NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 February 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Scientists Say Bush Stifles Science and Lets Global Leadership Slip


By Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Managing Editor

posted: 30 January 2008 12:52 pm ET

In his final State of the Union address, President George W. Bush devoted several lines to science and technology topics. He called for research and funding to reduce oil dependency and reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.

"To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow," Bush said. [Full Text]

But several scientists around the country aren't buying what they see as rhetoric not backed by funding. And they are frustrated by what they view as the White House's morality-based politics that they say ignores scientific evidence, distorts facts and leads to outright censorship of reports and scientists. The White House responded to the criticisms point-by-point.

In email interviews this week with 21 researchers in various fields of study, LiveScience and SPACE.com found widespread criticism for Bush's "retardation of research," as one scientist put it, that threatens to knock the country out of its global leadership role in science and technology.

"Science has been seriously undermined by the censorship and alteration of testimony and news releases," said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "Science and facts are not a factor in decisions, and ideology dominates."

(A Democratic congressional report in December stated: "The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.")

Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at John Moores University in the UK, holds a more favorable view of the president.

"Bush has been as supportive and as reluctant as one would expect from a very conservative president," Peiser said.

And Peiser disagreed with the perception that America's heydays are over.

"Scientific research and exploration have continued to advance during Bush's presidency," Peiser said. "The United States remains the top country in the world on every aspect of science and research and it is still the most popular destination for international scientists looking for a better career and future."

Broad criticisms

Trenberth's criticisms, however, were echoed by several researchers.

"Science establishes facts but facts can unmask bad policy," said Ken Caldeira, a climate and ecology researcher at Stanford University. "Thus good science has been seen as a threat by the Bush administration."

Alan W. Harris, senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute at La Canada, Calif., accused the White House of "systematic suppression of scientific evidence that does not support administration plans."

Responding to the criticisms, Kristin Scuderi, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, said thousands of scientists routinely conduct their business without controversy or complaint.

"There have been rare instances of inappropriate direction by individuals at the agency level, but these have been dealt with by the agency in each case," Scuderi said. "It is administration policy to rely on science, and such instances reflect errors in judgment made by individuals within agencies."

Harris has little faith that Bush's speech will lead to any increased funding for basic research. "Bush has proposed in his budgets to 'double the support for research,' but this has translated into boosting budgets for research related to defense and security far more than for truly 'basic' research," he said.

Other scientists cautioned about a decline in U.S. science leadership that predates Bush and has worsened under him.

For example, the leadership role in particle physics, the field in which giant accelerators conjure up conditions that prevailed just after the Big Bang, has waned over the past decades, said Pran Nath, particle physicist at Northeastern University in Boston. "The Bush administration was unable to arrest this decline, leaving Europe and Japan to assume leadership role in this area."

"We are falling behind the rest of the world in science because we are not making a budgetary commitment to it," said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State.

Hot-button issues

On specific hot-button issues, several researchers voiced similar criticisms.

Joshua Hart, a psychologist at Union College in New York, summarized the frustrations of many researchers.

"The administration contributed egregiously to the false impression (among the public) of a scientific 'debate' about the existence and causes of global warming," Hart said. He also called "the retardation of research involving embryonic stem cells" one of the worst things that has happened during this administration, along with "the rolling back of funding of the social sciences."

Scuderi, the White House spokeswoman, disagreed.

"Since 2001 the administration has acknowledged the existence of global warming and the fact that human activities have contributed to it," Scuderi told LiveScience today. "It only takes a quick look at NASA or NOAA websites, for example to see that they reflect the actual state of the science of global warming. Prior to 2007 the basis for administration climate science policy was a report from the National Academy of Sciences. After 2007 the basis for climate policy has been the IPCC reports," referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

White House Office of Science & Technology Policy led the U.S. delegation to the IPCC, Scuderi said, "and has supported the IPCC process and endorsed its outcomes."

Hart also cited "the failure to adequately understand – and consequently convey to the public – the fact that the theory of intelligent design is consensually regarded, in the scientific community, as absolute horse**** unworthy of serious consideration ... thereby propagating, again, the illusion that there is substantive scientific debate on the topic (as opposed to the matter being settled, which it is, and unfit for inclusion in our nation's science classes)."

"Intelligent Design is not regarded as a scientific topic," Scuderi countered. "The President's Science Advisor has been very clear on this point. The notion that the administration 'propagates' anything about intelligent design is absurd."

"A president who does not accept evolution is clearly someone who cannot change their mind in face of overwhelming factual evidence," said Sean Carroll, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

One of the best things that happened to science under Bush is "the continued growth of genome sciences, for which the administration deserves no credit, other than staying out of the way," Carroll said.

But Ardeshir B. Damania, a genetic resources analyst at the University of California, Davis, gave the administration high marks for its support of science and technology research.

"In the war on terror the Bush administration has taken action to utilize and fund scientific research to keep the country safe," Damania said. He also credited Bush with supporting stem cell research that "allows scientists to do their research without compromising human life."

In his speech, Bush called the recent discovery of a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells a "landmark achievement." But other scientists worry that while the method does not require destruction of discarded human embryos, it also remains an unproven technology and could be used to further thwart funding for true embryonic stem cell research.

Not just Bush

Suppressing science to suit policy is nothing new, explains Roger Launius, a former NASA historian and chairman of the Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Since the 1970s, Launius said, "some in industry and on the religious right have disliked the use of scientific studies by government officials as justification for actions that they viewed as counterproductive to their best interests." A broad and concerted effort to question scientific findings has affected everything from regulations on harmful chemicals and the control of tobacco to the energy issue, climate change, evolution, embryonic stem cell research, sex education and health care, he said.

"The Bush administration has been at the forefront of this effort in the first part of the 21st century," Launius said. "It represents a coordinated and frightening attack on the scientific consensus."

Launius said this administration "is probably not the worst ever when it comes to a commitment to science and technology, but it probably comes close."

One researcher who wished not to be named said "the further polarization and politicization of science" that has occurred under Bush "has been an outgrowth of partisanship that began during the Clinton administration."

Out there

The president got few high marks from the space-exploration community, either, his pledge in 2004 to return humans to the moon by 2020 seen as withering from lack of active support by the administration.

"NASA was given a vision, but neither the budget nor the political support to make it happen," said Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of the Department of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. "That has to be addressed by the next administration."

Alan P. Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said Bush is supportive of scientific research and exploration superficially, but not in practice.

"Most of the major science priorities in the vision, such as the Mars Sample Return mission and imaging extrasolar Earths, have been drastically reduced, delayed, or eliminated because of the shortage of funds to accomplish all of the worthy tasks in the vision," Boss said.

"The Bush administration has been supportive of the American Competitiveness Initiative," said Craig Wheeler, president of the American Astronomical Society. "That is good, but that support has not been translated into action and budgets."

The ACI would spend tens of billions of dollars over 10 years on research and development, education, and to encourage entrepreneurship. Bush established it two years ago.

"For the past two years the president has requested large increases in basic research funding in the physical sciences," Scuderi said. "Congress has expressed support for the ACI, but under-funded it by half in the first year and provided very little funding for it in the second year."

Wheeler said something had to be done about the lack of vision for NASA after the Columbia tragedy. "The problem is that the administration did not maintain focus on that issue and the result is that NASA has been tasked with far too much with insufficient budget."

Scuderi said one of the vision's features "is that space exploration is 'a journey, not a race' and that it be accomplished 'step by step' in a sustainable way based on available budgets. NASA's budget is substantial, both for space science and for space exploration; its budget has grown steadily on an annual basis since the president announced the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004," she said.

"Currently NASA must fund both the vision and the shuttle program," Scuderi said. "And with the retirement of the Shuttle in 2010 — a pivotal element of the vision — NASA's budget will have significantly more resources available to accomplish the first lunar mission."

Others researchers, however, see the vision for NASA fading at a time when private enterprise aims high.

The vision has "effectively gutted existing programs in favor of much administrative restructuring that seems likely to be undone with a new administration next year," said Margaret C. Turnbull, an astrobiologist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. "Therefore I don't expect the vision to develop fully, and meanwhile the other big programs have been delayed or cancelled. Not good. These are uncertain times for space science, and our best hopes for near-term progress may be in privately funded initiatives, like the X-prizes."

Peiser, the social anthropologist, monitors climate change issues and various NASA projects. He credited the current administration with having "a growing recognition of public/private partnerships and private enterprise in space exploration."

The next president

Researchers are hoping for major policy shifts with the next president.

"The coming administration must articulate a broad vision on science in the United States," said Pran Nath, the particle physicist. "The science policy must be long-range. It is not possible to undertake broad initiatives in science on four-year election cycles."

"The next president also has to listen carefully to his or her top science advisors, allowing hard science, and not politics, to inform policy," said Michael Mann, the climate scientist.

Several researchers compared the soaring costs of defense spending with the flat or sinking budgets for science, basic technology research and educational initiatives to spur competitiveness.

Still, there is hope.

"Our computers may be made in China, but most computers and software programs are designed in the U.S.," said Daniel Kruger of the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. "We have to be careful not to rest on our laurels though, lest we slip into a predominantly service economy."

Kruger added: "If we devoted just 10 percent of what it costs to stay in Iraq to improving the USA's educational infrastructure, I think we would rise substantially in those international rankings of educational achievement."

"With luck, the contrast between the lack of leadership in the U.S. and the strong focused programs in Europe and Asia will put the U.S. back in the position where someone here has to think about what they need to do to stay competitive," said Paul Calvert, a materials scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Caldeira, the Stanford researcher said he "would like to see an administration that is willing to say: The world is round, life evolved on Earth over billions of years, humans are causing our climate to change, we or our children will need to pay later for what we buy on credit today, and consumption on this planet cannot grow exponentially forever without running into environmental constraints."

Reporting for this article was done by Tariq Malik, Jeanna Bryner, Andrea Thompson, Dave Mosher, Clara Moskowitz and Robert Roy Britt.

Film will feature 'intelligent design' professor who was denied tenure



The unsuccessful effort by Iowa Sate University physics professor Guillermo Gonzalez to gain academic tenure, which Gonzalez and his supporters blame on Gonzalez's advocacy of intelligent design, will be among those featured in an upcoming Ben Stein-narrated film called "Expelled."

The film will be released in April and shows Stein interviewing scientists who say they were discredited because of their research and discussion of intelligent design.

"This is a core piece of what the film is about: academic suppression that is going on to anybody that does not faithfully adhere to the monopolistic view within academia of atheistic neo-Darwinism," said Mark Mathis of New Mexico, an associate producer of "Expelled."

"If you dissent, you are persecuted," he added.

Gonzalez, an assistant professor in physics and astronomy, learned last year that he did not achieve tenure at ISU, essentially a lifetime appointment. His position expires at ISU in May.

