NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 January 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, January 05, 2008



'Stupid Dino Tricks': A Reply to Hovind's Web Response

Greg Martinez

In early December 2004, a response to my Skeptical Inquirer article "Stupid Dino Tricks" (November/December 2004), about my visit to creationist Kent Hovind's Dinosaur Adventure Land, was posted on Hovind's Web site. (The response, by Jonathan Sampson, can be read in its entirety here.

Readers might be justified in thinking that a response to it may be a fool's errand. However, amidst all the invective and misdirection there are instances when Sampson calls into question the fundamental accuracy and truthfulness of the article. Those require a reply.

After two paragraphs of tiresome boilerplate of how besieged Christians are in America, he accuses me of visiting the park "cowardly undercover." I attended the park like any other visitor would. I paid my admission fee, toured the grounds with the tour group, wandering off a few times but never sneaking anywhere. I was never asked why I was visiting. I was not asked to declare any religious affiliation. I was simply asked how many admissions I wished to purchase. My intention was to provide an honest, accurate picture of what any average visitor to the park would experience. This hardly constitutes a form of cowardice or being undercover.

The same paragraph accuses me of being "less than truthful" regarding Hovind, the park's founder and builder. All statements regarding Mr. Hovind's interactions with the criminal and civil courts of Florida and Escambia County are a matter of public record and are available both at the county courthouse and on the Internet at the Clerk of the Court's Web site. All statements about Hovind's battle with the IRS were taken from media reports readily accessible on the Internet and from wire services. Hovind was arrested for assault on a parishioner. Hovind's home and office were raided by the IRS. Hovind has spent over two years and countless taxpayer dollars on a quixotic battle with Escambia County officials over a failure to pay a $50 fee. These are verifiable facts and their sources were listed in the article.

The fourth paragraph compounds a simple error by throwing insults, asserting that the boarded up buildings I witnessed along Old Palafox Road were in that condition because of Hurricane Ivan, which struck Pensacola on September 16, 2004. I visited the park in June 2004. Hurricane Ivan was not a factor in the long stream of boarded up businesses that line Old Palafox Road. The park stands out in its surroundings, and it merited the attention given it. Dinosaur Adventure Land (DAL) is surrounded by empty, abandoned commercial properties, many in disrepair. Its neighbors are a "buy-here-pay-here" used car dealership, auto repair shops, and a pawn shop. The owners and operators of DAL know this and are dishonest in this dodge, hiding behind the fig leaf of a natural disaster.

Interestingly, the next paragraph does not dispute the rather small number of visitors to the park as incorrect, but attempts to inflate the numbers as an example of a successful outreach. Sampson goes on to taunt: "How many students are educated everyday from Skeptical Inquirer?" While I am not sure of precise numbers, adding together the circulation of the magazine, the efforts of staff at CSICOP and the Center for Inquiry for education and outreach via television programs, media appearances, and so on, the number of people educated is considerable. However, I am certain of the number of visitors educated at DAL: zero. There is simply no education to be found at the park.

Sampson accuses me of launching ad hominem attacks against Hovind, trying to discredit creationism by discrediting Hovind and not directly addressing creationism's "science." He defends Hovind and creationism by posing a hypothetical: "Suppose an algebra teacher was convicted of theft and eventually sent to jail. Does that mean algebra is therefore disproved?" My brief biographical sketch of Hovind did not intend to discredit creationism by association. Creationism is a fiction no matter who its proponent. My intention was to provide a snapshot portrait of the scofflaw who built the park I went on to describe in great detail.

Sampson wrongfully accuses the magazine and myself of fraud, insisting that my description of the park is not true. He states: "Later, Martinez claims to have taken pictures of the Dinosaur Adventure Land grounds. Unsurprisingly he fails to include them in his article, but instead only prints an outdated picture of the early stages of DAL's creation museum building number 5. If Martinez included pictures of DAL grounds with the claims he's making, it would be all too clear that he's purposely painting an inaccurate portrait."

During my visit in June 2004, I took more than 115 digital and film photographs of Dinosaur Adventure Land. The Skeptical Inquirer chose to run only three of them due to space considerations, more than the number Sampson incorrectly states. The photograph of the Creation Museum Sampson attacks as outdated was taken in June 2004, along with all the other images in the article. The top photograph on page 48 is of the actual pamphlet travelers in Florida's Panhandle can pick up as an advertisement of the park. Their own advertisement depicts the "Fossil Dig" pit, the science center, the "Circle Swivel Springasaurus," and the "Dinosaur Hunt." All these are described accurately in the article.

Sampson is particularly exercised about my depiction of the tour guides at DAL. He states his pride in their ministering to the guests. Their quiet physical intimidation of guests at the park is more of a piece with the sales techniques of used car lots than the ministry. He also misses the point of the passage in which I describe eavesdropping on the conversation of a group of guides. He objected that I appeared to be mocking them for discussing scripture in a Christian park. The point I was making was that here were a group of young men, early in their adult lives, passing time by enthusiastically criticizing another branch of the Christian religion. It was difficult to reconcile all the earlier talk of Jesus and love with the "down-time" religious chauvinism I heard.

Sampson wraps up his indictment of my article by continuing to assert that it is a sloppy hatchet job that distorts the many valuable lessons DAL imparts to its visitors and lies about the contents of the park. He makes these claims despite the fact that he knows the descriptions are correct. He claims that a current and accurate photograph is outdated. He claims that the park's surroundings are in disrepair due to a hurricane when he knows that the deterioration of these buildings predate the storm.

He keeps up a steady drumbeat of mocking the piece because it does nothing to disprove creationism scientifically. That was never the intention. This magazine has published many other articles by some of the finest scientists in the world effectively demolishing creationism as the pseudoscience it is. It should have been obvious to most readers that this was intended as descriptive reporting, and done in an intentionally deadpan style so that the absurdity of the place would shine through. This piece was carefully researched, reported, and written, and I stand by every word of it.

Sampson perpetrates a shabby sham of a rebuttal to my piece, and distorts what the article actually states and reports. Sampson should have included a link to the actual article on the Skeptical Inquirer Web page so that his visitors could have read the article for themselves. But then Hovind and his Dinosaur Adventure Land have never been about accuracy and honesty.

Content copyright by CSI or the respective copyright holders.

U.S. science groups reject teaching creationism


Creationism confuses students about what is and isn't science, groups say

Last Updated: Friday, January 4, 2008 | 12:31 PM ET
CBC News

Two U.S. science groups have rejected creationism as a school science subject but also said evolution and religion are not necessarily incompatible.

Public schools should teach only "scientifically based explanations and evidence for the diversity of life," the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine said Friday.

"Teaching creationist ideas in science class confuses students about what constitutes science and what does not," a committee made up of the groups' members said. The committee wrote a new edition of Science, Evolution and Creationism, published Friday.

Creationism holds that God created life and rejects evolution.

The book tries to bridge the divide between science and religion, saying that "the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world."

First published in 1984 and last updated in 1999, Science, Evolution and Creationism is intended to provide a current picture of the science of evolution.

Evolution is "the central organizing principle" of modern biology, the committee said in a media release, and "understanding evolution is essential to identifying and treating disease," said Institute of Medicine president Harvey Fineberg.

Opponents of evolution have been trying to introduce what the committee called "nonscientific" views into public school science classes by teaching creationism or intelligent design, the belief that there must be a grand planner for life because random evolution alone cannot explain all the complexities of life.

The groups said such efforts, rebuked by a U.S. court in 2005, go on "despite the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution."

The two groups are members of the U.S. National Academies, four organizations that assemble expert committees to advise the U.S. government and the public about science and technology issues.

National Academy of Sciences Tries to Beat Back Creationism


Ronald Bailey | January 4, 2008, 1:44pm

Today the National Academy of Sciences released a tidy little monograph, Science, Religion and Creationism, that elegantly rebuts creationism and its latest intellectual excrescence, intelligent design. In particular, Chapter 2 of the monograph is a great introduction to the massive amounts of scientific evidence for biological evolution. The monograph also argues that there is no necessary conflict between science and religion. To wit:

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

This formulation seems to mirror biologist Stephen Jay Gould's old "two non-overlapping magisteria" argument, i.e., religion and science don't conflict because their proper subject matters never come into direct conflict. Another way this has been put is: "Science tells us how the heavens go while religion tells us how to go to heaven." As I've written before, I have strong doubts that the two non-overlapping magisteria argument actually works.

In any case, I highly recommend directing any of your friends, family members and associates who want to learn more about biological evolution to Science, Religion and Creationism (which you can download free at the NAS website).

NBC finds 'controversy' in scientists' rebuke of creationism


David Edwards and Nick Juliano Published: Friday January 4, 2008

A renowned national science panel is releasing a book urging educators to keep "intelligent design theory" -- a pseudo-creationist approach to explaining the world that is closer to religion than science -- out of science classrooms.

The National Academy of Sciences says in a new book that intelligent design -- which has been pushed almost exclusively by religious activists -- does not belong in science classrooms alongside evolution -- Darwin's theory of natural selection, which has persevered among scentists for nearly 150 years.

"As SCIENCE, EVOLUTION, AND CREATIONISM makes clear, the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future," the book says.?

NBC reported on Thursday on the new book, which seems to do little more than state the obvious: evolution is science, creationism is not. However, because some religious fundamentalists insist that the Bible belongs alongside The Origin of Species in classrooms, NBC decided to present the story as a great "controversy." (The network noted that President Bush also hasn't made up his mind as to whether humans are the result of billions of years of evolution or divine intervention and has said both versions should be taught in school.)

"The National Academy of Sciences plants its flag on the latest front in the battle over evolution," correspondent Pete Williams intoned. "It's the issue of intelligent design, the idea that some forms of life are so complex they could not have evolved on their own but are the result of God's design. ... The new book turns up the voltage in a decades-old fight."

The National Academy of Sciences was joined by the Institute of Medicine in releasing the third edition of Science, Evolution and Creationism, which was first published in 1984. The book says evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming and understanding it is essential to fighting disease; the committee's note that a federal judge in Dover, Pa., ruled teaching intelligent design unconstitutional because it is based on religious conviction, not science.

"Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution, opponents have repeatedly tried to introduce nonscientific views into public school science classes through the teaching of various forms of creationism or intelligent design. ... NAS and IOM strongly maintain that only scientifically based explanations and evidence for the diversity of life should be included in public school science courses," the groups say in a press release. "'Teaching creationist ideas in science class confuses students about what constitutes science and what does not,' the committee stated."

The two groups that produce the book comprise perhaps the foremost minds in science. The NAS is "independent society of scientists, elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to their field, with a mandate from Congress since 1863 to advise the federal government on issues of science and technology."

Who did NBC find to question such scientific authority? Peter Sprigg, a mouthpiece for the Family Research Council, which is charged with promoting the Religious Right's agenda in Washington. Sprigg, whose FRC bio brags of his specialization in "the homosexual agenda" and "religion in public life," boasts impressive educational credentials that include a "Master of Divinity degree cum laude from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary."

"What's lacking," whined Sprigg, whose credentials don't list any expertise or training in biology or other sciences, "is a true scientific debate about the merits and weaknesses of evolutionary theory as presented by Darwin."

Scientific American has more here.

US doomed if creationist president elected: scientists


Published: Friday January 4, 2008

A day after ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee finished first in the opening round to choose a Republican candidate for the White House, scientists warned Americans against electing a leader who doubts evolution.

