NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 March 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Faithful president much to be desired


Joe Boyett contends that we need a science-based president because the beliefs of a faith-based president could stifle scientific research. Hogwash.

I'm not sure which candidate he supports unless he thinks Hillary used scientific evidence, not faith, to verify her hypothesis that Bill "did not have sex with that woman ..."

While he embraces the teaching of evolution as being based on scientific evidence, he opposes the mention of creationism in classrooms because the existence of God has not been proven by scientific evidence obtained by the scientific method, defined as: observation and description of phenomena (occurrences); formulation of hypotheses (guesses) to explain phenomena; use of hypotheses to predict (foretell) other phenomena; and performance of independent tests to confirm or refute hypotheses.

As of this date, evolution is only a theory (working guess), not fact, and should not be taught in classrooms where children are unable to comprehend the difference.

Like secular progressives, Boyett deems himself to be intellectually superior to people of faith, as demonstrated by his contempt for those who pray and by continuous use of the word "ignorant" to describe one who disagrees with his assertions.

I suppose this is to be expected of one who has the power to foretell that fossil fuels will be exhausted and that only a few groups will continue to preach creationism in the 22nd Century.

Unlike Boyett, I prefer a president who believes he was created in the image of God, not one who believes he evolved from baboons and apes.

Wayne Parker
Pike Road

Intelligent Design Chat


2:13 p.m. March 7, 2008


Welcome. Earlier this week, the Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin wrote an informative commentary, "Academic freedom and evolution," for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is joining us today to further that discussion and answer your questions about intelligent design, scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism evolution and academic freedom.

The idea for today's chat originated with another column and chat we did late last year. In November, Dr. Steve Kay from UC San Diego wrote an informative and provocative commentary, "Why evolution matters," for the Union-Tribune. On Dec. 14, 2007, he joined us online to discuss evolution and its importance in modern biology (Read the transcript.)

After Kay's chat, which was well received, we decided to present an alternative viewpoint. Casey Luskin plans to do that. But first here is a little background on today's guest.

Luskin received his B.S. and M.S. in earth sciences from UCSD, having studied at Scripps Institution for Oceanography. He also is an attorney, having received his law degree from the University of San Diego. Luskin is the co-founder of the San Diego-based Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center, and works for the Discovery Institute in Seattle as program officer in public policy and legal affairs. Casey has published in both law and science journals including Journal of Church and State; Montana Law Review; Geochemistry, Geophysics, and Geosystems; and Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, and he is co-author of the book Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision. His personal interests include geology, science education, biological origins, environmental protection, baseball and the outdoors.

casey_luskin(P) Greetings to all of you and thank you for participating. I also want to thank the Union Tribune, Rob Hopwood, and Bernie Jones for helping to make this happen and inviting an "alternative viewpoint" to be discussed on this forum. I also want to thank Dr. Steve Kay for his thoughtful response to my op-ed on Wednesday (http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/ 20080305/news_lz1e5luskin.html) which he published in yesterday's Union Tribune as a letter-to-the-editor. In this regard, I'd like to open with a couple of of comments in response to Dr. Kay. Finally, Dr. Kay references the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. In fact, this case has been criticized by legal scholars who both support and oppose intelligent design (ID) because it engaged in judicial activism. In this regard, please visit www.traipsingintoevolution.com for a list of many rebuttals to the case. In my view, the case is deficient because it (1) wrongly calls ID a supernatural explanation, (2) ignores and dismisses the positive case for ID, (3) wrongly claims that if something is wrong, it isn't science, (4) engages in judicial activism by trying to address the scientific validity of intelligent design (5) makes many questionable conclusions about the science of ID, and (6) wrongly turns science into a voting contest. But these are the debatable issues, and in fact the ruling gets black-and-white issues wrong like whether ID has published peer-reviewed science articles (it has) or conducted research (it has). For this reason, intelligent design does not abandon accepted methods of science and in fact should not be banned from classrooms. Regardless, my article was not even advocating that intelligent design should be taught in the classroom. Rather it was arguing that teachers should feel free to challenge Darwinism without having to fear for their jobs. It is well documented that teachers have experienced persecution as a result of challenging Darwin in the classroom. The documentary, Expelled, to be released in April, will tell the stories of many such scientists. In this regard, I offered challenges to the claims of neo-Darwinism from legitimate scientific sources. Dr. Kay did not offer a rebuttal on these points, but rather appealed to authority. In the end, I agree with Dr. Kay that science education in the U.S. needs improvement. In such situation, the solution cannot be to retain the status quo. But the status quo is presently to teach the pro-Darwin-only viewpoint in a dogmatic fashion--this approach currently dominates evolution education. Could it be that be teaching students to question Darwin, we can teach the more about science and inspire them to be better thinkers and better scientists? I think so. With this, I will begin fielding some questions!

moderator(Q) The following question was submitted via e-mail by Stan42: why do you ignore the tens of thousands of scientists who clearly disagree with you on your views of evolution, yet you pay attention to the 3 or 4 tired old names (Behe, Dembski et al) who have largely been discredited when their books are reviewed by credible scientific journals ?

casey_luskin(A) I do not feel that this question accurately characterizes my approach or the approach of the ID movement. First of all, science is not a democracy and every scientific revolution that has evern taken place began as a minority viewpoint. In this regard, we cannot dismiss a view simply because it is unpopular. As Stephen Jay Gould said, "Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once deemed eccentric or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth." Indeed, there are far more scientists than Behe or Dembski who agree with me. Over 700 scientists have signed a statement dissenting from neo-Darwinism (see http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/ ). Moreover, many scientists who accept neo-Darwinism have challenged key aspects of the theory. (I quoted just a couple of them in my op-ed). In the end, being "discredited" is in the eye of the beholder: I think that many of the challenges to Behe and Dembski are weak, and I think that it would be more fun to actually discuss those challenges than simply assert that they have been "discredited".

SReid(Q) In the Union-Tribune yesterday, dean Kay wrote that scientific explanations must provide valid predictions. With evolution producing so many false predictions, should those be counted against evolution?

casey_luskin(A) I think that scientific theories should make predictions that are testable. Evolution makes various predictions, which in my view have been found to be false. A few of these are: - The failure of evolutionary biology to provide detailed evolutionary explanations for the origin of complex biochemical features; - The failure of the fossil record to provide support for Darwinian evolution; - The failure of molecular biology to provide evidence for universal common descent; - The failure of genetics and chemistry to explain the origin of the genetic code; - The failure of developmental biology to explain why vertebrate embryos diverge from the beginning of development.

moderator(Q) The following question was submitted via e-mail by Frank Sherwin: It seems to me that richard dawkins uttered a most serious faux pas when he admitted to Ben Stein that life could indeed be designed in his "Expelled" interview. - from Uncommon Descent - http://www.uncommondescent.com URL to article: http://www.uncommondescent.com/expelled/ dawkins-admits-that-life-could-be-designed-is-id-therefore-scientific/

casey_luskin(A) Over the years, I have seen many Darwinists admit that we could scientifically investigate the possibility that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists. In fact, this forms the basis for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SET) project, which seeks to detect intelligently designed radio signals from outerspace. This project uses intelligent design reasoning, showing that ID's basic reasoning is not inappropriate for a scientific methodology. If I understand Dawkins correctly, he says that we could scientifically investigate the possibility that life was designed by aliens. The Nobel prize winning biochemist Francis Crick suggested something similar through his idea of "directed panspermia." In essence, these ideas fall within ID theory and they show that these scientists admit that it is possible to study the effects of intelligence in the natural world. If Dawkins thinks that we could study if life was designed by aliens, then in effect, Dawkins has given away the store.

rmlsd(Q) What is "Darwinism" or "pro-Darwin viewpoint"? As I understand it there is a theory that Darwin helped begin, the theory of evolution via natural selection, but that theory has been much expanded on and/or added to over the years. In other words, by framing the discussion as a battle of conflicting philosophy aren't you simply forcing people to argue from the basis of faith (in theory not necessarily in god)? The theory of evolution is not a stated fact, it is a theory based on observation. Where is the kernel of observation that leads to the theory of intelligent design? It is faith, and that is not science. Your thoughts?