Gonzalez has supported intelligent design, which disputes parts of the theory of evolution.

The tenure decision of his department has been upheld by ISU President Gregory Geoffroy, and is scheduled to be addressed at the next Iowa Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 7, regents staff said Monday.

Gonzalez said in an e-mail Monday that he is applying for tenure-track positions in case the Regents do not act in his favor.

"I'm convinced that I was denied tenure because of my intelligent design research," he wrote in the e-mail.

Hector Avalos, an ISU professor of religious studies, was also interviewed for the film.

He said he sees "Expelled" as a "revenge film meant to create political and public support for those who unsuccessfully attempted to present (intelligent design) as science in our educational system."

Mathis says the film accurately portrays both sides of the debate. The film has already received positive press from intelligent design advocates, including Intelligent Design The Future, a podcast linked to the Discovery Institute, which supports discussion of intelligent design in the classroom.

The Discovery Institute's motivations were part of the high-profile Dover, Pa., school district court case in 2005, in which U.S. District Judge John Jones quoted in his opinion one of the organization's fundraising proposals, which he referred to as the "Wedge Document." Jones wrote that the document stated that the intelligent design movement aims to replace science as currently practiced with science consistent with "theistic and Christian science."

The film "Expelled" includes interviews with four people, including Gonzalez, producers highlighted "as examples as the kinds of things going on in academia when it comes to persecuting scientists who dare to dissent from neo-Darwinism," said Mathis, who said he personally believes in intelligent design.

Reporter Lisa Rossi can be reached at (515) 232-2383 or lrossi@dmreg.com

The Creationist Buffoonery and Its Dangerous Implications


by Lee Salisbury / January 29th, 2008

Creationism seems to be gaining credence far beyond its actual influence in the world of science. Even American presidential candidates, lest they offend the religious right, reject evolution in favor of creationism. Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Mit Romney endorse creationism. President George Bush suggests students ought to hear all sides of the argument, as if creationism or its bastard offspring Intelligent Design is a science topic worthy of mention. In spite of the pro-evolution 2006 verdict in Dover, PA, creationists persist seeking to influence and intimidate uninformed school boards in Ohio, Florida, and Texas. This is clearly a culture war with creationist/biblical literalists leading the anti-science, pro-creationist charge.

Creationists usually have two basic assertions: 1) that they are the ones who know true science and 2) that it is they and they alone who are the guardians of true faith in the written and revealed word of their deity. Both are of concern as surely as they are false, but it is the first assertion that we must deal with here.

Creation "science" rejects every fundamental precept upon which actual science functions, from empiricism to falsification. Creationists reject empiricism, the very heart of science, and instead embrace fanciful biblical legends of a 'talking snake' and a 6,000-year-old solar system all in a vain attempt to justify their immutable doctrinal beliefs. They are no different than the Roman Catholic clergy of 500 years ago persecuting Galileo because he declared the sun did not revolve around the earth.

Creationist buffoons know their a priori conclusions in advance, independent of any scientific inquiry. They then massage their superficially scientific assertions to justfy their desired answers matching their religious doctrine. The circularity and philosophical bankruptcy of this perspective is obvious. They beg the question, presuming to be true the very thing they claim. In other words, they are going to believe what they are going to believe regardless of the facts, i.e. religious fanaticism.

The major creationist concern is they're afraid evolution may prove they're not created in the image of the Bible's God. It seems these poor folks have never read their Bible objectively. The Bible's God is a serial murderer, He endorses stealing and lying, institgates gang rape, and finally declares that all (virtually 99% of all humanity) who do not believe in his Son will be condemned to Hell to burn forever and ever. But, that's okay cause He really loves you? Tell that to the 6,000,000 Jews who perished under Adolph Hitler.

Over the past 149 years since Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species, scientists of relevant disciplines such as cosmology, astronomy, geology, biology, zoology, and paleontology repeatedly confirm evolution a valid theory having the same reliability as the theory of gravity. According to a 1991 Gallup Poll there were about 480,000 scientists working in the relevant fields of earth and life sciences. Of those, only about 700 consider creationism valid. This means 98% of relevant scientists accept evolution and less than 2% of relevant scientists consider creationism good science. In the world of science, creationism does not even qualify for fringe of the fringe.

Scientists arrive at their conclusions by the scientific method of extensive trial and error testing of hypotheses until results produce a verifiably testable theory, in this case the theory of evolution. In contrast to creationist/religious theory, scientific theory is always tentative and subject to change as new evidence dictates.

It is bad enough that creationist churches are freeloaders, taking advantage of the public's good will by skirting their fair share of real estate taxes. But, worse yet, they use creationism as a rhetorical facade, as a lever through which to influence public policy. Creationists exploit the faith of well-meaning Christians (and those of other religions) to further their own purely self-serving goals at the expense of reality. Creationism is nothing more than an ancient regurgitated ideology bereft of merit, and loathsome in its intentions.

America 's 29th ranking in science education can, in part, be laid at the feet of our creationist/biblical literalists parading about as those righteous souls who would never "bear false witness." James Madison saw through the charade saying, "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits?More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assemby, 1785.

Make no mistake, creationism intends to redefine science, and replace it with a meaningless shell of supernatural speculation and deceit. And why, you might ask? The answer is not hard to fathom. Religion has ever been a sanctuary of those who seek to secure their eminence at the expense of others. History is unequivocal in teaching this lesson, and yet as blind as we are we seem to have failed to learn it. The creationist attack on the teaching of evolution devalues science, cheapens theology as well as condemning America's students to an inferior education, ultimately hurting their professional opportunities, not to mention diminishing America's leadership in science and technology.

Creationists aim to not only destroy science in an effort to protect their creationist fairy tales, their mission is to redefine the United States of America, eviscerate the Constitution, and effectively dismantle American democracy by instituting religious indoctrination in the schools and halls of public policy making. They mean to supplant all of these things with a form of oligarchy wrapped in the shrouds of a dumbed down science and legalistic religion. And if one doubts this, one need only consult the web sites and publications of such notable creationist organizations as the the Creation Museum, the Institute for Creation Research and the Discovery Institute. Creationists are quite explicit in their stated goals, and there is little room for doubt their true intentions. The true mission of creationism is theocracy. Thus exposed, the need to fight it on all fronts, scientific, philosophical, theological, administrative and judicial, is made even more clear. There is no higher imperative if we mean to preserve America's intellectual freedom.

Lee Salisbury is a former evangelical preacher, founder of the Critical Thinking Club of Minnesota, and writes for Axis of Logic and Dissident Voice.

Creation Museum surpassing expectations


Posted on Jan 29, 2008 | by Michael Foust

PETERSBURG, Ky. (BP)--Eight months after it opened, the Creation Museum near Cincinnati still has its secular detractors, but its success in attendance is erasing any doubts it can succeed.

Officials with the museum say they surpassed the one-year attendance goal in only seven months, drawing 290,000 visitors through the end of 2007. When the museum opened on Memorial Day with protesters outside, Creation Museum officials said their 12-month goal in attendance was 250,000. They passed the 300,000 mark Jan. 9.

Located in Petersburg, Ky., the high-tech, $27 million, 60,000-square-foot museum and planetarium present a scientific view of the biblical creation account -- in essence, a creationist answer to popular natural history museums. In fact, one of the goals of the museum -- which is a product of the ministry Answers in Genesis -- was to rival the artistic elements of natural history museums. The Creation Museum says the earth is thousands, not millions, of years old.

"It's something that has been desired for a long time," said Kurt Wise, who was a consultant for the museum and currently serves as professor of science and theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "A lot of Christians who are creationists want an alternative to the fabulous museums that we have -- the Field Museum [in Chicago] and the Smithsonian and so on. They like taking their kids to those places, but they want to see the creation model presented, and that's especially true for homeschool groups.

"It's filled a void that probably never had been filled."

Media attention -- even though it hasn't been all positive -- has helped get the word out about the museum. Mark Looy, a vice president for Answers in Genesis, said 200 media outlets -- including four Swiss ones -- have either visited the museum or conducted telephone interviews.

The museum has grown since it opened and continues to do so:

-- Some 600 parking spaces will be added in the coming months to accommodate the large crowds the museum has during the summer, particularly on weekends. Additionally, traffic flow will be improved.

-- A 4,500-square-foot, two-story "Dinosaur Den" opened in the museum last summer, several weeks after the grand opening. It features sculpted dinosaurs and dinosaur bones and shows where creationists believe dinosaurs fit in the Genesis account.

-- A fourth planetarium program will be added this year, bringing the total number of such programs to four. One of those programs is shown only around Christmas.

Additionally, the museum now is holding lectures by Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham and other staff. The lectures are held in part to draw more visitors on specific days of the week the museum has lower attendance.

The museum's success has focused more attention on the ministry's website -- AnswersInGenesis.org -- which offers answers to frequently asked questions and is one of the most visited religious websites in the U.S., Looy said. The ministry recently launched an online peer-reviewed research journal (at AnswersInGenesis.org/arj).

The museum's success comes at the same time an unaffiliated Texas-based creationist research ministry, Institute for Creation Research, seeks to get approval for an online master's degree in science education. A Texas state advisory group gave the group preliminary approval, and now the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board must give it the final OK. Some scientists are urging the board not to approve the degree.

"The latest round of so-called creation science truly scares me and all of my colleagues here at UT Southwestern Medical Center," Alfred Gilman, dean of UT Southwestern's medical school and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, wrote to the board, according to The Dallas Morning News. "Approval of this sort of nonsense as science in Texas will have a significant negative impact on our ability to attract the best minds to the state. How can Texas simultaneously launch a war on cancer and approve educational platforms that submit that the universe is 10,000 years old?"

Wise said the museum has contributed a great deal to the young earth creationist movement.

"The museum is really a phenomenal step forward in young age creationism," Wise said. "... It moved creation science forward. It brings [creation science] up to date and even on the edge in some places."

The museum, Wise said, takes what he considers a new tactic in that it is less of an anti-evolution museum and more of a pro-creationism one.

"It changed an emphasis in creationism," he said. "Most young age creationism has been [seen as] attacking evolution and attacking the concept of millions of years, but this [museum] was explicitly a creation museum, so it's a presentation of the creation model and as much as possible a positive presentation."

The museum (online at CreationMuseum.org) does tackle some of the tougher objections to creationism, such as how the speed of light and the size of the universe fit in a young earth model. The museum -- which during construction had the services of a former designer of Universal Studios theme parks rides -- has roaring animatronic dinosaurs, more than 50 educational videos and a special effects theater complete with three screens, vibrating seats, simulated wind and mist.


Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Film will feature 'intelligent design' professor who was denied tenure



The unsuccessful effort by Iowa Sate University physics professor Guillermo Gonzalez to gain academic tenure, which Gonzalez and his supporters blame on Gonzalez's advocacy of intelligent design, will be among those featured in an upcoming Ben Stein-narrated film called "Expelled."

The film will be released in April and shows Stein interviewing scientists who say they were discredited because of their research and discussion of intelligent design.

"This is a core piece of what the film is about: academic suppression that is going on to anybody that does not faithfully adhere to the monopolistic view within academia of atheistic neo-Darwinism," said Mark Mathis of New Mexico, an associate producer of "Expelled."

"If you dissent, you are persecuted," he added.

Gonzalez, an assistant professor in physics and astronomy, learned last year that he did not achieve tenure at ISU, essentially a lifetime appointment. His position expires at ISU in May.

Gonzalez has supported intelligent design, which disputes parts of the theory of evolution.

The tenure decision of his department has been upheld by ISU President Gregory Geoffroy, and is scheduled to be addressed at the next Iowa Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 7, regents staff said Monday.

Gonzalez said in an e-mail Monday that he is applying for tenure-track positions in case the Regents do not act in his favor.

"I'm convinced that I was denied tenure because of my intelligent design research," he wrote in the e-mail.

Hector Avalos, an ISU professor of religious studies, was also interviewed for the film.

He said he sees "Expelled" as a "revenge film meant to create political and public support for those who unsuccessfully attempted to present (intelligent design) as science in our educational system."

Mathis says the film accurately portrays both sides of the debate. The film has already received positive press from intelligent design advocates, including Intelligent Design The Future, a podcast linked to the Discovery Institute, which supports discussion of intelligent design in the classroom.

The Discovery Institute's motivations were part of the high-profile Dover, Pa., school district court case in 2005, in which U.S. District Judge John Jones quoted in his opinion one of the organization's fundraising proposals, which he referred to as the "Wedge Document." Jones wrote that the document stated that the intelligent design movement aims to replace science as currently practiced with science consistent with "theistic and Christian science."

The film "Expelled" includes interviews with four people, including Gonzalez, producers highlighted "as examples as the kinds of things going on in academia when it comes to persecuting scientists who dare to dissent from neo-Darwinism," said Mathis, who said he personally believes in intelligent design.

Reporter Lisa Rossi can be reached at (515) 232-2383 or lrossi@dmreg.com

Evolution and creation: A recurring papal theme, often misunderstood



By John Thavis Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican newspaper ran an illustration of a chimpanzee in late January.

The odd thing about this chimp was that he was urbanely dressed in a sweater, tie and straw hat and looked as if he might be striding across the lawn at Oxford.

The image was a grabber, though it didn't have much to do with the accompanying article, a lengthy exposition of how evolution can be considered a means of divine creation.

"Evolution and creation cannot be in opposition. God can have created a world with the capacity to change and evolve through natural causes," it said.

The article, by Italian biologist Fiorenzo Facchini, was another element of a debate that has kept percolating to the surface under Pope Benedict XVI.

In commentaries, papal speeches, scientific conferences and philosophical exchanges, the Vatican has been focusing more and more on the relationship between God and evolution.

From the outside, this may seem a reaction to the U.S. debate over creationism versus evolution, but it really has as much or more to do with the pope's interest in defining the legitimate spheres of science and faith.

Pope Benedict has weighed in several times on evolution, essentially endorsing it as the "how" of creation but cautioning that evolutionary theory cannot exclude a divine cause.

And yet, many people are under the vague impression that this pope has rejected evolution, or is getting ready to, or has serious objections to the science involved.

When a group of professors protested the pope's planned -- and ultimately canceled -- visit to Rome's Sapienza University, some said it was because they viewed the pope as a critic of Darwinian theory.

It probably doesn't help that the pope has shown a fondness for the phrase "intelligent design." He uses it to describe the idea that, whatever the biological processes involved, the natural world as a whole appears to witness to a divine creator.

That's not the same as the concept of a designer God intervening at particular points in natural development, however.

A correct understanding of evolution seemed to be on the pope's mind from the beginning of his pontificate. At his inaugural Mass in 2005, he said the existence of man can never be fully explained by a scientific process.

"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God," he said.

In his recent encyclical on Christian hope, the pope returned to that theme, saying a personal God ultimately governs the world and "not the laws of matter or evolution."

In 2006, the pope made evolution the topic of his annual encounter with his former graduate students. That fueled even more speculation that the pontiff was planning a shift in the church's position on evolution; nothing of the sort happened.

This year, the Vatican is preparing its most systematic look yet at the question, in an Oct. 31-Nov. 4 conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the theme "Scientific Insights Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

According to a draft booklet on the conference, the program features several Nobel Prize winners and guarantees a fascinating session: The famed physicist Stephen W. Hawking will talk on the origin and destiny of the universe; Swiss chemist Albert Eschenmoser will discuss the search for the chemistry of life's origin; U.S. biologist David Baltimore will examine evolution at the genetic level; and Greek biologist Fotis Kafatos will speak on evolution and the insect world.

Those addressing the theological and philosophical aspects of evolution include Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who will discuss evolution from a biblical perspective, and Father Stanley L. Jaki, a professor of physics and the philosophy of science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, who will speak on evolution as science and ideology.

Lest there be any doubt about Pope Benedict's views, the academy has prefaced its booklet with a lengthy papal quotation from last July.

"I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called 'creationism' and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: Those who believe in the creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God," the pope said.

"This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: Where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?" he said.

The pope is scheduled to meet with participants toward the end of the conference. Then, according to the tentative program, participants will gather to hear a final presentation titled "The Latest Challenge to Evolution: Intelligent Design."

Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB

Friday, February 01, 2008

Science and Religion: No Place for God


Dr. James Emery White Professor of Theology and Culture Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Senior Pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most eminent scientific organization, produced a book on the evidence supporting the theory of evolution (and arguing against the introduction of creationism or other religious alternatives in public school science classes) in 1984. It published another in 1999. This month, they produced a third, but with a twist, for it is intended specifically for the lay public. Further, it devotes a great deal of space to an explanation of the differences between science and religion, maintaining that the acceptance of evolution does not require abandoning belief in God.

Barbara A. Schaal, who is a vice president of the academy, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University and a member of the panel that produced the book, said to the New York Times, "We wanted to produce a report that would be valuable and accessible to school board members and teachers and clergy." Titled "Science, Evolution and Creationism," the 70-page work asserts that "attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist."

I would agree. While I am not convinced of much that has been suggested under macro-evolutionary theories, and even less those pertaining to hominoid evolution, I have no problem with those who hold to various forms of theistic evolution. If, in the end, it is demonstrated that this is the method God chose to use, so be it. The Genesis narrative does not speak to how God created, only that God created. The Christian has nothing to fear from science because the God of the Bible is the God of creation. All true scientific discoveries simply illuminate the world God has made.

But this is not what is meant by the report's desire to diffuse the tension between science and religion. Faith is upheld by trivializing it, reducing it to the likes of a favorite color, or preferred style of music. As the report phrases it, science and religion deal with two different kinds of human "experience." There is the experience which can be validated as fact (science), and there is the experience that can only be embraced in faith (religion). So believe what you want about God – that is your prerogative – just don't treat it like you would a scientific reality.

It is to be granted that modern science is based on empirical evidence and testable explanation. One cannot put God in a test-tube and determine His existence. But there is more at hand here than science doing its job, and knowing its limitations in regard to matters of faith. It is about limiting what religion can say about science. The working idea is that we can maintain our religious faith and our scientific discoveries not by seeing both as operating in the realm of public truth – to be jointly engaged and interpreted accordingly – but by seeing them as separate categories altogether that should never be allowed to intertwine. If you wish to believe in God, fine; just don't posit that this God actually exists as Creator, or that He could actually be pulled out to explain anything.

As Ronald Numbers has written, "Nothing has come to characterize modern science more than its rejection of appeals to God in explaining the workings of nature." Hence the report's categorical rejection of any and all forms of creationism, including intelligent design - calling such positions devoid of evidence, "disproven" or "simply false."

At issue here is the larger cultural current of privatization. As I wrote in Serious Times, privatization is the process by which a chasm is created between the public and the private spheres of life, and spiritual things are increasingly placed within the private arena. So when it comes to things like business, politics, or even marriage and the home, personal faith is bracketed off. The process of privatization, left unchecked, makes the Christian faith a matter of personal preference, trivialized to the realm of taste or opinion. Yet faith does not simply have a new home in our private lives; it is no longer accepted outside of that sphere. More than showing poor form, talk of faith has been banished from the wider public agenda.

So the National Academy of Sciences is happy for religion to exist, and does not want anyone to see a conflict between science and religion. But do not think this means that those with religious conviction should pursue science with a religious worldview on equal footing as those who engage it with a naturalistic perspective.

No, science and religion are encouraged to co-exist…as long as religion knows its place.

Which is no place at all.

James Emery White


"Science, Evolution and Creationism," Committee on Revising Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Available as a free PDF from http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11876.html.

"Evolution Book Sees No Science-Religion Gap," Cornelia Dean, New York Times, Friday, January 4, 2008, p. A11.

James Emery White, Serious Times (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press).

Evolution education update: February 1, 2008

The state academies in Indiana and Oklahoma add their voices for evoution, and Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend are approaching -- what will you be doing to celebrate?


The Indiana Academy of Science adopted a resolution (document) in 2007 supporting the teaching of evolution as critically important in "a strong grounding in the fundamental principles of science for all of Indiana's youths":


Whereas science is defined as and limited to explanations based on natural, observable and testable phenomena and, therefore, is explicitly distinguished from other types of explanations that depend on concepts relating to the supernatural (for example," intelligent design", "creation science", and" informed debate" paradigms); and Whereas, learning and inquiry are severely inhibited if teachers are placed in a position where they may feel pressured to alter their teaching of the fundamental concepts of science in response to demands external to scientific disciplines; and, Whereas, evolution theory is fundamental to a thorough understanding of biological concepts as reflected in the Indiana teaching standards, Therefore be it resolved that the Indiana Academy of Science, as a part of its commitment to educational excellence in science instruction, opposes any restriction or imposition on the teaching of biological and cosmic evolution in the curricula of Indiana's educational institutions.


The Academy explains, "The extensive reasoning and consideration that has gone into the official position of the Indiana Academy of Science on this issue (described in the resolution above) parallels that of all significant scientific and science education organizations across North America."

Founded in 1885, the Indiana Academy of Science is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote scientific research and to encourage communication between Indiana scientists and others conducting research pertaining to Indiana. It boasts over 1200 members who "share an interest in the progress of science and science education and a desire that science and scientists play a major role in the growth of Indiana."

