NTS LogoSkeptical News for 27 February 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fossil does not support bat evolution


By Babu G. Ranganathan

Recently evolutionists have discovered a fossil of a bat which which they claim indicates that bats learned to fly before they developed the ability of echolocation (i.e. sonar ability).

The fossil they claim is found in rock strata two million years older than the previously thought oldest bat fossil. Some argue that this particular fossil shows no evidence of having sonar ability, but they believed it was able to fly so they have concluded that this fossil is some transitional form.

The fact is that this fossil bat is complete. There is nothing it lacks even from what modern bats possess. What about bat echolocation (sonar ability)? Not even all living bats today possess echolation, some do and some don't. And even the assumption that this newly discovered fossil bat did not possess echolocation is an assumption. Just because the fossil bat appeared to possess a small cochlea does not necessarily mean it did not possess echolocation. Small does not always mean less advanced. Even we humans have produced ever more smaller computer chips, which are more advanced than the bigger ones! There is no way to know for sure whether or not this fossil bat actually possessed echolocation, but there is no doubt it was fully a bat.

An excellent creationist site that provides scientific answers and refutations to the latest evolutionary claims may be found at "Creation-Evolution Headlines" at www.creationsafaris.com/crevnews.htm. For more in-depth information on the recent bat fossil read their article "Oldest Bat Fossil: Was It Evolving?" (01-16-2008). It is amazing to see just how much evolutionists will read into fossils!

Millions of people are taught in schools and textbooks all over the world that the fossil record furnishes scientific proof of evolution. But, where are there fossils of half-evolved dinosaurs or other creatures?

The fossil record contains fossils of only complete and fully-formed species. There are no fossils of partially-evolved species to indicate that a gradual process of evolution ever occurred. Even among evolutionists there are diametrically different interpretations and reconstructions of the fossils used to support human evolution from a supposed ape-like ancestry. In fact, all of the fossils, with their fancy scientific names, that have been used to support human evolution have eventually been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not both human and non-human. Yet, many modern school textbooks continue to use these long disproved fossils as evidence for human evolution. Evolutionists once reconstructed an image of a half-ape and half-man (known as The Nebraska Man) creature from a single tooth! Later they discovered that the tooth belonged to an extinct species of pig! The "Nebraska Man" was used as a major piece of evidence in the famous Scopes Trial in support of Darwin's evolutionary theory.

At times evolutionists have used various bones gathered from many yards of each other and classify them as belonging to the same creature (even when there's no proof). They then reconstruct from these bones whatever will support their hypotheses. The fossil case "Lucy" is an excellent example of this. Scientists have only forty percent of the bones for Lucy. The bones were found yards from each other, some were found even a mile or more away! The knee joint (the main evidence used) was found two hundred feet below ground from the rest of the bones. Many of the leading scientists doubt that the bones all belong to the same species or individual. And, some of the key bones are crushed. Yet, from all of this evolutionists have reconstructed a drawing of an ape-man creature (in full color)for display in textbooks and museums! Many experts are not convinced that Lucy was an ape-man because they're not convinced all of the bones belong to the same individual or even the same species. Many leading authorities have said that "Lucy" is really an extinct ape, but not an ape-man. Those scientists who are convinced that Lucy was an ape-man are the ones that receive all the attention from the mainstream media.

Even if evolution takes millions and millions of years, we should still be able to see some stages of its process. But, we simply don't observe any partially-evolved fish, frogs, lizards, birds, dogs, cats among us. Every species of plant and animal is complete and fully-formed.

Another problem is how could partially-evolved plant and animal species survive over millions of years if their vital organs and tissues were still in the process of evolving? How, for example, were animals breathing, eating, and reproducing if their respiratory, digestive, and reproductive organs were still incomplete and evolving? How were species fighting off possibly life-threatening germs if their immune system hadn't fully evolved yet?

Scientist Dr. Walt Brown, in his fantastic book "In The Beginning", makes this point by saying "All species appear fully developed, not partially developed. They show design. There are no examples of half-developed feathers, eyes, skin, tubes (arteries, veins, intestines, etc.), or any of thousands of other vital organs. Tubes that are not 100% complete are a liability; so are partially developed organs and some body parts. For example, if a leg of a reptile were to evolve into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing."

A lizard with half-evolved legs and wings can't run or fly away from its predators. How would it survive? Why would it be preserved by natural selection? Imagine such a species surviving in such a miserable state over many millions of years waiting for fully-formed wings to evolve!

Some evolutionists cite the fossil of an ancient bird known to have claws as an example of a transitional link. However, there are two species of birds living today in South America that have claws on their wings, but even evolutionists today do not claim that these birds are transitional links from a reptilian ancestry. These claws are complete, as everything else on the birds.

What about all those spectacular and popular claims reported in the mass media of evolutionists having discovered certain transitional forms in the fossil record? Such claims have not been accepted by all evolutionists and, after much investigation and analysis, these claims have been found to have no hard basis in science. This has been the case of every so-called "missing link" and "transitional" form discovered since Darwin.

Recently it was thought they had discovered fossils of dinosaurs with feathers until they found out that the so-called feathers were really scales which only had the appearance of feathers. Scientists theorize the scales took upon a feather-like appreance during some brief stage of decomposition before being fossilized. Even if they were feathers, this still wouldn't be any kind of evidence to support macro-evolution unless they can show a series of fossils having part-scale/part-feather structures as evidence that the scales had really evolved into feathers.

Many times, evolutionists use similarities of traits shared by different forms of life as a basis for claiming a transitional link. But, the problem for evolutionists is that all the traits which they cite are complete and fully-formed. And evolutionists are not consistent. The duck-billed platypus, for example, has traits belonging to both mammals and birds but even evolutionists won't go so far as to claim that the duck-billed platypus is a transitional link between birds and mammals!

Evolutionists claim that the genetic and biological similarities between species is evidence of common ancestry. However, that is only one interpretation. Another possibility is that the comparative similarities are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes in all of the various species and forms of life. Neither position can be scientifically proved.

Not only are there no true transitional links in the fossil record, but the fossils themselves are not in the supposed geological sequential order as evolutionists claim in their textbooks. Of course, evolutionists have their various circular and unsupported arguments or reasons for why this is so.

If evolution across biological kinds (known as macro-evolution) really occurred then we should find millions of indisputable transitional forms in the fossil record instead of a few disputable transitional forms that even evolutionists cannot all agree upon. And, again, the point needs to be emphasized that species cannot wait millions of years for their vital (or necessary) organs and biological systems to evolve.

In fact, it is precisely because of these problems that more and more modern evolutionists are adopting a new theory known as Punctuated Equilibrium which says that plant and animal species evolved suddenly from one kind to another and that is why we don't see evidence of partially-evolved species in the fossil record. Of course, we have to accept their word on blind faith because there is no way to prove or disprove what they are saying. These evolutionists claim that something like massive bombardment of radiation resulted in mega mutations in species which produced "instantaneous" changes from one life form to another. The nature and issue of mutations will be discussed later and the reader will see why such an argument is not viable.

The fact that animal and plant species are found fully formed and complete in the fossil record is powerful evidence (although not proof) for creation because it is evidence that they came into existence as fully formed and complete which is possible only by creation.

Although Darwin was partially correct by showing that natural selection occurs in nature, the problem is that natural selection itself is not a creative force. Natural selection is a passive process in nature. Natural selection can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. Natural selection itself does not produce any biological traits or variations.

The term "natural selection" is simply a figure of speech. Nature, of course, does not do any conscious or active selection. If a biological variation occurs which helps a member of a species to survive in its environment then that biological variation will be preserved ("selected") and be passed on to future offspring. That's what scientists mean by the term "natural selection". Since natural selection can only work with biological variations that are possible, the real question to ask is what biological variations are naturally possible.

The evidence from genetics supports only the possibility for microevolution (or horizontal) evolution within biological "kinds" such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc., but not macroevolution (or vertical) evolution which would involve variations across biological "kinds"), especially from simpler kinds to more complex ones (i.e. from fish to human). Even if a new species develops but there are no new genes or new traits, but only new variations of already existing genes and traits, then there still is no macro-evolution (variation across biological kinds) and the different species would remain within the same biological "kind" even though they would no longer have the ability to inter-breed. Unless Nature has the intelligence and ability to perform genetic engineering (to construct entirely new genes and not just to produce variations and new combinations of already existing genes) then macroevolution will never be possible in Nature.

The early grooves in the human embryo that appear to look like gills are really the early stages in the formation of the face, throat, and neck regions. The so-called "tailbone" is the early formation of the coccyx and spinal column which, because of the rate of growth being faster than the rest of the body at this stage, appears to look like a tail. The coccyx has already been proven to be useful in providing support for the pelvic muscles.

Abortion clinics have been known to console their patients by telling them that what they're terminating isn't really a human being yet but is only a guppie or tadpole!

Variations across biological kinds such as humans evolving from ape-like creatures and apes, in turn, evolving from dog-like creatures and so on, as Darwinian evolutionary theory teaches, are not genetically possible. Although the chemicals to make entirely new genes exist in all varieties of plant and animal kinds, the DNA or genetic program that exists in each plant or animal kind will only direct those chemicals into making more of the same genes or variations of the same genes but not entirely new genes.

But, didn't we all start off from a single cell in our mother's womb? Yes, but that single cell from which we developed had all of the genetic information to develop into a full human being. Other single cells, such as bacteria and amoeba, from which evolutionists say we and all other forms of life had evloved don't have the genetic information to develop into humans or other species.

There is no scientific evidence that random mutations in the genetic code caused by random environmental forces such as radiation will increase genetic information and complexity which is what ultimately would be necessary to turn amoebas into humans. In fact, the law of entropy in nature would prevent random mutations from being able to accomplish such a feat!

Biological variations are determined by the DNA or genetic code of species. The DNA molecule is actually a molecular string of various nucleic acids which are arranged in a sequence just like the letters in a sentence. It is this sequence in DNA that tells cells in the body how to construct various tissues and organs.

The common belief among evolutionists is that random mutations in the genetic code produced by random environmental forces such as radiation, over time, will produce entirely new genetic sequences or genes for entirely new traits which natural selection can act upon resulting in entirely new biological kinds or forms of life . Evolutionists consider mutations to be a form of natural genetic engineering.

However, the very nature of mutations precludes such a possibility. Mutations are accidental changes in the sequential structure of the genetic code caused by various random environmental forces such as radiation and toxic chemicals.

Almost all true mutations are harmful, which is what one would normally expect from accidents. Even if a good mutation occurred for every good one there will be thousands of harmful ones with the net result over time being disastrous for the species.

Most biological variations, however, occur as a result of new combinations of previously existing genes - not because of mutations, which are rare in nature.

Mutations simply produce new varieties of already existing traits. For example, mutations in the gene for human hair may change the gene so that another type of human hair develops, but the mutations won't change the gene so that feathers or wings develop.

Sometimes mutations may trigger the duplication of already existing traits (i.e. an extra finger, toe, or even an entire head, even in another area of the body!). But mutations have no ability to produce entirely new traits or characteristics.

Furthermore, only those mutations produced in the genes of reproductive cells, such as sperm in the male and ovum (or egg cell) in the female, are passed on to offspring. Mutations and any changes produced in other body cells are not transmitted. For example, if a woman were to lose a finger it would not result in her baby being born with a missing finger. Similarly, even if an ape ever learned to walk upright, it could not pass this characteristic on to its descendants. Thus, modern biology has disproved the once-held theory that acquired characteristics from the environment can be transmitted into the genetic code of offspring.

Young people, and even adults, often wonder how all the varieties and races of people could come from the same human ancestors. Well, in principle, that's no different than asking how children with different color hair ( i.e., blond, brunette, brown, red ) can come from the same parents who both have black hair.

Just as some individuals today carry genes to produce descendants with different color hair and eyes, humanity's first parents possessed genes to produce all the variety and races of men. You and I today may not carry the genes to produce every variety or race of humans, but humanity's first parents did possess such genes.

All varieties of humans carry genes for the same basic traits, but not all humans carry every possible variation of those genes. For example, one person may be carrying several variations of the gene for eye color ( i.e., brown, green, blue ) , but someone else may be carrying only one variation of the gene for eye color ( i.e., brown ). Thus, both will have different abilities to affect the eye color of their offspring.

Some parents with black hair, for example, are capable of producing children with blond hair, but their blond children (because they inherit only recessive genes) will not have the ability to produce children with black hair unless they mate with someone else who has black hair. If the blond descendants only mate with other blondes then the entire line and population will only be blond even though the original ancestor was black-haired.

Science cannot prove we're here by creation, but neither can science prove we're here by chance or macro-evolution. No one has observed either. They are both accepted on faith. The issue is which faith, Darwinian macro-evolutionary theory or creation, has better scientific support.

If some astronauts from Earth discovered figures of persons similar to Mt. Rushmore on an uninhabited planet there would be no way to scientifically prove the carved figures originated by design or by chance processes of erosion. Neither position is science, but scientific arguments may be made to support one or the other.

What we believe about life's origins does influence our philosophy and value of life as well as our view of ourselves and others. This is no small issue!

Just because the laws of science can explain how life and the universe operate and work doesn't mean there is no Maker. Would it be rational to believe that there's no designer behind airplanes because the laws of science can explain how airplanes operate and work?

