular techniques to recreate the progenitors of an important protein known as the glucocorticoid receptor (GR).
Next, Thornton collaborated with University of North Carolina biochemists Eric Ortlund and Matthew Redinbo, who used ultra-high energy X-rays from a stadium-sized Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to chart the precise position of each of the 2,000 atoms in the ancient proteins. The researchers then worked together to trace how changes in the protein's atomic architecture over the last 450 million years enabled GH to evolve its current unique function: to enable cells to respond to the hormone cortisol, which regulates the body's stress response.
"This is the ultimate level of detail," Thornton said. "We were able to see exactly how evolution tinkered with the ancient structure to produce a new function that is crucial to our own bodies today. Nobody's ever done that before."
The techniques used in this study were incredibly creative and integrative," says Dianna Padilla, an NSF program director. "These researchers have achieved something that other scientists only dream of."
Through their analyses of atomic structures, the scientists determined that just seven historical mutations were needed over the last 450 million years for GR's progenitors to evolve GR's present-day response to cortisol. The scientists also discovered that for the protein to acquire its response to cortisol, certain major mutations had to have been preceded by certain other relatively small, otherwise negligible changes, known as "permissive" changes. Such relationships helped the scientists deduce the order in which all of the gene mutations occurred.
Specifically, Thornton's studies showed that the evolving protein's most radical mutation remodeled a whole section of the protein, bringing a group of atoms close to the hormone. A second mutation in this repositioned region then created a tight new interaction with cortisol. Other earlier permissive mutations buttressed particular parts of the protein so they could tolerate this eventual remodeling.
"These permissive mutations are chance events," Thornton said. If they hadn't happened first, then the path to the new function could have become an evolutionary road not taken. Imagine if evolution could be rewound and set in motion again: a very different set of genes, functions and processes might be the outcome."
"This study has refined our knowledge of evolution because it helps address the question of whether adaptation occurs through large or small effect mutations," said Padilla. "This study shows that small changes may enable large adaptations to occur. These large adaptations may then by further refined by smaller adaptations."
Other organizations besides NSF that helped fund this project included the National Institutes of Health, the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship to Thornton.
Lily Whiteman, NSF 703-292-8310 email@example.com
Zack Barnett, University of Oregon 541-346-3145 firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Chamberlin, NSF (703) 292-8413 email@example.com
Joe Thornton, University of Oregon 541-914-2588 firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $5.92 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to over 1,700 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 42,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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EUGENE, Ore.—(Aug. 16, 2007)—Scientists have determined for the first time the atomic structure of an ancient protein, revealing in unprecedented detail how genes evolved their functions.
"Never before have we seen so clearly, so far back in time," said project leader Joe Thornton, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oregon. "We were able to see the precise mechanisms by which evolution molded a tiny molecular machine at the atomic level, and to reconstruct the order of events by which history unfolded."
The work involving the protein is detailed in a paper appearing online Aug. 16 in Science Express, where the journal Science promotes selected research in advance of regular publication.
A detailed understanding of how proteins – the workhorses of every cell – have evolved has long eluded evolutionary biologists, in large part because ancient proteins have not been available for direct study. So Thornton and Jamie Bridgham, a postdoctoral scientist in his lab, used state-of-the-art computational and molecular techniques to re-create the ancient progenitors of an important human protein.
Thornton then collaborated with University of North Carolina biochemists Eric Ortlund and Matthew Redinbo, who used ultra-high energy X-rays from a stadium-sized Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to chart the precise position of each of the 2,000 atoms in the ancient proteins. The groups then worked together to trace how changes in the protein's atomic architecture over millions of years caused it to evolve a crucial new function – uniquely responding to the hormone that regulates stress.
"This is the ultimate level of detail," Thornton said. "We were able to see exactly how evolution tinkered with the ancient structure to produce a new function that is crucial to our own bodies today. Nobody's ever done that before."
The researchers focused on the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), a protein in humans and other vertebrates that allows cells to respond to the hormone cortisol, which regulates the body's stress response. The scientists' goal was to understand the process of evolution behind the GR's ability to specifically interact with cortisol. They used computational techniques and a large database of modern receptor sequences to determine the ancient GR's gene sequence from a time just before and just after its specific relationship with cortisol evolved. The ancient genes – which existed more than 400 million years ago – were then synthesized, expressed, and their structures determined using X-ray crystallography, a state-of-the art technique that allows scientists to see the atomic architecture of a molecule. The project represents the first time the technique has been applied to an ancient protein.
The structures allowed the scientists to identify exactly how the new function evolved. They found that just seven historical mutations, when introduced into the ancestral receptor gene in the lab, recapitulated the evolution of GR's present-day response to cortisol. They were even able to deduce the order in which these changes occurred, because some mutations caused the protein to lose its function entirely if other "permissive" changes, which otherwise had a negligible effect on the protein, were not in place first.
"These permissive mutations are chance events. If they hadn't happened first, then the path to the new function could have become an evolutionary road not taken," Thornton said. "Imagine if evolution could be rewound and set in motion again: a very different set of genes, functions and processes might be the outcome."
The atomic structure revealed exactly how these mutations allowed the new function to evolve. The most radical one remodeled a whole section of the protein, bringing a group of atoms close to the hormone. A second mutation in this repositioned region then created a tight new interaction with cortisol. Other earlier mutations buttressed particular parts of the protein so they could tolerate this eventual remodeling.
"We were able to walk through the evolutionary process from the distant past to the present day," said Ortlund, who is now at Emory University in Atlanta. "Until now, we've always had to look at modern proteins and just guess how they evolved."
The work was funded by multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship to Thornton.
Contact: UO media contact, Zack Barnett, 541-346-3145
Source: Joe Thornton, 541-914-2588
Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren today has an interesting piece titled "The Limits of Darwinism," an obvious nod to Michael Behe's recent book, which is subtitled, "The Search for the Limits of Darwinism."
Warren starts with an interesting questions:
In this case, we must ask ourselves why so many people get so excited about an area of science that should not concern them.
He finds that it is likely because atheist materialism treats Darwinian evolution as a sort of holy writ that cannot be criticized.
Much of the "star chamber" atmosphere, that has accompanied the public invigilation of microbiologists such as Michael J. Behe, and other very qualified scientists working on questions of design in natural systems, can only be explained in this way. The establishment wants such research to be stopped, because it challenges the received religious order, of atheist materialism. Any attempt, or suspected attempt, to acknowledge God in scientific proceedings, must be exposed and punished to the limit of the law; or by other ruthless means where the law does not suffice.
The ongoing suppression of the academic rights of scholars and scientists to ask hard questions proves the point. Ask Guillermo Gonzalez, or Bryan Leonard, or Michael Behe himself how hard it is to raise any criticism at all of Darwin's theory. They will tell that the materialist high priests will brook no such dissent.
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3-year-old boy to have alternative medicine instead of chemotherapy for cancer by Alexei Timchuk
Published 08/8/2007 in Childhood Cancers , Alternative Therapies
The Child Protection Agency in Quebec, Canada, is not going to force the parents of a 3-year-old boy to give him chemotherapy for cancer in his brain and spinal cord, allowing them instead to pursue alternative medicine.
The boy, Anael L'Esperance-Nascimento, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2007 and underwent an operation. After an initial chemo treatment, his parents have decided to treat him with an alternative treatment based on diet, including a focus on raw vegetables.
The province did not intervene according to officials because the boy's illness is not currently life threatening. Healthcare providers at the hospital, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, say that chemotherapy is the boy's best chance to prevent the cancer from spreading, but that they will not pressure government authorities to force the boy to receive the chemo.
What do you think? If chemotherapy is the best treatment according to doctors, should the parents be forced to allow their son to undergo such treatment?
The main source for this article is TheCancerBlog
The God Delusion
By Richard Dawkins, translated from English by Lee Han-eum; Kimyoungsa: 604pp., 25,000 won
By Lee Hwan-hee Staff Reporter
British biologist Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion', published last year, has now appeared in a Korean translation, re-titled as "The Created God."
The faith vs. reason debate is an old one, but the rise of religious fundamentalism in various regions of the world today has made the issue a particularly relevant, if contentious, one. During the past two years, two other books by prominent intellectuals dealing with the subject have surfaced: 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon' by Daniel Dennett and 'God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything' by Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins' book perhaps occupies a midposition between the two books.
Like Dennett's, Dawkins' book is essentially a defense of scientism, that science is the best way to understand reality; but more like Hitchens,' Dawkins' is more polemical in tone than Dennett's.
In the book, Dawkins emphasizes that by 'God' he does not mean the term in a 'pantheistic' sense, of being at awe with everything that exists, which he calls 'Einsteinian' conception of God. His specific target is God according to monotheistic religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity; that God is a supernatural being who created the universe and oversees and influences the subsequent fate of his initial creation. Dawkins argues that the existence of this God is not only highly improbable, but ultimately irrational and illogical, for he finds the various arguments provided in support of it, by thinkers such Thomas Aquinas, Anselm and Pascal, entirely vacuous.
Dawkins believes such understanding of God is a ready-made recipe for war, tribalism, and xenophobia, as it makes absolute distinctions between believers and non-believers.
Furthermore, God is often far from being benevolent, for how are we to explain the existence of evil in the world? Memorably, he describes the God of the Old Testament as 'arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.' On the level of a polemic against religious fanaticism, it will not be too difficult to find sympathy for Dawkins' arguments in the light of the actions of present-day Islamic fundamentalists, and the cultural battle raging in the United States over whether creationism should be taught in schools.
It can be argued, however, that the Islamic fundamentalism and the evolution/creationism debate are as ideological in nature as they are about religion per se, for there are Muslims who oppose violence, and a person who believes in creationism in the United States is more likely to be a political and cultural conservative than a liberal.
And another question that will always be directed at an atheist such as Dawkins is that can morality be explained without religion? If the universe is devoid of intrinsic value, so that no events should be thought of as acts of God, just morally neutral, then one may conclude that our sense of morality is ultimately nothing more than a projection based on our feelings and prejudices. Dawkins doesn't believe that our sense of morality is necessarily based on religious beliefs, and thinks its origin can be explained in Darwinian, biological terms. He believes morality should be legislated on utilitarian grounds.
Well, perhaps morality does not need religion. Even so, Dawkins' arguments are not always sound. Many examples can be given where what seems to be for the good of the whole is immoral; killing all criminals in a society may make the society as a whole a better place to live, but it doesn't make the society a moral one. And a purely scientific account of morality cannot account for the possibility of moral choice. If a criminal behavior is based on the criminal's genes, how are we to condemn his actions?