For the Indiana Academy of Science's statement (document), visit:


At its November 2, 2007, annual meeting, the Oklahoma Academy of Science adopted a statement on "Science, Religion, and Teaching Evolution." According to the statement, "The Oklahoma Academy of Science strongly supports thorough teaching of evolution in biology classes. Evolution is one of the most important principles of science. A high school graduate who does not understand evolution is not prepared for college or for life in a technologically advanced world, in which the role of biology and biotechnology will continue to grow. ... There is no credible scientific evidence that the earth came into being recently or that evolution is not the best explanation of the origins of living organisms."

With reference to religious attitudes toward evolution, the Academy's statement reads, "'Creationism' and 'Intelligent Design' are not science because they do not conform to the testable and falsifiable criteria of science. It is not appropriate for science textbooks or science teachers to teach creation as science. Creation and other matters of faith are topics for religion, philosophy, and humanities courses. ... The Academy contends that the acceptance of the general theory of evolution and a belief in God are compatible. A wide diversity of religious faiths and belief systems are celebrated in the community of science, and the overwhelming majority of scientists accept the principles of evolutionary theory. Many do this without compromising their individual faiths in a Creator."

Founded in 1909, the Oklahoma Academy of Science seeks to stimulate scientific research; encourage fraternal relationship and the sharing of ideas among Oklahomans working in the sciences; foster through meetings and publications the dissemination of science-related ideas to all Oklahomans interested in the sciences; promote the scope and relevance of science to state citizens; investigate and publicize natural, educational, and other resources of the state; counsel government and educational agencies on the advancement of state science programs; and enlist industrial participation in scientific research and education. It issued statements in support of teaching evolution previously, in 1981 and 1999.

For the Oklahoma Academy of Science's statement (PDF), visit:


Less than two weeks remain before Darwin Day! Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (If you're speaking at or organizing a Darwin Day event, please let NCSE know -- and also register it at the Darwin Day Celebration website!)

And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Sunday -- now expanded to Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in Evolution Weekend, February 8-10, 2008, by presenting sermons and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science. Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. ... Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries. And, together, they will be elevating the quality of the national debate on this topic." At last count, 782 congregations in all fifty states (and nine foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events; they are listed at the Clergy Letter Project website.

To find a Darwin Day event, visit:

To register a Darwin Day event, visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:

And for information about the Clergy Letter Project, visit:


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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Is Ben Stein the new face of Creationism?


Posted on Feb 1, 2008 9:21:24 AM

How do you re-package that tried, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, "Creationism" after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?

After you've tried renaming it "Intelligent Design," I mean.

With comedy. Mock your "Darwinist" foes the way comics, thinkers, scientists and educated people everywhere have been mocking creationism since Scopes took that monkey off our back.

Tuck into them the way Michael Moore would, with a documentary hosted by a funny Don Quixote willing to tilt at science the way MM has gone after the gun culture, corporate cold-heartedness, George W. Bush and Big Health Care.

Get droll funnyman and ex-Nixon speech writer Ben Stein to host it, to be the on-camera jester-interviewer.

And re-cast this argument about what people chose to believe vs. what others can prove as fact as a fight for "Freedom."

That's the mnemonic device Stein came back to, time and again, last night in an Orlando screening of his new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It's a rabble-rouser of a doc that uses all manner of loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts and mockery of hand-picked "weirdo" scientists to attack the those who, Stein claims, are stifling the Religious Right's efforts to inject intelligent design into science courses, science curricula and the national debate.

He was showing the movie to what he and the producers hoped would be a friendly, receptive audience of conservative Christian ministers at a conference at the Northland mega-church next to the dog track up in Longwood. They're marking this movie, which they had said, earlier, they'd open in Feb. (now April) the same way they pitched The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, said Paul Lauer of Motive Entertainment, who introduced Stein.

In other words, a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir to get the word out about the movie without anyone who isn't a true believer passing a discouraging judgment on it.

They postered the Orlando Sentinel with email invitations, then tried to withdraw the one they sent to me. No dice. They also passed out non-disclosure "statement of confidentiality" agreements for people to sign. I didn't.

What are they hiding from you? Straight propaganda, to be sure. But again, if Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald can do it, why not Ben Stein?

It's a movie that uses animation, archival documentary footage, interviews with outraged people of science who want ID on the table, and "atheists" who see that as a step backward to make its case.

It just isn't particularly funny. Or the least bit convincing.

I lost track of the number of times Stalin's image hit the screen, and in the ways the movie equated science with Darwinism with atheism with Hitler or Stalin. Subtle, it's not.

Stein (he co-wrote it) builds his movie on classic Big Tobacco Tactics. Create just a sliver of doubt about evolution by pitching this argument in terms of academic freedom. "Legitimate" learned scientists are being silenced by the Darwinian cabal of thought police. Says Stein.

He uses anecdotes from a few Fox-over-publicized cases of people who claim to have lost tenure/their jobs/their position in the scientific world for daring to suggest the hand of a supernatural being in the creation of life. He hasn't a scintilla of proof of, well, anything. Then he has the audacity to whine, "Where's the data" when questioning cellular biologists and other real scientists who build their lives around doubt, and finding testable, legitimate answers to those doubts. Where's YOUR data, Ben?

He uses "straw man" tactics to attack, mainly The Origin of the Species, as Darwin wrote it in 1859. That's like a music critic reviewing "the latest" by only referring to Edison's wax cylinders. He sets up false theses that "the other side" must hold (classic Limbaugh) and knocks those straw men down. Citing scientific research as recent as 1953, he can't understand why no peer-reviewed scientist thinks his "fairytale" version of the emergence of life is worth his or her time. No, not having a definitive answer about the moment life began...YET...is damning enough for Ben.

Most despicably, Stein, a Jew, invokes the Holocaust, making the Hitler-was-a-Darwinist argument, this AFTER he's used the Holocaust denier's favorite trick, probabilities, "math," to show how remote the chances are that life was created by natural, not supernatural processes. There were plenty of reasons eugenics caught on as an idea among certain nationalist-conservative and even scientific circles in the early 20th century, and most of them have nothing to do with Darwin. It reminded me of the phony slump Michael Moore showed walking away from ambushing crusty old Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine.

Animation, similar to that used in Columbine, makes its mock points about how science comes to conclusions and how the culture is structured to accept them. Snippets of The Wizard of Oz, Inherit the Wind and other films (if this polished, credited, scored film is indeed "unfinished," it may be from unresolved rights-clearance issues) to make his points funny. Not really. The Stalin and Soviet and Nazi clips are used in a not-quite-subliminal seduction way to demonize the people who might hold a contrary view.

Buit all the creative editing in the world only appears to let Stein hold his own with noted British scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, whose words can be twisted to suggest that "aliens" seeded life on Earth, or at least that's more likely than anything in the Bible being literally true about creation. That's still a more rational explanation than any Stein, being a veteran Republican persuader/operator, offers. Does he really believe the blather he tosses out here? Introducing the movie, he had to trot out some nonsense about living in Malibu but not among "the stars. The REAL stars are fighting and dying for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Ok. Know your audience, if you're a speech-writer. Pander, baby, pander.

I remember stumbling across, at a bookstore, one of the more shrill and lunatic "Bill Clinton had people KILLED in Arkansas" books that came out during the 90s. I open it at the B. Dalton, and lo and behold, there's Ben Stein writing the foreward. I had no idea...

Before that, he was just the guy giving away money on Comedy Central, the ever-droning teacher of TV shows and movies ("Beuller. Beuller.").

The PBS NOVA series did a terrific piece on the court battle over intelligent design as fought in the courts in Pennsylvania, a lacerating film of finely honed facts and dagger-sharp arguments that should be shown in every school district with intel. design-dreamers running for the school board.

ID is "creation science" is "creationism" is "God dun it." Teaching that as something provable beyond faith in a science curriculum is a big reason future Nobel winners willcome from China and India, and not Kansas. That's the reason the world's scientists (he found a Pole and the infamous Discovery Institute to back up his attacks, even though they offer no counter theories that they can back up).

Expelled makes good points about academic freedom and the ways unpopular ideas are shouted down in academia, the press and the culture. But not offering evidence to back your side, where the burden of proof lies, makes the movie every bit as meaningful and silly as that transcendental metaphysical hooey of a couple of years back, What the Bleep Do We Know?

In Stein's case, you really do wonder what he knows, or what he's willing to claim he believes just to make a buck off the Scopes deniers.

Oh, and keeping your movie from the public because you're afraid of ridicule is just gutless. Put it out there, let people have time to chew on your arguments. Your fans will buy tickets. And plenty of folks will emerge to tear it apart. Even Michael Moore has the courage to do that.

Maybe he will be the new face of creationism. The new face of cynicism is more like it, but as Nixon must've reminded him, there's a sucker born every minute. And a lot of them vote.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Breaking down irreducible complexity


By Christopher Intagliata, posted January 17th, 2008.

Darwin famously wrote in the Origin of Species "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Those who trumpet intelligent design, like the Discovery Institute in Seattle, have referred to this "irreducible complexity" as a way of disproving evolutionary theory. They say that complex biochemical systems like the eye could not have possibly evolved in a step-wise fashion as predicted by Darwinian theory. But recent research on hormone/receptor interaction and cellular signaling shows they might not be looking closely enough at complexity.

In the last few years there has been a small flurry of research chipping away at irreducible complexity. The research demonstrates how complex genetic and hormone/receptor interactions, much like that of lock and key, could have evolved without both elements present. It may be difficult to imagine the development of the lock without the key to open it and vice versa. Yet the new research suggests that these systems simply developed slowly in tandem, possibly with different functions, until pivotal mutations made the key fit the lock perfectly. Following such changes, the newly sophisticated systems were able to explode in functional applications.

Proponents of intelligent design are right to argue that evolutionary theory, as it currently stands, fails to explain the development of some exceedingly complex organs and molecular processes. Their error is to dally so eagerly in the face of such biological intricacy, insisting that Darwin has failed us. Could be he's merely stumped us for the time being.

Discovery Institute Announces 2nd Annual Darwin Day Celebration


Supporters of Darwin's theory have claimed to oppose teaching religion in the nation's science classrooms for years. Now, just in time for Darwin Day 2008, leading evolution proponents (including the National Academy of Sciences, the Public Broadcasting Service, and the National Center for Science Education) are cynically promoting religious instruction in schools as a way of defusing opposition to Darwinian evolution.

On February 6, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Dr. John West, author of Darwin Day in America (ISI Books), will present a tale of hypocrisy and hubris on the part of leading Darwinists. Join Dr. West at Discovery Institute in Seattle as he examines how these organizations are willing to undermine the First Amendment's Establishment Clause in order to promote their views. This event will be taped for online viewing as part of the ID the Future Darwin Day broadcast on Darwin Day, February 12.