Natural laws are adequate to explain how the order in life, the universe, and even a microwave oven operates, but mere undirected natural laws can never fully explain the origin of such order.

Of course, once there is a complete and living cell then the genetic program and biological mechanisms exist to direct and organize molecules to form into more cells. The question is how did life come into being when there was no directing mechanism in Nature. An excellent article to read by scientist and biochemist Dr. Duane T. Gish is "A Few Reasons An Evolutionary Origin of Life Is Impossible" (http://icr.org/article/3140/).

There is, of course, much more to be said on this subject. Scientist, creationist, debater, writer, and lecturer, Dr. Walt Brown covers various scientific issues ( i.e. fossils, "transitional" links, biological variation and diversity, the origin of life, comparative anatomy and embryology, the issue of vestigial organs, the age of the earth, etc. ) at greater depth on his website at www.creationscience.com.

On his website, Dr. Brown even discusses the possibility of any remains of life on Mars as having originated from the Earth due to great geological disturbances in the Earth's past which easily could have spewed thousands of tons of rock and dirt containing microbes into space. In fact, A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility.

An excellent source of information from highly qualified scientists who are creationists is the Institute for Creation Research (www.icr.org) in San Diego, California. Also, the reader may find answers to many difficult questions concerning the Bible (including questions on creation and evolution, Noah's Ark, how dinosaurs fit into the Bible, etc.)at www.ChristianAnswers.net.

It is only fair that evidence supporting intelligent design or creation be presented to students alongside of evolutionary theory, especially in public schools which receive funding from taxpayers who are on both sides of the issue. Also, no one is being forced to believe in God or adopt a particular religion so there is no true violation of separation of church and state. As a religion and science writer, I encourage all to read my Internet article "The Natural Limits of Evolution" at my website www.religionscience.com for more in-depth study of the issue.

*Some other Internet articles by the author are: "Why The Traditional View of Hell Is Not Biblical", "Artificial Life By Intelligent Design", "Any Life On Mars Came From Earth!", "Creationists Right On Entropy, Evolution", "Are There Natural Limits To Evolution?","Intelligent Design On Another Planet?", "Where Are All The Half-Evolved Dinosaurs?", "Christ Was Begotten, Not Made". The most up-to-date versions of these and other articles may be accessed at: Babu G. Ranganathan's Articles.

The author, Babu G. Ranganathan, is an experienced Christian writer. Mr. Ranganathan has his B.A. with academic concentrations in Bible and Biology from Bob Jones University. As a religion and science writer he has been recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who's Who In The East. The author's articles have been published in various publications including Russia's Pravda and South Korea's The Seoul Times. The author's website may be accessed at: www.religionscience.com.

© 1999-2006. «PRAVDA.Ru». When reproducing our materials in whole or in part, hyperlink to PRAVDA.Ru should be made. The opinions and views of the authors do not always coincide with the point of view of PRAVDA.Ru's editors.

Schools to teach evolution 'theory'


By Glenda S. Jenkins, News-Leader

The state Board of Education has approved revised science Sunshine State Standards to incorporate the theory, if not the fact, of evolution into the school curriculum.

In a 4-3 vote Tuesday the board approved insertion of the terms "scientific theory" and "law of" evolution in "all appropriate areas throughout the document," the Florida Department of Education said.

Board members Donna Callaway, Akshay Desai and Robert Martinez voted against the measure, objecting to the addition of the terms "scientific theory" and "law of" to the revised standards.

Board members Phoebe Raulerson, Kathleen Shanahan and Linda Taylor voted to approve the revised standards with the added terminology.

Board Chairman Talmadge W. Fair cast the deciding vote to break the tie.

The revised standards drew debate after several North Florida school districts, including Nassau County's, passed resolutions opposing the revised standard's presentation of evolution as fact.

Nassau Schools Superintendent John Ruis said the vote leaves questions about how the modification to the standards will affect science instruction.

"I'm not really sure what exactly that means now as far as practice and instruction," he said, explaining that the "impact on the delivery of instruction and on what will be presented instructionally is not clear."

Ruis declined to say if the board's actions satisfied him. "I would like more time to see what (the decision) really means with regard to instruction."

A committee that included educators, scientists, business leaders and school administrators began developing the standards in May following a drafting and review process.

The DOE convened five public hearings throughout the state in addition to reviewing 20,000 comments received via the Internet. During the Tuesday hearing opinions of the 20 members of the public who addressed the board were split equally in favor of and opposed to the revised standards as presented to the board.

School districts will align their science curriculum to the revised standards beginning in the 2008-9 school year. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test will test students on the material in 2012.


Story created Feb 25, 2008 - 14:24:50 PST.

Teaching of evolution may be affected


Outcome of election could determine how subject taught
staff and wire reports
Originally published 02:51 a.m., February 26, 2008
Updated 02:51 a.m., February 26, 2008

Local voters will have a say in one of those races -- District 2 -- a large South Texas district that includes Corpus Christi.

Incumbent Mary Helen Berlanga, a Corpus Christi attorney and 26-year board veteran, faces longtime Rio Grande Valley educator Lupe A. Gonzalez, of Mission. The winner of the primary will face Peter Johnston, who is running unopposed on the Republican primary ballot.

The board sets school curricula, selects textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund.

"When you think about the fact that the State Board of Education in Texas determines what every child in Texas public schools will be taught in K through 12, the impact that those members have is extraordinary on the future of Texas," said Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious teachings in public schools. "These races are absolutely critical."

In addition to English, science curriculum standards are scheduled to be reviewed this year and observers expect a push from conservatives on the board to water down the teaching of evolution in classrooms as well as in textbooks.

Curriculum standards set by the board go beyond the text book. Last year, the board mandated an extra year of science and math curriculum at the high school level.

For local districts, including the Corpus Christi Independent School District, that meant shifting schedules and course offerings.

"Under the new 26-credit requirement, opportunities to take elective courses are limited," CCISD Superintendent Scott Elliff said. "Therefore, all districts, including CCISD, are exploring ways to maximize credit earning opportunities for students, including extended days, block schedules, eliminating 'local credit' courses, and/or moving some course offerings to middle school."

The State Board of Education functions in much the same way as a local school district, but on a larger scale, Elliff said.

"They relate to the Texas Education Agency in the way local school boards relate to school districts," he said.

"In addition to establishing policy, they make critical decisions related to the state-mandated curriculum, establishment of standards under the accountability system and sanctioned instructional materials."

State board of education

The State Board of Education is a policy-establishing board comprised of 15 elected officials representing various regions carved into districts with comparable population.

The board sets school curricula, selects textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund.

The board's decisions, along with those of the state commissioner for education and the Texas Education Agency, directly impact more than 1,227 Texas school districts and charter schools and more than 4.5 million Texas students, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Terms are four years and the board is required to meet quarterly in Austin.

Mary Helen Berlanga

Age: 60

Occupation: Attorney

Education: The senior member of the State Board of Education, Berlanga has served on the board since 1982. She has served on the board's instruction, students, and Permanent School Fund committees.

1. What are some of the challenges you foresee facing the Texas education system in the next few years.

Our goal in education should include helping students develop good character, self respect and respect of others. We also cannot ignore the demographics and the evolving student population. We have 2,118,787 Hispanic students in our Texas schools along with 1,631,680 white students and 660,785 African American students. The Hispanic population is the only one growing and our state had basically dismantled all monitoring systems. ... The professionals and experts are non-existent in bilingual education and English as a Second Language education. The professionals in this area of education address the linguistic and academic needs of very special and vital student populations in our Texas public schools. This lack of attention to the research and demographic realities will only increase the numbers of students falling through the cracks and (who will) be labeled at risk, another special population.

We need to convince the Legislature that we are over-testing. We need to return to the idea that testing should be done to evaluate a student's progress, analyze his strengths and weaknesses so teachers can better influence the progress and development of their students. This is the only testing we should be doing with K-12 students.

2. Do you believe that textbooks used by Texas school children adequately reflect Texas history? If not, how do you intend to change that?

In many cases, the authors of Texas History are individuals who live out of state and have some varying degrees of knowledge about Texas history. This has to change. I have brought about some awareness by convening researchers, academicians and authors at symposiums held throughout the state. We are currently working with English teachers from Texas who have developed the English language arts and reading standards. We have to do the same things in history. We will allow input from the teachers, educators, parents and the business community.

3. How do you think the Texas school system will be influenced by the debate between creationism and evolution?

It is the job of public schools to teach accurately what science has discovered about the world and universe we live in. As one of my constituents so aptly put it, leaving God out of science does not make it "atheistic" as some would claim. It simply means that God is beyond the scope of empirical scientific investigation and, therefore, is not part of science. When the State Board of Education considers the science curriculum and the textbooks to be used in public schools, I hope we will leave the teaching of creation to the church and use the classroom to teach accurately what science has discovered.

Lupe A. Gonzalez

Age: 64

Occupation: Retired

Experience: Gonzalez has worked in education for more than 35 years serving as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and administrator in the Rio Grande Valley. He served as superintendent of schools in the Mission school district.

1. What are some of the challenges you foresee facing the Texas education system in the next few years?

A). No Child Left Behind. The purpose for this initiative has always been to improve student achievement. Major revisions need to be made to this in order to attain the stated objectives without making it almost impossible for some of the special populations to succeed.

B). School safety. School personnel have to constantly ensure that schools provide a safe haven from terrorists, shootings, etc..., for all students.

C). Poor children are most likely to be taught by the newest and least-qualified teachers.

D). Recruitment and retention of teachers to overcome the teacher shortage in Texas is a no-brainer.

E). Revisiting the current state funding plan for public education. This is a very touchy issue with strong arguments coming from both property-rich school districts and property-poor districts. Aside from all existing laws, it is the moral, legal, and ethical responsibility for Texans to guarantee every child in Texas is entitled to the best education possible without regard to the school district (property-rich or poor) where the child resides.

2. Do you believe that textbooks used by Texas school children adequately reflect Texas history? If not, how do you intend to change that?

No, I do not believe that textbooks used by Texas school children adequately reflect Texas history, especially regarding the recent findings in social studies textbooks that no mention is made of the role that Hispanics played in the Texas fight for independence. If elected to the State Board of Education, I would try my very best to ensure that all textbooks adopted by (the board) are as accurate and factual as possible.

3. How do you think the Texas school system will be influenced by the debate between creationism and evolution?

I believe that a compromise to the debate between creationism and evolution is possible and necessary, and I believe that this compromise (in very simple terms) can be attained if our biology textbooks give equal weight and consideration to both theories. I say this because the best information I can find related to this matter indicates that (for lack of any better criterion to use) there is no scientific proof to absolutely show beyond any reasonable doubt that one theory is the absolute truth. Until this matter is resolved, this debate will continue to divide our great citizens of Texas and will continue to take up much time, resources and efforts of individuals, groups and state agencies, as well as the courts.

Contact Adriana Garza at adriana.garza@tamuk.edu. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Various academic fields celebrate Darwin


By Rachel Dorrell Issue date: 2/26/08 Section: News

In celebration of Charles Darwin's 199th birthday, professors spoke Wednesday about applying Darwin's theory of evolution to various academic fields.

Charles Darwin is famous for his publication of "The Origin of Species," which theorized that the existence of organisms is best explained by a process of natural evolution.

Darwin provided the first explanation for evolution as a natural occurrence, said Sean Mullen, professor of biology.

According to Darwin's theory, evolution occurs by natural selection, commonly referred to as "survival of the fittest," and the gradual changes of an organism's genetic make-up and appearance, Mullen said.

"Evolution is the observed pattern of change over time, or descent with modification," he said.

Darwin's ideas are essential to understanding biological history, Mullen said, with the modification of species using fossil records as proof.

But before Darwin became noted for his discoveries in biology, he was a geologist, said Edward Everson, geology professor.

Darwin observed that the elevation of the land in relation to the sea was inconstant over time, which is an evolutionary quality, Everson said.

Darwin researched parallel cuts in the hillsides of Glen Roy, Scotland. He believed they were the effects of a raised beaches.

However, a fellow scientist said they were the shorelines of preolacial lakes, disproving Darwin, Everson said.

"Darwin was a geologist first but became a biologist because he was driven out of geology by his errors," Everson said.

Darwin's theories are not just aligned with the hard sciences.

Mark Bickhard, professor of philosophy, connected Darwin's principles to philosophy.

"Darwin's discovery of a new form of explanation has taken time for people to recognize," Bickhard said. "Because his principles are most often applied to variation, selective retention, and genotype and phenotype distinctions."

Darwin's explanations can be applied to scientific and individual development without having to use analogies or metaphors, Bickhard said.

James Dearden, professor of economics, applied his field's use of strategy to Darwin's principles.

Natural selection uses strategy, Dearden said. If a new strategy is introduced and is successful, it invades, he said.

Chaplain Lloyd Steffen discussed the controversy between religion and Darwin's theory of evolution.

Steffen distinguished creationism from evolution, saying that Darwin challenged creationism because it denies the context of time.

He said Genesis should be read like Shakespeare's plays, with an appreciation for the story.

"Genesis is poetry that requires imaginative [history], not actual natural history ... It's misread if it's read as the natural history of the world," Steffen said.