"The logic that convinces us that evolution is a fact is the same logic we use to say smoking is hazardous to your health or we have serious energy policy issues because of global warming," University of Michigan professor Gilbert Omenn told reporters at the launch of a book on evolution by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"I would worry that a president who didn't believe in the evolution arguments wouldn't believe in those other arguments either. This is a way of leading our country to ruin," added Omenn, who was part of a panel of experts at the launch of "Science, Evolution and Creationism."

Former Arkansas governor Huckabee said in a debate in May that he did not believe in evolution.

A poll conducted last year showed that 53 percent of Americans do believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life -- the theory of evolution -- while 47 percent do not.

Some of those polled said they believed in both evolution and the opposing theory of creationism -- the belief that God created mankind at a single point in time.

The evolution versus creationism debate has crept into American schools and politics, where it is mainly conservative Republicans who espouse the non-scientific belief.

In 2004, a Pennsylvania school district found itself at the center of a national storm after its education board voted to require that a statement on creationism be read to students when they began learning about evolution in science class.

The school board was ousted the following year.

"Science, Evolution and Creationism" targets the general public and teachers, and presents in simple terms the current scientific understanding of evolution and the importance of teaching it in the science classroom.

A day after his win in Iowa, Huckabee toned down his anti-evolution stance, saying in a television interview that the question of whether to teach creationism in schools was "not an issue for our president."

US President George W. Bush has said he supports teaching "intelligent design" creationism to American students, to present youngsters with differing schools of thought.

Intelligent design is a theory advocated by conservative Christian groups and some scientists in the United States, which says that complex biological organisms cannot be explained by evolutionary chance alone and must be the work of an intelligent designer -- namely God.

Omenn and the other panel members at the book launch said categorically that creationism should be banned from science classrooms.

"Scientific inquiry is not about accepting on faith a statement or scriptural passage. It's about exploring nature, so there really is not any place in the science classroom for creationism or intelligent design creationism," said Omenn.

"We don't teach astrology as an alternative to astronomy, or witchcraft as an alternative to medicine," said Francisco Ayala, a professor of biological sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

"We must understand the difference between what is and is not science. We must not teach creationism as an alternative to evolution," he said.

"Holding deep religious beliefs is not incompatible with believing in evolution," Omenn said.

"But that's different to saying the two can be taught together in science class, because religion and science are two different ways of knowing about the world. They might not be incompatible but they don't overlap each other's spheres.

"Science class should not contain religious attitudes," he added.

Report from the NAS Book Release


Today I attended the release of the third edition of the NAS's book Science, Evolution, and Creationism—by which, of course, they mean any way of thought which doubts the materialist mechanism of natural selection to account for the full complexity of life.

The entire event was a transparent attempt to label any doubters "creationists."

Most ironic was that, while the whole room fumed with animosity toward religious people and, one sensed, the "religious right," the NAS panelists sought to promote the view of the new booklet that science and religion do not conflict because the two ways of knowing do not overlap.

As Richard Dawkins has noted, this is a blatant political and rhetorical strategy, believed by very few who advance this proposition. For instance, while panelist Gilbert Omenn argued this "no conflict" thesis, he also remarked that no one would have designed certain features of human anatomy the way they are. Hmmm, so science can legitimately make claims about whether there biological features are designed? Sounds like they are asking for a one-sided armistice.

Of course what they mean to say is that "reasonable" religion has no problem with materialistic Darwinian evolution. Thus the NAS book quotes a host of liberal religious leaders to prove their point.

In a similar contradictory moment, Francisco Ayala claimed that there is "no contradiction between evolution and religious faith." Then later, when mentioning the liberal religious leaders quoted in the NAS booklet, he slipped on a Freudian banana peal, saying: "I used religious authorities"…ahem...he went on to claim that he meant to say that he "cited" those religious authorities.

I won't belabor my report, but the panelists—who also included former NABT President Toby Horn and former NAS President Bruce Alberts—further strained credulity by actually claiming that medicine and agriculture depend upon evolutionary theory. If they mean micro-evolution, this is obviously true; but of course no one doubts micro-evolution.

In truth, the book release event was one platitude after another. Perhaps reporters writing on this event will have the courage to ask the NAS which intelligent design proponents they interviewed or consulted to ensure the accuracy of their statements about intelligent design. From looking through the booklet, one suspects they consulted only their own prejudices.

In the end, the NAS should know that their efforts will fail. For in addition to the many religious concerns with Darwinian theory in the public, there are a host of academics who harbor serious scientific doubts as to the adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism to account for life's complexity.

Posted by Logan Gage on January 4, 2008 5:12 PM | Permalink

U.S. advisors pit evolution against intelligent design


By William Atkins Saturday, 05 January 2008

!Scientific advisers to the U.S. government have released the third edition of the book "Science, Evolution, and Creationism," which emphasizes the importance of teaching evolution in public schools. It adds controversy as to what should be taught as science.

The group of scientists with the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine state that non-scientific approaches to human origins do not belong in science classrooms.

What it boils down to is "How did we get here? Why do we live? Was it done by nature or an intelligent being?

It also asks the question: "What should be taught in science classes? and "What should be taught in religious classes?"

The home webpage of the National Academy of Sciences reports on this new book. You can access the report, the news release, and information about the book at: http://www.nationalacademies.org/.

Evolution states that animals, including humans, evolve by passing down traits and characteristics from one generation to the next. It is based on the scientific studies of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. The theory of evolution by natural selection was published by Darwin in 1859 as the book "On the Origin of Species."

Generally, proponents of Evolution claim that Intelligent Design is pseudo-science and should not be taught in science classes.

Creationism states that living things and all material objects within the universe were created by a deity. Intelligent Design states that the universe is too complex to be best explained by natural selection but instead living things were created by an intelligent entity.

Generally, proponents of Intelligent Design claim it is a scientific theory that should be studied in science classes.

The Discovery Institute is the organization that is primarily behind the idea for intelligent design. The Public Broadcast Service (PBS) has a website dedicated to evolution. Many other websites and books contain information on both subjects. This author urges you to read and study in both areas.

Much debate and controversy continue to surround the topic of evolution versus creationism and intelligent design.

In this author's viewpoint is it important that we have a free and open discussion on the topic. Students and people in general should be free to learn about all sides of any issue. They should be free to decide for themselves what they believe or do not believe.

The debate also is centered on the topic of what should be taught in science classes. Should evolution and intelligent design both be taught within the realm of science?

This author believes that everyone should become informed on both the subjects of evolution and creationism/intelligent design. You will not be truly informed unless you read and study both sides of the issue.

Ignorance is our biggest hindrance. Educated and informed individuals make better citizens and contribute more to society. Removing the ability of anyone to read, to learn, to make up their own mind is not right.

Governments, whether at the local, state, or federal level will decide what will be taught to our children. We the people make up all governmental bodies. Educated people will make educated decisions. Uneducated people will make uneducated decisions.

There is no reason why science and religion cannot get along, and search for knowledge and truth together.

political science


Posted by: Diogenes - Jan. 04, 2008 5:44 PM ET USA

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has produced a new text warning against the terrible danger that someone, somewhere, might not entirely accept evolutionary theory.

Scientific understanding of evolution is "so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter it," according to Science, Evolution, and Creationism. The 89-page report claims that science teachers are "under considerable pressure" to incorporate some discussion of Intelligent Design or Creationism into science classes. That's terrible, the NAS says, because-- well, because science teachers should only come under pressure to teach evolution.

Evolution, you see, is "the foundation of modern biology." That means, presumably, that if you don't believe in evolution you can't possibly pursue the study of biology. Or at least you can't expect the NAS to support you in that study.

Some scientists question the rigid evolutionary orthodoxy proposed by the NAS and its allies. Science, Evolution, and Creationism has a simple response to them: Shut up. "No scientific evidence supports those viewpoints," the NAS study claims, in one of its many astonishing, sweeping, and utterly unscientific passages.

Can you imagine Albert Einstein saying that no new evidence was likely to alter the understanding of Relativity? No, because Einstein understood that a) his theory was incomplete, and b) all scientific theories change, over time, with the emergence of new evidence. Or perhaps it would be simpler to say that Einstein wanted new evidence to emerge, whereas the authors of this study want to slam the books closed.

If you actually want to examine the case against evolution, the Discovery Institute can provide plenty of thought-provoking material. But the NAS report is not intended to stimulate scientific discussion. Quite the contrary, this report is intended to choke off discussion-- to convince educators that they risk ridicule (and maybe worse) if they allow their students to question the reigning orthodoxy.

If you honestly believe in the scientific method, you should be prepared to match your evidence against the evidence supplied by your academic rivals, and see whose theory is more persuasive. If the fittest always survive, it's surprising that the devout apostles of evolutionary theory aren't willing to risk the competition.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Evolution education update: January 4, 2008

The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine releases a valuable new book on science, evolution, and creationism; a coalition of scientific societies discusses a new public opinion survey and its implications for the defense of evolution education; and a non-partisan coalition is calling for a presidential debate on science and technology.


The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine recently released Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a book designed to give the public a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the current scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom. In a January 4, 2008, press release, National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone was quoted as saying, "Science, Evolution, and Creationism provides the public with coherent explanations and concrete examples of the science of evolution. The study of evolution remains one of the most active, robust, and useful fields in science."

As its title suggests, the book also addresses creationism in its various forms, including young-earth, old-earth, and "intelligent design" creationism, and concludes, "No scientific evidence supports these viewpoints." Observing that "[c]reationism in its various forms is not the same thing as belief in God because ... many believers as well as many mainstream religious groups accept the findings of science, including evolution," Science, Evolution, and Creationism also quotes both leading scientists of faith (including Francis Collins and NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller) and religious leaders and groups (including the late Pope John Paul II and the over 10,000 signatories of the Clergy Letter Project), who see no conflict between their faith and science.

Science, Evolution, and Creationism takes a decidedly firm line on the necessity of including evolution in science education, warning, "Many teachers are under considerable pressure from policy makers, school administrators, parents, and students to downplay or eliminate the teaching of evolution. As a result, many U.S. students lack access to information and ideas that are both integral to modern science and essential for making informed, evidence-based decisions about their own lives and our collective future. ... Given the importance of science in all aspects of modern life, the science curriculum should not be undermined with nonscientific material."

The third edition of a publication first issued in 1984 (as Science and Creationism), Science, Evolution, and Creationism is twice as long as the second edition, issued in 1999. The current book was written by a committee including a number of NCSE Supporters and members and chaired by NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and the author most recently of Darwin's Gift (Joseph Henry Press, 2007). Copies of Science, Evolution, and Creationism are available from the National Academies Press (call 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242; or visit the National Academies Press's website), for $12.95; a PDF version is also available for free download at the National Academies Press's website.

For information about Science, Evolution, and Creationism, visit:

For the press release announcing the book, visit:

For information about the Clergy Letter Project, visit:

For information about Darwin's Gift, visit;


The scientific community needs to increase its involvement in defending science education -- especially evolution -- according to a coalition of seventeen scientific and educational societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and the American Institute for Biological Sciences. The coalition's editorial -- entitled "Evolution and its Discontents: A Role for Scientists in Science Education" and appearing in the January 2008 issue of The FASEB Journal -- reports the results of a public opinion survey aiming to ascertain "attitudes toward science and scientists, views on evolutionary science in the context of education, and means through which the scientific community can effectively bolster support for teaching evolution and related subjects."

