NTS LogoSkeptical News for 6 September 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Finders of Two Fossils in Kenya Call for Rewrite of Human Evolution


A new study attempts to explain why penguins are eating more small sea organisms instead of fish. And we answer a question from Vietnam about an eye disease. Transcript of radio broadcast:

03 September 2007


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Steve Ember. This week, we will tell how a discovery in Kenya has started a scientific debate about early human ancestors. We also will tell how people might have influenced the diet of birds on Antarctica. And, we will answer a question from Vietnam about an eye disease.


A complete Homo erectus skull and the upper jaw of Homo habilis at a news conference at the National Museum of Kenya

A team of researchers recently announced discovery of two fossils that it says should change the theory of human development. The Koobi Fora Research Project says the fossils came from two ancestors of human beings. Their remains were discovered seven years ago in Kenya. The British magazine Nature published a report on the discovery.

One fossil is an upper jawbone -- a long curved bone along the mouth. The other is a skull -- the bone that holds and helps protects the brain. The researchers say the upper jawbone is about one million four hundred forty thousand years old. They believe the skull fossil is even older. It is believed to be about one million five hundred fifty thousand years old.


Anthropologists Maeve Leakey and her daughter, Louise, are leading the Koobi Fora Project. They say the jawbone belonged to the early human ancestor Homo habilis. They say it is from a period when scientists thought Homo habilis had already disappeared from Earth.

The Leakeys say the discovery means that Homo habilis lived at the same time as Homo erectus. If confirmed, that could change scientific theories about the development of modern human beings.


Many scientists believe that humans, or Homo sapiens, developed from Homo erectus. They also believe that Homo erectus developed from Homo habilis.

The Leakeys say the shared period of existence makes it unlikely that Homo erectus developed from Homo habilis. They say both species probably developed two million to three million years ago. And, they say, the long period as separate species probably means they were not competing for food and shelter. They survived as species using different methods.

Other anthropologists are not persuaded that the jawbone forces a change in the theory of human development. They say it is likely that the Leakey's mistakenly identified a Homo erectus jawbone as a Homo habilis one.


The Koobi Fora Project researchers also found a skull they identified Homo erectus. However, it is the smallest Homo erectus skull ever found. The researchers say the small skull suggests a sexual dimorphism was common among the Homo erectus species. Sexual dimorphism is when the size difference between the sexes is great. This quality would make Homo erectus closer to gorillas than human beings.

But, other scientists argue that what the researchers found is simply the skull of a very young Homo erectus, not of a small adult. They also say two fossils are not enough evidence to change a theory of development based on hundreds of finds.

There are also fossil experts who support the Leakey findings. They note that the skull found is in especially good condition making identification easier.


You are listening to SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. With Steve Ember. I'm Faith Lapidus in Washington.

Two hundred years ago, Adelie penguins ate a diet rich in fish along the coast of Antarctica. But researchers say the diet of these black and white birds is very different now. They say the penguins began to depend on small sea organisms for food after fish populations decreased.

Scientists from universities in the United States and Canada announced the discovery. They reported their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Steven Emslie and William Patterson studied the chemistry of the eggshells of Adelie penguins. They used pieces of the shells from Ross Island in the Ross Sea. Explorers collected the eggs there in the nineteen hundreds. The cold Antarctic climate kept them in good condition.

The most recent eggs in the study were one hundred years old. The oldest were thirty eight thousand years old. The researchers compared the chemistry of the shells with the chemistry of fish and small sea organisms like krill.


One finding was surprising. Climate change about ten thousand years ago did not make major changes in what the animals ate, the researchers say. But they found that the chemistry of the eggshells became very different during the past two centuries. The chemistry changed from heavier to lighter isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Isotopes are a form of chemical element.

The researchers believe that people were important in this change. They say the populations of krill in the southern seas increased after hunters killed almost all the Antarctic fur seals in the nineteenth century.


In the twentieth century, hunting of whales greatly decreased the whale population. Whales and seals eat large amounts of krill. So the reduction of those animals increased the krill population. The researchers believe the penguins started eating more krill because it was easily available to them. It was also easier for the birds to gather krill than catch fish.

Today, the population of krill also is threatened by an increased number of krill fisheries. The researchers say climate warming caused by humans also is reducing the sea organisms. They say this means the choice of foods for Adelie penguins has gotten smaller.

Mister Emslie works at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, North Carolina. Mister Patterson is at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.


The retina is the sensory tissue in the back part of the eye. It gathers light and captures images from the lens, much like film in a camera. The retina processes these images into signals that travel through the optic nerve to the brain.

Diseases of the retina can cause vision loss over time.

A thirty-year-old listener in Vietnam says he cannot see well and doctors have told him he has retinal degeneration. This is the loss or destruction of the sensory tissue of the retina. Trinh Phuong Bac says he first developed problems in his right eye when he was a child. He would like to know more about this disease.


Emily Chew is a deputy division director at America's National Eye Institute. She says it is true what doctors have told our listener: there is no cure for retinal degeneration.

She says most cases are considered genetic. Scientists have been attempting to develop gene treatments for it. In recent years, there have been some reports of possible progress. But Doctor Chew says these studies of experimental gene therapies have only involved animals.


Recently, the National Eye Institute reported the findings of a study of diet and a disease called retinopathy. It says the omega-three fatty acids EPA and DHA, both found in fish, protected mice against the development and progression of retinopathy. The study showed that decreasing omega-six fatty acids in the diet also helped. The study was published recently in Nature Medicine.

The findings could be useful to research into retinopathy in humans, including a common cause of vision loss in diabetics. A separate form can lead to permanent blindness in babies born too early.


However, Doctor Chew says this study may have no connection to treating retinal degeneration. She also says there is disagreement about whether taking high levels of vitamin A could reduce the severity of the disease. She says one study suggested that vitamin A helped some people with retinitis pigmentosa. But she notes that other investigators have disputed these findings.

Retinitis pigmentosa, or R.P, is a form of retinal degeneration. R.P. is the name for a group of diseases that can be found as early as when a person is a teenager. People with R.P. have genes that give incorrect orders to cells that receive light. As a result, the retina can begin to self-destruct.


This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson and Caty Weaver. Brianna Blake was our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Steve Ember. Read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again at this time next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Evolution vs. Creationism


Ursula Siebert

Ursula Siebert,originally a German teacher & lecturer turned businesswoman, lived in various European countries before she came to the USA.

September 4, 2007

The debate continues.

A recent Gallup Poll released in June 07 showed that 50% Americans say that evolution is probably true. Some mental acrobatics must be involved for about 2/3 of all Americans to believe in Creationism at the same time.

No surprise about the divide along the party lines (Rep:30% believe in evolution / 68% do not; Dem: 57% believe in evolution / 40% do not; Indep: 61% believe / 37% do not).

Surprisingly, 3 Presidential Candidates (all Rep!) publicly admit to doubt the validity of evolution.

During the Republican debate in August in Iowa, the first email from voters for the candidates to be read out was: "Do you believe that more prayer would have averted hurricane Kathrina?" My mind was too busy boggling to catch their answers.

In NY and other cities the play Inherit the Wind is currently showing on stage. Given the latest intelligent-design-creationism controversies in Kansas and real life courtroom drama in Dover, PA the showing of this play is timely and worthwhile.

I sent a letter to George Clooney's agents encouraging him to produce a remake of the film classic of 1960; it should prove to be viable financially also given the current climate and nerve ending debate.

In the Skeptical Inquirer I stumbled across an article about a Canadian, Bruce Pendergast, a retired professional engineer who wrote to Prime Minister, Mr. Harper and 306 MP's to prevent "intelligent design" to creeping back into the school teachings instead of evolution.

See below his letter which is reprinted with his permission:

To: The Honourable Keith P. Martin, MPFebruary 7, 2007.

Dear Keith,

I'm sending this letter to all MP's, hoping you will be alarmed by what seems an onslaught against logic as well as a possible attack on our educational system. Surely madness prevails if and when a branch of the Federal Government verbally supports organizations whose goal it is to PREVENT knowledge from being taught while replacing it with unfounded dogma based on "faith". Yet such seems to be the case. Let me explain.

Apparently, a Federal government department is giving verbal credence to unfounded pseudo-science, namely Intelligent Design. ID is nothing more than two new buzz words which replace the religious fundamentalists' former unsound explanations supposedly justifying creationism. Their enormous power in America, encouraged by President Bush due to his own "faith", has caused some U. S. States to reopen the eighty year old debate of evolution versus creation. I thought that old creation myth had been dealt with by the Scopes Monkey Trial, but, no again it is rearing its oh-so ugly head under the guise of Intelligent Design.

Canada is being led in a similar direction.

Since those primitive religions have grown so greatly during the Bush administration, some newer members whose intellect is slightly more developed than the group's norm have cast doubt on their evangelists' claims that God created the universe in six days and other nonsensical beliefs to do with their ever-changing concept of how we all got here. (That begs the obvious question; since a day is the time it takes for a planet to revolve around its own axis, one might ask, how did God create the universe in six days BEFORE planets existed?) As those less moronic adherents started to consider evolution, the evangelists had to invent a new concept to replace their previous untenable myths and so the oxymoron, "Intelligent Design" was coined. 'Well, as it relates to creationism, intelligent design is neither intelligent nor does it represent any design whatsoever. Unfortunately, some backward U. S. States have been intimidated by their reverent citizenry to remove evolution from the school curriculum and replace it with the pseudo-scientific Intelligent Design, which has no evidential backing whatsoever; rather the rationale for such nonsense is "faith", a word which, when acted upon has caused more heartbreak, torture and senseless murder than virtually any other. Now, incredibly, Canada seems to be following the same path toward such folly. Here's how.

A department of our Federal Government, the Social Services and Humanities Research Council, has demonstrated their fuzzy thinking by making statements indirectly supporting ID while criticizing the science of evolution. One might think their words had been planted by those very fundamentalists whose avowed goal is to keep the populace ignorant of scientific truth. Ms. Janet Halliwell, SSHRC Executive VP recently suggested "there are certain phenomena in the natural world that may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution." Then Larry Felt, an SSHRC committee member suggested "there are features of the natural world... that evolution has some trouble accounting for." I ask, what are they? Surely after one hundred and forty years of investigation starting with Darwin virtually all "questions" raised by the religious fundamentalists have not only been answered but more than that, the answers have been supported by evidence that resulted from such scientific inquiry. Contrast that evidence with the only peg fundamentalists can hang their hat on, their faith and their Bible. It is obvious they are clinging to the only straws they can find in their desire to refute science. It goes without saying that knowledge should prevail over unproved superstition. Surely anyone with a scintilla of intellect must agree that evidence has more basis in fact than "faith" or even worse, that evolution is false since it "isn't in the Bible." Which Bible?, one might ask.