Darwin immersed in the deepest kind of spiritual struggle, he said.

"Darwin is what we all should aspire to be," Steffen said. "He sought the truth, attained knowledge and tried to bring light to the world."

Professor Michael Behe, a renowned proponent for intelligent design, or the belief that some aspects of life are the product of an intelligent agent, said he disagrees with some of Darwin's theories.

"In Darwin's day it was heresy to question the kind of religious view of the history of life and in our day its heresy to question the scientific or the secular view of the origin of life," Behe said.

Intelligent design questions how the cell became so complex and efficient, he said.

"There are accidents and contingencies in nature," he said. "Cancer can happen, birth defects can happen and mistakes can happen when a cell is being replicated. They happen all the time - everybody admits that everybody knows that."

Behe said everything in biology is not designed and Darwin's theories are important to antibiotic resistance in bacteria and insecticide resistance.

He said the problem with Darwin's theories arise when discussing preexisting systems, especially at the foundational level of the cell.

"Scientists used to think that cells were little pieces of jelly-protoplasm," Behe said. "Cells are really nano-sized automated factories. Cells have machinery that is well beyond our capability of making. Most of that machinery required deliberate, purposeful design."

Behe said creationism and intelligent design are not the same belief.

People get confused, but biblical creationism comes from reading the Bible, Behe said.

"[Intelligent design] does not start from a religious text, it starts from nature," he said.

View from the lab: creationism


Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 26/02/2008

Prof Steve Jones explains why creationism has just been proved to have feet of clay

A Brief History of Time tells the tale of the lady who insisted that the Earth sat on a giant turtle. When challenged as to what held that creature up, she replied that the cosmos was "turtles all the way down".

In spite of the lucid piece by Professor Hawking above, I still do not understand cosmology, although I now perceive that the universe is somehow held together with string.

I do know, however, that the turtle story has roots in Hindu mythology and branches in every other religion. Evolution's own giant terrapin is the idea that life was created recently, in one of several kinds of miracle (which you believe depends on where you were brought up).

Creationism is boring and empty, and I usually ignore it, but this week at University College London it's hard to do so.

The place is plastered with posters from the medical students' Islamic Society inviting us to celebrate the "collapse of the evolution theory" with a lecture by a creationist in "the very building dedicated to Charles Darwin, on the spot he once lived".

UCL, the Godless College of Gower Street, insists (just as all religions do) on freedom of speech, so they are welcome to their meeting. We biologists choke, though, on the idea of such buffoonery in the Darwin Building; instead, it has been moved to a theatre used to teach medieval history.

The speaker, Dr Oktar Babuna, is a Turkish physician who claims to have been cured of leukaemia by prayer (perhaps he could be persuaded to lecture our medical students about advances in cancer therapy, too).

I would have doubts about a doctor, even a UCL graduate, who rejects the facts upon which his craft is built. I recently had a hernia operation.

Was that because men descend from fish, with their testes near the heart, so that human sperm have to follow a tortuous tube up into the body and back again, with a risk of failure at the plumbing's weak point?

Or was it God's wrath at my being elected Secularist of the Year? I'd choose a surgeon who goes for the first theory every time.

What's interesting about Islamic creationism is how little the Koran says about it. It also has an important message about the relationship between science and religion.

"God," says the great book, "took clay, and from it created man." That phrase has been seized on by the many scholars who search for hints of modern science (cosmology included) as proof of the Koran's divine origin, for it is close to a 1980s theory of the origin of life.

Biology's Big Bang happened, it says, when silicates (the chemicals in clay) made crystals with some regularity, but plenty of imperfections. New molecules were added to the growing sheet and copied its faults, but inaccurately, with some gaining new errors that let them multiply faster. These prevailed.

The raw materials of nucleic acids stuck to the mass of clay and they proliferated. Finally, those best at copying broke away from the clay scaffold and life was born.

In the absence of evidence, that scheme has been much argued about, and there are many other ideas. Lipid bilayers - sheets of grease - might have trapped simple substances and forced them into new combinations, or chemicals now used in living cells may have emerged in an oxygen-free world of iron and sulphur.

Some say that it all started in boiling oceans, others on icecaps, and everyone disagrees - loudly.

Now comes a clever test of the clay mineral idea. Silicate crystals are hard to grow in the laboratory, and a chemical used in the dyeing industry was used instead. That, too, formed imperfect structures. As more raw material was added, the errors were copied as more crystals grew; great news, perhaps, for the theory.

Alas, there was a problem. The numbers of errors in each generation was more, not less, than what went before. Far from the best taking over, everything descended into chaos. Mutation beat heredity.

Chemistry, the dismal science, has taken the romance out of the idea of a life formed from clay, which now looks much less impressive than it did only a few months ago.

What does that do to belief in the Koran? In my uninformed view, nothing: that work is not a scientific textbook, but is based on faith and history. But if science can be used to prove it, why should not a failed scientific theory equally be taken in disproof?

The idea that life began by magic a few thousand years ago is entirely absurd - yet believers, of whatever persuasion, insist on its truth. This does no harm to science, but to my secular eyes seems to do immense damage to religion itself.

Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London

Discovery Institute's Unintelligent Designers Have No Scruples


by Lee Salisbury / February 26th, 2008

This past Saturday one of the C-Span book reviews featured Dr. John West's book Darwin Day In America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science. Dr. West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute argued that the domination of science in American society has led to the corruption of our morals.

I must admit my astonishment at West's proposition. He reminds me of the preacher who proclaimed, "You don't need to read nuttin but the bible." Dr. West verges on suggesting ignorance and stupidity produce good morals. When talking about the theory of evolution that is essentially his position. The Discovery Institute's mission is to fabricate reasons to deny the 150 years of research that stands behind the theory of evolution because it contradicts a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. Has Dr. West ever heard of Galileo?

Dr. West and his Discovery Institute constituents are among the less than 1% of Ph.D.s in science combating the 99% of Ph.D.s in science who consider evolution a fact. West is scrambling for a reason that the Intelligent Design (ID) idea might be credible. Thus, Dr. West asserts that science and particularly Darwin 's theory of evolution must be responsible for the corruption of morals.

West goes on to make the incredible claim that Darwin 's evolution is responsible for anti-Semitism. Darwin's Origin of Species first appeared in 1859. If West's assertion is true then there could not have been any anti-Semitism prior to 1859.

On the contrary, anti-Semitism goes back at least 1,500 years. It has ranged from individual Christian expressions of hatred and discrimination against individual Jews to organized violent attacks by mobs on Jewish communities. Extreme instances of persecution include the German Crusade of 1096, the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, the Spanish Inquisition, the Jew's expulsion from Spain in 1492, the Jewish expulsion from Portugal in 1497, various pogroms, and the 20th Century's most infamous Holocaust under Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Martin Luther, student of the bible and namesake of Lutherans, wrote a pamphlet in 1543 entitled "On the Jews and Their Lies." Luther sets forth the Christian obligation to destroy the Jews. Luther states Christians should "set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them." . . . "Their houses also be razed and destroyed." . . . "Their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them." . . . "Their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb." . . . "safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews." . . . "usury be prohibited to them and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them." . . . "If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews' blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country" . . . "we must drive them out like mad dogs."

Martin Luther was a virulent anti-Semite long before Darwin was born. Luther's hatred of Jews was grounded in the loving words of Jesus and Paul written centuries years before Darwin.

The Discovery Institute has all the appearances of respectability. They are Christians whom one assumes would never violate God's Commandment against lying, "Thou shall not bear false witness." Yet, they lie with abandonment. They are the victim of what happens when ideology supersedes common sense. The Discovery Institute is so consumed with their ideology that they have lost all concern for honesty and truthfulness. They have no scruples and depend on the gullibility of their constituents to propagate their nonsense.

All the immorality Dr. West ascribes to Darwin is undeniably justified in and by the bible. West's problem is not the fault of science, but of blind allegiance to religious ideology.

Further, West's reasoning illustrates the logical fallacy of "appeal to consequences." This fallacious argument concludes a premise (typically a belief) to be either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences. It is an appeal to emotion and is a logical fallacy since the desirability of a consequence has no bearing on the truth-value of the premise.

The scientific method of thought ascribed by Aristotle, reinvigorated by the Enlightenment and paid with the blood of many martyrs made possible our deliverance from the Judeo-Christian doctrines justifying slavery, oppression of women and anti-Semitism. America's enemies are not external but within our midst and must be exposed at every turn.

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

This article was posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2008 at 10:29 am

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Evolution education update: February 8, 2008

Kevin Padian argues in the pages of Geotimes for improving evolution education by starting with the textbooks. The United Church of Christ embraces evolution in a major new statement on faith, science, and technology, and the American Fisheries Society adds its voice for evolution, too. NCSE's Glenn Branch explains why Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend are worth celebrating -- and it's just about time to celebrate them!


In a commentary published in the February 2008 issue of Geotimes, Kevin Padian argues that the way to improve evolution education is to start with the textbooks. Discussing his testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover, he writes, "In reviewing for the judge the creationist 'textbook' Of Pandas and People, I explained in some length -- and in conversational language -- the actual evidence for how birds evolved from dinosaurs, how whales evolved from land mammals, and how vertebrates came onto land, as well as the methods that we use to test our hypotheses. The judge and the reporters covering the trial were intrigued by this testimony and that of all of the expert witnesses. Most of what we know of the history of Earth and its life is not being taught to Americans -- despite their desire to learn it."

But, Padian continues, "They're not getting it in textbooks, not even the ones that focus on evolution and paleontology, as I found in a recent study." Diplaying a figure like those he used in the Kitzmiller trial (which are available on-line), he writes, "It shows the fossils themselves, so people can see the basis for our work. It shows the comparable parts of the skeletons color-coded, so the evolution of form is clear. It gives reconstructions of the animals in life. And it bases all this on an evolutionary tree that is derived from independent evidence. It illustrates what we practice: a highly integrative science that depends on the reconciliation of many independent lines of evidence." He concludes, "Let's fight the anti-evolutionists by putting the right evidence in front of the public and alleviating ignorance."

In addition to serving as president of NCSE's board of directors, Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley and also Curator of Paleontology at the University of California's Museum of Paleontology. He testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, where he was the only expert witness with any expertise in paleontology. In his decision, Judge John E. Jones III wrote, "Dr. Padian's demonstrative slides, prepared on the basis of peer-review[ed] scientific literature, illustrate how Pandas systematically distorts and misrepresents established, important evolutionary principles." He also noted that "Padian bluntly and effectively stated that in confusing students about science generally and evolution in particular, the disclaimer makes students 'stupid.'"

For Padian's commentary, visit:

For his testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover, along with the slides he used, visit:

For the slip opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover (PDF), visit:


In a new statement on faith, science, and technology from the United Church of Christ, evolution is described as a matter of fact and a way in which God creates. Entitled "A New Voice Arising: A Pastoral Letter on Faith Engaging Science and Technology," the statement contains a paragraph reading:


Evolution helps us see our faithful God in a new way. Our creator works patiently, calling forth life through complex processes spanning billions of years and waiting for us to awaken and respond in conscious participation in God's own overarching dream for all living things. Evolution also helps us see ourselves anew, as creatures who share a common origin with other species. Today we know that human bodies and brains share the same genetic and biochemical processes with other creatures, not just mammals but insects, plants, and bacteria. How then should we understand ourselves as evolved creatures, sharing much of our DNA with other species, and at the same time as distinct creatures in the image of God?


The general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, the Reverend John H. Thomas, told The New York Times (January 31, 2008) that the statement was in part intended to counter "the creationist approach, the continuing caricature of the opposition of evolution and religion."

According to a January 29, 2008, press release, "A New Voice Arising" is being distributed in February to each of the UCC's 5,700 local churches as part of a new campaign aimed at the scientific and technological communities, intended to promote the UCC's belief that science and religion are not mutually exclusive and to express the denomination's welcome to "persons who devote their lives to scientific inquiry, no matter the discipline." Included in the campaign is a pro-science poster (PDF), with the motto, "For too long, science and faith have had a combustible relationship. But even churches evolve."

For "A New Voice Arising" (PDF), visit:

For the story in The New York Times, visit:

For the UCC's press release, campaign, and poster (PDF), visit:


At its annual meeting in September 2007, the American Fisheries Society adopted a resolution concerning the teaching of alternatives to evolution affirming "that the theory of evolution is the only current scientific explanation for the diversity of life on earth for inclusion in the science curricula of public schools," expressing its opposition to "policies that would allow the teaching of creationism, intelligent design or other political or faithbased doctrines in public school science classes," and encouraging "citizens, educational authorities and legislators to oppose such policies at the appropriate federal, state and local levels of government."

Explaining the rationale for the resolution is a background document that concludes, "As a society whose members work with natural resources, we should find it particularly disturbing that the theory of evolution, the best available scientific perspective from which to understand natural ecosystems, continues to be the target of political efforts to bring issues of faith and social values into public schools. As a profession that promotes the conservation and sustainable management of aquatic resources through the application of the best available science, our voice should be added to the others speaking out to protect science education in public schools."

