Monday, June 28, 2010

Skeptical News

NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 December 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In support of intelligent design

December 17, 2007

A majority of Pinellas County School Board members - including the immediate past president of the National School Boards Association - think that if Florida children are taught about evolution, they should learn other theories on the origin of life as well.

Board members Jane Gallucci, Carol Cook, Peggy O'Shea and Nancy Bostock (shown above, left to right) stopped short of saying that faith-based theories should be included in the state's proposed new science standards, which the state Board of Education likely will vote on in February. The new standards would include Darwin's theory of evolution and do not mention faith-based theories such as intelligent design or creationism.

But all four said such theories should be taught in public school classrooms.

"I think that students should be given the opportunity to view all theories on how man evolved and let their science background and their religious background take over as to which one they believe in," said Gallucci, the immediate past president of the National School Boards Association.

Bostock: "The entire theory of evolution is not scientific fact. Intelligent design balances it out."

Cook: "To teach one as if nothing else existed, I think we're doing our students a disservice."

O'Shea suggested that parents who object to evolution being taught to their children might be able to opt them out of that day's lesson. "I'd probably ideally like to keep it all out of the classroom," she said. "If it's going to create this much controversy, how important is it?"

See the whole story in tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times and on Also tomorrow, the Gradebook will provide more in-depth responses from all the Pinellas School Board members on the issue. To see the board members' full remarks, click here.

- Donna Winchester and Ron Matus

December 17, 2007 in Pinellas County, Science standards | Permalink

What they're saying in Pinellas

December 18, 2007

As we reported yesterday, a majority of the Pinellas School Board supports offering alternative theories of origin in schools. You can see today's story in the Times here.

We promised you more in-depth looks at all the board members' views. So here it is. Reporters Donna Winchester and Ron Matus conducted the interviews.

Jane Gallucci is the only one with just a single comment: "I think that students should be given the opportunity to view all theories on how man evolved and let their science background and their religious background take over as to which one they believe in. If you have a strong faith belief, then I think you would believe that god made us. If you want to think in a scientific way, then you believe we evolved. But I believe both theories should be presented to children. I think especially in a scientific world both theories should be presented to children."

Carol Cook: "I don't think we need to be afraid of any of it. Evolution is a popular belief out there. Many people will tell you it's science. It's something that as a society and as a world we need to discuss. It's worth talking about." Read more here.

Linda Lerner: "I don't think there has to be a conflict. I think creationism is a philosophy. It should be taught in synagogues, in mosques, and in churches." Read more here.

Mary Brown: "I'm not going to jump in the middle of that. Under Florida law . . . what we have been teaching has been called 'changes over time,' which really is the same thing in my mind as evolution. So therefore what has created the controversy is the word 'evolution.'" Read more here.

Peggy O'Shea: "I'd want to look at what's being taught and how it's being taught. What are they saying about evolution? Are they posing it as a theory or as a fact? I'd have to see how it would play out in the classroom." Read more here.

Nancy Bostock: "I would agree with the folks that would say we need to teach the theory of evolution, that it's a big idea and that it has greatly shaped our world. Whether that's a good thing or not is a whole other subject." Read more here.

Janet Clark: "I stand on evolution. I'm glad it's in the standards." Read more here.

The above links are Word document downloads. Sorry. For those who prefer to just click once, read on for the entirety of each board members' remarks.


Do we need to include creationism or intelligent design in the new science standards?

I would agree with the folks that would say we need to teach the theory of evolution, that it's a big idea and that it has greatly shaped our world. Whether that's a good thing or not is a whole other subject. I would very much like to see, probably not at the Sunshine State Standard level, but at some level in our education system, for just the right folks to come together to put together some guidelines for our teachers . . . who are caught up in the culture wars."

So you think teachers should teach intelligent design?

I think there is room there to teach intelligent design. We can call it a different name if that makes a difference to critics. I think the big idea is the clash of these two big ideas. I think it's good to put it in front of our kids.

I don't have a problem with (evolution) being in the Sunshine State Standards . . . I honestly don't know what's going on in the classrooms. I think our teachers could use further guidance, not at the 30,000-foot level. Whichever way the science standards go, I think there's room to go ahead and clarify more for our teachers.

I think the concept of a divine Creator is not a scientific theory. But it does, for some people, explain either an alternate theory for evolution . . . or it can explain some of the gaps or holes in the theory of evolution. There are people who reconcile both believing in a divine creator or all or most of the theory of evolution. I think it's important information to supplement the scientific theory of evolution or just to balance it out . . . the entire theory of evolution is not scientific fact. So intelligent design balances it out. I think there's a lot of room to address both theories of the origin of life without necessarily offending the other camp.


What do you think about the fact that evolution is included in the new science standards?

It's going to raise some concerns and I understand that. Any time something is taught in the classroom that might have a religious connotation, the parents have the ability to opt out of that discussion and the child wouldn't be tested on it.

So you're saying that parents could opt out of their child being taught about evolution?

Perhaps. I'd want to look at what's being taught and how it's being taught. What are they saying about evolution? Are they posing it as a theory or as a fact? I'd have to see how it would play out in the classroom. It's similar to the health curriculum. There are pieces in there that a lot of people don't agree with. Maybe this should be something that can be taught, but it could be an opt out.

But if evolution becomes part of the Sunshine State Standards, students will be tested on it. Won't districts have to teach it?

If the state mandates it, we'll do it, but we want the local community to understand we'll do it within the regulation of the law but with their interests in mind. If the state comes down with the standards, kids are going to be tested on it. Certainly we'll have to teach it, but we'll have to see to what degree and in what capacity we have to teach it.

Just from a personal view, and I'm not saying it's right or wrong, we talked at home about it because I wanted my children to understand both issues. But we can't assume that's what happens in every household. We have to be very sensitive and look at all the ramifications. If it would be taught in the classroom, we would have to look at how it would be taught and what would be said. I would want to know at what grade levels it's being taught. It's one thing to do it in a high school classroom. It would be different in an elementary classroom. In general, I would say we need to be very careful and look into this really carefully. If the state is going to do this, we need to hear what they're going to do and then give them input.

So you're saying that you would want more details on how evolution would be taught?

Yes, it's going to depend on where it's taught and to what age group. It could be confusing to kids who are taught creationism at home. This is a theory that doesn't always fit in with religious beliefs. I would want to know to what age group are we teaching this. I think it would be very confusing to younger children. It needs a lot of thought. Would we be teaching it as a theory or as a fact? I would have a lot of questions about how it's going to be taught before I could make a decision.

It sounds like you're not convinced that evolution is a sound theory.

Evolution is a theory that opposes the different religious theories. How do we teach that without offending the child?

And what about creationism?

How scientific is it? I'm not in a position to judge that. But it does open up an area that public schools try to stay out of. I would want to know, does every religion believe the same thing? I don't mind doing both, but if we're teaching creationism, it has various interpretations. You're getting into some areas that I don't know belong in the curriculum per se. And I'm not so sure the schoolteacher is the one to be presenting religious ideas. My question would be, are we better off not teaching any of it at all? We need to hear from the public on that.

I'm not saying it belongs in the schools. But if we're teaching one thing, don't we have the obligation to teach the other side? What is the obligation we have to the community? I don't think religion per se belongs in the schools, but each of us have beliefs that are part of who we are. You can't totally separate that because it's part of who we are. I'd probably ideally like to keep it ALL out of the classroom. If it's going to create this much controversy, how important is it?


Do you think intelligent design or creationism should be included in the new science standards?

I'm not going to jump in the middle of that. Under Florida law . . . what we have been teaching has been called "changes over time," which really is the same thing in my mind as evolution. So therefore what has created the controversy is the word "evolution." From my standpoint, we have to go with what the state requires. I'm not going to interject my personal opinion as to what we should or what we should not do. Whatever my personal opinion is, it's not one that takes precedence here.

I have not seen the standards. Since I have not seen them, I don't think it would be fair of me (to comment). I'm not going to interject my personal opinion.

I'm sure it will be an issue. There are people who have very strong opinions on the subject.

Has the Pinellas School Board discussed the issue of the new science standards and the inclusion of evolution?

The discussion has not come before the Pinellas County School Board. Usually we do look at (the standards). The standards . . . obviously needed to be changed. I want to see the standards. I want to see why they changed it. I don't know why they changed it. I have to presume that what we were teaching was not good enough. The way our world is going, our children have to be more up-to-date on science and facts and so forth. If we are going to compete . . . they must assume they were not up to par. I have to assume that.

So you can't say whether the change to include evolution in the new standards is good or bad when it excludes intelligent design or creationism?

It's not that I can't, it's that I won't. I want to see the standards.


It looks as if the controversy over evolution being taught in public school classrooms is heating up. I was wondering what you think about the inclusion of evolution in the proposed science standards.

I don't think we need to be afraid of any of it. Evolution is a popular belief out there. Many people will tell you it's science. It's something that as a society and as a world we need to discuss. It's worth talking about.

Let me start by saying a whole lot of where I'm going to go with that has to do with how the curriculum is designed. When people wanted to have prayer or Bible study, as long as we're not trying to convert anyone to a particular religion or a particular belief, I'm willing to have some discussion about it.

I'm not one who would want to protect our students from knowing those thoughts are out there. I think they should also know that creationism is out there. As a Christian, I won't go so far as to say that God didn't create the world through evolution. It's never been such a huge topic for me that it has to be one or the other. I know there are a lot of people who teach the Bible is the only way.

At the same time, as a Christian, I'm not sure I want someone who doesn't believe in creationism being the one to teach my children about it.

What I would be looking for in the curriculum would be a balance between the trains of thought. Here is evolution. What is its impact? And here is another belief. While both are valid, this is something you need to wrestle with in your life.

So you're saying both evolution and creationism should be taught in the public schools?

We should expose them to it. I wouldn't necessarily say teach them. They need to know both things are out there – both trains of thought, both theories. To teach one as if nothing else existed, I think we're doing our students a disservice.

So you wouldn't consider the teaching of creationism as a conflict of church and state?

I see no conflict with the separation of church and state. That rule was designed so the state could not tell you which religion you could teach. My concern is the way these ideas would be taught. I don't want students being forced to believe in creationism any more than I want them to be forced to believe in evolution. I want them to be able to gather the facts and gain the skills to make their own decisions.

To what extent would you consider teaching evolution and intelligent design?

I think our students who are living in this society need to know that both theories, both facts, both trains of thought are out there. They need to know that. We're constantly trying to teach them critical thinking skills. We as educators should be teaching children how to get information and decide what is real and what isn't. They need find out if this is fact or if this is someone's opinion, whether it's evolution or creationism. They need to get the facts and with their critical thinking, determine what their belief will be.

They need to be exposed to both. They need to know both are out there. I don't want to cram one down their throats. I also don't want to get into spending one six weeks on this and one six weeks on that. This is something they're going to be exposed to I'm assuming much of their lives unless someone can prove somewhere along the line that one is definitely right and one is definitely wrong.

I don't think we need to get into this at the kindergarten level.

In my faith, it's not a deal breaker one way or the other. I believe in the Bible. How do I know that's not how God chose to create man? Does it make any difference? That's where I stand back and ask, Why are we wasting so much time discussing something we may never have the answer to?

You should be constantly gathering more and more information to determine where you're going to land with this.


What do you think of the inclusion of evolution in the new science standards?

I think it's a good thing because evolution is about science.

What do you think about the controversy that has arisen recently over evolution and creationism?

I don't think there has to be a conflict. I think creationism is a philosophy. It should be taught in synagogues, in mosques, and in churches. That's where I was taught and that's where my children were taught. Evolution should be taught in science class because it's based on scientific evidence.