Maybe people seek God because of the existence of evil in the world, and it is an irrational, illogical place, rather than the other way around, as Dawkins intimates. One salient point by Dawkins, however, is that our view of ethics and morality is extremely human-centered.
While Dawkins' book is effective when it argues against religious tribalism and fanaticism, it has also been noted, by Marxist critic Terry Eagleton among others, that the book is marred by rhetoric and a superficial understanding of religion. Perhaps a necessary counterbalance to a book like Dawkins' is not a blind embrace of religion but a book by a writer who's serious about both science and religion, such as William James' 'The Varieties of Religious Experience.'
10 Aug 2007, 1600 hrs IST,IANS
NAIROBI: A discovery of fossils more than a million years old in Kenya "changes the story" of human evolution, showing that two human species coexisted rather than succeeded one another, palaeontologists have said.
The discovery of a 1.44-million-year-old Homo Habilis jaw and a 1.55-million-year-old Homo Erectus skull challenges the conventional view that the former gave rise to the latter, by suggesting that the two species lived at the same time in East Africa, for almost half a million years.
"Homo Habilis never gave rise to Homo Erectus. For a long time we believed that but now these two discoveries have completely changed that story," palaeontologist Frederick Manthi said Thursday.
Manthi had found the fossils east of Lake Turkana, northern Kenya, in August 2000.
The palaeontologist explained the new twist in the story of human beings as akin to chimpanzees and gorillas living at the same time period but in different habitats, which meant they were not in direct competition for survival.
"The fact that they stayed separate as individual species for a long time suggests they had their own ecological niche, avoiding direct competition," said Idle Farah, director of the National Museums of Kenya, which made the discovery along with the Koobi Fora Research Project led by renowned palaeontologists Meave and Louise Leakey.
Conventional views suggest that Homo Erectus, which existed from about 1.7 million to 200,000 years ago, evolved from Homo Habilis, which lived from about 2 to 1.6 million years ago.
The theory was published in the Aug 9 issue of the science journal Nature.
Published online: 8 August 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070806-5
Homo erectus had an unexpected neighbour, and a surprising lifestyle too.
Two fossils unearthed in Kenya have added a new dimension to our view of life at the birth of our Homo genus. They show that two ancestral human species seem to have lived cheek-by-jowl in the same area, much as gorillas and chimpanzees do today.
Both skull fragments were found by anthropologists digging near Kenya's Lake Turkana, adding to the impressive list of early human fossils unearthed here. One of the fossils, an upper jawbone from the species Homo habilis, is dated at 1.44 million years, much younger than most fossils of this species.
The other fossil is an almost complete — but faceless — Homo erectus skull. Dated at 1.55 million years, the skull is far smaller than any other from this species — suggesting to the researchers that, as is the case with modern gorillas, there was a large size differences between the sexes in H. erectus.
The fact that these two species seem to have been contemporaries is a surprise to anthropologists, say Fred Spoor of University College London and his colleagues, who discovered the hominin fossils seven years ago and now describe them in this week's Nature1.
Anthropologists have tended to see the evolution of Homo species as a linear progression, beginning with H. habilis and passing through H. erectus before ending up with modern humans. But it seems the path through time was broad enough for more than one species to walk abreast, with H. erectus and H. habilis living in the same place at the same time for as much as half a million years. Spoor and his colleagues argue that this makes it less likely that H. erectus was a direct descendant of H. habilis, instead suggesting that there is a common ancestor yet to find.
The two species are thought to have lived side by side in much the same way as modern chimps and gorillas coexist in central regions of Africa — by adopting different habits and diets. "To live in the same area for half a million years they must have found their own niches — different diets, maybe different migratory routes — to minimize competition," says Spoor. "When food is scarce, when there's a drought or something, it becomes very important that you're not in each other's way."
Harem of females
The new H. erectus skull also changes our ideas about the nature of this species. "What is truly striking about this fossil is its size," comments Spoor. The fact that the skull — probably belong to a young adult — is so small suggests that the size range of H. erectus was much larger than we imagined. The researchers infer from this that the males of H. erectus were much bigger than the females. By comparison, there is a relatively slight difference seen between the sexes in our own species. A greater inequality of size has implications for the way the creatures lived.
H. erectus has always been viewed as similar to H. sapiens in both body shape and lifestyle. Spoor points out that the new discovery suggests a family set-up more akin to that of modern gorillas in which dominant males mate with a harem of females. "If we look at those primate species that have large sexual dimorphism, their groups usually involve one dominant male — the silverback if you're talking about gorillas — multiple female mates, and then perhaps a few non-dominant males that hang around, just waiting for their chance," Spoor says.
A similar set up is inferred from fossils of the earliest hominins, such as the australopithecines, but there has been a widespread assumption that sexes of more or less equal sizes arose when our ancestors ditched their more ape-like characteristics, evolving from Australopithecus into the more genteel Homo. To find such a difference in H. erectus, Spoor says, "was quite a surprise, actually".
Spoor, F. et al. Nature 448, 688-691 (2007).
MCLEROY ACCUSED OF HOSTILITY TO SCIENCE EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE
In a press release dated August 7, 2007, the Texas Freedom Network accused Don McLeroy, who recently was appointed as the new chair of the Texas state Board of Education, of harboring "a shocking hostility to both sound science education and religious tolerance." TFN's charge was based on the transcript of a 2005 talk McLeroy gave at Grace Bible Church in Bryan, Texas, on the debate over teaching evolution and "intelligent design." "This recording makes clear the very real danger that Texas schoolchildren may soon be learning more about the religious beliefs of politicians than about sound science in their biology classes," TFN President Kathy Miller said. "Even worse, it appears that Don McLeroy believes anyone who disagrees with him can't be a true Christian."
A member of the board for the last eight years, McLeroy was recently described by the Dallas Morning News (July 18, 2007) as "aligned with social conservative groups known for their strong stands on evolution, sexual abstinence and other heated topics covered in textbooks" and as "[o]ne of four board members who voted against current high school biology books because of their failure to list weaknesses in the theory of evolution." Discussing that vote in his 2005 talk, McLeroy lamented that the other board members were not swayed by "all the arguments made by all the intelligent design group, all the creationist intelligent design people," adding, "It was only the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board [who] were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say they don't present the weaknesses of evolution. Amazing."
Following Phillip Johnson, in his talk McLeroy portrayed "intelligent design" as a "big tent," explaining, "It's because we're all lined up against the fact that naturalism, that nature is all there is. Whether you're a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it's all in the tent of intelligent design." He urged his listeners, biblical inerrantists like himself, "to remember, though, that the entire intelligent design movement as a whole is a bigger tent. ... just don't waste our time arguing with each other about some of the, all of the side issues." Yet he described theistic evolution -- which is opposed to naturalism -- as "a very poor option," continuing, "no one in our group represents theistic evolution, and the big tent of intelligent design does not include theistic evolutionists. Because intelligent design is opposed to evolution. Theistic evolutionists embrace it."
"McLeroy's statements during his lecture are particularly insulting to Roman Catholics and millions of other Christians who see no conflict between their religious faith and accepting the science behind evolution," TFN's Kathy Miller commented. "Texas parents should be very concerned that the governor chose an anti-science, religious ideologue to lead the state body that sets policy for our public schools. ... He might as well have put up a sign that said, 'Only my kind of Christian need apply.'" Texans are currently bracing for a new round of antievolution activity aimed at undermining the treatment of evolution in the state science standards (the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS), to which textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas are required to conform.
For TFN's press release, visit:
For the transcript of McLeroy's talk, visit:
For the article in the Dallas Morning News, visit:
For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
EVOLUTION EDUCATION IN MASSACHUSETTS
In a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe (August 9, 2007), Sally Lehrman discusses the challenges confronting evolution education even in Massachusetts, a state not conspicuous for its level of antievolution activity. "A well-thought-out curriculum in science does not guarantee that evolution will be taught in all its glory -- or even coherently," she observes, noting that science teachers often express a lack of confidence in their knowledge of evolution (as the AAAS president Gilbert S. Omenn reported in 2006) and that in Massachusetts, teachers licensed for biology are not required to have taken a course on evolution.
Massachusetts's science standards received a grade of A from the Fordham Foundation in 2005, and its treatment of evolution received a score of 3/3, with the comment, "Especially impressive for instruction in biological diversity and evolution is the recently posted high school material, free as it is of common errors and glosses." But Lehrman observes, "Some teachers assign their evolution module a slot at the end of the year, then run out of time. Some speed right through it," for, as NCSE's Education Project Director Louise Mead told Lehrman, "The state standards say nothing about what goes on in the classroom."
Complicating the situation even in Massachusetts are the efforts of creationists. Lehrman notes the very latest tactic: "A new high-school textbook from the Discovery Institute, 'Explore Evolution,' claims to teach students critical thinking but instead uses pseudoscience to attack Darwin's theories." (For a preliminary assessment, see the discussion on The Panda's Thumb blog.) And she adds, "The National Center for Science Education, which tracks trends in schools, has compiled a frightening list of bills and local proposals intended to open the door for creationist teaching in science education."
For Lehrman's op-ed in the Boston Globe, visit:
For Omenn's report on the teacher survey, visit:
For the Fordham Foundation's review of Massachusetts science standards, visit:
For the discussion of Explore Evolution on The Panda's Thumb, visit:
LEARN TO TEACH EVOLUTION WITH NCSE'S LOUISE MEAD
Space is still available in a course on teaching evolution led by NCSE's Education Project Director Louise Mead, on-line through Montana State University from September 17 to December 7, 2007. The course description:
Evolution is a powerful and generative concept that is fundamental to a modern understanding of biology and the natural world. Evolution offers insight into how we came to be, what our future may hold, and how we interact with the living world. However, despite its centrality to the modern biology classroom, teaching evolution can be especially challenging. Unlike instruction on many other topics covered in pre-college biology courses (organ systems, cell structure, ecosystem interactions, etc.), evolution instruction may encounter unique sources of resistance and misinformation in addition to more typical misconceptions and teaching challenges.
This course is designed to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to teach evolution effectively. In this course, students will get an overview of evolutionary history and theory, an introduction to current topics of evolution research, tools for making evolution relevant to the science classroom and students' lives, and strategies for lesson development, as well as practical techniques and background knowledge for responding to challenges to evolution instruction.
Ultimately, of course, the goal of this course is to change how its students teach in their own science classrooms. We hope that participants in this course will increasingly emphasize evolution in their K-12 classrooms through dynamic and coherent lessons that help their students overcome misconceptions and see how evolution is relevant to their lives.
The course is aimed primarily at science teachers teaching grades 7-12; prerequisites are a bachelor's degree and preferably teacher certification with one year of teaching experience.