It seems to me that those two members of SSHRC should be asked to back up their absurd claims or else be fired from their undoubtedly cushy jobs. There is no room in ANY government agency for such nonsense to be spouted, particularly by an executive Vice President. More than just the shame of it, apparently this department spends close to $300,000,000 of our tax money each year. Hopefully NONE will be spent trying to support such ridiculous absurdities as the above two statements. Surely SSHRC has better things to do than verbally support groups whose only goal is to place their religious beliefs above science and truth. Incidentally, when asked to withdraw their statements, they refused, presumably feeling they are untouchable.

I ask you and your fellow MP's; would you finance an alchemist whose efforts to change lead into gold replaced chemistry classes? Would you encourage astrologers with their Zodiac and horoscope to replace astronomers and their scientific inquiry into the origin of the universe? Why not finance numerologists and abandon mathematics or donate to Transcendental Meditationists who are still trying to levitate? Their beliefs could replace the teaching of physics. Presumably you would not dream of doing such insane things. Then I implore you, make certain the nonsense spouted by SSHRC ceases. Remember, those fundamentalists are the same group who refuse to support stem cell research, who are horrified if an embryo in a petri dish is discarded yet rejoice when felons are executed, who remain silent when lunatic member of their faith murders a doctor for performing legal abortions and finally, who claim in contrast to ail the evidence that the universe is a mere 10,000 years old. Just yesterday Washington State banished Al Gore's movie on global warning, "An Inconvenient Truth", because "no contrary view was provided and it is all explained in Revelations anyway." Fortunately, saner heads later prevailed and the movie is now reinstated.

I have no quarrel with those who believe whatever appeals to them, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to me. However, I take issue with any Government department which encourages charlatans whose only claim to credibility is their frantic clinging to some dogma or "holy" book. Again, they can believe whatever they choose but they have no right to thwart the further knowledge, education and intellect of me or my fellow Canadians. Nor do you.

In conclusion, please consider the dreadful impediments to knowledge that organized religion has been responsible for over the past millennia. Whether it is Galileo being persecuted because he suggested the earth circled the sun or the thousands of others whose knowledge could have accelerated our education were it not for organized religion, it is imperative that we prevent such backward steps from being taken. Please, look into this abomination, reprimand those two dimwits for promoting superstition in place of logical thinking and find out if any other travesty is being perpetrated by the SSHRC. May truth and knowledge thrive and superstition vanish. Man did not land on the moon because of faith or prayers but through scientific knowledge and much hard work. May such advances continue.

Remember. YOU are MY civil servant, YOU spend MY money; it's not the other way around. May not one penny of my tax money be used to encourage myths or thwart knowledge. Let Canada not follow in the misguided footsteps of those who use their religious beliefs to try and disprove scientific facts. If my information regarding verbal support of Intelligent Design by the SSHRC is incorrect, I apologize. Otherwise, I look forward to your personal take on the matter. Being retired, I can be contacted any time, day or evening by mail, e-mail or phone.

Yours respectfully,

Bruce Pendergast, P. Eng., B. A. Sc. (Univ. of Toronto)

Statement from the John Templeton Foundation in reply to Le Journal de Montrιal


Attention News Editors:

- (September 3, 2007, page 6 Straight Talk by Richard Martineau)

MONTREAL, Sept. 5 /CNW Telbec/ - The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest questions. These questions range from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, and forgiveness.

Our vision is derived from John Templeton's commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation's motto "How little we know, how eager to learn" exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

Sir John Templeton is interested in promoting dialogue between science and religion. He feels that a dialogue between science and religion can be immensely valuable when looking for perspectives about life's biggest questions such as "Does the universe have a purpose?" or " What does it mean to be a human?"

In correction, we have never funded the Discovery Institute.

The Templeton Prize winner is chosen by a group of nine independent judges composed of scholars and leaders from around the world and from at least five different major religious backgrounds. Over the years, different groups of judges have selected several winners for their contributions to progress in religion, just as they have selected scientist, Freeman Dyson who has reservations about established religion.

Winners of the Templeton Prize exhibit a wide range of beliefs, both religious and atheist.

Winners from diverse religious denominations include Hindu Scholar, Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan; Japanese Buddhist, Nikkyo Niwano; Muslim leader Dr. Inamullah Khan; Hindu activist, Baba Amte; Jewish scholar, Rt. Hon. Lord Jakobovits and Jewish interfaith leader Sir Sigmund Sternberg.

As philanthropic investors, the Foundation seeks high-potential projects likely to generate exciting new knowledge and contribute to important new discoveries and breakthroughs. We look for bold ideas that engage the "big questions" and draw in multiple disciplines. The division of labor and increasing specialization in most fields means that some of the most interesting, difficult or profound research questions don't get addressed. In a contrarian spirit, we try to help give great minds the space and opportunity to address significant questions and issues that cross disciplinary boundaries.

For further information: Pamela Thompson, Vice President for Communications, John Templeton Foundation, (610) 941-5194, C (610) 772-3576, F (610) 941-2993

Universal Declaration of Independence From Fundamentalism


Peace, freedom and democracy are in danger. And self-proclaimed "model democracies" are not exempt from a necessary cleanup.

1 - What is fundamentalism ?

At the beginning, the word used to designate a deviant Protestant movement but now, it can be applied to trends found in all major religions.

Fundamentalism means the total submission of a people to a strict set of principles.

Fundamentalism is not about religion (the pretext behind the means), but about politics (the actual aim of the game) ; ultimately, fundamentalism is about the total control of society in a caricature of theocracy.

Fundamentalists are humans who build the set of strict rules and define what is true and what isn't, generally developing a simplistic doctrine based on their own biased interpretation of ancient religious scriptures that can be interpreted in as many ways as there are human beings. Since fundamentalists consider their doctrine as absolute, perfect, good and unfailable, anything growing out of it is necessarily wrong, corrupt and evil, and thus has to be eradicated in order to purify the world. Beyond what people do or say, fundamentalists intend to control and judge what people think.

Fundamentalism is totalitarian because all human activities should abid to the rules, starting with the pilars of democracy : political debate, science, education, justice, information... any field where intelligence can bloom and expose the limits of a basic propaganda.

The same logic can be found in the Discovery Institute's Wedge strategy : the ultimate goal of Intelligent Design is to undermine science and education, key entry points for fundamentalists. ID has nothing to do with science but everything to do with politics, starting with the artificial legitimation of religion at the root of the social system, and ultimately the restoration of theocracy.

The worst enemy of a fundamentalist is a person from the same religion who preaches tolerance, reason, and respect of the differences between individuals and cultures. Charismatic pro-peace leaders who happen to be people of faith, sometimes even former respected warriors : Yitzhak Rabin, Ahmad Shah Massoud...

The most embarrassing enemy of a fundamentalist is a "competing" fundamentalist from the same religion. The sales pitches are basically similar, but it brings the notion that there is not only one good answer to the question. At least one is necessarily wrong, it is more difficult to claim the true version. The best way is to either destroy this enemy or find a way to merge both franchises into a more powerful band.

The best ally of a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist from a "competing" religion. Each one becomes the "evil" of the other one, feeding him with new arguments. The more radical the opponent, the better : fear makes propaganda sound more credible and moderates less audible.

2 - Why did fundamentalisms gain momentum recently ?

Fundamentalist movements have always existed in most religions, but were traditionally limited to small circles around isolated radical doomsayers. They tend to blossom in periods of materialist decadence and crises because they leverage on basic fears : fear for one's own life and future, fear for the loss of identity and values of a whole society... In times of uncertainties, fundamentalists offer simple answers, clear visions of a brighter afterlife... and order. With a full set of golden rules.

Like fascism, fundamentalism feeds from the failures of democracy, from the intolerable gaps between peoples kept in poverty and underdevelopment on one hand, and rich corrupt regimes on the other. "Ideally", people must be fed up with their rulers, and not believe anymore in the rules supposed to hold the society altogether. An ailing dictatorship will provide a perfect background, but the fundamentalists' best moments come when self-proclaimed model democracies give the worst examples to the world. Most islamist fundamentalisms find their roots in the abuses of colonization, the failures of decolonization (not to mention the disastrous management of the creation of Israel or India / Pakistan), and many were infuriated by the aberrations of the Cold War. They usually reach power when Western democracies start sending the wrong signals at the wrong moment.

For fundamentalists from all religions, George W. Bush turned out to be the best person at the best place at the best moment.

His strategy should look like a total failure to whoever considers the Iraq quagmire, the Palestinian fiasco, or the worldwide surge in terror. But to the contrary, Bush's strategy proved a complete success.

Because George W. Bush didn't act as a President of The United States of America in the interest of his country.

And George W. Bush didn't even act as a Republican in the interest of his party.

George W. Bush acted as a fundamentalist in the interest of fundamentalism.

Right after 9/11, the whole world was behind him and the USA, but this man refused to lead the world towards peace and mutual respect. Instead, he decided to send the worst signals to the worst people, deliberately triggering a sick race between fundamentalisms. Bush's first speech after 9/11 was meant to clarify the framework for his fellow fundamentalists thanks to one single word : "crusade". In other words : let's go back to the good old times when people fought for religion, we fundamentalists are ruling the show, and I will play on the very ground Bin Laden hoped I would.

Because "the Sheik" new perfectly what kind of leader he was facing : a (stub)born again Christian fan of fundamentalist Billy Graham, a man who set from the start his mandate in a theocratic frame by saying some Higher Being was in charge and driving his decisions. Dubya not only made Bin Laden the official "evil" figure of his crusade, but he happily obliged by becoming the official "evil" figure for Islamists. Everything he did was meant to fuel hatred, sideline the moderates (ie those coward weasels in the West, promoters of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agenda in the Middle East...), and sabotage all attempts of peace or reconciliation. Where multilateralism and pragmatism was the answer, he avoided all forms of debates and sticked to his radical black vs white, us vs them, good vs evil rhetoric.

