NTS LogoSkeptical News for 29 September 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Evolution education update: August 31, 2007

A Kentucky tourism agency is accused of endorsing Answers in Genesis's description of natural history museums as anti-Christian. Meanwhile, William F. McComas is to receive a major award for evolution education, and NCSE is delighted to welcome two new staff members aboard.


Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum continues to spark controversy. Noting that the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau's website describes the museum as aiming to "counter evolutionary natural history museums that turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture," Daniel Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, protested the inflammatory description. His protests were ignored by the agency until the story was broken in the media. Phelps told the Cincinnati Enquirer (August 26, 2007) that it was inappropriate for the tax-supported tourism agency to express such a view. "There's many people who are very religious, and they don't have a problem with evolution," he added. "If the creationists want to say things like that on their own Web site, that's their business."

A spokesperson for the agency told the Enquirer that the language was taken from Answers in Genesis, explaining, "We simply provide a listing and description on the Web site as a service to them," but declined to comment on whether the agency would consider revising the description of the Creation Museum. Phelps responded, "It's a local attraction, and they should be listed on their Web site ... But they don't need to say anything negative about a regular natural-history museum, and I just was amazed." A spokesperson for Answers in Genesis defended both the agency's use of the ministry's description of the museum and the accuracy of the description itself, saying that natural history museums indeed turn countless minds against the Bible "when they present an evolutionary view that's in contrast with what the Bible says."

For the article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, visit:

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


William F. McComas is the winner of the 2007 Evolution Education Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers, according to a press release issued on August 29, 2007, by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. The award, sponsored by AIBS and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, recognizes innovative classroom teaching and community education efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution.

"Only by recognizing and discussing the challenges of evolution instruction and by developing and sharing strategies for its solution can we hope to return evolution to its rightful place as the unifying concept of modern biology," McComas was quoted as saying in a press release issued on August 27, 2007, by the University of Arkansas, where he is the Parks Family Professor of Science Education in the College of Education and Health Professions.

McComas will receive the award, which includes a plaque and a prize of $1000, at the NABT national conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in November 2007, where he will deliver the inaugural Kendall/Hunt Lecture in Biology Education. A long-time member of NCSE, McComas is the author of numerous articles on science education and the editor of two books, the latest being Investigating Evolutionary Biology in the Laboratory (Kendall/Hunt 2006).

For the AIBS press release, visit:

For the University of Arkansas press release, visit:

To buy McComas's book from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:


NCSE is delighted to announce the addition of two new members to its staff.

Joshua Rosenau is NCSE's new Public Information Project Director, joining Susan Spath and replacing Nick Matzke. Rosenau comes to NCSE from the University of Kansas, where he was a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; he expects to complete and defend his dissertation on Modeling Limits on Species' Ranges by the end of 2007. In Kansas, he witnessed at first hand the antics of the creationist majority on the state board of education to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards, and worked with the Kansas Coalition for Science and Kansas Citizens for Science to expose the problems with the majority's evolution-unfriendly version of the standards. His blog Thoughts from Kansas -- which will have to be renamed now! -- is part of the popular ScienceBlogs collection run by the publishers of Seed magazine, and he belongs to the National Association of Science Writers. At NCSE, he will be working to help parents, teachers, and citizens in general who are facing challenges to evolution education in their communities; he will also be helping to improve NCSE's communication with the public and the press.

Anne D. Holden is NCSE's new Postdoctoral Scholar, replacing, after a hiatus, Alan Gishlick, who is now a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Geology at Gustavus Adolphus College. Holden comes to NCSE from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Integrative Biology, working with Leslea Hlusko; she earned her PhD in biological anthropology from Cambridge University, with a dissertation entitled Sahara Passage: The Post-Glacial Re-colonization of North Africa by Mitochondrial L Haplotypes and its Role in Modern African Genetic Diversity. In addition to her scientific work, she is keenly interested in communicating science to the general public: a member of the National Association of Science Writers, her publications include essays published on-line in The Naked Scientists and Inklings. At NCSE, she will be helping to develop new educational and scientific resources and also, we hope, assisting in writing grants to enable NCSE to continue and expand its efforts to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

Welcome aboard to both!

For Joshua Rosenau's blog, visit:

For NCSE's staff page, 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!

Sunny Outlook: Can Sunshine Provide All U.S. Electricity?


September 19, 2007

Large amounts of solar-thermal electric supply may become a reality if steam storage technology works—and new transmission infrastructure is built

In the often cloudless American Southwest, the sun pours more than eight kilowatt-hours* per square meter of its energy onto the landscape. Vast parabolic mirrors in the heart of California's Mojave Desert concentrate this solar energy to heat special oil to around 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius). This hot oil transfers its heat to water, vaporizing it, and then that steam turns a turbine to produce electricity. All told, nine such mirror fields, known as concentrating solar power plants, supply 350 megawatts of electricity yearly.

In the face of mounting concern about climate change, alternatives to coal and natural gas combustion such as these never seemed more attractive. And with the bounty of the sun waiting to be captured near fast-growing major centers of electricity consumption—Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, among others—interest in such solar thermal technology is on the rise. The first such plant to be built in decades started providing 64 megawatts of electricity to the neon lights of Vegas this summer.

But physicist David Mills, chief scientific officer and founder of Palo Alto, Calif.–based solar-thermal company Ausra, has bigger ideas: concentrating the sun's power to provide all of the electricity needs of the U.S., including a switch to electric cars feeding off the grid. "Within 18 months, with storage, we will not only reduce [the] cost of [solar-thermal] electricity but also satisfy the requirements for a modern society," Mills claims. "Supplying [electricity] 24 hours a day and effectively replacing the function of coal or gas."

The company insists it can do this at a cost of just 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, analogous to the price of electricity from burning natural gas in California if a cost was imposed for the emission of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas (as the state's Public Utilities Commission is considering).

Ausra will rely on a different type of concentrating solar power plant to deliver on this promise. French physicist Augustin Fresnel showed in the 19th century that a large lens, like the parabolic troughs of the existing solar-thermal plants, can be broken down into smaller sections that deliver the same focus. Applying this, Mills's design—a compact linear Fresnel reflector—allows for greater ground coverage, lower weight and greater durability than precision-shaped parabolic mirrors. "You can drop stones on it and they bounce off," Mills says. "We would be able to build these in Florida in the hurricane zone."

This Fresnel solar thermal plant also eliminates oil, directly heating water to a lower temperature of roughly 535 degrees F (280 degrees C) at a higher pressure, about 50 bars, or 50 times atmospheric pressure. Then, it uses the resultant steam to turn the same low-temperature turbines as those employed in nuclear reactors.

The amount of electricity produced is simply a function of the sun's bounty and the number of mirrors. "We're moving from 80- to 100-megawatt designs to 700 megawatts and above," says John O'Donnell, Ausra's executive vice president.

The key will be proving performance. Thus far, the company has exactly one solar array, hooked to a coal-fired power plant in Australia to provide extra steam that improves its efficiency at burning the dirty rock. At present, the Ausra mirrors produce just an additional 12 megawatts of extra heat, but there are plans to boost that as high as 38 megawatts thermal.

New Fossils Offer Glimpse of Human Ancestors


Published: September 19, 2007

The discovery of four fossil skeletons of early human ancestors in the republic of Georgia has given scientists a revealing glimpse of a species in transition, primitive in its skull and upper body but with more advanced spines and lower limbs for greater mobility.

Lost in a Million-Year Gap, Solid Clues to Human Origins (September 18, 2007) The findings, which are to be reported Thursday in the journal Nature, are considered a significant step toward understanding who were some of the first ancestors to migrate out of Africa some 1.8 million years ago. They may also yield insights into the nature of the first members of the human genus, Homo.

Until now, scientists had found only the skulls of small-brain individuals at the Georgian site of Dmanisi. They said the new evidence apparently showed the anatomical capability of this extinct population for long-distance migrations.

"We still don't know exactly what we have got here," David Lordkipanidze, leader of the excavations, said Monday in an interview on a visit to New York. "We're only beginning to describe the nature of the early Dmanisi population."

Other paleoanthropologists said the discovery could lead to breakthroughs in the critical evolutionary period in which some members of Australopithecus, the genus made famous by the Lucy skeleton, made the transition to Homo. The step may have been taken sometime before two million years ago, a period with only fragmentary fossil remains of the human past.

"The Australopithecus-Homo transition has always been murky," said Daniel E. Lieberman, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University. "The new discoveries further highlight the transitional and variable nature of early Homo."

The international team headed by Dr. Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, found several skulls and stone tools at Dmanisi in the 1990s. They were dated to 1.77 million years ago and resembled the species Homo erectus, the immediate predecessor of Homo sapiens. The fossils were tentatively assigned to the erectus species.

But erectus had been thought of as a species with more affinities to modern humans, with large bodies and long faces, teeth smaller and brains bigger than its predecessors. A young erectus man in Africa, dating to 1.5 million years ago, had a modern body and stood almost 6 feet tall.

The Dmanisi specimens were quite different. Their skull sizes indicated that they had brains not much larger than those of a chimpanzee. Their size was closer to the brains of Homo habilis, a poorly understood earlier ancestral species.

In the last few years, however, the researchers collected more extensive, well-preserved skeletal remains of an adolescent and three adult individuals. Some of the fossils resembled those of later erectus specimens in Africa. The lower limbs and arched feet, for example, reflected traits "for improved terrestrial locomotor performance," the discovery team reported.

Over all, though, the fossils were "a surprising mosaic" of primitive and evolved features. The small body size and small craniums, the upper limbs, elbows and shoulders were more like the earliest habilis specimens.

"Thus, the earliest known hominids to have lived outside of Africa in the temperate zones of Eurasia did not yet display the full set" of evolved skeletal features, the scientists concluded.

In an accompanying article in Nature, Dr. Lieberman said the new findings, coupled with other recent research on erectus and habilis fossils in Africa, showed that "early Homo was less modern and more variable than sometimes supposed."

A possible explanation, he said, was that the Dmanisi specimens "were simply smaller than their African relations." Or they may be examples of a different species.

"My hunch," Dr. Lieberman wrote, "is that the Dmanisi and early African H. erectus fossils represent different populations of a single, highly variable species."

Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, noted in an interview that when the Dmanisi skulls first came to light some scientists thought they represented a distinct species, which they called Homo georgicus. But others settled on an erectus designation.

"By tradition, erectus is the hominid in the middle, between earlier habilis and later Homo sapiens," Dr. Tattersall said. "This mindset prevailed."

But of more significance, he said, the Dmanisi skeletons may answer the question of how early human ancestors were first able to move out of Africa. Once larger brains, better tools and evolved limb proportions were the probable explanations. Previous discoveries ruled out the first two, but no direct evidence for the third one.

"Now we have this evidence," Dr. Tattersall said. "It seems the limb proportions to traverse environments out of Africa were there at least 1.8 million years ago."

Evolution education update: September 21, 2007

A controversy is raging at a Christian university over a professor who supports evolution, while Ian Hacking reviews five books relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy for the Nation. And are you in search of a speaker? Consult NCSE's updated speaker list!


Richard Colling, a professor of biology at Olivet Nazarene University, wanted to express his views about the compatibility of his religious faith with his scientific knowledge, and accordingly wrote Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator (Bourbonnais [IL]: Browning Press, 2004). But his views, especially about evolution, proved to be unwelcome to at least some of his coreligionists, as Newsweek's Sharon Begley (September 17, 2007) reports:


Anger over his work had been building for two years. When classes resumed in late August, things finally came to a head. Colling is prohibited from teaching the general biology class, a version of which he had taught since 1991, and college president John Bowling has banned professors from assigning his book [which was previously used in "at least one history class, an advanced biology course and the general biology course"]. At least one local Nazarene church called for Colling to be fired and threatened to withhold financial support from the college. In a letter to Bowling, ministers in Caro, Mo., expressed "deep concern regarding the teaching of evolutionary theory as a scientifically proven fact," calling it "a philosophy that is godless, contrary to scripture and scientifically unverifiable." Irate parents, pastors and others complained to Bowling, while a meeting between church leaders and Colling "led to some tension and misunderstanding," Bowling said in a letter to trustees.


The local Daily Journal (September 13, 2007) adds that although Colling and the university administration are trying to reconcile, Colling "is still stinging because, he says, the book was a true and honest expression of faith; and one he felt led by God to write. Moreover, he says there is room with the college's mission and policies for such an alternative view -- and that no real case has been made to date that his views are inconsistent with those or the teachings of the Church of the Nazarene."

In a previous article about Colling for the Wall Street Journal (December 3, 2004), Begley reported, "In his new book, 'Random Designer,' he writes: 'It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods' when they say evolutionary theory is 'in crisis' and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. 'Such statements are blatantly untrue,' he argues; 'evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny.'"

For the story in Newsweek, visit:

For the story in the Daily Journal, visit:

For Colling's website for Random Designer, visit:


Writing in the October 8, 2007, issue of The Nation, the philosopher Ian Hacking reviews five books relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy: Philip Kitcher's Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith, Michael Lienesch's In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement, Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, Ronald L. Numbers's The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, and A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter's Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial, a collection of H. L. Mencken's contemporary reportage.

Hacking begins by looking on the bright side -- "The anti-Darwin movement has racked up one astounding achievement. It has made a significant proportion of American parents care about what their children are taught in school." -- although he subsequently observes, "The debate about who decides what gets taught is fascinating, albeit excruciating for those who have to defend the schools against bunkum." With Kitcher, he prefers to classify creationist bunkum not as bad science or pseudoscience, but as dead science -- or, borrowing a term from the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos, "degenerate" science.

"Degenerate programs paint themselves into smaller and smaller corners, skirting problems they'd prefer not to face," Hacking explains. "They seldom or never have a new, positive explanation of anything. In short, they teach us nothing." In contrast, "evolutionary theory is a living, growing, vital organism ... a blooming, buzzing, confusing delight, finding out more about the world every day." He cites debates over the phylogeny of the primates and the extant of horizontal genetic transfer as cases of genuine scientific controversies within evolutionary biology.

"Contrast that with pseudo-controversy," Hacking continues, "and take, for example, Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University who must be the most ingenious and prolific anti-Darwinian biologist at work today." Referring to Behe's first book, he says, "There is no give and take of explanation and counterexample, no new methodology, no new anything -- just the same old question dressed up in slightly new clothes." With respect to Behe's latest book (which has already taken a pounding in review after review after review), he concludes, "Once again, we get a recycled objection in slightly new packaging, and no new ideas. ... Can't they do better than that? Apparently not."

Hacking ends his review on a theological note. "Intelligent design is silly," he remarks, despite its predecessors in the history of philosophy, and its central weakness is that "[i]t says nothing about the designer." Its silence about the nature of the designer, he argues, allows a number of variations on "the trite ad hominem observation" that the design in nature is imperfect: that the designer is evil, that the designer is insane ("obsessed with intricate details so long as they do not get too much in the way of other devices he concocts"), and -- in what he describes as a "more attractive thought" -- that the designer chose to operate through chance and selection.

For Hacking's essay in The Nation, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of the reviews of Behe's book, visit:


Here at NCSE, we've just updated our list of available speakers, which now includes our newest staff members, Public Information Project Director Joshua Rosenau and Postdoctoral Scholar Anne D. Holden, as well as three members of our board of directors, Barbara Forrest, Kevin Padian, and Andrew J. Petto. As the only national organization that is wholly dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools, NCSE is the perfect place to provide someone to speak to your organization or university about issues relevant to evolution education and attacks on it. So if you need a speaker, please feel free to get in touch with the NCSE office -- if nobody from NCSE is available or suitable, we'll try to find you someone who is!

For a list of NCSE speakers, 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!

Evolution versus creation


By Leo Igwe Posted to the Web: Saturday, September 29, 2007

Are human beings products of natural selection or are we creatures in the image of God? How did life originate? How did we get to be here? How did we get to be human? Questions concerning the origin of life and of all things have agitated the human mind for ages. Religions have tried to figure out an answer - "God created all things". The Christian book of genesis graphically narrates and codifies the process of creation day by day -as if the narrator was there at 'the beginning" Incidentally most people have accepted creationism as an 'an article of faith' foreclosing the possibility of any other account of the origin of the world.

Recently creationism donned a new garb — Intelligent Design (tD)- the idea that life is so complex that a designer must be behind it. But the creationist account did not put to rest the question of the origin of life. Thinking minds have been at work - seeking, searching, researching, questing, questioning, postulating and inquiring into other possible accounts or explanations of the origin of our species.

In 17th to 19th centuries, a revolutionary idea emerged. Thanks to the works of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) W. M Smith (1769 - 1839) Georges Louis Leclerc compte de Buffon (1707 - 1788) Erasmus Darwin (17 31 - 1882) Jean Baptiste Antonie de Lamarck (1744 - 1825) and then Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882) evolution - the "grandeur" view that all plants and animals have originated and descended by modification from few single ancestral forms - became a fact.

As Darwin stated " I view all beings not as special creations but as the lineal descendants of some few beings". Evolution progresses in the following ways
(i) struggle for survival
(ii) variation of the species
(iii) mutation of genes
(iv) heredity
(v) natural selection" Evidence for evolution abounds in paleontology, comparative anatomy and morphology. The Evolutionary theory radically challenged the religious view of human origin. It dealt a heavy blow to one of -fis~~- pillars of supernatural faiths — creation.

The evolutionary theory brought the origin

of life down from the sky, making Africa not 'the Garden of Eden' the place where human beings first emerged.

Nat surprising, religious fanatics- creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design have been up in arms against the evolutionary theory. They are crusading to suppress the evidence for evolution. They want to get evolution out of the school curriculum or get its teaching watered down.

In November 2004, Board members of a school in Dover, Pennsylvania, USA voted to include Intelligent Design in the science curriculum casting doubt on Oarwinism and evolution. A month later, plaintiffs filed a suit challenging the decision. And in December 2005, a US District Judge, John Jones ruled against the decision of the school board stating that ID is not science and should not be taught in science classes.

In September 2006, evolution came under attack again from a Christian cleric in East Africa. Bishop Boniface Adoyo of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya demanded that all reference to evolution be dropped from an exhibition of hominid fossils in Nairobi National Museum. The Museum houses Louis and Richard Leakey's collections of hominid fossils said to be one of the best illustrations of the origins of our species. According to Bishop Adoyo, evolution undermines the account of the creation of man in the image of God. "It's creating a weapon against Christians that's killing our faith ... children going to the museums will start believing we evolved from apes?"

So, for this reverend gentleman, children and the general public should not believe that we evolved from apes - even when there is evidence for that.

This anti-science, anti-evidence and antediluvian attitude of the church and religions generally has been responsible for the so-called conflict between science and religion. Actually there would have been no controversy or conflict at all between science and religion if all religions can keep to their own boundaries. Firstlyjhe religious outlook is a view of life that held sway at the infancy of the human race. Religion is primitive, pre-modern, pre-scientific and preenlightenment. So most of what religions teach today are out dated or untrue and can only hamper intellectual and moral progress.

Scientific discoveries have provided humanity with better insights into life and reality than religion ever did.

Again religion belongs to the spiritual, celestial and supernatural realm. Religior thrives on lack of evidence and in spite of evidence- on the mysterious, thE mystical, the inscrutable, the incomprehensible, the ineffable and in fact thE nonsensical. Religion propounds and propagates absolute and infallible truths through revelation, dogma and indoctrination. Simply put religion is superstition and cannot provide human beings with objective information about nature, thiE life and the real world.

But science is the study of nature. Science focuses on matter and the mundane using reason, commonsense, experience, experiment, observation and critica thinking to understand and explain life and reality. Scientific truths are testable, confirmable, demonstrable, verifiable and falsifiable but religious truths are not. Religious 'truths' are revealed myths and misconceptions which believers are made to swallow hook, line and sinker.

Scientific truths are based on evidence; religious truths are based on blind faith. So it is with evolution and creation. Evolution is science; creation or ID is religion. Evolution illuminates our tinderstanding of nature but creationism darkens and distorts it.

That the evolutionary theory is scientific-based on evidence does not make it perfect. As the American District Judge, John Jones, declared, "To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the classroom or to misrepresent well - established scientific propositionsD Science takes care of its imperfections, errors and shortcomings and ensures progress and improvement in human knowledge and understanding through its self-correcting mechanisms.