Can both evolution and creationism be taught in school?

No, because I believe in the separation of church and state. I belong to a temple and that's where I get my religion. In school, it's science, not theology we should be teaching. I know there are courses in history where you can learn about religion. But creationism is theology and religious doctrine. One (theory) is science and one is theology and both can exist. But not in a public school science class.


What do you think about the controversy that's developing over the inclusion of evolution in the new proposed science standards?

The standards came out a while back. It's been absolutely quiet. Then this last week it just exploded when the board of education person made her comments. Up until then, I hadn't heard a peep out of anybody.

What are your views on the subject?

I stand on evolution. I'm glad it's in the standards. There was a poll sited that said only 42 percent of the population believes in evolution. Part of it is that people don't know what evolution is. There are people who think we evolved from apes. That's absolutely wrong. That's not part of the theory of evolution at all. But that's the idea people have. If we don't teach evolution in schools, where are people going to learn it? It's like sex education. All we teach is abstinence. Meanwhile, pregnancy rates are going up for teenage girls. Where are they going to get their information when we teach them abstinence only?

What would you say to those who think kids should be taught both evolution and creationism both?

The creation story in the Bible is a creation myth. Every race, every culture, has a creation myth. There are different stories of how the world came into being. When you're talking about a classroom with 15 different ethnicities, someone will be offended. I'd be hard pressed to say, "We'll teach this religion's creation story and not that one."

Science is progressing all the time. Evolution is the current thought on how life came into being and how things change. I don't see us going off on another course. They're not going to do any scientific research on creationism. Any progress in science is going to be based on evolution.

You taught middle school science. Did kids ask you about evolution and creationism?

It did come up. I always prefaced my answers by saying, "This is what some people believe," just to let them know there are differences. You don't go into what your personal beliefs are. But not to talk about evolution at all is ridiculous.

I think part of the problem is that people are afraid. kids tune in and out in class. when you're teaching, they may not be listening to one part of what you say but they listen to another part. then they go home and say, "Mr. so-and-so said blah, blah, blah about Christianity. That's when that whole ball of wax starts with parents getting upset and teachers getting investigated.

Do you think the new standards will be helpful to teachers when it comes to this subject?

I definitely think it will be helpful. The standards give them guidelines on what they are to teach.

So you're pleased that evolution is included in the standards?

I think it's a step forward. It's a step into the 21st century. A study that came out just last week showed that American children lag behind children in so many other countries when it comes to science. Let's start teaching the Bible as science and then see how our students compete against the rest of the world.

December 18, 2007 in Pinellas County, Science standards | Permalink

Creationist school offers a degree of controversy

Dec. 19, 2007, 1:25PM
Science backer says effort is trick to insert religion

San Antonio Express-News

Science teachers are not allowed to teach creationism alongside evolution in Texas public schools, the courts have ruled. But that's exactly what the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research wants them to do.

The institute is seeking state approval to grant an online master's degree in science education to prepare teachers to "understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism," according to the school's mission statement.

Last week, an advisory council made up of university educators voted to recommend the program for approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, sparking an outcry among science advocates who have fended off attempts by religious groups to insert creationism into Texas classrooms.

"It's just the latest trick," said James Bower, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has publicly debated creationists. "They have no interest in teaching science. They are hostile to science and fundamentally have a religious objective."

Critics of evolution — the theory that life forms morphed slowly over time into their present forms — have ignited heated debates over the teaching of science in K-12 public schools.

The Institute for Creation Research, which recently moved to Dallas from Santee, Calif., says it teaches its graduate students "more typical secular perspectives" alongside creationism.

But students and faculty must profess faith in a literal translation of Biblical creation — that God created the world in six days and made humans and animals in their current life forms; that the Earth is only thousands of years old; and the fossil record is the result of a global flood described in the Bible, according to the Web site.

Careful consideration

The majority of the school's 54 students are teachers at private Christian schools or homeschoolers, but some are public school teachers looking to advance their careers or pass the Texas teacher licensing examination in science.

In a statement released Tuesday, institute officials said their goal is to turn out "scientifically literate graduates." They use current scientific literature, and professors have doctoral degrees from well-regarded universities, as noted by a team of experts who conducted a site visit in November.

Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, who must study the degree application and give his opinion to the board next month, said he plans to treat the issue with care.

"Because this controversy is so potentially hot, we owe it to both sides to be absolutely fair in evaluating it," Paredes said. "Maybe the real issue here is to put this proposal in the right category. Maybe it's not a program in science education. Maybe it's a program in creation studies. Then we have to decide whether that is a legitimate field or not," Paredes said.

Seeking accreditation

Henry M. Morris, a Dallas native who taught hydraulic engineering at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, founded the Institute for Creation Research in 1970. He died last year. His son, John D. Morris, holds a doctorate in geological engineering and is president of the institute. Another son, Henry Morris III, sits on the board of trustees.

The institute has been offering master's degrees in California since 1981 and was accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, an agency co-founded by the senior Morris.

In 1988, California's education department tried to revoke the school's ability to grant degrees. The institute sued and won.

In Texas, ICR plans to seek accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional agency that accredits the University of Houston and all of the University of Texas campuses.

In November, a team of three independent experts visited the Dallas campus and issued a report calling the degree program "generally comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state."

The trio consisted of two scholars at Texas A&M University-Commerce, reference librarian David Rankin and educational leadership professor Lee "Rusty" Waller; and Gloria White, managing director of the Dana Research Center for Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Waller declined to comment, and Rankin and White did not return calls for comment. The trio forwarded their report to the larger Certification Advisory Council, which approved the report Friday and sent it to Paredes.

According to the institute's Web site, the degree requires some standard classes such as educational psychology and instructional design. But course descriptions are peppered with references to Biblical creation. Bower, the UTSA scientist, balked at the mix of science and religion.

'A plausible program'

"The difference between science and religion is that in religion you already know the truth, and in science you are trying to discover the truth. If you believe you already know the truth, there is no role for science," Bower said.

The advisory team seemed comfortable with the combination.

"It is fair to say that the proposed master's degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program," they wrote in a report.

Darwin's Lapdog Thinks You're an ID-iot!

December 19, 2007
By Jeff Osonitsch

If you believe God had anything to do with man's origins.

In his column last month on, Mac Johnson, a man whose writing I've always admired, claimed that the concept of Intelligent Design is a "really, really bad idea — scientifically, politically, and theologically." He attacked ID using the usual list of specious arguments, distortions, and straw-man fallacies commonly used by the minions of scientism. Since I wrote rather extensively on the subject in a previous article, I won't rehash it all here in detail. However, I felt the need to respond to at least some of the theological garbage spewed by Johnson in this piece.

The appellation 'Darwin's Lapdog' is a tribute to Johnson's predecessor (as a Darwin apologist) Thomas Huxley. Popularly known as 'Darwin's Bulldog,' Huxley, a contemporary of the British naturalist, had two mitigating factors in his favor which Johnson cannot claim: First, he was an avowed agnostic (in fact he coined the term), while Johnson claims to believe in God; and second, Huxley, unlike Mac Johnson and his modern-Darwinist cohorts, didn't have the advantage of 150 years of scientific research which utterly failed to prove Darwin's theory.

Johnson claims that "ten years ago, ID had enough confidence and honesty to go by its birth name, creationism. Whereas today, it has been dressed up in a lab coat and a mail-order PhD . . ." This petty attack on the credentials of the scientists studying ID and the thousands of doctors and scientists who are on public record doubting Darwinism (in spite of the risk of just this sort of ungracious public ridicule) is another favored tactic of the Left. This over-simplified and inaccurate description of ID has already been addressed by the Discovery Institute, the world's preeminent ID think-tank: "the charge that ID is 'creationism' is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize ID without actually addressing the merits of its case." They continue, "Creationism typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. ID starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what scientific inferences can be drawn from that evidence." This is the first of many straw-man logical fallacies with which Johnson clumsily tries to prove his point.

Johnson claims that ID is not scientific because "it predicts nothing, since it essentially states that everything is the way it is because God wanted it that way." In fact, ID begins, according to the Discovery Institute, with the hypothesis that "if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of complex and specified information. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information." They cite the concept of irreducible complexity as one example. This conforms to the scientific method of hypothesis, experimentation, and observation, leading to a conclusion. Darwinists, on the other hand, quite unreasonably blanch at the prospect that there may have been a Guiding Hand behind man's origin.

Johnson, who claims to believe in God and may or may not be Catholic, mocks the idea of a Creator – the most fundamental of the underlying pillars of Judeo-Christian doctrine; one simply cannot be a Christian if he rejects the concept of a Creator. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity, and order." It further states, "The world began when God's word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all of human history are rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time began."

The only scriptural reference he uses in defense of Darwin is a rather opaque quote attributed to Jesus from the extra-Biblical apocryphal Gospel of Thomas: "If the flesh came into being because of the spirit, that is a marvel; but if the spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty." While it is more likely this quote refers to the mystery of the Incarnation of God as man in the Person of Christ Jesus than an endorsement of Darwinian evolutionary theory, its very use proves Johnson found little validation for Darwinism in the actual Bible.

Bizarrely, he also uses an out of context quote from St. Thomas Aquinas ("In the end, we know God as unknown") to bolster his claims. I wonder why he didn't pick the following quote from Aquinas' Shorter Summa: "multiplicity and distinction occur in things not by chance or fortune but for an end . . . multiplicity in things is not explained by the order obtaining from intermediate agents, as though from one simple first being there could proceed directly only one thing that would be far removed from the first being in simplicity, so that multitude could issue from it, and thus, as the distance from the first simple being increased, the more numerous a multitude would be discerned. Some have suggested this explanation. But we have shown that there are many things that could not have come into being except by creation, which is exclusively the work of God, as has been proved." He goes on to write, "the multiplicity and distinction existing among things were devised by the divine intellect." Sounds a bit like intelligent design, huh Mac?

In lieu of any actual argument, Johnson, like all Darwin sycophants, continually uses the straw-man tactic of culling the evolutionary examples he cites from the domain of micro-evolution – the universally accepted (and scientifically observable) concept that small changes occur within a given species such as when a bacterium develops a resistance to antibiotics – rather than citing an example of macro-evolution, or how one species transmogrifies over time into an entirely new species. There is a very simple reason for this sleight-of-hand: there is virtually no compelling evidence to support this, the cornerstone of Darwin's theory – even after 150 years of looking.

In the 17th century, scientist/philosopher Pascal posited his famous wager: It is better to wager that God is because if you win, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. If you wager God is not, you gain nothing if you win; if you lose, you lose all. An obvious concomitant to this would be the following: If He is, then we should honor Him and His works, not mock them. Otherwise the wager is a mere intellectual exercise and really quite useless. For his part, Johnson, with customary humility, and heedless of the implications of Pascal's famous wager, repeatedly mocks the God of creation: "I spend most of my time as a pharmaceutical researcher thinking about how to correct the commonly occurring mistakes of our allegedly intelligent body design." And this: "wouldn't an omniscient designer have come up with a countermeasure to malaria that, say, wouldn't kill so many innocent children." And how about this for a stunning example of theological ignorance: ". . . have you ever thought about what sort of God it implies we have?" (It being the idea that God made the AIDS virus, smallpox, and polio.)

Disease and death, in Christian belief, are the wages of original sin – man's fall from grace through Adam's transgression – and are the very reason God sent a Redeemer through Whom death may be defeated and eternal life obtained. Maybe a little less time in the laboratory and a bit more in Sunday school might have paid dividends.