Founded in 1870, the American Fisheries Society is the oldest and largest professional society representing fisheries scientists. It seeks to promote the conservation, development, and wise use of fisheries; promote and evaluate the development and advancement of all branches of fisheries science and practice; gather and disseminate to its members and the general public scientific, technical, and other information about fisheries science and practice through publications, meetings, and other forms of communication; and encourage the teaching of fisheries science and practice in colleges and universities and the continuing education and development of fisheries professionals.

For the AFS's resolution (PDF), visit:

For the background document (PDF), visit:


NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch was invited to contribute a piece on Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend to Beacon Broadside, the blog of Beacon Press. After describing a host of innovative ways in which people are celebrating, he turned serious: "Why make such a point of celebrating Darwin Day, as opposed to, say, Einstein Day on March 14? A crucial reason, particularly in the United States, is to counteract the public climate of ignorance of, skepticism about, and hostility toward evolution."

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

For Branch's essay, visit:

For information about Not in Our Classrooms, visit:


And speaking of Darwin Day, there are only a few day remaining! 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, 800 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!

Creationists resort to deception in attacking evolution


Sunday, February 24, 2001908 Volume 19, Issue 6

By Marshall Helmberger

As editor of the Timberjay's editorial pages, there are few things that have been more frustrating over the years than determining how to handle this perennial debate over evolution, prompted for the most part by a single, local proponent of creationism.

While I inherently believe in the free exchange of ideas, the purpose of the editorial pages is to discuss ideas and viewpoints that can affect the world in which we live. To a large degree, the debate over evolution doesn't meet that criteria— because what we all choose to believe on the subject has no bearing whatsoever on what is real.

It's like arguing about the color of the sky. In the end, there's nothing that can be done about it anyway.

Personally I don't care if someone wants to believe that the world is 6,000 years old and that humans walked with dinosaurs.

Where I draw the line is when such individuals try to force their unscientific and insupportable beliefs into the science curriculum of our public schools. While many of us followed the recent ruling in the Dover, Pennsylvania, case, where the school board was successfully sued for forcing science teachers to teach creationism's newest incarnation, dubbed "intelligent design," we should take little solace from the fact that sound science prevailed.

While the courts have correctly ruled that the teaching of religion as science is unconstitutional in this country, the fact is that advocates of creationism have significantly undermined the teaching of evolution in American classrooms nonetheless. Few American young people graduate from high school or university with anything more than a rudimentary understanding of the basics of evolution and the literally mountainous and ever-growing base of scientific evidence to support it.

School boards across this country, fearful of backlash from creationists, have largely kept evolution out of science courses. Evolution is the basis of modern biology, ecology, genetics, paleontology, and many other areas of study, but it is almost completely avoided in many science classrooms to this day. Even the writers of science textbooks in the U.S. frequently give it a pass, for fear their books won't be purchased by nervous school officials.

What's most sad, is that this campaign against evolution has been waged largely through deception and distortion. Indeed, the purveyors of creationism were criticized for their "disingenuous" tactics by Judge John Jones III, who ruled in the Dover, Pennsylvania, case. Jones, by the way, was a religious conservative, appointed by President Bush on the recommendation of fundamentalist former Senator Rick Santorum.

Creationist advocates clearly had a sympathetic judge in the Dover case. They had their day in court, but their arguments were so patently flawed that the judge's 139-page finding of fact was ultimately scathing. He even recommended some of the pro-creationism school board members be investigated for perjury.

I've seen plenty of this kind of truth-twisting closer to home. Just as they advocate in other parts of the country, local creationists routinely attempt to falsely equate evolution with atheism, in hopes that the devout will choose religion over science. It's a false choice, of course, since there is absolutely no contradiction between religious beliefs and an acceptance of evolution.

In addition, creationists falsely claim that Darwin's theory suggests life began on Earth on its own. Darwin, in fact, suggested that life was created in simpler form by a Creator, but that evolution has led to the remarkable diversity we see today. That's a view that's held today by many scientists, and many non-scientists, who are also individuals of faith.

I could go on and on. The list of false arguments, missed points, and outright frauds perpetrated by creationists to attack evolution is long.

And while I am usually more than happy to facilitate free debate, I'm not interested in false debate, either on these pages or online.

That doesn't mean that evolution must be avoided in the newspaper. But just because someone wants to criticize a candidate for promoting creationism, or evolution for that matter, or the adaptations of an organism are discussed in a nature column, doesn't mean that readers should be subjected to weeks of creationist sophistry plowing the same exhausted ground time and again.

They can hijack another newspaper for that.

Creationism vs. evolution: a battle familiar to Americans flares in Europe



9:15 a.m. February 9, 2008

LONDON – After the Sunday service in Westminster Chapel, where worshippers were exhorted to wage "the culture war" in the World War II spirit of Sir Winston Churchill, cabbie James McLean delivered his verdict on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

"Evolution is a lie, and it's being taught in schools as fact, and it's leading our kids in the wrong direction," said McLean, chatting outside the chapel. "But now people like Ken Ham are tearing evolution to pieces."

Ken Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, a Kentucky-based organization that is part of an ambitious effort to bring creationist theory to Britain and the rest of Europe. McLean is one of a growing number of evangelicals embracing that message – that the true history of the Earth is told in the Bible, not Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

Europeans have long viewed the conflict between evolutionists and creationists as primarily an American phenomenon, but it has recently jumped the Atlantic Ocean with skirmishes in Italy, Germany, Poland and, notably, Britain, where Darwin was born and where he published his 1859 classic.

Darwin's defenders are fighting back. In October, the 47-nation Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, condemned all attempts to bring creationism into Europe's schools. Bible-based theories and "religious dogma" threaten to undercut sound educational practices, it charged.

Schools are increasingly a focal point in this battle for hearts and minds. A British branch of Answers in Genesis, which shares a Web site with its American counterpart, has managed to introduce its creationist point of view into science classes at a number of state-supported schools in Britain, said Monty White, the group's chief executive.

"We do go into the schools about 10 to 20 times a year and we do get the students to question what they're being taught about evolution," said White, who founded the British branch seven years ago. "And we leave them a box of books for the library."

Creationism is still a marginal issue here compared with its impact on cultural and political debate in the United States. But the budding fervor is part of a growing embrace of evangelical worship throughout much of Europe. Evangelicals say their ranks are swelling as attendance at traditional churches declines because of revulsion with the hedonism and materialism of modern society.

"People are looking for spirituality," White said in an interview at his office in Leicester, 90 miles north of London. "I think they are fed up with not finding true happiness. They find having a bigger car doesn't make them happy. They get drunk and the next morning they have a hangover. They take drugs but the drugs wear off. But what they find with Christianity is lasting."

Other British organizations have joined the crusade. A group called Truth in Science has sent thousands of unsolicited DVDs to every high school in Britain arguing that mankind is the result of "intelligent design," not Darwinian evolution.

In addition, the AH Trust, a charity, has announced plans to raise money for construction of a Christian theme park in northwest England with a 5,000-seat television studio that would be used for the production of Christian-oriented films. And several TV stations are devoted full-time to Christian themes.

All this activity has lifted spirits at the Westminster Chapel, a 165-year-old evangelical church that is not affiliated with nearby Westminster Abbey, where Darwin is buried.

In the chapel, Rev. Greg Haslam tells the 150 believers that they are in a conflict with secularism that can only be won if they heed Churchill's exhortation and never, ever give up.

"The first thing you have to do is realize we are in a war, and identify the enemy, and learn how to defeat the enemy," he said.

There is a sense inside the chapel that Christian evangelicals are successfully resisting a trend toward a completely secular Britain.

"People have walked away from God; it's not fashionable," said congregant Chris Mullins, a civil servant. "But the evangelical church does seem to be growing and I'm very encouraged by that. In what is a very secular society, there are people returning to God."

School curricula generally hold that Darwin's theory has been backed up by so many scientific discoveries that it can now be regarded as fact. But Mullins believes creationism also deserves a hearing in the classroom.

"Looking at the evidence, creationism at the least seems a theory worthy of examination," he said. "Personally I think it is true and I think the truth will win out eventually. It's a question of how long it takes."

Terry Sanderson, president of Britain's National Secular Society, a prominent group founded in 1866 to limit the influence of religious leaders, fears the groups advocating a literal interpretation of the Bible are making headway.

"Creationism is creeping into the schools," he said. "There is a constant pressure to get these ideas into the schools."

The trend goes beyond evangelical Christianity. Sanderson said the British government is taking over funding of about 100 Islamic schools even though they teach the Quranic version of creationism. He said the government fear imposing evolution theory on the curriculum lest it be branded as anti-Islamic.

The Council of Europe spoke up last fall after Harun Yahya, a prominent Muslim creationist in Turkey, tried to place his lavishly produced 600-page book, "The Atlas of Creation," in public schools in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.

"These trends are very dangerous," said Anne Brasseur, author of the Council of Europe report, in an interview.

Brasseur said recent skirmishes in Italy and Germany illustrate the creationists' tactics. She said Italian schools were ordered to stop teaching evolution when Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister, although the edict seems to have had little impact in practice. In Germany, she said, a state education minister briefly allowed creationism to be taught in biology class.

The rupture between theology and evolution in Europe is relatively recent. For many years people who held evangelical views also endorsed mainstream scientific theory, said Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, a British-based, Christian-oriented research group. He said the split was imported from the United States in the last decade.

"There is a lot of American influence, and there are a lot of moral and political and financial resources flowing from the United States to here," he said. "Now you have more extreme religious groups trying to get a foothold."

In some cases, the schools have become the battlegrounds. Richard Dawkins, the Oxford university biologist and author of last year's international best-seller "The God Delusion, "frequently lectures students about the marvels of evolution only to find that the students' views have already been shaped by the creationist lobby.

"I think it's so sad that children should be fobbed off with these second-rate myths," he said.

"The theory of evolution is one of the most powerful pieces of scientific thinking ever produced and the evidence for it is overwhelming. I think creationism is pernicious because if you don't know much it sounds kind of plausible and it's easy to come into schools and subvert children."

White, the director of the British Answers in Genesis, is well aware that the group's school program is contentious. The group has removed information about it from its Web site to avoid antagonizing people.

The group operates a warehouse with $150,000 worth of DVDs, books and comics promoting creationism, but he says he only sends speakers and materials into schools that invite Answers in Genesis to make a presentation.

White, 63, said he was raised as an atheist, and after earning a doctorate in chemistry, embraced evangelical Christianity in 1964.

He says that when he is asked to speak to science classes, he challenges the accuracy of radioactive dating which shows the world to be thousands of millions of years old and says that the Bible is a more accurate description of how mankind began. He personally believes the Earth is between 6,000 and 12,000 years old.

"Usually I find the discussion goes on science, science, and science and then when the lesson is finished one or two students say, 'Can we talk about other things?' and I sit down with them and usually they want to talk about Christianity," he said. "They want to know, why do you believe in God? Why do you believe in the Bible? How can you be sure it's the word of God?"

Dawkins feels the effect. He said he is discouraged when he visits schools and gets questions from students who have obviously been influenced by material from Answers in Genesis. "I continually get the same rather stupid points straight from their pamphlets," he said.

White is getting ready for a visit by Ken Ham, who will preach at Westminster Chapel this spring. Meanwhile he is pleased that small groups of creation science advocates now meet regularly in Oxford, Edinburgh, Northampton and other British cities.

"The creation movement is certainly growing," he said. "There are more groups than there were five years ago. There are more people like me going out speaking about it, and there's more interest. You have these little groups forming all over the place."

Evolution education update: February 22, 2008

A victory in Florida, where the new state science standards recognize evolution as a "fundamental concept underlying all of biology." Additionally: the International Society for Science and Religion says that "intelligent design" is neither sound science nor good theology; the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study is concerned about creationist shenanigans in Texas; and the British Society for the History of Science is conducting a "Designing Darwin" contest.


The Florida state board of education voted 4-3 at its February 19, 2008, meeting to adopt a new set of state science standards in which evolution is presented as a "fundamental concept underlying all of biology." The adopted standards differ from those developed by the writing committee in adding the phrase "the scientific theory of" before mentions of plate tectonics, cell theory, electromagnetism, and evolution. According to the standards, "a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer."

The previous set of state science standards, adopted in 1999, received a failing grade in a national assessment by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2005, which observed, "The superficiality of the treatment of evolutionary biology alone justifies the grade 'F'." The word "evolution" itself was absent from the standards. In contrast, evolution is now featured as a "big idea" around which the standards are organized.

As the time neared for the board to consider the standards, creationists were assiduously lobbying against the treatment of evolution. At a last-minute meeting in Orlando on February 11, 2008, there were about twice as many speakers opposing the treatment of evolution in the new standards as there were speakers who applauded it. The Orlando Sentinel reported (February 12, 2008), "Some speakers said they wanted creationism or intelligent design taught, while others said they just wanted what they called weaknesses in the theory of evolution talked about, too."

Supporters of the integrity of evolution education were not silent in Orlando. In addition to statements offered by Florida Citizens for Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Florida Academy of Sciences submitted a statement endorsing the treatment of "origins and biological evolution" in the new set of standards, describing evolution as "the central unifying concept in biology."

After the Orlando meeting, the Florida department of education developed a new version of the standards, seeking to label scientific theories (including evolution) as such. The Orlando Sentinel (February 16, 2008) suggested, "By adding the word theory, which many opponents of the standards had argued for, the new version may appease those who do not view evolution as a scientific fact or those whose religious beliefs are in conflict with evolution."