During the 2004 US presidential campaign, I raised a few eyebrows a couple of years ago by dubbing Bush a fascist, pointing out the disturbingly accurate echoes of Benito Mussolini's definition of fascism in BC00's Amerika. The propaganda reacted with a karlrovishy counterattack on the weak point : all of a sudden, Bush was facing "Islamofascists". The actual fascists were at the other end of the spectrum... but that other end is a mirror, and fundamentalism fueling fundamentalism, propaganda feeding counter-propaganda, extremists ideas became mainstream. Beyond fundamentalism, other forms of radicalism could gain momentum across the world. In Far-East Asia, ultra-nationalists took over Japan, and state revisionism became common in the Archipelago as well as in China.

Bush did not wage a war on terror but in favor of it : instead of focusing on terrorist networks and reducing their ground (ie by fighting injustice and poverty, promoting peace in the region and especially between Israel and Palestine), he deliberately infuriated the muslim world and helped fundamentalists recruit new flocks of followers. And he targeted a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 but everything to do with peace in the region. A new playground for international terrorism, the end of Iraq as a united country, civil war here, the rise of a new form of fundamentalism in Iran when reformers were "threatening" the Khomeini generation, the failure of Fatah and the victory of Hamas... all this was not collateral damage but the very aim of his sick game.

The war in Iraq has been misunderstood as a war for oil led by neocons. The fact is theocons used neocons because they could sell the war to SIGs and thus to Congress. The hidden agenda was not about securing energy sources but about spreading fundamentalism, and if hardcore neocons truly believed in the democracy spreading agenda, theocons knew perfectly the outcome of this madness.

Paleocons followed because money flew from the budget surplus to the hands of greedy SIGs, with significant crumbs ending up on their own laps. Paleocons followed because the official propaganda combined with Karl Rove's witchcraft made sure 2004 elections would be a landslide victory for Bush. Paleocons were fooled because they thought it would be a victory for the GOP.

I warned Republican voters before November 2004 : if Bush wins, the Republican party loses its soul and is bound to implode. Letting this man invade Iraq was criminal negligence, (re)electing him a strict liability crime by the American people against American values.

The 2004 elections celebrated the rise of Christian fundamentalism across the US at a level never reached before. If not mainstream at this stage, it gained significant social and political power in areas where demographic tides are changing the very shape of the country. Whatever the outcome of the 2008 elections, the USA are shifting towards more internal and self-centered dynamics, and theocons are more likely to bloom in such an environment.

Bush has been isolating the US from external influences, refusing any kind of accountability for his acts but for the dialogs he pretends to hold permanently with The Lord Almighty. At home, he shunted the Congress and his not so fellow Republicans. Away, he switched off the Kyoto protocol, unplugged the Geneva Convention (with the benediction of his Chief Torture Officer Alberto Gonzales), and tried to destroy the UN from the inside (with the help of Bolton the UN bomber). He even bypassed the WTO with series of bilateral FTAs or rather unilateral PTAs (Protectionist Trade Agreements).

A dedicated fundamentalist, Bush has been methodically destroying America from the inside, corrupting justice, science and education with a caricature of religion and paving the way for theocracy. This man is a total fake : a New England brat pretending to be a Texas hunk, a coward pretending to be a soldier, an amoral fundamentalist pretending to be a compassionate saint, a theocrat pretending to spread democracy, a weak wannabe who should never have been the most powerful man on Earth.

If you think the worst happened in Iraq, consider this : this man is planning an even craziest sequel in Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to George W. Bush he shared the same approach of religion. The fact is both are fanatics who expect important visits in a near future ; respectively the return of the Mahdi and the second coming of the Christ. And along with by a bunch of fundamentalists from all confessions (Christian, Muslim and Jewish), they share a more than weird doomsday scenario: the final clash between Iran and Israel will lead to those much awaited visits.

This Commander in Thief only has a few months before giving up power. He is working on peace all right, but rather of the eternal kind.

Compared to such madhatters, Islamist fundamentalists who kicked the Shah out of Iran back in 1979 look like moderates. No wonder Bush does his best to help Ahmadinejad stay in power.

3 - What can be done to undermine fundamentalism ?

Like fascism, fundamentalism needs a permanent state of fear, war and propaganda to survive, and is defeated by democracy at its best : exemplary, fair, just and respectful.

America cannot be respected if it doesn't respect its own values ; those of a model democracy.

The war on terror should be waged at its roots : helping Afghanistan out of despair and out of the reach of Talibans, converging towards a fair resolution of the Israel / Palestine crisis, focusing on poverty and injustice across the World.

The only way out of Iraq is to fire those who deliberately misfired. Bush and Cheney should be prevented from spreading more chaos and impeached... Easier said than done, but removing Gonzales would be a significant first step forward.

Moderates should speak up across the political spectrum : Dems or Reps, we share certain values and think our leaders betrayed them. We may not overpower them as quickly as we'd like to, but we want to tell the world that we want America back on track, we are not going to let that happen again, and we will do our best to get rid of fundamentalists among us.

Humility will make America stronger : it takes courage to give up arrogance. Besides, there is no other way to get out of what is basically a moral collapse (not to mention to claim any kind of leadership back in the future).

The aim is not to please atheists and condemn believers but to expose fundamentalists, especially among those who are supposed to defend justice, education or democracy. You don't want to ignite a witch hunt the McCarthy way (are you or have you ever been a fundamentalist ?), but rather to promote transparency over the hypocrisy and confusion fundamentalists are feeding upon.

I'm asking for a much needed reverse burden of proof : nowadays, lawmakers are terrorized by fundamentalists and it should be the other way round. Instead of harassing the bulk of the candidates with questions regarding their private life, we should be forcing fundamentalists to come out in the open, give democracy the lead over the theocratic agenda. Lawmakers shouldn't be compelled to demonstrate confusingly why they are good believers, they just should clearly tell that they don't support fundamentalism and that, whatever they believe in, religion should not mix with politics in this country. Ultimately, if some people want religion to rule politics, let them found their own party like they do in other countries.

Once again, I'm not promoting atheism, but defending democracy. And in the US, a cultural change is needed. The fact is America has always allowed too much confusion between the religious and political spheres ; been too tolerant with sects and fanatics that are not compatible with democracy (partly because it was built by people who sometimes fled Europe for religious reasons - ie the Mayflower pilgrims). For a European such as me, it can be upsetting to hear the leader of a supposedly model democracy finish his acceptance speech with "so help me God". And it is upsetting to see secular democracies under the pervasive threat of fundamentalists in the EU as well (lobbying for the mention of the Christian heritage in the Constitution, for the promotion of creationism and ID... with the benediction of a rather ambiguous Pope ; Benedict XVI).

Beyond the US and EU political microcosms, all moderates should voice their hope for a sounder and more transparent system. This new "we the people" should reach across the world, wherever moderates are threatened by fundamentalists, and not only in the usual hot spots : the race for juicy market shares is raging all over Asia.

Why not A Universal Declaration of Independence from fundamentalism, that perennial enemy of peace, freedom and democracy ?

URL TRACKBACK : http://www.agoravox.com/tb_receive.php3?id_article=6722

Scientology Faces Criminal Charges


By CONSTANT BRAND – 22 hours ago

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — A Belgian prosecutor on Tuesday recommended that the U.S.-based Church of Scientology stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10-year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organization.

Scientology said it would fight the criminal charges recommended by investigating prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen, who said that up to 12 unidentified people should face charges.

Van Espen's probe also concluded that Scientology's Brussels-based Europe office and its Belgian missions conducted unlawful practices in medicine, violated privacy laws and used illegal business contracts, said Lieve Pellens, a spokeswoman at the Federal Prosecutors Office.

"They also face charges of being ... a criminal organization," Pellens said in a telephone interview.

An administrative court will decide whether to press charges against the Scientologists.

In a statement, Scientology's Europe office accused the prosecutor of hounding the organization and said it would contest the charges.

"For the last 10 years, the prosecutor has been using the media, trying to damage the reputation of the Church of Scientology and not being able to put a case in court," Scientology said. "As a consequence, this created a climate of intolerance and discrimination" in Belgium.

It added that the prosecutor's recommendations suggested Scientology was guilty even before a court could hear the charges, making it "difficult for the Church of Scientology to recover and properly defend (itself) before the court."

Scientology has been active in Belgium for nearly three decades. In 2003, it opened an international office near the headquarters of the European Union to lobby for its right to be recognized as an official religious group, a status it does not enjoy in Belgium.

A Belgian parliamentary committee report in 1997 labeled Scientology a sect and investigations were launched into the group's finances and practices, such as the personality tests conducted on new members.

Investigators have spent the past decade trying to determine how far Scientology went in recruiting converts after numerous complaints were filed with police by ex-members alleging they'd been the victims of intimidation and extortion.

Justice officials seized financial records, correspondence, bank statements and other papers in their decade-long probe to track the flow of money to Scientology. Police also raided the offices of several consultancy firms linked to the Church of Scientology.

Pellens said that prosecutors expect Scientology to mount a strong legal challenge to the charges at a court hearing, which could come in the next two to three months. She acknowledged that could delay the case for years.

Belgium, Germany and other European countries have been criticized by the State Department for labeling Scientology as a cult or sect and enacting laws to restrict its operations.

The German government considers Scientology a commercial enterprise that takes advantage of vulnerable people.

In Washington, the State Department said that if Belgian authorities "have evidence that individuals violated Belgian law, they should take appropriate legal steps consistent with Belgium's international obligations to protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

"We would, however, oppose any effort to stigmatize an entire group based solely upon reglious beliefs and would be concerned over infringement of any individual's rights because of religious affiliation," the State Department spokesman's office said.

The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, which is seeking to expand in Europe and be recognized as a legitimate religion, teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems. The church, founded in 1954, counts actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its 10 million members.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Museum fight bites Visitors Bur.

Scientist calls Creation Museum plug 'inflammatory'


PETERSBURG - The head of the Kentucky Paleontological Society is criticizing local tourism officials for promoting the Creation Museum using inflammatory language from the museum's Web site.

The Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau on its Web site says of the controversial museum: "This 'walk through history' museum will counter evolutionary natural history museums that turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture."

