NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 December 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Poll finds more Americans believe in devil than Darwin


Thu Nov 29, 2007 10:53pm GMT

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin's theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America's deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have "Intelligent Design" theory -- which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance -- taught in schools alongside evolution.

The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 percent of those surveyed believed in God, a figure unchanged since the question was asked in 2005.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin's theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin's theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual's theory of "natural selection."

There are unsurprising differences among religious groups.

"Born-again Christians are more likely to believe in the traditional elements of Christianity than are Catholics or Protestants. For example, 95 percent believe in miracles, compared to 87 percent and 89 percent among Catholics and Protestants," according to the poll.

"On the other hand only 16 percent of born-again Christians, compared to 43 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Protestants, believe in Darwin's theory of evolution."

What is perhaps surprising is that substantial minorities in America apparently believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology and reincarnation.

The survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus two percent, found that 35 percent of the respondents believed in UFOs and 31 percent in witches.

More born-again Christians -- a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience -- believed in witches at 37 percent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 percent.


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Mark S. Ramsey Present

Update On Texas Textbooks

A former evolutionist, Mark discarded this theory in favor of design arguments over 25 years ago. In 2003 Mark co-founded a group now called Texans for Better Science Education Foundation, whose purpose is to address the Texas public high school biology book adoption with regard to the treatment of evolution. Mark has testified before the Texas State Board of Education, (SBOE) and has been involved in several recent hotly contested Texas SBOE races. Currently “our side” has won five of the last five of these races, most recently beating an entrenched incumbent in a landslide victory.

He understands true design issues firsthand, having spent the first ten years of his career in applied research & design. He is known as an innovator and holds over 30 U.S. and international patents. Mr. Ramsey holds a B.S.M.E. from Texas Tech University (with High Honors), who elected him to serve on their Industrial Advisory Council.

Professionally, Mark Ramsey is a registered licensed professional engineer with over 25 years of multi-disciplined research (Johns-Manville R&D near Denver and Exxon Production Research Company in Houston) and drilling operations engineering experience. Mr. Ramsey was named a Charter Member of the Texas Tech Academy of Mechanical Engineers ("for outstanding contributions to the profession") and earned the prestigious "Distinguished Instructor Award" from Exxon.

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

Tuesday, December 4th, 7:30 PM

Creationism controversy evolves


November 28, 2007 - 9:45 PM

A heated debate over the inclusion of creationism in a school science book highlights the success Swiss evangelicals are having sowing seeds of doubt about evolution.

The debate over the textbook raises questions about why increasing numbers of Swiss are willing to turn away from science and accept creationist views that God created the earth a few thousand years ago.

The school authorities in canton Bern quickly revised the brochure included in the textbook after it was harshly criticised by scientists and education experts.

The controversial passage presented creationism and evolution as two ways of "explaining" the origin of the universe and life on earth. Critics of teaching creationism in science classes say it suggests there is a controversy when there isn't one since evolution has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

Even one of the authors admitted that the 12- to 14-year-olds who were to use the book could get the wrong impression that one theory was just as valid as the other.

The publication came just before the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe appealed for members including Switzerland to "oppose firmly any attempts at teaching creationism as a scientific discipline".

In its resolution the council warned that creationist ideas once an almost exclusively American phenomenon were spreading throughout Europe and could threaten not only human rights but democracy itself.

Fertile ground

But the Swiss proponents of creationism are working on fertile ground. An international survey last year found that 30 per cent of the Swiss reject evolution, one of the highest rates in Europe.

The fringe Christian organisation Pro Genesis commissioned a survey earlier this year which found that 80 per cent of Swiss want creationism taught alongside evolution in biology class.

"Many people think science is devoid of any meaning of life and this of course makes them critical," biologist Guido Mas told swissinfo. "That's why they try to find common ground between science and belief and end up leaning towards a creationist view."

Mas is curator of an exhibition called Adam, Eve and Darwin, currently running in the northwestern town of Liestal.

The exhibition presents evolution as scientific fact but devotes one floor to the creationism debate. The centrepiece is a virtual discussion between scientists, theologians, representatives of Switzerland's state-recognised Protestant and Roman Catholic churches and creationists.

Literal translation

Martin Scheidegger, a Protestant pastor and expert on evangelical movements and sects, told swissinfo that the mainstream Swiss churches accept that the goal of scientific research is to uncover how life evolved while religion asks why.

"In that sense the Bible does not contradict scientific knowledge based on Darwin's theory of evolution," he said.

According to Scheidegger, evangelical Christian churches are the driving force behind a literal translation of the book of Genesis and the rejection of evolution.

He says more Swiss are joining these movements, even if their popularity is still limited. According to the most recent poll, 2.2 per cent of Switzerland's 7.5 million inhabitants belong to a free (non-state recognised) church.

The fear is not that they will supplant the mainstream churches but that they will influence the Swiss public with their dogmatic ideology.

"Over the last 15 years, the public has grown more uncertain and that is largely due to globalisation," Scheidegger said, adding that one of the main impacts has been the loss of traditional values.

"In many ways its restitution. That's something we see in politics too and why the [rightwing] Swiss People's Party [which presents itself as a champion of traditional Swiss values] has so much support. It's the same dynamics."

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Liestal

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2007


LAKELAND | Two members of a science group who support the addition of evolution into proposed science standards pleaded on Tuesday with Polk County School Board members to accept the new benchmarks.

"I hope they come to their senses," said Jonathan Smith, a member of the board of directors for Florida Citizens for Science. "Do they want a million-dollar lawsuit?"

After the two spoke, an eighth-grade science teacher at Union Academy in Bartow spoke in favor of intelligent design, a belief that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force.

"When you talk about laws in nature it shows some order or design," said Lawrence Hughes, who has taught at the academy for 16 years. "The laws of nature don't support change from one organism to another organism."

Four of the seven School Board members have said they support teaching intelligent design in addition to evolution in public school science classes. Board members did not respond when Smith and Joe Wolf, president of the Florida Citizens for Science, spoke about their opposition to intelligent design, but board member Margaret Lofton thanked Hughes after his talk.

"I support what you have to say," Lofton told Hughes.

Lofton has said that if the issue comes before the board she will vote against adding evolution to state science standards.

The current Sunshine State Standards do not explicitly use the term evolution, stating instead that students should learn about "biological changes over time."

In an interview after the meeting, Hughes said "a lot of evidence supports intelligent design."

"The scientific evidence to support evolution from apes is not there," Hughes said.

But Smith and others say it's clear that scientists in Florida overwhelmingly support the proposed standards, which include evolution as one of the "big ideas'' that students need to learn in science classes.

Smith called Hughes' actions a ruse to have religion pushed back into the schools.

"Intelligent design is religion," Wolf said. "The best place to see this is the decision by (U.S. District) Judge Jones."

Wolf was referring to a case in 2005 when Jones barred the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pa., saying that it is "creationism in disguise." The school district in Dover ended up spending more than a million dollars on court fees after losing the lawsuit.

The evolution debate in Polk County is drawing national attention. A posting on the popular science blog Pharyngula said Polk "may be our next trouble spot. They have a creationist majority on the school board."

The state committee that devised the new standards will review the new benchmarks and public input from Dec. 17-19. The state Board of Education will vote in January whether to adopt the new standards.

[ John Chambliss can be reached at john.chambliss@theledger.com or 863-802-7588. ]

Last modified: November 21. 2007 6:44AM

Bah! Humbug! From the Cranky Sounds of Darwinists, It Must Be Christmas


You can tell when the Christmas season is approachingby the nip in the air, and by the jump in the level of crankiness exhibited by Darwinists in the blogosphere. This year Christmas apparently has come early for internet Darwinists, who have been raising a kerfluffle on their blogs about Discovery Institute Senior Fellow William Dembski's usage of a clip of some Harvard-commissioned animation of the cell in a few of his lectures. In typical high dudgeon, Darwinists have accused Dr. Dembski of all sorts of nefarious violations of intellectual property law. Some have even claimed (as usual, without an iota of evidence) that Discovery Institute supports the disregard of copyright laws or even had something to do with Dr. Dembski's usage of the animation in question. (Wrong on both counts.)

It's nice to see that internet Darwinists have suddenly become the protectors of America's copyright laws. However, it's a rather peculiar role for them. Check out Google Video or You Tube and you will regularly find examples of Darwinists uploading (without permission) huge chunks of copyrighted videos featuring various Discovery Institute Fellows. Indeed, the other week, we discovered a Darwinist who had uploaded the video of Icons of Evolution online in order to denounce itnot just a couple of minutes of the video, mind you, but nearly the entire thing. In the past, we've come across other Darwinists who have archived for public use (again, without permission) whole sections of DI's website. Unlike the internet Darwinists, we don't usually make a cause celebre out of such wanton violations of the copyright code, although we have been known to contact the parties involved privately and ask them to cease and desist. Now that the internet Darwinists have discovered the glories of copyright, may we hope they will begin to police their own supporters?

Back to Dr. Dembski: Contrary to what some Darwinists seem to suppose, we have better things to do with our time than pre-screen every lecture delivered by the nearly 40 Fellows of Discovery's Center for Science and Culture, all of whom are quite capable of giving lectures without our aid, and many of whom (like Dr. Dembski) are unsalaried and hold full-time positions at other institutions. In the present case, Discovery Institute played no role whatever in the use, alteration, or dissemination of any animation clip from Harvard that our esteemed colleague may have included in some of his lectures. When we first learned several weeks ago that someone had concerns about Dr. Dembski's occasional use of this particular clip, we contacted Dr. Dembski directly, and he told us that he had stopped using the material as soon as these concerns had been raised with him. Of course, you can still find the cell animation in question posted all over the internet by persons other than Dr. Dembski from places as far away as Latvia. It will be interesting to see if anyone goes after those sinister Latvians for violating Harvard's copyrightor, for that matter, the hundreds of professors and teachers who are likely showing the clip to their classes without permission.