A spokesperson for the department told the Sentinel (February 16, 2008) that the new version was vetted by the writing committee, but a later report in the Sentinel (February 17, 2008) suggested that a majority of the committee opposed the changes, quoting Debra Walker (who also serves on the Monroe County School Board) as saying, "There is no scientifically sound reason to make these changes" and Gerry Meisels (a professor of chemistry at the University of South Florida) as describing them as "clumsy."

Over the weekend, the novelist and columnist Carl Hiassen provided comic relief, writing in the Miami Herald (February 17, 2008), "By accepting evolution as a proven science, our top educators would be sending a loud message to the rest of the nation: Stop making fun of us. Is that what we really want?" and concluding, "there's no sin in being a slightly backward state with extremely modest expectations for its young people. ... We've worked hard to keep ourselves so far behind in education, and we must stay the course."

Before approving the modified standards on February 19, the board first heard from twenty speakers, each given three minutes, alternating between supporters and opponents of the standards. Among the supporters were Jonathan Smith of Florida Citizens for Science, Debra Walker and Gerry Meisels from the writing committee, Joseph Travis (the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida State University), and Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto, who also expressed his views in his op-ed for the Ft. Myers News-Press (February 16, 2008).

During a lively debate lasting about sixty minutes, board member Donna Callaway proposed a so-called "academic freedom" amendment to the standards to counter what she described as the "dogmatic" tone of the standards with respect to evolution. The Miami Herald (February 19, 2008) reported, "The amendment would have given teachers the explicit permission 'to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.'" She was unable to obtain a second to her motion, however.

Ultimately, a motion to adopt the new version of the standards, with "scientific theory" inserted, was adopted by a 4-3 vote. Joining Callaway in voting against the standards were Akshay Desai and Roberto Martinez, although for very different reasons. Martinez in particular fiercely defended the standards as drafted, brandishing a letter from the National Academy of Sciences endorsing the writing committee's version, and asking pointed questions about the development of the new version.

Martinez was quoted by the Associated Press (February 19, 2008) as lamenting, "What we have here is an effort by people to water down our standards." To judge from the reaction of creationists, however, even the new version of the standards was too much. The Associated Press also reported that the Florida Family Policy Council, disappointed in the board's vote, plans to seek legislation to ensure "academic freedom" with respect to evolution.

Asked for comment about the board's vote by Education Week (February 19, 2008), Florida Citizens for Science's Brandon Haught answered, "The standards, as approved, are a huge step forward for our Florida schools ... They're light years ahead of what's been used in the state." And NCSE's Josh Rosenau agreed, saying, "the basic content of the standards is still good," and adding, "This is a win for science overall."

For the video of the February 19 meeting, visit:

For the new version of the standards, visit:

For the stories in the Orlando Sentinel, visit:

For Carl Hiassen's column in the Miami Herald, visit:

For Sir Harold Kroto's op-ed in the Ft. Myers News-Press, visit:

For the Miami Herald's story, visit:

For the letter from the National Academy of Sciences (PDF), visit:

For the Associated Press's story (via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel), visit:

For Education Week's story, visit:

For the website and blog of Florida Citizens for Science, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Florida, visit:


The International Society for Science and Religion recently adopted a statement on the concept of "intelligent design," describing it as "neither sound science nor good theology." The statement continues, "Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language. Attributing complexity to the interruption of natural law by a divine designer is, as some critics have claimed, a science stopper. Besides, ID has not yet opened up a new research program. In the opinion of the overwhelming majority of research biologists, it has not provided examples of 'irreducible complexity' in biological evolution that could not be explained as well by normal scientifically understood processes."

The authors of the statement -- Denis Alexander, Munawar Anees, Martinez Hewlett, Ronald L. Numbers (chairing the committee), Holmes Rolston III, NCSE Supporter Michael Ruse, and Jeffrey Schloss -- constitute a group set up for the purpose by the Executive Committee of the International Society for Science and Religion. Through a process involving consultation with all members of the society, the statement has now been accepted by the Executive Committee for publication as a statement made on behalf of the society. Founded in 2001, the International Society for Science and Religion seeks to facilitate scholarly dialogue between science and religion, which it describes as "one of the most important current areas of debate in terms of understanding the nature of humanity." Membership in ISSR is by invitation only; its small but distinguished membership includes NCSE's Faith Project Director Peter M. J. Hess.

The British religious thinktank Ekklesia welcomed the ISSR's statement. In a February 7, 2008, press release, Ekklesia's co-director Simon Barrow described it as "a very important development," adding that "intelligent design" "brings the proper engagement of religion and science into disrepute, and benefits those who wish to pursue dubious ideological agendas at the expense of a common search for truth and wisdom." Accompanying the press release was Barrow's essay "Theology, science and the problem of ID," which discussed the religious, philosophical, and political context of the ISSR's statement, suggesting, "That one of the world's foremost scholarly organizations devoted to the dialogue between science and religion should come out with such a statement at this time is a very important and encouraging development."

For the ISSR statement, visit:

For Ekklesia's press release and Barrow's essay, visit:


In a letter to the Texas Commissioner of Education and the members of the Texas state board of education dated February 13, 2008, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study expressed its opposition to actions in the state of Texas that "compromise the integrity of science and the quality of science education," citing in particular the forced resignation of Chris Comer from the Texas Education Agency and the Institute for Creation Research's bid for Texas certification for its graduate school. "Understanding the theory of evolution is essential for teaching the biological sciences, and there is a rich body of scientific evidence in support of evolutionary theory that every biology teacher must know well," the letter stated, adding, "it is pedagogically irresponsible to remain neutral on teaching the principles of evolutionary theory, which form the cornerstone of modern biology." BSCS closed by urging the commissioner and the board to "maintain the integrity of science as you fulfill your responsibility for supporting the high quality science education that your students deserve."

The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study is a nonprofit corporation that endeavors to improve all students' understanding of science and technology by developing exemplary curricular materials, supporting their widespread and effective use, providing professional development, and conducting research and evaluation studies. Founded in 1958, BSCS was largely responsible for reintroducing evolution into the high school biology curriculum, following a four-decade period after the Scopes trial in 1925 during which evolution virtually disappeared from high school biology textbooks. As Joseph D. McInerney, BSCS's executive director from 1985 to 1999, explained, "Our books put evolution back in the curriculum in the early 1960s, and we've been defending it ever since." A five-minute podcast about BSCS's role in reintroducing evolution into the high school biology curriculum, excerpted from a new documentary about BSCS, is available on the section of its website devoted to evolution, which is presently undergoing a welcome expansion.

For BSCS's letter (PDF), visit:

For the evolution section of BSCS's website, and the podcast, visit:

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


Anticipating the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species, the Outreach and Education Committee of the British Society for the History of Science is conducting a prize competition for original designs illustrating the significance of these anniversaries. Entries may take the form of posters, illustrated essays, or screensavers. There are three age categories for entrants -- 11-14, 15-18, and 19+ -- with a prize of #100 to be awarded in each category. People around the world, not just in the United Kingdom, are welcome to submit entries. Entries are due by e-mail by May 26, 2008.

For information about the contest, 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!

State decision may pose threat to study of science


Feb. 22, 2008

Inside the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills science standards is a provision that requires students to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

This entirely sensible requirement is in danger from anti-evolutionists on the Texas State Board of Education.

Not content to keep their faith and misgivings with science to themselves, the creationists in charge of Texas students' education have adopted a new strategy. What is their proposed solution to eradicate evolution from the classroom? More evolution! Well, not exactly.

They want to teach an attenuated, scientifically flawed and troubled theory of evolution, and they will try to sneak their bogus objections and fabricated controversies into the curriculum by hiding behind the "strengths and weaknesses" clause.

To understand why they're using this approach, it's useful to look at the history of creationism.

Back in the early 20th century, creationists had an easier time arguing their case. Merely asserting the incompatibility of science and a literal interpretation of the Bible was enough to keep Darwin out of the classroom.

In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled anti-evolution laws unconstitutional. In 1975, a similar ruling required "equal time" between evolution and creationism in the classroom. To survive, the creationists had to evolve: they stripped overt biblical references from their writings, changed "God" to "Creator" and rebranded themselves Creation Scientists. Their scientific conclusions preceded their biblical views so, they argued, Creation Science can be taught in the classroom.

The Supreme Court ended this ruse in 1987 with Edwards v. Aguillard, which correctly identified the religious nature of Creation Science and its inherent violation of the establishment clause.

Around this time, a funny thing happened. A manuscript called Biology and Origins received a face-lift. Newly re-titled Of Pandas and People, the pre-Edwards terminology of "intelligent creator" and "creation" inside were replaced with "intelligent agency" and "intelligent design," leaving the context unchanged.

This new species of creationism was coined Intelligent Design, but it suffered a humiliating defeat in 2005 when a federal judge ruled the concept was inherently religious and therefore unsuitable for the classroom. This pressure spurred the growth of a new survival strategy.

Now, instead of teaching the Bible, science derived from the Bible, or science compatible only with the Bible or all the same arguments with fancy new names, today's creationists have adopted a superficially reasonable position: teach the controversy.

Nothing has changed but the name. The paradigm of creationism has been the same in every guise: evolution cannot possibly explain X, therefore (synonym for God) did it.

The 'teach the controversy' plan's only novelty is the omission of the final clause, but the goal is the same. After undermining science in the schools, creationists will have no trouble convincing people, "All that stuff science can't explain? God did it."

And that's the present danger we face. The existing standards require students to analyze, review and critique scientific explanations.

The current state board wants to alter the state's science standards to allow non-scientific critiques of evolution into the classroom.

Their methods and motives are clear. For Texas Christians who respect science and the constitution, now is the time to be outraged.

Cody Cobb is a senior biochemistry major from Spring.

Extract: Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rose Shapiro


From Times Online February 23, 2008

One American alternative practitioner and supplement salesman, Gary Null, tells us that "a solution to cancer would mean the termination of research programmes, the obsolescence of skills, the end of dreams of personal glory . . . Triumph over cancer would dry up contributions to self-perpetuating charities . . . It would mortally threaten the clinical establishments by rendering obsolete the expensive treatments in which so much money is invested . . . The new therapy must be disbelieved, denied, discouraged and disallowed at all costs".

An imaginary researcher says: "Every year we must show you results. After all, you won't support us if you don't think we're getting something done. On the other hand, we can't be too successful — and we certainly can't afford to come up with a cure. After all, if we did that, how could we come back to you next year and get more of your money?"

When in 2003 the US Food and Drugs Administration stopped Alpha Omega Labs selling Cansema, a worthless cancer cure, one supporter suggested that this was "no doubt because their products worked. The FDA has a long history of doing this to developers of successful cancer remedies".

Alternative cancer therapists say their plant-based "cures" are overlooked by pharmaceutical companies because naturally occurring substances — rhubarb, for example — can't be patented, precluding profit for "Big Pharma". But David Colquhoun, Professor of Pharmacology at University College London, told me: "The kudos that a pharmaceutical company would get for finding an effective cure would be so enormous that it's hard to imagine that they would decline to produce it, even if it didn't make a lot of money. In any case, even when a plant-based substance (like Taxol, from yew) provides the initial lead, it is common for synthetic derivatives to be made that have better properties than the original."

Related Links
How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rose Shapiro

SUCKERS: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rose Shapiro
Harvill Secker, £12.99; 272pp

Famed Microbiologist on Teaching Evolution: Don't Start Until College


By Brandon Keim February 22, 2008 | 11:54:00 AM

Famed microbiologist Carl Woese has a unique suggestion for teaching evolution to schoolchildren: don't do it.

I recently talked to Woese, best known for rearranging the organismal kingdom from five branches to three, while reporting on an upcoming story about the union of complexity theory and evolutionary biology.

For decades Woese has argued -- and many other scientists agree -- that genetic mutations and natural selection don't provide a complete explanation for Earthly life. He believes these mechanisms to be part of a grander phenomenon of evolution, in which jumps of extraordinary complexity -- from single-celled to multicellular organisms, from organism to ecosystem -- are non-linear emergent phenomena, a function of networked interactions obeying a variant on the second law of thermodynamics.

I asked Woese what he thought about the situation in Florida, where an evolution-heavy state curriculum was attacked by religious conservatives trying to balance classroom evolution with "alternatives." These alternatives are generally creationist, and Woese is caught in the middle: he has no sympathy for religion masquerading as science, but mainstream evolutionary thought has little room for him.

Said Woese,

My feeling is that evolution shouldn't be taught at the lower grades. You don't teach quantum mechanics in the grade schools. One has to be quite educated to work with these concepts; what they pass on as evolution in high schools is nothing but repetitious tripe that teeachers don't understand.

I certainly don't want any intrusion of religious ideas in the name of science -- but I don't want this bland soup that's taught as evolution in the name of science, either. It's not science -- it's catechism. Let's hold off until college, then hire some teachers who really know what to teach them. You have to go to the higest levels to find people with an understanding. That whole setup isn't there at all; all that's there is teaching the same old pap for 150 years, modfied by neo-Darwinists but not in an useful way.

But what if a parent says that neo-Darwinian evolution still explains, for example, the primate family tree?