Natural history museums don't turn people against religion, counters Daniel Phelps, paleontology society president. If they did, there would be regular protests outside those museums.

"There's many people who are very religious, and they don't have a problem with evolution," Phelps said.

"If the creationists want to say things like that on their own Web site, that's their business," he said.

"I was pretty shocked that a tax-supported entity would do anything like that," Phelps said.

The 60,000-square-foot, $27 million museum has sparked national controversy with assertions that go against the grain of scientific consensus.

The museum declares that Earth is 6,000 years old, rather than about 4.5 billion. It also depicts humans as living at the same time as dinosaurs, which scientists say never happened.

"We do list attractions on our Web site, and the attractions provide the content, because they know the venues best," said Pat Frew, spokesman for the bureau. "We simply provide a listing and description on the Web site as a service to them."

Given the content's controversy, might the bureau consider changing the wording, which was lifted from the Creation Museum's Web site?

"I think I'm going to stick with what I've told you so far," Frew said, declining to comment further on that question.

Frew said he did not know how much of his organization's $2.7 million budget, which comes largely from taxpayer money, has been spent promoting the museum, because "we have a contractual agreement with the Regional Tourism Network, and they promote the attractions to the leisure visitor. Therefore, we don't have a figure in terms of how much is spent on promoting the museum, as it is promoted in toto, not singularly, like all the other attractions."

Phelps, who has toured the place he calls the "Anti-Museum," and written a negative online review of it, says he has no problem with the bureau listing the Answers in Genesis museum on its Web site.

"It's a local attraction, and they should be listed on their Web site," he said. "But they don't need to say anything negative about a regular natural-history museum, and I just was amazed."

"Whenever you leave the state of Kentucky, people make jokes about Kentucky, and this would reinforce the stereotype," said Phelps, an environmental geologist and a part-time instructor for Bluegrass Community College in Lexington.

He also is president of the Kentucky section of the American Institute of Professional Geologists.

Creation Museum spokesman Mark Looy defended the visitors bureau's use of his museum's language, saying their use of the same wording "doesn't necessarily" mean the bureau "believes that. ... They're just using our language."

Natural history museums do turn countless minds against the Bible "when they present an evolutionary view that's in contrast with what the Bible says," Looy said.

Many religious people believe that evolution and the Bible both can be correct, and, "I used to be one of those, called a theistic evolutionist," Looy said. But, he said, "There's no room in the Bible for theistic evolution."

By the end of Friday, "we should have 170,000 visitors in three months" since the museum opened, Looy said.

Phelps chuckles at the phrase 'Flintstones Museum,' to describe the museum, but says he prefers the term Anti-Museum "because that's a phrase they created several years ago on one of their Web sites."

Dinosaurs represented in the museum ranged from good to bad, said Phelps, who chafes at images of dinosaurs wearing saddles. Never happened, he says.

"Some of them were not too bad - they had a nice Utah raptor and a few other things," he said. Others "were really weird, and they weren't perfectly accurate."

"My take on it is they're very anti-scientific," Phelps said. "I guess they have a perfect right to their opinions and all, but at the same time, I really worry about how they may be affecting local science education."

He describes himself as "a skeptic" when it comes to religion, but says he isn't anti-religion, "and I certainly wouldn't be offensive to somebody that was religious.

"Can you imagine what would happen if the Cincinnati Museum (Center) would blatantly attack religion?" he asked. "That's just wrong - that's not what they do."

He spent 3½ hours going through the museum, taking hundreds of photos. His review can be found at www.ncseweb.org (look for the item dated July 11).

"Many of his facts were just downright wrong," argues Looy, who notes the museum's response to Phelps' review can be found at www.answersingenesis.org and then plugging the word Phelps into the site's search function.

The museum has numerous other scientific critics.

Last month, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, a worldwide advocacy group, issued a news release, contending the museum "presents visitors with a view of Earth history that has been scientifically disproven for over a century."


Religion Today

By JAY LINDSAY The Associated Press

Thursday, August 23, 2007; 12:00 PM

MEDFORD, Mass. -- His protest began a half-century ago, when Ellery Schempp opened the Quran during his high school's mandatory Bible reading time and silently scanned passages he was too nervous to actually read.

That minor rebellion led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that outlawed school-sponsored prayer.

Schempp's civil disobedience in 1956 is back in the public eye with a new book "Ellery's Protest" by New York University law professor Stephen Solomon, which examines the effect of his case amid continuing controversy over the separation of church and state.

Schempp, a genial 67-year-old, clearly relishes the renewed activism as he's become a sought-after speaker for humanist groups and church and state separatists.

For most of his life, Schempp gave little thought to the school prayer case, even as its impact rattled through the courts and culture. A physicist, Schempp had a busy career, two marriages and saw both the North and South Poles during extensive travel in which his legal legacy was an afterthought.

But his views have remained as controversial as they were when he was a teenager.

"I'm really dismayed that 50 years later, this is still a bit of an issue," Schempp, an atheist, said in a recent interview at his home in Medford, just outside Boston. "There's enough problems in the world. Does anyone seriously think that more prayer and more Bible reading is the answer to global problems, to political problems, to wars in Iraq?"

Clearly, many people do believe in prayer. The courts remain busy with cases brought by those who claim the state is either suppressing _ or promoting _ a faith.

In Delaware, for example, a Jewish family is suing a school district it claims is promoting Christianity with prayers at events such as school potlucks and graduation. Last year, a valedictorian from Nevada sued after school officials turned off the microphone while she spoke about Christ's Crucifixion during graduation.

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, a legal group that often takes on religious cases and is representing the valedictorian, agrees public schools should not be sponsoring prayer and Bible reading. But he said the Schempp ruling has been abused by interest groups who are trying to stamp religion out of public life.

In the Schempp case, the court said prayer and Bible reading in his school were religious exercises, and it was unconstitutional for a public school to require them.

The justices wrote: "The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent and, in the words of Madison, 'It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.'"

Whitehead compared the Schempp decision "to throwing a big brick in a small pond."

"The rippling effect is still happening," he said.

Schempp was trying to make a point, not legal history, when he brought the Muslim scriptures to the Abington (Pa.) High School on Nov. 26, 1956.

He was raised in the Unitarian church, with its lack of dogma, and objected to the school's "morning devotional," in which a Bible passage was read and the Lord's Prayer recited, because he viewed the practice as promoting beliefs he and others didn't hold.

Schempp opened the Quran to show that there were other holy books. After he refused to stand for the Lord's Prayer, his teacher called him aside and he was sent out of the classroom.

That evening, Schempp wrote the American Civil Liberties Union to ask for help, and the case began its trip to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, Schempp was headed to Tufts University and a busy academic life, and a new passion for climbing developed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

In June 1963, Schempp heard the news of the Supreme Court decision on the car radio while honeymooning with his first wife in South Dakota. About 1,000 letters soon arrived at his parents' house _ some supportive, others filled with expletives and even smeared with excrement.

But the fervor died down after about six months. Though the decision bore his name, Schempp said the anger over the ruling was generally directed at the fervent atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, whose similar case was joined with his in the Supreme Court decision.

"Many years of my life went by in which I would rarely think of it," he said.

Schempp earned his doctorate in physics at Brown University. He worked as a professor and researched nuclear waste disposal and technology that would become part of the fiberoptics revolution. He taught in Europe, then in 1980, returned to the United States, eventually working with early MRI technology. By the early 2000s, he was consulting and moving toward semiretirement in Medford. He now gives talks on his early defense of civil liberties about once a month.

Schempp acknowledges his case and those that followed have led to some excesses by those seeking to hold the church-state divide. But overall, he thinks its principles are vitally important to preserve, and he's happy to use whatever fame he has to do that.

"Keeping the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and that crowd at bay as best we can is important," Schempp said. "It's tremendous fun."

Education board opposes intelligent design in curricula


Even creationists say theory doesn't belong in class with evolution

11:35 PM CDT on Thursday, August 23, 2007

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News tstutz@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN – Should "intelligent design" – the cousin of creationism – be taught in science classes in Texas alongside evolution?

A solid majority of the State Board of Education, which will rewrite the science curriculum for public schools next year, is against the idea, even though several members say they are creationists and have serious doubts about Charles Darwin's theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

Interviews with 11 of the 15 members of the board – including seven Republicans and four Democrats – found little support for requiring that intelligent design be taught in biology and other science classes. Only one board member said she was open to the idea of placing the theory into the curriculum standards.

"Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes," said Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who described himself as a creationist. "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community – and intelligent design does not."

Mr. McLeroy, R-College Station, noted that the current curriculum requires that evolution be taught in high school biology classes, and he has no desire to change that standard.

"When it comes to evolution, I am totally content with the current standard," he said, adding that his dissatisfaction with current biology textbooks is that they don't cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than by undirected processes like natural selection and random mutation – key components of the theory of evolution.

Critics call intelligent design pseudoscience and a smokescreen for inserting creationism – the biblical account of the origin of humans – into science classes. But polls have shown that as many as two-thirds of Texans believe creationism should be taught in public schools along with evolution. Gov. Rick Perry and President Bush have endorsed the idea as well.

And while the board apparently won't take up intelligent design, several members expect a battle over how evolution is treated in science textbooks, although that won't be up for debate until 2011. Mr. McLeroy and others say they'll push for books to include a more thorough examination of weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

For example, they noted, there are large time gaps in fossil records of species that are believed by scientists to be part of the same evolutionary chain.

Mr. McLeroy is part of a bloc of seven socially conservative board members, whose views are generally aligned with key social conservative groups active in campaigns and policy disputes, such as the Eagle Forum. He was one of four members who voted against the current biology texts in 2003 over the evolution issue.

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates strict separation of church and state, said she doubted board members had given up their advocacy of intelligent design.

"Don McLeroy and the other ideologues who now control the state board have said repeatedly in the past that they want public school science classes to teach creationism and other religion-based concepts," Ms. Miller said. "So we have no doubt that they'll find a way to try, either by playing politics with the curriculum standards or censoring new science textbooks later on."

Board Vice Chairman David Bradley, who also voted against the biology books in 2003, acknowledged that he doesn't believe in one of the main tenets of Darwin's theory – that humans evolved from lower life forms.

"If some of my associates want to believe their ancestors were monkeys, that is their right. I believe God is responsible for our creation," said Mr. Bradley, R-Beaumont. "Given that none of today's scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond, there is no one who can say exactly what happened."