casey_luskin(A) There are a lot of questions here, and these are all fair ones. I'll try to take them one-by-one: "What is "Darwinism" or "pro-Darwin viewpoint"?" My reply: Classical Darwinism entails 3 basic claims: (1) life has changed over time, (2) all living organisms are related through common ancestry, and (3) the primary mechanism of that change is natural selection acting upon variation. In Darwin's time, scientists did not know the source of variation. We now know that the source of variation is (of various types) in DNA. So "neo-Darwinism" takes the basic tenets of Darwinism and applies our modern knowledge of genetics. Darwin's theory has been expanded upon much in recent years. I sometimes use "Darwin's theory" as shorthand for the more accurate term describing current thinking in evolutionary biology: modern neo-Darwinism. "Where is the kernel of observation that leads to the theory of intelligent design?" My reply: Intelligent design begins with observations about the types of complexity produced when intelligent agents act. It then seeks to detect in nature the types of complexity that are known to result from intelligent action. In this way, intelligent design uses the scientific method to make its claims: The ways that intelligent agents act can be observed in the natural world and described. When intelligent agents act, it is observed that they produce high levels of "complex-specified information" (CSI). CSI is basically a scenario which is unlikely to happen (making it complex), and conforms to a pattern (making it specified). Language and machines are good examples of things with much CSI. From our understanding of the world, high levels of CSI are always the product of intelligent design. ii. Hypothesis: If an object in the natural world was designed, then we should be able to examine that object and find the same high levels of CSI in the natural world as we find in human-designed objects. iii. Experiment: We can examine biological structures to test if high CSI exists. When we look at natural objects in biology, we find many machine-like structures which are specified, because they have a particular arrangement of parts which is necessary for them to function, and complex because they have an unlikely arrangement of many interacting parts. These biological machines are "irreducibly complex," for any change in the nature or arrangement of these parts would destroy their function. Irreducibly complex structures cannot be built up through an alternative theory, such as Darwinian evolution, because Darwinian evolution requires that a biological structure be functional along every small-step of its evolution. "Reverse engineering" of these structures shows that they cease to function if changed even slightly. iv. Conclusion: Because they exhibit high levels of CSI, a quality known to be produced only by intelligent design, and because there is no other known mechanism to explain the origin of these "irreducibly complex" biological structures, we conclude that they were intelligently designed. In this way, you can see that intelligent design is not a "faith-based" argument. It is an empirically based argument based upon detecting in nature the types of complexity which we know derive from intelligent causes. One can disagree with the conclusions of ID, but one cannot claim that it is a "faith-based" argument.

Ryan(Q) Does Intelligent Design disagree with all aspects of evolutionary theory?

casey_luskin(A) In short, no. As I said earlier, the 3 basic claims of modern neo-Darwinism are (1) change over time, (2) universal common descent, and (3) the primary mechanism of adaptive change is natural selection acting upon mutations. Intelligent design is fully compatible with (1) and (2). In fact Michael Behe, a leading ID proponent, is a strong supporter of common descent. Intelligent design also accepts that natural selection acting upon mutation can produce some limited changes in this world. However, ID differs from neo-Darwinism in that it believes that natural selection and mutation cannot produce much of the complexity of life. As I said in response to the prior question, ID uses an empirical argument to infer that some aspects of complexity are the result of an intelligent cause. In this way, ID holds that high levels of complex and specified information in biology (such as irreducibly complex systems) result not from random mutation and natural selection, but from an intelligent cause.

Phil(Q) What do you base your belief in ID on? What is your primary evidence? It must be quite compelling.

casey_luskin(A) This is also a good question. I base my scientific support for ID upon the complexity we see in biology. In my view some of the best evidence for ID is: 1) Biochemistry: Natural structures have been found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information), such as irreducibly complex machines in the cell. The bacterial flagellum is a prime example. The specified complexity of protein bonds, or the simplest self-reproducing cell are other examples. 2) Paleontology: Biological novelty tends ot appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors. The Cambrian explosion is the prime example. 3) Systematics: Similar parts have been found in organisms that even Darwinists see as separated by more closely related forms that do not contain the similar parts in question. Clear examples include genes controlling eye or limb growth in different organisms whose alleged common ancestors are not thought to have had such forms of eyes or limbs. Common design or "re-usage of similar parts that work" is a great explanation for this. (4) Genetics: Genetic research continues to uncover functions for "junk-DNA," include functionality for pseudogenes, introns, LINE, and ALU elements. ID proponents have long said that DNA was designed, then junk-DNA will turn out to have function, whereas neo-Darwisms's support for junk-DNA would turn out to be a science-stopping view. It turns out, ID proponents were right!

SReid(Q) I was learning about how bees perform a sort of dance to teach other bees where to fly to find flowers. I found out that evolutionists believe this evolved by mutations, etc but they don't know how it happened. i've asked and searched for the details of how they evolved, but can't find them. One evolutionist starting arguing about creationism when I asked about this. So they can't provide an explanation, they argue about religion, and then blame ID for not giving explanations and being religious. Is there a double-standard going on?

casey_luskin(A) This is a very common strategy that when Darwinists lack a good explanation for something, they claim that any view other than neo-Darwinism cannot be accepted because it would be religion. I think that Richard Lewontin provides a good example of the thinking that goes on here: "Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." (Lewontin, Richard, "Billions and Billions of Demons", New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28. ) In fact, it is fascinating because Darwinists tend to talk about religion more than ID proponents do. In fact, Dr. Kay took this approach in his recent letter responding to my op-ed. He tried to make ID look unpopular by scapegoated it as the mere efforts of "fundamentalist Christians." But of course ID finds support from a broad range of people that go far beyond "fundamentalist Christians." Even the famous philosopher Antony Flew declared his support for ID while he was still an atheist. ID's most famous proponent, Michael Behe, is a Roman Catholic. I think that Darwinists talk bring up religion as a red herring to try to distract from the real scientific issues at stake in the issue. In the end, if people think that ID is an entirely "fundamentalist Christian" phenomenon, they should go see Expelled. It will change your mind.

moderator(Q) The following question was submitted via e-mail by Dennis: Is Macro Evolution "Science", because it is based on historical inferences? Can a falsification test be performed on Macro Evolution? If Macro Evolution is not "Science", should it be publically funded and taught in public schools? Is there any observable scientific evidence that any existing species are currently in the process of evolving into a new species right now? Thanks

casey_luskin(A) I do believe that macroevolution IS science, and I believe that it should be taught in public schools. Neo-Darwinian theory, which relies heavily upon "macroevolution," is a very influential theory in modern biology and it should definitely be taught. However, when it is taught, students should not simply learn the pro-evolution view. They should also learn about the many scientists who challenge neo-Darwinism. In short, I think that students should learn more about evolution, not less. They should learn about BOTH the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. Sadly, many modern Darwinist educators want to censor from students any discussion of the weaknesses of neo-Darwinism. This makes for bad science education and it fails to inspire students to go into biology. In fact, I can't think of anything that would quash student interest in science more than telling them that, "there is no scientific controversy" over one of humanity's most profound question: how did life arise and develop? This is why, as I said in my introductory statement, the problem with science education is the status quo: the dogmatic one-sided teaching of Darwinism that (1) more strongly resembles indoctrination than education, (2) fails to inspire students to learn more science, (3) fails to fully inform them about the facts of biology, and (3) fails to teach them how to think critically and skeptically--like scientists.

tert(Q) It's great to see the Discovery Institute funding movies like Expelled. Is there anything else like that in the works?

casey_luskin(A) Discovery Institute did not fund Expelled.

rob(Q) There's an academic freedom bill being pushed in Florida that would seem to be a move to make it safe to talk about intelligent design in the classroom, can you comment on that.

casey_luskin(A) The academic Freedom bill in Florida does not cover alternatives to evolution like intelligent design. But it does protect teacher rights to teach students about both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution without having to fear losing their jobs. For more information about academic freedom bills, please see: www.academicfreedompetition.com

diego72(Q) What is the difference between ID and Creation science? Is there any scientific support in the traditional belief of creation as told in Genesis?

casey_luskin(A) Intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. ID starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what scientific inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural. The charge that ID is "creationism" is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize ID without actually addressing the merits of its case. Regarding Genesis, there are many different interpretations of Genesis. Some adhere to a "young earth" interpretation of Genesis, others adhere to an old earth interpretation. I am personally not a young earth creationist.