For the record, those of us at Discovery Institute do believe inand respectintellectual property rights. We certainly empathize with the legitimate concerns of the Harvard professors who commissioned this animation. They unquestionably have the right to control and safeguard the use of their intellectual property.

What I find difficult to take seriously are the recent histrionics by members of the Darwinist internet posse. If would take them more seriously if they applied their concerns a tad more consistently. For example, some of the very Darwinists who are now browbeating Dr. Dembski also posted on their blogs video from his lecture, presumably without his permission.

What is apparent from all of this is just how bare the Darwinists' cupboard must be these days. Every time they try to shift the evolution-ID debate away from the scientific evidencewhether it be by fake reenactments of the Dover trial a la PBS, or through overblown controversies such as this onethey expose the weakness of their position. After all, if they had the evidence on their side, they would be arguing it. Since they don't, they try to change the subject.

Posted by John West on November 27, 2007 5:17 PM | Permalink

Scientists study flowering plant evolution


Published: Nov. 28, 2007 at 4:23 PMGAINESVILLE, Fla., Nov. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. botanists have shed new light on what Darwin called the "abominable mystery" of plant evolution, finding two large flowering plant groups are related.

University of Florida and University of Texas at Austin scientists have determined the two largest groups of flowering plants are more closely related to each other than any of the other major lineages. Those are the monocots, which include grasses and their relatives, and the eudicots, which include sunflowers and tomatoes.

The researchers also showed a major diversification of flowering plants occurred during a comparatively short period of less than 5 million years, resulting in all five major lineages of flowering plants that exist today.

"Flowering plants today comprise around 400,000 species," said Pam Soltis, one of the UF researchers. "So to think that the burst that give rise to almost all of these plants occurred in less than 5 million years is pretty amazing -- especially when you consider that flowering plants as a group have been around for at least 130 million years."

The research is to appear in next week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

2007 United Press International.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Creationists Making Monkeys Out Of Americans


Posted November 26, 2007 | 10:10 AM (EST)

Recently, while driving on Interstate 5 through Oregon, I saw a billboard that gave me pause. "Are They Making a Monkey Out Of You?" ran above four panels that displayed a disturbing transformation of a startled looking fellow with a van dyke (panel #1). He acquired an ape-like mouth and nose (#2), developed a major brow ridge and strange resemblance to a Beagle Boy in Disney comics (#3), and, lastly, morphed fully into a baby chimpanzee (#4). Below was the URL WhoIsYourCreator.com.

Was I having a flashback to the Ken Russell film Altered States, in which William Hurt devolves into a rampaging primal man? Was it photographic evidence from a University of Oregon kegger? A wry commentary on the declining rationality of the American populace?

Inadvertently, it was number three: it was the Creationists at work again! The billboards (I saw another the same day) were paid for by a Christian group based in Minnesota. Their web site states, "Who Is Your Creator uses media, including display advertising, to raise awareness of the serious misrepresentations and lack of scientific proof for the theory of Evolution, Naturalism and Darwinism."

Lack of scientific proof? Are they inhabiting an alternate universe? Have we somehow misplaced several million fossils? Have we once and for all proven that radiometric dating is a secular smokescreen? Shall we relegate astronomy and biology and geology to the dustbin of science? Perhaps we should expunge Galileo's name from textbooks and go back to believing that the earth is the center of the universe.

For God's sake (and I mean: for the sake of a God unrelated to Pat Robertson), I was in Oregon, a relatively progressive "blue" state. It wasn't Kansas, a recent battleground over the teaching of evolution in private schools. The year was 2007, not 1925 (when the Scopes trial took place). Yet, faith continues to trump reason in the USA. Some 48% of Americans reject the theory of evolution, according to a recent Newsweek poll. Other recent polls have shown that about half the country believes that God created man "pretty much in his present form" at one time in the last 10,000 years. This is more than faith. It's ignorance.

If the earth was created that recently, it means that either a whole lot of prehistoric life came into being and then died off in a heartbeat, or it means that trilobites, dinosaurs, Neanderthals and modern man all co-existed in a very short time frame. Perhaps Noah made a pro-active decision not to let Tyrannosaurus Rex board the Ark.

Should we teach creationism (or "intelligent design") in science classes in our public schools? No, we should not. Neither creationism nor intelligent design is a theory that has been scientifically tested and at least partially verified. They are beliefs. There are people who theorize that extraterrestrials built the pyramids, but it isn't necessary to include such speculations in our children's history books for "balance."

The Christian Genesis chapter and creation stories from other cultures belong in religion, anthropology or mythology classrooms. There's no excuse for including religious explanations of the universe in science textbooks or classes. Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, is a theory supported by an overwhelming amount of evidence. Of course, theories are not forever; they must be tested and discarded if disproved. If evolutionary theory is replaced by something better some day, so be it. But that something better should not be a matter of faith.

Evolutionists are not making chimps (or, more correctly, primate ancestors) out of you. Rather, Creationists are making monkeys out of Americans. Our international reputation, our science education and research, our health care, and our government are suffering for it. We are electing politicians on the basis of their medieval mindsets. Look at the three Republican presidential candidates in 2007 who said they didn't believe in evolution: Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo. Look at Dubya. De-evolution has become a requirement for higher office.

In his book The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Lama calls for a dialogue between religion and science. He writes, "Certainly some specific aspects of Buddhist thought - such as old cosmological theories and its rudimentary physics--will have to be modified in the light of new scientific insights." I also know an Episcopalian minister who accepts current theories of modern physics and cosmology, and professes that "I have no problem with evolution. It's a beautiful thing." Would that our fundamentalist preachers were so enlightened.

We need a separation of church and state. Fundamentalists are making monkeys out of Americans, and it's a national disgrace.

Rio Rancho schools could eliminate intelligent design


Rio Rancho Middle SchoolThe Rio Rancho School Board is expected to take up the issue of evolution and intelligent design at a December 3rd meeting.

The board is expected to vote on whether to eliminate a policy that allows alternatives to evolution to be taught in science class.

Currently, the district does allow the teaching of intelligent design, which teaches that the development of life is so complex it required an "intelligent designer" to guide the process.

Opponents of intelligent design say that it is simply repackaged creationism.

Intelligent design has been taught in Rio Rancho schools since 2005, but reportedly three out of the five school board members would like to see that end.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Evolution challenging to teach


Sunday, November 25, 2007
State makes rules, but local districts make the decisions

BY STEPHEN KLOOSTERMAN stephen.kloosterman@ hollandsentinel.com (616) 546-4258

Judith Corr, assistant professor of anthropology at Grand Valley State University, will lead a class for high school teachers on how to teach students about evolution.

When it comes to the topic of evolution, Grand Valley State University anthropology professor Judith Corr sees religion and science as two different ways of knowing things -- but many of her students don't agree.

It's a dilemma that many biology teachers face. Corr will teach a class Tuesday at Grand Valley's Fall Science Update Seminar for K-12 Educators about how to deal with the touchy subject of evolution.

Education content in high schools is mandated by the state, but teachers walk a tightrope between the state and parents who may have contrary opinions regarding evolution.

State course content expectations stipulate various details of evolution that students must be taught. In October of last year, the state board of education took a stance against language in the course content expectations that would have left the door open for schools to avoid teaching evolution.

But according to Jan Ellis of the Michigan Department of Education, the course content expectations are not enough to stop local districts from teaching evolution as one of several theories, and not necessarily as fact.

"We give some guidelines as to what kids should know and be able to do, but we don't tell districts what to do," Ellis said. "How the districts are aligned to these (course content expectations) and how they are taught is up to the district."

Ellis said that evolution content is tested on the Michigan Merit Exam administered to high school juniors each year.

The state says the material has to be taught, and school districts choose which curriculum to use, but individual high school and college teachers have the task of interacting with students who have strong religious beliefs about how life began.

"I tell them, if you have to, just write the answers down," said Corr. "I don't want to mess up your psyche or anything.

"I also tell them, don't expect me to tell you the truth, because I don't know the truth, I just know what science tells me."

Hope biology professor Donald Cronkite, who has taught at Hope College for 28 years, received an award last year in evolution education from the National Association of Biology Teachers.

"You're doing a fearful thing as a teacher," Cronkite said. "You're asking people to change as a matter of course. You can have people get together to have discussions or take classes, but it's hard to change. I don't do it very well myself."

Cronkite said it sometimes bothers him that students will absorb information without deciding whether they believe in it or not.

"They haven't yet come to terms with how they're going to reconcile what they've learned about science and religion," Cronkite said. "They've got a lot of things going on in their lives. I can be of some use to them, but a lot of it they're going to have to work through on their own."


"Over time, changes in genetic information can affect the size, diversity, and genetic composition of populations, a process called biological evolution.

"It is widely accepted that Earth's present day life forms have evolved from common ancestors by processes that include natural selection. In the scientific community, evolution has been a unifying principle that provides a framework for organizing most of biological knowledge into a coherent picture. It has been accepted by the scientific community that evidence for evolution is found in the fossil record and is indicated by anatomical and chemical similarities evident within the diversity of existing organisms."

-- from the Michigan Board of Education's course content expectations for biology

Rock of Ages, Ages of Rock


Published: November 25, 2007

On a muggy afternoon in July, a group of geologists from around the country put on some bug spray and fanned out along one of Ohio's richest fossil beds. The rock walls were slippery and steep at points, and some people came in their dress shoes straight from the conference that brought them together. But no one seemed daunted; when let loose on the rocks they behaved like children with a piata, filling their pockets with local specimens and cooing over their treasure. "Ahh, that's a beautiful brachiopod!" or "A fine trilobite! Let me see that."