So advocates of creationism and ID should stay blear of our science classes, laboratories and museums. Already they have the churches, mosques, shrines, ashrams and other 'holy' places to peddle their sacred dogma, superstition and paranormal wares. According to Richard Dawkins, 'Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun" So letsuse our classrooms and museums to expose our children to the facts about the origin of our-species without t'eligious interference or intrusion.

*Leo lgwe is the executive director of the Center for Inquiry, Nigeria.

Radical Research Results On The Oxidation Of Vitamin E


Article Date: 26 Sep 2007 - 13:00 PDT

Recent research results have challenged conventional understanding of the oxidation of the "radical scavenger", vitamin E. Cutting-edge analysis methods have revealed that the intermediates commonly believed to be involved in the process do not occur. This surprising finding has been systematically documented and published as part of a project supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. The new findings are also extremely important for a follow-up project that is focusing on the synthesis of "super antioxidants" based on a polymeric vitamin E.

Vitamin E is one of the most important naturally occurring antioxidants, and has become widely known as a "radical scavenger" and anti-ageing product. It is perhaps precisely this high profile that has caused scientific interest in vitamin E to focus on optimizing its usage, while aspects relating to the basic chemistry have received less attention. However, in their work to develop new potential applications, chemists are revisiting these basics - and are radically rewriting a great deal of accepted teaching as they do so.

Intermediate & End Result

One such chemist is Prof. Thomas Rosenau from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna. During their work, he and his team closely analyzed the chemical processes involved in the one-electron oxidation of alpha-tocopherol (the main component of vitamin E), which conventional understanding dictates is proceeding via certain intermediates, known as C-centred radicals with an o-quinone methide (oQM) structure. However, the results produced by Prof.

Rosenau's team entirely disprove this theory.

Prof. Rosenau explains: "In principle, oQMs have low stability and a short lifespan. This makes it extremely difficult to demonstrate their presence and investigate them. However, we succeeded in significantly improving the stability of oQMs and extending their lifespan to up to 20 minutes. This enabled us to monitor oQMs directly in our analysis work on reaction processes."

Because extreme caution should be exercised when refuting accepted teaching, Prof. Rosenau's team ensured that all analyses were founded on a solid basis. A number of independent analytical methods were employed to confirm the team¹s results. These included electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy in liquid and solid phases, electron spin resonance spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy, the isotopic labelling of special derivatives, investigation of reaction kinetics and the development of computer models.

If the Chemistry is rights

Prof. Rosenau on the significance of his findings, which are being published in The Journal of Organic Chemistry and Chemistry - a European Journal: "At first glance, the question as to whether C-centred radicals with oQM structures are generated as a short-lived intermediate during the oxidation of alpha-tocopherol may seem like a question of purely academic interest. It is not! These radicals exhibit an extremely high reactivity and can therefore inflict major damage on cells. As alpha-tocopherol performs a whole range of physiological functions as a fat-soluble antioxidant and is present in a wide variety of medicines, healthcare products, foods and cosmetics, it is vitally important that we understand all the potentially harmful side effects that its degradation products can have on the health of patients and consumers."

But there is another reason why Prof. Rosenau¹s team chose to investigate the reactivity of alpha-tocopherol products. A second FWF project is looking at the synthesis of polytocopherols using a brand new reaction called spiropolymerisation, which is based on the understanding of the oxidation reaction. Polytocopherols are molecules where numerous tocopherol units are interconnected in chains or rings. oQMs are used to form these connections, while highly reactive radicals lead to crosslinking and breaks in the individual polymer chains, which would thereby make it much more difficult to synthesise polytocopherols. The scientific work of Prof. Rosenau demonstrates that progress in current scientific issues can sometimes mean revising what we think we know.

Image and text will be available online from Monday, 24th September 2007, 09.00 a.m. CET onwards: click here.

Original publication: T. Rosenau, E. Kloser, L. Gille, F. Mazzini & T. Netscher: Vitamin E Chemistry. Studies into Initial Oxidation Intermediates of alpha-Tocopherol: Disproving the Involvement of 5a-C-centered "Chromanol Methide" Radicals. J. Org. Chem. 2007, 72, 3268 - 3281. DOI: 10.1021/jo062553j

T. Rosenau, G. Ebner, A. Stanger, S. Perl, L. Nuri: From a Theoretical Concept to Biochemical Reactions: Strain Induced Bond Localization (SIBL) in Oxidation of Vitamin E. Chem. Eur. J. 2005, 11(1), 280-287.

New Age ideas face tough sell in security-conscious Egypt


1 day ago

CAIRO, Egypt - Two days before the opening of Egypt's first ever New Age festival, organizer Suzanne Mitchell-Egan was summoned by state security, the nation's dreaded plainclothes police force, to explain what she was up to.

For three hours, deep in the bowels of a building where many an Islamist detainee has disappeared, she described morphogenetics, reiki, star mapping, hemi-sync sound therapy and other techniques - and, more important, why they did not represent a threat to the country.

"The guy went through every single person coming to the festival. He wanted to know everything," recalled Mitchell-Egan, an international lecturer who has organized a number of such festivals around the world. "I had to be so careful what I said. I've never had to use my brain like I did then."

Holistic and alternative medicine have been gaining popularity around the world - but in Egypt the practices face some deep-seated suspicion.

It took one more midnight visit to state security, but Mitchell-Egan eventually received the permissions she needed. Several hundred people attended Egypt's first-ever "Mind Body and Spirit Festival of Giving" at a Cairo hotel on Sept. 7, a major boost for the country's holistic health practitioners, who have long kept a low profile.

Egypt's powerful security forces are generally wary of foreigners bringing in new political or religious ideas to the mainly Muslim country, fearing they could involve proselytizing or other activities that might disturb the peace.

Egypt has a thriving culture of herbal and traditional medicine of its own, widely practised in lower-income urban areas and in the countryside. To this day for the poor, many common ailments are addressed by a trip to the aromatic offices of the local "attar" or herbalist who have generations-old lists of remedies for everything from kidney stones to rheumatism to a simple cold.

But traditional medicine is uniformly disdained by the country's health-care professionals.

State security was not the only challenge Mitchell-Egan faced in trying to hold her conference. Most hotels refused to rent rooms for the event and the local English language pop station declined to air publicity for it.

"They are afraid of something they don't understand," she said, expressing hope that the successful event will spread awareness about alternative therapies and New Age ideas. "They are fearful of any trouble being caused and they don't like anything political or religious."

Still, the New Age movement is making small gains around the region.

Homeopaths, who see treating disease as a matter of rebalancing life forces, have their own non-governmental organization in Egypt. But they have to describe their activities as counselling or therapy to avoid raising the ire of the Doctors Syndicate, which governs medical practicioners.

"We have a right to talk, to give lectures, to teach, but not to practice, take money or give remedies," said Nazli Mansour, a homeopathy practitioner in Alexandria who attended the festival.

Abdel Hayy Holdijk, founder of the Egyptian Society of Homeopathy, said there is an increasing recognition around the world of the limitations of modern medicine and search for alternative or traditional techniques to healing.

"Alternative medicine in general is increasing in the Arab world, particularly in the Gulf States of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even in Saudi Arabia," said Holdijk, who is also a professor at the American University in Cairo.

But a major barrier is the taboo against magic. "Some people are worried that these kinds of practices might slip into magical practices which are forbidden in Islam," he said.

The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, sharply condemns sorcery - and Muslim clerics often try to stamp out persistent local traditions of magic, ranging from protective amulets that use scraps of Qur'anic verses to more sinister forms involving animal sacrifice, exorcisms and casting curses. Authorities are often called in to arrest those involved.

In this context, New Age practices like Tarot reading, astrology and even energy-focusing crystals arouse suspicions as well.

"Immediately they think it's magic, it's hocus-pocus," said Dr. Amira Abdelkader, a licensed cosmetologist and massage therapist educated in the United States who has opened a wellness centre in Cairo.

Most of her work concentrates on more affluent Egyptians familiar with the alternative medicine ideas that treat the whole body rather than just a specific ailment.

Ironically, notes Abdelkader, many of these remedies are not too far away from the traditional ones still practised by Egypt's poor.

"Integrative medicine goes back centuries, all the way back to the Pharaohs and the Greeks," she said. "It's always been there by heritage ... the upper class doesn't realize that all integrative medicine goes back to our grandparents."

Mitchell-Egan's state security officer ended up attending the festival, listening to many of the lectures and afterward, she said, he was convinced there was nothing ominous about it all and assured her future events should face less obstacles.

"That's the first time we've had something like that here in Egypt. That's a big hurdle we overcame," said Abdelkader, praising Mitchell-Egan for making it happen. "I know a lot of practitioners here in Egypt that were dying to do something like that but didn't have the guts."

FDA clinical trial oversight blasted


WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- A new report says the Food and Drug Administration is failing to properly keep an eye on the thousands of U.S. clinical trials.

A review by Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson found that federal health officials didn't even know how many clinical trials were being conducted, The New York Times said Friday.

The report said the FDA has 200 inspectors to police an estimated 350,000 testing sites. It estimated that only 1 percent of all clinical trials were audited between 2000 and 2005. The FDA also was faulted for failing to make sure that any problems found are properly addressed.

The FDA oversees the safety of trials by companies seeking approval to sell drugs or devices. There is no federal oversight for private, noncommercial trials, the newspaper said.

The inspector general's report calls for the creation of a comprehensive database of all clinical trials, a federal registry of clinical trial inspectors and increased legal oversight.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International.

Creationism out of the classroom


The UK government has issued new to teachers on what to teach about creationism and intelligent design in science classes.

September 28, 2007 11:51 AM

The UK government has issued new guidelines to teachers on what to teach about creationism and intelligent design in science classes. They are pretty explicit that creationism and ID do not belong.

The move seems to be a response to efforts by the ironically named campaign group "Truth in Science". Last year it sent DVDs promoting ID to every school in the land in the hope that they would be used to teach the creationist idea alongisde evolution in science lessons.

The new guidelines could not be clearer:

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science.

That doesn't mean it cannot be mentioned of course, but the guidelines state that it should only feature as part of discussions about what does and does not make a scientific theory.