Sandra(Q) Scientists have discovered that the formerly dubbed "junk DNA" actually has function. Intelligent Design proponents have suggested this for quite some time. How might this infuence the statistical similiar given between species (e.g. the claim that humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps?")

casey_luskin(A) Yes, as I noted earlier, ID proponents long-predicted the death of the junk-DNA paradigm, while most (but not all) neo-Darwinsists were defending it. (please see http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1437 for details). Regarding the percent-similarity between human and chimp-DNA, the 98% statistic is often based upon studies of functional-proteins, so I'm not sure if junk-DNA would apply here. Nonetheless, it's worth commenting on this statitistic by asking 2 questions: 1) Is the ~99% Human/Chimp DNA-similarity statistic accurate? While recent studies have confirmed that certain stretches of human and chimp DNA are on average about 1.23% different, this is merely an estimate with huge caveats. A recent news article in Science observed that the 1% figure "reflects only base substitutions, not the many stretches of DNA that have been inserted or deleted in the genomes." (see Jon Cohen, "Relative Differences: The Myth of 1%," Science, Vol. 316:1836 (June 29, 2007).) In other words, when the chimp genome has no similar stretch of human DNA, such DNA sequences are ignored by those touting the statistic that humans and chimps are only 1% genetically different. For this reason, the aforementioned Science news article was subtitled "The Myth of 1%," and printed the following language to describe the 1% statistic: - "studies are showing that [humans and chimps] are not as similar as many tend to believe"; - the 1% statistic is a "truism [that] should be retired"; - the 1% statistic is "more a hindrance for understanding than a help"; - "the 1% difference wasn't the whole story"; - "Researchers are finding that on top of the 1% distinction, chunks of missing DNA, extra genes, altered connections in gene networks, and the very structure of chromosomes confound any quantification of 'humanness' versus 'chimpness.'" Indeed, due to the huge caveats in the 1% statistic, some scientists are suggesting that a better method of measuring human/chimp genetic differences might be counting individual gene copies. When this metric is employed, human and chimp DNA is over 5% different. But new findings in genetics show that gene-coding DNA might not even be the right place to seek differences between humans and chimps. But there is a deeper question: (2) If humans and chimps were truly only 1% different at the genetic level, why should that demonstrate common ancestry? Similarities in key genetic sequences may be explained as a result of functional requirements and common design rather than mere common descent. We might reasonably ask the evolutionist why the 1% difference value is considered powerful evidence for Darwinian evolution, and at what point does the comparison cease to support Darwinian evolution? What about 2% different? 3%? 5%? 10%? Is there an objective metric for falsification here, or are Darwinists putting forth a fallacious argument for human / chimp common ancestry? In my view, intelligent design is certainly compatible with human/ape common ancestry, but the truth is that the percent difference says nothing about whether humans and chimps share a common ancestor. The percent genetic similarity between humans and apes does not demonstrate Darwinian evolution, unless one excludes the possibility of intelligent design. Just as intelligent agents 're-use' functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and wheels for airplanes), genetic similarities between humans and chimps could also be explained as the result of the re-usage of common genetic programs due to functional requirements of the hominid body plan.

Sandra(Q) Some argue that intelligent design is religiously motivated. What response might you have to this assertion? Does motive influence scientifific conclusions?

casey_luskin(A) In science, motives don't matter, only evidence matters. For example, both Kepler and Newton were inspired by their religious belief that God would create an orderly, rational universe to go out and study if there were orderly physical laws that governed the motion of the planets. They turned out to be right--because the evidence validated their hypotheses (at least Newton was thought to be right to a certain approximation until Einstein came along). Their religious motives did nothing to change the fact that scientifically speaking, they were right. Also, I must note that many Darwinists have anti-religious motives, but this does NOT disqualify evolution from being scientific. For example, leading proponents of Darwinian evolution frequently raise the cultural and metaphysical implications of the theory in their writings. For example, Douglas Futuyma has declared in a popular college-level textbook that "[b]y coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous." Stephen Jay Gould repeatedly discussed the "radical philosophical content of Darwin's message" and its denial of purpose in the universe: "First, Darwin argues that evolution has no purpose. . . . Second, Darwin maintained that evolution has no direction. . . . Third, Darwin applied a consistent philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature. Matter is the ground of all existence; mind, spirit, and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity." Cornell University evolutionary biologist William Provine has similarly stated that "belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people" and that "[o]ne can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism." Even the famous defender of neo-Darwinism and theistic evolutionist, Ken Miller, wrote in 2 of his textbooks: "Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its byproducts. Darwinian evolution was not only purposeless but also heartless . . . . Suddenly, humanity was reduced to just one more species in a world that cared nothing for us. The great human mind was no more than a mass of evolving neurons. Worst of all, there was no divine plan to guide us." So what am I saying? I am NOT saying that one cannot accept religion and evolution. But it seems clear that many leading proponents of evolution show that there can be anti-religious motives associated with promoting evolution. Does this mean that neo-Darwinism is not science? Of course not. In science, motives don't matter, only the evidence does. If only Darwinists would not use a double standard against their own theory vs. intelligent design when it comes to alleged motives.

Phil(Q) "ID uses an empirical argument to infer that some aspects of complexity are the result of intellegent cause"- again, what evidence do you have to support an emperical, eg observable evidence of ID? I would hate to be in a court of law basing my defense on such a shaky foundation. The watchmaker argument is merely using different nouns to describe an irrational belief, not obervable pheonoma. There is no such thing as 'junk DNA'- only billions of opportunities for adaptation.

casey_luskin(A) Well, then I hope you're not a lawyer because this is a very simple case to make :) ID is primarily a historical science, meaning it uses principles of uniformitarianism to study present-day causes and then applies them to the historical record in order to infer the best explanation for the origin of the natural phenomena being studied. ID starts with observations from uniform sensory experience showing the effects of intelligence in the natural world. Scientists have uniform sensory experience with intelligent causes (i.e. humans), thus making intelligence an appropriate explanatory cause within historical scientific fields. Present-Day Observations of intelligent causes show that high levels of specified complexity, in our experience, always come from intelligent. We can then use "the present is the key to the past" reasoning to seek to detect high levels of specified complexity in biology, and infer an intelligent cause. In this way, ID works very much like neo-Darwinism, applying present-day observations of causes in the world to explain the historical record. So the evidence for ID is finding in nature the types of information which in our experience, derive from intelligent causes.