A brightly painted sign in the state park explained that 450 million years ago these ancient creatures lived at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea during the Ordovician period. But none of these geologists believed it. As young-earth creationists, they think the earth is about 8,000 years old, give or take a few thousand years. That's about the amount of time conventional geology says it can take to form one inch of limestone.

Creationist ideas about geology tend to appeal to overly zealous amateurs, but this was a gathering of elites, with an impressive wall of diplomas among them (Harvard, U.C.L.A., the Universities of Virginia, Washington and Rhode Island). They had spent years studying the geologic timetable, but they remained nevertheless deeply committed to a different version of history. John Whitmore, a geologist from nearby Cedarville University who organized the field trip, stood in the middle of the fossil bed and summarized it for his son.

"Dad, how'd these fossils get here?" asked Jess, 7, looking up from his own Ziploc bag full of specimens.

Whitmore, who was wearing a suede cowboy hat, answered in a cowboy manner laconic but certain.

"From the flood," he said.

What was remarkable about the afternoon was not so much the fossils (the bed is well picked over) but the gathering itself, part of the First Conference on Creation Geology, held on the Cedarville campus. Creationist geologists are now numerous enough to fill a large meeting room and well educated enough to know that in rejecting the geologic timeline they are also essentially taking on the central tenets of the field. Any "evidence" presented at the conference pointing to a young earth would be no more convincing than voodoo or alchemy to mainstream geologists, who have used various radiometric-dating methods to establish that the earth is 4.6 billion years old. But the participants in the conference insist that their approach is scientifically valid. "We're past the point of being critical of evolutionists," Whitmore told me. "We're trying to go out and make new discoveries and actually do science."

Creationist geologists are thriving, paradoxically, at a moment when evangelicals are becoming more educated, more prosperous and more open to scientific progress. And though they are a lonely few among Christian academics, they have an influence far out of proportion to their numbers. They have just opened a state-of-the-art $27 million museum in Kentucky, and they dominate the Christian publishing industry, serving as the credentialed experts for the nearly half of Americans who believe in some version of a young earth. In a sense, they represent the fundamentalist avant-garde; unlike previous generations of conservative Christians, they don't see the need to choose between mainstream science and Biblical literalism.

This creationist approach to science is actually a relatively modern phenomenon, only about 50 years old. When the state of Tennessee put the biology teacher John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in the 1920s, the creationists did not have a single credentialed supporter. Their main champions were an expert on penmanship, a dropout from homeopathic school and a Canadian surgeon who was billed on his travels as "the greatest scientist in all the world." William Jennings Bryan, noted prosecutor in the Scopes trial, was not overly concerned with the age of the earth; he equated six-day creationism with the flat-earth theory.

Then in 1961, John Whitcomb, a theologian, and Henry Morris, a hydraulic engineer from Texas, published "The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Explanations." The book revived a relatively obscure, century-old theory of Noah's flood as the most violent catastrophe in earth history. The flood, they argued, warped the normal geological processes and caused rapid transformations. Water from the skies and from within the earth ("the floodgates of heaven") slammed into the oceans, killing the sea creatures and covering the "high mountains," as it says in Genesis. For months afterward, the planet convulsed with earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. After a brief ice age, the earth became the ecosystem we know today. Continents shifted; the water receded; the animals left the ark and spread over the earth.

Until then fundamentalists had mostly avoided any close study of geology, because a literal reading of the Bible was too difficult to reconcile with the accepted age of the earth. But "The Genesis Flood" served as their version of "The Feminine Mystique," a generational manifesto that liberated them to explore. In the decades since, a small band of geologists, including Whitmore, have set to work improving on the Morris-Whitcomb model using the modern tools of their field: close examination of rocks and fossils combined with computer models.

Now the movement can count hundreds of scientists with master's or Ph.D. degrees in the sciences from respectable universities. The change started in part when Christian colleges that used to resist mainstream science started premed programs, which meant they needed trained biologists and chemists. Eventually they added courses in physics, chemistry and geology. Most geologists teaching at Christian colleges in the United States today say they do not believe in a young earth; they typically argue that a "day" in Genesis does not necessarily mean a literal 24-hour day, or that there could have been long gaps between the days. But the young-earthers treat the words of Genesis as irrefutable fact.

Their ideas are being showcased in the new Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., opened in May by a creationist group called Answers in Genesis, whose headquarters are nearby. With its wide-open spaces and interactive exhibits, the place feels like a slick museum of natural history, updated for the Hollywood age. Many of the exhibits were designed by Patrick Marsh, who helped create the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida. Giant dinosaurs guard the courtyard entrance, promising fun and adventure. Inside, a replica of the ark leads you from seaboard to bottom deck, a rumbling theater replicates the flood, James Cameron-style. Lifelike models of Adam and Eve (who looks like the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bndchen) frolic in a lush garden among the animals, including several dinosaurs.

The museum expected about 250,000 visitors in the first year. Instead, despite its $20 entry fee, it has had that many in six months, according to Michael Matthews, the museum's content manager. Almost every day, minivans and buses from Christian schools fill the parking lot, sometimes after 10-hour road trips. The museum's target group is the 45 percent of Americans who, for 25 years, have consistently agreed with the statement in a Gallup poll that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

The museum sends the message that belief in a young earth is the only way to salvation. The failure to understand Genesis is literally "undermining the entire word of God," Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, says in a video. The collapse of Christianity believed to result from that failure is drawn out in a series of exhibits: school shootings, gay marriage, drugs, porn and pregnant teens. At the same time, it presents biblical literalism as perfectly defensible science. A fossil shows a perch eating a herring, evidence, they claim, of animals instantaneously trapped by catastrophic events after the flood. In a video, geologists use evidence from Mount St. Helens to show how a mud flow can cut a deep canyon in a single day. "This is what I see based on science," said Andrew Snelling, one of the many creationist geologists at the conference in July who consulted with the museum.

At the conference, participants got together to tackle some difficult questions: How is radioisotope dating flawed? How was the Grand Canyon formed? If all those animals died in one cataclysmic event, why do their fossils appear in such distinct order? Their discussions recall a pre-Darwinian age, before science and faith became enemies. The old-earthers see their discipline as more pure than intelligent design; the intelligent-design people focus on a notion of a mystery "designer," without specifying who that might be and what the mechanisms are. To the young-earth creationists, this is both unscientific and dubiously religious. "We don't subscribe to this idea of the 'God of gaps,' meaning if you can't explain something, then blame God," Whitmore told me before describing a method that hardly seemed more scientific. "Instead, we think: 'Here's what the Bible says. Now let's go to the rocks and see if we find the evidence for it.' "

The heads of all the leading scientific creationist institutes from several countries showed up for the Cedarville event, along with the movement's other stars: John Baumgardner, a geophysicist who worked for 20 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Kurt Wise, who got his Ph.D. in paleontology from Harvard in the '80s as a student of Stephen Jay Gould, the nation's most famous opponent of creationism; and Marcus Ross, 31, the latest inductee into the movement, who got his Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Rhode Island last summer.

Like any group of elites, they were snobs about their superior degrees. During lunch breaks or car rides, they traded jokes about the "vulgar creationists" and the "uneducated masses," and, in their least Christian moments, the "idiots on the Web." One leader of a creationist institute complained about all the cranks who call on the phone claiming to have seen dinosaurs or to have had a vision of Noah's ark. (How Noah fit the entire animal kingdom onto the ark is a perennial obsession.)

Because they have been exposed to so much standard science, the educated creationists like Kurt Wise try not to allow themselves the blind spots of their less sophisticated relations. Some years ago, for instance, fellow creationists claimed to have found fossils of human bones in Pennsylvania coal deposits, which scientists date to millions of years before humans appeared. After examining them, Wise concluded that they were "not fossil material at all" but "inorganically precipitated iron siderite nodules." Wise later pushed to get himself appointed as scientific adviser to the new creationist museum so he could "keep out the scientific garbage."

In a presentation at the conference, Wise showed a slide of a fossil sequence that moved from reptile to mammal, with some transitional fossils in between. He veered suddenly from his usual hyperactive mode to contemplative. "It's a pain in the neck," he said. "It fits the evolutionary prediction quite well." Wise and others have come up with various theories explaining how the flood could have produced such perfect order. Wise is refining a theory, for example, that the order reflects how far the animals lived from the shore, so those living farthest from the water show up last in the record. But they haven't settled on anything yet.

"We have nothing to fear from data," Ross told me. "If we're afraid, it means we don't trust God's word." The older generation of creationists "would come up with an explanation or a model and say, 'This solves it!' I'm a bit more cautious and at the same time more rigorous. We have lines of possibility that we continue to advance but at the same time we recognize that this is science, so the explanations are subject to change with new discoveries."

As the latest recruit into a small elite, and with his clipped dark hair and goatee, Ross was the novelty at the conference. He grew up in Rhode Island, was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and got his Ph.D. under David Fastovsky, a well-known expert in dinosaur extinction at the University of Rhode Island. Fastovsky knew Ross was a young-earth creationist; they'd talked about it after his application came in. "I guess I thought of it as a little bit like Jews playing Wagner," Fastovsky told me. "The science stands or falls, just like the music, regardless of the disposition of the scientist." Ross subsequently wrote a 197-page dissertation about a marine reptile called a mosasaur, whose disappearance he tracked through the Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. Fastovsky described the paper as "utterly sound," and the committee recommended very minimal edits.

At the conference I asked Ross whether he still believes what he wrote in his graduate thesis. His answer confirmed him as the product of the postmodern university, where truth is dependent on the framework: "Within the context of old age and evolutionary theory, yes. But if the parameter is different, portions of it could be completely in error."