But just like the board chairman, Mr. Bradley said he is not interested in changing the current requirement for the teaching of evolution – nor would he support a move to include the theory of intelligent design in science classes.

"There's always room for improvement, but I haven't heard a loud drumbeat for massive change," he added. "I do want to make sure the next group of textbooks includes the strengths and weaknesses of evolution."

Republican Pat Hardy of Weatherford was the only board member interviewed who said she was open to the idea of putting intelligent design into the curriculum. She wants to see strong support from science teachers for doing so, though, she said.

"I am open to having intelligent design in there because there is a large body of evidence unanswered by the theory of evolution. We first need to hear from science educators and experts about whether this should be done," Ms. Hardy said, adding that she does not favor putting any religious teachings into science classes.

Both board members from the Dallas area – Republican Geraldine "Tincy" Miller and Democrat Mavis Knight – want to preserve the current requirement on the teaching of evolution. Neither is interested in giving intelligent design equal billing with evolution.

"There is nothing to stop a teacher from talking about other theories on how the world began, but those should not be the basis for a science class," Ms. Miller said.

Ms. Knight is expecting a push from intelligent design backers to include it in the curriculum next year, but she is firmly against such a move even though many Texans with creationist views may favor it.

"My position is if you're strong in your faith, then even if what is taught in a [science] class is contrary to your religious beliefs, it will not weaken your faith," she said.

Two other GOP board members who are considered social conservatives – Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands and Gail Lowe of Lampasas – also believe the current standards on evolution are in good shape and should not be changed to accommodate intelligent design.

"I don't think the standards need to be changed," said Ms. Cargill, a former high school science teacher. "I would prefer that intelligent design and creationism remain issues for families to discuss rather than having them in the curriculum."

Ms. Cargill, who also believes in the biblical version of creation, said she accepts many concepts of evolutionary theory such as continual changes in species. "Where people differ is on the origin of man," she noted, citing similar concerns with other board members about current biology books and their lack of information about the weaknesses of Darwin's theory.

Ms. Lowe, who called herself a creationist, said the study of evolution is important to the teaching of biology. At the same time, she added, "Kids ought to be able to hold religious beliefs and still study science without any conflict."

Other board members who like the current standards and don't want to require teaching of intelligent design are Republicans Bob Craig of Lubbock and Democrats Rick Agosto of San Antonio, Lawrence Allen of Houston and Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi.

Four board members – Democrat Rene Nunez of El Paso and Republicans Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond, Terri Leo of Spring and Ken Mercer of San Antonio – did not return phone calls.

What's New Friday August 24, 2007


The journal Science today reports new results on this curious experience, more often associated with the tabloid media. You may recall a New York Times story by Sandra Blakeslee about a year ago(3 Oct 06) in which a Swiss neurologist induced the effect by mild electrical stimulation of the angular gyrus, a region of the brain in the parietal lobe involved in a number of processes related to language and cognition. The effect is attributed to discrepancy between the actual position of the body and the mind's perceived location. The Swiss group has now induced the out-of- body effect without brain stimulation or hallucinogenic drugs by fitting the subject with display goggles that show a video image of the person from a different perspective. It is important in part because out-of-body experiences, particularly when associated with near-death, are often cited as evidence of a soul. The odd belief that the half-million embryonic stem cells left over from in-vitro fertilization have souls is behind objections to using them in research rather than sending them to the autoclave.


I consulted with two Catholic theologians on the faculty of a nearby seminary, who explained that the soul is the "spiritual essence" of a person. After much discussion, "spiritual essence" seemed to be associated with empathy (see last week's WN), though Catholic priests use different words. Our emotional response to sensory input is determined by the amygdalae, two almond shaped groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal lobes. Embryos, I note, don't have amygdalae.


Also reported today, Shinya Yamanaka, one of Japan's leading stem cell scientists, will join the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, where his work will be funded in part by California's stem cell initiative. This is good news, of course, but we note that he's recognized for persuading skin cells from mice to behave like stem cells. We've lost years while stem-cell research has been diverted to circumventing religious objections to the use of human eggs or embryos.


The Alaska Supreme Court upheld a compensation board ruling awarding disability to an equipment installer as a result of workplace exposure to RF radiation. The worker was exposed to a six gigahertz signal, which was found to be slightly over the RF safety limit set by the FCC but well below the FCC's recognized level of thermal harm. The decision was not entirely unreasonable: the Court felt it was up to the Board and not the courts to decide which witnesses to believe, but it was accepted that the only danger is thermal heating, so it does not take us back to power lines, or even cell phones.


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

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

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Evolution education update: August 24, 2007

NCSE bids a fond farewell to Nick Matzke. And the Clergy Letter Project is seeking scientists who are interested in constructive interaction with clergy members and their parishioners.


Nick Matzke, Public Information Project Director, is leaving NCSE to begin a PhD program at the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He came to NCSE in early 2004, planning to spend a year here before starting a PhD program; we feel fortunate to have had him around for two extra years. In addition to working at NCSE, he somehow found the time not only to blog regularly at The Panda's Thumb but also to contribute to the scholarly literature, coauthoring articles for Nature Immunology, Natural Reviews Microbiology, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), and contributing a chapter tracing the beginnings of "intelligent design" to the mid-1980s litigation over creation science to the new edition of But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Prometheus Books, forthcoming). Seed magazine profiled him in 2006 as one of its nine "Revolutionary Minds."

It was in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, however, that Matzke's star shone brightest. The staffer who was originally assigned to the case when it seemed as though it was just going to be a routine affair, he was instrumental throughout the case, providing a wealth of scientific expertise and practical advice to the legal team representing the plaintiffs. In his book on the case, 40 Days and 40 Nights (Collins, 2007), Matthew Chapman humorously wrote of Matzke, "The NCSE staffer initially assigned to the Dover flare-up, he now briefed the lawyers on the arcane ins and outs of science. Bespectacled, in his thirties, he was tall and large and peered down at you with a look of beleaguered doubt, as if to say, 'You're asking me this question about science, but you know and I know that you're not going to understand my answer, so, although I find this stuff fascinating, wouldn't you really rather go for a beer?'" We'll be buying him one or two as we bid him a fond farewell.

For reports on Nick's contributions to the scholarly literature, visit:

For a report on the profile of Nick in Seed, visit:

For a brief profile of Nick in the San Francisco Chronicle, visit:


As part of its efforts to encourage and support members of the clergy who acknowledge the scientific importance of evolution, the Clergy Letter Project is seeking scientists who are excited about the possibility of explaining the beauty and power of science to clergy members and their parishioners. Over 400 scientists throughout the country and abroad have already agreed to act as advisers to local clergy and speak publicly to church audiences about their areas of expertise; a list is available on the Clergy Letter Project's website. To add your name, e-mail the project's founder and coordinator, Michael Zimmerman, at mz@butler.edu.

Among the Clergy Letter Project's accomplishments to date is its "Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science," which states in part that "We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children." Over 10,000 members of the Christian clergy have signed the letter; plans are underway to expand the scope of the project to include other faiths.

The Clergy Letter Project also coordinates Evolution Sunday, in which religious leaders are encouraged to discuss the compatibility of faith and science in their sermons, Sunday schools, and discussion groups, on or about Darwin's birthday, February 12. Explaining the event to Science and Spirit magazine, Zimmerman explained that creationists "pervert science education, but they also demean religious values and institutions ... What you want is your local religious leaders to say ... this is bad religion." For the first Evolution Sunday, in 2006, 467 congregations participated; for the second, in 2007, 618 congregations participated -- over a 30% increase.

For the project's database of scientists, visit:

For the project's "Open Letter," visit:

For Science and Spirit's coverage of Evolution Sunday, visit:

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Friday, August 24, 2007

State board members oppose teaching intelligent design in schools


Aug. 24, 2007, 3:28AM

© 2007 The Associated Press

AUSTIN — A majority of State Board of Education members said the theory of intelligent design should be left out of the science curriculum for public schools.

The board will rewrite the science curriculum next year and some observers expect backers of intelligent design to push for the theory's inclusion.

In interviews with The Dallas Morning News, 10 of the board's 15 members said they wouldn't support requiring the teaching of intelligent design. One board member said she was open to the idea. Four board members didn't respond to the newspaper's phone calls.

Proponents of intelligent design contend that life is too complex to have occurred by chance, requiring instead the guidance of an unnamed supernatural being. Critics say it's a ploy for introducing creationism — the biblical account of the origin of humans — into science classes.

"Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes," said Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who described himself as a creationist. "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community and intelligent design does not."

McLeroy, R-College Station, said he doesn't want to change the existing requirement that evolution be taught in high school biology classes. But he joined several of his colleagues in arguing that biology textbooks should cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

McLeroy and three other socially conservative board members voted against the current biology texts in 2003 over the evolution issue. The textbook debate comes up again in 2011.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution describes the process by which new species of life arise from lower life forms. Today, most scientists embrace evolution through natural selection as the cornerstone of biology.

David Bradley, the board's vice chairman, said he believes "God is responsible for our creation." But the Beaumont Republican said he's not interested in changing the current requirement for teaching evolution, nor would he support a move to include the theory of intelligent design in science classes.

Board member Pat Hardy said she was open to the idea of intelligent design curriculum, but she added that she doesn't advocate putting any religious teachings into science classes.

"I am open to having intelligent design in there because there is a large body of evidence unanswered by the theory of evolution. We first need to hear from science educators and experts about whether this should be done," said Hardy, R-Weatherford.

Other board members who said they believe the curriculum should continue to include evolution and not be changed to accommodate intelligent design were: Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, R-Dallas; Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas; Bob Craig, R-Lubbock; Mavis Knight, D-Dallas; Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio; Lawrence Allen, D-Houston; and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi.

The four board members who didn't respond to the newspaper's inquiry were Democrat Rene Nunez of El Paso and Republicans Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond, Terri Leo of Spring and Ken Mercer of San Antonio.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ancient Protein Tells a Story of Changing Functions


August 21, 2007


Offering insight into how evolution progresses inside a gene, scientists have pinpointed mutations in an ancient protein that transformed its shape and function more than 400 million years ago.

Scientists at the University of Oregon and the University of North Carolina used modern technologies to conduct an archaeology of genes and help answer a longstanding question about how proteins change over time and develop new roles.