Since he mocks and ridicules the concept of a Just God Who created man in His image, and asserts God had nothing to do with the diversity of life we see all around us, it begs a simple question: just what kind of God does he believe in? What role does he assign God in this new religion he has created outside of scripture and revelation?

If Mac Johnson feels he must defend Darwinism (and he is certainly more qualified than I am in this area), that is his right; but his argument would be more effective if he refrained from the usual straw-man tactic of pretending the ID community rejects micro-evolution and instead produce some evidence to support his position on the real point of contention in this debate: that man was not created by a loving God in His image, but rather developed by mere happenstance along with every other form of life on the planet, over millions of years from a single common ancestor. And since he clearly has no idea what Intelligent Design theory really is, and is even more ignorant of basic theological concepts, perhaps Mac Johnson (and his readers) would have been well-served by listening to the advice of one of his apparent ancestors, the Geico caveman, before writing this article: "How about a little research first?"

Jeff Osonitsch has a law enforcement background and writes from his home in New York.

Advisory council recommends approval for creationism master's degree

Dec. 19, 2007, 3:00PM

© 2007 The Associated Press

DALLAS — An advisory council of university educators has recommended that Texas approve a master's degree program for science education offered by the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research.

The council last week endorsed the proposal and submitted it for approval to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which is expected to consider the proposal in January. Approval from the coordinating board would allow the program to operate while the institute seeks full accreditation.

The Dallas-based institute has asked for state approval to offer the online master's program to prepare teachers to "understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism," according to the school's mission statement.

Science advocates who have fended off repeated attempts by religious groups to insert creationism in Texas science classrooms are outraged.

"It's just the latest trick," said James Bower, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. "They have no interest in teaching science. They are hostile to science and fundamentally have a religious objective."

The Institute for Creation Research, which recently moved to Dallas from Santee, Calif., says it teaches graduate students "more typical secular perspectives" alongside creationism.

But students and faculty must profess faith in a literal translation of Biblical creation, that God created the world in six days and that the Earth is much newer than evolutionary science suggests.

"They teach distorted science," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education. "Any student coming out from the ICR with a degree in science would not be competent to teach in Texas public schools."

The majority of the institute's 54 students are teachers at Christian schools or home-school parents, but some are public school teachers looking to advance their careers or pass the state licensing examine.

In a statement, institute officials said their goal is to turn out "scientifically literate graduates." They use current scientific literature and professors have doctoral degrees from well-regarded universities — something noted by experts who conducted a site visit in November.

Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes must study the application and give his opinion to the board. He said he plans to consider it carefully.

"Because this controversy is so potentially hot, we owe it to both sides to be absolutely fair in evaluating it," Paredes said. "Obviously, we are going to take into account the view of scientists. But we are also going to listen to people from the (institute)."

The institute — founded by the late Henry M. Morris, who is hailed by some as the father of creation science — has offered master's degrees in California since 1981.

In 1988, California's education department tried to revoke the school's ability to grant degrees, but the institute sued and won.

The ICR plans to seek full accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional agency that accredits Trinity University and all the University of Texas campuses. The coordinating board's certificate would allow ICR to operate until it gets accreditation.

Information from: The Dallas Morning News,

Information from: San Antonio Express-News:

Texas-Based Creationism Institute Seeks to Offer Science Education Degree,2933,317533,00.html

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Texas-based institute that advocates creationism as part of science curriculums is seeking state approval to grant an online master's degree in science education, sparking renewed controversy over the place of religion in science classrooms, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

The Institute for Creation Research, which is based out of Dallas, says it teaches its graduate students "more typical secular perspectives" alongside creationism.

According to the school's mission statement, the proposed program would prepare teachers to "understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism," the Chronicle reports.

"It's just the latest trick," said James Bower, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a critic of creationism in the Chronicle report. "They have no interest in teaching science. They are hostile to science and fundamentally have a religious objective."

According to the Institute's Web site, students and faculty must profess faith in a literal translation of the Bible, including the belief that God created the world in six days and made life in their current forms, that the Earth is only a couple thousand years old and the fossil record is the result of the great flood as described in the Bible.

Most of the Institute's 54 students are teachers at private Christian schools or homeschoolers, according to the Chronicle report, but a few of the students are public school teachers looking to advance their careers or pass the Texas science teacher licensing exam.

Click here for more from the Houston Chronicle

Help Support Academic Freedom by Supporting Discovery Institute

Two years ago this month, defenders of Darwinian evolution gleefully pronounced the death of the scientific theory of intelligent design because of a court ruling by an activist federal judge in Pennsylvania. But if Darwinists truly think intelligent design is dead, why are they continuing to spend so much time trying to kill it?

As a regular Evolution News & Views visitor, you have been continually informed of the ways in which leading Darwinists have unleashed an unprecedented wave of persecution, propaganda, and paranoia in an effort to strangle an idea that they insist is already dead.

Fortunately, America still thrives on the free exchange of ideas—despite Darwinists' best efforts to stifle open discussion. That's why the Center for Science and Culture exists at Discovery Institute—to support the hard work of scientists and scholars who are bringing the Darwin vs. design debate out into the open in science, in academia, in the media, and in the public arena. Recognized by the science journal Nature as "the nation's leading intelligent design think tank," we have been credited by The New York Times for having "transformed the debate [over evolution] into an issue of academic freedom."

One of the myths promoted by the our critics is that we are somehow lavishly funded. Unlike Darwinists, however, we receive no tax dollars to support our research and education efforts on intelligent design. As a result, our budget is dwarfed many times over by our opponents. Just one small biology department at a mid-size college has an annual budget several times larger than the CSC's. Think about how many such departments there are, not to mention the huge biological science establishment at major research universities – most of which are dominated by very dogmatic, intolerant Darwinists.

That's why we need your help. It is only through the generous support of private donors that we can continue to provide:

We'll be honest: It can be wearying standing for truth on this issue. Your help right now would show the scientists and educators that we support that they are not alone in this battle, and would be gratefully appreciated. Please take a moment right now to donate online and help support our work on academic freedom.

Posted by Robert Crowther on December 19, 2007 10:03 AM | Permalink

More studies back alternative medicine

Last week we began a discussion on whether or not alternative medicine really works. This week we are going to talk about some of the scientific studies that show that it really does seem to work. Up until only very recently, while millions and millions of people over the eons have trusted that alternative healing methods worked for them, there wasn't any real concrete scientific proof of that. In reality, the most we could say about the "proof" of the value of alternative or complementary medicine was that there was empirical evidence to support it.

But, in fairly recent times there has begun to be a plethora of scientific research being done to show whether alternative (also known as complimentary) methods of medicine and healing are really as efficacious as we, the people using those methods, know deep down in our hearts (based on how we feel). Much of this research has resulted in positive outcomes with regard to the natural or alternative therapies, and has shown that there really is a basis for the claims that have been made for literally thousands of years. But, naturally, not all of the research has such great results, but enough of it does to be able to say that, without a doubt, many of the alternative medical choices out there in the world really do work, and particularly so when used in conjunction with other methods.

In one recent study it has been found that people suffering from cancer accompanied by severe pain, could get relief through certain methods, including hypnosis, acupuncture, imagery, support groups, and "healing". In another study it was found that people with chronic pain could get relief through the use of methods like chiropractic, herbal medicine, nutritional methods, hypnosis, biofeedback, homeopathy, energy healing methods, and various types of massage therapies. Meditation and yoga were also found to be useful in this same study.


Another amazing finding that has been discovered through several different scientific studies, and a finding that I have been witnessing personally throughout my many years as an alternative medical practitioner, is that there are multitude benefits from these alternative methods of healing and treating pain and disease, and that, amazingly, often-times, even when the person is being treated for some complaint or the other, they will get relief in other areas and for other complaints that they weren't specifically being treated for. Thus, there is evidence that alternative (complimentary) healing methods are beneficial both to the main complaint and the unexpected secondary complaints as well.

The fact is that alternative methods of therapy are being used all over the world these days and are being offered more and more as a complement to allopathic medicine with "conventional" doctors. The reason for this is that people are finding that they actually benefit from these therapies. Treatments such as relaxation and other "mind" therapies are gaining repute with conventional practitioners, particularly for dealing with depression and other psychological/physical ailments. While there are many recent studies out there that verify the efficacy of many, if not most, of the alternative methods of healing available in the world today, there are still difficulties in verifying many others. One of the problems is that, while we can see that using various methods works, we can't always figure out how or why they work. Another of the important difficulties in such research is that most alternative medical practitioners don't use only one method of treatment, but use many different methods together at the same time. Methods like acupressure, reflexology, nutritional therapy, energy healing, etc might all be used at the same time.


All of those methods complement each other, and increase the benefit of the individual therapy multifold. Therein is the problem. In order to prove things like that we must have clearly seeable evidence, and if it isn't readily available then we aren't able to readily verify anything concretely, which is important to do if we are trying to prove things from a scientific perspective. It simply isn't enough to say "we saw and felt how it worked". So, that is where modern technology is helping out. It is the modern methods and sophisticated technological advances that are helping alternative medicine show its true colors. This can only be a good thing. I, for one, am looking forward to the many miraculous discoveries that are certain to come forth in the future, with all the research that is going on these days.

While there are still many naysayers out there in the world who absolutely negate the benefit of any sort of complementary medicine, that group of people is becoming smaller and smaller as the proof piles up. I know and have personally seen the amazing benefits of alternative (complementary) medicine first hand, and I am certain that you will also be able to see the same results through your own experimentation. Just be careful that you make sure that the methods you are using are known, and preferably being practiced with the supervision of a qualified alternative medical professional to make sure that you are doing everything correctly and safely. Remember that every human being is different and every human body reacts differently to treatment. Be aware of your body and its reactions so that you are able to get the most benefit out of the therapy you have chosen for yourself. Now get out there and help yourself!

Email me:

By Mia Ponzo
Special to the Arab Times

Whales may have evolved from deers,25197,22953682-30417,00.html

Leigh Dayton, Science Writer | December 20, 2007

OVERSEAS researchers claim whales evolved from a little deer-like animal that lived nearly 50 million-years-ago in the Kashmir region of India.

If this surprising pedigree is right, scientific noses will be out of joint worldwide, claims Australian paleobiologist Erich Fitzgerald.

"It goes against the grain of what the geneticists are telling us about the evolution of whales and also what most paleontologists are finding," said Mr Fitzgerald, a specialist in whale evolution at Monash University in Melbourne and Museum Victoria.

Until now, molecular and fossil evidence suggested that modern whales descended from an extinct group of early hippopotomus.

The contentious new claim was made overnight in the journal Nature by a team of US and Indian scientists led by anatomist Hans Thewissen of the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy in Rootstown, Ohio.

Charles Darwin was the first to suggest that whales are mammals whose ancestors walked on land. Unravelling the evolutionary path from land to sea has been a long-running scientific mystery.

Previously, Professor Thewissen's group had discovered fossils from the two earliest known stages of whale evolution. Their new work reveals the whales' likely land-based ancestor.

They claimed there are key similarities between whales _ which emerged about 50 million-years ago _ and fossil of a racoon-sized, hoofed animal known as a raoellid.

They claimed the most important similarlity was a thickening of part of the raoellid's ear bone, found only in whales.

"This is what is great (about the research) and quite significant," said Mr Fitzgerald.

Professor Thewissen and his colleagues based their claim on their study of hundreds of bones of a plant-eating species of raoellid called Indohyus.

Along with the skeletal clues, they also discovered evidence of the creature's lifestyle. Specifically, they found that Indohyus's bones had a thick outside layer, much thicker than in other mammals of its size.