Outside school, Ross studied what he considered great breakthroughs in creation geology. In 1999, Ross came across John Baumgardner's theory of catastrophic plate tectonics, which was proposed a few years earlier. The theory is the first attempt to describe the mechanism of the flood. It involves a fantastic "runaway" situation in which the ocean floor slides into the earth's mantle in a matter of weeks and then hot rocks come to the surface of the ocean floor, causing ocean water to vaporize and rush out like a geyser ("the fountains of the great deep" described in Genesis). A computer model refining the theory purports to show an earth wobbling crazily on its axis as land masses come together and then break apart, forming the continents we have today.

"Until then, my options were pretty pathetic," Ross said. Now he had something that "accounted for a large body of geological evidence," proposed by a geophysicist trained at U.C.L.A. and supported by three other geology Ph.D.'s.

So which side did he choose?

"I have faith that the Bible is a true and accurate record of the earth," he said. "I also entertain the possibility that I'm wrong. It would be cartoonish to say I don't have doubts from time to time. Everybody has moments of doubt. But I can have those moments without my brain exploding."

The new creationists are not likely to make much of a dent among secular scientists, who often just roll their eyes at the mention of flood geology. But they have become a burden to many geologists at Christian colleges around the country.

In recent years a number of Christian institutions have been undergoing what Alan Wolfe, a sociologist, calls "the opening of the evangelical mind." Instead of teaching a fundamentalist world-view that is always at odds with secular academia, many evangelical colleges are easing their students into the mainstream.

The statement of faith for Wheaton College in Illinois, Billy Graham's alma mater, for example, says that Scripture is "inerrant in the original writing" and that "God directly created Adam and Eve," but when it comes to pinning down the age of the earth, the school balks. Wheaton has a strong geology department. Its professors argue that the Bible makes no specific mention of the age of the earth. They belong to groups like the Geological Society of America and wring their hands about the "geo-literacy" of the church. "Geology at Wheaton is presented and practiced much the same way as at secular universities," the department chairman, Stephen Moshier, said in a recent talk. Other professors have issued long tracts comparing the various methods of radiometric dating and showing that they all agree: The earth is over four billion years old.

Most members of the American Scientific Affiliation, a collection of Christians with degrees in the sciences, qualify as old-earthers, according to Moshier. But the young-earthers have "a lot more influence," he told me. They have "tremendous clout" with Christian publishers and are "very, very successful at getting their word out," he said. "I know so many Christians who have tried to write books from a different perspective and been rejected."

Marcus Ross, meanwhile, is thriving in his teaching job at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971. Like many Christian colleges, Liberty is expanding rapidly to keep up with growing demand; the school adds 800 students a year, and now has a total of 10,000 on campus and 18,000 more distance-learning students. Each semester, Ross teaches a huge, mandatory survey course called History of Life. Most kids in the class are creationists, but Ross finds gaps in their world-view. His aim is to make their creationist logic more consistent, and his surveys show that he succeeds. At the beginning of the class, only 54 percent of students say the age of the earth is less than 10,000 years. By the end, it's 87 percent. The biggest shift? Did dinosaurs and man live at the same time? That one moves to 80 percent from 40.

These numbers make Moshier cringe. "It can get so frustrating," he said. "Many of us at Christian colleges really grieve at what a problem this young-earth creationism makes for the Christian witness. It's almost like they're adding another thing you have to believe to become a Christian. It's like saying, You have to believe the world is flat to be a Christian, and that's absolutely unreasonable."

Given the difficulty of their intellectual enterprise, the creationist geologists often have a story about the time they nearly gave it up. For Wise the crisis hit when he was a sophomore in high school. He was already an avid fossil collector who dreamed "an unattainable dream" of going to Harvard to study paleontology and then to teach at a big university. But as he told a friend, he couldn't reconcile the geologic ages with what he read in his Bible. So he set about figuring this out: every night, for months, he cut out every verse of the Bible he'd have to reject to believe in evolution. "I dreaded the impending end," he writes in a collection of essays called "In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation." "All that I loved to do was involved with some aspect of science."

When he was done, he tried to pick up what was left. But he found it impossible to do that without the Bible being "rent in two," he writes. "Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible." In the end, he kept his Bible and achieved his unattainable dream. But it left him in a strange, vulnerable place. "If all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand."

In "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author, presents Wise as an Othello figure, destroyed by his own convictions. "The wound, to his career," Dawkins writes, "and his life's happiness, was self-inflicted, so unnecessary, so easy to escape. All he had to do was toss out the Bible. Or interpret it symbolically, or allegorically, as the theologians do. Instead, he did the fundamentalist thing and tossed out science, evidence and reason, along with all his dreams and hopes."

If Wise still has doubts, or unhappiness, he has learned to put them aside. When consulting for the Creation Museum, he considered his most important duty to be presenting a "coherent story line about the earth's history," he said. "Even if it's wrong, it's a starting point. We use coherence as a criteria. It ought to fit together not as a set of random processes but something coherent orchestrated by God. And not just coherent but spine-tingling. God is behind this story. I can know it as a single story, and the story can be understood, and the story can be spine tingling. There's a Whoa! factor. And it's there from the first verse: The Lord God is One."

Hanna Rosin, a contributing editor for The Atlantic, is the author of "God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save the Nation."

When Night Falls at School, Should Darwin Go Home?


Published: November 25, 2007

The 1859 title page of the first edition of Darwin's "Origin of Species," which one teacher sees as the backbone of atheism.

ROBERT HARRISON, a certified Long Islander and passionate soccer dad (Smithtown Christian made the Class D state high school semifinals last weekend! The bad news: Smithtown Christian lost and his son broke his wrist), says he was born again half his lifetime ago at age 25.

The conversion transpired in the aftershock of losing his first "real" job after graduating from Hofstra with a business degree; in crisis mode, he said, he needed a reason to believe that life matters. Mr. Harrison, brought up Presbyterian in Huntington and no slouch in science class, rebounded. He raised a family, moved to Northport, got a job with a Bohemia company that makes security products and in 2006 had an idea whose time had come.

Why not teach an evening course on "creation science," the thinking religious man's antidote to mass-market Darwinism Mr. Harrison views the theory of evolution as the backbone of atheism in the Northport school district's continuing education program for adults. He'd even buy the books.

Mr. Harrison argues that there is scientific evidence to support intelligent design and uses terminology like thermodynamics and biogenesis as proof. In a laymen's nutshell: humans are not the product of an upwardly mobile transition by monkeys, he says. That creation science is spurned as an oxymoron and often dismissed by the courts, most notably in the 2005 decision involving an attempt by a school board in Dover, Pa., to force science teachers to present creation science as a valid alternative, does not deter him.

"The two stories are diametrically opposed," Mr. Harrison says of creationism and Darwinism. "It's Molecules to Man vs. Design and Purpose. It's a hot-button topic." Boiling.

The autumn 2006 debut of Mr. Harrison's creation science class provoked complaints from some Northport residents; his autumn 2007 return just may provoke litigation.

The local antipathy toward his topic and his right to teach it on school property has sparked the threat of a legal challenge to the Northport school district from the Suffolk County branch of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Ironic?

Well, Mr. Harrison is less than stunned. "There is a pattern with them of looking to limit free speech of a religious nature," he says. He has an acronym for the group: the Anti-Christian Lawsuit Union.

"This kind of thing is dangerous," countered Seth Muraskin, the executive director of the N.Y.C.L.U.'s Suffolk office. This month he notified the Northport school board by letter and in person that he might sue if it continues to offer Mr. Harrison's course.

"If he was out on a street corner expressing his views," Mr. Muraskin says, "I'd be the first person to fight for his right to do just that, but ..."

According to Mr. Muraskin, holding the class at a public school violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. "If they were teaching it to kids during the day," he says, "there would be yelling and screaming all over the place."

The fact that it is being taught to adults at night has not mitigated the yelling and screaming. Mr. Muraskin entered the fray this year after being contacted by a frustrated parent from the district, Stephen Uzzo, who happens to be the director of technology for the New York Hall of Science.

Mr. Harrison, 51, pitched his curriculum for the fall 2006 semester and it was accepted, but after vetting by the district's law firm, a disclaimer was added to the course brochure to make clear that the district does not select the topics for the program. It emphasizes that "none of the views presented in the classes should be interpreted as endorsed by the district." A prudent preventive move, or so the district assumed.

Warren H. Richmond III of Ingerman Smith L.L.P., the law firm representing the district, said it had never rejected any topic for the continuing education program, which also offers a philosophy course called Problem Solving Through Buddhism.

"But is that a religion or a science or a philosophy; who knows?" Mr. Richmond asked. "In our opinion, the free speech aspect of this situation trumps the establishment clause; I sort of think the N.Y.C.L.U. is being anti-free speech. The whole idea of the First Amendment is that even stupid ideas have a right to be heard."

The district is, he fears, in a "damned if it does, damned if it doesn't" position, litigation-wise; prohibit Mr. Harrison's class, and religious right-leaning law firms will leap at the chance to sue. "Either way, we'll probably end up in litigation," Mr. Richmond says. Happy thought, if you're a lawyer.

Thirteen adult students took creation science in 2006. About a dozen signed up in 2007. Mr. Harrison, who like all instructors earns $20 per class hour, bought each student a copy of the assigned text, "What Is Creation Science?," the book that convinced him that "evolution is impossible."

Mr. Harrison notified the district that he does not plan to teach the course for the spring semester. Scared off by the N.Y.C.L.U.? No. He cites an overcrowded schedule. He fully intends to returns to the classroom next fall for year No. 3 of "What Is Creation Science?"

Mr. Muraskin, be forewarned: "To not allow the course to be taught would fall under viewpoint discrimination," Mr. Harrison says. "I've done my First Amendment research, too."

E-mail: theisland@nytimes.com

Twelve Questions With Ken Ham


Last Update: 11/20 1:07 pm

Ken Ham is President and CEO of Answers in Genesis, and its Creation Museum.

1.) The Creation Museum has now been open nearly six months how is business?