In a January 2008 press release from FASEB, the editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, Gerald Weissmann, commented, "The bottom line is that the world is round, humans evolved from an extinct species, and Elvis is dead. This survey is a wake-up call for anyone who supports teaching information based on evidence rather than speculation or hope; people want to hear the truth, and they want to hear it from scientists." With reference to creationism -- 28% and 31% of respondents to the survey agreed with statements that "all living things" or "humans and other living things," respectively, were created in their present form -- Weissmann added, "In an age when people have benefited so greatly from science and reason, it is ironic that some still reject the tools that have afforded them the privilege to reject them."

According to the coalition's editorial, the survey shows "a clear need for scientists to become involved in promoting science education. Challenges to teaching science undermine students' understanding of the scientific method, how scientific consensus develops, and the distinction between scientific and non-scientific explanations of natural phenomena. If our nation is to continue to develop the talent necessary to advance scientific and medical research, we must ensure that high standards in science education are maintained and that efforts to introduce non-science into science classes do not succeed. Failure to reach out effectively to a public that is supportive of science and open to information from the scientific community is not just a missed opportunity, it is a disservice to the scientific enterprise."

Of the 1000 likely voters polled, half were asked about their views on the evolution of "all living things"; 61% accepted that "all living things have evolved over time," with 36% thinking that all living things "evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection" and 25% thinking that "a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating life in the form it exists today." In order to investigate whether the idea of human evolution is especially problematic, the other half of the respondents were asked about their views on the evolution of "humans and other living things"; 53% accepted evolution, with 32% thinking that humans and other living things evolved through natural processes and 21% thinking that they evolved with guidance from a supreme being. "Compared with other surveys," the editorial comments, "we found weaker overall support for creationism."

As for what is taught in the science classroom of the public schools, the editorial reports, "Although public opinion is often characterized as polarized, there is considerable uncertainty about what to teach in public school science classes, particularly with regard to including certain religious perspectives. Thirty-two percent of respondents in our study were unsure about teaching creationism, and 41% were uncertain about teaching intelligent design. By comparison, 22% expressed uncertainty about teaching evolution. Consistent with other studies, however, more respondents favored teaching evolution (53%) than creationism (36%) or intelligent design (27%) in public school science classes. These data show that a majority of people favors -- and even more may be open to -- teaching evolution in science classes."

On the basis of the survey, the coalition's editorial recommends two main avenues for strengthening public support for evolution education. First, highlighting the connection between evolutionary biology and medicine: 61% of respondents regarded the contribution that evolution makes to modern medical science as a convincing reason to teach evolution in science classes. (Not considered in the survey were "the contributions that evolutionary science makes to other fields, including agriculture, forensics, and even software engineering.") Second, emphasizing the practical applicability of the skills imparted by science education in general: "Communicating the value of learning science, including evolution, for developing analytical skills that are widely applicable beyond the classroom may strengthen public support for all types of science," the editorial commented.

The editorial concluded that scientists are in a good position to help to strengthen such support. "Among respondents presented with a list of people who might explain science to the public, 88% expressed interest in hearing from a scientist, and almost as many were interested in hearing from a science teacher (85%) or a doctor or nurse (84%). On the topics of evolution, creationism, and intelligent design, most respondents expressed interest in hearing from scientists (77%), science teachers (76%), and clergy (62%). ... These data indicate that Americans respect the expertise of science and education professionals and also look to clergy for guidance on scientific issues of potential relevance to religion. The value of encouraging each of these groups -- including scientists who hold religious beliefs -- to become involved in promoting quality science education cannot be overstated."

Versions of "Evolution and Its Discontents: A Role for Scientists in Science Education" are appearing in a variety of scientific journals, including ACA RefleXions, The Pharmacologist, Physics and Society, and Developmental Biology. Information about these, along with supporting material, a PowerPoint presentation, and a complete list of members of the coalition, is available on the FASEB website. Also hosted there is a useful set of evolution resources, including background information, tips and tools for communicating about evolution, and FASEB's own statement on teaching evolution, which reads in part, "Evolution is among the most thoroughly tested theories in the biological sciences. ... Removing evolution from the classroom, or misrepresenting evolution as a flawed theory, deprives students of one of the most important tenets of science and the basis of our understanding of biology and medicine."

For the coalition's editorial, visit:

For the FASEB press release, visit:

For further information about the coalition, visit:

For FASEB's evolution resources, visit:

And for FASEB's statement on teaching evolution (PDF), visit:


A non-partisan coalition is calling for a presidential debate on science and technology. "Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness," the coalition writes, "we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of the environment, health and medicine, and science and technology policy."

In a December 26, 2007, press release, John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American and a member of the coalition's steering committee, explained, "Matters of science and technology underpin every important issue affecting the future of the United States. It's crucial for the nation's welfare that our next president be someone with an understanding of vital science, a willingness to listen to scientific counsel, and a capacity for solid, critical thinking. A debate would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on these issues."

The coalition is chaired by Representatives Vern Ehlers and Rush Holt, scientists themselves, who remarked in a joint statement, "We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities for the twenty-first century, and we hope candidates will wish to be involved in such a discussion." Among the others calling for the debate are fourteen Nobel laureates, the editors-in-chief of Nature and Science, and NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. The coalition is accepting new supporters on its website.

For information about ScienceDebate2008, visit:

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

With best wishes for the new year,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Darwin survives another debate


Foes of new science education standards try a new strategy.
By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 4, 2008

JACKSONVILLE - Maybe Darwin's not such a bugaboo after all.

About 120 people gathered at a public hearing in Jacksonville on Thursday to weigh in on the state's proposed new science standards, which embrace Darwin's theory of evolution as the pillar of modern biology. And though Darwin doubters showed up in good numbers - some of them to advance a new twist on an old argument - they were outnumbered by his defenders.

Intelligent design and other faith-based theories are "philosophical arguments, not scientific theories," said Julie Pipho, a retired teacher from Clay County who was one of two dozen people to speak in favor of the proposed standards. To incorporate such theories into science curriculum "does a disservice to our students," she said.

A committee of teachers, scientists and others worked for months to update the current standards, which were written in 1996 and do not mention the word "evolution." If the state Board of Education approves them Feb. 19, students will be tested on them next year.

The revamp has won favorable reviews from teachers and scientists. But many conservative Christians object, saying the standards should also include faith-based theories.

Many of Thursday's critics - including Beverly Slough, president-elect of the Florida School Boards Association - insisted they were not pushing creationism or intelligent design. Instead, they said, they simply wanted the standards to open the door for classroom debate on what they have dubbed evolution's flaws.

"In my lifetime, I've never seen an ape turned into a human. I've never seen us come from slime," said Ruth Klingman, who identified herself as a former educator. Darwin should not be "dogmatically taught like it was a fact."

"How many of us were taught that Pluto was a planet?" said Kim Kendall, an activist from St. John's County.

Kendall said she took exception with the statement included in the standards that evolution is "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology." Asked after the meeting what other fundamental concepts there were, she could not say.

Religious critics have raised faith-based objections to Darwin's theory for decades, only to be dismissed by scientists as off-base and declared unconstitutional in federal courts.

Some experts say an attempt to insert skepticism into evolution lessons, rather than blatantly religious concepts, may be the latest wedge strategy for ultimately introducing religious ideas into science classrooms.

"This is strategy No. 4," said Michael Ruse, director of Florida State University's program on the history and philosophy of science. The first three - banning the teaching of evolution, then promoting creationism, then touting intelligent design - have all hit legal roadblocks.

In Florida, both sides have mentioned possible legal action. In a letter to the BOE last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida warned that injecting faith into science classes would be risky and costly. "This is not a really squishy area of the law," said ACLU attorney Becky Steele. "These battles have been fought a long time ago."

But Pinellas County attorney David Gibbs III, who represented Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, argued otherwise in a recent letter to the BOE. He suggested the board might violate the constitution's establishment clause if it did not include alternative theories.

"The terms being used in the proposed standards seem to imply a shift in classroom worldview away from the neutrality of a scientific perspective toward a 'thumb on the scale' for one particular worldview or belief system," Gibbs wrote.

Darwin's theory, backed by reams of evidence, says species have changed over millions of years, driven by their ability to adapt and survive in changing environments. The vast majority of scientists agree.

Florida's draft standards say students should be able to recognize that "small genetic differences between parents and offspring can accumulate in successive generations so that descendants are very different from their ancestors." They also say students will learn that "fossil evidence is consistent with the idea that human beings evolved from earlier species."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

[Last modified January 3, 2008, 23:52:09]

Is Darwin Losing the Battle With God?


by Lauri Lebo | January 1, 2008 IN 2004, IN A RURAL ELEMENTARY-SCHOOL CAFETERIA decorated with murals of dancing milk cartons, members of Pennsylvania's Dover Area School Board shocked local constituents and the national scientific community with a small but significant change in its biology curriculum, requiring students to be made aware of "intelligent design."

At the time, I was a reporter working at the local newspaper. Seeking comment on the curriculum change, I faxed a copy of the Dover news article to the Oakland, California, offices of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an organization that defends the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools. Eugenie Scott, the center's unflappable executive director, read the story I'd faxed her and called me with her astounded response.

"You're it, kiddo," she said.

What Scott was saying was that this was the first time an American public school district had required the teaching, in science class, of so-called intelligent design—the unscientific concept that the creation of life required a guiding hand from the Almighty.

The details of what followed have been recounted many times. The board's decision triggered a series of events that led to the first constitutional test of intelligent design. At the end of a six-week trial in 2005, Judge John E. Jones III handed down his decision. In a 139-page opinion, Jones concluded that not only was intelligent design not science, it was a religious proposition. Jones wrote that when its supporters spoke of "the designer," they were speaking of a specific deity: "The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity." Intelligent design proponents derided Jones as "an activist judge" and insisted that they weren't dead yet.

They're not. Last month, Christine Castillo Comer, the science education director of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was forced to resign. Normally the resignation of a state bureaucrat isn't reported in the New York Times, which editorialized on the issue on December 4. Comer's forced resignation appears to be part of something bigger that could affect the education of children across the country.

Defenders of sound science in public schools, such as Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, believe the TEA forced Comer out of her job to prepare for an anticipated 2008 battle over revision of science-education standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

The review will influence the writing of science textbooks, and publishers are watching the process closely. With almost $30 million in the budget for textbooks, Texas is second only to California in the bulk purchase of such books. It's also a single-adoption state, approving and buying books for all the state's school districts. Publishers edit and revise textbooks in response to the specific demands of members of the Texas State Board of Education. And what's adopted in Texas is adopted in many other states.

ATTACK OF THE TEXAS ED. DEPARTMENT—As seen from central Pennsylvania, the drama unfolding in Texas seems like the beginning of something familiar.

Comer is fifty-five years old and a tenth-generation Texan. She served as the Texas Education Agency's director of science for nine years and had previously worked as a middle-school science teacher for twenty-seven years. She was forced to resign from her position because she used her agency e-mail account to forward a message from the NCSE, under the subject heading "FYI."