Weathertop(Q) Is there a currenlty-accepted scientific explanation for the "origin of life" question (absent aliens)?

casey_luskin(A) I don't think that there is. As Gregg Easterbrook wrote last year in Wired Magazine, "What creates life out of the inanimate compounds that make up living things? No one knows. How were the first organisms assembled? Nature hasn't given us the slightest hint. If anything, the mystery has deepened over time." There are some vague ideas, but there is nothing close to a complete explanation. In contrast, ID proponents believe that the irreducibly complex nature of the most basic, "simple" cell shows that life is the result of intelligent design.

diceman(Q) It seems to me that there is a leap from the observation in nature to the assumption of apparent design. can you elaborate on this?

casey_luskin(A) ID proponents find that we find in nature the PRECISE types of complexity that in our experience, come from intelligent agents. This includes codes, languages, and information processing capability--all of which lie at the heart of all biological functions. In our experience, codes, languages, information processing, and programs have their origin from an intelligent designing agent. So the design in nature is not "apparent," it was real.

k2geo(Q) I saw a Nature documentary on the evolution of canines recently, where they documented how human selection for certain traits has resulted in the curious and often grotesque breeds of dog around today. Obivously this evolution occurred over a rather short time frame, in some cases only a few hundred years. Given a million years of this it seems like dogs might be very different. How would you address this from an ID point of view?

casey_luskin(A) Such canine evolution is the result of intelligently guided artificial selection. What you often aren't told is that dog breeders hit fundamental limits to how much they can change dogs. So it would be inappropriate to extrapolate based upon a few hundred years of dog breeding that species are essentially infinitely plastic. From an ID viewpoint, there are limits to how much species can change, and this is exactly what dog-breeders have seen in their dog-breeding attempts. For more details, please see: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/12/ proving_evolution_doggybreedin.html

casey_luskin(P) Well, I was told that this is supposed to end around 1 pm. I'd love to keep answering questions, so I will answer one more and then post one final coment. THANK YOU to all for the great questions!

Sandra(Q) Is Intelligent Design currently interested in becoming part of school curriculum?

casey_luskin(A) Here's a quick one I can answer for my last question: Leading ID groups, such as Discovery Institute, actually oppose mandating ID in public schools. This is because the priority oF ID proponents is too see the theory develop as a science, and not to push it into schools and turn it into a political hot potato. Sadly, the political climate is presently so hostile that a good number of faculty who have supported ID have experienced persecution. We'd rather that these people not become expelled due to their views on ID, but that they remain in their position and be able to continue to do research into ID. In this regard, ID proponents wish to de-politicize the currently hostile climate so the scientific debate over ID can proceed, so we oppose forcing ID into public schools. What we do think should be taught is both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinism without getting into alternative views like intelligent design. To reiterate, many of the stories of scientists or students who have experienced persecution because they supported ID or challenged evolution have been well-documented. I invite you to go to any of the following links to learn more about some of these stories: Dean Kenyon: http://www.discovery.org/a/316http://www.discovery.org/a/93 Dr. Robert Marks: http://www.discovery.org/a/4206 Guillermo Gonzalez: http://www.discovery.org/a/2939 Richard Sternberg: http://www.discovery.org/a/3022http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2399http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/12/ the_house_government_reform_su.htmlhttp://www.souder.house.gov/_files/ IntoleranceandthePoliticizationofScienceattheSmithsonian.pdf Bryan Leonard (grad student): http://www.discovery.org/a/2661 Dr. Caroline Crocker: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/02/ one_long_article_washington_po_1.html ..or just go see Expelled when it comes out in April! see: http://www.expelledthemovie.com

casey_luskin(P) Well, I want to thank you all for participating and for asking good questions. I apologize for those questions that I did not have time to answer--I tried to answer both friendly and skeptical questions, and it looks like I only managed to get to about 1/3 of them in the time allowed. But I did my best and my fingers are getting very tired here. Regardless, again I want to thank you all for participating, and I want to thank the Union Tribune and Rob Hopwood for giving me this forum. For more information about intelligent design, please visit any of the following links: www.intelligentdesign.orgwww.discovery.org/csc/www.evolutionnews.orgwww.idthefuture.comwww.ideacenter.org Thanks again! This is Casey signing off... p.s. feel free to e-mail me at cluskin@discovery.org if you have any pressing questions, and I'll respond as time allows me to.

moderator(P) I'd like to thank Casey Luskin and all our readers for participating in today's chat. A copy of this transcript will be posted shortly at http://www.signonsandiego.com/chat/transcripts.html . Please remember our other regularly scheduled chats and join us next week to discuss sports on Monday and politics on Tuesday. Have a good weekend.

Find this article at:


© Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

Science! Science? Hahahaha!!!


Daniel Ruth, The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 8, 2008

There are moments, especially whenever state Sen. Ronda Storms, the Tammy Faye Bakker of Tallahassee, starts flap-jawing, that I begin to think maybe this whole evolution thing is indeed suspect.

Geez, the Earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old and all we have to show for it are the likes of Ronda Storms, R-Paula White-Lite, a woman who would send even the hosts of "What Not To Wear" screaming into the night?

The Vicarette of Valrico got her hoop skirt in a wad this week introducing a bill, which might best be described as "The Denial of Reality Act."

Last month the state Board of Education, in a crazy, wacky, cuckoo kind of move, took the bold, unheard of step of acknowledging academic advancement when it voted to allow science teachers to actually teach science, including Darwin's science of evolution.

Wait! Was that the sound of the Board of Education turning into pillars of salt?

Science Experts

The board took its action after engaging in the rather unorthodox approach of consulting science teachers and other experts in the scientific community and asking their thoughts on the science of evolution. Imagine that.

Up next - gravity! Tides! And perhaps the ultimate scientific heresy - the sun rising in the east!

As you can imagine, the Board of Education voting to enter the 21st century didn't sit well with the Bible-thumper crowd and their Mother Superior, Ronda Storms, R-Archbishop of Amway.

This week the Tugboat Annie of End Times filed a bill, disingenuously titled the Academic Freedom Act, which would allow science teachers to ignore established science, such as evolution, and instead introduce contradictory information to students.

By this measure, a teacher, perhaps one who belongs to the Church of the Parallel Universe, could insist two plus two equals five, simply because his or her version of God says so.

Wizard In The Sky

In a gesture of faux sincerity rivaling a smiling Miss America runner-up, Storms insisted she was merely trying to encourage intellectual curiosity, not impose any religious belief or the teaching of creationism or its phony permutation - the Wizard In The Sky Intelligent Design.

Phooey - more or less.

More accurately, the propaganda masquerading as a piece of legislation being proposed by the Ma Kettle of Genesis would be more properly labeled the "Fundamentalist Tyranny Of The Classroom Act."

Of course Storms and her legislative Taliban are attempting to undermine the Board of Education's established science standards to finagle religious concepts like creationism and/or the Wizard In The Sky theology into the teaching of biology - of SCIENCE.

This is slouching to illiteracy. This is a state senator arguing - let's make our students less educated. Say, there's an economic development incentive for you: "Come To Florida - Where Our Youth Are Dumber Than A Sack Of Maybelline Eye Liners."

Dear Lord, forgive the Torquemada of Tallahassee for she knows exactly what she is doing. And she doesn't care.

Homeopathic therapy provides a balanced approach


Tuesday, March 4, 2008 By Kathy Ricketts (Contact)
Gazette Reporter

"It's kind of like piecing a puzzle together," said Malerba, 49, the only licensed osteopathic physician in the Capital Region to use homeopathy. "You study the clues and try different remedies to fit the clues."

Homeopathy is a 200-year-old system of medicine founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. Homeopathy utilizes small doses of natural substances derived from plant, mineral and animal sources. A successful course of treatment should result not only in improvement of symptoms but also greater vitality, immunity and health.

The term "homeopathy" is derived from the Greek words homeo (similar) and pathos (suffering or disease).

Malerba, whose practice is in Guilderland, said he became interested in homeopathy by accident.

"I had read the book "Planet Medicine" [by Richard Grossinger] several weeks before I went to medical school," he explained. "Then when I got to medical school, there was a family practice instructor there who was using homeopathy in his clinic and teaching it as an elective class. So I learned from him while I was going through medical school at the Des Moines University in Iowa."

Malerba, who has practiced homeopathy for about 20 years, was originally interested in becoming a psychiatrist, but after learning about homeopathy, he felt he could use the two systems side by side.

"To me, homeopathy offers the best of all possibilities," said Malerba. "I've come to understand that you can't treat the physical body and leave out the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of health. The nice thing about homeopathy is it treats the whole person in a deep powerful way."

For example, if a woman who found her husband was cheating on her developed a red, hot, itchy rash that got worse when she felt angry, Malerba said he would see an obvious connection.