Although there is a business side to our organization, the general ministry relies heavily on donations to fund its various outreaches. The AiG ministry overall is doing far beyond our expectations, especially as it relates to the Creation Museum. Our "Answers" magazine subscribers are at 55,000, which is a huge jump from last year; we have 900 stations now carrying our "Answers" radio program, and we've seen up to 10,000 visitors (343,000 "page views") to the AnswersInGenesis.org website in just one day.

When we opened the Creation Museum in May of this year, we projected 250,000 guests within one year-that milestone was reached last Friday [Nov. 2], and in under six months. We praise our God for His provision, including the talented 275 staff we have here at the entire ministry.

2.) Already you are making plans to expand can you explain your vision for the museum over the next year?

Within a few months, we will open our new children's play area inside the museum. In addition, we'll be adding new planetarium programs inside our Stargazers Planetarium, including one for December on the theme of the star of Bethlehem. I -- along with my colleagues -- will also be giving special lectures on a variety of topics. You'll also see new rotating exhibits coming in from time to time.

3.) What is the most common reaction you hear from visitors to the museum?

I would say that the most frequently heard comment coming from our museum guests is: "We had high expectations about the museum's quality before we came here, and you have exceeded them." Then they usually add: "I'm going to tell my friends about this place" or: "I'm going to get our church or organization to bring a group here." They are also sometimes surprised and pleased to learn that we have several staff members who hold doctorate degrees.

4.) Has anyone approached you with negative comments and how do you handle those?

Negative comments usually come from atheists or other skeptics about the biblical worldview we present in the museum. We are very upfront about the fact that our museum is designed to take people on a tour of the Bible from Genesis to its last book -- Revelation. When you present biblical truths to some people, it challenges their worldview and their beliefs - including on moral issues. Of course, with some of our skeptical visitors who desire to engage us in conversation, we are happy to do so.

5.) Does the museum tend to skew toward one particular Christian denomination or does it remain balanced in its biblical interpretation?

AiG is non-denominational. We are not tied to any particular church or denomination. On our staff, you'll see Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and so on. Overall, we would be described as Bible-believing Christians, of various churches.

6.) Have you had visitors of non-Christian religions and what is their reaction to the tour?

I actually know of a few Muslim students (from Ohio State) who have come to the museum and given us their reactions. Although they don't believe in the gospel message that we present, we found them to be respectful and open-minded: In fact, one Muslim wondered-as we do-as to why only one view of origins -evolution -- is presented as fact in our schools, science museums, and in science publications.

We've even had Jewish people appreciate the fact that we stand up for the first book of their Torah. I recall having dinner with a high-power Jewish attorney in New York City, where he told me that he was a financial contributor to the museum project because we are defending the foundational book of Genesis. We've had many other non-Christian guests, and most have complimented us on the professionalism of the museum-some said they didn't feel threatened, and appreciated the way we presented the information.

7.) Tell us why you think people who believe the world came into being through intelligent design or evolution are wrong?

We believe that the intelligent designer who created the world and all the living things is not just any god, but the Creator God of the Bible. The view of molecules-to-man evolution can't be fit into the Bible if one takes Genesis as literal history-just as the New Testament writers do, and Jesus Christ does. Those who believe in evolution accept that millions of years of death, disease, and suffering led up to man's existence. The Bible makes it plain (e.g., the apostle Paul in Romans 5) that death is an intrusion because of man's sin. Evolutionists believe the fossil record is a record of the history of life over millions of years. But such death and disease (like cancer in dinosaur bones) could not be described by God as "very good" as He did when He finished the creation. Most of the fossil record is the graveyard of Noah's Flood.

8.) What is the most common misconception about the Creation Museum?

Many skeptics and non-Christians who come to the museum expect us to be evolution bashers. Actually, we present the arguments for evolution-but we also show how the creation interpretation better explains the facts than Darwinian evolution. We have been told by some of our critics that we are more respectful of evolution than they expected.

Many skeptics also have been falsely led to believe that we blame evolution for abortion, "gay" marriage, racism, etc. However, they eventually find out that we don't blame evolution-we blame sin. The teaching of evolution and millions of years does stop many accepting the Bible as the absolute authority, thus some people may build a relative morality base on the belief they are just an animal and can determine right and wrong for themselves.

9.) In your opinion, which museum exhibit provides the most powerful evidence that the world was created in 7 days?

The museum features several science exhibits that present evidence that shows that the earth and universe are not as old as commonly believed. One of the best evidences presented by our astronomer Dr. Jason Lisle in the museum is that of comets that circle our solar system. Each time they pass the sun, they lose some of their mass. Comets that we see today should have disintegrated just a few thousand years ago if we are in a very old universe.

Also, our exhibits on geology reveal how some of the features we see on earth-such as deep canyons and sedimentary layers-could have formed quickly. Canyons don't have to be carved slowly through the erosion of rivers over millions of years. Our geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling also brings that out in a compelling video in the geology exhibit. Other scientists explain that all dating methods are based on assumptions and that 90% of the dating methods contradict billions of years but confirm a young universe.

Most of all, though, because our starting point is a belief that the Bible is true, we use the chronology in the Old Testament to come up with a young age for the earth. It just so happens that science-properly understood-confirms that! Our website, http://www.AnswersInGenesis.org, can share so much more.

10.) What is the one thing you hope people visiting the museum get from the experience?

We want Christians who visit to be better equipped to defend their Christian faith -- and to share it more effectively with others. For the non-Christian, we want them to understand that Christians can defend their faith using real operational science, and that because the history in Genesis is true, therefore the gospel message based in that history is true. We want them to leave not just as creationists, but to accept the fact that Christ is their Savior. We don't hide the fact that we are very evangelistic here. At the very minimum we want the non-Christian to leave challenged to consider the claims of the Bible concerning the need for salvation in Christ.

11. How do you respond to people living nearby who say the museum is not being a good neighbor?

On the contrary, many of our neighbors are very happy for us to be here. They recognize that some industrial complex or warehous could have been built on this property near exit 11 of I-275. Because we have 49 acres, which also includes beautiful botanical gardens we put in this year, we have not only preserved most of the natural rural beauty of this piece of property, but greatly enhanced it. I believe we have set a standard for this intersection, so that when the rest of it is developed, others will have to come up to this very high standard. We work extra hard in many ways to be good neighbors in this area.

12. What would you like to say to convince people that your museum is worth a tour?

We strongly encourage inquiring people to consider an opposing view of the origin of the world - one that is largely censored from our schools and natural history museums. We want them to tour and, using their critical thinking skills, weigh the nature of the evidence for themselves and ask the question: Which worldview, creation or evolution, best explains our world around us?

AiG and its Creation Museum are a family friendly place. And even if one does not agree with our stand on the Bible, it is a place where people can learn -- in a non-threatening way and through cutting-edge technology -- what the Bible teaches about the history and meaning of the universe.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Science lovers poke fun at reckoning of Earth's age


Flat Earth Cake, Noah's Floodwaters Punch served up along with scientific inquiry.
By Corrie MacLaggan


Monday, October 22, 2007

They drank a blue-green concoction called Noah's Floodwaters Punch. They ate a Flat Earth Cake, a gentle poke at the Bible's description of the planet's shape. They listened to scientific talks about the age of the Earth.

The occasion was Earth's Birthday, a satire on the belief held by some creationists that the Earth was created on Oct. 23, 4004 B.C., an idea attributed to the 17th-century Anglican Archbishop James Ussher.

James Dee, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, said the use of a number as small as 2007 to indicate the year is misleading.

But what the dozens of people who gathered at BookPeople on Sunday were really celebrating was science itself.

"Our goal is to promote science and reason," said Jenni Acosta, executive director of the group that organized the event, the Austin chapter of the Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit organization based in Amherst, N.Y., with branches worldwide.

James Dee, professor emeritus of classics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, called his presentation "This is not the year 2007."

"For all practical purposes, this is the year 2007," said Dee, "but I'm not talking about the mundane realities of life."

He argued that the use of a "misleadingly small number like 2007" subconsciously reinforces "the natural egocentricity of our species." More appropriate, he said, would be a year that takes into account the beginning of humankind or the age of the planet.

"We simply do not pay much attention to those humans and humanoids who lived before our time," he said.

The audience which included graduate students and local lovers of science also heard from University of Texas professors Leon Long (geosciences) and Sahotra Sarkar (biology and philosophy), as well as David Lambert, director of the university's McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis in West Texas.

Austinite Jacq Siracusa said she came because she's fascinated by astronomy.

"I've lived in 21 countries," she said, "and I've watched the sky in every one of them."

The Center for Inquiry, which Acosta described as a nonreligious organization, has had an Austin chapter for almost a year.

The group's legislative committee works in support of proposals that promote sound science education and works against those that undermine the separation of church and state, said Jeff Brooks, chairman of the committee. Brooks also organizes what the group calls rationally drinking happy hours on the last Monday of every month at 7 p.m. at Mother Egan's Irish Pub, 715 W. Sixth St.

Dee said Sunday's event was an opportunity for those who disagree with creationism to have their say. In the always controversial process of deciding what Texas' science textbooks say, he said, "A lot of people representing the science view don't always have a forum."

cmaclaggan@statesman.com; 445-3548

UFOs Are Real; Bigfoot Is A Hoax


By Joseph Friedrichs, 10-19-07

An Oregon couple are convinced they spotted several UFOs whizzing across the sky at a rural area near Salem.

Raye Laufer and her husband, Derral, say they were smoking in their back yard last month when the incident occurred. Exactly what they were "smoking" was not made specific. Regardless, while the couple was doing whatever it was they were doing, two long, silver, bullet-shaped objects flew side-by-side across the sky, they claim.

The couple says that neither object had lights or made a sound before they vanished.

And that's not all.