Watch last year's Darwin Day broadcasts:

Darwin Day and the Deification of Charles Darwin — Part 1
Darwin Day and the Deification of Charles Darwin — Part 2

Posted by Anika Smith on January 18, 2008 2:49 AM | Permalink

Texas Creationist Museum Facing Extinction


Posted by kdawson on Friday January 18, @10:52AM

from the going-the-way-of-the-dinosaurs dept.

gattaca writes

"A small Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction. The founder and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, which rejects evolution and claims that man and dinosaurs coexisted, said it will close unless the Volkswagen-sized skull finds a generous bidder. 'If it sells, well, then we can come another day,' Joe Taylor said. 'This is very important to our continuing.'"

Meanwhile, the much larger Creation Museum in Kentucky that we discussed and toured when it opened last year seems to be thriving.

Evolution's status may be debated by state board


By KATHERINE CROMER BROCK Star-Telegram staff writer

Related Content
Proponents want `intelligent design' included in curricula

The state's standards for teaching science are up for approval this year, and the recent dust-up over the teaching of evolution may be a signal of events to come.

Committees are beginning a review of the science curriculum this month, and while members of the State Board of Education say they don't want major changes, philosophical differences among them have led to concern about whether Texas will become the next flashpoint in the debate over the instruction of evolution.

The state's public school curriculum, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, says students must learn "the theory of biological evolution." Section 3A of the biology curriculum states that students must use critical thinking to make informed decisions, including analyzing a theory's "strengths and weaknesses."

"They do not cover the weaknesses of evolution," said Don McLeroy, chairman of the state board, of the state's science textbooks. "They present evolution as an absolute fact."

McLeroy, an outspoken creationist, said he doesn't want changes in the state's biology standards. But some say that doesn't mean that creationism or intelligent design, both held by the U.S. Supreme Court to be religious theories that are barred from the classroom, won't seep into Texas' curriculum.

"This whole state better be watching the vote on this board," member Mary Helen Berlanga said. "I'm very concerned about future votes on textbooks."

The theories

In 1859, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species ignited the debate about how life on Earth came to be. Here are the prevailing theories:

Evolution: By the 1870s, most biologists had accepted Darwin's theories that natural selection, combined with random genetic mutations, explains how complex organisms can form and survive. All species of plants and animals developed from earlier forms. This theory has been held by the Supreme Court as the acceptable theory to teach in public schools.

Creationism: Creation science states that the literal Biblical account of creation can be verified scientifically, rejecting Darwinian evolution.

Intelligent design: The theory predates Christianity, going back to Plato and Cicero. Aristotle called the designer the "unmoved mover" -- the force that put all around us in motion. The 13th-century Italian priest Thomas Aquinas called it the "argument from design": Life and nature are so intricate that they couldn't have happened randomly. In the past few decades, proponents of intelligent design have formed into a nationwide political movement as they seek to have the theory included in public school science curricula alongside evolution.

The debate

Anti-evolution proposals have come up in more than 20 states and in the debate about the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Courts on the state and national levels have rebuffed school districts, teachers and parents who want to introduce any theories other than evolution. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, creation science and intelligent design introduce religion into the classroom, violating the Constitution.

No states mention creationism or intelligent design in their standards, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education. Instead of pushing the theories into the curriculum, creationists try to "instill fear, uncertainty and doubt about evolution," Branch said.

The sparks

Two recent events in Austin have rekindled the evolution debate in Texas.

Chris Comer, the Texas Education Agency's then-science curriculum director, forwarded an e-mail to co-workers about a lecture in Austin titled "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse" by an anti-creationism professor who is also on the board of the National Center for Science Education.

Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds said the e-mail was a firing offense.

On Nov. 5, curriculum director Monica Martinez wrote to Susan Barnes, associate commissioner for standards and programs, outlining "proposed disciplinary action." Martinez recommended firing Comer.

The memo stated that forwarding the e-mail "demonstrates a serious lack of good judgment" and violates a directive that Comer not communicate "with anyone outside the agency in any way that might compromise the integrity of the TEKS development and revision process," referring to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state-mandated curriculum.

Comer submitted a letter of resignation Nov. 7.

Defenders of evolution say the dismissal was an attempt to quash anti-creationism sentiment within the TEA.

On Nov. 16, the state board narrowly rejected a third-grade mathematics textbook that conformed to standards.

Rules governing textbook adoption require the board to accept textbooks by putting them in two lists: those that are accepted and conform to the state's standards and those that are accepted, but do not conform. There is a third option: rejection.

The book was not rigorous enough, said McLeroy, of College Station. It relied heavily on the use of calculators, for example.

Board members in the minority fear that the vote was a trial run by the majority -- if they could reject a conforming math textbook, what might they do during a vote on biology textbooks?

The future

Work groups of teachers and other experts are beginning to analyze the science curriculum this month. The state board isn't scheduled to adopt revisions to the standards until November. Textbook adoption will follow.

Board members say they have no interest in trying to force creationism or intelligent design into the standards. Many say the standards are fine as written.

Board member Gail Lowe of Lampasas said she doesn't believe in interjecting religion into a science class. However, she agrees that there are weaknesses to evolution that should be pointed out in the textbooks.

"They present evolution in the same terms as gravity," she said. "We can be honest that there are some weaknesses and that Darwinian evolution is still controversial in the science community."

Pat Hardy, who represents the Fort Worth area on the state board, said this is a difficult issue to dissect.

"Science is things that have a hypothesis and a proof," she said. "Religion is something that comes from the heart."

Hardy described herself as a devout Christian. She said that she believes that "a religious point of view doesn't have a place in the classroom," but that the textbooks should be clearer on the weaknesses of evolution.

"We should have students thinking, not be telling them what to think," she said.

Staff writer Mark Agee contributed to this report.

Court decisions

Significant cases regarding evolution and creationism in public schools.

1. Epperson v. Arkansas, 1968

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibited teaching evolution. The First Amendment does not allow a state to require that teaching must be tailored to the principles or the prohibitions of any particular religious sect or doctrine.

2. Segraves v. California, 1981

Sacramento Superior Court found that the California State Board of Education's science standards accommodated children's free exercise of religion by providing that class discussion of origins focus on "how" and not "ultimate cause" of origins.

3. McLean v. Arkansas, 1982

A federal court held that an Arkansas statute requiring "balanced treatment" of "creation-science" and "evolution-science" violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court declared that "creation-science" is not an actual science, and that the theory of evolution does not presuppose either the absence or the presence of a creator.

4. Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987

The U.S. Supreme Court said Louisiana's Creationism Act was unconstitutional. According to the court, the act endorsed religion by allowing evolution instruction only when accompanied by creationism instruction.

5. Webster v. New Lenox School District, 1990

An Illinois court found that a school district could prohibit a teacher from teaching creationism.

6. Peloza v. Capistrano School District, 1994

A California court found that a teacher's First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is not violated by a school district's requirement that evolution be taught in biology class.

7. Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, 1997

A Louisiana district court rejected a policy requiring teachers to read aloud a disclaimer promoting "critical thinking" when teaching evolution. This decision also recognized intelligent design as being the same as creationism.

8. Rodney LeVake v. Independent School District 656, 2000

The case of a high school teacher wanting to teach "evidence both for and against" evolution was rejected by a Minnesota state district court judge. The teacher's desire did not match the district's curriculum.

9. Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al., 2005

In Georgia, a federal judge ruled that it violated the First Amendment to put the following warning label on textbooks: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

10. Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover, 2005

A federal judge ordered the Dover, Pa., area school board not to include in the science curriculum a statement that read, "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, intelligent design." The judge said it violated the First Amendment.

Source: National Center for Science Education


Dallas TV Report on Teaching Evolution and Intelligent Design


This CBS News report falls immediately into the hole of stereotyping the debate over evolution as simply a religious issue. The reporter ominously opines: "How did life begin? The question often divides faith and science." This is an all too familiar setup for an Inherit the Wind style treatment of the issue — as if the only questions about Darwinism are religious ones. Not so. There are a lot of scientific questions at play in this debate — indeed, all of the serious questions about the evidence are scientific.

Yet, as the report goes on, it manages to climb out of that hole to give a better, fuller look at the overall debate. This story shows that while there may be philosophical or religious implications to the science, it is the science that is at the heart of the debate. It's an interesting clip, and the reporter has an insightful commentary at the end, where he says:

If we as adults keep our minds open, and are willing to explore all possibilities, that is one of the most important lessons we can possibly pass along to our children.

Watch it here. Click on the clip titled: Teaching Evolution in Public Schools.

Posted by Robert Crowther on January 19, 2008 10:46 PM | Permalink

The real danger in Darwin is not evolution, but racism


Posted on Sun, Jan. 20, 2008

Tony Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and served as pastoral counselor to former President Clinton

Many who support the separation of church and state say that the intelligent design theory of creation ought not to be taught in public schools because it contains a religious bias. They dislike its suggestion that the evolutionary development of life was not the result of natural selection, as Charles Darwin suggested, but was somehow given purposeful direction and, by implication, was guided by God.

Arguing for what they believe is a nonprejudicial science, they contend that children in public schools should be taught Darwin's explanation of how the human race evolved, which they claim is value-free and depends solely on scientific evidence.

In terms of science, Darwin's account may be solid indeed. But value free? Nothing could be further from the truth - and that's where the problem lies.

Some creationists fear Darwin because his theories contradict their literal biblical belief that creation occurred in six 24-hour days. But they do not get at the real dangers of Darwinism. They do not realize that an explanation of the development of biological organisms over eons of time really does not pose the great threat to the dignity of our humanity that they suppose. Instead, they, along with the rest of us, should really fear the ethical implications of Darwin's original writings.

In reality, those writings express the prevalent racism of the 19th century and endorse an extreme laissez-faire political ideology that legitimizes the neglect of the suffering poor by the ruling elite.

Those who argue at school board meetings that Darwin should be taught in public schools seldom have taken the time to read him. If they knew the full title of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, they might have gained some inkling of the racism propagated by this controversial theorist. Had they actually read Origin, they likely would be shocked to learn that among Darwin's scientifically based proposals was the elimination of "the negro and Australian peoples," which he considered savage races whose continued survival was hindering the progress of civilization.

In his next book, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin ranked races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas. Then he went on to propose the extermination of races he "scientifically" defined as inferior. If this were not done, he claimed, those races, with much higher birthrates than "superior" races, would exhaust the resources needed for the survival of better people, eventually dragging down all civilization.

Darwin even argued that advanced societies should not waste time and money on caring for the mentally ill, or those with birth defects. To him, these unfit members of our species ought not to survive.