The trait is often seen in mammals that are slow aquatic waders, such as today's hippotamus.

The chemical composition of the animal's teeth also supported the notion that Indohyus was a water wader.

If so, that means ancestral whales adapted to living in water before they became meat-eaters. Some researchers had speculated that ancestral whales went back to the sea to exploit plentiful ocean-dwelling fish.

While Mr Fitzgerald has some quibbles about the research, he said it was very significant: "This is a great study. It's going to stimulate a lot of new research".

Whales' Strange Evolution

By Alexander Toldt
09:43, December 20th 2007

Would you be able to compare a huge whale to a raccoon-sized land creature? Would there be any similarity between these two living creatures, excepting the fact that they are both mammals?

Well, it seems that there was a much closer connection between today's whales and this raccoon-sized strange land creature that lived in India about 50 million years ago and is now known as Indohyus. According to a new study, it seems that this Indohyus tiny deer-like mammal represents the missing evolutionary link to modern whales.

Although scientist have known for a long time that whales had ancestors that walked on land, they previously proposed the hippo as the closest land relative of today's huge water mammals. But a team of researchers led by Hans Thewissen of Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy did not agreed with this old theory and started to piece together a series of intermediate fossils that trace the whales' evolutionary journey from land to sea. Surprisingly or not, after they had studied the structure and composition of hundreds of fossils of the Indian four-footed deer-like creature known as Indohyus, the scientists agreed that this tiny animal was today's whales' land ancestor. Indohyus was part of a larger group of mammals know as raoellids, which lived about the same time as the earliest whales, that is about 50 million years ago.

Scientists discovered a range of similarities between Indohyus and cetaceans' skulls, ears and teeth. It seems that the tiny deer-like animal spent a lot of time in the water, until it became an aquatic creature, or the modern day whales' ancestor.

"Cetaceans originated from an Indohyus-like ancestor and switched to a diet of aquatic prey," researchers wrote.

So, as strange is this may sound, today's huge water mammals might have evolved from a tiny deer-like land creature. Once again, the laws of evolution prove to be amazing!

© 2007 - eFluxMedia

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Column: Science education takes another hit

Published: December 17, 2007 05:52 pm


LEBANON, Ind. — The Texas Education Board has taken a significant action to protect the American public from the horrors of scientific knowledge.

Christine Comer, who led the TEB for nine years, after a 27-year career as a science teacher, was forced out of her job the week of Nov. 20, according to


Because she forwarded an e-mail debunking intelligent design, thereby supporting the theory of evolution, the board forced its executive director to resign.

Yes, that's right: An agency responsible for the advancement of knowledge fired its executive director because she was advancing knowledge.

Next year, the state of Texas will choose new science textbooks. With California and New York, Texas is the largest single buyer of public school textbooks. Because of their buying clout, those states can influence what is said in those texts.

If Texas tells a publisher it wants creationism in a biology textbook, it will probably get books that espouse creationism as a scientific alternative to the theory of evolution — because publishing is a for-profit business.

Parenthetically, why are some people so determined that theirs is the only version of the truth? Is their faith that fragile?

Persons may chose to believe in creationism; that's their constitutional right — as it is a constitutional right to not believe.

Douglas J. Futuyma, president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, told that, "When it comes to science education, we absolutely cannot remain neutral on evolution."

"Evolution," Futuyma said, "is the unifying principle of modern biology."

Futuyma, also a professor at Stony Brook University, said, " ... Within biological science, the reality of evolution is not controversial."

The issue is not whether a higher power created the universe, nor the methods that higher power employed. Creationism, or intelligent design, is Genesis in a white coat.

Persons who want to teach their children that God — in whatever form — created the universe are free to do so, in their homes. Demanding their religious views be taught in public schools violates the separation of church and state provision.

This is not a difficult issue. It's simple, it's succinct, it's clear: Science classes in public schools are required to teach reality, not faith-based beliefs. Creationism belongs in theology classes, not in science labs.

According to the International Bible Society, the complete Bible had been translated into 392 languages as of December 2002. Adding translated portions of the Bible, and testaments, there were 2,287 versions of God's Word.

For an invaluable comparison of Bibles— and there are at least 66 — visit

Those versions are why some people think the Bible is not God's literal words. Instead, they believe the message is the messenger, and the messenger is the message.

The United States faces critical scientific challenges in the next few years. The solutions to those challenges cannot be based solely on the philosophy that "it's in God's hands."

If any religion ever scientifically proves the existence of God, then science classes should include that proof. Until then, the existence of God is a matter of faith.

Faith may move mountains, but it can't be grown in a petri dish.

Unless, of course, it's a strain of bacteria named faithus ...

— Rod Rose writes for The Lebanon (Ind.) Reporter. He may be reached at

Green Light for Institute on Creation in Texas

By RALPH BLUMENTHAL Published: December 19, 2007

HOUSTON — A Texas higher education panel has recommended allowing a Bible-based group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master's degrees in science education.

The action comes weeks after the Texas Education Agency's director of science, Christine Castillo Comer, lost her job after superiors accused her of displaying bias against creationism and failing to be "neutral" over the teaching of evolution.

The state's commissioner of higher education, Raymund A. Paredes, said late Monday that he was aware of the institute's opposition to evolution but was withholding judgment until the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board meets Jan. 24 to rule on the recommendation, made last Friday, by the board's certification advisory council.

Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, said Tuesday that the proposed curriculum, taught in California, used faculty and textbooks "from all the top schools" along with, he said, the "value added" of challenges to standard teachings of evolution.

"Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story," Mr. Morris said. On its Web site, the institute declares, "All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week" and says it "equips believers with evidences of the Bible's accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework."

It also says "the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us."

Asked how the institute could educate students to teach science, Dr. Paredes, who holds a doctorate in American civilization from the University of Texas and served 10 years as vice chancellor for academic development at the University of California, said, "I don't know. I'm not a scientist."

He said he had no ready explanation for the panel's recommendation. "I asked about the decision," Dr. Paredes said Monday in a phone interview from Austin. "I got a three-inch-thick folder an hour ago. We're going to give it a full review." But, he said, "If it's approved, we'll make sure it's of high quality."

Approval would allow the institute, which moved to Dallas this year from near San Diego, to offer the online graduate program almost immediately while seeking accreditation from national academic authorities like the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges within two years.

In California, the only other state where Mr. Morris said the institute was offering degrees, it won recognition from the state superintendent of public instruction in 1981 but was denied license renewal in 1988. The institute sued and in 1992 won a $225,000 settlement that allowed it to continue offering degrees; it now operates under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Dr. Morris said his program was accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which is not recognized by Texas.

Last month, in a sign that Texas was being drawn deeper into creationism controversy, Ms. Comer, 57, was put under pressure to resign as science director after forwarding an e-mail message about a talk by a creationism critic, Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana State University.

Lizzette Reynolds, a deputy commissioner who called for Ms. Comer's dismissal, later told The Austin American-Statesman she was surprised she resigned. Ms. Reynolds did not respond to a message left at her office.

The Texas Education commissioner, Robert Scott, told The Dallas Morning News that Ms. Comer was not forced out over the message, adding, "You can be in favor of science without bashing people's faith." He did not return phone calls to his office.

Ms. Comer said the commissioner should show her where she was bashing anyone's faith. "He just doesn't get it," she said.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 17, 2007; Page A01

It has been 50 years since scientists first created DNA in a test tube, stitching ordinary chemical ingredients together to make life's most extraordinary molecule. Until recently, however, even the most sophisticated laboratories could make only small snippets of DNA -- an extra gene or two to be inserted into corn plants, for example, to help the plants ward off insects or tolerate drought.

Now researchers are poised to cross a dramatic barrier: the creation of life forms driven by completely artificial DNA.

Scientists at LS9 Inc. in San Carlos, Calif., are using artificial DNA to reprogram E. coli bacteria to produce a cheap alternative fuel. (Photos Courtesy Ls9)

Scientists in Maryland have already built the world's first entirely handcrafted chromosome -- a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in a laboratory, containing all the instructions a microbe needs to live and reproduce.

In the coming year, they hope to transplant it into a cell, where it is expected to "boot itself up," like software downloaded from the Internet, and cajole the waiting cell to do its bidding. And while the first synthetic chromosome is a plagiarized version of a natural one, others that code for life forms that have never existed before are already under construction.

The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial -- and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive.

"This raises a range of big questions about what nature is and what it could be," said Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley who studies science's effects on society. "Evolutionary processes are no longer seen as sacred or inviolable. People in labs are figuring them out so they can improve upon them for different purposes."

That unprecedented degree of control over creation raises more than philosophical questions, however. What kinds of organisms will scientists, terrorists and other creative individuals make? How will these self-replicating entities be contained? And who might end up owning the patent rights to the basic tools for synthesizing life?

Some experts are worried that a few maverick companies are already gaining monopoly control over the core "operating system" for artificial life and are poised to become the Microsofts of synthetic biology. That could stifle competition, they say, and place enormous power in a few people's hands.

"We're heading into an era where people will be writing DNA programs like the early days of computer programming, but who will own these programs?" asked Drew Endy, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the core of synthetic biology's new ascendance are high-speed DNA synthesizers that can produce very long strands of genetic material from basic chemical building blocks: sugars, nitrogen-based compounds and phosphates.

Today a scientist can write a long genetic program on a computer just as a maestro might compose a musical score, then use a synthesizer to convert that digital code into actual DNA. Experiments with "natural" DNA indicate that when a faux chromosome gets plopped into a cell, it will be able to direct the destruction of the cell's old DNA and become its new "brain" -- telling the cell to start making a valuable chemical, for example, or a medicine or a toxin, or a bio-based gasoline substitute.

Unlike conventional biotechnology, in which scientists induce modest genetic changes in cells to make them serve industrial purposes, synthetic biology involves the large-scale rewriting of genetic codes to create metabolic machines with singular purposes.

"I see a cell as a chassis and power supply for the artificial systems we are putting together," said Tom Knight of MIT, who likes to compare the state of cell biology today to that of mechanical engineering in 1864. That is when the United States began to adopt standardized thread sizes for nuts and bolts, an advance that allowed the construction of complex devices from simple, interchangeable parts.

If biology is to morph into an engineering discipline, it is going to need similarly standardized parts, Knight said. So he and colleagues have started a collection of hundreds of interchangeable genetic components they call BioBricks, which students and others are already popping into cells like Lego pieces.

Scientists at LS9 Inc. in San Carlos, Calif., are using artificial DNA to reprogram E. coli bacteria to produce a cheap alternative fuel. (Photos Courtesy Ls9)

So far, synthetic biology is still semi-synthetic, involving single-cell organisms such as bacteria and yeast that have a blend of natural and synthetic DNA. The cells can reproduce, a defining trait of life. But in many cases that urge has been genetically suppressed, along with other "distracting" biological functions, to maximize productivity.

"Most cells go about life like we do, with the intention to make more of themselves after eating," said John Pierce, a vice president at DuPont in Wilmington, Del., a leader in the field. "But what we want them to do is make stuff we want."

J. Craig Venter, chief executive of Synthetic Genomics in Rockville, knows what he wants his cells to make: ethanol, hydrogen and other exotic fuels for vehicles, to fill a market that has been estimated to be worth $1 trillion.

In a big step toward that goal, Venter has now built the first fully artificial chromosome, a strand of DNA many times longer than anything made by others and laden with all the genetic components a microbe needs to get by.