The Laufers also claim to have seen a large glowing orb floating above the Cascade foothills before it hovered over their home and then took off into the unknown.

Although the only evidence we have of the incident is the word of the Laufers, we absolutely back the claim. The writing staff at NewWest.Net/Bend are firm believers in life on other planets and inter-space travel. To claim for certain that UFOs are a hoax would be like claiming we have discovered all the microorganisms that live in the oceans of our fine planet. Humankind simply doesn't know enough about space, or the oceans, to make a judgment one way or the other.

Is it possible there is life on other planets? Yes. The same as it's possible there are forms of life on this planet still not discovered.

However, one creature that does not exist on this planet is Bigfoot. The Sasquatch story is the biggest bag of untruth ever told. Unless, of course, you count religion.

Enjoy the weekend.

10 Tips For Dealing With James Randi: Claim Your Million Today!


By Rob Beschizza October 26, 2007 | 1:15:26

James Randi is a magician, skeptic and debunker who has made short work of countless frauds, fruitcakes and sincere claimants to paranormal power. The Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge traditionally offers the titular award to those who can demonstrate proof of such skills under rigorous test conditions. Recently, however, Randi's foundation has moved beyond the strictly supernatural, targeting claims made by fans of ultra-expensive audio gear.

In this latest funhouse, Michael Fremer, audiophile and Stereophile editor, accepted a challenge, with the backing of Pear Cables, to prove that the firm's $7,000 leads are better than standard-fare one can pick up at Best Buy. It's not gone well for the challengers, with Pear backing out and Fremer frustrated by the all-too-public negotiations between Randi and himself.

Don't let it happen to you. Whether you're psychic or merely a subjectivist in matters of science, here are 10 tips for dealing with Randi and claiming your dough.

Don't claim the prize doesn't exist. This makes you look stupid. The million dollars, plus a dusty film of interest, is real and stashed in a Goldman Sachs escrow account.

Don't ridicule Randi. Randi has seen you coming. The old man never got a degree, but he knows more about the workings of science than half the Ph.D.s in America. Randi will make faster work of you than Chuck Norris if you underestimate him.

Don't claim the testing will be rigged. Anyone remotely familiar with how scientists guard against their own bias and expectation will know that these double-blind experiments are designed to be transparent and rigorous, using the same empirical principles as seen in any kind of research. Reporters and observers would relish the chance to spot a methodological flaw or sleight of hand.

Don't lose your temper. Don't get into preliminary cockfighting. Randi is a master at delivering insults and responding to communications in such a way as to make you look foolish. Before test protocol negotiations have even begun, anything you say will already have been used against you. The Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge is as public a spectacle as there is, and the chances are that between you and him, only one of you has a half-century's experience as a professional showman.

Don't forget what you're getting yourself into: boring, exhaustive testing by people who think you're full of shit. If you go into it thinking it's going to be a cute studio one-shot in front of Johnny Carson, imagine what happened to Uri Geller happening to you twenty times. If you can't pull off your trick/power/feat with statistically significant results outside of Randi's lair, going inside of it is simply idiotic.

Don't bother trying to work the protocol in your favor, with plans to back out honorably if the testing scenario isn't to your taste. Before you even start, you'll get to determine what will constitute success, and both sides agree to the rules, details of which are open for negotiation. You'll even get to practice "unblinded" to warm upa dowser, for example, will do a few rounds knowing exactly where the water ismeaning that there'll be no point where you can say you've been fiddled.

Don't start what you can't finish. The only thing that stinks worse than bullshit is chickenshit. The test is rigged one way and one way only: if you get involved, backing out under any circumstances whatsoever makes you look silly. You cannot subvert this principle, even if you think you're in the right: Randi has a script, you do not. No-one will believe you if your powers are found to be inoperable in the presence of clipboards. No-one likes a quitter.

Don't forget the failures of those that have gone before. Singularly inaccurate TV psychic Sylvia Browne accepted and subsequently fled from Randi's challenge, and it wasn't pretty. Compare the swagger and brio of Pear Cables' leap into the ring with the quiet brevity of its reversal: a masterclass in how to turn your own product into an international joke. Almost all candidates back out at the negotiation stage; only a few dozen have reached preliminary tests, and all those have failed to proceed to the final tests.

Don't come flying out of obscurity expecting to get a shot at the lucre. Go to the trouble of having some articles written about you, or of having someone with academic credentials say what you do is for real. After years taking on all-comers, the foundation's interest is now homed in on the many high-profile paranormalists it considers to be in need of debunking.

Do have paranormal powers. In fact, fulfilling this one suggestion lets you ignore all the others, and all but guarantees the cash will be yours. What are you waiting for?

Essential Reading: Law, Darwinism, and Public Education


Law, Darwinism, and Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design
By Francis J. Beckwith
Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, 185 pages.
ISBN 0-7425-1430-7

Legal scholar Francis J. Beckwith recounts the legal history of court battles over the teaching of biological origins. Though many thought that the landmark Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard would permanently settle these questions by ruling creationism unconstitutional, Beckwith observes that intelligent design poses a new challenge to legal scholars. Beckwith provides a thorough treatment of the subject.

After recounting the history of cases which involved the "Creator in the courtroom,' Beckwith turns to analyzing intelligent design. Under various legal definitions of religion, Beckwith contends that design is not religion as conventionally understood because it derives its support from empirical data and philosophical arguments. Intelligent design, Beckwith explains, is distinct from creationism, for it derives its support from the scientific argument rather than religious texts such as the book of Genesis. Design also fails other legal tests for "religion," such as the "parallel position test" because it does not function as a religion in the lives of its proponents. While design may come to conclusions shared by some religions, this does not necessarily make it "religion" for legal purposes. After all, Beckwith observes, courts have acknowledged that "a decision respecting the subject matter to be taught in public schools does not violate the Establishment Clause simply because the material to be taught 'happens to harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.'"

Finally, Beckwith argues that intelligent design does not fit under the Edwards test for religion because it lacks a historical connection with the Scopes Trial and other Genesis-inspired anti-evolution endeavors. Teaching about intelligent design could be justified on the basis that it improves the religious "neutrality" of a curriculum.

Beckwith provides a deep and thorough treatment of the legal arguments raised by critics of teaching design in public schools. Those interested in studying the relevant technical legal arguments surrounding the teaching of intelligent design will require an understanding of Beckwith's well-reasoned position explained in this book.

Posted by Robert Crowther on November 19, 2007 6:18 AM | Permalink

Rebuttal to Paul Gross' Review of The Edge of Evolution - Error #4: Misrepresenting the State of Thinking in Cosmology

Teen's death hastened by practitioner who had bogus diplomas


Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - Page updated at 12:32 AM

By Christine Willmsen and Michael J. Berens

Seattle Times staff reporters

Their teenager was facing an excruciating death from cancer. His parents searched frantically for a way to ease his pain.

David and Laura Flanagan of suburban Denver believed they found that, and more, in the office of Dr. Brian O'Connell. O'Connell assured the Flanagans he could not only relieve 18-year-old Sean's suffering from late-stage bone cancer, he could cure Sean as he had others.

O'Connell's treatment of choice: photo luminescence, a form of "energy medicine" using light waves. O'Connell would take a vial of blood from Sean's body, expose it to ultraviolet light from a device, then inject the treated blood back in a hydrogen-peroxide solution. Although the treatment was unconventional, the Flanagans took comfort in O'Connell's charisma and in his impressive credentials as a naturopathic doctor.

"The certification and accreditations were plastered all over his wall," David Flanagan said. "There wasn't a bare spot. Everything seemed legit."

Everything was not.

Two days after Sean's treatment by O'Connell began, the young man was rushed to the hospital with an infection caused by the injection. Six days after that, as O'Connell administered another round of treatment, Sean begged, "Please, God, no more." The next day, Dec. 19, 2003, Sean died about six months sooner than his medical doctors had predicted.

His parents felt particularly devastated that Sean would miss having his dream fulfilled by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which was planning a trip for him.

"My son wanted to go to Hawaii and lay in a hammock under a palm tree," David Flanagan said.

But even in their sorrow, the Flanagans never suspected O'Connell was anything less than he claimed to be. It wasn't until months later when they saw him on television, being led away in handcuffs that they discovered they had been cruelly duped.

O'Connell, 35 at the time, had been arrested for practicing medicine without a license. After the Flanagans told law-enforcement officials Sean's story, criminally negligent homicide was added to the charges. O'Connell was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

But what of that wall of degrees and certificates in his office? It was a facade of legitimacy. O'Connell had no formal medical or government-accredited naturopathic training.

Rather, The Seattle Times has found, he and scores of other "energy medicine" practitioners are graduates of a multimillion-dollar industry that gives them deceptive credentials.

These people buy the appearance of legitimacy through an international network of unaccredited health-care schools and murky trade associations.

Many operators of "miracle machines" have used sham credentials to lure unsuspecting patients into expensive, dubious and sometimes-fatal treatments.

The Times found:

At least 104 unaccredited schools dole out alternative-medicine degrees or certifications that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Most operate only through the Internet or by mail order. The largest alternative health-care school in the United States, Clayton College of Natural Health, is an unaccredited home-study program that claims it has issued more than 25,000 degrees.

Some of the largest and seemingly independent health-care credentialing organizations are in fact controlled by one of two businessmen one in Las Vegas, the other in Texas. Their organizations are mail-order factories that issue professional titles and hand out accreditations to more than 100 schools.

Many buyers of energy devices receive credentials and certificates from manufacturers who operate or sponsor training programs. Device operators use these titles to market themselves as health-care practitioners.

Meanwhile, the alternative-medicine schools that are accredited by the federal government are dismayed by the explosion of untrained and uncertified operators.