For information about the course, 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.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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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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McLeroy characterizes evolution-'intelligent design' debate as clash between 'orthodox Christians' and all others
August 7, 2007
AUSTIN – A recorded lecture reveals that the new chairman of the State Board of Education harbors a shocking hostility to both sound science education and religious tolerance, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.
"This recording makes clear the very real danger that Texas schoolchildren may soon be learning more about the religious beliefs of politicians than about sound science in their biology classes," TFN President Kathy Miller said today. "Even worse, it appears that Don McLeroy believes anyone who disagrees with him can't be a true Christian."
Gov. Rick Perry appointed McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, as chairman of the state board in July. McLeroy's statements during his lecture are particularly insulting to Roman Catholics and millions of other Christians who see no conflict between their religious faith and accepting the science behind evolution, Miller said.
"Texas parents should be very concerned that the governor chose an anti-science, religious ideologue to lead the state body that sets policy for our public schools," she said. "He might as well have put up a sign that said, 'Only my kind of Christian need apply.'"
In an Internet blog post (texasobserver.org/blog/?p=533) on Aug. 3, the Texas Observer – a biweekly publication based in Austin – unearthed the recorded lecture by McLeroy. McLeroy delivered the lecture at Grace Bible Church in Bryan in 2005. A full transcript and an audio file of the lecture are available at www.tfn.org/publiceducation/textbooks/mcleroy/.
At one point during the lecture, McLeroy clearly tied "intelligent design" – a religious-based concept billed by supporters as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution – to Biblical creationism:
"Why is 'intelligent design' the big tent? Because we're all lined up against the fact that naturalism, that nature is all there is. Whether you're a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it's all in the tent of 'intelligent design.'" (6:10 mark on recording)
McLeroy recounted the controversy over teaching evolution during the State Board of Education's adoption of new biology textbooks in 2003. McLeroy was one of only four members on the 15-member panel who voted to reject the textbooks. Those four members argued that the textbooks failed to discuss what they called the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory. They were backed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that opposes evolution and promotes "intelligent design" as an alternative. McLeroy said:
"It was only the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board [who] were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say they don't present the weaknesses of evolution. Amazing." (8:15 mark on recording)
In the 2006 elections, religious conservatives increased their numbers on the state board to eight – a majority. The board is currently overhauling all public school curriculum standards. The board is scheduled to take up revisions to science standards – including standards dealing with evolution – in 2007-08.
By Sally Lehrman | August 9, 2007
RESIDENTS of Massachusetts might feel safe from the clashes over teaching evolution in school districts across the country. In this state, home to so many great universities, one wouldn't expect anything less than a top-notch science curriculum. In fact, Massachusetts students are supposed to begin learning about evolution and have access to impressive materials before they even reach second grade.
But that doesn't let parents or anyone else off the hook. A well-thought-out curriculum in science does not guarantee that evolution will be taught in all its glory -- or even coherently.
Darwin's brilliant theory, a powerful and central concept in biology, offers a path toward understanding everything else: the history of our universe, the world we inhabit, and ourselves. The theory turns on the idea of random variation -- mutations in our genome -- that can enable a population to adjust collectively to the environment in which it finds itself. The best-suited creatures for that situation breed successfully and so pass on these useful characteristics to offspring.
Evolution, however, has never been a static idea and perhaps never less so than today. Its power can't be expressed based solely on lessons from an education long past. It's hard to explain the nature of scientific inquiry -- questioning, testing, and gathering evidence, refining -- without sounding uncertain. Teachers know this. Last year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science asked teachers about their top concerns in teaching evolution. Most confessed that they didn't feel confident about their knowledge.
Worry they should. Even Massachusetts teachers licensed for biology don't have to take a course in evolution, although they must pass a test that includes questions on the topic. Furthermore, waivers from the state enable them to go outside of their licensed subjects. According to 2007 state figures, 11 percent of schools had assigned at least one-fifth of teachers outside of their expertise. Meanwhile, fueled in large part by molecular biology, the science itself has been powering ahead.
Data pouring out of genetic research has challenged some of scientists' assumptions about the multibranched tree of life and offered new insight on the basic tools for living that all species share. While geneticists until recently thought that random mutations in the genes drove adaptation, they are now cracking windows onto processes outside of the DNA that can change gene function for generations. A grandmother's diet, even a parent's nurturing, may influence evolution's course.
As evolutionary science accelerates, however, antievolutionists are pushing back -- and exploiting the questions that recent discoveries have raised. A new high-school textbook from the Discovery Institute, "Explore Evolution," claims to teach students critical thinking but instead uses pseudoscience to attack Darwin's theories. The National Center for Science Education, which tracks trends in schools, has compiled a frightening list of bills and local proposals intended to open the door for creationist teaching in science education. In a survey published in Science magazine last year, 39 percent of American adults flat-out rejected the concept of evolution.
Even a great curriculum doesn't necessarily mean an individual teacher is doing a good job. Across the country, school boards and instructors contend with pressure to adopt books or offer supplements that "balance" biology texts or "teach the controversy." The Institute for Creation Research, for one, hasn't given up on Massachusetts. An event planned for Methuen in November will teach "creation evangelism" and "scientific evidence for creation/design in nature." On the institute's website, students and teachers across the country can get inspiration and tools to challenge an evolution-based curriculum.
Some teachers assign their evolution module a slot at the end of the year, then run out of time. Some speed right through it. When confronted with students' probing questions, the AAAS discovered, teachers find themselves at a loss. "The state standards say nothing about what goes on in the classroom," points out Louise Mead, education project director for NCSE.
As one of their complaints, intelligent design proponents claim that schools should do a better job of explaining evolution. They may very well be right. While people who believe in the scientific method do not accept the antievolution lobby's claim of "irreducible complexity," are they prepared with a coherent response? They might say "survival of the fittest" with conviction but only have a hazy recollection of terms like "descent with modification," "natural selection," and even "mutation."
And unfortunately, those Darwin fish stickers don't come with an instruction manual.
Sally Lehrman reports on health and science for Scientific American, the radio documentary series "The DNA Files," and other media.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
Stealth: the act or action of proceeding furtively, secretly, or imperceptibly
Etymology: Middle English stelthe; akin to Old English stelan to steal
Richard Brookhiser's recent TIME magazine article "Matters of Morality" is just lovely in its description of intelligent design:
In 2005 Bush said that both intelligent design (a stealth creationist theory) and evolution ought to be taught in schools.
Wow. First of all, ID is not creationism—and no one is more vociferously insistent about this than the major creationist organizations like Answers In Genesis. We've heard this charge before. But stealth?
Stealth...like black helicopter stealth? I guess we better take all of our pro-ID websites down. Michael Behe better round back up the quarter million copies of Darwin's Black Box that he sold.
I guess Brookhiser didn't get the memo about Discovery Institute becoming one of the most cited think tanks in the country, either.
How does a respectable magazine get away with such a description—which is as biased as it is false?
Posted by Logan Gage on August 9, 2007 12:23 AM | Permalink
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 11/08/2007
Michael Deacon talks to Richard Dawkins
This should be an enjoyable week for Richard Dawkins. Sunday, for example, represents an ideal time for him to launch a fitness programme. Next weekend, he could find love in the shape of a foreign-born person.
At least, that's according to the horoscope for his star sign, Aries, on the website of the astrologer Russell Grant. But the website of another, Jonathan Cainer, cautions that 'all will be fine for August – as long as you don't think too hard about what things really mean.'
advertisementLooks as if Dawkins is in for hard times after all, then. Because this Monday, in the first of a two-part series for Channel 4 called The Enemies of Reason, he'll be thinking hard about what a number of things 'really mean' – horoscopes among them. He's examining the faith many people place in the superstitious and paranormal (such as fortune-telling and seances), and in practices that don't stand up to rigorous scientific testing (such as dowsing and 'alternative' therapies).
'I've long had a sceptical interest in such things,' says Professor Dawkins, who's an evolutionary biologist at Oxford. 'It was a natural follow-up to the programme I did about religion the previous year.'
This was The Root of All Evil?, also for Channel 4, which – like his bestselling book The God Delusion – argued that religious belief is irrational and spreads conflict and ignorance. He believes only in things supported by hard evidence.
His thoughts about superstition are just as remorselessly rational. All very well to get worked up about religion, some might say, but surely reading horoscopes, for instance, is harmless fun?
'I don't think it's harmless in an educational sense,' says Dawkins. 'The world is a wonderful place, and one of the most wonderful things is that we're able to understand many aspects of it. So to be gulled into thinking that idiotic ideas are true… It's educationally pernicious.'
Particularly since a decreasing number of school pupils are studying science subjects. 'That's very sad. I think it's partly laziness. It's not just scientific facts that matter, it's the scientific way of thinking. I think that's one of the things people are going to lose, the sceptical habit of mind: "Let's see what the evidence for this is."'
Some of the superstition-mongers Dawkins met while filming seemed merely dotty (one faith healer told him she had the power to add extra strands to his DNA, to match the quota of the ancient residents of Atlantis). Others, Dawkins felt, were cynical frauds.
He is disappointed that, because of 'lawyers' caution', he was unable to include footage of an encounter he had with a tarot reader who claimed to communicate with the dead.
'She said, "I can see your father on the other side. He's sad because he didn't get to say goodbye properly. He feels that you don't think about him as often as he'd like." I said, "That's strange, because I saw my father only last week. He's alive and well and living in Oxfordshire." Immediately, she said, "Right, the interview's over, stop the camera."'
Dawkins also questions the way that tax-payers' money is used to fund the work of homeopaths, who need no qualifications to set up a practice, whose work is unregulated by government, and who offer medicines that are effectively water. He says the popularity of such unproven remedies – Britons spent £1.6bn on alternative medicine last year – is worrying and 'implicitly casts doubt on scientific medicine'. Meanwhile, properly tested medicines face lengthy delays before being granted approval for use.
The Enemies of Reason doesn't touch on religion, but, thanks to the success of The God Delusion (in the UK it's sold 180,000 copies to date in paperback), it remains the subject with which many people most closely associate Dawkins. They won't be surprised to learn that he was unimpressed by the recent declaration by the Bishop of Carlisle that the floods across England were a 'judgment' by God in response to pro-gay legislation.
'After The Root of All Evil?, I was accused of going after nutcases rather than serious theologians, such as bishops,' says Dawkins. 'If the Bishop of Carlisle said what he's reported to have said, that is a beautiful example of the way people who are thought to be moderate theologians are actually just about as nutty as any of those I interviewed. And what he said is not just nutty, it's also very nasty.'