"Conventional medicine would proceed to treat the rash as if it was simply a physical phenomena, when what you really need to do is get to the underlying cause and treat the anger and mistrust that developed from the shock of her marital dilemma," he explained.

Of course, all cases are not that obvious, Malerba admitted.

"Sometimes, it may seem there is no clear-cut cause and effect, but you can interview the person and find out why something hurts and what other problems they have," he said. "Conventional medicine artificially breaks the person up into components and parts, and treats them as if they are not connected to each other."

Combined effort

Malerba said a good homeopathic practitioner uses a balanced approach, recognizing when other alternative therapies may be useful, or when conventional diagnostics and therapies are necessary, and when homeopathic treatment alone is not sufficient.

"If someone has asthma, for example, they may need to be on their medication at least temporarily until they can breathe, until we can figure out how to get them well again," he explained. "So ideally, conventional medicine and alternative medicine should be able to work together."

Malerba said all homeopathic remedies have been FDA approved and are regulated. Some are sold as over-the-counter medications in health food stores and some pharmacies.

Different remedies may be used to treat the same condition. For example, asthma that flares up between 2 and 4 a.m. and is worse in cold, damp weather requires a different remedy than for asthma that had its onset after a head injury and gets worse in hot, humid weather.

A given remedy can also be used to treat a wide range of problems, as long as it fits the symptoms pattern. For example, Apis, a natural remedy, may be used to treat hives that are hot and itchy, arthritis that causes hot and itchy joints, or a yeast infection that causes heat and itchiness.

Homeopathy can be used to treat a wide range of problems such as acute illnesses like ear infections and the flu, chronic illnesses such as migraines and asthma, and emotional problems like anxiety and depression.

Malerba works with his wife, Mary, a registered nurse who has studied homeopathy with her husband.

Once more common

In the late 1800s, there were more than 100 homeopathic hospitals and 22 homeopathic medical schools in the United States. The Albany Homeopathic Hospital once stood on North Pearl Street. This later became the original Memorial Hospital, before the hospital moved to its current location.

The Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York was founded in 1862 and remains an active organization today for physicians who support homeopathy.

Malerba said first visits typically last from an hour to an hour and a half and cost $245. Subsequent visits last about a half-hour and cost from $95 to $110.

Dan Navilia of Colonie, 58, a yoga instructor, was having so much trouble with his breathing because of asthma that he could no longer teach.

"I could barely walk," said Navilia, who has seen Malerba four times and is back teaching yoga.

"I haven't had to take any conventional medication at all for six weeks," said Navilia. "I'm just taking the homeopathic remedy, and I'm breathing fine. I also like the fact that he's not just trying to repress the symptoms. He's talking about curing the problem."

Lisa Dunston, 43, of Voorheesville, was being treated for environmental and food allergies without much success when she decided to see Malerba. Three years later, she is off her conventional medications. She also uses homeopathy remedies on her dogs.

"My body always seemed to reject the conventional medications," Dunston recalled. "Today, I feel better, and I'm not foggy or tired all the time anymore."

Further information can be found at www.docmalerba.com or by contacting Malerba at 2592 Western Ave., Guilderland.

Woodstock of Science Set to Dethrone Darwin's Theory of Evolution


At Scoop freelance reporter Suzan Mazur pulls back the veil on one of science's dirty little secrets — Darwinism is dead as a theory of evolution. This won't be surprising to the early adopters here at ENV, but it will come as a surprise to many in the media who have lazily just regurgitated the tired old refrain of the NCSE that Darwinian evolution is the be-all and end-all of modern biology.

Mazur reports on an upcoming conference at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria which she thinks will be the Woodstock of evolution.

What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let's call them "the Altenberg 16" – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accommodate "other" new phenomena.

Say what? Sixteen scientists who recognize that the theory of evolution, which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. (Suzan, shhhh, don't tell anyone, there's hundreds more over here.)

Mazur seems a bit surprised to find out something that intelligent design advocates have known for years. It is not safe to doubt Darwin.

A wave of scientists now questions natural selection's relevance, though few will publicly admit it. And with such a fundamental struggle underway, the hurling of slurs such as "looney Marxist hangover", "philosopher" (a scientist who can't get grants anymore), "crackpot", is hardly surprising.

The meeting seems largely to have come about because of Jerry Fodor's article Why Pigs Don't Have Wings.

In an act of near-heresy, Fodor wrote:

In fact, an appreciable number of perfectly reasonable biologists are coming to think that the theory of natural selection can no longer be taken for granted. This is, so far, mostly straws in the wind; but it's not out of the question that a scientific revolution – no less than a major revision of evolutionary theory – is in the offing. Unlike the story about our minds being anachronistic adaptations, this new twist doesn't seem to have been widely noticed outside professional circles. The ironic upshot is that at a time when the theory of natural selection has become an article of pop culture, it is faced with what may be the most serious challenge it has had so far. Darwinists have been known to say that adaptationism is the best idea that anybody has ever had. It would be a good joke if the best idea that anybody has ever had turned out not to be true.

You can imagine what Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and the rest of the Darwinian politburo thought about that. Mazur reports:

When I called Fodor to discuss his article, he joked that he was now in the Witness Protection Program because he'd been so besieged following the LRB piece. ... Fodor also told me that "you can't put this stuff in the press because it's an attack on the theory of natural selection" and besides "99.99% of the population have no idea what the theory of natural selection is".

Eminent biologist Stanley Salthe read Fodor's piece and was inspired to start an e-mail debate among a number of leading biologists, which looks to have led to this Altenberg meeting. Interestingly, Salthe, long having been a Darwin dissenter, is pretty straightforward in what he thinks about it all:

"Oh sure natural selection's been demonstrated. . . the interesting point, however, is that it has rarely if ever been demonstrated to have anything to do with evolution in the sense of long-term changes in populations. . . . Summing up we can see that the import of the Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom. What evolves is just what happened to happen."

Someone had better call the NCSE and give them a heads up. What's that? Mazur already has? How'd that work out for her?

Curiously, when I called Kevin Padian, president of NCSE's board of directors and a witness at the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on Intelligent Design, to ask him about the evolution debate among scientists – he said, "On some things there is not a debate." He then hung up.

Many different points of view are to be represented at the meeting from Stanley Pivar's geometric approach, to Fodor's endogenous variables, to Stuart Kauffman's ideas on self-organization. Yet one entire field is not represented – intelligent design. It would seem that such a meeting would benefit from including Stephen Meyer or Michael Behe in its discussion as ID researchers, even if only to argue against their ideas.

Regardless, there is a debate (whether the NCSE will admit it or not) and a paradigm shift is on the way.

Posted by Robert Crowther on March 4, 2008 1:50 PM | Permalink

Report: Spielberg's spooky social site


March 4, 2008 7:58 AM PST
Posted by Caroline McCarthy

On Steven Spielberg's rumored social network, maybe you can discuss whether that ghost was really a ghost or just the creepy old caretaker from the abandoned amusement park.

Crunch reported Monday night that Steven Spielberg is developing a new social network where people can talk about their encounters with the paranormal and extraterrestrial.

Spielberg, creator of sci-fi classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Men in Black, and the War of the Worlds remake a few years ago, is reportedly himself a believer in paranormal phenomena. In creating a social network for fellow enthusiasts as well as people who claim to have encountered the otherworldly, Spielberg is tapping into a lifelong passion.

But its exact ties to tech and entertainment are unclear. "The project may have originally been associated with Yahoo but the project was killed off before launch," TechCrunch's Michael Arrington wrote. "But if our sources are right, the idea has lived on and a team in Los Angeles is working to launch it in the next few months."

Here's another theory: What if this is in conjunction with some kind of upcoming Spielberg project, a sort of uber-viral meta-campaign along the lines of the HBO Voyeur Project? (Whatever happened to that, anyway?)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Resolved: Nicholls is more tolerant


By: Lauren Thompson Posted: 3/6/08

Students at Nicholls are apparently diverse when it comes to religious beliefs, and they seem to be just as accepting of others' beliefs.