The use of the word 'theory' can mislead those not familiar with science as a subject discipline because it is different from the everyday meaning of being little more than a 'hunch'. In science the meaning is much less tentative and indicates that there is a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations accepted by the international scientific community...Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole.

There are even specific guidelines about using materials from groups like TIS:

While these resources may be used, it must be remembered that they do not support the science National Curriculum and they present a particular minority viewpoint that is not underpinned by scientific principles and evidence.

For more on TIS check out the British Centre for Science Education.

Vitter earmarked federal money for creationist group


Posted by Bill Walsh, Washington bureau September 22, 2007 9:10PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. David Vitter, R-La., earmarked $100,000 in a spending bill for a Louisiana Christian group that has challenged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public school system and to which he has political ties.

The money is included in the labor, health and education financing bill for fiscal 2008 and specifies payment to the Louisiana Family Forum "to develop a plan to promote better science education."

The earmark appears to be the latest salvo in a decades-long battle over science education in Louisiana, in which some Christian groups have opposed the teaching of evolution and, more recently, have pushed to have it prominently labeled as a theory with other alternatives presented. Educators and others have decried the movement as a backdoor effort to inject religious teachings into the classroom.

The nonprofit Louisiana Family Forum, launched in Baton Rouge in 1999 by former state Rep. Tony Perkins, has in recent years taken the lead in promoting "origins science," which includes the possibility of divine intervention in the creation of the universe.

The group's stated mission is to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking." Until recently, its Web site contained a "battle plan to combat evolution," which called the theory a "dangerous" concept that "has no place in the classroom." The document was removed after a reporter's inquiry.

Vitter, Forum have ties

The group's tax-exempt status prohibits the Louisiana Family Forum from political activity, but Vitter has close ties to the group. Dan Richey, the group's grass-roots coordinator, was paid $17,250 as a consultant in Vitter's 2004 Senate race. Records also show that Vitter's campaign employed Beryl Amedee, the education resource council chairwoman for the Louisiana Family Forum.

The group has been an advocate for the senator, who was elected as a strong supporter of conservative social issues. When Vitter's use of a Washington, D.C., call-girl service drew comparisons last month to the arrest of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in what an undercover officer said was a solicitation for sex in an airport men's room, Family Forum Executive Director Gene Mills came to Vitter's defense.

In a video clip the group posted on the Internet site YouTube, Mills said the two senators' situations are far different. "Craig is denying the allegations," he said. "Vitter has repented of the allegations. He sought forgiveness, reconciliation and counseling."

Vitter's office said it is not surprising that people he employed would also do work for Louisiana Family Forum, which shares his philosophical outlook. He said the education earmark was meant to offer a broad array of views in the public schools.

"This program helps supplement and support educators and school systems that would like to offer all of the explanations in the study of controversial science topics such as global warming and the life sciences," Vitter said in a written statement.

The money in the earmark will pay for a report suggesting "improvements" in science education in Louisiana, the development and distribution of educational materials and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Ouachita Parish School Board's 2006 policy that opened the door to biblically inspired teachings in science classes.

"I believe it is an important program," Vitter said.

Critics said taxpayer money should not go to support a religion-based program.

"This is a misappropriation of public funds," said Charles Kincade, a civil rights lawyer in Monroe who has been involved in church-state cases. "It's a backdoor attempt to push a religious agenda in the public school system."

Group has history

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a Christian conservative defeated for re-election in 2004, attempted to open the door for such money when he inserted language into a report accompanying the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act enabling teachers to offer "the full range of scientific views" when "topics that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution)" are taught.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Louisiana law that would have required schools to teach creationist theories, which hold that God created the universe, whenever evolution was taught. In 2002, the Louisiana Family Forum unsuccessfully sought to persuade the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to insert a five-paragraph disclaimer in all of its science texts challenging the natural science view that life came about by accident and has evolved through the process of natural selection.

The group notched a victory last year when the Ouachita School Board adopted a policy that, without mentioning the Bible or creationism, gave teachers leeway to introduce other views besides those contained in traditional science texts.

"Many of our educators feel inadequate to address the controversies," said Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum.

Mills said that his group didn't request the money in the 2008 appropriations bill, and that Vitter's proposal "was a bit of a surprise."

Mills said his group is not attempting to push the teaching of evolution out of the schools, but wants to supplement it. Yet, some of the material posted on the Louisiana Family Forum's Web site suggests a more radical view.

Among other things, a "Louisiana Family Forum Fact Sheet" at one point included "A Battle Plan -- Practical Steps to Combat Evolution" by Kent Hovind, a controversial evangelist who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for tax offenses and obstruction of justice.

Hovind's paper stated, "Evolution is not a harmless theory but a dangerous religious belief" that underpinned the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Looking deeper urged

"I've got so much stuff on the Web site I don't know what's there," Mills said. "We think that in order to teach controversial topics successfully, you have to teach both sides."

The group's "Evolution Addendum for Public Schools," also posted on the Web site, offers a flavor of its concerns. The document rejects the evolutionary connection between apes and humans, questions the standard explanation of fossil formation and seeks to undercut the prevailing scientific view that life emerged from a series of chemical reactions.

"Under ideal conditions, the odds of that many amino acids coming together in the right order are approximately the same as winning the Power Ball Lotto every week for the next 640 years," it states. "How could this have happened accidentally?"

Kincade, the Monroe lawyer, said Vitter's and Louisiana Family Forum's motives are not benign.

"What you have to do is look below the surface," said Kincade, who holds an undergraduate degree in physics and has been active in legal cases in which religious groups challenge science instruction. "It frames the issue in a way that appeals to America's sense of fair play. The problem is, except for fringe people, evolution is an accepted fact of science. It is not a hotly contested issue. The general concept of natural selection and evolution is settled and beyond dispute. To suggest otherwise is misleading. They are trying to backdoor creationism."

Vitter's appropriation was contained in a database compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit group seeking to reduce the number of earmarks in federal legislation. Earlier this year, Congress agreed for the first time to begin linking specially requested earmarks to the names of their sponsors. Taxpayers for Common Sense has compiled thousands of them into searchable databases.

Vitter said the financing request was submitted earlier this year and "was evaluated on its merit." But Steve Ellis, of the taxpayers' group, said most earmarks are not vetted by anyone except the member requesting it.

"Using an earmark to dictate that the Louisiana Family Forum receive the funding to develop a science education program ironically ignores a hallmark of scientific research, making decisions on the basis of competitive, empirical research," Ellis said.

The appropriations bill is awaiting Senate action.

Bill Walsh can be reached at bill.walsh@newhouse.com or (202) 383-7817.

Teacher: I was fired, said Bible isn't literal


The community college instructor says the school sided with students offended by his explanation of Adam and Eve.


September 22, 2007

A community college instructor in Red Oak claims he was fired after he told his students that the biblical story of Adam and Eve should not be literally interpreted.

Steve Bitterman, 60, said officials at Southwestern Community College sided with a handful of students who threatened legal action over his remarks in a western civilization class Tuesday. He said he was fired Thursday.

"I'm just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master's degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job," Bitterman said.

Sarah Smith, director of the school's Red Oak campus, declined to comment Friday on Bitterman's employment status. The school's president, Barbara Crittenden, said Bitterman taught one course at Southwest. She would not comment, however, on his claim that he was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue.

"I can assure you that the college understands our employees' free-speech rights," she said. "There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment."

Bitterman, who taught part time at Southwestern and Omaha's Metropolitan Community College, said he uses the Old Testament in his western civilization course and always teaches it from an academic standpoint.

Bitterman's Tuesday course was telecast to students in Osceola over the Iowa Communications Network. A few students in the Osceola classroom, he said, thought the lesson was "denigrating their religion."

"I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn't given any more credibility than any other god," Bitterman said. "I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there."

Bitterman said he called the story of Adam and Eve a "fairy tale" in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney. He declined to identify any of the students in the class.

"I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here," he said. "From my point of view, what they're doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century."

Hector Avalos, an atheist religion professor at Iowa State University, said Bitterman's free-speech rights were violated if he was fired simply because he took an academic approach to a Bible story.

"I don't know the circumstances, but if he's teaching something about the Bible and says it is a myth, he shouldn't be fired for that because most academic scholars do believe this is a myth, the story of Adam and Eve," Avalos said.

"So it'd be no different than saying the world was not created in six days in science class.

"You don't fire professors for giving you a scientific answer."

Bitterman said Linda Wild, vice president of academic affairs at Southwest, fired him over the telephone.

Wild did not return telephone or e-mail messages Friday. Bitterman said that he can think of no other reason college officials would fire him and that Smith, the director of the campus, has previously sat in on his classes and complimented his work.

"As a taxpayer, I'd like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group," he said. "If it has ... then the taxpaying public of Iowa has a right to know. What's next? Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?"

Reporter Megan Hawkins can be reached at (515) 284-8169 or mehawkins@dmreg.com

Are sunspots prime suspects in global warming?


Climate-change 'optimists' say complex natural cycles may be at the heart of global warming.

By Peter N. Spotts | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It's a modern-day climate scuffle William Herschel would recognize. He should. He helped trigger it.

In 1801, the eminent British astron­­omer reported that when sunspots dotted the sun's surface, grain prices fell. When sunspots waned, prices rose.

He suggested that shifts in grain prices were a stand-in for shifts in climate. Large numbers of sunspots led to a warmer sun, he reasoned. With more warmth reaching Earth, crop yields would increase, depressing grain prices.

With that, a 200-year hunt began for links between shifts in the sun's output and changes in climate.

No one doubts that the sun drives Earth's climate. Nor do researchers doubt that over long time spans, changes in the level of sunlight reaching Earth's surface leave their imprints on climate.

The vast bulk of research to date, however, points to greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil, and natural gas – as the main force behind the current warming trend, most climate scientists say.

Still, over the past decade some researchers say they've found puzzling correlations between changes in the sun's output and weather and climate patterns on Earth. These links appear to rise above the level of misinterpreted data or faulty equipment.

"There are some empirical bits of evidence that show interesting relationships we don't fully understand," says Drew Shindell, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

For example, he cites a 2001 study in which scientists looked at cloud cover over the United States from 1900 to 1987 and found that average cloud cover increased and decreased in step with the sun's 11-year sunspot cycle. The most plausible cause, they said: changes in the ultraviolet (UV) light the sun delivers to the stratosphere.