Jim Brown OneNewsNow.com August 8, 2007
A conservative Idaho lawmaker believes America's founding fathers would not have wanted a Muslim elected to Congress or a Hindu prayer delivered in the U.S. Senate.
Last month, the U.S. Senate was opened for the first time ever with a Hindu prayer. Although the event generated little outrage on Capitol Hill, Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) is one member of Congress who believes the prayer should have never been allowed.
"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers," asserts Sali.
Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through "the protective hand of God."
"You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike," says the Idaho Republican.
According to Congressman Sali, the only way the U.S. can continue to survive is under that protective hand of God. He states when a Hindu prayer is offered, "that's a different god" and that it "creates problems for the longevity of this country."
All Original Content Copyright 2006-2007 American Family News Network
By Barbara Correa LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
Article Launched: 08/07/2007 03:02:46 AM PDT
Although most moms and dads cringe as they watch their babies get inoculations or shots of antibiotics, other parents have embraced the use of needles to treat everything from their infants' colic to their toddlers' chronic ear infections.
They swear by alternative practices such as massage, herbs and acupuncture, in which ultra-thin needles are inserted at specific points to treat pain and other maladies.
A frustrated Colleen Kelly of Playa del Rey took her younger daughter to an alternative practitioner after antibiotics failed to cure the 3-year-old's persistent bronchitis. The youngster's treatment included acupuncture and the use of a suction cup to increase circulation, producing surprising results.
"I was at my wit's end," Kelly recalled. "Maeve had been on two courses of antibiotics. It had been going on for months and everyone had it.
"(The practitioner) did baby cupping and acupuncture and herbs, and in a day it was gone. I thought it might help, but I didn't expect it to get better."
Mothers have long used home remedies to soothe common ailments.
But as children of '60s-era parents become parents themselves, they are more skeptical of traditional medicine and more accepting of alternative practices to treat health problems for themselves and their children.
When Mohammed Jafer Gulam-Hussain, a sixth-generation healer from India, prescribed homeopathic cell salts to cure 18-month-old Noor Amery's chronic ear infections, her mother, Nadia, did not object. The toddler had developed nausea and diarrhea because all the "good" bacteria in the intestine had been destroyed by the antibiotics she'd taken.
The salts, which were dissolved in a drink, worked, Amery said, and Noor's ear infections disappeared.
"These are the best-kept secrets in medicine," said Amery, of Calabasas. "She has never since gotten an ear infection, and they have cut her colds by a third. They used to last for 10 days and now it's a few days."
Crystal Chen, a Westchester mother with a doctorate in environmental science and engineering, didn't give it a second thought when her naturopath suggested acupuncture to help ease 1-year-old son Milo's painful bouts of gas.
"I've been doing acupuncture for a long time, so I really wasn't concerned," she said.
Actually, inserting needles into babies is much easier than treating older children or adults, said Naomi Richman, founder of Bee Well Kidz, a pediatric practice near UCLA that uses natural and homeopathic therapies, acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies, among others.
"Infants are infinitely easier," Richman said. "There's no needle retention, because they are so pure that they get enough stimulation with the insertion."
Heather Cabot Khemlani, whose 18-month-old son, Ian, is a patient of Richman's, said pain was not an issue.
"She's done acupuncture on him, but he literally didn't even know," Khemlani said. "I was afraid he was going to freak out, and he didn't even notice."
In addition to some occasional acupuncture, little Ian gets massage therapy to relieve the stiff neck he was born with when his twin was crunching him in the womb. Although baby acupuncture, massage and Chinese herbs for tots may go down as normal in much of California, the use of alternative medicine in pediatrics has plenty of local skeptics, too.
Dr. Wallace Sampson, a professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University and editor in chief of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, calls alternative medicine "a concoction and a combination of good salesmanship, lawyering, lobbying and propaganda.
He discounts Chinese herbs and acupuncture as simply a placebo.
"It's what I call the 'Junipero Serra effect,'" he said. "A cloistered nun had an autoimmune disease and it was treated with a number of drugs. Then she prayed to four different saints for a month. After four or five months, she started praying to Serra, and she got better. Whoever does the last therapy gets the credit."
Parents have doubts, too. For every mother or father lining up to give a child Chinese herbs, there are many more who have major concerns about safety and insurance coverage.
Chen said she has been unsuccessful in persuading several of her friends to try alternative medicine for their children's chronic ear infections rather than the surgical insertion of drainage tubes.
"Mainstream moms are just like, 'I'm going to follow what the doctor has to order,'" she said. "I think that we as a society tend to put our faith 100 percent in doctors because that's how we grew up and we don't look for second or third opinions. It's also a matter of, how much time do I have to devote to this problem?"
Richman said that when she mentions acupuncture or herbs to mothers who bring their children into the Bee Well Kidz clinic, some say they need to check with their husbands first.
"They never come back," said Richman.
Despite the skeptics, the medical establishment has become much more open to the nontraditional methods. Last year, the California district chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics formed a new section on alternative care.
"The scene is changing," said Dr. Richard Walls, member of a national steering committee for complementary alternative medicine with the California chapter.
He said certain areas of alternative medicine are being embraced more easily than others. For instance, there is solid data showing that self-hypnosis is extremely effective in pediatrics, and research is finding that children with chronic ear infections may be better off taking probiotics -- bacteria introduced into the system to heal -- instead of antibiotics, which kill bacteria.
On the other hand, skepticism among pediatricians about chiropractic is still strong, he said, and there is widespread concern over the lack of regulation of herbal remedies.
The biggest barrier to the integration of alternative medicine into a Western society, he said, is that most physicians just aren't trained in these areas, so they don't feel qualified to answer patients' questions about biofeedback, or homeopathy, for example.
"It is certainly a changing field," Walls said, but "it takes time to turn that iceberg."
Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, is chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. Following is the transcript of a presentation he delivered in 2005 at Grace Bible Church in Bryan, Texas, on the debate over teaching evolution and "intelligent design."
"Intelligent Design Theory Primer" Transcribed by Texas Freedom Network
Our speaker of the day is Dr. Don McLeroy … He is a dentist, but he is also a member of the Texas State Board of Education, so he has a unique perspective on the battle I guess that is going on between evolution and other worldviews.
Well, thank you. I have been part of this group, it's been very exciting being a part of this group. I am the only nonacademic in this group that has been meeting and I have gotten to really appreciate what academ, academicians do. It's, it's very interesting work. It's totally different job that you have being, um, away from the university. I really have a lot of respect for them and I am really glad that they put up with a nonacademic being with them in their group.
Second thing I would like to clarify for a talk is, now we are going to be using the word "evolution," and that brings up all sorts of definitions. We will give you a handout but not today, but let me explain some of the use of the words that I will be using today. Intelligent design I will define in the talk, but evolution itself people will say Darwinism or evolution. A lot of the quotes I will be using are going to be from Phillip Johnson, who, Phillip Johnson is one of the leaders in the intelligent design movement. He uses the word Darwinism and I will be giving quotes from him, so when you hear the word Darwinism or if I accidentally refer to the word Darwinism, it means the theory of common descent. That we share common ancestor with that tree out there. I mean that is basically what we have in our high school textbooks. If you open a high school textbook, they basically state as a fact that we share common ancestry with life that first got started and some went to be plants and eventually trees and some became us. And that is what I mean by Darwinism. Yes, there is macro-evolution and micro-evolution, we'd prefer the term adaptive variation for micro-evolution. We know that no one argues against what is considered micro-evolution, but if you hear the term evolution in this talk, today, you'll also realize that it's mainly referring to the common descent. That the theory that all life has descended from a common ancestor.
Well, I thought I would start of my, uh, talk by giving you some of my favorite quotes, and this is one that I really enjoy. This is Jonathan Edwards when he was 17-years-old, and, uh, he said "nothing is what sleeping rocks think of." So it's interesting to think about it. Let's see, 1996 New York Times editorial, guest editorial, this is in response to a comment by someone believing in evolution, and so the guy has made this statement, "This whole issue might make for an amusing debate were it not for the potentially grave consequences for society at-large. If we're unwilling to unilaterally brand scientific nonsense as just that regardless of the sensibilities that might be offended, religious or otherwise, then the whole notion of truth becomes itself blurred and our democratic society is in peril as much by this as any other single threat." Of course, the guy's threat that this guy was responding to was not the threat of Darwinism, the threat of God as the creator, and it is just amazing that they can describe my feelings exactly. This is exactly how I see this. It is such an important issue. By the way, it is my first time with PowerPoint. Daniel is making it pretty easy. This is great.
Uh, G.K. Chesterton, 100 years ago, 1908 basically, uh, made an interesting observation that is really interesting: "The Christian is quite free to believe that there's a considerable amount of settled order and an inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle." And I think that really describes it exactly, when you want to see, these people can't stand anything getting into their spotless machine. They can't tolerate anything. We can tolerate a lot, but they can't tolerate anything. And I can tell you also that the topic for today's session about naturalism is very important. If you grasp the message of this, I think you will, uh, save yourself a lot of frustration and in this whole series of lessons we're teaching it's about the theory of intelligent design, about intelligent design. And William Dembski is, uh, very influential in this. He's at Baylor, and here is our definition of what intelligent design is: it's the biological theory, or you maybe leave off biological, theory that holds that a deciding influence was required to account for the complex information, rich structures, and living systems. And one other thing about these lessons, big tent, and this is, uh, in the big tent of evolution we all have disagreements, but we're united in one thing, and we're united in what we oppose. And you'll see this later. This is the power of the deductive argument, but nature is all there is. We're united against the fact that that's a true statement.
But what is the main target of intelligent design? What's the main target? Is it the chemical origin of life? Research? Well, it's not, certainly, origin of life spontaneously arose chemically is not supported by the Bible. It's not supported by the evidence, so maybe that is the target. But, in fact, it's the lack of evidence of, uh, chemical origin of life and the incredible complexity of life itself that played the major role in Antony Flew, that famous British philosopher that just said that he had to abandon his atheism. So it's very powerful, the origin of life, but that is not the main target of the intelligent design movement. Oh, it's neo-Darwinism. Neo-Darwinism is another description term for just evolution, common descent that talks about genetic variability so it gets it more precise. And is that the target? It's not supported by evidence, it's not Biblical, so that must be the target of intelligent design, but really it's not the main target either. Actually, in intelligent design we are focused on a on a bigger target, and in the words of Phillip Johnson "the target is metaphysical naturalism, materialism or just plain old naturalism. The idea that nature is all there is." Modern science today is totally based on naturalism, and all of intelligent design's arguments against evolution and chemical origin of life it is the naturalistic base that is the target. And this is a quote from Phillip Johnson: "The important aspect of Darwinian evolution is it's naturalistic claim that life is the result of purposeless, unintelligent material causes. When Darwinian evolution and intelligent design stand in a complete antithesis. Intelligent design requires the designing influence to account for the complexity of life where Darwinian theory of common descent claims that life spontaneously arose."