"They are using smoke and mirrors to confuse people by not disclosing the truth behind their accrediting agencies and their institutions," said Dr. Jane Guiltinan, a naturopathic clinical professor at Seattle's Bastyr University, one of the five schools of naturopathy that are accredited by a federally recognized institution.

Guiltinan is president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), an organization that requires that its members graduate from a four-year accredited college.

"To argue that you don't have to have any training for diagnosing or treating patients is absurd," she said.

Las Vegas credential mill

Naturopathy is a burgeoning health-care discipline. Its practitioners prefer natural remedies, such as supplements, to pharmaceutical drugs, and they avoid invasive measures.

"Naturopathic doctor" is one of the most coveted credentials in alternative medicine. Fourteen states, including Washington, consider naturopathy a licensed profession and require degrees and clinical training through four-year colleges accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.

But in the other 36 states including Colorado, where Brian O'Connell practiced naturopathy is not considered a government-regulated profession. In those states, anyone can call himself or herself a naturopathic doctor with no training.

One of the framed certificates on O'Connell's wall was from the American Naturopathic Medical Association (ANMA). Impressive-sounding, to be sure but it comes from a Las Vegas post-office box. The businessman who founded the organization in 1981 has feuded for years with AANP and the mainstream, state-licensed naturopathic community.

Donald Hayhurst, 71, is the godfather of mail-order health-care credentials. He has issued thousands of credentials to practitioners, and he accredits some schools.

Hayhurst has doled out 4,000 ANMA memberships, at a cost of $350 apiece. Each year, its members attend a convention in Las Vegas that includes speakers, training and products. More than 1,000 people attended this year's convention at the Riviera Hotel & Casino, where vendors aggressively pitched dozens of energy devices, lasers and herbal concoctions.

ANMA board member Eliezer Ben-Joseph said the organization fends off constant challenges by conventional doctors and state-licensed naturopaths.

"Some people say we're fake," he said. "I can't convince them, and if they don't want to participate, good-bye."

Hayhurst would not return phone calls from The Times.

He claimed to have graduated from the Utah College of Naturopathic Physicians. However, there was no evidence the school ever existed, the Nevada Board of Naturopathic Healing reported after investigating him. It prohibited Hayhurst from practicing naturopathic healing, Nevada documents show. The Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians provided those documents to The Times.

Four years earlier, he had formed the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board. Under this flag, Hayhurst accredited schools and later issued credentials such as "board certified naturopathic physician."

In 2003, Hayhurst split off that part of his organization. A man operating in Missoula, Mont., now doles out naturopathic credentials to people who pay nearly $700 and pass an exam.

One of the correspondence schools that received Hayhurst's accreditation was the Herbal Healer Academy of Arkansas, where Brian O'Connell, the Colorado man convicted of negligent homicide in the case of Sean Flanagan, obtained his naturopathy degree.

The school came under fire, and no longer issues the degrees.

Texas network

Hayhurst's chief competitor is Donald A. Rosenthal, 56, who orchestrates a network of accreditation and credentialing organizations around the world. That network claims to include more than 4,000 members and nearly 100 health-care schools.

Rosenthal said he has degrees as both a medical and a naturopathic doctor. But he is not a licensed doctor in any state. His degrees were issued by schools that are not accredited by the Department of Education.

Rosenthal maintains a low profile from a small office in Galveston, Texas, the base of his parent organization, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. After a bankruptcy in the 1990s, he lives in a $78,000 home near town.

Many energy-medicine operators nationally have certification from Rosenthal and describe themselves as "drugless practitioners." Rosenthal said the idea for this designation was developed in 1990 when he talked with chiropractors who sought a way to bolster their professional credentials.

Becoming a member of the association is as easy as faxing in a brief application with a photocopy of a driver's license and $260. In return, applicants are issued certificates that declare them a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner.

One man who took advantage of this ease of certification from Rosenthal was Ralph Mitchell, who parlayed his "drugless practitioner" title to draw patients into his Greenhouse Health & Wellness Center in Molalla, Ore. Mitchell, who called himself a naturopathic doctor, used unproven energy devices to treat seriously ill patients.

Among those devices were an ion footbath called Body Cleanse, which purports to extract toxins from the body, and a skin-response biofeedback device made by BioMeridian that Mitchell used to diagnose medical conditions, state records show.

The Oregon Attorney General's Office investigated Mitchell and found that the medical conditions of clients worsened under his care. In September, Mitchell agreed to pay $25,000 to the state and is now prohibited from practicing medicine.

Easy credentials

For schools wanting accreditation from Rosenthal, the process is just as simple. They are required only to mail a copy of their curriculum, and a fee. Rosenthal does not visit the school or interview owners, instructors or students, he said.

Some of the schools accredited by Rosenthal include the Academy of BioEnergetics in Utah, the Energetix College of BioEnergetic Medicine in Georgia and the Florida Vedic College.

None of the institutions is accredited by the federal government.

For instance, the Holistic Healers Academy was opened in 2002 and operates from a post-office box in Convent Station, N.J. Home courses cost $160 each with subjects such as "advanced energy healing."

Co-founder Kristen Lauter doesn't rely on Rosenthal just for accrediting her academy. She is Certified Holistic Health Practitioner #76892201 a credential issued by Rosenthal.

And her bachelor of science degree came from Clayton College of Natural Health of Birmingham, Ala., the nation's largest unaccredited alternative health-care school. Clayton boasts accreditation from both Rosenthal and Hayhurst.

Founded in 1980 by Lloyd Clayton Jr., the college offers home-study courses that range from $4,300 to $6,400, for degrees from natural science to holistic health.

Clayton officials said the college fulfills a mission to provide quality training to students who do not desire a traditional four-year education.

Practitioner shut down

"Miracle machine" manufacturers have joined the credentialing game, too.

At least a dozen energy-device companies have created training programs that dole out health-care titles and credentials that are then used to bolster credibility with patients.

One such beneficiary was Joyce Tasker of Colville, in Eastern Washington. In June 2003, an Oklahoma physician reported to the Washington State Department of Health that Tasker was engaged in the illegal practice of medicine, based on material he found on her Web site.

When questioned by state investigators, Tasker produced a certificate, embossed with a gold seal, from the American Institute of Energy Medicine, which certified that she was a Technician of BioEnergetic Medicine.

The institute's address is the same as Star Tech Health Services of Orem, Utah, an energy-device distributor.

Later, investigators learned that a Star Tech employee traveled to Tasker's home, showed her how to use the unproven device and awarded her the certificate.

A state investigation found that Tasker charged $125 to test patients with a computerized skin-probe system, the Orion, which she purchased for $12,500 from the Utah company.

"She said people send a sample of their blood or saliva and she tests them at her home. She said she has a computer program installed in her home computer that tests the frequencies of the blood or saliva," according to a state investigative report.

Tasker then took vials containing water and alcohol, used the device to transmit radio frequencies to the mixture, then sold them as potions that could help the body balance itself, state investigators said.

Tasker denied that her actions constituted the practice of medicine, but the Washington State Court of Appeals determined her actions were improper and ordered her to stop.

Tasker did not respond to The Times' request for comment.

Other device companies opt for a different strategy.

The International Quantum University of Integrative Medicine, in Honolulu, is linked to federal fugitive William Nelson, the Budapest-based manufacturer of the EPFX machine.

Nelson registered the machine with the FDA as a biofeedback device, but he and many practitioners claim it can diagnose and cure disease.

The EPFX correspondence school in Honolulu is accredited by one of Hayhurst's organizations. The school's long-distance learning courses cost up to $6,000 and offer credentials such as "Quantum Naturopathic Certification" and "Biofeedback Certification."

Barbara Murphy, a retired Boeing employee, operates an EPFX clinic in Tukwila. She advertises herself as a Certified Biofeedback Specialist. Her credential was issued by a group of EPFX owners, the Natural Therapies Certification Board in Black Mountain, N.C.

As thin as their credentials may be, these energy-medicine practitioners cling vigorously to them.

Even Brian O'Connell, now serving time in the Huerfano County Correctional Center in Walsenberg, Colo., for his role in the death of Sean Flanagan, continues to call himself a naturopathic doctor.

The teen's father, meanwhile, pleads with government officials to do something to protect other desperate families from being victimized by fake medical professionals. He wants all states to pass laws to license the practice of naturopathy.

"You don't have to have a life-threatening situation to be desperate," said Flanagan. "Someone who has tried all the medical treatments, drugs or can't function those people are just as desperate as we were. A process needs to be in place to protect people from this."

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com; Michael J. Berens: 206-464-2288 or mberens@seattletimes.com. Staff reporter Sonia Krishnan, researchers David Turim and Gene Balk, and intern Eric Ball contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Slime-oozing fish sheds light on eye evolution


Australian researchers think they have discovered Darwin's missing link in the evolution of the eye.

Staff Writers 22/11/2007 11:49:33

A primitive fish that oozes reams of slime when it is unsettled could help explain how the human eye evolved, according to a team led by a vision expert from ANU.

The scientists compared the eyes of the eel-like hagfish and its lamprey cousin to show that the eye gradually evolved over millions of years - something that had even Charles Darwin stumped.

"Darwin knew that his theory of natural selection would have difficulty in explaining the existence of an organ as specialised as the eye - unless a series of gradual changes could be proved," Professor Trevor Lamb, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science at ANU, said.

"We think we've found the 'missing link' that shows how the eyes of vertebrates (including humans) came to be."

Lamb said hagfish had diverged from our own evolutionary line somewhere around 530 million years ago.

"Hagfish are jawless and ugly animals that continue to inhabit the oceans at great depth, and are renowned for the revolting 'slime' they exude when they're disturbed," he said.

"They behave as if blind, though they have a primitive eye-like structure beneath a clear patch on either side of the head. It was previously thought that this hagfish 'eye' had degenerated from a lamprey-like precursor."