Clouds can cool, or clouds can heat

Others claim to have linked shifts in levels of cosmic rays reaching deep into the atmosphere to changes in average cloud cover. Depending on how thick and how high they are, clouds either cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back into space or act as a blanket and trap heat. The valve controlling the flow of cosmic rays from deep space is the sun's magnetic field – which shifts with sunspot activity.

But this broad line of inquiry faces an enormous credibility problem, Dr. Shindell notes. From Herschel's day through the early 20th century, scientists have offered correlations that "fall apart the longer you look at them," he says.

Moreover, when scientists report a new correlation, some enthusiastic advocates go beyond what the data show and imbue it with too much significance. Such is the case with cosmic rays, many scientists say, whose poorly demonstrated ties to cloud formation have nevertheless been touted in the public arena – if not the scientific arena – as an explanation for most of the warming in the 20th century.

To say that current warming trends are "all cosmic rays and no carbon dioxide is totally ludicrous, in the same way that people say that it's all [human-induced] carbon dioxide and nothing natural. That is equally ludicrous," says Jasper Kirkby, a physicist who is actively exploring potential links between cosmic rays and clouds at CERN, Europe's center for high-energy physics research in Geneva.

"Climate is a cocktail," he explains. "The effect of cosmic rays on clouds – if there is a significant effect – will be part of the mix. The question is: Is it a significant part of the mix, or insignificant?"

Mainstream scientific skepticism about a strong direct link between changes in the sun's output and today's global warming stems from a tiny shift in sunlight.

Generally, peak periods of high sunspot activity deliver more sunlight to the top of the atmosphere than periods of minimum activity. Scientists measure this "total solar irradiance," which includes infrared and ultraviolet light as well as visible light.

In 1970, Russian researchers using high-altitude balloons to measure sunlight reported a 2 percent rise in the sun's output as the sun moved from periods of little sunspot activity to peak activity. Today, using better measurements from satellites over the past 28 years, the change in total solar irradiance is estimated to be much smaller, between 0.05 percent and 0.07 percent. The most important component for climate-change purposes – visible light – represents about half of this change, says Tom Woods, a researcher at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Space and Atmospheric Physics, based in Boulder.

'Pesky' correlations with sunspots

Last fall, solar physicists and climate scientists in the US and Europe reviewed the latest studies of changes in total solar irradiance driven by the 11-year sunspot cycle. They concluded that those changes are unlikely to have had a "significant influence" on global warming since the 1600s. In particular, satellite measurements since the late 1970s showed changes too weak to have "contributed appreciably to accelerated warming over the past 30 years."

The effect "is really small, unless you can come up with ways to amplify it," says Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, who took part in the study.

Other studies suggest that changes in sunlight – as well as the cooling effect of volcanic activity, which sends sunlight-reflecting particles high in the sky – probably played a major role in climate during preindustrial times and even into the early 20th century. But even these find that CO2 emissions have dominated the scene over the past half century.

Some pesky correlations – such as the one between sunspot cycles and cloud cover – linger. This has led some scientists to ask if some process in the atmosphere may be boosting those tiny changes.

One candidate is UV light. During swings in sunspot cycles, the largest fractional changes in the sun's output occur in the ultraviolet range, Shindell notes. But much of that is absorbed by ozone in the stratosphere – which may be the connection, he suggests. The rise and fall of UV light can alter the amount of heat-trapping ozone in the stratosphere, changing its circulation patterns. These changes can work their way into the layer below, the troposphere, where weather and people meet. Instead of warming the troposphere, changes in solar UV output appear to redistribute warmth, chill, rainfall, and other conditions already present.

This mechanism may account for plunging winter temperatures in the Little Ice Age (1450 to 1850) – at least over land in the Northern Hemisphere, he says.

Another possibility: cosmic rays

But if changes in ultraviolet light tied to sunspot cycles merely stir the climate pot, might something else affect long-term global average temperatures?

Enter galactic cosmic rays. In 1997, Danish researcher Henrik Svensmark and a colleague at the Danish Meteorological Institute injected new life into this debate with the first in a set of papers that suggested a strong correlation between an increase in galactic cosmic rays reaching Earth's surface during low points in the sunspot cycle and increased cloud cover.

The idea of a big effect on climate from cosmic rays is controversial. For instance, the team that studied sunspots and cloud cover over North America found that average cloudiness rose and fell with the sunspot cycle, but didn't track with cosmic ray trends.

Still, a study published last year in Britain showed a small but statistically significant ef­­fect from cosmic rays, notes Rasmus Ben­­estad, who specialized in solar-climate interactions at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo. He is highly skeptical that cosmic rays play a big role in climate, he says. But, he adds, the phenomenon is worth exploring.

Dr. Kirkby and colleagues at several institutions aim to do just that. They've designed an aerosol chamber to test how cosmic rays might affect cloud formation and how significant the effect might be. "You really can't settle the issue by more heated debate," he says. "You need experimental data."


We'd like to hear from you. Do you think climate-change skeptics are raising persuasive points or ignoring strong scientific evidence? Write to: letters@csmonitor.com.

Study Fails to Link Chemical, Brain Woes


By ALICIA CHANG – 2 days ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A mercury-based preservative once used in many vaccines does not raise the risk of neurological problems in children, concludes a large federal study that researchers say should reassure parents about the safety of shots their kids received a decade or more ago.

However, the study did not examine autism — the developmental disorder that some critics blame on vaccines. A separate study due out in a year will look at that issue, said scientists at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who led the latest analysis and published results in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

They found no clear link between early exposure to the preservative thimerosal and problems with brain function and behavior in children age 7 to 10. The results are in line with past research that found no connection between vaccines and neurological problems or autism.

Thimerosal (pronounced thih-MEHR'-uh-sawl) has not been used in childhood vaccines since 2001, although it is still in some flu shots. The new findings apply to children immunized before then, or exposed to the preservative through shots their mothers received while pregnant. Thimerosal was put in vaccines to prevent contamination from bacteria.

Some doctors say the CDC study should reassure parents worried about the safety of vaccines.

"It's good news for families," said Dr. Michael Goldstein, vice president of the American Academy of Neurology who works in private practice in Salt Lake City. "There's no evidence that these vaccines have caused injury."

The study involved 1,047 children who were exposed to varying levels of thimerosal while in the womb or after birth in the 1990s. The children belonged to four health maintenance organizations that are part of a federal project to study the side effects of vaccines. Their mercury exposure was determined through medical and immunization records and interviews with parents.

Each child was tested for speech and language skills, motor coordination and intelligence. Parents, teachers and trained specialists also rated stuttering, attention span and tic disorders such as head shaking, eye blinking and neck jerking. A total of 42 neurological problems were analyzed.

On balance, researchers did not find a consistent pattern between increasing thimerosal exposure and the risk of these problems. However, they said one finding merited further study: Boys exposed to higher mercury levels seemed to have more tic problems — a link seen in previous research.

"The doses of mercury that children were exposed to because of immunization doesn't cause neuropsychological damage," said Dr. Bruce H. Cohen, a Cleveland Clinic pediatric neurology specialist who had no role in the study.

The CDC study was reviewed by an independent panel of scientists and statisticians who oversaw its design, reviewed results and contributed to writing the report.

The panel included one vaccine opponent — Sallie Bernard, executive director of the consumer group SafeMinds. Although she had a role in planning the study, she asked to be listed as a "dissenting member" because she disagreed with the study's conclusions.

The research was led by William Thompson, a CDC epidemiologist who once worked for vaccine maker Merck & Co. Four other researchers have received fees from drug companies and one has served as a consultant to a CDC committee on immunization.

The study was not designed to tease out the effects of mercury exposure on autism. Thompson is completing a separate study examining whether thimerosal exposure before or after birth causes autism. The study recruited 1,000 children including 250 with autism. Results are expected next year.

Autism is a major public health concern, with one in 150 American children diagnosed with the disorder characterized by repetitive behaviors and impaired social interaction.

Although past scientific studies have found no link between autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines, the highly charged issue went on trial this summer.

A court in Washington, D.C., heard from an Arizona mother who blamed vaccines on her 12-year-old daughter's severe autism. The case is being followed by about 5,000 families who filed similar claims to receive compensation from a federal vaccine injury fund. The fund so far has not paid out an autism claim.

Council of Europe to vote on creationism next week


Council of Europe to vote on creationism next week Visitors watch the exhibits at the new Creation Museum during a special viewing of the museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, May 26, 2007. Europe's main human rights body will vote next week on a resolution opposing the teaching of creationist and intelligent design views in school science classes. REUTERS/John Sommers II

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's main human rights body will vote next week on a resolution opposing the teaching of creationist and intelligent design views in school science classes.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will debate a resolution saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted "in forms of religious extremism" and amounted to a dangerous assault on science and human rights.

The resolution, on the agenda for October 4, says European schools should "resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion." It describes the "intelligent design" argument as an updated version of creationism.

Anne Brasseur, an Assembly member from Luxembourg who updated an earlier draft resolution, said the vote was due in June but was postponed because some members felt the original text amounted to an attack on religious belief.

Only minor changes have been made to the initial draft.

"There are different views of the creation of the world and we respect that," she told Reuters. "The message we wanted to send was to avoid creationism passing itself off as science and being taught as science. That's where the danger lies."

The Council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

If passed, the resolution would not be binding on its 47 member states but would reflect widespread opposition among politicians to teaching creationism in science class.


Creationism says God made the world in six days as depicted in the Bible. Intelligent design argues some life forms are too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin's theory and needed an unnamed higher intelligence to develop as they have.

Some conservatives in the United States, both religious and secular, have long opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools but U.S. courts have regularly barred them from teaching what they describe as religious views of creation.

Pressure to teach creationism is weaker in Europe, but has been mounting. An Assembly committee took up the issue because a shadowy Turkish Muslim publishing group has been sending an Islamic creationist book to schools in several countries.

Supporters of intelligent design want it taught in science class alongside evolution. A U.S. court ruled this out in a landmark decision in 2005, dismissing it as "neo-creationism."