Now I would like to talk a little bit about the big tent. Why is intelligent design the big tent? It's because we're all lined up against the fact that naturalism, that nature is all there is. Whether you're a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it's all in the tent of intelligent design. And intelligent design here at Grace Bible Church actually is a smaller, uh, tent than you would have in the intelligent design movement as a whole. Because we are all Biblical literalists, we all believe the Bible to be inerrant, and it's good to remember, though, that the entire intelligent design movement as a whole is a bigger tent. So because it's a bigger tent, just don't waste our time arguing with each other about some of the, all of the side issues. And that's one thing that I really enjoyed about our group is that we've put that all in the big tent, we're all working together.
It's also very important to realize how people understand us when you get out to talk about this. That they're filtering everything that we say through a naturalistic grid. They totally, totally misread what we have to say. We can assert empirical evidence that all they hear us expressing is subjective bias. We can say there is scientific evidence for design and they say, "Oh, there goes that religious right on another power grab." Well, even when we marshal all the facts, get all the evidence and go into the debate, I could witness and tell you for truth that it never goes anywhere.
Back in November 2003, we finished about four or five months of adoption process for the high school biology textbooks in Texas. I was there for all the public testimony and our good friend Walter Bradley, he testified at 11 o'clock one Thursday night. He has actually been in College Station and drove to Waco. I called him about 9 and said, "Oh, we're going to be here until 1 o'clock." So he came on down and got there at about 11 and testified. Because he had signed up to testify earlier.
But I want to tell you all the arguments made by all the intelligent design group, all the creationist intelligent design people, I can guarantee the other side heard exactly nothing. They did not hear one single fact, they were not swayed by one argument. It was just amazing. I mean all the, my fellow board members who were really not even the scientists in the group, they were not impressed by any of this. They said, "Oh well, it's just two opinions. And there were only the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board were the only ones who were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say that they don't present the weaknesses of evolution. Amazing. And then if you check out the last week's issue of, uh, Time magazine, you'll see an article that was entitled "The Stealth Attack on Evolution." You can, uh, it was just in Time, and I mean, January 31st issue. And this debate just keeps going on and on and on, and legitimate scientific evidence being presented in all these cases and all the arguments are dismissed like this here is a subversive, secret attempt to force religion into science.
So what is naturalism? It's the idea that nature is all there is. Philosopher William Halverson states that "naturalism asserts first of all that the primary constituents of reality are material entities. By this I do not mean that only material entities exist. I am not denying the reality of the real existence of such things as hopes and plans, behavior, language, logical inferences and so on. What I am asserting, however, is that anything that is real is in the last analysis explicable as material entity or as a form or function of action of a material entity." Theism says in the beginning, God, naturalism says in the beginning matter. I was over at Dr. Romo's office yesterday and we got to hear that astronomer Carl Drastro, was that the one? Wasn't he the one? Robert Drastro basically stated exactly this. I said, "My gosh that's my quote. He's just giving my quote right now." Because he was making the same argument. He said, "I'm a materialist. I don't know how to explain a lot of things, but that's the way I'm going to stand." And so, it's, it's, that's the enemy, it's naturalism.
I'd like to make a quick comment about the option of theistic evolution, and it's a very poor option. There's not anybody in our group that's advocating this. Because Darwinism doesn't allow God to do anything. Consider natural selection of random mutations. If they're random mutations, they can't be God-directed, and if they're naturally selected, you can't hav, quote, "God-selecteds." And so no one in our group represents theistic evolution, and the big tent of intelligent design does not include theistic evolutionists. Because intelligent design is opposed to evolution. Theistic evolutionists embrace it. So, you know, there are some in the Christian camp that just say, "Well, I am a theistic evolutionist." And there are some bright minds that are that way, but they aren't part really of the intelligent design group. It just doesn't fit.
Well, naturalism dominates our culture. Francis Schaeffer in the book "The God Who was There" – if you've never read a Francis Schaeffer book, that is the one you must read, "The God Who was There," written in 1968. He says at the very first paragraph of his book, he said, talks about the naturalistic worldview "is like a suffocating and a particularly bad London fog and just as fog can't be kept out of the walls or doors so this consensus comes in around us until the room we live in is no longer distinct. And yet we hardly realize what has happened." And A. J. Machen[sic], he's one of my favorite, uh, he was one of the leaders of the fundamentalist fight back in the twenties, 1920s, when they were fighting modernism; it was coming into the church. He wrote a really great clip, "Christianity and Liberalism," but he also identifies naturalism as the enemy. Ok. But naturalism has enslaved our society's mind. David Kupelian in a WorldNet article, it's a fascinating article, on October 24, 2004, makes an interesting comparison. He observes that naturalism evolution is very much like the movie The Matrix. So you're in for a little treat here, let's see if this works,
[McLeroy shows clips from the movie, The Matrix.]
Gotta get that sigh in.
Well, everyone's heard a lot about manipulation, mind control and things like that. Nevertheless, we're really not sure about how much mind control stuff really works. But um, this is what David Kupelian makes in his argument. He says:
"Let me help you out here. It's not only real, it's the fabric of our lives. To demonstrate the real life matrix programming. Let's consider one of the most stunning" (this is his words) "and audacious real life matrix programs currently running. I'm referring to what we call evolution. In the days prior to evolution, the evolution matrix program, that is from the beginning of human life until Darwin came along in the mid-19th century, human beings would step outside their homes and survey their eyes and their minds the wonders of nature. They'd see majestic 400-year-old redwood trees, hummingbirds that were able to hover, and honeybees that somehow knew how to do a special figure-eight dance. Looking in every direction, we humans beheld not only fantastic complexity and diversity and order, but also the supreme intelligence behind creation as brashly evident as the noonday sun. This ubiquitous natural wonderland caused man to acknowledge and honor the creator of creation. Issac Newton, quote, 'When I look at the solar system, I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amount of heat and light. This did not happen by chance.' Did not happen by chance? Well, ever since Darwin and his successors succeeded in loading the evolution matrix program on mankind, a fantastic theory on which there is no proof and many serious problems. Now, when we walk outside and look at the created universe, what do many of us see? Chance. Although our eyes survey the same wonders of God's creation that inspired faith in our predecessors, in our minds today we see only the meaningless result of million years of random chance mutation, That's what our minds see. The eternal dance of purposelessness, recombination of ever more complex form, but all without meaning, without spirit, without love. And by direct implication, we also see that man is not a fallen being needful of God's saving grace, but merely the cleverest, most evolved animal of all. Since evolution by definition always results in improvement and advancement, man in all his violent, and lustful and selfish desires, drives, are perfectly normal and natural in advance. There's no good and evil, no heaven and hell, and man as a highly evolved monkey has no sin and no guilt. As these are logical impossibilities from the evolutionary point of view."
Well, I think Mr. Kupelian makes a very valid comparison. The analogy of evolution as the matrix, it's, it's really amazing that we do live, seems to me, in a matrix-type world. I mean, we have been programmed, our society has been programmed, in the way we look at things outside. It's very interesting. But what do the Scriptures say? I love Psalm 100, I memorized it when I was a little kid, and it says "Make a joyful noise onto the Lord, all ye lambs. Serve the Lord with gladness, come before his presence with singing, know ye that the Lord, he is God. It is he that hath made us and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture."
I'd like to make a few observations. First of all, notice that this, uh, Psalm is addressed to "all ye lambs." It's not addressed to the Israelites, to the Jewish people. It's addressed to everybody. It's addressed to the whole world, that whole world, that university sitting over there. It's addressed to all our friends, people that are not going to church. It says, "Serve the Lord with gladness, come before his presence with singing." And then it, the other thing to notice about it, it says, "Know ye that the Lord," that's Yahweh, that's it's name, that's God's name, "know that he is God." And then, "it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves." That phrase has always been a light to me. I've been reading about this stuff for 25 years. And to me the fact to know that evolution is almost a claim that's made ourselves. But here's, directly here in scripture it says, "It is he that hath made us and not we ourselves." And it's written to all the people, and what's their response supposed to be? Their response was supposed to be that "know ye that the Lord he is God."
One other place that you might turn to, we're not going to take time today, but if you haven't read Job chapter 38 to 41, you need to read it because it's a speech by God Himself. I read it to my fourth-grade Sunday School class – that's what I usually teach, I'm in my second adult Sunday School class to teach since I've been at this church. But I've taught fourth graders for 18 straight years so... But one of the things that I really have read to my fourth-grade class, I've read them the entire Job: 38-41 at one time. It's a speech by God, and it's where he tells them that he is the Creator. It's, you should read it sometime.
Well, pretty soon we are going to be entering back into our Matrix-type world. We'll be watching the Super Bowl, we'll be going back to where naturalism has blinded all ye lambs from the truth. You'll be back in a world where people don't care about the Lord. He is God, and to effectively get this truth out to a world that has been blinded from the truth, we must prepare ourselves and we must train our minds.
And so how can we do this? Well, I'm going to give you a quick, just a little rabbit-trail excursion from Dr. Bruce Waltke, he's an Old Testament scholar, but he has said that in Proverbs is the book of the Bible given to train our minds. If you look, the summary of the book is, it's in the second verse, "to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding." The first part of the verse, "to know wisdom and instruction," tells us how to live our lives and to have moral wisdom, but also the purpose of the book is to "perceive the words of understanding" that means to train your mind and to develop you to think.
This is the book of the Bible to develop your mental skills. That's why they're put into maxims, they're very symbolic, you have to wrestle with them. They're very challenging to a mental discipline. They're to develop a way of thinking and to develop your mind to think clearly. That's what it means to perceive the words of understanding. And I believe a well-trained mind, a well-disciplined mind, is the first step we must take if we're going to confront naturalism.
Phillip Johnson sees the great hope of the future in this room today, all you young people. I'm so thankful that y'all are all here, especially you young folks, us older guys we're going to be passing off the scene. But it's the young people, talented young people, that be able to rise to the intellectual level it takes to take on the future talented naturalists that will be on the scene. Johnson says, "To get the intellectual world discussing a new and possibly unwelcome question, it's not enough just to write a book. To make an argument, we have to inspire lots of people to start doing the intellectual work based on the right questions, work of such high quality and persuasive force that the world cannot avoid discussing it. These thinkers have to produce books and articles that explore in detail what happens when you call materialism into question rather than to take it for granted. As the discussion proceeds, the intellectual world will become gradually accustomed to treating materialism and naturalism as subjects to be analyzed and debated, rather than as tacit foundational assumptions that never can be criticized. Eventually the answer to our prime question becomes too obvious to be in doubt. When philosophy conflicts with evidence, real scientists will follow the evidence."