Working with Professor Shaun Collin from the University of Queensland and Professor Ed Pugh from the University of Pennsylvania, Lamb discovered that the hagfish 'eye' has all the signs of being an evolutionary missing link.

They argue that hagfish did not degenerate from lamprey-like ancestors, but are instead the remnants of an earlier sister group.

"The hagfish 'eye' has no lens, no muscles to aim it, the simplest of retinas, and primitive photoreceptors," Lamb said.

"In the relatively brief interval of about 30 million years, between when we think hagfish split off and when lampreys split off, the vertebrate eye appears to have evolved most of its modern characteristics.

"These features can be watched as modern lampreys develop. The larval lamprey is blind and possesses an 'eye' similar to that of the hagfish. But as it goes through metamorphosis that simple eye undergoes an amazing developmental sequence until it looks just like the eye of any jawed fish.

"Modern lamprey adults have eyes that are very similar to our own, and so it's clear that the last common ancestor that we share with them, which lived some 500 million years ago, already had a camera-style vertebrate eye with virtually all the hallmarks of our own.

"Yet an ancestor of hagfish and lampreys, that lived just 30 million years earlier, had a far less advanced eye. We're keen to study the hagfish further to test these ideas."

The researchers' findings are published in the latest edition of Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Source: ANU

Friday, November 23, 2007

Defending Creationism Without Shame

The following e-mail was provided by Texas Freedom Network.

From: Jonathan Falwell, son of the late Jerry Falwell
Date: November 2, 2007

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

Within that simple phrase, the Bible informs mankind the manner in which God miraculously generated our world and universes we cannot even imagine.

"The book of Genesis is a fitting introduction to the rest of the Bible," the LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible states. "From the grandeur of God's creative acts to the beginnings of marriage, sin, sacrifice for sin, family, work, murder, races, civilization, and God's chosen people (Israel), the book of Genesis lays the foundation of God's revelation of Himself to man. Genesis answers basic questions about the origin of all living things, the origin of evil in the world, and the beginning of God's plan to redeem the human race."

Yet, in this age of secularism and so-called diversity, it has become uncool to believe the biblical account of the world's foundation.

And while Christians wholeheartedly believe that God created the heavens and the earth, recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans at least moderately believe that God created us.

These Americans' beliefs, however, are generally ignored by the mainstream, including the national media, academia and popular culture. Subsequently, Christians who adhere to biblical foundations of creation are routinely met with a barrage of secularist dogma that is designed to refute their core convictions.

And so it is up to Christians to be able to express their biblical beliefs in order to effectively represent the cause of Christ in this cultural debate.

Dr. David DeWitt, Liberty University professor of biology, wants to help Christians understand the nature of creationism and teach them how to ably counter mainstream arguments.

His new book, "Unraveling the Origins Controversy," is a crash course in biblical creationism and examines assumptions on both sides of the origins debate with clear biblical teachings.

The veteran professor, who is director of Liberty's Center for Creation Studies, notes that there are new scientific findings in terms of the earth's foundations almost every day and Christians need to have a framework for understanding these alleged evolutionary breakthroughs.

Dr. DeWitt, who recently received a large National Institutes of Health grant to support his Alzheimer's disease research, said, "We live in the same world and use the same facts as evolutionists. We simply use different assumptions and reach creation conclusions."

Included in Dr. DeWitt's scientific refutation of evolutionary theory, he incorporates Scripture throughout his book to support the science of creationism. He believes the value of his book is that it is written by a scientist who integrates up-to-the-minute findings with a biblical worldview.

Asked if there is any argument an evolutionist can make that a creationist cannot effectively answer, Dr. DeWitt smiled wryly and offered a simple, "No."

"We have nothing to worry about in defending our beliefs," he confidently stated.

Dr. DeWitt is following the model imagined by my Dad in 1971, when he founded Liberty with three teachers (including him). He dreamed that Liberty would one day become a bastion of Christian thought and apologetics, providing leadership for Christianity worldwide. Professors like Dr. DeWitt are propelling that dream to new heights as we seek to instruct Christians how to fully live out their faith, without compromise or fear.

The Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right.


Fossils of jellyfish found in Utah resemble creatures of today


David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Monday, November 5, 2007

The fossil remains of fragile jellyfish that lived some 505 million years ago have been discovered in the rocks of a Utah mountainside that once lay at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea.

The ancient fossils are strikingly similar to modern jellyfish, indicating that when those animals evolved they were so ideally suited for their environment that their form and structure must have remained virtually unchanged for a long, long time.

That's true for many other animals too - as long as the environment didn't change too much to pose new evolutionary challenges for survival.

The fossil remains of this tribe of fragile jellyfish are of unequalled clarity, and their discoverers at the University of Kansas and the University of Utah say they're guessing that the ancient ones were at least closely related to common jellies today, including those now known scientifically as the Narcomedusae and the Scyphozoae.

The fossils are more than 200 million years older than any scientists have found before. They clearly reveal their bell-shaped umbrellas, the wavering tentacles whose stings so often harass swimmers, and even the animals' gonads.

But researchers say those creatures were unusually tiny, most barely a quarter-inch in diameter - or about the same as the tip of a pencil eraser. Their modern versions often run five times that size, said Kevin Raskoff, a marine biologist who has specialized in jellyfish research for years at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing and who now teaches at Monterey Peninsula College.

The fossils were found by a team headed by Bruce Lieberman, senior curator of invertebrate paleontology at the University of Kansas. His group's report on the discovery appears in the current issue of PLoS One, an international online scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science in San Francisco.

"The fossils push back the time line for the evolution of these jellyfish to a very early period in their evolution," Raskoff said, "but they look pretty amazingly similar to the modern ones that are very common."

They appear to have been living in a very shallow sea, he said, whereas the modern kind they resemble are known to occur in large numbers at far lower ocean depths - anywhere from 600 to 6,000 feet, he said.

The fossils were found in an ancient rock formation known as the Burgess shale that is famed for its variety of fossils left by extinct creatures. Outcrops of the Burgess formation extend down from the Canadian Rockies into Utah, and similar outcrops have been explored by fossil hunters in China's Yunnan province.

The jellyfish, like other fossils in the Burgess shale, had apparently evolved and were thriving by the middle of the Cambrian geologic period, between about 545 million and 490 million years ago. Their emergence came during a time known as the Cambrian Explosion, when most of the major groups of animals known today first appear in the fossil record within a relatively few million years.

Because jellyfish have such soft bodies, it is rare that they become fossilized. According to Lieberman, the ones his group found must have sunk onto the soft sand on the bed of a shallow sea and then lay there as tiny particles of extremely fine sand buried them to preserve their delicate imprints.

"The fossil record is biased against soft-bodied life forms such as jellyfish because they leave little behind when they die," Lieberman said.

And the fact that those jellies were so complex, and apparently so successful that their counterparts exist today, means that they either evolved very rapidly by 500 million years ago, or that the group is even older and had evolved even longer ago, he said.

Lieberman's team said their fossils are "exquisitely preserved" but they were careful not to claim that they belong to the exact same orders or classes as their modern look-alikes. Instead, they reported only that "their presence is diagnostic of modern jellyfish."

To Jere Lipps, a noted paleontologist at UC Berkeley who has studied the evolution of marine life all along the California coast, as well as in the Galapagos Islands, Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia, this kind of scientific caution is appropriate.

"It's good that they've avoided identifying their fossils with modern jellyfish too positively," Lipps said, "but they've made a very good guess, and it looks as though the evolution of those organisms may go even further back in time."

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page A - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Evolution education update: November 23, 2007

Not in Our Classrooms received a glowing review in the latest issue of BioScience, and no fewer than three members of NCSE were State Professors of the Year for 2007. And it's not too late to reserve a spot on NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon!


Randy Moore reviewed Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools for BioScience (November 2007; 57 [10]: 885-886), writing, "Not in Our Classrooms is a small, impressive book that will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in the various aspects of 'intelligent design' and the evolution-creationism debate." He was especially enthusiastic about Scott's contribution ("one of the best summaries available for the history of the modern controversy") and Jay Wexler's contribution on the legal issues surrounding the evolution/creationism ("should be required reading for all teachers, school administrators, and school-board members"). Moore concluded, "Not in Our Classrooms is a powerful, accessible introduction to the many facets of intelligent design. ... If you read just one book about this subject, read this one. Then give the book to others and urge them to do the same." Moore is a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota.

Not in Our Classrooms was edited by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott and deputy director Glenn Branch, and contains essays by them as well as by Nicholas J. Matzke (also of NCSE) and Paul R. Gross, Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters, Jay D. Wexler, and Brian Alters (a member of NCSE's board of directors). The foreword was contributed by the Reverend Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Praising the book, Bill Nye the Science Guy wrote, "If you're concerned about scientific literacy, read this book. The authors of Not in Our Classrooms are authorities on the various battles fought over the teaching of evolution -- biology's fundamental discovery." If you order your copy now from Beacon Press, you receive a 10% discount -- just enter NCSE in the discount code field. And if you want postcards advertising Not in Our Classrooms to distribute, please get in touch with the NCSE office.

For Moore's review (PDF), visit:

For information about Not in Our Classrooms, visit:


No fewer than three members of NCSE were among the recipients of 2007's State Professors of the Year Award, bestowed by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Andrew Fraknoi, Professor of Astronomy at Foothill College; John M. Lynch, Honors Faculty Fellow at Arizona State University; and Dawn J. Wright, Professor of Geography and Oceanography at Oregon State University. According to the award's website, "winners are chosen on the basis of their extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching, determined by excellence in the following four areas: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former undergraduate students." Congratulations to all three!

For information about the Professor of the Year award program, visit:


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

For further information on the Grand Canyon trip, visit:

For a summary of the article in The New York Times, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/ZZ/3_seeing_creation_and_evolution_10_6_2005.asp

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

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