I don't know, when you put it that way ... you'd have to teach this stuff with the understanding that these are just the facts we can learn, and they don't have a religious explanation.

[Mainstream neo-Darwinian evolution] doesn't begin to talk about the evolution of the brain, and I think that's what the whole difference is. Man is working now on a higher level of organization than you can get form any other biological organization on the planet, and it doesn't do you a damn bit of good to say that the complex brain was a product of natural selection. It just doesn't help you.

For more on Woese's ideas, see the series of posts below, as well as "A New Biology for a New Century," published in 2004 in Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Florida Board of Education approves 'the scientific theory of evolution'


By Jonathan M. Gitlin | Published: February 22, 2008 - 04:40PM CT

Given the United States' federal system, there is no overriding national education standard for the sciences. Instead, states are free to decide on what does or does not get taught to children. Sometimes this ends up in the news, as creationist movements have influenced decisions made by school boards, as we have seen in Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania.

Florida has been shaping up as the most recent battleground in the war on science, as reported last month. But the Florida Board of Education has decided, by a 4-3 vote, to approve standards that state's first standards to include the word evolution. They did, however, replace all mentions of 'evolution' with 'the scientific theory of evolution.'

This move will no doubt please many, including our own Dr Timmer, who just recently enunciated the need for children to be taught more about the scientific method.

Not everyone is so sure that kids should be taught about evolution in schools, however. Over at Wired Science, microbiologist Carl Woese equates evolution with quantum mechanics: "One has to be quite educated to work with these concepts; what they pass on as evolution in high schools is nothing but repetitious tripe that teachers don't understand." I don't think I'd agree with Woese. Sure, much of what kids learn in school as science turns out not to be quite so true once they get to higher education, but that certainly doesn't mean that basic concepts central to modern science shouldn't be taught.

Finally, Science has the heartwarming tale of palentologist Stephen Godfrey, a one-time Young Earth creationist who came to realize he couldn't support his beliefs after spending time as a graduate student on a fossil dig in Kansas. Meanwhile, evolution, like Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, moves to the newest battleground state, Texas.

Florida Schools Will Teach Evolution, but with 'Theory' Caveat


The Florida Board of Education has approved new science standards that explicitly include the word 'evolution' for the first time, but last-minute revisions kindled controversy over religious and political tinkering in the science classroom.

The board voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve a broad set of changes to Florida's 1996 science standards, including new goals for student learning in a variety of subjects. But a debate emerged on one of the 18 "big ideas" in the new standards: evolution.

In a last-minute wording change to standards that had met the approval of authorities such as the National Academy of Science and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the board affixed a qualifier, "the scientific theory of," to evolution and other scientific phenomena.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection says that life on Earth, including humans, rose from common ancestry. It's widely accepted in the scientific community, but the idea can conflict with the religious version of human history, which seeks to incorporate theological beliefs into the teachings of human development.

Florida is one of the few large states with state-level textbook adoption, giving it disproportionate clout with publishers and importance in the national fight over the treatment of evolution in the classroom. The school board's debate is the latest in a string of battles that have been playing out across the country for decades. Most recently, in 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania found that "intelligent design," which says the universe is too complex to be explained by science alone, was a religious theory, and therefore could not be taught in science classes.

A February St. Petersburg Times poll found that 50 percent of Florida voters wanted creationism or intelligent design to be taught exclusively in schools; a national poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2005 found that fewer than half of Americans, 48 percent, believed in some form of evolution.

Roberto Martinez, an attorney and one of the three board members who voted against the last-minute change, chided the education board's commissioner for giving in to pressure from conservative groups that sought ways to bring creationism into curricula.

"These optional standards were not proposed by the panel of experts," Martinez said at Tuesday's meeting.

"The whole process of drafting these proposed standards began last year and it was done in a very deliberate, a very objective process involving a panel of experts. And then it appears that these optional standards came into existence -- 'evolved' -- very quickly, if I can use that word," Martinez said.

At the board's request, Florida's Office of Math and Science conducted a brief internal review with a small group of writers and staff. It released the new language one business day before the vote.

Mary Jane Tappen, the office's executive director, quickly sought feedback from the 61 standards writers. Twenty-nine of the 38 who responded in time recommended adoption of the earlier, unaltered standards.

Other Florida education board members defended the change as being in keeping with the tradition of critical analysis in science, an argument often cited by creationist proponents. One member, Phoebe Raulerson, pointed to the use of "cell theory" as an accepted term in another section of the life science standards.

The new Florida standards strengthen the scientific definition of a "theory," calling it "the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer," but evolution proponents still took offense to the late addition of the word "theory" -- because the word's non-scientific interpretation could open up evolution to criticism.

Some proponents of the change, both in the public and on the board, denied a religious motive.

"If we're going to have 'theory' in one place, we need it in both places simply because it encourages more study, not because it's wrong," Raulerson, a former Okeechobee teacher and administrator, said Tuesday. The board's approved standards will now call cell theory "a" fundamental organizing principle of life on Earth, not "the" fundamental organizing principle.

Tappen fielded responses from the standards' writers after the board's decision. "There are still a few that say 'I wish that politics hadn't come into play,'" but she added that the writers, save one, "fully embrace" the adopted standards.

Observers also agreed that the new standards were a leap forward for the state. The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an education policy think tank, gave Florida an F in 2005 for its science standards citing thin and vague guidelines and noting that the word evolution had been "sedulously avoided." Lawrence Lerner, a co-writer of the Fordham report and emeritus professor at California State University-Long Beach, put the writers' version of the standards in the "A range."

"The state's exams will be based on these standards, so students will have to study evolution if they want to get a good grade," Lerner said.

Teachers will begin learning the new instructional methods this summer for use in the fall semester, but the impact of the board's decision may continue to reverberate throughout the state and the southern U.S. Eight of Florida's 74 school districts have passed anti-evolution resolutions, and Texas, which has its own textbook clout, is now reviewing state science standards with plans for approval by the end of the year. Its education board chair has taken a stance against evolution, and the state's science education head resigned in November after she sent an e-mail showing an apparent bias against intelligent design.

-- Adnaan Wasey, Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Evolution, one more time: a little chat with God

http://www.tallahassee.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080223/OPINION05/802230304/1006/OPINION Originally published February 23, 2008
Mark Hohmeister
Associate Editor

Hey, God, what's up?

I need some information for a column I want to write about evolution so I thought I'd check in and see what you think. I like to look at the zany side of things, and I know you have a fair sense of humor. Heck, just look at the platypus.

If you don't mind, I'd like to do this as a Q&A. So here goes. Oh, and as always, thanks.

Question: Speaking of your sense of humor, can you tell me why an Intelligent Designer would put tiny leg and pelvis bones inside some snakes and whales?

Answer: You ever watch the "Red Green Show"? You know, the Canadian show on public television featuring that lazy handyman? Duct tape! That show cracks me up. Anyway, in one sketch, Red's nephew complains, "Uncle Red, my car is five different colors," and old Red growls, "That's because the body parts came off five different cars."

You've got a zillion different animals, and you're going to kvetch because I reuse some parts?

You know, they used to have legs, but those aren't much use in slithering or swimming. You can see the legs in whale fetuses, the old "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" thing you learned back in evolution class. And about 100 years after Darwin, you guys turned up some fossils of snakes with legs. Which should be no surprise because, in Genesis, it's pretty clear that the whole crawling thing was an afterthought.

Q: But if you're using the same parts, why would you make a marsupial Tasmanian wolf when you already had a perfectly good wolf in the Northern Hemisphere?

A: That whole Australia thing got away from me. You have to admit, the baby-in-the-pouch idea is pretty cute. But can you still carry the young ones while hopping at 40 mph or sitting in a tree all day eating eucalyptus. You'll hear all these theories about continental drift and how that's why placental mammals dominated one continent and marsupials another. Nah, it's not that. I was just messing around.

Q: Speaking of Australia, what's up with the platypus?

A: It was the sixth day. I was tired. Sue me.

Q: So all those fossils of dinosaurs with feathers and five-toed horses and bats without sonar. What should I make of them?

A: You could say they all just drowned in the Flood, settling neatly into layers, with the most primitive-looking sinking first, then amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals. Yeah, I know there are fish fossils, too. Give me a minute on that one.

Q: Take your time.

A: Geez, can't you tell I've been pulling your leg here? You have eyes to see. You're not awed by a system that has worked for billions of years, through ice ages and comets? That's a bit longer than most of your marriages, or nations for that matter. Check it out! It's a pretty cool set-up, if I do say so myself, that can evolve a Tyrannosaurus and a human being on the same planet.

Q: But one of our newspaper readers asks, if man evolved from apes, why are there still monkeys?

A: Because I like monkeys. When you go to the zoo, do you watch the people or the monkeys? Same here. C'mon, what kind of a question is that? You ever see branches on a tree? Mini-blinds evolved from wide Venetian blinds, but you still can buy either one at Lowe's.

Q: Speaking of apes, I saw a gorilla daddy blowing on his baby's belly at the zoo once. It looked so human.

A: Your point being . . .

Q: I don't know. So, what's your take on the Florida Board of Education's decision?

A: Well, it's my theory — can I use that word? — that some people are just a bit insecure. A rainbow can remind you of me and of all the stuff you learned about wavelengths, too. There's no conflict. It's all wonderful. And it's not that big a deal. But those colors remind me, how's the Golden Rule assignment I gave you coming along? Now there's something you should worry about.

Contact Mark Hohmeister at mhohmeister@tallahassee.com or (850) 599-2330.

LETTER: Keep religion out of science classrooms


February 23, 2008 6:00 AM

The two sides of the debate over creationism and evolution, an issue raised in recent letters, are mysticism and rationalism.

Mysticism is defined as follows:

1. The belief that truth is found through intuition, faith or sudden insight rather than through rational thought.

2. Vague or unsubstantiated thought or speculation about something.

The opposite of mysticism is rationalism:

1. The belief that thought and action should be governed by reason and evidence.

2. The belief that reason and logic are the primary sources of knowledge and truth, and should be relied on in searching for and testing the truth of things.

That the world was created by a non-material (spiritual) being is a vague speculation that cannot be substantiated, for one thing, because the being in question cannot be observed or otherwise confirmed. Evolution, on the other hand, is measured and observed every day as new fossils are found that confirm the numerous, successive and slight modifications of newer species from older species. So to consider teaching creationism in a science classroom is to mix science with its antithesis — mysticism.

Maybe, from time to time, we need to be able to free ourselves from the nagging grip of reality and fly freely in our intuition, faith and sudden (born again) insights. Fantasy and imagination are less demanding than measurement and reason because we do not get tripped up by little things like facts and truths.

Perhaps religion provides a culturally sanctioned outlet for our flights of wishful thinking and delusion.

But history has taught us that mysticism has poisoned science and reason from the beginning of civilization, and we must not let it creep back into our science classrooms under a cloak of creationism.

Robert A. Brown


A Few Words about a Long-Winded Breach of Etiquette


After debating whether Dan Brooks' recent post at Panda's Thumb should be dignified with a response, I've been persuaded that clearing away the worst of the dross is worth some of my time.

Dan Brooks, a parasitologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, was invited by the Discovery Institute to participate in a private symposium held in Boston in early June 2007. The symposium revisited the issues raised at the 1966 Wistar Institute conference on mathematical challenges to the neo-Darwinian interpretation of evolution with a view toward assessing any progress that has been made in the last forty years. Brooks' post at PT not only evinces poor etiquette in its attempt to discuss the content of a private symposium prior to the release of the conference proceedings, it severely misrepresents that content and the intent of many of the remarks that were made there. To briefly summarize, here are the facts of the situation:

(1) All participants were clearly informed that the Wistar Retrospective Symposium was a Discovery Institute initiative.

(2) The suggestion that the symposium was billed as a Gordon Conference has no factual basis whatsoever.

(3) It was clearly stated that the conference was private and would not be publicized so the attendees would feel free to engage openly and honestly on highly controversial topics.

(4) Discovery Institute assured the participants at the conference that there would be no public discussion of the meeting until the papers and transcripts of the discussions were released.

(5) There was a clear expectation, as a matter of etiquette, that attendees of the symposium would similarly respect the privacy of the conference and the other attendees by refraining from public commentary until such time as the content of the presentations and transcripts of the Q&A periods were made available and could speak for themselves.

(6) Brooks' post not only violates this etiquette, it contains factual errors and misrepresents the actual content of the ID talks and interactions.

(7) After hearing of this symposium from an invitee who declined to attend, the NCSE, through the agency of Eugenie Scott, attempted to interfere with its organization (as Bruce Weber can attest) and is now, through its former employee Nick Matzke, trying to mitigate its significance by airing Brooks' ill-conceived report.


Brooks was an invited participant to a closed research conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute. The conference was representative of the very kind of research our critics say we don't sponsor, even while they're actively working to obstruct its occurrence. Having failed to prevent this research symposium from happening, they then took recourse to deliberate misrepresentation in an effort to mitigate the significance of what they could not stop. Fortunately, the entire conference, including all of the discussions, was recorded, and the extent of Brooks' errors and misrepresentations will be made evident when the papers and transcripts are eventually made public.