So that takes us to the power of the deductive argument. I wrote that up on the board. I practiced with my fourth-graders today, and the one part that I could really hammer home to my fourth-grade students this morning was the power of the deductive argument. I put that up on the board. It says nature is all there is; life exists, therefore natural processes brought forth life. A deductive argument is not like induction; it has to be true. If the premises are true, if the logic is written correctly, it has to be true. It's written correctly. But there's a problem in the premise. Is nature all there is? And that is what makes it the big target. So to the evolutionist, the Darwinist, no matter what the evidence shows, no matter what the argument you present, no matter how weak their arguments and evidences are, Darwinism must be true – there must be an explanation somewhere, we just haven't found it.
So, remember, probably the most important thing I can tell you right now is the only, uh, no arguments on behalf of intelligent design can succeed against naturalism on it's own terms. If we concede nature is all there is, you have, you can never win, they won't listen to a word you have to say. So how do we confront it? And this is from Phillip Johnson and uh, in the book we've all studied together. He says, "First thing, you point out the dependency of evolution on naturalism. The only proper way to address the naturalist is to challenge the elements of their naturalism." And this has been the goal of the intelligent design movement.
Phillip Johnson describes the public debut of intelligent design movement, and by the way, it's in March 1992, at SMU, Southern Methodist, they had a conference, but this is in no way to assert that creationists haven't been making these arguments for all times, especially in the last thirty, forty years. Creationists have been making these design arguments, but the birth of the intelligent design movement probably did start at SMU, 1992. It was here that he and Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and William Dembski, debated with Michael Ruse and other influential Darwinists the proposition that neo-Darwinism depending on a prior commitment to naturalism. Johnson believes that in the long run discussions of this sort would be fatal for Darwinism. And that's when he states, "Once it becomes clear that Darwinism rests on a dogmatic philosophy rather than on the weight of the evidence, the way will be opened for dissenting opinions to get a fair hearing." They hadn't got here yet. We don't have a fair hearing yet. But, we gotta keep working on it. This is not something that happens overnight.
In a nutshell, that's the strategy. So what do we do about our Bible in the intelligent design movement? According to Johnson, the first thing to do is to get the Bible out of the discussion. Remember, even if you don't bring the Bible into the discussion, the naturalist has already put it into the discussion. And Johnson states "it's vital not to give any encouragement to this prejudice and to keep the discussion strictly on the scientific evidence and the philosophical assumptions. This is not to say that the Biblical issues aren't important, the point is the time to address them will be after we have separated materialistic prejudice from scientific fact."
And let me say it again: in the 2003 biology book adoption in Texas this principle was followed strictly. There wasn't a board member that wasn't trying to get the weakness of evolution into the debate. We never brought up religion. We never brought up intelligent design. All we brought up was evidence. We didn't go to naturalism. We didn't go there at all. We didn't sit there are go, oh well, yours is based on naturalism. No, we didn't say that! All we said, look at the evidence! And they didn't hear a single word! We had to say, the, uh, other side however, railed against religion! They railed against. They brought in, uh, intelligent design. Oh they put it down! They made Michael Behe, we had Michael Behe, we had a bunch of the leaders: Dembski, and all these people had come down to help us in the debate. They didn't listen to a word they had to say, but they brought in liberal theologians, liberal pastors. They brought religion into the debate. We didn't do it at all.
So we followed the philosophy right here, and so that gets us to, uh, let me get, ah, here's a question: this is going to be when you divide up into little groups today. This is going to be one of the questions – you start thinkin' about it right now. If you can think and listen to me at the same time, which you probably can. How can the materialistic philosophic naturalistic base dependency of Darwinism be brought into the discussion and used for our benefit? We didn't use it. All we did was stay with evidence and we got run over. And that is strategy number two, though, demonstrate the way to the evidence. Remember that's what got Anthony Flew on the origin of life. He finally converted because of the weight of the evidence.
Well Johnson says, "The question for now is not whether the vast claims of Darwinism conflict with Genesis, but whether they conflict with the evidence of biology. And to make this question visible, it is necessary to distinguish between the dictates of a materialist philosophy and the inferences one might legitimately draw from the evidence in absence of a materialist bias. So I put a simple question to the Darwinian establishment – what should we do if empirical evidence and material philosophy are going in different directions? Should we follow the evidence or should we follow the philosophy?"
Ok, there's one you can put in your notes. If you're going to ask someone what happens when they diverge? Therefore we must know our subject. Facts and evidence are crucial. I was reading Richard Dawkins – if y'all don't know who he is, he is probably one of the most influential Darwinist spokesman in the world today. He's an English professor. And I read one of his articles essays. It's on his Web site. And he insisted all his reason for believing in evolution was not based on any naturalistic assumptions. He listed evidence, evidence, evidence as why he supports Darwinism. In fact, my question is – you can think about later, this is not a discussion question – why do they hold it so strongly? What evidence do they hold on so strong that makes them so dogmatic? And they are dogmatic. You need to know what, why they believe what they believe because, and you need to be able to give arguments to them. That's why you need to keep coming to this class because that's what these guys are going to be presenting are academicians. But to be successful in debate you must know what the evolutionists hold so dearly. In Dawkins' mind the greatest evil in the world is religious faith. So he firmly has, so firmly established in his naturalistic belief that any argument that makes the case for a native designer must be arguing for faith, and in that case it must be evil. And that's so funny because there's no such evil in the world unless there's a righteous God that the evil's against. So he's really making an argument for us! But he argues that it's evil. He's the one that said anyone who believes against evolution must be either dumb, stupid or evil. You know, he made a famous quote. I didn't look it up to bring it here.
Well anyway, the next few weeks of the class we'll get more specifics about the facts, the evidence. The intelligent design movement sees itself as the true scientific empiricists. Phillip Johnson uses the metaphor of a wedge splitting a huge log as the way to win this fight. And next week the class will be about irreducible complexity, perfectly in time because Michael Behe is going to be here the week following. And the man that is most closely associated with this argument will be here. So it will be very interesting to hear what we have to say.
In conclusion, we have a worldview clash. That's what this is. All I got to hear of Nancy Percy was on campus with you. I'm talking about the worldview. The up-story and the lower-story. But we need to chip away at the foundation of the worldview by first demonstrating their dependence on a naturalistic philosophy, second by demonstrating the weight of the evidence stands against Darwinism. Remember keep chipping away at the objective empirical evidence. Keep pointing out that their deductive reasoning depends on the premise nature is all there is to be true. Remind them that they may be wrong.
Ok. That's my comments. What we need to do next is, uh, Jaime, you want to handle, well, I'll handle this. Um, y'all pair off three, four, two, three, four, don't get more than four 'cause you won't have a chance to talk and come up with some answers to these questions. We're gonna take about ten minutes, and what y'all need to do is to, uh, just look at the questions. The first one is how can you demonstrate macro-evolution depends on a naturalistic philosophical assumption and bring it into the debate. That's what we didn't do in the debate. Well since our topic today is on naturalism, how can it be brought into the debate? And if it does brought into the debate, can you do it without bringing religion into it? In other words, if you look at what's happening, there's different states or school boards that are passing this and this, and naturalism's not in the debate.
And also, just a simple one – that should be your primary discussion question. The second one: can science be defined without a naturalistic assumption? If so, define it. And the last one: is science defined as naturalism able to say intelligent design is false? OK, so there you go. You've got to organize yourselves into three or four groups and go after it.
OK, thank you. Everybody has made some really good comments. I'd like to make one final observation just from my experience and the Texas State Board of Education. Is, we weren't about to convince any scientists, but we couldn't convince fellow board members that these books should have evidence. And the more I look back on it, I believe if we would have challenged the naturalistic assumptions that nature is all there is with our fellow board members and challenged these people that were talking about it, a little bit – that brought up testimony – possibly we would have gotten a few more votes because a lot of these dear friends of mine on the State Board of Education are good, strong Christians that are active in Young Life and other activities – but they were able to totally not even worry about the fact that evolution's assumption that nature is all there is is in total conflict with the way they live there life. So in that respect, it might also be effective. But one reason I brought this up is because in all the contemporary skirmishes today it is not even mentioned. It's just not brought up. And I think you will bring religion and I like the statement that it brings in their religion. You know, so I said, well let's bring it in there. They bring it in. They bring in all these pastors. It's amazing. All these people who get up here and talk about it.
My summary is, uh, here are my points. We are not opposing un-intelligent people. They're very smart, highly intellectual and very fine people. But they've been blinded from the truth. They're living in this Matrix world. They do not claim Yahweh is God. They basically think they have made themselves. So we need to be prepared. We need to be smart. We need to train our minds.
To me engaging naturalism does bring religion into the equation, though I think by bringing in scientific method some of the points – I hadn't thought about that, so I really gotten a lot out of this discussion. That you can do it without bringing religion into it, so I think you can go both ways. But their claims are fostered and dependent upon an assumption that may not be true. And they do not allow for that possibility. How about us? Our claims, our thoughts are also dependent upon assumption that may not be true. Are we willing to allow for that possibility? Are we gonna make ourselves as vulnerable as they are? And I think we have to. So the bottom line is going to be, though, what fits the evidence? And that's where we go to proceed in the class. Now Jamie is going to talk about what we'll be talking about down the road.
August 3rd, 2007 at 3:19 pm You may have evolved from a monkey, but Rick Perry sure didn't! Our enlightened Guv - global warming denier, former Aggie Yell Leader, and Ted Nugent fan - has been on the record for years as a believer in "Intelligent Design," the hottest new version of Creationism. When Perry was running for re-election last year a spokesman said that while the Governor was in favor of teaching ID in Texas classrooms "much as the theory of evolution is now taught," he was not pushing for a statewide curriculum change.
But Perry has found a proxy to carry out his anti-evolution monkey business. In this case it's Don McLeroy, the Gov's paleocon pick, announced July 17, for Chairman of the State Board of Education, the 15-member organization that oversees the state's curriculum. McLeroy, a dentist and Republican from Bryan, is a member of the SBOE's religious right faction, which has feuded repeatedly with moderate Republicans and Democrats.
An elected member of the SBOE since 1998, McLeroy has cast votes to weaken the teaching of evolution in biology textbooks, approve abstinence-only health textbooks, and ban an environmental science textbook that spent too much time discussing global warming and endangered species, according to the Texas Freedom Network.