The e-mail informed its recipients of a speech by Barbara Forrest, a philosopher of science who is one of the creationists' most hated enemies. Forrest wrote, along with her co-author Paul R. Gross, Creationism's Trojan Horse, a damning and carefully documented account of "intelligent design's" creationist links. In the Dover trial, Forrest testified about the Wedge Document, an internal memo in which the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the nation's leading proponent of intelligent design, outlined a public-relations strategy to destroy "scientific materialism" and affirm the idea that human beings are created in the image of God. The document reads: "Alongside a focus on influential opinion makers, we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely Christians."

It's a telling point that forwarding an e-mail that publicized a talk by Barbara Forrest was cause for dismissal of an employee of a state institution.

Comer's dismissal began with a demand from Lizzette Reynolds, a recent TEA hire who worked in the U.S. Department of Education after serving as an adviser to George W. Bush while he was governor of Texas. A follow-up letter from Comer's superior recommending her dismissal explained that creationism and evolution are subjects "on which the agency must remain neutral." The letter hinted at what many science educators say is the heart of the issue—politics. "It is essential that Ms. Comer support the integrity of the upcoming TEKS development and revision process and ensure that it does not appear in any way that she is advocating for any given position or stance," it read.

"I realize my work is very unpopular with some influential people in Texas," Forrest said. "But there was some reason they used this particular incident. They don't want her there protecting the scientific integrity."

"They wanted her out so they could sabotage the standards," Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science said.

The teaching of evolution isn't threatened only by a former Bush adviser. In July, Texas governor Rick Perry appointed Don McLeroy chair of the state's elected Board of Education. Perry supports the teaching of intelligent design.

As a board member for nine years, McLeroy, along with three other board members, had been a persistent critic of the teaching of evolution in the state's public school science classes. The dentist from College Station, a conservative university town, is a Young Earth Creationist, subscribing to the belief that the earth is only a few thousand years old. Yet he reassured the Dallas Morning News following his appointment as chairman that he has no intention of instituting intelligent design into the science teaching. The newspaper interviewed eleven of the fifteen members elected to the state board. With one exception, all said they did not support writing intelligent design into biology curriculums.

"Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes," McLeroy told the paper. "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community—and intelligent design does not."

Some educators breathed a sign of relief, thinking that Texas science classes might be spared religious controversy. Yet buried in the TEKS existing standards is the reason that Texas could be the center of evolution's next big battle: Section 3a reads: "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." (Italics added.)

As Witold "Vic" Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented Dover's plaintiffs, warned on a PBS documentary about the trial, "The issue is certainly not over. One of the things that we've learned is that the opponents of evolution are persistent and resilient. And they're still out there." Or as Eugenie Scott of the NCSE often says, "Creationists are proof of evolution."

Scott said the board members may be eyeing the general standards' "strengths and weaknesses" in order to insert wording into the section of the TEKS that outlines content. They could push to add a sentence such as, "The student will be expected to explain why the Cambrian explosion is a serious problem for evolution."

AN EVOLVING CODE—In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the teaching of creation science in science classes in public schools was unconstitutional and unacceptable. Creation science adapted and evolved into intelligent design, which was declared unconstitutional in Dover. The orchestrated attack on evolution has morphed again.

This time, intelligent design proponents intend to take advantage of the wording "strengths and weaknesses" in Section 3a of the Texas regulations. The phrase was inserted in the science standards during the late '80s to appease creationists. The "strengths and weaknesses" strategy is sometimes referred to as a way to "teach the controversy."

"They've adopted the code language," Forrest said. And just as Dover's board members denied ever speaking publicly of creationism—they dishonestly accused local newspaper reporters of making up their published remarks—Texas state board members deny advocating intelligent design.

Why shouldn't kids learn about both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory? For Americans raised on democratic principles, to "teach the strengths and weaknesses" of a subject seems reasonable and fair. "To me, that's just good science education," McLeroy said.

Eugenie Scott disagrees. "There is nothing fair about teaching kids about bad science. There is nothing fair about giving kids nineteenth-century science in a twenty-first-century classroom."

Leaving the constitutional legal matter of such a maneuver aside, what aspects of evolution does McLeroy consider controversial? He cites the principle of common descent, in particular the idea that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor, as one debatable issue. Yet in the science community, there is no controversy over the idea that all living organisms are descended from a shared ancestor. The mapping of the genetic code in recent years has only confirmed anew scientific support for life's universal connection.

Still, McLeroy says he isn't interested in pushing creationism. "I resent the notion that I'm speaking in code," he said. But in Texas, just as in Dover and in other earlier battles in Kansas and Ohio, the scientific arguments of evolution's critics are intertwined with their religious views.

In a talk McLeroy gave to his church congregation in 2004, he recited the anti-evolution talking points that Forrest outlines in her book. McLeroy spoke of Phillip Johnson, the father of the intelligent design movement, and his Big Tent strategy in which all Christians, except those who embrace evolution, should unite to defeat material naturalism. As McLeroy told the group, "So what do we do about our Bible in the intelligent design movement? . . . Johnson states, 'it's vital . . . to keep the discussion strictly on the scientific evidence and the philosophical assumptions. This is not to say that the biblical issues aren't important; the point is, the time to address them will be after we have separated materialistic prejudice from scientific fact.'"

When I asked McLeroy about the talk he gave, he said the purpose of it was to teach Christians how to defend their faith—that it was not given as a way to help push those views on schoolchildren. He said he finds that many of the people who defend evolution are intolerant of other views.

McLeroy isn't the only official who seems little able to separate the religious aspects of this fight from the scientific ones, even though they may speak of wanting to do so.

On December 9, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott told the Dallas Morning News about Comer's forced resignation, "I don't think the impression was that we were taking a position in favor of evolution. . . . It's part of our curriculum. But you can be in favor of science without bashing people's faith, too."

Dan Quinn, the communications director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the work of the Christian right, complained that such talk shuts down the conversation. "How can you have a rational debate if every time you say 'it's not science,' they say 'you're bashing religion'?" Quinn asked.

THE GOOD BOOK VS. GOOD SCIENCE—In the meantime, science educators say that publishers are paying close attention. Eugenie Scott notes that if science prevails in the standards revision process, a nasty battle could send a message to publishers to tread carefully on their treatment of evolution and perhaps water down the coverage.

"It's always a worry that book publishers will be intimidated," Scott said. For instance, despite what the standards say, board members in Texas argue that students should only be learning "abstinence until marriage" values in health classes. Publishers have taken heed, and contraception is now unmentioned in the students' textbooks.

"Their goal is if they can damage evolution instruction, this makes students suspicious," Schafersman said. "They'll think 'Maybe evolution isn't as strong as I was told; maybe it isn't as strong as the idea of Earth's revolution around the sun,' or as much as gravity." Their arguments are based on what Schafersman describes as "bogus weaknesses." Science, he says, has a better understanding of the processes of evolution than it does of gravity.

Justice William J. Brennan wrote in the Edwards v. Aguillard decision, handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, that science's secular purpose must be "sincere and not a sham." Eighteen years later, Judge Jones echoed that language from the federal bench.

Looking forward in his decision, Judge Jones addressed intelligent design's fallback—the "teach the controversy" strategy—and determined that it was, indeed, also a sham. "ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the ID [movement] is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID."

As both sides wait to see how this will play out, Christine Comer is adjusting to caring for her disabled father and paying her bills on a pension that provides less than the salary she lost. "But I feel like this is my contribution," she said. "This is my time to draw my line in the sand for science."

She had watched what took place in Dover and remembers being outraged at the time. "But I guess I wasn't outraged enough," she said. Because she never did anything about it.

Now, teachers she knows in small towns across Texas have come to her to say they've been forced to teach creationism in science class for years. She asked them why they didn't do anything about it. "Come on," they told her. "What can I do? It's Texas."

U.S. science academy stresses evolution's importance


Thu Jan 3, 2008 By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Thursday issued a spirited defense of evolution as the bedrock principle of modern biology, arguing that it, not creationism, must be taught in public school science classes.

The academy, which operates under a mandate from Congress to advise the government on science and technology matters, issued the report at a time when the theory of evolution, first offered in the 19th century, faces renewed attack by some religious conservatives.

Creationism, based on the explanation offered in the Bible, and the related idea of "intelligent design" are not science and, as such, should not be taught in public school science classrooms, according to the report.

"We seem to have continuing challenges to the teaching of evolution in schools. That's something that doesn't seem to go away," Barbara Schaal, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis and vice president of National Academy of Sciences, said in a telephone interview.

"We need a citizenry that's trained in real science."

Evolution is a theory explaining change in living organisms over the eons due to genetic mutations. For example, it holds that humans evolved from earlier forms of apes.

The report stated that the idea of evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. "Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future," said the report.

But teaching creationist ideas in science classes confuses students about what constitutes science and what does not, according to the report's authors.

The report was released by the academy and the Institute of Medicine, which advises policymakers on medical issues. It updates academy publications issued in 1984 and 1999. It was written by a committee headed by University of California-Irvine biology professor Francisco Ayala.

"Biological evolution is one of the most important ideas of modern science. Evolution is supported by abundant evidence from many different fields of scientific investigation. It underlies the modern biological sciences, including the biomedical sciences, and has applications in many other scientific and engineering disciplines," the report stated.

The authors highlighted developments in evolutionary biology, citing its importance in understanding emerging infectious diseases. They noted the discovery, published in 2006, of the remains of a Tiktaalik, a creature described as an evolutionary link between fish and the first vertebrate animals that walked out of water onto land 375 million years ago.

President George W. Bush said in 2005 American students should be instructed about "intelligent design" alongside evolution as competing theories. "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said.

Advocates of "intelligent design" contend that some biological structures are so complex they could not have appeared merely through natural processes.

A judge in Dover, Pennsylvania ruled in 2005 that the teaching of intelligent design violated the U.S. Constitution, which requires a separation of church and state, because it is based on religious conviction, not science.

A 2006 Gallup poll showed that almost half of Americans believe that humans did not evolve but were created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen)

National Academy of Sciences Report on Evolution Long on Assertion, Short on Evidence, Says Discovery Institute


WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Academy of Sciences has published yet another report on evolution, titled "Science, Evolution, and Creationism." In the ample space of 89 pages, the NAS manages to celebrate evolution as an unassailable truth, completely misrepresent intelligent design, and rehash the same standard Darwinist arguments which have been refuted by critical scientists time and again.

The NAS exaggerates the success of evolution, hyping it as "the foundation for modern biology." This outrageous claim continues to meet a growing skepticism from scientists around the world. Over 700 doctoral scientists have publicly declared their disagreement by signing a list dissenting from Darwinism, including National Academy of Sciences member Phillip Skell.

In 2005, Dr. Skell wrote in a letter published in The Scientist that "the claim that [Darwinian evolution] is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs."

Instead of treating evolutionary theory as an area open to further scientific inquiry, the NAS report canonizes evolution as perfect and immutable, "so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter it."

"Under their definition, a theory is not a testable area of science but rather an unquestionable dogma," said CSC program officer Casey Luskin.

Of course, this should come as no surprise, given the NAS's bias against intelligent design, which challenges Darwinian evolution on scientific grounds. Rather than addressing the science of ID, the report misrepresents the theory as an untestable religious belief. While the report ignores what design theorists actually claim, it chooses to cite the Kitzmiller ruling instead, apparently trusting a judge who copied the ACLU and disregarding the academic freedom of the scientists who stake their reputations and careers on the scientific merit of intelligent design.