"We have now seen the mechanisms by which a new function evolves at the atomic level, how evolution sculpted the protein structure to produce a new function," said Joseph W. Thornton, a biology professor at Oregon who led the research.

The findings were published last week on the Web site of the journal Science.

A few mutations in a gene, which is a section of DNA that provides the blueprint for a specific protein, can result in a protein that no longer folds properly. That makes the protein useless, because it is the shape of a protein that largely determines which molecules it can bind to, and hence, its function.

The probability that subsequent mutations could reshape the unfolded protein into a form with a new function is essentially zero, and that is an evolutionary cul de sac.

Supporters of intelligent design, who question evolution, have argued that mutations, occurring one by one, could not refold a protein into a new function, because the mutations would first unravel the protein into a useless, unfolded configuration.

The new study refutes that assertion, at least in this instance. Dr. Thornton's research focuses on proteins known as hormone receptors that act as locks in a key-and-lock mechanism. When a hormone fits into a receptor, the receptor sends a signal to another part of the cell.

In work published last year, Dr. Thornton reported how his group reconstructed an ancestral protein of two hormone receptors found in humans. The two, once identical, diverged along different evolutionary paths. One is now part of the stress response system; the other is involved in different biological processes, including kidney function in many animals.

In the new study, the researchers determined the exact positions of more than 2,000 atoms in the ancestral hormone receptor. The receptor existed in animals that lived more than 440 million years ago, before the last common ancestor of people and sharks. Then the researchers examined what occurred during the next 20 million years — before another split of the evolutionary tree that led to bony fish. "That's the ancestor of you and a salmon," Dr. Thornton said.

In that time, one hormone receptor changed so that it bound most strongly to cortisol, a stress hormone. Bony fish and people have this version, called a glucocorticoid receptor. Sharks do not.

Of the glucocorticoid receptors that have been looked at in different species, five specific mutations are always present and distinguish them from the ancestral receptor. When the scientists introduced the five changes into the ancestral protein, they expected that it would be transformed into a glucocorticoid receptor.

Instead, the protein broke, unable to bind to any hormone.

On further investigation, the scientists found that two other mutations, which had negligible effects by themselves, strengthened some of the protein's folds so it could withstand the other five mutations. The researchers were also able to show several sequences in which the seven mutations could have occurred without the protein's functionality ever deteriorating.

Biologists often point out that evolution does not proceed through random chance. Rather, the process of natural selection — survival of the fittest — ruthlessly weeds out mutations detrimental to the survival of a species.

But the findings of Dr. Thornton and his colleagues show that some aspects of evolution do occur solely by chance. The two mutations that reinforced the protein did not directly help the organism. So natural selection did not particularly favor them. It was only by chance that they occurred and persisted to set the groundwork for the other mutations.

Other seemingly innocuous mutations might have led evolution down another path. "These very exquisitely adapted bodies we have represent a role of the dice," Dr. Thornton said. "And they could have turned out very differently."

'HIV denial' is costing lives


22 August 2007 NewScientist.com news service

AIDS is caused by HIV; it's a fact established beyond any reasonable doubt. Yet many beg to differ, blaming it instead on social causes, from poverty to promiscuity. South African president Thabo Mbeki is perhaps the most famous HIV denialist, with tragic consequences for his country's fight against AIDS. HIV denial is also flourishing worldwide on the internet and it is costing lives.

According to a new analysis, HIV denial is remarkably similar to other anti-scientific ideologies such as creationism, anti-vaccine movements and even Holocaust denial (PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040256).

For example, HIV denialists claim that the idea that HIV causes AIDS is backed by an orthodoxy, or conspiracy, that makes money selling HIV drugs; that science is based on faith, rather than evidence, and that their ideas are on the verge of acceptance. They point to gaps in the science, back-pedalling as those gaps fill up. The study calls for scientists to fight back.

From issue 2618 of New Scientist magazine, 22 August 2007, page 4

Change in hottest year fuels global warming skeptics


A tweak to NASA's record shows that 4 of the 10 warmest years in the USoccurred during in the 1930s, not more recently. Climate change deniers say this points out that concern over global warming is unfounded.

By Brad Knickerbocker

from the August 23, 2007 edition

Letter to the Editor Republish del.icio.us digg

Was 1998 the hottest year in United States history, as most reporting on climate change has presumed? Or was that record set back in 1934 before "global warming" became a scary household phrase?

A corrective tweak to National Aeronautics and Space Administration's formulation shows that the hottest year on record in the US indeed was back during the Dust Bowl days.

But does this mean that all the concern about global warming being a relatively recent phenomenon tied to carbon-belching power plants and hulking SUVs is a bunch of Al Gore hooey?

Climate change skeptics and their cheering section among conservative bloggers and radio shoutmeisters think so – even though most scientists say, no, the tweak is not a big deal and overall trends are in the direction of toastier days around the globe.

The controversy began "when Steve McIntyre of the blog Climateaudit.org e-mailed NASA scientists pointing out an unusual jump in temperature data from 1999 to 2000," reports The Los Angeles Times.

"When researchers checked, they found that the agency had merged two data sets that had been incorrectly assumed to match. When the data were corrected, it resulted in a decrease of 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit in yearly temperatures since 2000 and a smaller decrease in earlier years. That meant that 1998, which had been 0.02 degrees warmer than 1934, was now 0.04 degrees cooler."

Put another way, the new figures show that 4 of the 10 warmest years in the US occurred during the 1930s, not more recently. This caused a stir among those critical of the push to stem human-induced climate change.

"Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh used reports of the revisions to argue that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists with liberal agendas," reported The Washington Post.

"We have proof of man-made global warming," Limbaugh said on his show…. "The man-made global warming is inside NASA. The man-made global warming is in the scientific community with false data."

Blogger Steve McIntyre, who started the controversy, lives in Canada. His hometown newspaper, The Toronto Star, headlined its story "Red faces at NASA over climate-change blunder."

"They moved pretty fast on this," McIntyre said. "There must have been some long faces."

Still, McIntyre called his finding "a micro-change," and others agree. For one, the reranking didn't affect global records, and 1998 remains tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record, the Los Angeles Times notes, quoting climatologist Gavin Schmidt of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

"The data adjustment changes 'the inconsequential bragging rights for certain years in the U.S.,' he said. But 'global warming is a global issue, and the global numbers show that there is no question that the last five to 10 years have been the hottest period of the last century.' "

A main target of criticism over the data shift is James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute at NASA and a frequently quoted expert on climate change. On his website, Dr. Hansen explained the reasons for the change, and he played down its importance.

"How big an error did this flaw cause?... The effect on U.S. average temperature is about 0.15°C beginning in 2000. Does this change have any affect ... on the global warming issue? Certainly not…. What we have here is a case of ... contrarians who present results in ways intended to deceive the public into believing that the changes have greater significance than reality. They aim to make a mountain out of a mole hill."

Meanwhile, evidence of global warming continues to mount. Citing a new study by researchers at the University of East Anglia, The Guardian newspaper reports that "some tipping points for climate change could be closer than previously thought."

"In drawing together research on tipping points, where damage due to climate change occurs irreversibly and at an increasing rate, the researchers concluded that the risks were much greater than those predicted by the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."

Is the issue settled? Far from it, says Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama, who describes himself as "skeptical of the claim that global warming is mostly manmade."

Blogging on TCSDaily.com Dr. Spencer writes:

"In case you hadn't noticed, the global warming debate has now escalated from a minor skirmish to an all-out war…. In the last year or so, more and more scientists have been coming out of the closet and admitting they've had some doubts about this whole global warming thing."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What's New Friday August 17, 2007


I got an angry e-mail from a reader this week complaining that religion now shows up in every issue of WN. Well, maybe not every issue, but he's got a point. WN is about science and politics. In happier times WN gave religion almost no mention. What changed? The cover story in the August 19 issue of the New York Times Magazine tells us. "The Politics of God" by Mark Lilla, is adapted from his book "The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West," which will be published next month. We in the West have our own fundamentalists, Lilla acknowledges, but we "find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin." He goes on to quote from an open letter President Ahmadinejad of Iran sent to President Bush last year. It closes with: "Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty, and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things."

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

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

Psychic Cat Found Dead


PROVIDENCE, RI - Oscar, the nursing home cat who could seemingly sense the impending death of patients, was found dead early yesterday. The cat gained recent notoriety when reports of his ability to detect the impending death of the terminally ill became public. Seemingly aware that death was at hand, Oscar would reportedly climb into the bed of patients during their final hours.

Officials at the facility would not reveal the cause of death, but did acknowledge rumors that the cat was becoming increasingly unpopular among the patients. One knowledgeable source - who agreed to speak with us on the condition of anonymity - confirmed increasing animosity toward the animal, and that a dented bedpan was found near the body.

According to our source, the recent publicity of Oscar's unique insight spread quickly throughout the facility. Patients in the terminal ward became increasingly upset at the sight of the cat, prompting administrators to move Oscar to another floor. After an unexpected death on that floor, Oscar quickly became quite unwelcome there too. "Good riddance." said patient Gertrude Feinman, when told of the cat's demise. "It would just sit there and stare at you - with this look on his face like 'you're next'".

A spokesman for the home downplayed any immediate talk of foul play. "We don't want to jump to any conclusions." said Ronald Kitzmiller, Director of Operations at the facility. "We'll wait for the coroner's report, and then decide if any legal action is warranted."

Setting Creationism and Science Straight


by Herman Cummings August 18, 2007 01:00 PM EST

A new brand of creationism, which creationists and secular science are not familiar with is "Biblical Reality", which is better known as the "Observations of Moses".

This "Old Earth" brand of creationism puts forth the view that combines a seven 24-hr day week of original creation (Exodus 20:11), with a separate "six 12-hr days of revelation" given to Moses (Genesis 1:2 – 2:3). The pseudo discrepancy between the "sixth day" in Genesis chapter one and in chapter two is explained as chapter two being the beginning of modern mankind (Adam & Eve), and chapter one as being an earlier species of prehistoric mankind in an earlier restoration period, more than 60 million years ago.

Biblical Reality is defined as the ordained marriage of Biblical Truth, and Scientific Reality. Think of Biblical Truth as historical, present, or future data (information) that has been given to us by the words written in the Bible, or what we shall call "The Printed Word of God". Events which took place in the past, that we may not presently be able to confirm outside of the Bible.