Details of the process are under wraps until the work is published, probably early next year. But Venter has already shown that he can insert a "natural" chromosome into a cell and bring it to life. If a synthetic chromosome works the same way, as expected, the first living cells with fully artificial genomes could be growing in dishes by the end of 2008.

The plan is to mass-produce a plain genetic platform able to direct the basic functions of life, then attach custom-designed DNA modules that can compel cells to make synthetic fuels or other products.

It will be a challenge to cultivate fuel-spewing microbes, Venter acknowledged. Among other problems, he said, is that unless the fuel is constantly removed, "the bugs will basically pickle themselves."

But the hurdles are not insurmountable. LS9 Inc., a company in San Carlos, Calif., is already using E. coli bacteria that have been reprogrammed with synthetic DNA to produce a fuel alternative from a diet of corn syrup and sugar cane. So efficient are the bugs' synthetic metabolisms that LS9 predicts it will be able to sell the fuel for just $1.25 a gallon.

At a DuPont plant in Tennessee, other semi-synthetic bacteria are living on cornstarch and making the chemical 1,3 propanediol, or PDO. Millions of pounds of the stuff are being spun and woven into high-tech fabrics (DuPont's chief executive wears a pinstripe suit made of it), putting the bug-begotten chemical on track to become the first $1 billion biotech product that is not a pharmaceutical.

Engineers at DuPont studied blueprints of E. coli's metabolism and used synthetic DNA to help the bacteria make PDO far more efficiently than could have been done with ordinary genetic engineering.

"If you want to sell it at a dollar a gallon . . . you need every bit of efficiency you can muster," said DuPont's Pierce. "So we're running these bugs to their limits."

Yet another application is in medicine, where synthetic DNA is allowing bacteria and yeast to produce the malaria drug artemisinin far more efficiently than it is made in plants, its natural source.

Scientists at LS9 Inc. in San Carlos, Calif., are using artificial DNA to reprogram E. coli bacteria to produce a cheap alternative fuel. (Photos Courtesy Ls9)

Bugs such as these will seem quaint, scientists say, once fully synthetic organisms are brought on line to work 24/7 on a range of tasks, from industrial production to chemical cleanups. But the prospect of a flourishing synbio economy has many wondering who will own the valuable rights to that life.

In the past year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been flooded with aggressive synthetic-biology claims. Some of Venter's applications, in particular, "are breathtaking in their scope," said Knight. And with Venter's company openly hoping to develop "an operating system for biologically-based software," some fear it is seeking synthetic hegemony.

"We've asked our patent lawyers to be reasonable and not to be overreaching," Venter said. But competitors such as DuPont, he said, "have just blanketed the field with patent applications."

Safety concerns also loom large. Already a few scientists have made viruses from scratch. The pending ability to make bacteria -- which, unlike viruses, can live and reproduce in the environment outside of a living body -- raises new concerns about contamination, contagion and the potential for mischief.

"Ultimately synthetic biology means cheaper and widely accessible tools to build bioweapons, virulent pathogens and artificial organisms that could pose grave threats to people and the planet," concluded a recent report by the Ottawa-based ETC Group, one of dozens of advocacy groups that want a ban on releasing synthetic organisms pending wider societal debate and regulation.

"The danger is not just bio-terror but bio-error," the report says.

Many scientists say the threat has been overblown. Venter notes that his synthetic genomes are spiked with special genes that make the microbes dependent on a rare nutrient not available in nature. And Pierce, of DuPont, says the company's bugs are too spoiled to survive outdoors.

"They are designed to grow in a cosseted environment with very high food levels," Pierce said. "You throw this guy out on the ground, he just can't compete. He's toast."

"We've heard that before," said Jim Thomas, ETC Group's program manager, noting that genes engineered into crops have often found their way into other plants despite assurances to the contrary. "The fact is, you can build viruses, and soon bacteria, from downloaded instructions on the Internet," Thomas said. "Where's the governance and oversight?"

In fact, government controls on trade in dangerous microbes do not apply to the bits of DNA that can be used to create them. And while some industry groups have talked about policing the field themselves, the technology is quickly becoming so simple, experts say, that it will not be long before "bio hackers" working in garages will be downloading genetic programs and making them into novel life forms.

"The cat is out of the bag," said Jay Keasling, chief of synthetic biology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Andrew Light, an environmental ethicist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said synthetic biology poses a conundrum because of its double-edged ability to both wreak biological havoc and perhaps wean civilization from dirty 20th-century technologies and petroleum-based fuels.

"For the environmental community, I think this is going to be a really hard choice," Light said.

Depending on how people adjust to the idea of man-made life -- and on how useful the first products prove to be -- the field could go either way, Light said.

"It could be that synthetic biology is going to be like cellphones: so overwhelming and ubiquitous that no one notices it anymore. Or it could be like abortion -- the kind of deep disagreement that will not go away."

The question, if the abortion model holds, is which side of the synthetic biology debate will get to call itself "pro-life."

Creationist College Advances in Texas

Texas is fast becoming a key state not only in debates over evolution but over what kind of government scrutiny is important and legitimate when reviewing colleges with particular ideologies.

On Friday, an advisory committee to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommended that the state allow the Institute for Creation Research to start offering online master's degrees in science education. The institute, which has been based in California, where it operates a museum and many programs for people who don't believe in evolution, is relocating to Dallas, where it hopes to expand its online education offerings.

In Texas, the institute needs either regional accreditation (for which is applying, but which will take some time) or state approval to offer degrees. Some science groups are aghast by the idea that Texas would authorize master's degrees in science education that are based on complete opposition to evolution and literal acceptance of the Bible. And these groups are particularly concerned because the students in these programs would be people who are or want to be school teachers.

Complicating matters, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will be taking up the issue in the wake of an August ruling by the Texas Supreme Court questioning the grounds on which the board had evaluated seminaries and warning the board not to impose secular values on seminaries. The ruling was seen at the time as making it harder for the state to deny licenses to religious institutions.

Raymund A. Paredes, commissioner of higher education for Texas, stressed in an interview Sunday that the advisory panel's vote was just that: advisory. But he noted that the board's decision next month would be "sensitive" and said he would be asking the board's general counsel to study the impact of the August Supreme Court decision on the issue.

Officials of the Institute for Creation Research could not be reached for comment, but there is extensive information about the institute's programs on its Web site. The list of courses required for the master of science education includes a number that are fairly standard ("Advanced Educational Psychology" and "Instructional Design," for example), but also some that are not.

"Advanced Studies in Creationism" features this description: "Scientific study of the creationist and evolutionist cosmologies; origin and history of the universe, of the solar systems, of life, of the various forms of life, and of man and his cultures. Critical analysis of both creation and evolutionary theory using data from paleontology, astronomy, biochemistry, genetics, thermodynamics, statistics, and other sciences. Study of geologic principles and earth history in the light of Creation and the Flood; scientific comparative studies of recent creation; application of principles of Biblical creationism in various fields."

That language, and other comments made by institute officials, suggest that students would be exposed to the science of evolution. But other material on the institute's Web site suggests that one could not teach or study at the institute while accepting the overwhelmingly broad scientific consensus about evolution.

The statement of faith for everyone at the institute requires support for both "scientific creationism" and "Biblical creationism." The former includes the belief that humans were created "in fully human form from the start" and that the universe was created "perfect" by the "creator." The latter includes the beliefs that the Bible is literally true and "free from error of any sort, scientific and historical as well as moral and theological." Specifically, the statement requires belief in the literal creation of the earth in six days, that Adam and Eve were the first humans, and in the virgin birth of Jesus.

Paredes, the commissioner of higher education, said it was "way too early to get worked up" about the prospect of creationism degrees being awarded. He said he would be making a recommendation to the coordinating board based ultimately on "what is in the best interests of college students in Texas" and that since this program would train teachers, he would take an even broader perspective of what is best for all students.

Asked for his views on evolution, Paredes said "I accept the conventions of science' and "I believe evolution has a legitimate place in the teaching of science." But he declined to say that evolution should be taught as the science.

"A lot of people believe creationism is a legitimate point of view. I respect them," Paredes said. "I'm an advocate of the principle that when there is a controversy and there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the conflict, my pedagogical principle is 'teach the conflict.' Maybe that's a possibility here."

In taking that view, Paredes is following the lead of many successful Texas politicians, including one in the White House, who have argued that anti-evolution theories that have been discredited should be taught alongside evolution.

Paredes also raised the possibility that the board might approve the program with a name other than "science education." If there isn't "sufficient conventional content," he said, "maybe it's a matter of locating this program in its proper disciplinary realm." For now, Paredes stressed that no final decisions have been made.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, which describes itself as a "mainstream voice to counter the religious right," said he was worried that Texas statutes may not give the coordinating board enough power to block the awarding of creationist science education degrees.

Quinn said that the issue should not be framed around religious freedom, but protecting students and their parents. "The state is going to end up licensing degrees as science that aren't science. What makes it worse is that the degrees are advanced degrees to teach science," he said. "We don't want anybody to be fooled that someone is getting a degree in real science when it's not what would be happening."

— Scott Jaschik

Readin', Writin' 'n Creatin' Science

December 17th, 2007 at 4:53 pm

Sci·ence /noun/ def: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.

We had to go to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary to make sure the definition for science had not changed in the past year, whew!

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) might want to check Webster's too. Last Friday, the Board's Certification Advisory Committee recommended that the Institute for Creation Research be given the power to grant Master's degrees in science education.

Dominic Chavez, director of external relations for the coordinating board, says that the Board- appointed panel would give its positive recommendation to Commissioner Raymund Paredes and the Board for consideration at its next meeting January 24th.

"If it were granted it would be an interim step," says Chavez of the authorization. "It's a two year window where the the school can work in Texas, but they have to meet a number of criteria."

Criteria? That might be tough when the Institute teaches that dinosaurs are only centuries old instead of millennia. Were our great great grandfathers dodging flesh-eating theropods in their Model Ts?

The folks that comprise the committee that made the recommendation include: Dr. Judith G. Loredo of Huston-Tillotson University, Dr. Helen Sullivan of Arlington Baptist College, Dr. Robert C. Cloud of Baylor University, Dr. Johanne Thomas of Texas A&M Prairie View, Dr. James P. Duran of UT Austin and Dr. Theodore J. Wardlow of the Austin Presbyterian Seminary.

They are appointed to two-year terms by the coordinating board to make recommendations on whether private institutions should be authorized to issue degrees in Texas.

The Creation Institute has spun off some interesting offspring, including, Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. At Ham's museum, you can see a naked Adam, his naughty bits covered with a lily pad, reaching out to pet what looks like a mountain lion in the Garden of Eden. Smiling humans are also pictured alongside their dino friends. On the political front, Tim LaHaye, co-author of the apocalyptic "Left Behind" novels and one of the founders of the institute, is stumping for Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign in Iowa.

by Melissa del Bosque

Monday, December 17, 2007

'Eye ancestor' debunks ID nonsense

December 13, 2007 - 11:18AM

An Australian scientist has gone one step further in debunking intelligent design (ID) by discovering evidence of an evolutionary forerunner to the modern eye.

Dr Gavin Young from the Australian National University discovered the evidence while analysing the fossilised remains of 400-million-year-old Devonian Placoderms - jawed ancestors of modern fish that were protected by thick bony armour.

Unlike all modern vertebrates, Dr Young discovered that the placoderms had a different arrangement of muscles and nerves supporting the eyeball, evidence of an intermediate stage in the evolution between jawless and jawed vertebrates.

Proponents of intelligent design claim that something so complex as the modern eye could not have evolved on its own in stages and must have been designed by an intelligent being, but Dr Young believes these fossils show that is not the case.