"The aim of this report is not to question or to fight a belief," Brasseur wrote in a memorandum added to the new resolution. "It is not a matter of opposing belief and science, but it is necessary to prevent belief from opposing science."

She said the resolution also shortened references in the resolution to "evolution by natural selection" to "evolution" because some members had misunderstood the reference to natural selection to be an attack on their religious beliefs.

Mammoth hair sheds new light


Scientists' discover that it's an abundant source of DNA that could hasten the cloning of extinct mammals.

From the Los Angeles Times
By Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 28, 2007

Scientists seeking to decode ancient DNA from woolly mammoths and other Ice Age beasts have found an abundant new source of unsullied genetic material: ordinary hair.

Using samples of fur from mammoths that roamed Siberia 17,000 to 50,000 years ago, the researchers were able, they say, to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial genomes of 10 animals, even though some of the hair had been stored at room temperature for 200 years.

By multiplying the potential sources of ancient DNA, the discovery could accelerate efforts to clone woolly mammoths and other extinct beasts, though scientists said it would take millions of dollars and decades of work to overcome the daunting technical hurdles that remain.

The findings, released today by the journal Science, suggest that heaps of ancient DNA are readily available in natural history museums and other collections, not just in fossil bones buried beneath layers of permafrost, said Tom Gilbert, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who led the study.

"Think about all the extinct furred animals that are displayed in museums around the world," Gilbert said. "There is a lot of work waiting for us."

The workload could get even bigger if scientists rethink the value of ancient fur and begin collecting it in earnest. Caves in the southwestern United States contain lots of hair from such bygone species as dire wolves, short-faced bears, ground sloths and mastodons, said Ross MacPhee, a curator in the division of vertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

"My guess is that hair recovery will now be de rigueur in certain kinds of archaeology," said MacPhee, who wasn't involved in the study. "It's kind of amazing stuff."

This isn't the first time scientists have tried to coax DNA out of ancient hair. Efforts in the 1990s produced erratic results, and hair shafts were thought to be especially vulnerable to contamination, which is a problem with bone samples as well.

"It just didn't cut the mustard," MacPhee said. "People had more consistent success with bone."

But a decade later, Gilbert decided to try again.

In earlier studies, he found that the hair shaft was actually quite resistant to bacteria and other potential contaminants, offering protection to any DNA that might be inside. He suspects that keratin in hair shafts protects the interior from water and bacteria, two of the primary culprits in DNA degradation.

"I like to think of keratin as a kind of plastic that the DNA is embedded in, completely protecting it," Gilbert said.

Adding to the allure was scientific speculation that mitochondrial DNA -- the genes that control the energy sources of cells -- would be abundant in hair because it takes so much effort to form the shaft.

Gilbert and his colleagues used a relatively new technique called sequencing-by-synthesis, which randomly picks hundreds of thousands of DNA fragments out of a sample and sequences them all. About 10% of the fragments contained mitochondrial DNA, which was more than enough to piece together each mammoth's entire mitochondrial genome with high accuracy, Gilbert said.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed virtually unaltered from mother to child, and that makes it useful to researchers interested in studying mammoth migrations and herd relationships.

"We thought if we sequenced 20 samples, maybe one or two would actually work," said Webb Miller, a professor at Pennsylvania State University's Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics and a senior author of the study. "We were pretty flabbergasted that it would work every time."

Each genome cost $5,000 to $15,000 to assemble, said Stephan Schuster, a Penn State geneticist and senior author of the study. The research was partially funded by Roche Applied Science, the company that makes the DNA sequencing machine used by the researchers.

The new study demonstrates that hair can be a viable source of ancient DNA and appears to be less contaminated than bone, said Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University in Canada, who has used the same sequencing technique on mammoth bones. But he disagreed with the conclusion that hair is necessarily a better source than bone.

"There are pros and cons of each," said Poinar, who wasn't part of the research team.

Svante Paabo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who is trying to decode the Neanderthal genome, called the study "very promising" but questioned the researchers' assertion that Ice Age hair is more plentiful than bone. For some species, including Neanderthals, "only bone and teeth are preserved," he said.

The sequencing-by-synthesis method also decodes snippets of nuclear DNA, the genetic code that contains instructions for how any organism is made. But since nuclear DNA is hundreds of thousands of times longer than mitochondrial DNA, it would take much longer -- and cost millions of dollars -- to generate an entire mammoth genome. With current technology, it would also produce snippets that are too short to combine in a reliable way.

But all those things will change as DNA sequencing gets faster and cheaper, just like computers.

Deciphering the complete mammoth genome is "doable, and it's on the horizon" in the next 50 to 100 years, Poinar said.


Scientists Feel Miscast in Film on Life's Origin


Published: September 27, 2007

A few months ago, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins received an e-mail message from a producer at Rampant Films inviting him to be interviewed for a documentary called "Crossroads."

The film, with Ben Stein, the actor, economist and freelance columnist, as its host, is described on Rampant's Web site as an examination of the intersection of science and religion. Dr. Dawkins was an obvious choice. An eminent scientist who teaches at Oxford University in England, he is also an outspoken atheist who has repeatedly likened religious faith to a mental defect.

But now, Dr. Dawkins and other scientists who agreed to be interviewed say they are surprised — and in some cases, angered — to find themselves not in "Crossroads" but in a film with a new name and one that makes the case for intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. The film, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," also has a different producer, Premise Media.

The film is described in its online trailer as "a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions." According to its Web site, the film asserts that people in academia who see evidence of a supernatural intelligence in biological processes have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation's laboratories and classrooms.

Mr. Stein appears in the film's trailer, backed by the rock anthem "Bad to the Bone," declaring that he wants to unmask "people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can't possibly touch God."

If he had known the film's premise, Dr. Dawkins said in an e-mail message, he would never have appeared in it. "At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front," he said.

Eugenie C. Scott, a physical anthropologist who heads the National Center for Science Education, said she agreed to be filmed after receiving what she described as a deceptive invitation.

"I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people's views are different than mine, and that's fine," Dr. Scott said, adding that she would have appeared in the film anyway. "I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren't."

The growing furor over the movie, visible in blogs, on Web sites and in conversations among scientists, is the latest episode in the long-running conflict between science and advocates of intelligent design, who assert that the theory of evolution has obvious scientific flaws and that students should learn that intelligent design, a creationist idea, is an alternative approach.

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are "not within the scope or abilities of science."

Mr. Stein, a freelance columnist who writes Everybody's Business for The New York Times, conducts the film's on-camera interviews. The interviews were lined up for him by others, and he denied misleading anyone. "I don't remember a single person asking me what the movie was about," he said in a telephone interview.

Walt Ruloff, a producer and partner in Premise Media, also denied that there was any deception. Mr. Ruloff said in a telephone interview that Rampant Films was a Premise subsidiary, and that the movie's title was changed on the advice of marketing experts, something he said was routine in filmmaking. He said the film would open in February and would not be available for previews until January.

Judging from material posted online and interviews with people who appear in the film, it cites several people as victims of persecution, including Richard Sternberg, a biologist and an unpaid research associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist denied tenure at Iowa State University this year.

Dr. Sternberg was at the center of a controversy over a paper published in 2004 in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a peer-reviewed publication he edited at the time. The paper contended that an intelligent agent was a better explanation than evolution for the so-called Cambrian explosion, a great diversification of life forms that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago.

The paper's appearance in a peer-reviewed journal was a coup for intelligent design advocates, but the Council of the Biological Society of Washington, which publishes the journal, almost immediately repudiated it, saying it had appeared without adequate review.

Dr. Gonzalez is an astrophysicist and co-author of "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery" (Regnery, 2004). The book asserts that earth's ability to support complex life is a result of supernatural intervention.

Dr. Gonzalez's supporters say his views cost him tenure at Iowa State. University officials said their decision was based, among other things, on his record of scientific publications while he was at the university.

Mr. Stein, a prolific author who has acted in movies like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and appeared on television programs including "Win Ben Stein's Money" on Comedy Central, said in a telephone interview that he accepted the producers' invitation to participate in the film not because he disavows the theory of evolution — he said there was a "very high likelihood" that Darwin was on to something — but because he does not accept that evolution alone can explain life on earth.

He said he also believed the theory of evolution leads to racism and ultimately genocide, an idea common among creationist thinkers. If it were up to him, he said, the film would be called "From Darwin to Hitler."

On a blog on the "Expelled" Web site, one writer praised Mr. Stein as "a public-intellectual-freedom-fighter" who was taking on "a tough topic with a bit of humor." Others rejected the film's arguments as "stupid," "fallacious" or "moronic," or described intelligent design as the equivalent of suggesting that the markets moved "at the whim of a monetary fairy."

Mr. Ruloff, a Canadian who lives in British Columbia, said he turned to filmmaking after selling his software company in the 1990s. He said he decided to make "Expelled," his first project, after he became interested in genomics and biotechnology but discovered "there are certain questions you are just not allowed to ask and certain approaches you are just not allowed to take."

He said he knew researchers, whom he would not name, who had studied cellular mechanisms and made findings "riddled with metaphysical implications" and suggestive of an intelligent designer. But they are afraid to report them, he said.

Mr. Ruloff also cited Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and whose book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" (Simon & Schuster, 2006), explains how he came to embrace his Christian faith. Dr. Collins separates his religious beliefs from his scientific work only because "he is toeing the party line," Mr. Ruloff said.

That's "just ludicrous," Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are "a bit puzzled" by his faith, he said, "they are generally very respectful." He said that if the problem Mr. Ruloff describes existed, he is certain he would know about it.

Dr. Collins was not asked to participate in the film.

Another scientist who was, P. Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, said the film's producers had misrepresented its purpose, but said he would have agreed to an interview anyway. But, he said in a posting on The Panda's Thumb Web site, he would have made a "more aggressive" attack on the claims of the movie.

Dr. Scott, whose organization advocates for the teaching of evolution and against what it calls the intrusion of creationism and other religious doctrines in science classes, said the filmmakers were exploiting Americans' sense of fairness as a way to sell their religious views. She said she feared the film would depict "the scientific community as intolerant, as close-minded, and as persecuting those who disagree with them. And this is simply wrong."

Shock at archbishop condom claim


The Catholic Church formally opposes any use of condoms

The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.

Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected "in order to finish quickly the African people".

The Catholic Church formally opposes any use of condoms, advising fidelity within marriage or sexual abstinence.

Aids activists have been angered by the remarks, one calling them "nonsense".

"We've been using condoms for years now, and we still find them safe," prominent Mozambican Aids activist Marcella Mahanjane told the BBC.

The UN says anti-retrovirals (ARVs) have proved very effective for treating people with Aids. The drugs are not a cure, but attack the virus on several fronts at once.

The BBC's Jose Tembe in the capital, Maputo, says it is estimated that 16.2% of Mozambique's 19m inhabitants are HIV positive.

About 500 people are infected every day.

'Serious matter'

Archbishop Chimoio told our reporter that abstention, not condoms, was the best way to fight HIV/Aids.

"Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose," he alleged, refusing to name the countries.

"They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century's time."

Aids activists in the country have been shocked by the archbishop's comments.

"Condoms are one of the best ways of getting protection against catching Aids," said Gabe Judas, who runs Tchivirika (Hard Work) - an theatre group that promotes HIV/Aids awareness.

"People must use condoms as it's a safe way of having sex without catching Aids," he told the BBC.

Archbishop Chimoio, who made the remarks at celebrations to mark 33 years of independence, said that fighting the disease was a serious matter.

"If we are joking with this sickness we will be finished as soon as possible.

"If we want to change the situation to face HIV/Aids it's necessary to have a new mentality, if we don't change mentality we'll be finished quickly," he said.

"It means marriage, people being faithful to their wives... (and) young people must be abstaining from sexual relations."

Our correspondent says the archbishop is well respected in the country and the Catholic Church played a leading role in sponsoring the 1992 peace deal that ended a 16-year civil war.

Some 17.5% of Mozambicans are Catholic.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear David McQueen Present

Origin of Zinc Deposits Explained by Flood Geology

David R. McQueen, MS, EdS will demonstrate that the facts of a common type of zinc ore deposit fit a Flood Geology model better than the Evolutionary Geology model, based on uniform slow process rates.

Prof. McQueen on staff with ICR from 1983-1987. He worked as geologist in 1970s with the United States Geological Survey in Knoxville, TN. As a USGS geologist and during his training at Tennessee (BA, Geology, 1974), he has been in the zinc mines of the region and studied them firsthand. David McQueen holds a MS in geology from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, 1979) and his science education degree is from the University of Louisiana - Monroe (EdS, secondary curriculum and instruction, 1989).

What does it mean if we can explain the origin of metals mines better from a creationist view than that of uniformitarianism? Join us as we explore these issues of chemistry, mineralogy and geology.

Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Frwy
Farmers Branch, TX

Tuesday, October 2nd, 7:30 PM

Michael Behe on The Edge of Evolution


by Paul Comstock September 24th, 2007

Michael Behe is a Professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He argued in his 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box that the cell structures of living organisms are "irreducibly complex" and cannot be explained by Darwin's Theory of natural selection. This concept launched the intelligent design movement. His latest book is The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism.

Can you summarize the thesis of your new book?

The book is called The Edge of Evolution and the gist is to find reasonable estimates for the limits of what Darwin's theory — natural selection acting on random mutations — can actually accomplish. Clearly Darwin's process can account for some small changes in biological systems, such as antibiotic resistance. But can it account for more complex systems, such as the intricate molecular machinery that science has discovered in the cell? Up until recently that question was impossible to answer because the molecular mutations underlying biological changes were unknown, and also because we couldn't examine really vast numbers of organisms.

But in the past ten years all that has changed. As I detail in the book, the molecular changes underlying resistance to malaria by humans, resistance to antibiotics by the malarial parasite, and other well-studied systems show that random mutation is incoherent — that is, a series of mutations usually has little to do with each other, and doesn't add up to a new molecular machine. What's more, most evolutionary changes are ones which either break or degrade genes — and these are the helpful mutations! But you can't build new molecular machinery by breaking genes. I conclude that Darwinian processes account for little of the machinery of life, and that most positive evolution must be nonrandom — guided somehow — and I argue that result fits well with the fine-tuning of the universe discovered by physics.

In Richard Dawkins' review of your book in the New York Times, he points to the hundreds of very different dog breeds that have evolved in a relatively short period of time. And although this was done through controlled breeding, he claims that your theory would not allow for such variation in so few generations - it would be mathematically impossible. How do you respond to that?

I would suggest that Richard Dawkins re-read my book. In it I clearly state that random evolution works well up to the species level, perhaps to the genus and family level too. But at the level of vertebrate classes (birds, fish, etc), the molecular developmental programs needed would be beyond the edge of evolution. Darwinian evolution works well when a single small change in an organism's DNA produces a notable effect. That's what happens to give the various breeds of dogs. But when multiple, coordinated changes are needed for an effect, chance mutation loses its power.

Have you published this theory in a peer-reviewed journal? Have other scientists put forth a challenge to this quantitative argument?

No, no journal these days would touch a paper which investigates intelligent design with a ten foot pole (unless the paper aims to debunk ID). However, all the science I rely upon for my argument in the book is indeed peer-reviewed, from the best, most relevant journals. My conclusions are rather straightforward deductions from data in the literature. As you might expect for such a controversial topic, some scientists have stumbled over each other to challenge my argument. I've examined their writings closely and think none of them touch the heart of my argument.

Is there any way to test the concept of a designer? Is there any evidence of his or her actions interceding in the development of life on earth?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "test" and "evidence". If you and a friend walked by Mount Rushmore, even if you had never heard of it before, you would immediately realize that the faces on the mountain were designed. Not for a moment would you think they were the result of random forces such as wind and erosion. Your conclusion of design would be certain, because you would see how well the pieces of the mountain fit the purpose of portraying an image.

Whenever we perceive a "purposeful arrangement of parts" we suspect design. The more parts there are, and the more clearly they fit the purpose, the more confident our conclusion of design becomes. In the past fifty years science has discovered a very purposeful arrangement of parts in the cell's molecular machinery. That is the evidence for the involvement of a designer in life on earth.

Do you believe a designer only set the universe in motion, or do you think a designer intercedes occasionally?

Well, as a Christian I think God has intervened in human history. But in order to set up the general universe — including the design apparent in cells — I think God could have done that in a single instant, which unfolded over time.

Why is intelligent design science? Isn't it just giving up on finding a scientific explanation for something that we don't yet fully understand?

Intelligent design is science because it is based completely on physical data — the molecular machinery of cells — plus ordinary logic. Whenever we see systems in our everyday world of a certain degree and kind of complexity (like clocks), we always have found them to be designed. Now, much to our surprise, science has discovered similar systems in the cell. I see no reason to withhold the conclusion of design for cellular components. So the design of cellular machinery is an inductive argument based on physical evidence — a scientific conclusion.

When the motions of the galaxies away from the earth was first observed in the 1930s, that led to the Big Bang hypothesis. Many scientists of that time hated the idea of a beginning to nature, because it seemed to have theistic overtones. What if they had said that the Big Bang hypothesis was simply giving up on finding a scientific explanation for something that we don't fully understand yet? If they had, physics would have missed out on a lot of progress. Science has to follow the evidence wherever it leads, or it ceases to be science. Right now the biological evidence is leading to the conclusion of design.

But that's how they might have phrased it - "a beginning to nature" not "a designer got things started." Do you appreciate the concern that many people have about introducing a "designer" into science textbooks?

Yes, I do appreciate people's concerns about explicitly talking of a "designer" in textbooks. Nonetheless, science is supposed to be a no-holds-barred search for the truth. Throughout the history of science we've had to get used to a lot of ideas that people thought were odd. There's no reason to shy away from the concept of a designer just because it makes some people uneasy.

Where do your Christian beliefs diverge from a literal interpretation of the Bible? I'm thinking of those areas that might conflict with our current understanding of the universe.

I'm a Roman Catholic; I never was taught a literal interpretation of the Bible. In fact, I was taught Darwin's theory of evolution in parochial school. As far as I'm concerned, the universe and earth are as old as most physicists say they are, and life developed over immense ages. My main point of disagreement with the standard scientific story is that I think most of the development of the universe and life was set up; little was left to chance.

I'm curious if you've ever read mystics such as Sri Aurobindo or Ken Wilber, who take a spiritual, purposeful, but non-Christian view of evolution.

Gee, no, I haven't. I'll have to look them up.

Do you have any second thoughts about irreducible complexity, the theme of your first book? Do you consider this quantitative approach a better challenge to Darwinism?

I think irreducible complexity is a swell concept, which easily gets across the problem for Darwinian evolution to a general audience. It shows us quickly that Darwin's theory is the wrong answer for much of life. However, the more quantitative approach in The Edge of Evolution actually builds on the concept of irreducible complexity, and allows us to put numbers on the likelihood of random processes building a coherent structure. It can show us that design reaches much deeper into life than we otherwise would have thought.

Paul Comstock is the Editor of the California Literary Review.

Council of Europe to vote on creationism next week


Council of Europe to vote on creationism next week Visitors watch the exhibits at the new Creation Museum during a special viewing of the museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, May 26, 2007. Europe's main human rights body will vote next week on a resolution opposing the teaching of creationist and intelligent design views in school science classes. REUTERS/John Sommers II

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's main human rights body will vote next week on a resolution opposing the teaching of creationist and intelligent design views in school science classes.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will debate a resolution saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted "in forms of religious extremism" and amounted to a dangerous assault on science and human rights.

The resolution, on the agenda for October 4, says European schools should "resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion." It describes the "intelligent design" argument as an updated version of creationism.

Anne Brasseur, an Assembly member from Luxembourg who updated an earlier draft resolution, said the vote was due in June but was postponed because some members felt the original text amounted to an attack on religious belief.

Only minor changes have been made to the initial draft.

"There are different views of the creation of the world and we respect that," she told Reuters. "The message we wanted to send was to avoid creationism passing itself off as science and being taught as science. That's where the danger lies."

The Council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

If passed, the resolution would not be binding on its 47 member states but would reflect widespread opposition among politicians to teaching creationism in science class.


Creationism says God made the world in six days as depicted in the Bible. Intelligent design argues some life forms are too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin's theory and needed an unnamed higher intelligence to develop as they have.