In case you think Darwin sounds like a Nazi, there is a connection. Darwin's ideas were complicit in the rise of Nazi ideas. Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson, in her insightful essay on Darwin, points out that the German nationalist and anti-Semitic writer Heinrich von Treitschke and the biologist Ernst Haeckel also drew on Darwin's writings to justify racism, nationalism and harsh policies toward the poor and less privileged. Although these men's lives much predated Hitler's rise to power, their ideas were very influential as he developed the racist ideas that led to the Holocaust. Konrad Lorenz, a biologist who belonged to the Nazi Office for Race Policy and whose work supported Nazi theories of "racial hygiene," made Darwin's theories the basis for his reasoning.

I hope our schoolchildren will be taught that it is up to science to study the processes that gave birth to the human race. But, as postmodern as it may be, I also want them to learn that whatever science discovers about our biological origins, there is, nevertheless, a mystical quality in human beings that makes each of us sacred and of infinite worth.

Regardless of how we got here, we should recognize that there is an infinite qualitative difference between the most highly developed ape and each and every human being. Darwin never recognized this disjuncture. And that is why his theories are dangerous.

Tony Campolo is author of "Letters to a Young Evangelical."

The evolution of Darwin's bad influence


Book Review

By Bruce Ramsey

Special to The Seattle Times

"Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science"
by John G. West
ISI Books, 450 pp., $28

John G. West, who disbelieves in Darwinism, has written a book on its bad cultural consequences, from eugenics to permissive sex education. West's opponents will not read it, because he is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank that has championed Intelligent Design. And that is too bad, because even those who believe in Darwin's theory of evolution, as I do, can concede that some things done in its name have been less than pleasing.

It is dangerous to think that a new idea conquers all. West recounts how the believers in Darwinism colonized the fields of criminal justice, social welfare, psychology, economics and the management of personnel and of human reproduction.

In criminal justice, Darwinism put new clothes on the old idea of determinism — that free will is an illusion, that man is a "meat machine" determined by genes or environment. If the will is an empty vessel, the criminal has no responsibility. (But then, neither does the prosecutor.)

West recalls how an early I-couldn't-help-it plea was presented to the courts in the case of Leopold and Loeb, two upper-crust teenagers who, for the hell of it, murdered a 14-year-old boy. They hired Clarence Darrow, who argued famously that the bad influences on them made them do it.

That was in 1924. Eugenics — the application of animal breeding to humans — was also big back then. In 1927, the state of Virginia's program of sterilization reached the Supreme Court. Considering whether the state should be allowed to cut the tubes of Carrie Buck because she was "feebleminded," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said it could, famously declaring, "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

One of West's tasks is to connect old sins done in the name of Darwinism to current ones. Here he sometimes stretches a point. For example, he connects the practice of lobotomy, done mainly in the 1940s and 1950s, with the overmedication of schoolchildren with Ritalin. Both attempt to control behavior by altering the brain, but they are different. One uses an FDA-approved drug and the other an icepick. In each case Darwinism's connection is less obvious than its connection to eugenics.

West's previous post, at Seattle Pacific University, was in political science, and his skill is in the use of rhetoric. He shows that those who defend science from incursions by the believers can make shameless forays of their own. For example, when scientists say they cannot determine when a fetus becomes a human being, and conclude that government has no reason to restrict abortion, they are making a moral argument. Writes West, "What the scientists ... most definitely did not say was that since science is silent, legislators were [to] feel free to consult philosophy, ethics or religion to come to an answer."

One moderate view is that Darwinism and religion are compatible. But West argues that the two are generally combined in a way that favors Darwin, and that the agendas of the evolutionists are less often examined:

"Although journalists routinely write about the presumed religious motives of anyone critical of evolution, they almost never explore the metaphysical baggage carried by many of evolution's staunchest defenders. Yet ... the teaching of evolution in American schools has been intertwined with theological, social and even political agendas from the very beginning."

West offers a strong argument, some of which may be appreciated by those who are ultimately against him.

Bruce Ramsey is an editorial writer for The Seattle Times.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

Lacking a Middle-Ground, the Swiss Devolve into Evolutionary Dogmatism


This past summer I backpacked with some friends through Switzerland, and spent a few days in the beautiful Swiss capital city of Bern. Bern is a city of extremes: extreme beauty (see a photo I took on a bridge over the River Aare at left), extreme night-club partying, and extremely empty museum-like churches. I had a great time in Bern—my favorite event was crashing a party with a Bluegrass band playing at a corporate party along the Aare. But Bern could use some moderation, especially when it comes to the teaching of evolution. According to an article in Swiss Info, Bern school officials are facing a choice between teaching evolution dogmatically or including young earth creationism in the curriculum. Since young earth creationism is so controversial, the article reports that "[t]he school authorities in canton Bern quickly revised the brochure included in the textbook" and removed the young earth creationist materials, leaving students to be told that "evolution has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt." Bernese officials should not have to choose between young earth creationism or absolute evolutionary dogmatism. If they were to adopt Discovery Institute's approach, they could avoid both extremes:

Discovery Institute's recommended approach to the teaching about evolution, which the Dover school board rejected, is:

1. Make sure the evidence schools present for Darwin's theory is scientifically accurate.

2. Teach the scientific evidence for and against the key claims of Darwin's theory, but don't mandate the study of alternative theories such as intelligent design.

»» This is a common ground approach that focuses on science, and that all reasonable people should be able to accept.

»» This approach focuses on debates over Darwin's theory that are already well-represented in the standard scientific literature (such as questions about the creative power of natural selection, the ability of random mutations to generate useful biological changes, and the origination of animal body plans during the "Cambrian Explosion"). If scientists can read about these debates in their science journals, why can't students hear about them in biology class?

(The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators)

Posted by Casey Luskin on January 22, 2008 10:01 AM | Permalink

Researcher criticizes alternative medicine


By Stephanie Desmon | Sun reporter
January 24, 2008

R. Barker Bausell says he arrived at the University of Maryland's alternative medicine center with an open mind toward exploring the potential of acupuncture, herbal remedies and other unconventional treatments.

But after five years as research director, he quit the Center for Integrative Medicine in 2004, convinced of one thing: None of the alternative treatments he has seen works any better than a placebo.

"They can go on forever" conducting studies, Bausell said recently in his office at UM's School of Nursing, where he is a professor. "They'll eventually find some positive results by chance alone."

In a book released late last year, Bausell laid out his case against alternative medicine, which even 15 years ago was considered little more than quackery.

But his book is making only a few ripples as it bumps up against the juggernaut that has become alternative medicine, which is backed by a U.S. government agency with an annual budget of more than $121 million, has a foothold in hallowed medical schools such as Harvard and Columbia, and attracts tens of millions of followers nationwide who spend billions on it.

Bausell gets no book tour. He has heard from few colleagues who have read his tome. A favorable review in The New York Times has barely registered.

Complementary and alternative medicine - known as CAM - has gone legit. "It's the hidden mainstream," said Ted Kaptchuk, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies the placebo effect and CAM.

Critics say those who choose unorthodox treatments typically don't rely on the latest research: They often prefer word of mouth and continue their treatments if they feel better, regardless of whether science backs them up.

When patients respond favorably to a treatment with no known medical benefit, researchers call it the placebo effect. The very knowledge that he is getting treatment can be enough to make a patient feel better, at least in the short run. So comparisons with placebos have become an integral part of rigorous clinical trials for both conventional and alternative treatments.

Critics have long said alternative medicine too often capitalizes on the placebo effect and the wishful thinking of patients.

"Snake oil is here to stay," said Dr. John Hickner, a professor at the University of Chicago's medical school who has studied the use of placebos by family doctors. "We're humans, and belief is a powerful thing. Belief can promote a person's health."

Bausell's book, Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine, hasn't made much of a stir at UM's alternative medicine center.

Dr. Brian Berman, who founded the institution in 1991, said he skimmed the book, calling its arguments "misleading about what the state of research is." He called any conclusions about the value of CAM premature.

"It's not being given a whole lot of credibility," Berman said of the book. "Maybe if this was 15 years ago, it possibly could have had more of an effect.

"People are paying for this therapy," he added. "We're trying to figure out what's working and what's not. We'll find certain things don't work or are harmful. When the evidence is shown, we won't be using these therapies."

Kaptchuk, who sits on the advisory council of the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, praised Bausell for "taking a critical and unbiased look at the field."

"His critical attitude and knowledge about CAM is refreshing," Kaptchuk said. "We either get people who attack CAM who don't know anything about CAM, or we get people who really advocate CAM stuff but don't really follow the research. His critical attitude is not inaccurate."

The world of alternative medicine is populated largely by believers, but Bausell, 65, is not one of them. He said he took the job with Berman to get back into the gold standard of scientific research: randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. That he would be testing alternative medicine didn't matter.

"There was a possibility we'd learn something of interest," he said. "Why would you go there if you thought all this stuff is bogus?"

So Bausell went and learned and decided that it was "bogus," which he said "isn't a great scientific term, but it's as good as any."

He was soon convinced that much of the research into alternative medicine was shoddy, biased and rarely proved any benefit beyond a placebo.

At UM, Bausell said, he saw high-quality studies of therapies that fell flat. One of the best, he said, tested the use of acupuncture for dental pain. Those who believed they were receiving acupuncture (some patients received elaborately staged sham acupuncture) felt better than those who didn't think they were receiving acupuncture - regardless of who got the actual therapy.

In Bausell's analysis, there is no biological reason for any of it to be effective. Still, millions swear by CAM.

"Just about everyone I've ever talked to about the subject believes in one or two alternative therapies and are sure they work," he said. "The question is - and it's a big question - what if all these people were wrong? What could explain that?"

In Bausell's book, the answer in most cases is the placebo effect. But some scientists say that's too simplistic a response in an age when much of the mind-body connection remains a mystery.

In fact, the placebo effect shows up in studies of conventional medicine, too. Berman cited a recent Harvard analysis of different treatments for irritable bowel syndrome. More than 40 percent of the patients responded positively to the placebo, whether the treatment tested was conventional or alternative.

Some studies have shown alternative treatments work, he said. For example, acupuncture works for lower back pain, Berman said. Meanwhile, he said, the science is still new, and the body of evidence for most alternative therapies remains small.

"In most cases, there's not enough data from quality trials," Berman said. "We need more research."

He said conventional medicine is often "in the same boat."

"We very rarely hit a home run in any research. It's more trying to get singles or doubles, trying to build upon" existing knowledge, he said.

In some cases, definitive studies have proved that therapies don't work - yet people continue to use them. For example, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, promoted to improve joint pain, don't work better than placebos - yet the tablets are big sellers. Echinacea, the purple cone flower, remains popular even though a major study found that it doesn't shorten a cold.

And, experts say, some patients flock to alternative medicine when they think conventional treatment has failed them.

"What people get from CAM is an immersion in a world of hope, an immersion in a world of possible improvement for people who have chronic [problems]," Kaptchuk said.