Last week we published an article about a student and a faculty member who want to start an atheist, agnostic and humanist group at Nicholls. In the same week, the paper also reported that students took a pro stance on creationism being taught in schools during the first forum of the spring semester.

While these two subjects are topics that are not always supported in the majority, they do present an interesting aspect that not all students believe.

Given all this information, we commend Hannah-Phyllis Urdea-Marcus and Frederick Fournet on expressing their views during last week's forum.

We also give praise to Ory Fromenthal for trying to start a new organization on campus. The potential group can share ideas and participate in events with the five already existing religious clubs on campus.

However, there are criticisms that must be made in regards to the group and the forum.

As of press time, the Secular Student Alliance group on Facebook.com had 11 members and was a closed group.

But why doesn't the organization make the group open for students in the University? If the group wants people to support it, its members should not be exclusive in asking people to join.

Regarding the forum, though some students did have an opportunity to express their beliefs on the creationism versus evolution in schools, the topic of the forum was vague.

There was no explanation in the forum's resolution as to why creationism should be taught in schools, just that is should be taught.

Almost every student had a different explanation of why it should be taught. Some students who don't believe in creationism agreed with creationism being taught, but these students agreed for completely different reasons than the creationism believers.

With those in favor of teaching creationism winning the forum, a problem could arise when starting an agnostic organization.

The first issue could be people misinterpreting being agnostic as equated to being a heathen. An agnostic by definition is a person "not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God or gods; or, alternatively, that while individual certainty may be possible, they personally have no knowledge." A heathen, however, is "an unenlightened person; a person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles."

People may also perceive the club as being disrespectful to others' views. Personal values are what guide all of us throughout the rest of the world.

These issues also place emphasis on what should matter now as students and in the future as college graduates - the issues of tolerance and acceptance of ideas and beliefs.

We congratulate students who stand up for what they believe even when they are in the minority. Having a diverse student body is what the University strives to accomplish.

In the Nicholls' Student Code of Conduct, the creed specifically states students should "value all members of the Nicholls community, respecting and appreciating their differences."

We also believe some subjects and topics should not be avoided or denied from students seeking further knowledge, even if students may have been taught to trust in those beliefs throughout their formative years.

As students in a public university, we should be encouraged to expand and further our knowledge on all subjects and interests, even if it means someone else might not agree with it.

© Copyright 2008 The Nicholls Worth

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Storms champions ignorance


By Bill Maxwell, Times Columnist Published March 6, 2008

With state Sen. Ronda Storms officially joining the debate over the teaching of evolution in Florida's public schools, reasonable residents should be wary and should contact their legislators today.

A Brandon Republican, Storms has filed a bill she calls the "Academic Freedom Act" (SB 2692). Ostensibly, the measure will provide "public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins."

She wants to circumvent the recent action of the state Board of Education approving science standards that embrace the teaching of evolution. She wants teachers to be free to discuss creationism or intelligent design alongside what she deems to be the debatable "theory" of evolution.

Why, I keep asking myself, do we have elected officials, including House Speaker Marco Rubio, and so many average citizens who are amenable to keeping our children ignorant of scientific principles?

I keep thinking back to my youth and how I was taught science in the two Florida high schools I attended during the early 1960s. I compared notes with a St. Petersburg Times colleague who also graduated from a Florida high school during the 1960s. I attended all-black schools; he an all-white school.

Neither of us could remember the biblical version of mankind's creation ever being mentioned in our classrooms.

In my case, all of my relatives, except for a few incurable profligates, were devout Christians. My mother was God-fearing. Jesus Christ was her companion and savior. Her Bible was never far from her side, even at work. I admired her for her calm, reassuring faith.

My grandfather was a Pentecostal minister, and he made the book of Genesis - where the creation is narrated, where mankind falls from grace - a living experience. I learned every chapter of Genesis. I knew that "in the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth," and I knew that the "Earth was without form, and void."

My friends and I had a lot of fun with Chapter 5, which we referred to as the "begat story." In the chapter, 32 verses in all, the generations of Adam are named, where "Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos," and "Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters...."

We joked about how Adam, Enos and Seth and all the others physically consummated all of those "begats."

Even though the adults in our lives were true believers, the Bible stayed at home and in the pews of our churches. We were taught Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in the classroom. No one from the outside interfered. We did not hear from parents, preachers, politicians, lawyers or judges. Our teachers and our principal, Harry Burney Jr., were in charge of our formal education.

To make sure that I am not viewing my school years through rose-colored glasses, I telephoned two former classmates from 11th grade to check my memory. They agreed that we did not have any trouble whatsoever with Darwin and evolution. We decided that either intentionally or unintentionally, or spoken or unspoken, our parents and teachers and principal had drawn a hard line between the Bible and science.

They wanted us to achieve academically. They wanted us to attend college and to have great careers. They wanted us to learn the scientific method and scientific principles, the tools we would need in the big, hostile world beyond Crescent City.

The adults in our lives had common sense. The Bible had its place. That place was not in science instruction.

Now, however, too many Floridians, led by the likes of Storms, Rubio and state Board of Education member Donna Callaway, are channeling the ghosts of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in Tennessee. There, John Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged with teaching evolution from a chapter in a textbook that discussed ideas developed from those established in Darwin's book On the Origin of Species. The case pitted prosecutor William Jennings Bryan against the legendary Clarence Darrow for the defense.

Again reasonable people should ask lawmakers in Tallahassee to keep Florida moving toward enlightenment by tossing out Storms' backward-looking bill.

If passed, it will permit the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in our science classes.

[Last modified March 5, 2008, 21:06:04]

Darwinist Activists at Florida Citizens for Science Think Academic Freedom Is "Smelly Crap"


The media in Florida are all aflutter this week on a bill introduced into the state legislature by state senator Ronda Storms, called the Academic Freedom Bill. Discovery Institute has recommended such legislation in the past. We even maintain a website at www.academicfreedompetition.com that has a model of an academic freedom bill. So we're happy that Storms has taken the ball and run with it.

Not everyone is happy though, which is clear from reading the newspaper stories on this latest development in the debate over how to teach evolution. Darwinists are downright unhappy, so much so those at Florida Citizens for Science think academic freedom is "smelly crap."

This academic freedom stuff is merely the next evolutionary step as anti-science folks continue their attempts to shove creationism into the public school classroom. First, there was blatant creationism. Next there was intelligent design. Both failed miserably. Now comes along academic freedom. Same smelly crap, different packaging.
So it shouldn't be surprising that the media got the story wrong. They've been fed some "smelly crap" from FCS.

Over at the St. Petersburg Times Jeffrey S. Solochek's article ("Storms joins Darwin debate") is, not surprisingly, inaccurate and misleading. It states that the academic freedom bill recently introduced by Sen. Storms would "ban penalizing teachers for teaching alternatives" to evolution. This is simply not true.

In The Ledger, John Chambliss' article ("Science Standards Options Proposed") has a totally false subhead. It states that the academic freedom bill would "allow the teaching of alternatives to evolution in science classes." This also is absolutely not true.

At the Ledger.com's blog, another reporter gets it wrong as well:

State Sen. Ronda Storms has filed a bill that would give teachers the right to teach different theories other than evolution, i.e. intelligent design.

Yet another false statement.

The Academic Freedom Act introduced in Florida's Senate reads in part:

An act relating to teaching chemical and biological evolution; providing a short title; providing legislative intent; providing public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins; prohibiting a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information; prohibiting students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution; clarifying that the act does not require any change in state curriculum standards or promote any religious position; providing an effective date.

Nowhere does this bill call for allowing any alternative theories to be introduced into the classroom. Neither does it say that teachers should be protected in order to safely be able to present alternatives. Articles stating otherwise are flatly false.