One of the co-organizers of the conference was an honorable ID-critic, Bruce Weber, who is a biochemist at Cal State Fullerton. Both Bruce Weber and I had direct email correspondence with Brooks and all of the other participants. The PT assertion that attendees were given the impression that the conference was organized by the Wistar Institute or that it was billed as a Gordon Conference is ridiculous, as can be seen from the text of Bruce Weber's initial email to Brooks, in which it is also made clear that the conference would be a private one "out of press view." (See here; relevant remarks have been highlighted.)

My first email exchange with Dan Brooks also confirms these points (see here).

Finally, you can read here Dan's response (providing his talk title) to an email sent to all of the participants in which the private nature of the conference is emphasized.

With respect to the misrepresentation of symposium content in Brooks' account, since the extent of this will be quite clear when the proceedings are released, I feel no need to address it in a point-by-point fashion (nor do I have the time or patience to do so). If the individual scientists whose work is misrepresented wish to spend any time correcting Brooks' account of their work, I invite them to do so in this forum. I suspect most of them will have better things to do with their time. As a brief indicator of the kind of factual errors in Brooks' account, let me briefly note that he succeeds in confusing Douglas Axe with both Stephen Meyer and William Dembski on separate occasions. If Brooks can't even get right the coarse-grained details of who said what, then what credence should be given to his descriptions of the content of what they said? None at all.

As a final point for reflection, Eugenie Scott's attempt to interfere with the conference at an early stage—a meddling behavior typical for her, another instance of which will be chronicled in the film Expelled—raises another possibility: did Brooks contact the NCSE about his invitation and was he then cultivated as a plant at the conference for the very purpose of doing what he now has done? The fact that Brooks coordinated the release of his faux report with Nick Matzke, himself formerly of the NCSE, lends plausibility to this hypothesis. I don't suppose the public will ever know the truth of the matter, but it would be in keeping with the NCSE's mode of operation: work behind the scenes to stifle fair-minded scientific discussion and publication on intelligent design, then publicly proclaim that pro-ID scientists don't publish in respected journals and do nothing to engage the scientific research community with their ideas.

It's rather ironic that in a badly conceived and ill-advised "outing" of a Discovery Institute research symposium, all that Nick Matzke and the NCSE have succeeded in doing is outing themselves: they have private knowledge of solid ID research and are actively seeking to repress it. This recurrent descent into trickery and deceit by Darwinian defenders leads toward an overwhelming question: if neo-Darwinism is as scientifically beyond dispute as they claim, what have they to fear from open discussion? Everything, it would seem. Draw your own conclusions.

Bruce L. Gordon, Ph.D.
Research Director
Center for Science and Culture
Discovery Institute

Posted by Bruce Gordon on February 22, 2008 9:59 AM | Permalink

Science meets belief as couple put evolution in a sacred context



February 23, 2008

Some say you can tell a lot about people from the cars they drive. The Rev. Michael Dowd drives a camper van with drawings of two fish, one labeled "Jesus" and the other "Darwin," who are kissing each other with red hearts above them.

For nearly six years, Dowd, a former United Church of Christ minister, and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have traveled the country preaching the gospel of evolution with evangelistic zeal.

It's time to declare an end to the war between science and faith, he argues. He says the facts are indisputable: Earth and its inhabitants evolved over billions of years. But that's OK, he adds, because God, or whatever name you want to give to a higher power, was and is still involved.

"Imagine a realm of nothingness," says Dowd, invoking an image of the beginning of time. "God is the essence of that everything. Everything that emerges is not emerging outside of God, but within God."

His road show is now in San Diego, arriving last week for a series of presentations that will culminate today with an all-day workshop (cost is $5) beginning at 10 a.m. at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4190 Front St., in Hillcrest. At 5:30 p.m. he'll be at Open Door Books, 4761 Cass St. in Pacific Beach, to sign copies of his book, "Thank God for Evolution."

In the beginning

Biblical creationism: God created the earth and everything in it over six days, as told in Genesis, the opening book of the Bible, going back roughly 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. There are varying interpretations over whether the time frame was six literal days or six long periods.

Biological evolution: Earth and its life forms developed over a gradual process, beginning with the most primitive organisms billions of years ago. According to the National Academy of Sciences, evolution "has been confirmed repeatedly through observation and experiment in a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines."

Theistic evolution: Sometimes referred to as evolutionary creationism, it embraces both God and evolution. God created the universe through an evolutionary process, therefore Genesis and science complement each other.

Dowd sees himself as teaching evolution in a sacred way. Last Friday night, about 150 people turned out at the Hillcrest church for a rousing evolutionary revival. On Tuesday night, he was in Solana Beach, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, for a workshop where the crowd was smaller – less than two dozen – and more subdued.

"We're suggesting that a science-based understanding of the universe gives us a more grounded way of being," Dowd told the Solana Beach group.

When one man asked him where religion fits into this, Dowd spoke of how knowing that God is in the midst of all that is evolving inspires him to be a better person, to be filled with awe and appreciation, and to be a more responsible member of planet Earth.

"We're organically related to the whole," he says.

Keith Mesecher, a longtime member of First Unitarian Universalist Church, says he's "totally turned on" by Dowd's message that humans contain billions of years of evolution inside of them. "We have the wisdom of the universe in us," says Mesecher, who led the music at last Friday night's revival.

He echoes Dowd that the problem with the science community's presentation of evolution is that it lacks any mention of the sacred. Science provides the facts, he adds, while religion provides the meaning.

Mesecher, a 61-year-old Encanto resident, also echoes Dowd about a commitment to be more environmentally aware and to help rescue a planet they consider to be in peril.

"We are having vast negative effects on the planet," says Mesecher. "What we need is to learn how to live in mutually embracing relationships with other species."

As for Dowd, 49, he credits his wife with pushing him to follow his dream of becoming an itinerant preacher for this cause. Barlow, a 55-year-old author of several science books, joins him in his presentations, coaxing audiences to regard the evolution of the world as an evolving narrative. "Michael and I view this as the story of the changing story," she says.

The New York couple shed their belongings (they don't even have a storage bin) and took to the road in April 2002.

They live out of a white Dodge Sprinter, staying in people's homes during their speaking gigs and supporting themselves with donations and proceeds from the sales of books and tapes. They also have two Web sites: thegreatstory.org and thankgodforevolution.com.

He admits that most of their audiences are liberal congregations who are not wedded to biblical literalism and are already sympathetic to evolutionary teachings. But he says he admires creationists for their fervor and admonishes atheists for "having no respect for religious language."

Dowd's not alone in this campaign to mend fences between science and religion. Earlier this month, more than 800 U.S. congregations participated in the third annual Evolution Weekend, when sermons and seminars are geared to what supporters regard as the compatibility of evolutionary science and spiritual beliefs.

Still, however, opinion polls show that Dowd remains in the minority.

Americans have repeatedly embraced creationism over evolution. As recently as 2006, a poll conducted for CBS News found that 55 percent of Americans surveyed said they believe God created humans in their present form, compared with 13 percent who said they believed in evolution. The remainder favored theistic evolution, a belief that humans evolved but God guided the process.

Dowd figures he'll be spreading this message on wheels for the rest of his life. So far, he has bookings into fall 2009. Tomorrow, he is due to be in Lancaster, followed by stops in Riverside, Ojai and Anaheim. Then, the white camper van with the kissing fish will push farther north, continuing to spread his gospel that Jesus loves Darwin.

Two seats on State Board of Education contested in March 4 primary


By APRIL CASTRO / Associated Press

Just two seats on the 15-member State Board of Education are being contested in the March 4 primary, but the results of the races could shape the outcome of a brewing battle over how evolution is taught in Texas public schools.

Incumbents Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, and Pat Hardy, a Republican, face primary challenges for another four-year term.

The board sets school curricula, selects textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund.

"When you think about the fact that the State Board of Education in Texas determines what every child in Texas public schools will be taught in K through 12, the impact that those members have is extraordinary on the future of Texas," said Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious teachings in public schools. "These races are absolutely critical."

In addition to English, science curriculum standards are scheduled to be reviewed this year and observers expect a push from conservatives on the board to water down the teaching of evolution in classrooms as well as in textbooks.

"Membership of the State Board of Education is clearly, very evenly divided between the far right faction of the board and everyone else," Miller said.

Hardy and Berlanga "have been voting against the far right faction of the State Board of Education and have been vocal proponents for listening to the teachers that are actually in the classroom, for listening to the legislative mandate that they not be in the business of censoring textbooks."

In District 2, a large South Texas district, Berlanga, a 26-year board veteran, is being challenged in the Democratic primary by retired school-adminstrator Lupe Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said he believes intelligent design — a recent theory that the universe is so complex that science alone cannot explain the origins of life — should be included in textbooks as an alternative to evolution.

"The ... issue can be minimized to a large extent if we present alternatives to the theory of evolution, give both of them equal weight and that's it," he said.

"I just think that there has to be something far more than just a big-bang theory ... that it just happened haphazardly. I just have a hard time believing that that would be the case."

Intelligent design is being advocated in various states as an alternative to either evolution or creationism.

In North Texas' District 11, which includes the Fort Worth area, Hardy, a former high school teacher, is being challenged by Barney Maddox, a urologist from Cleburne who once testified that the state's science curriculum is an attempt to "brainwash our children into believing in evolution."

Repeated attempts to contact Maddox were unsuccessful.

The winner of the District 11 primary will not face a general election opponent.

Berlanga or Gonzalez will face Peter Johnston, who is running unopposed on the District 2 Republican primary ballot.

Republican incumbents Terri Leo, David Bradley, Barbara Cargill and Gail Lowe are unopposed in the primary. Bradley and Lowe will face a general election challenge in November, as will Democrat incumbent Mavis Knight, who also is unopposed in the primary.

Sunday letter: Thoughts on evolution, creationism



There have been recent letters to the editor which have tried to prove that evolution is a scientific fact. Therefore, it must be accepted and taught in our public schools. Creationism should not be taught because it is "unscientific."

This letter is in response to that viewpoint. The dictionary states that science is the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena. Thus Darwinism is simply his theory of how things may have developed gradually over many millions of years.

Creationism is simply the belief that an almighty eternal God in his infinite capability placed fully grown mankind on his specially created planet Earth. This is not a theory but a biblical fact.

A former public school biology teacher named Roger Patterson wrote the book "Evolution Exposed." In its second edition, it is already a great success. It is being read by thousands of public school educators.

Students, teachers, parents, creationists, anti-creationists and atheists are invited to visit WWW.AnswersinGenesis.org or visit the stunning new AIG museum in Kentucky at www.creationmuseum.org. I am hoping many readers will respond to this invitation. God will bless them for it.

Martin Eichinger


©Midland Daily News 2008

At the crossroads?


Michael Bachelard February 25, 2008

IT'S Friday morning and the combined year five-six class at Red Rock Christian College is conducting its Bible study and Christian living class. It's straight to the point: a reading from Peter's second epistle. "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to Hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons ..." a child reads out loud.

"What are the consequences of us making the wrong choices?" asks teacher Victoria Carey.

"Death!" a cheeky boy shouts.

Ms Carey moves on: "And what are some good choices?"

"Watching movies you're allowed to and hanging out with the right people," comes the answer.

"That's right, it's easier to do the right things when you're hanging out with people who are doing the right things," Carey observes.

This three-room school set between cow paddocks eight kilometres from Sunbury was specifically set up so that its 61 students could hang out with the right people. And it's growing. The council has given approval for two more primary classrooms, and principal Karen McCoy has grander plans: she is scouting for a site big enough to accommodate secondary students.

Bayside Christian College in Langwarrin, on the Mornington Peninsula, is at the other end of the urban fringe and about 15 years' further down the track than Red Rock. It started in 1982 with 39 students and two staff, and now teaches 420, from prep through to VCE. Everything here is steeped in God. "Topics are dealt with ... where possible using a 'creation/fall/redemption platform'," the school website says. "For example, a SOSE (study of society and environment) topic on pollution might look at the original environment and what that might have looked like. Then we examine why we have pollution and the effects of sin upon creation. Lastly, thinking about the redemption message of renewal in the Gospel and what that might mean for the environment."

Even sport is Godly: the school's three houses are "Conquerers", "Believers" and "Overcomers".

These schools and others like them are part of a barely scrutinised revolution that has been taking place over the past decade in Australian education. New independent schools have been opening since the late 1970s, but under the Howard government's generous funding system and lighter regulation there was a fresh burst of development.

As John Howard boasted last year, "It was this Government's schools policy in 1996 ... which really opened up choice for parents by facilitating the huge expansion in low-fee independent schools".

It's an inexact count, but Government figures suggest that more than 200,000 Australian children are now educated in evangelical Christian schools of various stripes. That's 6% of all students in Australia. In addition, 16,000 attend Islamic schools and 10,000 are in Jewish schools.

In the 10 years to 2006, 339 new private schools opened in Australia, 65 of them in Victoria. Many were new Catholic schools, but a large number were also robustly religious colleges.

These schools are not growing because of their superlative academic records: VCE results show that, for the most part, they hover around the state average. It is the combination of strong religious values and low fees that attracts parents.

At Red Rock, for example, fees are just $2100 per year for the first child, with discounts for subsequent children (fourth children are free). Government subsidies make up 60-80% of the total income at schools such as this.