"The fossil record has something to say about the evolution of the eye as here we have a superb example showing that the complexity of the eye goes back 400 million years and when we look in detail we find an intermediate stage between the jawed and jawless fish," he said.

"The whole argument is, can you evolve something as complex as an eye from a series of small steps, and this fills in a major gap in the evolutionary sequence that has led to the eyes of all living species."

There has been great tension between scientists who label ID "dressed up creationism" and proponents of intelligent design who believe their theory should be taught alongside evolution in schools.

Dr Young said that part of the trouble in tracing the evolution of the eye was that soft tissues don't tend to fossilise, but the eye cavities in these 400 million-year-old fossil fish were lined with a delicate layer of very thin bone that preserved the positions of the nerves and muscles in perfect detail.

Dr Young said that the arrangement of these early placoderms eyes is different from all modern vertebrates in the pattern of nerves and tiny muscles used for rotating each eyeball.

"This is the first definite fossil evidence demonstrating an intermediate stage in the evolution of our most complex sensory organ, these extinct placoderms had the eyeball still connected to the braincase by cartilage, as in modern sharks, and a primitive eye muscle arrangement that is halfway between the living jawed fish and the group with no jaws," Dr Young said.

Dr Young says that the area around Wee Jasper and Lake Burrinjuck in NSW is world famous for the unique preservation of these very primitive early fishes.

"The ancient limestone reefs exposed around Lake Burrinjuck in New South Wales have produced exceptionally well preserved placoderm specimens with braincase intact," Dr Young said.

© 2007 AAP

Casey: TEA flap shows the evolution of a problem


Monday, December 17, 2007

According to my girls, there's no better time to start a science experiment than at the crack of dawn. While I sleepily made coffee in the kitchen, my 3-year old yelled loudly, "Mom! We're evolving a dinosaur!"

"OK," I yawned, bumping into my 5-year-old as she carried a sloshing bowl of water away from the sink.

"Wait, what are you doing with that?" I asked, finally paying attention.

"We told you. Evolving a dinosaur!" she said excitedly. I followed the water trail to the other side of the kitchen, where I investigated the experiment in progress.

A tiny blue foam brontosaurus floated lifelessly in the primordial soup bowl on our cabinet. My girls dipped their fingertips in the water, anxiously watching for minute changes in the dinosaur's size or shape.

"Girls, I don't think that's going to work."

"But Mom," my 5-year-old said with the perfect blend of faith and reason, "it takes time for things to evolve."

I laughed. "That it does," I said. I thought about correcting her understanding of evolution, but I didn't want to dampen her early enthusiasm for science.

Besides, I figured, she's already in public school. By the time the Texas Education Agency gets done cleaning house, both of my girls might be ahead of the curve in their understanding of evolution.

Heck, by the time they get to high school, their brontosaurus-in-the-bowl experiment might be an actual classroom biology project. Students can just throw some little foam people and animals in the bowl with the dinosaur, stir, and poof! An intelligently-designed universe, re-created in a dish. Now that's science.

I'm exaggerating, of course. But as an educator and as a parent who will have two girls in Texas public schools, I am troubled by what the recent events at the Texas Education Agency reveal about the workings of the state education system. When a science curriculum director is asked to resign for forwarding an e-mail about a lecturer critical of intelligent design, something is amiss. When that director is lambasted in a public memo for having a "biased position which would compromise the integrity" of the upcoming statewide curriculum review, something seems suspicious. And when the TEA suddenly turns evolution into an intellectual debate against the theory of intelligent design and insists that the agency "remain neutral," something seems wrong.

What's next on the road to neutrality? Will my girls' science textbooks have an equal number of pages explaining evolution and "intelligent design"? Will their science teachers be required to spend as many hours teaching how the Creator waved the cosmic wand as they do teaching how species evolved over geologic time? Or will my girls be required to take Mythology 101 to neutralize what they learn in Biology 101?

Perhaps I'm overreacting. But as I read more about the TEA's actions, I am beginning to feel as if I, too, am watching something grow. What begins as a forwarded e-mail sprouts a controversial tail and whips up bombast in place of facts. What begins as a tiny memo on TEA's policy of neutrality grows horns and goads members of the education community to take sides. What starts as a discussion about what to teach in science class grows a giant political underbelly and surfaces as a brontosaurus-sized change in our public school curriculum.

As the TEA staff and the elected State Board of Education prepare for the statewide curriculum review, we'd better pay close attention to what they're doing. As any parent knows, a lot can happen when you're not looking. We might just wake up one day to find something very different than science being taught in our classrooms. Something that makes as much sense as a giant blue brontosaurus in the kitchen.

Casey, a regular contributor, writes about life in Central Texas at Contact her at

Let's open minds, textbooks to intelligent design theories

December 15, 2007

Gordon Rose

Intricacies of Earth life-forms, microscopes challenge evolution ideas

In our school systems today, science, with its dramatic and continual advancement in knowledge, has to be one of the most interesting as well as important subjects being taught.

Strangely enough, it is here that we are teaching unchallenged, the biggest lie in education -- the theory of evolution. Not that the theory shouldn't be taught -- it should, simply because it is believed to be true by so many scientists. But the latest research with modern tools such as the electron microscope, have ruled out any possibility of life on our planet occurring by accident. Modern, competent scientists can show that the unbelievable complexity of design of the human cell, for example, demands the acknowledgement of a designer, or an intelligence far higher than anything we can imagine.

Unfortunately for our students, those in control of the science curriculum have defined science in such a narrow way that only the theory of evolution is allowed to be considered as the explanation for all of the varied life forms on Earth. They do this by demanding a "natural" explanation for the evidence before us, rather than the most "logical" explanation of the evidence. That is the only way they can keep the pseudo-science of evolution going and being unchallenged in the classroom. Critical examination of the theory itself is not found in high school textbooks, and therefore not discussed as part of the course study. Why not?

The bacterial flagellum, for example, is so small that more than 1,000 could fit in the period at the end of this sentence. Its propulsion system consists of dozens of interactive components clearly designed and functioning together as a variable-speed, reversible, rotary motor capable of turning 100,000 revolutions per minute. That is 10 times faster than a NASCAR race engine! And, it can stop and reverse itself in one-quarter of a turn!

Common sense -- good, logical reasoning -- tells us that this did not come about by accident. But our kids in school are required to believe it did, simply because close-minded educators in control of curriculum are afraid to admit a higher intelligence had to be involved . . . and this lies outside their blind, self-imposed restriction which says they must only explain it by "natural" causes. So they teach a lie instead.

The "religious" smokescreen that die-hard evolutionists keep using is keeping our kids from developing their critical thinking skills and learning truth in science. Instead, they are force-fed a canned, preordained theory that sounded good back in 1859, but does not stand up to the rigorous research and testing of the 21st century.

Gordon Rose is a retired field engineer with NCR. He and his wife live in Fishers. They have five children and nine grandchildren.

Christian biologist fired for beliefs, suit says

By Jason Szep Mon Dec 10, 11:25 AM ET

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Christian biologist is suing the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, claiming he was fired for refusing to accept evolution, lawyers involved in the case said on Friday.

Nathaniel Abraham, an Indian national who describes himself as a "Bible-believing Christian," said in the suit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston that he was fired in 2004 because he would not accept evolution as scientific fact.

The latest U.S. academic spat over science and religion was first reported in The Boston Globe newspaper on Friday. Gibbs Law Firm in Florida, which is representing Abraham, said he was seeking $500,000 in compensation.

The zebrafish specialist said his civil rights were violated when he was dismissed shortly after telling his superior he did not accept evolution because he believed the Bible presented a true account of human creation.

Creationists such as Abraham believe God made the world in six days, as the Bible's Book of Genesis says.

Woods Hole, a federally funded nonprofit research center on Cape Cod, said in a statement it firmly believed its actions and those of its employees in the case were "entirely lawful" and that it does not discriminate.

Abraham, who was dismissed eight months after he was hired, said he was willing to do research using evolutionary concepts but that he had been required to accept Darwin's theory of evolution as scientific fact or lose his job.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination dismissed the case this year, saying Abraham's request not to work on evolutionary aspects of research would be difficult for Woods Hole because its work is based on evolutionary theories.

Abraham said this condition was never spelled out in the advertisement for the job and that his dismissal led to severe economic losses, an injured reputation, emotional pain and suffering and mental anguish.

The case underscores tension between scientists, who see creationist views as anti-science, and evangelical Christians who argue that protections of religious freedom enshrined in the U.S. Constitution extend to scientific settings.

Abraham, 35, is now a biology professor at Liberty University, a Baptist school in Virginia founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Christian pastor and televangelist.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

Official: I was looking out for TEA

By The Editorial Board | Friday, December 14, 2007, 03:17 PM

When Texas Education Agency Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds sent an e-mail recommending that Chris Comer, the agency's science curriculum director, be fired for forwarding an e-mail, she reignited a nationwide debate over whether intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in science courses. Comer asserts that she was forced to resign because her e-mail told of an upcoming talk by a pro-evolution scholar and vocal critic of intelligent design. The controversy over Comer's departure put the agency's scientific credibility at risk at a time when Texas is trying to attract star researchers and scientists for a growing biomedical and biotech industry, and just before the State Board of Education begins developing new science standards next month.

At the eye of the storm is Reynolds, 42, who worked in the U.S. Department of Education from 2002 to 2004 and 2005 to 2006. She was hired at the TEA in January 2007. A graduate of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Reynolds is married and the mother of three young children. Until now, Reynolds has not commented publicly, but she agreed to talk with American-Statesman editorial writer Alberta Phillips.

Did anyone from the TEA, the Bush administration or any interests groups pressure you to send the e-mail recommending that Comer be terminated?

No, not at all. Anyone who knows me knows that no one pulls my strings.

Were you surprised she resigned?

Yes, because I had asked her supervisor to look into the e-mail issue. But I wasn't kept in the loop. I was at a meeting some time later when someone mentioned, "By the way, she (Chris Comer) is resigning today."

What was your motivation for sending the e-mail?

The concern was, should these sorts of things be on the TEA e-mail? Maybe this was my sensitivity from working on the federal level. I looked at it and said, "This could be political." My goal was to make sure the right people looked at this.

I realize that people have their opinions. If you want to do that, Yahoo is free. Get a Yahoo account.

What is your position on evolution and intelligent design regarding public education?

I don't have an opinion about it because I don't have content knowledge, meaning that I am not a science expert or teacher. But (determining content) is not my role. When it comes to defining educational standards, that is done by our writing teams, which include teachers. Members of the writing teams are nominated by the State Board of Education, which has final authority for approving standards.

What is your role?

My role at the agency is to help drive policy in a way that creates a culture of high standards for all of our kids. That means making sure that the accountability standards for public schools are strong and that academic programs meet the expectations of parents at the local level. Part of that involves the agency's Texas High School project and helping districts develop ways to reward teachers for high performance.

What is your role in setting science standards?

We received a recent study that showed our science TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test) for fifth-graders are lacking and that there are huge gaps in the TEKS when it comes to eighth-grade science based on what will be tested on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) in 2009.

If we don't get our standards in place, then Texas will fall behind. I have been focused on raising standards so we don't fall behind when Texas students are tested in 2009.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would have alerted the proper people that something was being sent on the state e-mail. I would have said, "Let's discuss this," instead of giving my opinion in the e-mail. … Should I have used the words "termination" or "reassignment"? I don't know.

The TEA has received a lot of criticism, especially from scientists, who note that evolution is not a relic or abstract theory, but an important plank in the study of modern sciences and in scientific research. Were you aware of the significance of evolution?