Scientific Reality is defined as "That which has been discovered and analyzed to be of true historical existence. That which has been observed to be a real occurrence or phenomena, whether or not it can be explained." For example, the discoveries of the extinctions of life on Earth in what has been determined to be 245 Million BC (dimetrodons) and 65 Million BC (dinosaurs) is accepted as Scientific Reality.

Biblical Reality teaches that there are no "creation accounts" in Genesis, and that "Moses Didn't Write About Creation!". What is actually being said is "Moses wrote about Restoration". Before the advent of "Biblical Reality", no faction of creationism could explain both the "first day" of Moses and the "Fourth Day", all being 24-hr days, without either denying literal interpretation or "redefining" the scriptures.

The "six days of Moses" in Genesis chapter one are actually six consecutive (12 hour) days in 1598 BC that God revealed to Moses (on Mt. Sinai) from the ancient past. Each day was from the first week of each of seven different geological eras in "biblical order". The only day of Creation Week which Moses saw was the "Fourth Day". Creation Week was 168 hours, in 4.6 Billion BC, according to the geologist.


Title: Moses Didn't Write About Creation!
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: PublishAmerica (August 6, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1424182204
ISBN-13: 978-1424182206
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches

Nothing 'pseudo' about text's science


August 16, 2007

THE AUTHORS and I are puzzled by Sally Lehrman's characterization of the Discovery Institute's biology textbook "Explore Evolution" as "pseudoscience" in her Aug. 9 op-ed "Understanding evolution is crucial to debate." After all, we describe the main evolutionary mechanism much as Lehrman herself does as "natural selection acting on random mutations." We also explain evidence and arguments for the creative power of this mechanism, basing our treatment on current and classical sources in evolutionary biology. How is that pseudoscience? Perhaps Lehrman judges our book pseudoscience because we also describe current scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory. Perhaps she is unaware that skepticism about the creative power of natural selection and random mutation is common in peer-reviewed scientific literature and in the scientific community. No less an authority than the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences published a recent paper stating: "Natural selection based solely on mutation is probably not an adequate mechanism for evolving complexity."

Senior research fellow
Discovery Institute

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

Meyer Defends Explore Evolution in The Boston Globe


Recently the Boston Globe ran a letter to the editor by Stephen Meyer, responding to Sally Lehrman's ridiculous claim that the Explore Evolution textbook "uses psuedoscience to attack Darwin's theories."

Meyer's response? There's nothing "psuedo" about saying what the evolutionists themselves admit, even citing the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Perhaps Lehrman judges our book pseudoscience because we also describe current scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory. Perhaps she is unaware that skepticism about the creative power of natural selection and random mutation is common in peer-reviewed scientific literature and in the scientific community. No less an authority than the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences published a recent paper stating: "Natural selection based solely on mutation is probably not an adequate mechanism for evolving complexity."

"Explore Evolution" not only tells students about such skepticism, but offers the evidential basis for it. But it does so alongside a thorough discussion of the strengths of evolutionary theory. That isn't pseudoscience, that's good science education.

Posted by Anika Smith on August 18, 2007 12:10 AM | Permalink

Saturday, August 18, 2007

At Providence, cancer fight is more than chemo


Published: Saturday, August 18, 2007

By Sharon Salyer, Herald Writer

EVERETT - Want to get a look at one of the newest developments at Everett's $62.4 million cancer center?

It's about the size and weight of a small feather and on view during today's open house.

The small, light, flexible needles used in acupuncture are just one of the alternative medicine techniques now available at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership.

Yoga, art therapy, massage, nutrition counseling and hypnosis are some of the other services available to patients on the building's first floor.

The building also houses $10.8 million in cancer diagnostic and treatment technologies that the public can get a close look at today.

This includes the center's most expensive piece of equipment, the $3.25 million TomoTherapy machine. This one machine can do both CT imaging and deliver extremely precise radiation treatments. Its three-dimensional imaging allows the radiation to be directed to a spot the size of a pea.

By blending more than $10 million in the latest in high-tech, cancer-blasting equipment and alternative medical therapies under one roof, Everett's cancer center is part of a growing national trend - cancer treatment with a touch of ying and yang.

"There are some (cancer centers) where everything is in the same building, but they're not typical," said Dr. Cheryl Beighle, medical director for integrative medicine at the Everett cancer center.

So for patients who want these therapies, it means adding one more stop on their trips for cancer treatment.

The services available at Everett's cancer center were chosen there because they have shown to help patients, Beighle said.

Mind-body techniques have been shown to help decrease the pain, nausea and vomiting some patients experience with chemotherapy, she said. Relaxation can even help reduce the claustrophobia some patients feel while using some of the center's body scanning and radiation treatment equipment.

"One of the hardest things with a cancer diagnosis is all of a sudden you feel like your life is out of control," she said.

Alternative, or what is called integrative medicine, can help patients regain control, she said.

Bill Carper, a 59-year-old Everett patient being treated for a recurrence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, is one of the first patients to receive acupuncture treatments at the cancer center.

Last year, large tumors in his back prevented him from walking for three months. He underwent 14 radiation treatments and six rounds of chemotherapy.

But he soon began battling another problem, too. Either the tumors, or scar tissue putting pressure on the nerves of his back, may have triggered restless leg syndrome, which often keeps him awake for hours each night.

"In the evening, when you want to relax, I can't sit still," Carper said. "My legs wake up. They bug the heck out of me. Sometimes it aches. There's nothing consistent about it except irritating."

Carper said he didn't know much about acupuncture, except hearing an occasional mention of it on TV or reading about it in a newspaper.

Earlier this summer, a doctor asked if he would consider trying acupuncture to treat the problems with his legs. "I'd be willing to try anything that would help," he said.

So on Thursday, Carper rested on a treatment bed on the cancer center's first floor.

A small sign outside the room labels it as Wellness Room Number 2. An acupuncture meridian, or channel chart, hangs on the wall.

Even though the acupuncture device is called a needle, "this isn't like getting a shot by any means," said Dr. Janile Martin, a naturopathic physician and nurse practitioner, who administers Carper's acupuncture treatment.

"They're flexible like a hair," she said. "When you're at the right point and focused, it should go in like butter."

Martin asks Carper how he's feeling, how much energy he has, and checks his pulse. She gently inserts needles into his solar plexus, legs, ankles, hip, below his ears and in the middle of his forehead, what she calls a "very calming point."

"It didn't hurt a bit," he said.

The acupuncture needles "kind of rebalance energy," Martin explained. She said she's treated cancer patients for pain, nausea, anxiety and depression.

Carper, who had only received one previous acupuncture treatment, said he continues to have problems sleeping but "I'd like to give it an honest try."

Alternative therapies like those available at the cancer center are now requested by an estimated 75 percent of cancer patients.

"It's nice to have services to complement their chemotherapy and radiation," Beighle said. "I do think they help."

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

Evolution education update: August 17, 2007

A suite of articles in a new on-line magazine prompted by the opening of Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum. And it's not too early to reserve your spot in the 2008 NCSE excursion to the Grand Canyon.


Writing in The Smart Set -- a new independent on-line magazine supported by Drexel University and named for the literary magazine that flourished in the 1920s -- Jesse Smith relates his trip to Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum. Bookending his visit with trips to Big Bone Lick State Park (which commemorates the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology) and the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science, Smith found the AiG museum's message muddled: "I studied science in college, but I still leave a little confused. Not by whether or not I agree with the show's points, but by what those points actually were. A lot of scientific-sounding facts are thrown out, followed by general statements of how this, then, proves that evolution can't be true."

Smith also talked to protesters in front of the AiG museum from Rally for Reason; Rally for Reason's Carly Nichols explained that the rally's purpose was to oppose a threat posed by the museum to the integrity of science education, adding, "We don't have the power or the right to try to shut it down." Smith expressed concern about the degree to which the rally seemed to be dominated by atheism, asking a protester, "Don't they risk pitting the religious against the non-religious?" It is pertinent to note that there were also protests that focused exclusively on issues about the integrity of science education, including petitions organized by the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a press release from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, and a statement of concern organized by NCSE and signed by almost 1000 scientists in the three states surrounding the museum.

And The Smart Set also interviews Drexel paleontologist Kenneth J. Lacovara about the museum, science education, and the common creationist claim that evolution subverts morality. Lacovara describes the Creation Museum as a travesty, adding, "Scientifically it's the same as having an anti-gravity museum or a flat Earth museum. Evolution is the fundamental tenet of natural sciences, and in their case it's not just evolution but also the antiquity of the Earth. If you don't believe that the Earth is old and if you don't believe that organisms change through time then you essentially don't believe in the disciplines of geology, biology, medicine, or astronomy. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that they're taking a medieval view on some of the most important topics in science."

Also of interest in The Smart Set is a column about the Scopes trial by Anne Janette Johnson, the author of a recent high-school-level book entitled The Scopes "Monkey Trial" (Omnigraphics, 2006). After providing a serviceable review of the major issues, personalities, and events in the trial, Johnson concludes her column with the thought that "More than 80 years after his death, Bryan's name is still allied with a faction in the American populace, growing in numbers and political clout, who seek to advance his agenda." Alluding to a passage in Huckleberry Finn, she adds, "If the Book of Genesis said that the moon laid the stars like a frog lays its eggs, these modern standard-bearers for the Old Time Religion would search for scientific proof that 'of course it could be done.'"

For Jesse Smith's article about his visit, visit:

For information about the various protests and criticisms, visit:

For the interview with Kenneth J. Lacovara, visit:

For Anne Janette Johnson's column about the Scopes trial, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of the creation museum, visit:


Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott and Gish! Seats are now available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 30 to August 6, 2008, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of Grand Canyon and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. The cost is $2710; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Call or write now: seats are limited.

For further information on the Grand Canyon trip, visit:

For a summary of the article in The New York Times, visit:

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Friday, August 17, 2007

Fossils Challenge Old Evolution Theory


Thursday, August 09, 2007


WASHINGTON — Surprising research based on two African fossils suggests our family tree is more like a wayward bush with stubby branches, challenging what had been common thinking on how early humans evolved.