Students need to learn more about evolution, not less. When evolution is presented in the classroom, of course teachers should present the scientific evidence that supports the theory. But if a teacher also presents some of the scientific evidence that challenges the theory, they should not be reprimanded. Teachers and students both need the academic freedom to be able to learn and discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of any theory, including evolution. This is much different from teaching alternatives to evolution.

Now that Darwinists have successfully ingrained in Florida's state science standards the "fact" that Darwinism is the "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology," they are quickly moving to make sure that teachers and students not be allowed to even question evolution.

Posted by Robert Crowther on March 5, 2008 3:52 PM | Permalink

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Group's message challenges evolution


Sunday, March 02, 2001908 Volume 19, Issue 9

By Tom Klein

Creationist Dr. Terry Mortenson claims evolution is not only wrong, but also immoral.

"If you think that you came from pond scum by the blind process of time, chance and the laws of nature," your values will reflect that view, he told an audience of nearly 300 attending his Saturday evening lecture at the Orr School. He cited Hitler's rise in Germany and the school shootings at Columbine as examples. "Evolution was not the cause of the Columbine murders," Mortenson said, "but evolution influenced the killers' thinking."

Mortenson presided over a series of talks at Orr and Cook over the weekend aimed at discrediting evolution and defending the Biblical account of creation as described in Genesis. A former missionary, Mortenson works as a lecturer/researcher for Answers In Genesis, a socially conservative religious organization that contends that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

To help spread that message, the organization built the $27-million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. The museum, which has drawn more than 300,000 visitors and controversy, depicts humans and dinosaurs living in harmony before man's fall from grace by sin — an impossibility, according to paleontologists, who say dinosaurs were extinct 60 million years before man trod the Earth.

Critics of the museum and Answers In Genesis argue that they are trying to undermine hundreds of years of scientific research.

"This may be fascinating, but this is nonsense," said Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Case Western Reserve University. "It's fine for people to believe whatever they want. What's inappropriate is to then essentially lie and say science supports these notions."

Mortenson, however, contends that the facts say otherwise. While he supports the concept of natural selection and the idea that mutations can alter a species, Mortenson rejects the notion that all life sprang from the same single-cell organism, illustrated by evolution's tree of life.

Instead, he proposes a forest of life with each species represented by a separate tree and all created by God. While different characteristics may develop between members of the same species, all share common genetic material. Mutations in that genetic material may occur, but only by deleting information and not adding it. Given that scenario, he said, an organism could never evolve into another form such as ape to human.

To bolster his argument, Mortenson frequently cited scripture as well as a mix of quotes from like-minded creationists. He also pointed out that several evolutionists have themselves raised doubts about the science.

As an example, he cited Stephen J. Gould, who noted that the existing fossil record did not offer complete evidence of the transformation of one species into another. Paleontologists drawn their conclusions based solely on the "tips and nodes" and not the whole branches, Gould wrote.

Mortenson also challenged the notion of apemen, using famous hoaxes such as the Piltdown man to discredit evolution. "You have to ask the question: If evolution is a proven scientific fact, what are the leading evolutionists doing making forgeries?" he asked.

And Mortenson drew laughs when he dismissed the idea of cavemen by declaring some still dwelled in caves today and flashed a slide of terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Scientists alarmed

But the message being spread by Answers In Genesis is no laughing matter to some. Eugenie Scott, who is head of the National Center for Science Education, has organized a statement of concern which has been signed by more than 500 scientists.

Most mainstream scientists currently estimate the age of the Earth at about 4.5 billion years, based on their study of the Earth's geology. But Answers In Genesis claims that a great flood or a volcanic explosion could account for the development of areas such as the Grand Canyon.

Critics also cite scientific dating methods that show human handprints in Europe dating back 30 millenia, but Answers In Genesis argues that such methods are flawed.

Still others have criticized the lack of scientific credentials by Answers In Genesis staff. Mortenson, who holds a doctorate in the history of geology from England's Coventry University, acknowledges much of his research has been gleaned from reading and that the last biology class he had was in junior high.

At the heart of scientists' concerns is the fear that Answers In Genesis message may wind up in classrooms or influencing education. That was the case in Dover, Penn., where board members wanted teachers to include the concept of intelligent design in biology classes. The court ruled against the board, arguing that it was essentially trying to introduce religious beliefs under the guise of science.

Mortenson said that Answers In Genesis is distinct from the intelligent design crowd.

"The intelligent design movement is not a Christian movement," explained Mortenson. "A lot of them don't deny evolution." Indeed, Mortenson rejects any notion of a reconciliation between Christianity and evolution.

Mortenson, whose visit to the area was funded by area churches, said his organization has no plan to influence schools although he did caution parents to examine their children's textbooks during his address at Orr.

"We're not a political organization," he said. "We're just trying to disseminate information and people will do with it what they do with it."

Darwin was wrong about (chicken) evolution


By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 3:01pm GMT 29/02/2008

The textbook wisdom about the wild origins of the 860 million chickens eaten each year in Britain is overturned today.

Since the days of Charles Darwin, scientists have maintained that the domesticated chicken derives from the red jungle fowl, which was first raised in captivity in Asia five millennia ago.

The yellow-skinned chicken's ancestory includes grey junglefowl as well as red

But an in depth study of chicken legs has overturned this idea, revealing that the origins of this bird are much more complicated.

The genetic study has revealed why foods like corn give chickens yellow legs, demonstrating that though the great Darwin was right about many things, his view on the origins of the chicken was not entirely correct.

The study, published in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, reveals the DNA variant that is responsible for yellow skin in billions of chickens raised worldwide.

The problem came when the researchers looked for the yellow-skin gene in the red junglefowl. They only found the genetic variant that codes for white skin.

More surprisingly, when they looked at the identical stretch of DNA in wild species such as red, grey, green, and Ceylon junglefowl they discovered that the sequence found in grey junglefowl was closest to yellow-skinned domestic chickens.

This discovery indicates that though chickens are indeed primarily derived from red junglefowls, at some point after chickens were first domesticated, they interbred with grey junglefowls which resulted in the incorporation of the gene that turned their legs a pleasing yellow colour.

Dr Greger Larson, who works at Uppsala University and at Durham University, says: "Darwin recognised the importance of studying domestic animals as a model of evolution and this insight has proved enormously influential.

"The ironic thing is that he believed that dogs were hybrids of several wild ancestors but that chickens only had one, and he was wrong on both counts." (Dogs are descended solely from the grey wolf.)

Yellow colouring comes from pigments found in feed called carotenoids: the more of these pigments, the more yellow the legs. The gene in question codes for an enzyme that degrades carotenoids into a colourless form, releasing Vitamin A.

But while white-skinned chickens make this enzyme in skin, yellow-skinned chickens do not, allowing the carotenoids to accumulate and produce yellow colouring. Interestingly, the gene functions normally in other tissues, so it is only their legs that go saffron yellow.

"This is a beautiful demonstration of how important regulatory mutations are for evolutionary changes" says Prof Leif Andersson, leader of the research team that includes Jonas Eriksson.

"What we are interested in knowing now is why yellow skin in chickens is so ubiquitous. It could have been that yellow skin was perceived to be a marker of health or size or egg production, or it could just be that yellow skin was fun to look at.

"We're really not sure. Furthermore, the gene we have identified may be important for carotenoid-based pigmentation in other species like the pink colour of the flamingo; the yellow legs of many birds of prey including eagles, falcons and hawks; the pink muscles of salmon, and even skin colour in humans."

The study was funded by the European Molecular Biology Organization, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning and the Swedish Research Council.

Huckabee's Texas Evolution


By Hilary Hylton

Even in Texas, where only a couple of weeks ago Mike Huckabee thought he could rely on the heavy Evangelical presence to give John McCain a real primary fight, the Republican race no longer looks like a serious contest. But while Huckabee may no longer be in a position to sway the outcome of the Republican presidential primary/caucus on Tuesday, he does stand to have a profound impact on another crucial, and potentially more controversial, vote that same day.