I didn't recognize the importance of the subject in terms of it being tagged "evolution." I know now that it has very real importance in modern science and research. I know that it is in our TEKS, and I've no reason to believe it won't continue that way. What I didn't think about was evolution in terms of a political struggle. That took me by surprise because the science is being utilized in all our schools.

Did you object to the content of Comer's e-mail regarding evolution?

I saw the e-mail being sent as, "Chris Comer, director of the TEA science curriculum," and was concerned about the agency's image. If it had been sent out on a personal e-mail account, I would have had no problem with it.

Was Comer forced out because she forwarded the e-mail?

You don't just fire someone or force them out overnight. There are state processes in place, and you must respect them.

Has this episode had a chilling effect on TEA employees?

I don't think there is a muzzle on anyone. Everyone can express their opinions — goodness knows I have many — but we are a state agency and must respect the beliefs of Catholics, atheists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, everyone. And we should all respect the fact that it is the bailiwick of the State Board of Education to write (curriculum) standards.

What's the lesson in this case?

Never manage (through) e-mail. Seriously, you should talk to people and really find out what they're doing. I still think her supervisors needed to be alerted that this was going on. I still think the e-mail by Comer left the agency exposed. The whole situation has been a little disturbing to me. Maybe I should have seen the political side of it.

What do you want people to know about you?

I care about high standards for our kids — that's why I am in this job and that is what drives me. This job is about how we ensure parents instill in their children that they will go to college, that there are no barriers for them. There were people who did that for me while I was growing up in Harlingen and attending public schools. I had a third-grade teacher who was very tough. But when she found out that I was afraid of her, she told me that she was tough on me because she wanted me to succeed.


"Skeleton of Giant" Is Internet Photo Hoax

James Owen for National Geographic News

December 14, 2007

The National Geographic Society has not discovered ancient giant humans, despite rampant reports and pictures.

The hoax began with a doctored photo and later found a receptive online audience—thanks perhaps to the image's unintended religious connotations.

A digitally altered photograph created in 2002 shows a reclining giant surrounded by a wooden platform—with a shovel-wielding archaeologist thrown in for scale.

By 2004 the "discovery" was being blogged and emailed all over the world—"Giant Skeleton Unearthed!"—and it's been enjoying a revival in 2007.

The photo fakery might be obvious to most people. But the tall tale refuses to lie down even five years later, if a continuing flow of emails to National Geographic News are any indication. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

The messages come from around the globe—Portugal, India, El Salvador, Malaysia, Africa, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya. But they all ask the same question: Is it true?

Perpetuating the Myth

Helping to fuel the story's recent resurgence are a smattering of media outlets that have reported the find as fact.

An often cited March 2007 article in India's Hindu Voice monthly, for example, claimed that a National Geographic Society team, in collaboration with the Indian Army, had dug up a giant human skeleton in India.

"Recent exploration activity in the northern region of India uncovered a skeletal remains of a human of phenomenal size," the report read.

The story went on to say the discovery was made by a "National Geographic Team (India Division) with support from the Indian Army since the area comes under jurisdiction of the Army."

The account added that the team also found tablets with inscriptions that suggest the giant belonged to a race of superhumans that are mentioned in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic poem from about 200 B.C.

"They were very tall, big and very powerful, such that they could put their arms around a tree trunk and uproot it," the report said, repeating claims that initially appeared in 2004.

Voice editor P. Deivamuthu admitted to National Geographic News that his publication was taken in by the fake reports.

The monthly, which is based in Mumbai (Bombay), published a retraction after readers alerted Deivamuthu to the hoax, he said.

"We are against spreading lies and canards," Deivamuthu added. "Moreover, our readers are a highly intellectual class and will not brook any nonsense."

Other blog entries—such as a May 2007 posting on a site called Srini's Weblog—cite a report supposedly published in the Times of India on April 22, 2004. But a search of that newspaper's archive revealed no such article.

Arabian Giant

Variations of the giant photo hoax include alleged discovery of a 60- to 80-foot long (18- to 24-meter) human skeleton in Saudi Arabia. In one popular take, which likewise first surfaced in 2004, an oil-exploration team is said to have made the find.

Here the skeleton is held up as evidence of giants mentioned in Islamic, rather than Hindu, scriptures.

The Debunkers

Web sites dedicated to debunking urban legends and "netlore" picked up on the various giant hoaxes soon after they first appeared.

California-based, for example, noted that the skeleton image had been lifted from Worth1000, which hosts photo-manipulation competitions.

Titled "Giants," the skeleton-and-shoveler picture had won third place in a 2002 contest called "Archaeological Anomalies 2."

The image's creator—an illustrator from Canada who goes by the screen name IronKite—told National Geographic News via email that he had had nothing to do with the subsequent hoax.

He added that he wants to remain anonymous because some forums that debated whether the giant was genuine or not "were turning their entire argument into a religious one." It was argued, for instance, that the Saudi Arabian find was entirely consistent with the teachings of the Koran.

"This was about the same time that death threats and cash bounties were being issued against cartoonists and other industry professionals for doing things like depicting the Prophet Mohammed," IronKite wrote.

How the Image Was Made

IronKite started with an aerial photo of a mastodon excavation in Hyde Park, New York, in 2000. He then digitally superimposed a human skeleton over the beast's remains.

The later addition of a digging man presented the biggest technical challenge.

"If you look, he's holding a yellow-handled shovel, but there's nothing on the end," IronKite said.

"Originally, the spade end was there. But [it] looked like it was occupying the exact same space as the skeleton's temple, making the whole thing look fake.

"Now it looks like he's just holding a stick, and people don't notice. It's funny."

IronKite also altered the color of the man's clothing to create a "uniform tie-in" with the white-shirted observer peering down from the wooden platform.

The two figures work to exaggerate the scale of the skeleton, he added.

(Related: "Shark 'Photo of the Year' Is E-Mail Hoax" [March 8, 2005].)

IronKite said he's tickled that the picture—which took only about an hour and a half to create—has generated so much Internet attention.

"I laugh myself silly when some guy claims to know someone who was there, or even goes so far as to claim that he or she was there when they found the skeleton and took the picture," IronKite said.

"Sometimes people seem so desperate to believe in something that they lie to themselves, or exaggerate in order to make their own argument stronger."

Wanting to Believe

David Mikkelson of said such hoaxes succeed when they seem to confirm something people are already inclined to believe, such as a prejudice, political viewpoint, or religious belief.

A hoax also needs to be presented "in a framework that has the appearance of credibility," he said in an email.

The "ancient giant" has both elements, according to Mikkelson.

"It appeals to both a religious and a secular vision of the world as different and more fantastic than mere science would lead us to believe," he said.

"Proof," Mikkelson added, "comes in the form of a fairly convincing image."

For anyone who may have knowingly propagated the myth, Mikkelson added, the motivation "probably wasn't any different than the motivation for engaging in a game of ringing someone's doorbell and running away—because it's an easy way to have a laugh at someone else's expense."

Alex Boese, "curator" of the virtual Museum of Hoaxes, said fake giants have a long history going back to the at least the 1700s.

The recent hoax is reminiscent of the once famous Cardiff Giant myth, involving a ten-foot-tall (three-meter) stone figure dug up in 1869 in Cardiff, New York, Boese said.

Many people believed the figure was a petrified man and claimed he was one of the giants mentioned in the Bible's Book of Genesis: "There were giants in the Earth in those days."

Likewise, Boese said, the recent giant hoax "taps into people's desire for mystery and their desire to see concrete confirmation of religious legends."

National Geographic News photo editor Sebastian John contributed to this report.

Web sites stripped of medical-device claims

Sunday, December 16, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Permission to reprint or copy this article or photo, other than personal use, must be obtained from The Seattle Times. Call 206-464-3113 or e-mail with your request.

By Michael J. Berens and Christine Willmsen
Seattle Times staff reporters

As news spread of two federal investigations into dubious medical devices used throughout the Northwest, distributors and operators have purged their Web sites of the fraudulent claims that are under scrutiny.

Two investigations, one by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the other by a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, are focusing on two machines detailed in a recent Seattle Times investigation.

The three-day series revealed how manufacturers and practitioners profit from treating people with unproven or fraudulent machines, some of them potentially dangerous, others illegal.

The report detailed victims of a growing and largely unregulated field called "energy medicine" — alternative therapies based on the belief that the body has energy fields that can be manipulated to improve health.

One device, the EPFX, is manufactured by William Nelson, a federal fugitive in Budapest, Hungary. The desktop machine purports to diagnose and cure diseases from cancer to AIDS. Nelson rakes in millions of dollars monthly by selling the machines and other products through his company, Eclosion.

In the past week, dozens of EPFX distributors and operators stripped their Web sites of any illegal claims, such as that it can diagnose or cure disease, according to a review by reporters.

The largest distributor of the EPFX, The Quantum Alliance of Calgary, Alberta, removed from its Web site a November newsletter that outlined how to use the machine for blood and stem-cell analysis, facelifts and lip enlargement.

The FDA recently revoked Nelson's registration, which will prevent the EPFX devices from entering the country. Further action is expected involving an estimated 10,000 devices already shipped into the U.S, FDA officials said.

Legally, the device can be sold as a stress-relief tool, according to the FDA.

Congress is investigating the EPFX as well as the PAP-IMI, a 260-pound electromagnetic pulsing machine, manufactured in Greece, that has been linked to injuries and death. The machine, invented by Panos Pappas, is banned for use in the U.S. but The Times found treatments offered in clinics in at least five states.

Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, both Michigan Democrats, are leading the investigation.

Makers of both devices appear to have exploited a regulatory hole that lets them bypass FDA oversight by hiring private companies of medical professionals called institutional review boards, or IRBs.

In a Dec. 13 letter, the subcommittee gave the FDA two weeks to supply any information it had about the EPFX and the PAP-IMI.

The subcommittee is looking into two private IRB companies that had authorized the PAP-IMI for use on patients. The subcommittee sent letters demanding records from Biomedical Research Institute of America in San Diego and Texas Applied Biomedical Services in Houston.

"It appears that the protections for research volunteers are not only being ignored, but are being manipulated for marketing purposes," Stupak said. "American consumers deserve to be treated better than guinea pigs."

Michael J. Berens: 206-464-2288 or; Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Creation college seeks state's OK to train teachers

Dallas school plans master's in science education, fueling debate over teaching evolution

08:40 AM CST on Saturday, December 15, 2007
By HOLLY K. HACKER / The Dallas Morning News

Texas' debate over teaching evolution is going to college.

The nonprofit Institute for Creation Research in Dallas wants to train future science teachers in Texas and elsewhere using an online curriculum. A state advisory group gave its approval Friday; now the final say rests with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which will consider the request next month.

The institute's proposal comes amid a fierce debate over how to teach evolution – the theory that humans and other species evolved from lower forms of life – in Texas public schools.

Some advocacy groups are attacking the creation institute's plan, saying it's an attempt to undermine the teaching of science in public schools.

"They teach distorted science," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, which opposes teaching creationism in public schools. "Any student coming out from the ICR with a degree in science would not be competent to teach in Texas public schools."

The institute was created in 1970 by the late Henry M. Morris, a Dallas native known as the father of "creation science," the view that science – not just religion – indicates that a divine being created the Earth and all living things.

Patricia Nason, chairwoman of the institute's science education department, said that, despite the institute's name, students learn evolution along with creationism.

"Our students are given both sides," said Dr. Nason, who has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. "They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion."

The institute, through its graduate school, wants to offer an online master's degree in science education.