The discovery by Meave Leakey, a member of a famous family of paleontologists, shows that two species of early human ancestors lived at the same time in Kenya. That pokes holes in the chief theory of man's early evolution _ that one of those species evolved from the other.

And it further discredits that iconic illustration of human evolution that begins with a knuckle-dragging ape and ends with a briefcase-carrying man.

The old theory is that the first and oldest species in our family tree, Homo habilis, evolved into Homo erectus, which then became human, Homo sapiens. But Leakey's find suggests those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years. She and her research colleagues report the discovery in a paper published in Thursday's journal Nature.

The paper is based on fossilized bones found in 2000. The complete skull of Homo erectus was found within walking distance of an upper jaw of Homo habilis, and both dated from the same general time period. That makes it unlikely that Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis, researchers said.

It's the equivalent of finding that your grandmother and great-grandmother were sisters rather than mother-daughter, said study co-author Fred Spoor, a professor of evolutionary anatomy at the University College in London.

The two species lived near each other, but probably didn't interact, each having its own "ecological niche," Spoor said. Homo habilis was likely more vegetarian while Homo erectus ate some meat, he said. Like chimps and apes, "they'd just avoid each other, they don't feel comfortable in each other's company," he said.

There remains some still-undiscovered common ancestor that probably lived 2 million to 3 million years ago, a time that has not left much fossil record, Spoor said.

Overall what it paints for human evolution is a "chaotic kind of looking evolutionary tree rather than this heroic march that you see with the cartoons of an early ancestor evolving into some intermediate and eventually unto us," Spoor said in a phone interview from a field office of the Koobi Fora Research Project in northern Kenya.

That old evolutionary cartoon, while popular with the general public, is just too simple and keeps getting revised, said Bill Kimbel, who praised the latest findings. He is science director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University and wasn't part of the Leakey team.

"The more we know, the more complex the story gets," he said. Scientists used to think Homo sapiens evolved from Neanderthals, he said. But now we know that both species lived during the same time period and that we did not come from Neanderthals.

Now a similar discovery applies further back in time.

Susan Anton, a New York University anthropologist and co-author of the Leakey work, said she expects anti-evolution proponents to seize on the new research, but said it would be a mistake to try to use the new work to show flaws in evolution theory.

"This is not questioning the idea at all of evolution; it is refining some of the specific points," Anton said. "This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."

For the past few years there has been growing doubt and debate about whether Homo habilis evolved into Homo erectus. One of the major proponents of the more linear, or ladder-like evolution that this evidence weakens, called Leakey's findings important, but he wasn't ready to concede defeat.

Dr. Bernard Wood, a surgeon-turned-professor of human origins at George Washington University, said in an e-mail Wednesday that "this is only a skirmish in the protracted 'war' between the people who like a bushy interpretation and those who like a more ladder-like interpretation of early human evolution."

Leakey's team spent seven years analyzing the fossils before announcing it was time to redraw the family tree _ and rethink other ideas about human evolutionary history. That's especially true of most immediate ancestor, Homo erectus.

Because the Homo erectus skull Leakey recovered was much smaller than others, scientists had to first prove that it was erectus and not another species nor a genetic freak. The jaw, probably from an 18- or 19-year-old female, was adult and showed no signs of malformation or genetic mutations, Spoor said. The scientists also know it isn't Homo habilis from several distinct features on the jaw.

That caused researchers to re-examine the 30 other erectus skulls they have and the dozens of partial fossils. They realized that the females of that species are much smaller than the males _ something different from modern man, but similar to other animals, said Anton. Scientists hadn't looked carefully enough before to see that there was a distinct difference in males and females.

Difference in size between males and females seem to be related to monogamy, the researchers said. Primates that have same-sized males and females, such as gibbons, tend to be more monogamous. Species that are not monogamous, such as gorillas and baboons, have much bigger males.

This suggests that our ancestor Homo erectus reproduced with multiple partners.

The Homo habilis jaw was dated at 1.44 million years ago. That is the youngest ever found from a species that scientists originally figured died off somewhere between 1.7 and 2 million years ago, Spoor said. It enabled scientists to say that Homo erectus and Homo habilis lived at the same time.

On the Net:

Nature: http://www.nature.com

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

Darwinian Evolution Is Atheist Materialism's Holiest Dogma


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.

Posted by Robert Crowther on August 12, 2007 10:36 AM | Permalink

About new age therapies


About new age therapies by Alexei Timchuk

Published 08/12/2007 in Alternative Therapies

Professor Richard Dawkins, writer and biologist, says that "we live in dangerous times when superstition is gaining ground and rational science is under attack."

We have all heard the conspiracy theories about how the scientific community and our health care professionals want to hide the cure for cancer in order to make money. They don't want a cure, they say. Isn't that just a bit ridiculous when all of the people in those industries most certainly knows or loves someone who has gone through a cancer diagnosis. Does that make any sense?

The professor also says that "There are two ways of looking at the world - through faith and superstition, or through the rigours of logic, observation and evidence, through reason".

For example -- Homeopathy treatment has received significant criticism and skepticism from the scientific community. This kind of therapy is used by 500 million people worldwide even though much of the evidence on homeopathy is anecdotal, which means its unscientific because it cannot be investigated by the scientific method.

Under the rules of science, those that make claims bear the burden of proof. It is their responsibility to conduct suitable studies and report them in sufficient detail to permit evaluation and confirmation by others.

If you could prove that chemotherapy does more harm than good -- that still does not mean that alternative treatments are the answer. This is called a fallacy - because lack of evidence for a contrary viewpoint cannot be taken as evidence in favour of another viewpoint.

I recently had a debate with a commenter about my post called Be wary of alternative health methods. His logic was that alternative medicine is "a field of medical practice that is accepted in many more countries, has more history, and is treating more people than western medicine."

Ok, so what? What does that prove?. Not a thing. This is another fallacy called Arguement from popularity.

Another commenter said something I do agree with:

What (another commenter, I won't name names) does is employ the Argumentum ad Hominem argument: 'argument directed to the man.' This occurs when one attacks the other person rather than the other persons argument. Barrett's site, Quackwatch is a clearinghouse of excellent research and opinion on the "alternative medicine" community.

I agree with Kristina that quackery can harm cancer patients. Quacks love to switch the burden of proof:

For the quack, the source of the fallacy is the assumption that something (quack treatment) is true UNLESS proven otherwise.

But, the quack cancer "treatments" are NOT true because you attack chemotherapy and the scientific method. The quack cancer "treatments" are NOT true because you have not proven them to be beneficial.

Ghosts must exist because you say I haven't proven they don't?

It doesn't work that way.

The main source for this article is TheCancerBlog

Phoenix Birthplace Of Scientology Restored


Last Edited: Thursday, 16 Aug 2007, 6:15 AM CDT
Created: Thursday, 16 Aug 2007, 6:15 AM CDT

East Valley Tribune

MESA, Ariz. -- L. Ron Hubbard had a restlessness that led to a lifetime of traversing the globe. So it was scarcely three years that the eclectic writer and adventurer lived at his "House on Camelback."

That modest home in Phoenix, recently restored to how it looked in 1952, is regarded as a religious historic site -- the birthplace of Scientology.

"For it was here that he developed the first exteriorization process and advanced fully into the realm of the human spirit, and here that the religion of Scientology was born" is how the church describes the home, now open to private tours.

"There was meticulous work to restore it back to its original state," said Marlyse Brock, who oversees care of the house, leads tours and does public relations for the church. In June, the restoration work earned a Gov.'s Heritage Preservation Honor Award.

A 55-year-old photo of the house with Hubbard standing on the porch and Camelback Mountain in the background matches what the house looks like today, even with a 1947 Buick Super 8 parked outside. It was characterized as a "humble, little ranch-style house out in what was then the desert outside of town."

Hubbard, then 41, had brought his wife, Margaret, and two teenage children in March 1952 from Wichita, Kan. The 1,146-square-foot home was typical of Phoenix houses being constructed at the time.

Hubbard opened offices in downtown Phoenix, establishing the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International. He had published "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" in May 1950. It became a best-seller and put Hubbard in high demand as a speaker.

"Arizona played a pivotal role in the formative years of the Scientology religion," church literature explains. "It was in Phoenix that L. Ron Hubbard realized the scope of the subject he had embarked upon."

The church itself was formed in Los Angeles in February 1954. Soon after in Phoenix, Hubbard wrote the church's creed.

Churches of Scientology subsequently began in other American cities, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Hubbard believed Scientology was a practical religion developed out of scientific methods of research and the basic laws of human behavior. Critics, however, would label it pseudoscience and scoff of its legitimacy as a church.

The Church of Scientology has been restoring other homes related to Hubbard's career, including one in Washington, D.C., where he settled in the spring of 1955. Hubbard had a home in Johannesburg, South Africa, and later a ranch north of San Luis Obispo, Calif., where he died in January 1986 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 74.

In 2000, a corporate entity of the church bought the Phoenix home to restore it. It began two years of intensive research of the home and furnishings, involving "thousands of photos and documents," checking Phoenix city files and conducting interviews. A historic preservation specialist was hired to guide the work and find authentic elements for all the rooms.

Restoration of the home was completed in 2005. It has two bedrooms, a study, a combination living room and dining room, kitchen and two bathrooms. A large library and research center was constructed behind the home as part of the project, and a swimming pool, put in by a later owner, remains in place.

Hubbard was a prolific photographer, and photos taken at the home allowed for curtains and other furnishings to be made close to original designs. On one table sits an early Mathison electropsychometer, used to measure nervous reaction to questions and "psychic trauma," as interpreted by auditors.

During restoration, Spanish arches on the front porch of the home had to be removed. The fireplace was removed and the wall put back. And just as Hubbard had hung a rabbit's head with antlers (a "jackalope") in the living room, so one was added with the restoration.

Even a lounge chair shown outside the Hubbard home in the 1952 photo was custom-made. It is set out regularly in the same spot.

"We wanted to give it the exact feel and look that it was," Brock said.

Kitchen appliances are from the early 1950s, as is a Dictaphone, an early business tape recorder that Hubbard used in his study.

Brock said the Church of Scientology is known for its building restorations and has established major urban churches in once-rundown landmarks.

"This is part of the history of Phoenix and Arizona," Brock said.

Information from: East Valley Tribune/Scottsdale Tribune, http://www.aztrib.com

Copyright 2007 Associated Press.