Dr. Robert L. Park, a physics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park who has served as an adviser to the national center on alternative medicine, said he tried to write a book like Bausell's a few years back. His publisher told him that people didn't want to hear bad news about treatments they feel passionate about or learn how their minds could be tricked into thinking a treatment works when it doesn't.

"People really want to believe it," he said. "It's disconcerting to anyone who tries to battle this."


Alternative medicine may get boost from Senate bill


Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008 12:20 p.m. MST

Naturopathic doctors licensed in other states and countries would have an easier time moving their medical practices to Utah with the changes contained in SB56.

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring the bill that would recognize accredidation issued by medical boards outside of Utah, though still subject to approval by the Utah Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

Ben Bramwell, a Utah naturopath, said the bill makes a positive step toward clarifying the pathway for naturopaths to practice in Utah, while maintaining a high degree of standards and accountability.

SB56 was passed out favorably by the Senate Health and Human Services standing committee.

Doctors, hospitals more accepting of acupuncture


By Dean Olsen
GateHouse News Service
Thu Jan 24, 2008, 09:07 PM EST

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Slender, flexible needles inserted in Leona West's temples, wrists, back and feet achieved what ibuprofen and physical therapy failed to bring – substantial relief from migraine headaches that caused her to miss part of seventh grade.

Leona, 14, now an eighth-grader at Franklin Middle School in Springfield, Ill., said she was surprised but happy that her headaches have subsided.

Leona's mother, Cheryl, said she doesn't know exactly how acupuncture helped her daughter.

"I'm just grateful to hear her say she had gone a day without a headache," Cheryl West said.

Taped music of waterfalls and wind chimes played while Leona received her acupuncture treatments, but the setting wasn't far from where other patients were undergoing heart surgery and angioplasty.

Her acupuncturist, James Sullivan, has worked full-time as an outpatient provider at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Ill., since June after serving patients there as a private contractor for about three years. Only a few American hospitals — including Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles – employ acupuncturists.

Sullivan's presence is a sign that this form of alternative medicine is becoming more popular and accepted as research accumulates about acupuncture's potential benefits and as patients' experiences spread by word of mouth.

"It's not magic," Sullivan said. "It doesn't work every time, but when it works, it works well."

Sullivan is based at St. John's Center for Living at Prairie Heart Institute. Center director Linda Murphy said Sullivan's growing caseload as a contracted provider prompted St. John's to decide that acupuncture was "a viable service. It seemed like the time was right."

St. John's has offered and promoted certain forms of alternative medicine, also known as complementary medicine, for several years, Murphy said. Offering acupuncture in a hospital "adds a great deal of credibility to the service. I think we've been a leader in Illinois, if not the nation."

Dr. Shyam Bhat, an internist and psychiatrist with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine who is medical director of integrative medicine at the Center for Living, said more and more physicians are accepting acupuncture as an alternative for patients who haven't found relief for chronic pain and other long-term problems.

"There is some evidence that this is for real," Bhat said of acupuncture, an important part of traditional Chinese medicine that is thousands of years old.

"Western medicine has made huge strides in treating acute problems, like heart attack," Bhat said, "but if you look at something like back pain, Western medicine doesn't always work."

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture needles are used to unblock the flow of energy, known as Qi (pronounced "chee"), along pathways called meridians inside the body to help the body heal itself.

Modern science hasn't been able to document that theory, but according to Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource newsletter, "Basic research suggests acupuncture may work by regulating the body's nervous system, promoting the release of pain-killing chemicals (endorphins) and immune cells. It's also possible that acupuncture alters your brain chemistry and hormones associated with involuntary body functions, such as immune processes and regulation of blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature."

Many medical organizations now recommend acupuncture as an alternative. The National Institutes of Health in 1997 said acupuncture has been shown to help relieve nausea during chemotherapy and may be useful in treating a range of conditions including low-back pain, addiction-related cravings, headache and fibromyalgia, and may aid in rehabilitation after strokes.

Most medical schools, including SIU, teach medical students about the history and philosophy surrounding complementary medicine.

In Illinois, people who are not medical doctors, dentists or chiropractors must be licensed by the state to perform acupuncture. Licensed acupuncturists must have a master's degree-level education from an acupuncture school and pass a national certification exam.

Sullivan, who grew up in Joliet and flew Blackhawk helicopters for the U.S. Army during the first Persian Gulf war, received his acupuncture training in Seattle on the GI Bill after becoming interested in acupuncture through his martial-arts training when he was suffering fatigue and chronic pain.

"The strength, I think, that we have in acupuncture is in the physical aches and pains and chronic illnesses," he said. "Western medicine doesn't have a lot to chase down the chronic things of life."

Sullivan now treats 30 to 40 patients a week on an outpatient basis and said he has seen demand increase.

Melissa Knoedler, a Springfield, Ill., chiropractor and one of a handful of acupuncturists in the area, also has noticed the trend.

But they said it's rare for health insurance to cover acupuncture, though insurance often will cover chiropractic care.

Sullivan, who also has worked on the West Coast, said it's common there for insurance plans to cover acupuncture.

"People in the Midwest have not put enough demands on them," he said.

Bhat, the SIU internist, said he referred patients for acupuncture.

"I don't have hard numbers," he said, "but 30 percent to 40 percent have been helped significantly."

Knoedler said many of her patients are women who seek relief during pregnancy, when they want to avoid taking drugs for fear of harming the fetus.

One of those patients was Amber Champion, 27, a Springfield, Ill., nurse who said acupuncture in her lower legs and wrists eased the severe nausea she felt during her pregnancy in 2006.

"I could tell a big difference," she said. "I would try it again."

Springfield, Ill., resident Tom Dhermy, 39, an engineer for a cell-phone company who has a black belt in karate, said he suffered for five years with back pain from a karate-related injury before beginning acupuncture treatments with Sullivan in fall 2006.

Physical therapy, chiropractic care and massage therapy gave him little relief, but he said Sullivan's treatments "worked surprisingly well. How it works I'm really not sure."

Jaymie Hale sought help from Sullivan in November to deal with extreme fatigue and anxiety related to stress in her personal and professional life.

Hale, 31, a Pleasant Plains, Ill., woman who works in retail sales and also suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic-fatigue syndrome, said, "I was to the point that I was desperate."

Sullivan inserted needles in her palms, feet, chest, forehead and ears.

"It feels like a tiny pinch," but "very tolerable, and he's very gentle," she said.

After the first two sessions, she said, her insomnia abated, and she began to feel better.

"It was a night-and-day, 180-degree turnaround," she said. "I think what Jim is doing is a complete godsend. I believe it was a miracle. It's very much like faith, in a way. It's not something you can visibly see."

Cheryl West, whose daughter saw her headaches subside after acupuncture from Sullivan, said the treatments — which weren't covered by her daughter's health insurance through Illinois' All Kids program — have put a strain on the family budget.

But West said the expense has been worth it because acupuncture helped a girl who used to have to come home from school at least once a week when headaches made it too hard for her to function.

"It's working," West said, "and she's gone a whole week of school without missing any days."

Dean Olsen can be reached at 788-1543.

Taking root

Acupuncture began to spread across the United States after former President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved sterile, single-use acupuncture needles in 1996, and a 2002 national survey estimated that 8.2 million Americans had used acupuncture, with 2 million adults using it the prior year.

A 2006 study of Mayo Clinic doctors showed that 43 percent had referred patients for acupuncture, compared with 40 percent of doctors referring patients to chiropractors and 21 percent to massage therapists.

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Pastafarians, Googlists unite on the Internet


Parody sites Flying Spaghetti Monster, Church of Google touch a nerve on all sides of the religious issue

Saturday, January 26, 2008

BY Hilary Matheson of GateHouse News Service

There are many reasons why science and faith conflict, as well as creationism and evolution. Dissenters often have few places to share their beliefs, which is why many go to the Internet.

The Internet has provided a free forum to many who might not have otherwise found an outlet to voice their alternative ideas within their own communities.

"The magic of this medium is that it is relatively inexpensive, and it's expansive in the sense that you create a Web site and people will find it anywhere in the world," said Manjunath Pendakur, dean of the Mass Communication department at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. "There have been many instances in the history of the modern civilization who have come up with revolutionary ideas to challenge conventional wisdom and orthodoxy, for instance the entire revolution of Martin Luther occurred in the age of print."

Jeremy Monigold, programming instructor at Highland Community College in Freeport, said anybody with access to the Internet is able to publish his or her ideas.

"What it comes down to is the individual's ability to judge right from wrong," Monigold said.

Bobby Henderson is from the state of Oregon and is creator of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He views his Web site as a legitimate organization. Henderson graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics and has recently been traveling in Cambodia and Thailand.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), according to Henderson, came to him as a vision. Although Henderson said he doesn't like pasta, his vision was of a large creature made up of noodles with two large meatballs under his eyes. The FSM is male, can be invisible and can fly.

Members of the FSM are referred to as Pastafarians, although Henderson said they are not related or linked to Rastafarians. According to their beliefs, pirates are saints from whom we evolved, and every Friday is a holiday.

He said some take it as a parody on creationism or a spoof, a joke, a grassroots cause, while some truly believe in a literal Flying Spaghetti Monster.

"No one asks them (Christians) if their religion is meant to be a spoof. People get what they want out of it; it doesn't make sense to tell people how to worship," Henderson said.

The beginning

Henderson's Web site for The Church of the FSM stemmed from a letter to the Kansas Board of Education in 2005 opposing Intelligent Design being taught in science classrooms. The Kansas board at the time was in the process of changing the science curriculum.

"FSM started as a response to the Intelligent Design movement - creationism posing as science. The issue was the posing as science, not the creationism beliefs," Henderson said.

Although Henderson personally doesn't believe in creationism, he said he would have no problem if it were taught in a religion or theology class along with other religious beliefs.

"Provided none is taught as the 'correct' choice. That's the kicker, though. Christians sometimes forget that last clause," Henderson said.

Henderson said that many Christians don't take the Bible literally, and many members of FSM do not take it literally.

"Pastafarianism is a sensible alternative religion for some people. We offer spirituality and community, without the traps of dogma; no one has ever killed in the name of Pastafarianism, for instance," Henderson said.

When asked if eating pasta is a representation of a type of Eucharist, Henderson said it could be viewed in two different ways.

"You could make the argument either way: either it's sacrilege or it's like communion," Henderson said.

Henderson said there isn't a hierarchy in the Church of FSM and said he likes to keep things simple.

It took Henderson six months to write a book titled "The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," which is published by Random House. It can be purchased online at Amazon.com and at Barnesandnoble.com. He said it would probably be found in the "humor" section because of religious discrimination. In his book, he said people can find a list of eight "I'd really rather you didn't(s)."