According to the school's Web site, it offers typical education classes, teaching such fundamentals as how to use lab equipment, the Internet and PowerPoint in the classroom. But it also offers a class called "Advanced studies in creationism."

And the course Web page for "Curriculum design in science" gives this scenario: "The school board has asked you to serve on a committee that is examining grades 6-12 science goals. ... Both evolutionist and creationist teachers serve on the curriculum committee. How will you convince them to include creation science as well as evolution in the new scope and sequence?"

The school has offered science degrees in California for years. It offered its first graduate courses in 1981, and its first online courses about two years ago.

The institute began moving its headquarters from the San Diego area to Dallas last year, making it necessary to get approval from the state of Texas to offer degrees here.

The school now has more than 50 students taking online classes all over the world, school officials say.

Private schools

Most graduates have gone on to teach in private schools, Dr. Nason said, though some may want to teach in public schools.

That's what scares people like Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, which also opposes teaching creationism in public schools.

"It just seems odd to license an organization to offer a degree in science when they're not teaching science," Mr. Quinn said.

"What we're seeing here is another example of how Texas is becoming the central state in efforts by creationists to undermine science education, especially the teaching of evolution."

A group of educators and officials from the state Coordinating Board visited the campus in November and met with faculty members. The group found that the institute offered a standard science education curriculum that would prepare them to take state licensure exams, said Glenda Barron, an associate commissioner of the board.

Dr. Barron said the program was held to the same standards that any other college would have to meet.

"The master's in science education, we see those frequently," she said. "What's different – and what's got everybody's attention – is the name of the institution."

The advisory group that approved the plan Friday includes professors and administrators from six colleges – two public and four affiliated with religious institutions.

One member of the team that visited the school has a background in math and science education. But no one on the team or the panel that gave approval Friday has a background in pure science, records show.

That's a problem, said Dr. Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

"It sounds like the committee may have just taken at face value what the ICR claims," she said.

In California, the institute is recognized by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, a group that Dr. Morris helped form.

But Texas doesn't recognize that accrediting agency. So the institute needs state approval to offer degrees while it pursues accreditation from a recognized agency, most likely the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Dr. Scott predicts that won't be easy.

"There's a huge gulf between what the ICR is doing and what they're doing at legitimate institutions like ... [the University of Texas] or Baylor," she said.

The institute says the purpose of its graduate school is to prepare science teachers "to understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism using proven scientific data."

In 1988, California education officials tried to remove the institute's authority to grant master's of science degrees, arguing that the program didn't pass academic muster. The institute sued the state, arguing that the decision violated its constitutional rights. The school received $225,000 in a 1992 settlement. By then, a new state panel was in charge of evaluating such private schools.

Time zone considered

The institute's founder, Dr. Morris, who was an engineer by training, died last year. His son Henry Morris III is the institute's chief executive officer. He told The Dallas Morning News last year that the institute moved to Dallas because "it's in the Central time zone, with a good airport." But he also noted that Dallas is a "strong Christian center" that would support teaching from a creationist perspective.

The institute's search for approval in Texas comes just weeks after the science director of the Texas Education Agency resigned under pressure over allegations that she had inappropriately endorsed evolution. She had forwarded an e-mail about a talk in Austin by a professor and author who opposes teaching creationism in public schools.

The state Board of Education is set to revise its science curriculum in the coming year. Current regulations require the teaching of evolution, but many conservatives in Texas want teachers to address what they see as weaknesses of evolution. Some scientists say, for instance, that cells are so complicated they can't be fully explained by evolution.

Dr. Nason said the institute wants to help schoolchildren perform better in science, and to encourage them to go into math and science fields.

Dr. Scott sees other motives. Institute officials, she said, "very much want to get these views in the public schools. They believe that evolution is an evil idea that students should reject because they believe if students learn and accept evolution, they'll give up their faith."

Also Online
Link: ICR's Web site

Creationists plan British theme park,,2228201,00.html

A business trust is looking at sites for a Christian showplace to challenge the theory of evolution

Jamie Doward Sunday December 16, 2007 The Observer

The latest salvo in creationism's increasingly ferocious battle with evolution is about to be fired in Lancashire. Not in a fiery sermon preached from the pulpit, but in the form of a giant Christian theme park that will champion the book of Genesis and make a multi-media case that God created the world in seven days.

The AH Trust, a charity set up last year by a group of businessmen alarmed by the direction in which they see society heading, has identified a number of potential sites in the north west of England to build the £3.5m Christian theme park.

The trust claims it already has a number of rich backers who are keen to invest in the project, which will boast two interactive cinemas, a cafeteria, six shops and a television recording studio, allowing it to produce its own Christian-themed films and documentaries.

The 5,000-capacity park will be the first of its kind in Britain, but not in the world. In Orlando, Florida, hundreds of thousands of visitors make pilgrimages to the Holy Land Experience, where they can see a bloodied Jesus forced to carry his cross by snarling Roman soldiers.

Peter Jones, one of the Lancashire theme park's trustees, said the emphasis would be on multimedia rather than the costume re-enactments of famous biblical scenes favoured at Holy Land. 'It will be a halfway house for youngsters,' Jones said. 'Today all they do is binge drink. We will be able to offer them an alternative.'

By producing its own films, the trust believes it will be able to provide an antidote to modern culture. It says on its website: 'On television today there is so much sex and violence, it is no wonder our youth are binge drinking ... This is a revolutionary scheme requiring innovative people with the vision to bring about change and a new direction.'

It declined to say who the backers were, but admitted it is talking to a number of businessmen who have invested in city academies, leading to speculation that it may have approached Sir Peter Vardy, who has given millions of pounds to advance the claims of creationism - the belief that God created the world and that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong.

While the plans for the park are still in their infancy, the trust has big ambitions. A business plan available to prospective investors suggests the park could bring in £4.8m a year - apparently 10 times its estimated overhead costs.

The trust also says it plans to apply for government grants and European funding to help it realise its dream of turning the television studio into 'an international leader in promoting family-oriented Christian programmes'.

Although concerns about the direction of modern society are the trust's main motivation for building the theme park, it is also in response to what the trustees identify as a sense of drift within the Church of England.

'The church in this country is in crisis and many church leaders living in Australia, America and Canada have openly proclaimed that God has left the church in England,' the trust states on its website.

'Evolution has falsely become the foundation of our society and we need the television studio to advocate Genesis across this land in order to remove this falsehood, which presently is destroying the church foundation.'

The theme park's anti-evolution bias and its emphasis on Genesis has raised eyebrows among planning officials, according to Jones, who originally wanted to build the park at the site of an old B&Q store but was refused permission by the council.

'Wigan council slammed the door in our faces. You mention the C [Christian] word, and people don't want to know,' Jones said.

MDs bone up on remedies once scorned,1,4764794.story

Julie Deardorff

December 16, 2007

Tagging along with the holidays come ailments that challenge most Western doctors: stress, back and joint pain, head colds, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, upset stomachs and insomnia.

Is it time to try acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation, guided imagery and massage?

Surprisingly, even the most conservative mainstream research hospitals now answer "yes!"

Twenty years ago, the mind-body connection was largely dismissed by U.S. doctors as a wacky concept in healing. Today it's a staple of integrative medicine, the discipline that blends complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with conventional treatments and places more emphasis on treating the whole person.

About 75 percent of medical schools now have some CAM courses in the curriculum, and the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine includes 39 academic health centers, including the Mayo Clinic plus Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Duke and Yale Universities.

To help doctors catch up on the growing body of evidence-based research on CAM therapies, the University of Chicago's Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research and the Mayo Clinic last weekend co-hosted the annual Conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The encouraging thing is that CAM treatments require self-care," said Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic. "It's a supplement to what the doctor is doing; the patient is working together with the doctor in a partnership. This is not 'Let's wait till it breaks and then fix it.'" The three-day seminar, which drew more than 250 doctors, nurses and other health practitioners to Chicago's Drake Hotel, focused on herbal, food and dietary supplements and CAM therapies for common medical conditions, including obesity, stress and heart disease.

Here are some highlights:

Weight loss

CAM treatments are popular weight-loss options, but only chitosan, chromium, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and calcium have shown positive effects, and these were modest, said Todd Brown, a specialist in endocrine and metabolic diseases at Johns Hopkins University. There is no data on the cactus Hoodia gordonii.

Heart disease

A Mediterranean-style diet is the best eating plan for patients with coronary heart disease. It includes fruits and vegetables, at least two servings of fish per week, the use of liquid vegetable oils, such as flaxseed, and a decreased intake of saturated fat, said Matthew Sorrentino, a non-invasive preventive cardiologist at the University of Chicago. A Mediterranean diet in conjunction with statin therapy has been shown to be more effective than statin therapy alone.

If you have had heart trouble, supplement your diet with omega-3 fatty acids, Sorrentino said. Though more evidence is needed for the optimal dose, the American Heart Association recommends getting 1 gram of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per day, either by eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout or taking fish-oil supplements. (Shoot for 180 milligrams of EPA and 120 milligrams of DHA). If the supplement causes fish burps, try freezing the capsules, Sorrentino said.

Irritable-bowel syndrome

Doctors have long considered irritable-bowel syndrome to be a non-inflammatory disease, but "that's wrong," said Gerald Mullin, director of Integrative Gastrointestinal Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, who adds that stress is the trigger for many gut diseases. Mullin suggests a combination treatment approach including exercise, probiotics, some herbs (including peppermint oil, but watch out for reflux) and ginger. Mind-body approaches, including yoga, meditation, hypnosis and behavioral therapy, are backed by the strongest data. Melatonin and herbs such as valerian, lemon balm and camomile can cut down on stress and should be considered. "It would also help to have a better attitude and not be so angry at the world," Mullin said.


Doctors should respect stress and its link to illness, said Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic. Up to 80 percent of the doctor visits in the U.S. are triggered by a stress-related illness, but several CAM therapies have good efficacy and low risk, including yoga, acupuncture, massage, spirituality, meditation and music therapy and hypnotism.

"Hypnotism has gotten a bad rap, but when you look at the data, it's actually pretty good," he said.

Smoking cessation

Hypnotism also is worth considering if you're trying to quit smoking before Illinois' ban takes effect in January. Meanwhile, Mayo Clinic researchers are looking at whether chocolate enriched with theanine, an amino acid commonly found in tea, can help people break the habit. Another study will examine whether paced-breathing meditation can be used as adjunct therapy for smoking cessation. Studies have shown that taking just six long breaths per minute has a positive physiological effect.

Do they work?

These are some alternative remedies doctors are looking at closely.


Chitosan, chromium, conjugated linoleic acid and calcium


A Mediterranean-style diet


Exercise, probiotics, peppermint oil and ginger


Yoga, acupuncture, massage, spirituality, meditation, music therapy and hypnotism


Hypnotism, chocolate, paced-breathing meditation

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Professors write TEA in support of Castillo-Comer

12/16/2007 2:28 PM
By: News 8 Austin Staff

A controversy over the state science curriculum continues to grow.

It started when the state science education director, Chris Castillo-Comer, resigned. Some say she was pressured into resigning after she forwarded a controversial e-mail against creationism.

Now science professors from universities across the state are getting involved. Last week 135 teachers wrote a letter to the Texas Education Agency in defense of Castillo-Comer and evolution.

"There's just no scientific basis for intelligent design. And when we are making decisions on what to teach, we need to use science," Daniel Bolnick, with the University of Texas, said.

Castillo-Comer met with lawyers on Wednesday about her legal options. The TEA stands by its claim that employees should remain neutral on issues like evolution.

Read the open letter to the TEA.