Now as chairman, McLeroy will oversee the first overhaul of science curriculum standards in Texas since 2003. Get ready to redo the Scopes Trial, folks.
Mainstream media coverage of McLeroy's appointment has been both dull and timid, failing to examine what he actually believes. Understanding how his faith informs his politics is important because while this guy may be an amiable small-town dentist, he's also in a position to decide what thousands and thousands of Texas schoolchildren will be taught. (Not only that, but due to the sheer size of the state, Texas - along with Florida and California - largely determines what textbooks the rest of the country uses.)
McLeroy is a self-avowed Christian fundamentalist who believes that the Bible is literal and inerrant. True Christians, he believes, are involved in a pitched battle with a competiting worldview that is based on "naturalism."
"That's the enemy - it's naturalism," he said in a 2005 sermon on Intelligent Design to his church, Grace Bible, in College Station. The Intelligent Design movement, McLeroy tells the congregation, is aimed not primarily at neo-Darwinism or the chemical origins of life, but "metaphysical naturalism, materialism, or just plain old naturalism, the idea that nature is all there is."
McLeroy borrows his concept of naturalism from a constellation of anti-modern and anti-science thinkers, including Phillip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement, Francis Schaeffer, who encouraged conservative Christians to get politically involved in the 70s and 80s, and J. Gresham Machen, a fundamentalist Presbyterian who tried to purge liberalism from the church in the 1920s. McLeroy told his church that Machen is one of his "favorite" thinkers.
Of Machen's fight against naturalism around the time of the Scopes Trial, Paul Conkin in When All the Gods Trembled : Darwinism, Scopes, and American Intellectuals writes: "The all-important question was whether Christianity could survive in a scientific age…because of a philosophy that had accompanied the new science, or what Machen called 'naturalism.' Religious liberals were infected with such naturalism even when they verbally seemed opposed to it."
And there you have it: evolution=naturalism=liberalism. That neat syllogism expresses the enemy for McLeroy. And clearly McLeroy is still at the barricades seventy years later, fighting back against the forces of modernity.
The Intelligent Design movement, McLeroy told his church, is a "big tent" and represents the best hope for undermining evolution and naturalism. "Why is Intelligent Design the big tent? Because we're all lined up against the fact that naturalism, that nature is all there is. Whether you're a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it's all in the tent of Intelligent Design."
McLeroy counsels fellow travelers to publicly battle evolution on the merits. "We must know our subject – facts and evidence are crucial," he said in his sermon. But he acknowledges that this strategy has proven an utter failure.
"They [skeptics] totally, totally misread what we have to say. We can assert empirical evidence, and all they hear us expressing is subjective bias. We can say there is scientific evidence for design, they say 'oh there goes that religious right on another power grab'."
McLeroy expressed frustratation over the defeat of the state board's conservative faction in 2003 over "Teaching the Controversy," putting ID in Texas' biology textbooks. "All the arguments made by all the Intelligent Design group, all the creationists, ID people, I can guarantee the other side heard exactly nothing, they did not hear one single fact, they were not swayed by one argument. It was just amazing. I mean, my fellow board members… they were not impressed by any of this… It was only the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board [who] were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say they don't present the weaknesses of evolution."
by Forrest Wilder
The newly appointed chairman of the Texas school board, makes no secret of his views on the theory of evolution. In fact, he states his opinions on that topic and others on his Web site, http://donmcleroy.com.
Dr. Don McLeroy, a 61-year-old dentist from College Station who was named to head the panel by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, on July 17, says in one posting that common ancestry of organisms, a core concept of evolutionary theory, is a "hypothesis, and a shaky one at that," despite its broad acceptance among scientists.
His appointment has worried some groups that keep tabs on the board's activities, such as the Texas Freedom Network, in Austin. They fear he may try to weaken public schools' teaching that humans and other living things have evolved through natural selection and random mutation.
The Freedom Network worries that Dr. McLeroy will be an "ideologue who pushes his own personal and political agenda," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the organization, whose goal is to counter the influence of religious conservatives. It says Dr. McLeroy, a board member for eight years, has followed a politically conservative agenda during past reviews of health and environmental-science textbooks.
But Dr. McLeroy says such concerns are unwarranted. He acknowledges believing that school curricula don't do enough to discuss what he sees as weaknesses in evolutionary theory—a shortcoming that allows for "dogmatism in science," he said.
Yet he also said he does not plan to seek changes to evolution's treatment in state science standards, scheduled to be revised next year, because he believes that document allows for some discussion of the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory.
"I like the standards the way they are," he said.
State board chairmen in Texas generally have authority to set agendas for meetings and control discussions, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said. The 15-member Texas board's decisions about textbook adoptions and standards are influential nationwide because publishers try to tailor their materials to states that make up the largest share of the market.
Dr. McLeroy vows to wear the board crown responsibly, without shutting out opposing views.
"I am excited," he said of his appointment. "I'm also humbled."
Hear Brian Thomas Present
The Irreducible Design Of ATP Synthase
Brian Thomas (M.S. Biotechnology), representing the Center for Christian Apologetics (answers101.org), will dive into the mind-boggling world of biomolecules, examine the details of a nano-machine upon which all life depends, and discuss its origins. We will be impressed with the powerful argument for a designer based on the concept of "irreducible complexity," and be amused at foolishness of recent attempts to discredit this argument.
Brian Thomas is Assistant Professor Biotechnology at Dallas Baptist University.
(There will be a brief presentation by Dr. Don R. Patton on the truly thrilling new archeological discoveries in Israel.)
Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy
Farmers Branch, TX
Tuesday, August 7th, 7:30 PM
From The Sunday Times August 5, 2007
Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion sold a million copies. In a new and hilarious onslaught he pits hard science against astrology, tarot, psychics, homeopathy and other 'gullibiligy'
They sang about it back in the 1960s, taking their clothes off on stage and extolling "mystic crystal revelation and the mind's true liberation". Few back then dared hope that their new age would one day be a broad enough church to embrace the heir to the throne and the wife of a prime minister. Cherie Blair has worn Mexican "bio-electric shield" pendants, Prince Charles endorses alternative medicine, and those hallowed shrines of capitalist consumer-ism Selfridges and Harrods host the Psychic Sisters mediums.
Even modern global oil corporations have used dowsers to search for deposits But now Richard Dawkins, the man who told you that God was not only dead but had all along been a bogeyman invented by bogeymen, has levelled his sights at the whole new age caravanserai, including astrologers, spirit mediums, faith healers and homeopathic medicine. Is it high noon for the Age of Aquarius? It is the believers in Aquarius (and Leo and Taurus and Pisces) who attract the first body blow in Dawkins's new Channel 4 series The Enemies of Reason, which begins next week.
Dawkins is horrified that 25% of the British public has some belief in astrology – more than in any one established religion – and that more newspaper column inches are devoted to horoscopes than to science. Leaning back on a sofa in the faded gothic splendour of Oxford's 14th century New College he sighs with something approaching despair: "It belittles our universe. To have astrologers demeaning astronomy by tapping into the spine-tingling wonder of the universe is . . ." he struggles briefly for a word, then finds one and pronounces it with a keen awareness of the irony: "Sacrilegious!"
For Dawkins, of course, science is a religion, at least in the sense that it is something he fiercely believes in, a belief system that insists its dogma stand up to rigorous "double blind" experimental testing and rejects anything that fails. Those who refuse to put their beliefs to any test, he suggests, do so because they instinctively know they will fail. He gives short shrift to the astrologer Neil Spencer's refusal to explain his "art" beyond claiming it to be a "deep dark mystery". He has more sympathy, though only just, for a group of dowsers attempting to find one canister containing water amid 11 containing sand.
The results are no better than the law of averages – or pure guesswork – leaving one woman close to tears, devastated by the apparent disappearance of her powers.
"I don't enjoy dashing people's lifetime careers, but if their careers are based on claims that are simply wrong . . ." he lets the sentence tail off, implying a good dashing is what they deserve. Not that it does much good. In most cases he has discovered both practitioners and believers immediately invent reasons why the experiment was flawed or a fluke to keep their faith. "The forgivingness of the gullible is amazing," he says.
The closest he can come to sympathy is to quote the British-Brazilian Nobel prize winner Peter Medawar's dismissal of the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's confused teaching on evolution: "He can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he took great pains to deceive himself."
But the real scorn, and I can almost detect a tinge of repressed involuntary hatred beneath his unfailingly polite exterior, falls on spirit mediums, whom Dawkins clearly believes to be little better than confidence tricksters feeding on the emotionally insecure or damaged. At a new age "trade fair" featured in the first episode of his series we hear Simon Goodfellow, a Midlands card reader, tell him he should prepare for a change in his life. But hinting at retirement to a man in his sixties is hardly a miracle of divination.
Goodfellow, obviously struggling to find something that strikes a chord with this seemingly mild-mannered elderly gentleman in front of him, tries to get a reaction for "a male relative with a G", possibly who has "served in the armed forces" – again hardly a wild guess for a man of Dawkins's age and class, except that he is barking up the wrong family tree. "No, nobody in my family involved in the military at all," is the glacially polite reply. Goodfellow, obviously wishing he had predicted his own ill-fortune for the day, makes a final stab at a "female with E", only to fail equally abysmally. Dawkins refers to the skilled television illusionist and "mind reader" Derren Brown, a master of "cold reading" (and explaining it afterwards) who takes hints and clues from the person or audience, then plays on the reaction, drawing inferences and using basic psychology so that in many cases the person being "read" provides most of the information.
More often than not the "reader" simply offers a variety of obvious routes for them to go down: when he sees someone fighting emotion or close to tears he can say with phoney sincerity: "I'm sensing tragedy here, a death, maybe quite recent." Dawkins says of the mediums: "These are people making money out of others' grief." He is unwilling to see much moral difference between show business types who perform in front of an audience for profit and the spiritualist leaders who conduct essentially similar "services" in so-called churches.
It is not hard to see this as a grey area where new age beliefs and superstitions blend with the old established religions. Have lucky charms and incantations simply supplanted rosaries and Hail Marys? Is there much essential difference between a spiritualist preacher communing with the other side and a priest praying to saints for divine intercession? For Dawkins the traditional religious – or indeed superstitious – defence, that the very concept of belief requires you to make a leap beyond the available evidence, is an insult to human intelligence. But what annoys him most is the people who take chunks of scientific language and blend it into "their own mumbo-jumbo". A woman in Glastonbury (where else?) claimed to have "altered his DNA" back to its original "Atlantean" structure by inserting the "missing triangles".