At bottom, this report does little more than reveal a tired and weary voice of an establishment unwilling to actually address the scientific claims or the thoughtful skepticism of a growing number of scientists who disagree.

Discovery Institute recently published its own guide for educators, "The Theory of Intelligent Design: A briefing packet for educators to help them understand the debate between Darwinian evolution and intelligent design." It is available at http://www.discovery.org.

-- Download a color version here:


-- Download B/W printable version here:


SOURCE Discovery Institute

Importance of Teaching Evolution Noted



WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientific advisers to the government emphasize in a report the importance of teaching evolution in public schools. The report by the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine follows up on similar past publications, the last of which came out in 1999. The new document includes recently discovered evidence supporting evolution, including an important fossil find.

The report released Thursday also takes swipes at creationism and other anti-evolution theories.

"Despite the lack of scientific evidence for creationist positions, some advocates continue to demand that various forms of creationism be taught together with or in place of evolution in science classes," the report says.

Evolution is a continuing topic of debate in some states. Florida officials are considering revisions in state science standards that would add the word "evolution" to the standards. The state Board of Education plans to vote on the guidelines next month.

In Texas, the state's director of science curriculum, Chris Comer, maintains she was forced to resign recently due to evolution politics. Comer said she came under pressure after forwarding an e-mail that her superiors felt made the agency appear to be biased against the instruction of intelligent design, an alternative to evolution favored by some religious conservatives.

Intelligent design holds that the universe's order and complexity are so great that evolution cannot explain it.

The Texas State Board of Education is expected to begin a review of the state science curriculum soon.

Josh Rosenau, a spokesman for the California-based National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution, said the new report is important because the debate over evolution in school is not going away.

Casey Luskin, program officer for the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports teaching students about the criticism of evolution, was critical of the document.

"Students should learn about the evidence for and against evolution," he said.

The Institute of Medicine is part of the National Academy of Sciences, a private organization chartered by Congress to advise the government of scientific matters.

On the Net:

The National Academies: http://www.nationalacademies.org/

Thursday, January 03, 2008

God, Science, and the Presidential Campaign



Published: December 26, 2007

To the dismay of many, religion is becoming one of the defining issues of the presidential election campaign. From the scrutiny of Mike Huckabee's views about evolution and Mitt Romney's Mormonism on the Republican side, to unseemly e-mails questioning the religious upbringing of Barack Obama among Democrats, religious faith is once again front and center in electoral politics.

At the same time some are paying increased notice to religion in the campaign, others are lamenting that not enough attention is being paid to science.

In an essay published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, physicist Lawrence Krauss faulted presidential candidates for not discussing their scientific views more fully. According to Krauss, "almost all of the major challenges we will face as a nation in this new century have a scientific or technological basis," and the next president will need to act as an "educator in chief" on science issues.

Ironically, both the preoccupation with religion and the avoidance of science in the presidential campaign may have been fueled by the scientific community itself.

Increasingly, self-proclaimed defenders of science have tried to turn "science" into an ideological weapon to attack any questioning by religious believers of the "consensus view" of scientific elites on embryonic stem-cell research, global warming, Darwinian evolution, and similar issues.

This attempt to suppress dissenting views in discussions of science and public policy is fueled by the anti-religious orientation of the majority of America's elite scientists. Nearly 95 percent of biologists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, identify themselves as atheists or agnostics.

The anti-religious fervor of leading scientists was on clear display last year at a conference on science and religion at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. According to one participant quoted by the New York Times, "with a few notable exceptions, the viewpoints at the conference have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?"

Given the effort to exclude people of faith from public debates in the supposed name of science, is it any wonder that many in religious communities are pushing back?

The current state of affairs is tragic, because religious voices in the public square can serve as a valuable check on the prejudices and pretensions of scientific elites.

During the early decades of the 20th century, America's leading evolutionary biologists at institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia promoted eugenics and forced sterilization. Traditionalist Catholics and evangelicals were among the handful of voices challenging the validity of the eugenics crusade at a time when scientific dissenters were scant.

Scientists have their blind spots just as much as any religious believer. If they genuinely want more discussion over science and public policy, they could start by inviting religious believers to join the conversation.

John G. West, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and author of "Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science."

Is the Theory of Evolution Really a Matter of Faith?


By Leonard Steinhorn and Charles Steinhorn

Leonard Steinhorn is a Professor of Communication at American University, Author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, and a member of the HNN board. Charles Steinhorn is a Professor of Mathematics at Vassar College.

There are moments in history when wrongheadedness leads to interesting insights. Perhaps this is one of them.

Consider the Republican presidential candidates who said they didn't "believe in evolution" at a debate earlier this year. They may have been onto something – but for all the wrong reasons.

The truth is, we don't believe in evolution either. But we don't have to, because we know it to be factually true. And that's the nugget of insight that's too often been missing from the public debate ever since Darwin first laid out his theory of evolution almost a century-and-a-half ago.

As a natural phenomenon based on scientific evidence, evolution is not a matter of belief or faith, any more than gravity or genetics, and to ask whether someone believes in it is a nonsensical question, much like asking if someone believes in subatomic particles.

Yet read the popular press and you'd think that the truth of evolution is based not on science or knowledge but on one's personal worldview irrespective of evidence or proof, as if one's approach to evolution should be no different from the act of believing in, say, immaculate conception or the existence of God.

Recently we conducted a newspaper database search of the phrase "believe in evolution" and found nearly a thousand citations from the last five years. Typical is a New York Times article that describes a married couple as "Christians who believe in evolution," which suggests that scientific evidence and facts, like religion, can be true or false based on whether we believe in them or not.

The generous interpretation is that the press is simply lazy, preferring shorthand to a more accurate description, which might say that so-and-so "accepts (or doesn't accept) the fact that evolution has occurred." Stating it that way would acknowledge the fact of evolution and show that those who refuse to accept it are denying established evidence and proof.

Press reporting may also reflect a larger ignorance of science and specifically the meaning of "theory" as applied to natural phenomena. In science, "theory" has nothing to do with its popular usage as a notion or opinion, as when someone might offer a "theory as to why Bush went to war."

Rather, a scientific theory offers a coherent and conceptual explanation for facts and evidence that have been observed and accumulated; it must be predictive and capable of testing by further scientific observation.

Thus the theory of evolution aims to make logical and rational sense of the facts of evolution, proposing mechanisms to explain how evolution occurs. Those who attack evolution as merely a "theory" misunderstand what a scientific theory is.

Compounding the problem is the he-said, she-said style of journalism so prevalent today, which leaves media vulnerable to a trap set by proponents of the latest attack on evolution, "intelligent design," which is little more than an artifice devised to inject religion into the biology classroom.

Rather than portray "intelligent design" for what it is, a clever recycling of a centuries-old philosophical argument to "prove" the existence of God that has been dressed up as a scientific theory, the press reports it as an alternative to evolution and quotes advocates who complain about "viewpoint discrimination" against their cause.

This manufactured controversy will gain more media attention in 2008 with the release of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a movie promoting "intelligent design" that stars actor Ben Stein, who claims it will chronicle how "freedom of inquiry in science is being suppressed." Stein demonizes "Big Science" as an entrenched establishment that squashes dissent, claiming scientific credibility for "intelligent design" when in fact there is none.

Thus evolution simply becomes merely another "viewpoint" in the public debate, lending plausibility to the idea that it is a notion to be believed rather than a scientific fact to be known.

And that illustrates a larger problem that far transcends the evolution discussion. For years, many religious conservatives have tried to blur the line between their beliefs and objective truths. If belief masquerades as fact, and if the press allows them to coexist on an equal footing, then fact becomes just another opinion and belief gains credibility as an alternative. The media simply play along, reporting the controversy, as if no side has a greater claim to truth.

Nor is science the only field jeopardized by this blurring of belief and truth. It touches history and every other discipline dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.

So when Republican presidential candidates say they don't believe in evolution, bravo for them. If only they – and the media covering them – understood the real meaning of what they say.

Bad weather helped evolution, says study


By Mira Oberman in Chicago | December 31, 2007

FOR more than 150 years, a debate has raged over the origins of modern humans.

The main body of scientific thought says modern humans migrated from Africa and then overwhelmed their more primitive European counterparts, the heavy-browed Neanderthals, or inter-bred with them.

But growing credence is being given to the theory that homo sapiens evolved from the Neanderthals, who mysteriously died out some 28,000 years ago.

A new study to be published on Wednesday in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says evidence of huge climate change supports that theory.

Eugene Morin, an anthropology professor at Laval University in Quebec, argues that an extended period of harsh weather would have made Western Europe unwelcoming to new migrants at the time when the tools and cave drawings of modern humans began to appear.

He says it is much more likely that Neanderthals evolved as a result of these climate changes which drastically reduced the diversity and availability of animals to hunt.

"If the Neanderthals were already having trouble how would it have been possible for another population to survive?" he says.

"Even if they had a selective advantage they would still be facing the climatic conditions ... and would be competing with Neanderthals which would have been locally adapted."

Prof Morin examined the animal bones discovered at a rich archeological site in Saint-Cesaire, France and determined that the consumption of reindeer increased from 30 per cent to 87 per cent of the cave-dwellers' diet from about 40,000 to about 35,000 years ago.

And since a similar pattern was found in the bones of smaller mammals such as mice and voles, Prof Morin was able to conclude that a "relatively rapid" climatic change resulted in a drop-off in the region's bison and horse herds.

This climate change was as dramatic as the difference between the temperate forests near Montreal and the sparse Arctic region to the north, he explained.

With their survival tied to unstable reindeer herds subject to frequent crashes, the population density of Neanderthals in the region dropped dramatically, Prof Morin surmised.

This created a "population bottleneck" in which the genetic diversity of Neanderthals was dramatically reduced, allowing rare mutations to become fixed, Prof Morin concluded.

It's also possible that the harsh conditions forced the hunter-gathering Neanderthals to roam farther afield in search of food and to expand their social networks in order to protect themselves from hard times.

This may also have helped spread the genetic traits found in Cro-Magnons and the use of more complex tools and cave paintings.

"It still remains a mystery why all these changes occurred together, but I don't think they occurred as a result of a modern human migration," Prof Morin said.

"A lot of people have argued for a population increase (as modern humans expanded both numerically and spatially) and this study has shown that is not possible."

Editorial: Creationism in Texas science classes


Monday, December 31, 2007

Texas education officials should be wary of efforts to insert faith-based religious beliefs into science classrooms.

Unfortunately, people with religious agendas continue in their efforts to gain leadership positions in state education while other people continue their efforts to get schools to teach their religious beliefs in Texas public schools.

Now, the Institute for Creation Research is seeking state approval to offer online master degrees in science education, which would allow graduates to teach science in both public and private schools in Texas.

The institute teaches from the belief in a literal reading of the Bible that the earth and everything on it were created in six days by God, approximately 6,000 years ago.

The institute teaches that all plants and animals were "created functionally complete from the beginning and did not evolve from some other kind of organism."

Surprisingly, a state advisory panel has recommended approval of the institute. Next month, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will decide whether graduates of the online institute will be certified to teach science in Texas public schools.

There is nothing wrong with teaching religion in public schools. But religion should be taught in religion classes that do not give preference to any one faith. Religion should not be slipped into the curriculum in science classes.