In Victoria at least, budgets can be leaner than those at public schools because pay scales under the independent teachers' award are tens of thousands of dollars per year lower. The new Labor Government is reviewing the whole non-Government school funding system, but has promised to keep the current model until 2012.

Bitter debate has raged on the issue of the drift of federal funds, and students, to private schools. But the focus of that debate has been on Mark Latham's "hit list" schools, the wealthy "elite" establishments with $20,000-a-year fees, superlative education and a light touch of religion.

By contrast, the growth in small, intensely religious low-fee schools has attracted barely any scrutiny. What they are teaching, and what their broader effect might be on society, has gone largely unnoticed.

For their supporters, these new schools are simply an expression of freedom of choice and freedom of religion. Red Rock principal Karen McCoy says parents choose her school because it reinforces the Christian message that the children are hearing at home, allowing them to be proud of, and open about, their faith. She denies that these children receive an education that is any narrower than the one offered at nearby state schools.

But critics such as Louise Samway say these schools are balkanising the community, "driving us apart". "Values are the foundation of human bonding," the psychologist and educationist told The Age. "If we don't have agreed values that everyone can understand and respect, that are common, it leads to a whole lot of disparate sub-groups that are suspicious of each other."

It is in the area of curriculum that the starkest differences emerge between the secular state model of education and the small religious schools. And evolution and sex education, particularly in relation to homosexuality, are where the most marked variations occur.

Take the Accelerated Christian Education (or ACE) syllabus used by five Victorian schools and 41 Australia-wide. A sample page of the ACE curriculum shows that in primary school science class, students are confronted with this statement: "God made many kinds of fish. He made them on day five."

The page accompanying the sheet gives a comprehension test, asking children on which day God made them.

The Victorian curriculum asks schools to teach the theory of evolution, explaining the link between natural selection and evolution. But it is not compulsory for independent schools to teach the state curriculum.

Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority director Lynne Glover told The Age: "Within the general provision of science, schools may choose to teach students about a range of theories related to science, including creationism and evolution."

The mix, she said, was "up to schools to determine in consultation with their community".

The details vary but, in Christian schools, creationism is almost universal, and is taught not in religious education classes but in science.

Christian Schools Australia, one of two key lobby groups, says in its statement of faith that "Adam and Eve, the parents of all humankind, were created in the image of God".

In a number of Christian schools, such as Chairo Christian College in Drouin, the science teacher talks about evolution and then moves on to suggest that the hand of God was the real creative force. The grade four class at Heatherton Christian College last year studied "dinosaurs from a biblical perspective".

Carl Wieland fronts a Queensland-based organisation called Creation Ministries International, which was formed to proselytise an ultra-literal version of creationism. Wieland teaches that God created the world in six consecutive days 6000 years ago, and that fossils were laid down in the biblical flood.

"We've been fairly well received in Christian schools for many years," he told The Age. "We like to encourage the teachers. Quite often they're a bit mixed up, they haven't got it all worked out in their head, and they often really appreciate a teacher training day."

But some teachers in religious schools are torn on the matter. Roger Fernando, the science teacher at Mount Evelyn Christian School, feels the ultra-literal version of creation is concerning because "Genesis is not a science text". However, he believes that God is the creator, and that evolution by natural selection is a flawed theory.

"I teach evolution because my kids are going to be examined on these things," he says. "But I say, from a scientific viewpoint, these theories have these weaknesses ... God is the creator, and because I believe He exists, I take it that He has created, and it's our wonderful task to find out how."

At the East Preston Islamic College, principal Ekram Ozyurek also says it all started with Adam and Eve (Hawwa): "In biology kids might ask what's the alternative, but I don't think so. I don't think it's an issue."

University of NSW evolution scientist Rob Brooks is deeply concerned by all this. University staff are increasingly seeing "irreconcilably strong creationist viewpoints" among biology students as the products of religious school education make their way into the tertiary system.

Cameron Smith, president of the Science Teachers Association of Victoria, agrees it's "a worry". "My view would be that you just have to have a balanced approach and teach the facts and try not to muddy the waters."

When it comes to homosexuality, the Victorian curriculum expects students to deal with the issues of "sexual harassment, homophobia and/or discrimination", and issues such as "safe sex practices, sexual negotiation, same-sex attraction".

At religious schools, though, this is very tricky ground.

Christian Schools Australia head Stephen O'Doherty says one of the main reasons people choose Christian education is to get an "ethical and moral view" in sex education, which is that, "the most ideal way to express sexual attraction is in the context of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, a marriage".

O'Doherty concedes that homosexuality is a reality, but with the caveat, "Did God create it? No".

The three-campus Chairo Christian College, like many Christian schools, uses a sex education program called "No Apologies", created by lobby group Focus on the Family. It's an abstinence-based syllabus that encourages children to take a US-style "pledge" to retain their virginity until marriage.

No Apologies co-ordinator Emma Marshall says more than 5000 teenagers have completed the program in the past three and a half years, the majority through their high school. No figures exist of how many have "pledged".

Of homosexuality, Chairo Christian School principal Rob Bray agrees it is "a challenging issue". The school "does not have a unit designed to present a particular point of view".

If an individual student were worried about his or her sexuality, they might be directed "back to the word of God". Or, says Bray, the school "might say it's more appropriate to discuss it with a pastor, minister, youth group; we also have a chaplain".

Carolyn Kelshaw, the head of school association Christian Parent Controlled Schools, says of gay students, "there would not be a blanket condemnation, but the school would work through with the individual involved".

It's an equally difficult topic for Islamic schools, because the Koran teaches that homosexuality is wrong.

In the hypothetical situation of a teacher declaring themselves gay, O'Doherty says it "may become an issue for their employment" because a homosexual "can't teach a Christian view about sexuality and marriage". Galea says a gay teacher would be "an anomaly ... We would have a problem with it because the Koran does teach against homosexuality".

Christian schools carefully guard the atmosphere in their schools by imposing a strict hiring policy for teachers: active church-goers only need apply.

The application form at Geelong Baptist College asks prospective teachers to "briefly describe your conversion experience", and goes on to ask their views on discipline, marriage and homosexuality and the authority of the Bible.

At the two Islamic schools The Age visited, there were both non-Muslim and Muslim teachers, though female teachers, Muslim or not, were required to wear headscarves. According to Galea, this creates "an Islamic environment", which makes parents "feel comfortable".

The ability of Christian schools to vet non-believing teachers hinges on the fact that private schools have a blanket exemption from anti-discrimination laws. But that exemption is under attack by the Greens in state parliament, with MP Sue Pennicuik introducing a private members' bill to remove it. "If you're applying to teach maths, I can't see your religious, political, marital, gender identity, sexuality or anything else having anything to do with the mathematical curriculum," Pennicuik says.

But for Stephen O'Doherty, the discrimination exemption "crosses the philosophical line on religious freedom".

Australia's education system has filleted state schools of all their middle-class students. In world terms, this bifurcated system, created by generous government funding, is almost unique. In the US, private schools receive no government funding and make up less than 10% of the system; middle-class children are schooled in the state system, the secularism of which is strictly enforced. In Britain, Government-funded faith-based schools are increasing in number under Labour, but it is a controversial development.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard's new curriculum adviser, former OECD education chief Professor Barry McGaw, says Australia's funding policies have created "the worst of all worlds".

"The OECD is concerned with working out how we deal with the potential role education might play in creating social cohesion," McGaw says. "What we are doing with our system is increasingly dividing people up."

Through his work at the OECD, McGaw has found Australia has a "high-quality, low-equity" education system, where performance is disproportionately driven by the social background of students.

McGaw worries that, instead of a melting pot, "we'll just become more and more isolated sub-groups in our community".

By contrast, Abdul Karim Galea of the Council of Islamic Schools, argues that Australia is "a model for multiculturalism". His association's 11 schools adhere to a charter that promises to teach children "to be proud Australians and be model citizens, to participate positively in building a prosperous, harmonious and safe society in Australia". "The secret to the harmony we have is that cultural groups are given their free expression," Galea says. "We are not exclusivist or able to form into ghettos, because we are funded by the Government."

In state schools, he adds, Islamic students who are picked on for their differences "fall back on their ethnic origins for protection, so you get the Leb gang, the Turkish gang".

In the current system, "Muslims cannot say they're not being catered to. They can't cry poor. They do have choice."

Bob Johnston, of the Australian Association of Christian Schools, says there is no guarantee a secular school gives a student a broader slice of life than a Christian school. He also argues that far from being divisive those differences are vital.

"Choice is a really important part of strengthening society," he says. "Because if you are not careful, you end up, as Boy George sang, with coffee-coloured people by the score. A nothing."

Religious right may gain sway over State Board of Education


Posted on Sun, Feb. 24, 2008
By R.A. DYERStar-Telegram staff writer

AUSTIN -- Although little noticed by the public, the race for a local seat on the State Board of Education could lead to a dramatic ideological shift on the panel and -- by extension -- in Texas school policy.

That's the word from several board observers, who say a March 4 primary victory by challenger Barney Maddox over incumbent Pat Hardy for the Fort Worth-area District 11 seat would give social conservatives their first majority on the board.

According to some, that could mean changes in policies on sex education and the teaching of history.

"This one vote would give a majority to a faction that is determined to censor information for their own political and personal beliefs," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a group that opposes religious conservatives in government.

Maddox has not returned numerous phone calls from the Star-Telegram and did not provide information about his candidacy for the newspaper's recentvotersguide.

However, some of Maddox's views have emerged through his public testimony and published writings. In 2003, for instance, the Cleburne urologist testified against evolution at the State Board of Education with his characterization of Charles Darwin's theories as "pre-Civil War fairy tales." He urged board members at the meeting to reject new biology textbooks.

Maddox also questioned evolution in a 2006 letter to the Cleburne Times-Review and has had anti-evolution writings posted on the Web site of the Institute for Creation Research, a Dallas organization that attempts to find scientific evidence for the writings in the Bible. In published voters guides, Maddox has reported strong opposition to replacing abstinence-only education with more comprehensive sex education, strong opposition to providing school counseling or teaching about homosexuality, and strong support for displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools.

The 15-member elected state board reviews textbooks, debates school curriculum and sets education policy. Of the 10 Republicans on the board, seven are considered social or religious conservatives, including the chairman. The remaining five are Democrats.

Texas Freedom Network's Quinn said the social conservative faction has grown and shrunk over the years, but never has it been the board majority. That would change with a Maddox victory, Quinn said.

"That would put at risk everything from the teaching of evolution, to how publishers approach the study of American history," he said.

But Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation, which describes itself as an organization that promotes Judeo-Christian values, said the Texas Freedom Network was needlessly pushing the panic button.

He said that putting another strong conservative on the board would help build a firewall against "liberals who use schools to push their political propaganda." He said the board's conservatives typically protect against the insertion of potentially erroneous material into textbooks.

"Conservative means careful -- it means that you don't put things in textbooks unless they're accurate," he said.

For her part, incumbent Hardy predicts that the "far right" contingent would try to teach creationism in schools "in a New York second." The 59-year-old Weatherford school official also said conservative members have voted together on other issues, such as those concerning American history and world geography.

"There is a supreme being, and all this is all part of his divine plan -- that is my religious belief -- but how can you go into the classroom and teach that?" Hardy said. But in other regards, some of Hardy's positions don't seem so far removed from those she describes as members of the far right.

For instance, board Chairman Don McLeroy said he and other so-called social conservatives voted against biology textbooks a few years back not because they did not include a discussion of creationism or intelligent design, but because "they did not cover the weakness of the theory of evolution."

Similarly, Hardy said she does not oppose questioning the theory of evolution in the classroom -- and believes that such questioning should remain firmly rooted in science. "But I think you need to keep a clear line between what is religion and what is science," she said.

In voters guides, the state board's social conservative members have expressed opposition to the inclusion of contraceptive instruction in sex and AIDS education, and opposition to the regulation of private schools or home schools. Members of that faction also expressed support for dramatically reducing the Texas Education Agency's authority as well as support for displaying the Ten Commandments in schools.

But other Republicans and even Democrats sometimes have sided with them, said Will Lutz, editor of the weekly Lone Star Report political journal. Neither has the social conservative group voted as a monolithic bloc, he said.

So, like Shackelford, Lutz questions whether a new social conservative majority should be causing so much fuss.

"If the social conservatives get a majority on the board, it means that their agenda will move forward -- however, some of the scare tactics on the left are overboard," Lutz said. "For instance, the [social conservatives] are not thinking about taking evolution out of textbooks. We're going to have health textbooks, but they're going to emphasize abstinence."

He also said the social conservatives have fought against "fuzzy math" textbooks.

But Harvey Kronberg, an Austin-based political analyst, said a Maddox victory could prompt the new social conservative majority to overreach. If the members aggressively pursue their own agenda, they could end up alienating moderate voters, he said.

The result? Potentially a very short-lived majority, said Kronberg, who edits the online Quorum Report.

"It's one of those things where they need to be careful what they wish for -- they might get it all, and they might start delivering, and this might become the year that marks the high point and ending point of social conservative dominance on the board," Kronberg said.

District 11 covers about three-fourths of Tarrant County, plus all of Ellis, Johnson and Parker counties. There is no Democrat running for the position.

R.A. Dyer reports from the Star- Telegram's Austin bureau. 512-476-4294