Dawkins has yet to feel any effect, he says with a smile before adding dismissively: "Of course, it's complete and utter rubbish. DNA is a spiral helix. There are no triangles involved." There is a world-weary incredulity in his voice when he asks me: "Did you see her face? Do you think these people really believe it?" I have to admit that I suspect they do, although faced with Dawkins's searching intellectual gaze, more than one of his interviewees seems forced into what looks suspiciously like a smile of mild embarrassment.
He has not yet caught up with the BBC's imported blockbuster Heroes, in which a twist in DNA in certain individuals brings on mutations that give superpowers, a hugely successful television fantasy piggybacking on what I suggest is a modern trend towards "wistful thinking". "I very much like that science fiction style of imagination which breaks out of the box and imagines things that could be true," he says, but he is no fan of that which takes the science out of the fiction. Obviously not a great television viewer, he also performed the minor miracle of altogether missing The X Files, although he approved of setting the sceptical Agent Scully against the paranormal proselytiser Mulder.
As far as Dawkins is concerned the truth is indeed out there, but too many of us are looking in the wrong direction. I put it to him that his assertion that these unverifiable beliefs "undermine our civilisation" flies in the face of the importance of richness of myth and religious belief to our artistic and cultural inheritance. His answer is straightforward: "I suppose that's an aesthetic judge-ment."
For him there is little more glorious than pure knowledge. "I regard the current backlash against science as a betrayal of the Enlightenment." He deplores the slide in science in British universities. Could it simply be that modern science is too hard for most people, and that superstition and religion have always been a way in which the wonders and vicissitudes of the natural world have been made accessible to the masses? I can see it does not come easy for Dawkins to sympathise with the truly ignorant. "That shouldn't be a licence to lie. The universe doesn't owe us justice," he says. "If people are down on their luck, there's no reason why that should change. There's no reason for people like Hitler and Stalin to get their comeuppance, much as we might like them to. "I shouldn't want people to behave in a particular way on account of a lie, though I expect some politicians would. Tony Benn, for example. I don't think he'd care whether something is true or not – just whether or not it benefits humanity."
I suggest that is more or less classic Marxism, and perhaps where it comes closer to humanism. But this is one area where Dawkins would have more in common with the Romantic poet John Keats's "Beauty is truth, truth beauty", though they might have to argue a bit about the definitions.
A man who holds no truck with established religion is unsurpris-ingly unlikely to have much good to say about Scientology, which purports to use scientific tools such as its controversial "E-meter". "It's purely made-up. It just taps into some 'gullibiligy'. They find some film star or somebody like Tom Cruise or whatever his name is who's thick as two short planks and he becomes a sort of advertisement."
But he has more scorn for the likes of Deepak Cho-pra, the Indian who has written bestsellers with titles such as Quantum Healing, which Dawkins says suggest some spurious linkage between spirituality and cutting edge science. "There is much about quantum theory that sounds almost mystical," he is willing to admit. "Much of it is indeed still plain mystery, but its predictions are stunningly accurate."
What matters is not to use fuzzy references to verifiable scientific theory in order to accrue credibility. Is it also the backlash against science that has delayed appreciation of the true risks of global warming? Dawkins has no doubts about the evidence, and drives a hybrid Toyota Prius, one of the first imported into the country – its dashboard displays are in Japanese – proudly pointing out the indicator that shows when it is running on electric power only. Among the dangers of the revolt against conventional science he cites the widespread rejection of the MMR vaccine after Andrew Wakefield's now discredited report claiming a link to autism.
As Dawkins says: "There might be bad scientists, but that does not mean the methodology of science is bad." For him the acid test is forever and always: "Test it!" This is a principle totally lacking, he charges, at the Royal London Homeopathic hospital, recently refurbished to the tune of £20m, including £10m from the cash-strapped NHS, and with a plaque certifying the endorsement of the Prince of Wales. (His title for episode two of The Enemies of Reason is The Irrational Health Service.) What is undisputed is that homeopathy derived from an early misunderstanding of the principle behind vaccination: that like cures like.
But actually a real vaccine stimulates the body's own immune system to fight the disease. What makes homeopathy so truly absurd in Dawkins's inexorable logic is the idea that a substance becomes more powerful the more it is diluted. The idea, widely believed though totally unproven, is that water retains a "memory" of the molecule, though if it did he points out – as the people of Gloucester might nowadays bear in mind – it would also "remember" the salt, mud and urine it once contained. He cites the statistical probability that "one molecule in every litre of water drunk once passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell". Hardly reassuring for royalists.
"I say to doctors who use homeopathy: if you can identify this you'd have discovered a whole new force in physics. Either there is no effect, in which case you shouldn't be charging people money, or there is an effect, in which case you should prove it and win the Nobel prize."
The fact that homeopathic doctors and patients do claim there is a benefit he puts down to the human body's power to restore itself when given the psychological boost of someone else's concentrated concern and attention: the average half hour to an hour, rather than the typical eight-minute NHS GP consultation. "There was a time when old-fash-ioned family doctors used to hand out placebos but now they aren't allowed to because it's against medical ethics. Now it's only the homeopaths who are allowed to benefit from the placebo effect.
"Homeopathy started out about 200 years ago at a time when conventional medicine was considerably more dangerous. At least they weren't applying leeches." Dawkins insists that phenomena including religion, myths, superstition and science need to be seen in their historical context. He quotes the science fiction author Arthur C Clarke's Third Law, "any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".
"But you can't simply reverse that and say that because it calls itself magic now it must be future science."
He admits that applied science can be a process of trial and error, but insists that recognising the error is what makes the difference. His own hope would be that in 500 years' time science will have advanced as far as it has in the past 500.
When I suggest that fundamental- ism in Islam – the culture that ironically kept scientific advance alive in the Middle Ages – and a revival of creationism among Christians could turn all that on his head, he closes his eyes and says with deep feeling: "A nightmare!"
The creationists can prepare for a rocky ride from Dawkins the year after next, which will be the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. "It's going to be a big Darwin year," he says with undisguised relish.
Dawkins doesn't want to ban religion – "as long as it's done between consenting adults in private", he adds only half jokingly.
His ambition is to make people in the 21st century appreciate the world that modern science has given them, rather than rejecting it at the same time as taking its benefits for granted.
"I'm interested in consciousness- raising. In the same way that femi- nists now wouldn't get worked up any more about the phrase 'one woman, one vote', because they've already made us think about the issue."
He can certainly claim to have done that. His atheist treatise The God Delusion, now out in paper- back, has already sold more than 1m copies globally, though he admits he hadn't thought of the possibility that a few people might have bought it to burn it.
He was bemused at one Christian journalist's attempt to maintain that he secretly did harbour a belief in a supreme being. "I might have used the word 'God' in the same way Einstein did when he said 'God doesn't play dice': what he meant was that the universe couldn't be different. He was arguing against Heisen- berg's uncertainty principle." It was one of the few arguments in which science eventually came down against Einstein.
Richard Dawkins can accept people's longing for "something else" – miracles or an afterlife. He just wishes they would look in the proper places. "There is a certain nobility about facing up to the truth. There is something wonderful about understanding!"
Perhaps it's what God gave us a brain for. Oh, dear . . .
The medium who found Dawkins's father on the far side
When Dawkins consulted a medium who has appeared on daytime television and charges £50 for instant phone readings she said she could hear or see his father "on the other side".
He did his best not to look surprised as she continued: "I'm aware of your father stood right behind you. "On a spiritual level he wasn't the most openest man with his thoughts and his feelings. Ummm, I kind of want to say that I do love you and I do care – but that wouldn't have been his character." (Or that of many middle-class father figures of his generation, a sceptic might have said.)
But Dawkins let her continue. "I'm aware that you don't have you dad's photograph out" – it was true, he didn't – "so I'm a little bit concerned why. So I'm going to ask you: why don't you have it out?" Dawkins had a bombshell ready: "Well, he might be aware that I don't have it out because he comes to the house about once a week." "Oh, he's still here," she said, adding after a few seconds: "I don't feel it's working."
"Is that because you thought my father is dead and discovered that he's still alive?"
"No, nothing to do with that. I don't know."
She commented later: "As a clairvoyant you're only as good as the client."
The Enemies Of Reason starts on Channel 4 on August 13
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© Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
By Rick Cousins Contributor
Published August 4, 2007
Tom Henderson is not much of a watchmaker. He shakes a small glass jar containing a tiny metallic gear, a brass bezel, a scarred watch crystal and dozens of other nearly microscopic, shiny objects.
But, no watch. He vigorously rattles the container again. Still, no watch. For Henderson, a retired NASA engineer and creationist speaker, that is the point.
No watchmaker — no watch.
He's carried the somewhat-out-of favor message of special creation to nine foreign countries in the past several decades because he is convinced that how we believe the world came to be it is important.
His is a radical message that challenges both mainline and some evangelical church assumptions, as well as those of the scientific community as a whole: that the first few chapters of Genesis are just as literal and authoritative as the rest of the Bible.
"Years ago, I traveled to Mexico and spoke on the campus of a left-wing university," he recalled. "During the Q&A on creationism, some there accused me of being a CIA spy."
Henderson has never been a spy, of course. He has degrees in math, physics and science education and worked at the Johnson Space Center for 37 years.
Creationism is a step beyond the controversial intelligent design movement that has been involved in text book discussions in various parts of the United States.
"Today's intelligent design movement has done a really good job of showing the complexity of creation — showing that naturalism cannot be the answer," he said. "Of course, intelligent design only suggests a creator, but as a Bible-believing Christian, I have come to know and I can appreciate what the creator has done."
Why should the average person in the pew care? Henderson argues that societal decay, theological erosion and moral bankruptcy will ensue if the evolutionary model is embraced.
"The basis for all Christian doctrines is found in the first 11 chapters of Genesis," he said. "If it is not true, then what is our basis for morality?"
He also said that the evidences he has found for creationism could remove barriers to faith.
"For some people, evolution is a barrier to the good news of Jesus. They feel if evolution is true, Christianity can't be —and they are right," he said. "But if evolution is a myth, then they can take that step to faith."
Although the creationist view has become unpopular in public schools, mass media and other forums, Henderson said that both the Christian school and home-school movement are generally supportive of it.
The Institute of Creation Research, Bob Jones University and other creationist sources produce text books and other materials designed for these groups. National media recently noted the opening of the 60,000-square-foot Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.
Creation arguments range from disputes over the validity of radioactive dating, the claim that life is irreducibly complex, the observation that most mutations are unfavorable and the theory that only a finely tuned universe can manage to produce stars.
Now retired from NASA, Henderson coordinates the Web site www.creationsuperlibrary.com from his Friendswood home, where he answers questions from both believers, skeptics and the merely curious.