A few weeks ago, the state's director of science curriculum, Chris Castillo Comer, was forced out of her Texas Education Agency job for forwarding an e-mail that announced an upcoming speech by the author of a book criticizing intelligent design.

A TEA deputy commissioner circulated Comer's e-mail while calling it an "offense that calls for termination." Days later, Comer said she was forced to leave her job.

TEA officials said they expected the agency's science director to remain neutral on the issues of creationism, intelligent design and evolution.

Neither science nor evolution precludes a belief in God, but religion is not science and should not be taught in science classrooms.

Evolution furor flares on Florida science proposals



Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, December 31, 2007

Evolution and the 150-year national battle over its merits comes to Tallahassee's doorstep in February when the state Board of Education decides whether to approve an overhaul of state science standards that would make it a major topic in classrooms for the first time.

The proposed changes, which would require that students recognize that fossil evidence is consistent with the idea that human beings evolved from earlier species, have ignited a fierce debate among education officials and advocacy groups.

Opponents argue that evolution is merely a theory and that other explanations for the origins of life, such as intelligent design, also should be taught out of fairness.

Other groups have come to Darwin's defense, arguing that evolution is backed by empirical evidence, something that intelligent design lacks.

The current standards, which are used as the basis for school curricula and standardized testing, refer only to biological "changes over time."

That's not enough, said Mary Jane Tappen, executive director of the state Office of Mathematics and Science.

"If you look in any biology textbook, you'll see a chapter or more on the theory of evolution," Tappen said. "There is a disconnect here. If we really want to be clear, the accurate terminology should be part of our standards."

Some exchanges in the statewide debate have been stranger than others.

After a majority of school board members in Polk County agreed recently that intelligent design should be incorporated into the science curriculum, the district was inundated with e-mails from members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Members of the tongue-in-cheek religion credit all of creation to a flying abomination that's more Olive Garden than Garden of Eden.

"No one was around to see what was described in Genesis," one e-mail to board members stated. "For all we know, the Flying Spaghetti Monster created everything with his noodly appendages."

But Polk County officials aren't the only ones in favor of supplementing evolution with the teaching of intelligent design.

At least two of the five members of the St. Lucie County School Board - Chairwoman Carol Hilson and John Carvelli - said they either want intelligent design to be taught or wouldn't object to teaching it if the community requested. The new standards have no provision for creationism or intelligent design.

"My children need to be exposed to everything, but taught as a theory," Hilson said. "Science is, well, not an exact science. It's all so subjective. There are a lot of holes in the theory of evolution.

"I can't imagine that we would teach science and not teach intelligent design."

Board member Kathryn Hensley supported the teaching of evolution, adding that "anything that is faith-based or religious-based just doesn't belong in the classroom."

Board member Judi Miller refused to comment and board member Troy Ingersoll, a Baptist minister, could not be reached for comment.

Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Bill Graham said any discussion of intelligent design is best reserved for college philosophy classes, not "side by side" in K-12 science classes.

The other six board members either refused to comment or did not return numerous phone calls and e-mails made during the past two weeks.

Board member Debra Robinson told The Palm Beach Post in 2000 that schools should teach creationism with evolution.

Martin County School Board member David Anderson said he opposes teaching evolution and said it should be referenced only as a "theory that some people believe in."

"I'm a Christian and I believe in the Creation. I'm the son of a minister," said Anderson, whose district includes Palm City and Indiantown. "I am in no way endorsing the teaching of evolution."

The battle that has played out in boardrooms, in courtrooms and on car bumpers hasn't found its way into local lesson plans.

Palm Beach County science teachers say they have been teaching the topic for years, even with its formal title, and haven't raised any hackles.

Eagles Landing Middle School science teacher Gerard O'Donnell said he's been teaching evolution to his eighth-grade science students for more than a decade.

"I do discuss evolution, but I also put a caveat that there are other explanations of how we came to be where we are," O'Donnell said. "I deal in science, so for evolution, I'm the guy to talk to."

O'Donnell said evolution is essential to many aspects of what he teaches and he never has heard a complaint from a parent.

" 'Why does mom have brown hair and I have blond hair?' " O'Donnell said. " 'Why does a giraffe have a long neck?' "These are questions that are begging to have answers for."

In 2005, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute awarded Florida's science standards an "F" in a report comparing states. Evaluators criticized the standards as "scanty," "disappointing" and "sorely lacking in content."

Aside from the controversial evolution addition, the new version also has fewer standards. The idea is that, with fewer standards, teachers and students would be able to delve deeper into certain topics and analyze them rather than just skim over a multitude of subjects and learn mostly through memorizing.

State officials say the new standards would be more relevant and accurate and hopefully drum up student interest in the sciences.

The United States ranks behind 15 other industrialized countries, including China, Iran and Finland, in the percentage of college graduates with first degrees in science or engineering.

"There has been the growing realization that our Florida graduates are not competing with students in just ... Atlanta or New York," said Jim Warford, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators and former state public schools chancellor. "They're competing with students around the world."

The decisions about what is good science should be left to the scientific community, Warford said.

Florida's DOE is expected to decide on the matter at its next meeting on Feb. 19 in Tallahassee.

Already, one member has vowed to vote against the new standards.

Board member Donna Callaway told the Florida Baptist Witness late last month that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life."

Intelligent design should not be taught, but "acknowledged as a theory which many people accept along with others," Callaway said.

"My hope is that there will be times of prayer throughout Christian homes and churches directed toward this issue," Callaway said in the Jacksonville newspaper's Nov. 30 editorial.

Callaway's office referred all questions for this article to her statements in the Florida Baptist Witness.

A misconception created by those on the opposite ends of the evolution argument is that a belief in God and an acceptance of evolution are mutually exclusive, said Wesley Elsberry, a marine biologist and Michigan State University researcher studying the evolution of intelligent behavior. Evolution only explains how species have changed over time, not where they initially came from.

"Both sides aren't satisfied with the idea that there are a substantial number of Christians who can also accept evolution," said Elsberry, a Lakeland native who also is a consultant for Florida Citizens for Science, a group of parents and educators who support evolution and has members on the committee that drafted the standards.

Intelligent design has not gone through the rigorous testing and scientific criticism to warrant time in science classrooms, he said.

"This is not something that is accountable," Elsberry said. "Our students, in their limited time in a science class, they need to receive the information that has received scrutiny through the scientific process."

The state Office of Mathematics and Science will host additional public hearings in Jacksonville on Thursday and at Everglades High in Miramar on Jan. 8. Both hearings are scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Standards writers will review the comments, along with those submitted on a Department of Education Web site, when they create a final draft next month that will go to the board.

West Boca High School biology teacher Kane More said she has gone through most of the new standards, but wishes teachers were given more time to review the changes.

"I think it's a warranted change," More said of the evolution addition. "Because I'm a scientist."

More said she recently attended a National Association of Biology Teachers conference that had a session on strategies for teaching about politically polarizing topics such as evolution, stem-cell research and global warming. "It's not my role to make a decision for the young people," she said. "My role as a science teacher is to present them with evidence and allow them to draw their own conclusions."

Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.

Scientific and teaching organizations call for evolution education

http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/health/scientific-and-teaching-organizations-call-for-evolution-education_10011015.html January 2nd, 2008 - 2:23 pm ICT

Washington, Jan 2 (ANI): A coalition of 17 scientific and teaching organizations is calling on the scientific community to become more involved in the promotion of science education, including evolution.

According to these organisations, the introduction of non-science, such as creationism and intelligent design, into science education will undermine the fundamentals of science education.

Some of these fundamentals include using the scientific method, understanding how to reach scientific consensus, and distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific explanations of natural phenomena.

In an age when people have benefited so greatly from science and reason, it is ironic that some still reject the tools that have afforded them the privilege to reject them, said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal (FASEB).

The conclusion is based on a national survey of 1,000 American voters.

Survey respondents were asked about their attitudes toward science and scientists, their views on evolutionary science in the context of education, and their opinions regarding the means through which the scientific community can effectively bolster support for teaching evolution and related subjects.

It was found that respondents favoured teaching evolution over creationism or intelligent design. The survey also revealed that respondents were more interested in hearing about evolution from scientists, science teachers, and clergy than Supreme Court Justices, celebrities, or school board members.

It also showed that there is a relationship between peoples understanding of science and their support for teaching evolution.

Respondents were asked three questions: one related to plate tectonics, one related to the proper use of antibiotics, and one related to prehistory.

Those respondents who accurately answered questions on these subjects were far more likely to support the teaching of evolution in schools.

The bottom line is that the world is round, humans evolved from an extinct species, and Elvis is dead. This survey is a wake-up call for anyone who supports teaching information based on evidence rather than speculation or hope; people want to hear the truth, and they want to hear it from scientists, Weissmann said.

The findings are published in the January 2008 issue of the FASEB Journal. (ANI)

Evolutionism under spotlight


Wednesday, 02 Jan 2008 12:06

How the Earth developed is still disputed by some

The scientific community must become more involved in ensuring science education is taught in schools, a coalition of experts has warned.

Seventeen US organisations have spoken out against creationism and intelligent design being taught, saying this undermines the fundamentals of science education.

These include using the scientific method, understanding how to reach scientific consensus and distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific explanations of natural phenomena.

Although evolution is taught throughout US schools, some areas have large numbers of people who believe in creationism – the idea that the universe was created by God.

Writing in the FASEB Journal, the coalition, which includes the National Academy of Sciences and the American Institute of Physics, says scientists have a key role in educating the public.

Their article is based on a survey of 1,000 US voters which showed greater support for the teaching of evolution than creationism and a desire for scientists to talk about evolution, rather than supreme court justices or school board members.

"The bottom line is that the world is round, humans evolved from an extinct species, and Elvis is dead," said Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal.

"This survey is a wake-up call for anyone who supports teaching information based on evidence rather than speculation or hope; people want to hear the truth, and they want to hear it from scientists."

Bible-Based Science Ed. Degree Awaits Texas Board Action


Published Online: January 2, 2008

By Bess Keller

The head of the Texas agency responsible for deciding whether to approve a Bible-based master's degree in science education says the review, though favorable so far, has miles to go.

Interim approval for the degree is being sought by the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school, which has been offering science and science education degrees online under California law. But the nonprofit group is moving to Dallas, where new rules apply.

Raymund A. Paredes, the commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said that the review of the institute's request has thus far focused on whether the ICR graduate school is a credible institution of higher education with adequate resources.

Now, he said, the focus shifts to the merits of the science education program itself.

"Our primary objective in looking at this program is to make sure any master's degree in science education will prepare teachers who can get students in high school ready to do college-level work in science," Mr. Paredes said.

Alarm was raised among scientists and science educators when the higher education board's advisory panel in November recommended approval of the master's-degree program. The advisory panel's recommendation was based on the report of a three-person site-visit team, one member of which works in the field of science education.

The team found that "the proposed master's degree, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program … comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state."

'Nonscience' Seen

Courts nationwide have consistently rejected attempts to include creationism in school science lessons. Creationism is the belief that God created the universe as outlined in the Bible. The vast majority of leading scientists and major groups of science teachers say that creationism and intelligent design, which posits an unspecified creator behind living things, are not part of science and have no place in the science classroom.

Joshua Guthrie Rosenau, a spokesman for the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, said that presenting a creationist perspective on a par with the evolutionary framework of mainstream science is, in effect, "presenting nonscience."