Some conservatives in the United States, both religious and secular, have long opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools but U.S. courts have regularly barred them from teaching what they describe as religious views of creation.

Pressure to teach creationism is weaker in Europe, but has been mounting. An Assembly committee took up the issue because a shadowy Turkish Muslim publishing group has been sending an Islamic creationist book to schools in several countries.

Supporters of intelligent design want it taught in science class alongside evolution. A U.S. court ruled this out in a landmark decision in 2005, dismissing it as "neo-creationism."

"The aim of this report is not to question or to fight a belief," Brasseur wrote in a memorandum added to the new resolution. "It is not a matter of opposing belief and science, but it is necessary to prevent belief from opposing science."

She said the resolution also shortened references in the resolution to "evolution by natural selection" to "evolution" because some members had misunderstood the reference to natural selection to be an attack on their religious beliefs.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Faith-based schools


A provincial election candidate's suggestion that Ontario do what B.C. has been doing well for 30 years -- finance independent religious schools -- has created a controversy not seen here

Janet Steffenhagen Vancouver Sun

Saturday, September 22, 2007

An election promise of public money for all faith-based schools has created a political firestorm in Ontario, but funding for religious and other independent schools has been the standard in B.C. for three decades.

Whether Catholic, Jewish, evangelical Christian, Muslim, Sikh -- even a Mormon offshoot practicing polygamy -- all groups with schools in B.C. have the right to partial government funding to promote their own religious, cultural, philosophical or pedagogical views in the classroom.

B.C. governments have long held that such funding is in keeping with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The rules are simple: Schools may not teach racial or ethnic superiority, religious intolerance or violence and they must deliver the B.C. curriculum if they want funding.

Of the 360 independent schools in B.C., only 19 have eschewed public funding, while 13 aren't eligible because they cater mainly to international students.

Independent schools are free to supplement the curriculum as they see fit. The Vancouver Hebrew Academy, for example, teaches the Hebrew language, as well as Jewish laws, culture and history; the Dasmesh Punjabi School in Abbotsford teaches the Punjabi language and Sikh studies; the Iqra Muslim School in Surrey teaches the Arabic language and Islamic studies.

Most also teach a religious view of creation alongside required units on evolution in science class. Evangelical Christian schools, the fastest growing of all independent schools in B.C., tell students "physical and living things are created by God and not merely nature, environment or natural resources."

The government office that regulates independent schools has been dominated for more than a decade by evangelical Christians, including an inspector who wrote and sold textbooks championing creationism over evolution.


In Ontario, Conservative leader John Tory had to run for cover after suggesting religious schools might teach creationism under his controversial $400-million proposal to extend funding to all faith-based schools.

Only Catholic schools in Ontario are publicly funded through an arrangement dating from Confederation.

Tory, who hopes to oust Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government in the Oct. 10 provincial election, had to issue a clarification hours later promising any mention of creationism would be restricted to religious classes.

Tory has said it's a matter of fairness to treat all religions the same, but McGuinty argues funding for all faith-based schools would fragment society and drain money from public schools. The issue has dominated the campaign, with polls suggesting seven in 10 voters oppose the plan.

Unlike Ontario, there has been little controversy about the funding of B.C.'s faith-based schools, except in two cases: the almost $1 million in taxpayers' money spent each year on schools in the polygamous community of Bountiful, and a similar amount that's given to Khalsa school in Surrey despite its highly publicized links to terrorists.

An issue that threatened to explode last year was a deal B.C. signed to settle a human-rights complaint, which included a promise to make all K-12 curriculum gay friendly. Many religious groups were upset, however, those with independent schools were quietly assured by government that any changes would not affect them.

The main objections to the principle of independent school funding come from the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents some 25,000 workers in public schools.

"We have a pretty heartfelt, idealistic commitment to public education," BCTF president Irene Lanzinger said in an interview. "If you want something other than that, you should pay for it yourself."

The BCTF usually directs its criticism at elite schools with hefty tuition fees and entrance exams, but those are few in number. The vast majority of independent schools in B.C. are faith-based, although there are also some Montessori, Waldorf, French, first nations and special education schools.

Enrolments in independent schools have been growing by an average of two per cent each year for five years, despite a steady decline in the number of B.C. school-aged children overall. More than 10 per cent of all students-- some 66,000 children -- are enrolled in independent schools, and in a few urban districts that percentage is almost doubled. Independent schools are busy with construction while public districts have closed 150 schools in five years.

The BCTF and CUPE say government support for independent schools is part of a dangerous trend towards privatization.

"We [have seen] the erosion of public school funding and an influx of funds and students into private schools," CUPE president Barry O'Neill said in an e-mail to The Vancouver Sun.

"This is particularly worrisome at a time, like we are in now, where we face declining student numbers.

"Ontario has an opportunity to maintain an integrated and diverse pubic education system. Our advice is to hold the line on more funding for independent schools and not go the way of B.C."

Independent schools in B.C. are eligible for 50 per cent of annual operating grants to public schools, but they receive no capital cost allowance. Government argues that ending such funding would prompt independent schools to raise tuition, which would force many of those students back into the public system and up education costs by half a billion dollars.

Last year, B.C. gave $211 million to independent schools, including first-time grants to help them educate special needs students. Since their allotment is calculated as a percentage of per-pupil grants to public schools, it rises as public school enrolments fall. It also goes up every time public school unions negotiate a salary increase.

Historian Jean Barman, who has written extensively about B.C.'s independent schools, said apart from union protests, there have been few complaints about independent school funding in B.C. and she is surprised by the Ontario outcry, especially given that one group of religious schools -- Catholic -- already receives public money.

"There's this notion, which the BCTF subscribes to . . . and has been played up big time in Ontario, that we have this common school experience. But of course it doesn't exist," she said in an interview.

Harro Van Brummelen, education dean at Trinity Western University in Langley, says even students in public schools have significantly different educational experiences.

"Schools in west Vancouver tend to be quite different from the ones in east Vancouver, even though they get the same amount of funding."

Van Brummelen disputes the contention religious schools and schools with different philosophies promote intolerance. Like other supporters, he says the success of independent schools is most obvious in the Netherlands, where more than two-thirds of students attend private schools "and it's one of the most tolerant societies in the world."

At Simon Fraser University, education dean Paul Shaker takes another view of the issue. He says public schools in the Western world are expected to promote shared societal values, but that's not necessarily the case with independent schools.

"When we promote people opting out of public schools, we're introducing new ideologies -- in force -- to our children. We can do that as a society if we want to, but I don't think we should be naive about it," he said. "Where will they learn the values and practices that are at the heart of our secular, democratic society?"

Shaker says the Bountiful schools are an example of how B.C.'s policy can be abused.

While public funding of Bountiful schools has brought the system into question like never before, the Federation of Independent School Associations says the problem is an entrenched social condition in the community, not the schools. Fred Herfst, the association's executive director, said the schools have regularly passed government inspections.

The Bountiful schools existed before government funding was available and are unlikely to fold if public money were to vanish, Herfst said. Withdrawing public funds could make the situation worse for students, he added, because "you would no longer have an inspector with the right to go into those schools to see what's going on."

Independent school advocates suggest the Bountiful schools are far from the norm.

At the Iqra Islamic school, principal Faisal Ali says students are not isolated from society, even though they attend a Muslim school. They read newspapers, watch television, visit public libraries, play community sports, mix with other children after school, and have several non-Muslim teachers, he noted.

"They are very much in the mainstream and they are very much a part of the fabric of the Canadian mosaic," he said in an interview at the K-8 school that has 352 students.

B.C.'s first private school was founded in 1858, but independent schools were few in number and weren't a political force until after the Second World War, when Dutch Calvinists settled in the Fraser Valley with the expectation they would give their children a religious education in government-funded schools.

In her book about the development of independent schools, Deprivatizing Private Education: the British Columbia Experience, Barman said the Dutch Calvinists, aided by U.S. missionaries, began pushing for recognition and later joined with Catholic schools and struggling elite schools to form the Federation of Independent School Associations (FISA) in 1966.

Led by Gerry Ensing, of the Society of Christian Schools of B.C., FISA hired a public relations firm and began lobbying aggressively for government funding. They gained that right in 1977 and funding was expanded to 50 per cent in 1989. Since then, FISA has been regarded as a key stakeholder in the B.C. education system, although it has maintained a low-profile.

There have also been close ties between the association and the independent school inspector in Victoria. So close that Barman once wrote some inspectors have sounded "more like an apologist for the private schools than their inspector."

In an interview this week, she suggested that hasn't changed. "Inspectors are sympathetic to private schools. They're not going to go in and read the riot act."


Governments have appointed a string of evangelical Christians as inspectors and deputy inspectors. After his campaign for government funding, Ensing went to work for the independent schools branch in 1985 and was promoted to inspector.

When he retired in 1998, he was replaced by Jim Beeke, principal at Timothy Christian school in Chilliwack and author of a Bible doctrines series for children, teens and adults.

Beeke left government in 2005 to become the agent for two B.C.-certified schools in China. His successor, Susan Penner, was previously principal at White Rock Christian Academy, her deputy, Ed Vanderboom, was principal at Credo Christian high school in Langley, and her assistant deputy inspector, Theo Vandeweg, was also a principal at Timothy.

Barman said the office has been dominated by Christian inspectors at a time of exceptional growth among Christian schools in B.C. but added: "I don't pretend to understand it."

Asked what impact evangelical Christians have had on the office, Herfst replied: "Absolutely none."

FISA's willingness to accept partial funding rather than pushing for full funding may have saved B.C. from an Ontario-style scrap. Another important difference between B.C. and Ontario is the role of Catholic schools. Since they had no constitutional entitlements in B.C., they aligned themselves with other religious groups and strengthened the lobby.



- Number of government-funded independent schools in British Columbia: 328

- Number of students who attended those schools last year: 66,571

- Number of schools that teach B.C. students but don't receive government funding: 19

- Number of schools that don't receive funding because they cater to international students: 13

- Average annual enrolment growth in independent schools during the past five years: two per cent

- Average annual enrolment decline in public schools: one per cent

- Percentage of B.C. students who attend independent schools: 10

- Amount of government grant to independent schools last year: $211 million

© The Vancouver Sun 2007