As for writing another book, Henderson said he is focused on setting up the Church of FSM as a not-for-profit organization. He said he doesn't like being taxed and wants to raise money and build what he said will be the first "Pirate Ship Voyaging Church." Currently, he said FSM has more than $100,000 in funds.


The Church of Google on the other hand is an alternative religion site created with ideals based in science and has many members who are atheist. The CoG claims Google as the closest thing to an omniscient, omnipresent deity. It is not, however, endorsed or connected by the Google Corporation. The Web site lists nine "proofs" why Google is the closest thing to God and has its own version of the Ten Commandments.

Members range in age from teens to people in their forties who use nicknames or handles when posting in the forum, which gives them some form of anonymity. Some also belong to The Church of the FSM.

Monigold said the Web gives people a much larger opportunity to communicate with a bigger audience compared with other media.

"You basically open yourself up to an audience across the globe," he said.

David Brown lives in England and is also a member of The CoG and an apostate member of the Methodist church. Both he and Matthew Walls, a member from Australia, agreed that the site is not an organized religion.

Brown describes it as a "disorganized non-religion." He also said The CoG values critical thinking in its forums. Walls said it would be a contradiction to believe in any other religion because of the stalwart support for science. Both said they came upon The CoG from other Web sites.

"For me there is no spiritual element to Googlism. Quite the opposite I would say. It's very much 'of the world.' Far more to do with science than anything spiritual," Brown said.

Geoff Boulton is a member from Poland, which is mostly Catholic.

"At first I tried to keep quiet about my atheistic beliefs so as to not cause offense. However, I was not able to do this for very long as religious people invariably wanted to pry into my beliefs," Boulton said.

Boulton wasn't always an atheist; he said he rarely gave much thought to religion or others beliefs until he began military service in Northern Ireland during the "Troubles," - violence between Protestants and Catholics from 1963 to 1985, according to BBC online.

"I personally became sick to my back teeth of people professing their faith and belief in a loving God who then went out to murder and maim people because they went to the wrong church," Boulton said.

Higher calling

Members of The Church of Google can become ministers by promoting The CoG, making multiple posts in the forums, or by being chosen as candidates by other ministers. Ministers have their own private forum where they discuss changes or other initiatives dealing with the site.

Aaron Davidson, from New Jersey, has been a minister of The Church of Google since September 2006. Aaron became a minister after helping out with graphic design.

"I take it lightheartedly, as most of our members seem to do. I do believe that the main site is correct about Google being the closest thing to a deity that can be proven to exist, but I also acknowledge that it is a parody, and a pretty good one at that," Aaron said.

Mark Davidson, from New York, said being a member of The Church of Google is to spread knowledge to everyone. Mark said he thinks that god(s) should be understandable by the human mind.

"I'm constantly amazed how much people take their own religions on blind faith. I think it should be vital to all religions that the followers know what/who they are following. Otherwise, you reach a point where people will believe anything their leader tells them," Mark said.

Hate mail

Both Web sites receive hate mail that is filled with vehement opposition and strong language. Both The Church of the FSM and The CoG openly post some of their "hatemail" in special sections on their site. Visitors are allowed to post as guests.

"Some people feel mocked, but that was never my intent. I'm all for freedom of religion. I have no problems with Christians or creationism ideology, to the extent that they keep their beliefs out of public policy. There is no state-sponsored religion - some people don't want to accept it," Henderson said.

He said he has received about 45,000 e-mails within two years. Henderson does not reveal his home address because he has received death threats.

"Religion doesn't have to make sense. You have to have faith. There's all sorts of things that don't make any sense in FSM. It's fine. I contradict myself all the time. You can get away with anything in the religion business," Henderson said.

ViewpointsTeaching science, not 'creation science'


Posted Sunday January 27, 2008

'Intelligent design' merely religion in disguise

By Maria Salva Post Comment

In the past few years, we all have seen ideas and policies formulated as though they began with a conclusion, with justifications made secondarily and sound logic set aside. The results haven't been positive. In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, evidence was "fixed" around the predetermined policy, while it's now apparent the decision was irrational, creating only additional chaos and violence. Similarly, the powerful energy industry decided in advance that global climate change is a dubious speculation when in reality it is a well-established scientific agreement. Consequently, United States anti-emissions policies are among the weakest in the developed world, focusing more on retaining a status quo than making necessary changes for the sake of the planet.

In these cases, it's easy to see how logically unsound processes resulted in inaccurate and ultimately harmful ideas and policies. If a more rational analysis had been utilized, something much closer to the truth could have been found.

This is also true with respect to the origin of life. Granted, an incorrect answer to this question probably will not cause the sort of atrocities seen in the aforementioned cases, but to disregard reason in one area can push us into mentalities that nourish irrationality in others. Therefore, we must continue to use logical, naturalistic examinations -- that is, the scientific method -- to understand the world. True?

Possibly not, according to most of my AP Biology class. In November, we produced a collaborative project on the origin of life: a large bulletin board in the science hallway illustrating some of the major theories. As time passed, some suggested including intelligent design, the new and still fully unscientific face for creationism, as a scientific "theory." After a few days, it seemed imminent that about half of the board would be dedicated to creationism, rather than additional science. Throughout this process, I was the only active opponent to the addition of intelligent design or creationism. It seems that if not for time limits, creationism probably would have been included as its own "theory," made to appear equally valid as the findings from the scientific method.

I have always been troubled by the cases around the nation of attempts to include intelligent design in biology classes as an "alternative" to the overwhelming scientific consensus of evolution. Historically, intelligent design descends directly from 1980s campaigns to include "creation science" in biology curricula. When the Supreme Court found the inclusion of creation science as biology unconstitutional under the establishment of religion clause, creationist textbooks such as that to which Dover, Pa., students were directed in 2005, "Of Pandas and People," changed the wording to "intelligent design." With this label, the language is made slightly more ambiguous, keeping a universal "designer" unidentified, rather than specifying a particular deity. The specification is unnecessary, after all, when the religious implication of the language remains so blatant. We see here, the conclusion is already established: that only a supernatural being created life, and any scientific data that might point in another direction for the origin and development of life is irrelevant. The movement seeks to fix information and opinion to accommodate the preemptive conclusion.

Time has not been wasted. In 1999, the Discovery Institute, the effective headquarters for the movement, produced the infamous Wedge Document, detailing a five- and 20-year plan to make intelligent design the dominant "theory" within society for the origin of life and species. The text of the document does not make scientific propositions, but a series of public relations goals to gain acceptability and popularity for their predetermined ideas. It entails nothing short of the overthrow of scientific naturalism, the centuries-old set of ground rules for experimentation and proof, in order to implement religious opinions in its place. Because positions in support of intelligent design begin with the conclusion already decided, they include misinterpretations of scientific laws and data to suit their plan. Fossil evidence is misread; the "closed system" condition for the laws of thermodynamics goes ignored.

Their ideas have been refuted by the scientific community. Indeed, the intelligent design movement has never published in a peer-reviewed journal. A search for "intelligent design" at the journal Nature produces news coverage of legal cases on its introduction into public education. At the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious science organization, most search results are resources for teachers dealing with such situations while teaching evolution.

It's clear: Intelligent design is antithetical to science. Under no circumstance should be taught as an equivalent to the real science: Over 150 years of intellectual progress and fine-tuning of the theory of evolution, and the recent decades' promising findings concerning possible origins of life.

My experience working on the collaborative "origin of life" presentation has led me to suspect that the Wedge strategy has exerted some influence. Active opposition was minimal to creating a publicly visible presentation that, among the rest of the students in the school, would grant false intellectual validity to a propagandistic pseudoscience. It's quite troubling, but the AP group seemed to consider intelligent design an acceptable theory.

Instead of following the logical investigations into possible origins of life, creationism starts with its conclusion, justifying it later if need be, and disregarding logical refutations to these justifications. It is not science; it's an ignorance of the scientific method for proof and naturalism. If we cease to teach reasonable standards for determining truth, for questions in areas from science to foreign policy, what could become of our actions?

Salva is a senior at Susquehanna Valley High School.

Education Report: Creationism, intelligent design have no place in science courses


Sunday, January 27, 2008 By Charles Cummins

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences in early January entered the debate about teaching intelligent design in science class.

The academy's report says unequivocally that creationism, based on the explanation offered in the Christian Bible, and the currently popular idea of "intelligent design" are not science and have no place in public school science classrooms.

"Them's fightin' words" to evangelical Christians. They are the primary promoters of intelligent design, a blatant attempt to get their religion into (back into, they believe) our public schools.

Lon Klingman, a missionary from Hawthorne, Fla. expressed his opinion at a state school board meeting recently where revisions in science standards were under consideration. Klingman was quoted by The Associated Press as saying: "I believe that God created the Earth and everyone that is on it," adding that the teaching of evolution was not compatible with his religious beliefs.There are probably many things taught in school that are not compatible with someone's beliefs, religious or otherwise. We teach about the Holocaust in history classes, even though there are those who believe it to be a total fabrication. We teach that man has been to the moon while some people believe the whole thing was staged on a film set in Hollywood.

No, our schools cannot stop teaching things because someone has an opposing view or finds them "not compatible with his religious beliefs." Klingman's wife, Ruth, expressed the view that if evolution is taught in public schools, "I want it presented with its pros and cons." She might have had an arguable point if she had stopped there. She went on, however, to say, "I've never seen an ape turn into a human. It's not observable." She just illustrated why intelligent design is not appropriate for the science curriculum. Her statement is the epitome of nonscientific thought.

If the standard is what is observable, we'll return to teaching that the sun revolves around Earth and that Earth is flat.

Science is not about what you believe. Science is about forming hypotheses, designing a way to test the hypothesis, gathering data, interpreting the data and publishing the results for peer review, challenge and replication.

Theories are allowed to stand until scientific evidence emerges that proves them wrong, or, at least, requires they be revised.

We need a citizenry better trained in science, but our students are falling behind students from other countries.

Teaching intelligent design only confuses students about what constitutes science and what doesn't.

Intelligent design does not lend itself to testing, challenge or even discussion. It is what it is — and it isn't science.

On the other hand, "biological evolution," the Academy of Science says, "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."

I am not aware that intelligent design has contributed to any advances in modern medical science, or any other science for that matter. It may sustain some students' religious teachings, but I doubt that it will enhance their understanding of science; forcing it into the science classroom will certainly confuse students who want to learn the methods of true science.

Parents teach their kids their values. They must also shoulder the burden of passing on their religious beliefs without imposing that responsibility on science teachers.

Let's agree that religious dogma be taught in church or other institutions designed to teach faith and let science teachers teach science.

Charles Cummins, Ed.D., is a retired school administrator. Send questions to him at: cacummins818@gmail.com