"What teachers should be teaching in high schools should be the consensus reached by the scientific process of testing ideas," he said. Teaching creationism in the context of biology would be akin, he said, to teaching astrology as part of astronomy.

Gerald F. Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, a membership group of 55,000 in Arlington, Va., said the objectives of the ICR program in science education clearly are antithetical to "good science." Mr. Wheeler pointed, for example, to a program objective that calls for students, in part, to "implement a variety of methods to convey successfully scientific knowledge as it relates to a purpose and a destiny." Purpose and destiny are not scientific topics, Mr. Wheeler said.

"The [Texas] coordinating board should refuse this request," Mr. Wheeler said. "It's totally outrageous."

While indicating that the decision on the ICR program should be made on its own merits, Mr. Wheeler and others are concerned that Texas may be going the way of other states in allowing science teaching to include creationism or intelligent design.

The Texas board of education is scheduled to revise its science standards this year, and some religious conservatives are pressing for teachers to be able to point to what those opponents see as flaws in the evolutionary framework.

In what some scholars took as an ominous sign, the science director of the Texas Education Agency resigned late last year under what she said was pressure to be private about her criticisms of intelligent design. She had forwarded an e-mail announcing a talk by an opponent of creationism in public schools.

Henry M. Morris III, the chief executive officer of the Institute for Creation Research, said he believes his school has gotten embroiled in Texas' war over the science curriculum. "We're all about education, not legislation," he said.

Phase II of Review

According to Mr. Morris, the ICR's graduate school has been operating at least since the early 1980s and had been accredited in California by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, a group that Mr. Morris' father, also Henry M. Morris, helped found.

Texas, however, requires accreditation mainly from the standard regional accrediting bodies, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities. State law further requires that up until such endorsement can be obtained, private institutions in Texas must get approval from the higher education board to offer programs and grant degrees.

Mr. Morris said that most of the graduates of the master's program in science education, which now has about 50 students, teach in Christian schools. Few teach in public schools.

"We teach the same science as in any university," Mr. Morris said about the program. "You get the same education as with the other side, but with value added, if you want to put it like that."

Mr. Paredes of the higher education board said that in the second phase of his review, he would call in "top scientists from around the state," including those from religiously affiliated universities, such as Texas Christian University, to help assess "the quality and rigor" of the ICR program.

The board is scheduled to meet to vote on his recommendation Jan. 24, but Mr. Paredes said that the recommendation might not be ready by that date.

"We're more interested in doing this right than doing it quickly," he said.

Vol. 27, Issue 17

Evolution being taught, so call it 'evolution'


Palm Beach Post Editorial

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Evolution is scientific theory. Creationism is religious belief. Only one of them should be taught in Florida's science classrooms.

The state Department of Education holds hearings today in Jacksonville and Tuesday in Miramar on a proposal to explicitly acknowledge that Florida's public schools will teach evolution. That would be one change among many designed to improve science education.

The curriculum already requires science teachers in the state's public schools to teach their students that forms of life change over time. That's evolution in all but name. Still, some groups object to specifying evolution. Inevitably, critics of the change will argue that students who learn about evolution also should study intelligent design, which is creationism that has been repackaged and rebranded.

There is no official proposal to require teaching of intelligent design. Still, as The Post reported this week, some school board members in this area support teaching intelligent design in science classrooms. Those board members include Carol Hilson and John Carvelli in St. Lucie County. Debra Robinson of Palm Beach County has supported it. Martin County's David Anderson opposes the teaching of evolution because "I am a Christian."

In fact, many Christians are persuaded by the extensive scientific evidence that supports the theory of evolution. They also understand that Darwin's theory is about the origin of species, not the origin of life. Acceptance of evolution doesn't rule out accepting the belief that evolution is one of God's tools.

The accumulation of scientific evidence also is why critics of evolution are wrong to dismiss it as "just a theory." The word theory, as scientists use it, doesn't just mean something that somebody believes in. A theory is a reasonable explanation supported by considerable empirical evidence. Students in Florida classrooms already learn about that evidence. Most already are taught that the evidence supports the theory of evolution.

But students are not taught the empirical scientific evidence for creationism and intelligent design because there is no empirical scientific evidence for creationism and intelligent design. If those subjects are worth teaching, they belong in comparative religion classes or, these days, classes on politics.

Florida hopes to become a leader in scientific discoveries. Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast want to play a major role in the biotech industry. To have any chance of achieving those goals, Florida has to teach science in its science classrooms. The state Board of Education votes next month on whether to require students to be taught evolution. If Florida can't do that, the state has little hope of evolving into a world leader in science.



by Felix Vasquez Jr. (2008-01-03)
2006, Un-rated, 84 minutes, Shifting Baselines

It basically depends on which side you choose: the bible or science, religion or scientists, a book of fantasy tales or decades of pure cold evidence and fact. Regardless of your stance, and my own apparent, "Flock of Dodos" is not only a wry examination of the dispute between Creationists and Evolutionists, but also manages to side with the evolutionists while pointing out the possibility that we evolutionists could become an extinct species if we do nothing to convince the world that evolutionism is by nature, you know, logical, sensible, and just absolutely true, in spite of the inherent denial placed by creationists.

It's no secret of my stance in this issue, but director Randy Olson places a very interesting point in place about the basic complacency of folks who support the issue of evolutionism and how self-defeating they've become. Take for example his candid poker game with scientists who discuss the inherent fallacies behind creationism and the basic elitism present within the group that sadly works against their attempts to bring their stance to the forefront of this volatile dispute. Sure, in the long run, it's just a load of hogwash perpetuated to distract from the actual issues in this country, but it has become a separating argument that's garnered immense debate.

Olson doesn't particularly attack one side, even though his stance is made apparent in a great portion of the documentary; he chronicles the discussions of the evolutionists, and yet sits down with creationists revealing them to be wholesome harmless people who hold strong beliefs as we do, however illogical they may be. Thankfully Olson also explores the utterly deceptive concoction of Intelligent Design, a blatantly bogus theory put forth by creationist pushers that combines science and religion to form this rather contradictory theory that perhaps all this scientific marvels were planned by a "higher force." Are we to believe hurricanes and earthquakes are pre-designed machinations?

He debunks much of this designed theory and political propaganda machine grabbing the proponents and allowing them to hang themselves with their own rope, but thankfully never resorts to tricky editing, or insistent questioning as Michael Moore does. The theory of Intelligent Design sold by the Discovery Institute to much of the American public needs no tricks to show its absurdity. Olson puts the creationists under the magnifying glass, but also chastises evolutionists who simply haven't done enough to push forth this scientific fact that is still absurdly considered a theory.

If not broached further, evolution can be trivialized more and more, and folks who champion the fact of evolution will be as ancient as those who view the Earth as a flat surface, and we'd have no one to blame but ourselves.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Evolution education update: December 21, 2007

The Institute for Creation Research is seeking to grant graduate degrees in Texas. Meanwhile, Glenn Branch offers his take on the Comer controversy, the Alliance for Science is holding its second annual essay contest, and new content from Reports of the NCSE is available on the NCSE website.


The Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist organization, has cleared the first hurdle in its quest for authorization to issue master's degrees in science education in Texas. The Dallas Morning News (December 15, 2007) reported, "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." According to a December 17, 2007, report by Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, THECB will meet on January 24, 2008, to consider the ICR's application. If approved, the ICR will have two years to obtain accreditation for its graduate school from an independent accreditation agency.

ICR recently moved its headquarters from the San Diego, California, area to Dallas. In the October issue of ICR's publication Acts & Facts, its president John Morris explained, "The possibility of moving to Dallas surfaced when my brother, Dr. Henry Morris III, discerned that a central location would be beneficial for ICR, with several possibilities for student services at nearby affiliated colleges. The many good churches and large numbers of ICR supporters living in North Texas made it a natural fit for the ministry. When my father [Henry Morris] was still alive he approved the move to Dallas, especially as a way to strengthen the graduate school. In 2006, ICR opened a distance education effort in Dallas, as well as the hub of ICR's internet ministries. ... As additional operational functions were assigned to the new Dallas office, the Board concluded that it was in ICR's best interests to move the entire ministry."

The ICR's graduate school was previously accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a group founded by Henry Morris; Henry Morris III presently serves on its commission. Texas does not recognize accreditation by TRACS, forcing the ICR to seek temporary state certification while it applies for accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). As a first step toward certification, a committee of Texas educators visited the ICR's facilities in Dallas to evaluate whether the ICR meets the legal requirements for state certification. The report described the educational program as "plausible," adding, "The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state."

NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott disagreed, telling the Dallas Morning News, "It sounds like the committee may have just taken at face value what the ICR claims ... 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." (The committee members were a librarian, an educational administrator, and a mathematician; none was professionally trained in biology, geology, or physics.) Inside Higher Ed reported (December 17, 2007), "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."

Although Patricia Nason, chair of the ICR's science education department, told the Dallas Morning News, "Our students are given both sides. They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion," the ICR's statement of faith includes the tenet, "All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week described in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8-11. The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false." Similarly, applicants to the ICR's graduate school are explicitly told that their answers to the essay questions on the application help to determine "your dedication to the Lord, the Word, and teaching creation science."

According to the Dallas Morning News's article, the ICR's graduate program "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 ICR's graduate school's website repeatedly declares, "ICR maintains that scientific creationism should be taught along with the scientific aspects of evolutionism in tax-supported institutions."

The Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, is to study the ICR's application and offer his opinion to THECB. He told the San Antonio Express-News (December 19, 2007), "Because this controversy is so potentially hot, we owe it to both sides to be absolutely fair in evaluating it. ... 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." The New York Times (December 19, 2007) reported, "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.'"

For the Dallas Morning News's article, visit:

For Texas Citizens for Science's report, visit:

For the THECB committee's report (PDF), visit:

For Inside Higher Ed's article, visit:

For the San Antonio Express-News's article, visit:

For The New York Times's article, visit:


NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch was invited to contribute a piece on the forced resignation of Chris Comer from the Texas Education Agency -- a controversy that is still reveberating in Texas and around the country -- to Beacon Broadside, the blog of Beacon Press. "I send a lot of e-mail in the course of the average day, and ordinarily nobody is fired as a result," he began. "But I'm not always so lucky."

Beacon Press is the publisher of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for our Schools, edited by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch, and including essays by them as well as by Nick Matzke and Paul R. Gross, Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters, Jay Wexler, and Brian Alters. Reviewing it in BioScience, Randy Moore wrote, "If you read just one book about this subject, read this one. Then give the book to others and urge them to do the same. "

For Branch's essay, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:

For information about Not in Our Classrooms, visit:


The Alliance for Science -- a non-profit organization which seeks "to heighten public understanding and support for science and to preserve the distinctions between science and religion in the public sphere" -- is holding its second annual essay contest. The theme is "Climate, Agriculture, and Evolution." Students are encouraged to submit essays of up to 1000 words on one of two topics: "Climate and Evolution and "Agriculture and Evolution."

Essays will be judged for their scientific focus, and correctness, quality of analysis and interpretation, personal voice and interest, and clarity and style of writing. Cash prizes will be given to the top four students, with $300.00 for first place. Sponsoring teachers of the top two students will receive cash for purchase of educational materials. Additional prizes include educational DVDs and books.

For the "Climate and Evolution" topic, students are asked to consider the interaction between the slow changes driven by evolution with the potentially much more rapid impact of climate change. For the "Agriculture and Evolution" theme, students are encouraged to think broadly about the interplay between naturally evolved plant and animal species, traditional plant selection and animal breeding methods, and recent technological options such as genetic engineering.

This contest is open to all high school students living in the United States. Students must submit individual original essays and have a sponsoring teacher. Sponsoring teachers can include former teachers, science program coordinators, or science museum staff. Electronic submissions (via e-mail) are preferred, but printed essays will also be accepted. Registration forms and official contest rules are posted at the Alliance for Science website.

For information about the essay contest, visit:

For information about Alliance for Science, visit


Selected content from volume 27, numbers 1-2, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website, including Tim Heaton's report on his visit to Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum and Eugenie C. Scott's "NCSE: A Decade in Retrospect." And there are reviews, too: Doren Recker reviews Michael Ruse's Darwinism and its Discontents, Michael Ruse reviews Sahotra Sarkar's Doubting Darwin?, Arthur McCalla reviews Philip Kitcher's Living with Darwin, J. David Pleins reviews Arthur McCalla's The Creationist Debate, and David E. Levin reviews Michael J. Behe's The Edge of Evolution, concluding, "the most irritating aspect of this book is Behe's selective use of the ever-expanding base of scientific knowledge as a soapbox from which to shout his embrace of perpetual ignorance."

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The current issue (volume 27, numbers 3-4) features articles on the ongoing contretemps at Grand Canyon National Park; articles by Joe Felsenstein and Mark Perakh discussing William A. Dembski's arguments about natural selection and his failure to answer his critics; articles on evolution education policy in the abstract and in the concrete; and the usual slew of reviews, including Lauri Lebo reviewing Matthew Chapman's 40 Days and 40 Nights, Gary S. Hurd reviewing Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross's Origins of Life, and Tim M. Berra reviewing Stanley Rice's Encyclopedia of Evolution. And more is in the pipeline for future issues of RNCSE, including articles by George Bishop and Frans de Waal as well as reports of creationist activity in Florida, Texas, the United States Senate, and Russia. Don't miss out -- subscribe today!

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

With best wishes for the holiday season,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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Institute proposes online degrees in creationism


Web Posted: 12/19/2007 12:05 AM CST

Melissa Ludwig 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 online master's degrees 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 in January, sparking an outcry among science advocates who have fended off repeated attempts by religious groups to insert creationism into Texas science 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, in recent years turning Texas' textbook adoption process into a national media circus.

The Institute for Creation Research, which recently moved to Dallas from Santee, Calif., claims to teach 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.

The majority of the school's 54 students are teachers at private Christian schools or home-schoolers, 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 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. "Obviously, we are going to take into account the view of scientists. But we are also going to listen to people from the (institute).

"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.

Henry M. Morris, a Dallas native who taught hydraulic engineering at Virginia Tech University, founded the Institute for Creation Research in 1970. He spent his life trying to prove the accuracy of Biblical events, and was hailed as the father of creation science upon his death 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. Son Henry currently sits on the commission, according to its Web site.

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 Trinity University and all the University of Texas campuses. A certificate of authority from the Coordinating Board would allow ICR to operate until it can earn accreditation.

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. A course called research in science education, for instance, requires students to "apply the basic principles of science education research to issues relating to the study of creation science in a class setting."

Bower, the UTSA scientist, balked at the mix of science and religion.

"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.

The report did cite other shortcomings, such as an inadequate library, inadequate evaluation of the institution's effectiveness and the fact that the university's president, John D. Morris, also sits on the board of directors.

But no matter what scientists say, the decision makers in Texas are politicians and their appointees, said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, an organization that bills itself as a "mainstream voice to counter the religious right."

The application follows last month's ouster of Chris Comer, the science curriculum director at the Texas Education Agency, after she forwarded an e-mail about a talk being given Barbara Forrest, a critic of the creationist movement.

"Texas is becoming a central battleground now in efforts to undermine science education," Quinn said. "I think that's a reputation you really don't want your state to get."


Plan for Creationist Theme Park Draws Fire


By Kevin McCandless CNSNews.com Correspondent
December 20, 2007

London (CNSNews.com) - A British charity has drawn national attention -- and come under attack -- over plans to build a theme park, including a television studio, to promote creationism.

The AH Trust said in its annual report that it wants to build a $7-million interactive studio to produce Christian films and television shows, partly to draw British teenagers away from anti-social behavior, including binge drinking.

The charity said its members, several of whom are drawn from the media sector, had become disgusted at the sex and violence available on British television, along with the decline in churchgoing in society.

In fighting that trend, the planned studio is projected to attract 5,000 people nightly for tapings of Christian-oriented shows, as well as give teenagers a chance to learn TV production skills.

The AH Trust also plans to use the studio to promote the account of the creation recorded in the biblical book of Genesis and to combat what it sees as the malign influence on society of Darwin's theory of evolution.

"Evolution has falsely become the foundation of our society," the report said. "We need the studio to advocate Genesis across this land in order to remove this falsehood which presently is destroying the church foundation."

In a short statement released on Tuesday, the charity said it had not yet chosen a site for the theme park. It said it had received more than 1,000 abusive emails since news of the studio first broke in a Sunday newspaper and would refrain from comment for the time being.

Though Britain is regarded as one of the most secular countries in Western Europe, the issue of teaching of creationism in schools has entered the public debate over the past few years.

City academies sponsored by millionaire businessman Peter Vardy have come under fire for reportedly teaching creationism, and the British government drew further heat earlier this year by including it in the national school curriculum.

Under government policy, neither creationism nor intelligent design - the anti-evolutionist belief that the universe is the result of an ultimate plan or design - are considered scientifically valid.

Schools are forbidden from teaching them in science classes but now have the option of including lessons dealing with them in religion education classes, which are compulsory throughout Britain.

Hanne Stinson, head of the British Humanist Association, said Wednesday he was surprised at how much attention creationism had received in the past few years.

In part, he put this down to a growing distrust of science among some people, and he said there was a need to improve the teaching of science in schools.

Also, some Christian groups were becoming increasingly organized, as well as being very well funded.

"There's an increase in how vocal religious groups are getting," he said. "Ten years ago, people didn't discuss religion at all."

Although Britain does not have Christian theme parks of the type that exist in the United States, it does have a thriving Christian media sector, with companies producing radio and television shows for domestic and international audiences.

In London, Premier Christian Radio broadcasts worship music and shows from an evangelical perspective. It has proven popular and has gone on to start an online television-on-demand service.

But Liz Jepson, an organizer with theMediaNet, a group for Christians working in the media, said Wednesday that she doubted if the studio planned by the AH Trust would be a success.

Creationists were generally viewed by the British religious mainstream as "lunatics," she said, and the charity would likely have trouble attracting audiences.

"Who's going to go to that thing?" Jepson asked. "People who want their views supported or those people who want a laugh?"

Divine Evolution


By Michael Gerson
Friday, December 21, 2007; Page A35

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. Or not. And so the debate on origins continues.

This spring, west of Cincinnati, a $27 million Creation Museum opened its doors, complete with a display showing dinosaurs entering Noah's Ark. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is pressed repeatedly on his views of evolutionary biology, rather than health-care policy or Iran. According to the Pew Research Center, about 70 percent of evangelicals believe that living things have always existed in their current form.

I have little knowledge of, or interest in, the science behind this debate. Can gradual evolutionary changes account for the complex structures of cells and the eye? Why is the fossil record so weak when it comes to major mutations? I have no idea. There are unsolved mysteries in Darwinian evolution. There is also no credible scientific alternative.

But whatever the scientific objections, it is the theological objections to evolution that are weakest. Critics seem to argue that the laws of nature are somehow less miraculous than their divine suspension. But the elegant formulas of physics, and the complex mechanisms of evolution, strike me as an equal tribute to the Creator.

Critics also assume that humble evolutionary origins undermine human dignity. But the Bible's description -- creation from the "dust of the earth" -- is no less humiliating than descent from primates. Men and women have an elevated value because they are known and loved by God, not because of their genetic pedigree.

Historically, it is usually an error for religious people to fill scientific holes with supernatural explanations, because those holes often are filled eventually by the progress of knowledge. A "god of the gaps" is weaker and less compelling than the God of all creation.

And there is little need for such explanations, even for those who take the Bible seriously. Leon Kass, in his masterful work "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis," observes, "The biblical account is perfectly compatible with the fact of a slowly evolving cosmos, with life arriving late, beginning in the sea and only later emerging on earth, progressively distinguished into a variety of separated kinds."

But this overly hyped debate on biology hides a deeper conflict that could not be more important.

Some scientists claim that a belief in evolution and orderly material laws somehow disproves the existence of immaterial things such as God and the soul -- as if biology or physics could refute concepts they don't even examine. There is no telescope that reveals the absence of the divine; no MRI that yields a negative test for the soul. G.K. Chesterton summarizes this naive theory as follows: "Because science has not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore something entirely different . . . is untrue. . . . To me it is all wild and whirling; as if a man said -- 'The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so I suppose that my wife does love me.' "

There is a large distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and naturalism. Naturalism -- the belief that the material world is all that is or ever will be -- is a philosophy, and a dangerous one. As C.S. Lewis points out, this belief system begins by denying the existence of God, but it cannot end there. "The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed 'souls' or 'selves' or 'minds' to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. . . . Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they."

And so, in a purely material universe, human beings are reduced to what one writer calls "temporarily animated meat" -- even our consciousness a byproduct of our chemistry. This view, by necessity, has disturbing moral and political implications. Those who believe that men are meat are more likely to treat men as meat. "If I had to burn a man alive," concludes Lewis, "I think I should find this doctrine comfortable."

The belief in an orderly universe does not require belief in an empty universe. And science does not even address the most important questions about human destiny.

"Let us assume that creation is evolution," argues Leon Kass, "and proceeds solely by natural processes. What is responsible for this natural process? . . . Can a dumb process, ruled by strict necessity and chance mutation, having no rhyme or reason, ultimately answer sufficiently for life, for man, for the whole? . . . And when we finally allow ourselves to come face-to-face with the mystery that there is anything at all rather than nothing, can we evolutionists confidently reject the first claim of the Bible -- 'In [the] beginning, God created the heavens and the earth'?"


What do you teach in science class?


Letters for Friday: Teaching evolution

12:00 AM CST on Friday, December 21, 2007

Science education has to have an open mind

Re: "Teaching of evolution to go under microscope – With science director out, sides set to fight over state's curriculum," Thursday news story.

What do you teach in science class? You teach science. What do you teach in Sunday school class? You teach your faith.

Thus, in your story it is important to remember that some of my quoted comments were made in a 2005 Sunday school class. The story does accurately represent that I am a Christian and that my faith in God is something that I take very seriously. My Christian convictions are shared by many people.

Given these religious convictions, I would like to clarify any impression one may make from the article about my motivation for questioning evolution. My focus is on the empirical evidence and the scientific interpretations of that evidence. In science class, there is no place for dogma and "sacred cows;" no subject should be "untouchable" as to its scientific merits or shortcomings. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student.

What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception. Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations in science, it is then that you get your science stopper. In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction does not determine whether it is true or false. In science class, you teach science.

Don McLeroy, chair, State Board of Education, College Station