Next year the Texas State Board of Education will be writing the science curriculum standards for Texas public schoolchildren, and Huckabee may bring enough conservative fundamentalist voters to the polls on March 4 to swing the balance of power on the board to the supporters of creationism. "If Huckabee marshals the religious right in Texas, particularly in North Texas, it has profound implications for the state board," says Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an Austin-based advocacy group whose stated goal is to "counter the religious right" in public policy issues, particularly education.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who expressed his support for creationism while serving as governor of neighboring Arkansas, has been pressed several times during the presidential campaign for his view of teaching evolution, but has evaded the issue. "It is interesting that question would even be asked of someone running for President of the United States," Huckabee responded in a presidential debate last June. "I am not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth grade science book — I am asking for the opportunity to be President of the United States."

Huckabee has focused his Texas campaign on rousing his evangelical core constituency in the Texas Bible Belt — conservative towns like Tyler in east Texas; Waco, home to Baylor University; Plano, a conservative, affluent Dallas-area community; and Fort Worth, where Huckabee attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1970s. It is his efforts in Fort Worth that concern advocates like Miller; there SBOE District 11 member Pat Hardy, a former schoolteacher, curriculum adviser and moderate Republican, is facing a challenge from fellow Republican Barney Maddox, a urologist and ardent supporter of creationism. With no Democratic candidate on the ballot, Tuesday's winner will take a seat on the contentious 15-member board. Maddox, who declines media interview requests, has posted his writings on the web at sites like the Institute for Creation Research and has called Charles Darwin's work "pre-Civil War fairy tales."

Huckabee supporter Kelly Shackleford, president of the Plano-based Free Market Foundation (FMF), dismisses concerns about a conservative takeover of the board, saying the social conservatives on the board are protecting Texas schoolchildren from pernicious liberal influences. But the FMF's primary voter's guide is much more specific, listing "evolution weaknesses" as their first issue of concern for SBOE candidates. As nonprofit groups, both the FMF and the TFN, arch-enemies in the battles before the state board, do not endorse in races, but their advisories on candidates' positions play an important role in swaying voters.

There are a total of seven SBOE seats on the ballot this year, but only two incumbents — Hardy and a South Texas seat held for 26 years by Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga — are in contention on primary day. Like most Texas congressional districts — and board districts are larger — SBOE seats lean either strongly Democrat or Republican, so any real challenges usually come in the primary. Democrat Berlanga is facing a primary challenge from Lupe Gonzalez, a school administrator who has expressed some support for the theory of intelligent design — which many critics view as a fig leaf for creationism.

For over two decades, the 15-member elected board has been torn between two factions: in recent years a coalition of five Democrats and three moderate Republicans has managed to hold off efforts by the seven socially conservative Republicans to influence the board's mission. The SBOE debate over creationism and other issues important to social conservatives on the board — sex education and religion in schools — is still contentious, but the arguments have become more sophisticated, with no outright call for the banning of evolutionary theory. The debate now focuses on the inclusion of ?intelligent design? to provide a counter to purported flaws in evolutionary theory. "In science class, there is no place for dogma and sacred cows, no subject should be 'untouchable? as to its scientific merits or shortcomings," SBOE chairman Don McLeroy said in a letter to the Dallas News last fall.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature stepped into the fray to diminish the influence the SBOE had on textbook selection after social conservatives tried to impose their values and demands on publishers. Despite the legislature's action, which limited the SBOE to making sure textbooks met curriculum standards and were factually accurate, the SBOE social conservatives have continued to press for more influence. In December, with one member of their opposition missing, the social conservatives pressed one textbook publisher to change the phrase "married partners" in a health textbook to "the lifelong union of a husband and wife."

Given the Lone Star state's influence as the second largest purchaser of textbooks nationally, any changes likely would have had a ripple effect across the country. Miller says she is concerned that if the social conservatives gain the upper hand they may try to reassert that influence by drawing up a conservative curriculum that would necessarily have to be addressed in textbooks. "One vote, one member, could be the difference between kids getting a 21st century science education or a 19th century education," Miller said.

But it is not only the impact of Huckabee's socially conservative supporters on the SBOE election that has raised concerns in some quarters. Longtime Texas Republicans like Royal Masset, a former political director of the Texas Republican Party, fear that if moderate Republicans leave the party to support Barack Obama — and there is some local polling in major urban areas to suggest that may happen — it will reinforce the hold the social conservatives and the religious right has on the state party's apparatus.

The complicated primary system used by Texas only heightens moderate Republicans' worries. Unlike the Democratic primary where two-thirds of the delegates are awarded based on the primary voting during the day and a third by the caucuses at night, voters in the Republican primary elect all their presidential delegates during the day's vote. The evening Republican caucuses can only be attended by those who voted during the day and they are reserved for electing delegates to the county and then state conventions, which hold sway over the state party. In recent years, that has led to a dominance of the state party by social conservatives.

"The right wing has been way out of control," Masset says. "It's become a different party and there's a lot of anger." Thanks to leaders like President Ronald Reagan, says Masset, Republicans have won on big issues like taxes and the Cold War, issues that resonated in Texas. "Now, we are stuck fighting the peripheral issues," he adds. "That could mean trouble for [Texas] Republicans two, four, six years down the road."

Copyright ? 2008 Time Inc.

Stories in Stone: Science on the ropes


By ROBERT TITUS 02/29/2008

BEFORE I WAS LURED away by the fame and fortune of writing geology columns, I was a professional paleontologist. I published many an article on the ancient life of New York State in professional journals. I speak of this because my science is and has been under assault. The centerpiece of paleontology, like all biology itself, is the great theory of evolution. All of my professional research was founded upon evolutionary theory, and the best studies that I ever did were documentations of evolutionary events.

I have, three times, followed a fossil species through sequences of stratified rock and watched as it evolved into a second species. I have not only seen species evolve, but I have followed them as they evolved into new ecologies. These studies were the greatest privileges that ever came with my being a scientist. I have seen evolution about as well as anyone, anywhere. That's not bragging; it's just the record.

Paleontology is the exploration of life's distant past. It is nearly heartbreaking that some religious groups oppose my science's very foundation. Science is not about religion. We steer well clear of the supernatural. Ours is the study of the natural world only. We neither oppose, nor support any religion. Some of us practice religions; others, like me, do not.

But we do teach our sciences. Ours is a scientific and technologically advanced society in a competitive world, and it must maintain the highest standards in the teaching of science. There is no place for, say, economics or politics to play a role in classroom science. Likewise this is no place for any religion to intrude its views. Such notions should be dismissed immediately. Economists and political scientists generally don't interfere with the teaching of science, but many members of the religious community would if they could.

Young earth creation science and its fraternal twin, Intelligent Design profess that a great supernatural entity (God) created the world and all life on it.

Well, fine, many scientists are religious and believe the very same thing. Where science and these particular religious views part company is over the issue of evolution. Was the Earth and life on it created as we see them today, or did they form and then change naturally? Did life change slowly through time, evolving from a simple ancestral form into what it is today?

In recent years serious efforts have been made in Pennsylvania and Kansas to inject Intelligent Design into high school biology programs. I hate to think of the position that many dedicated biology teachers might find themselves in. Should they risk their careers in defiance of religion? Or should they knuckle under? It is a dreadful dilemma.

All this has been portrayed as part of the ongoing "culture wars," but I disagree. Issues like abortion, school prayer and displays of the Ten Commandments and manger scenes are value issues. People of good conscience can come to different views. But science has, I think, always fallen beyond that. We study the natural world as it is, not as we want it to be. We scientists have always determined to steer clear of values as much as possible.

This column has found a very considerable body of evidence that, like the rest of the planet Earth, our Hudson Valley has a very venerable geological history. We have, over the last few years, taken many trips into our region's distant past. We have visited the great deep oceanic abyss that once covered all of Columbia County. Its dark oozy mud is now hardened into the black Normanskill Shale, which makes up much of the land along the Hudson.

We have also visited the shallow tropical sea that once existed here. Its Helderberg limestones make up all of Becraft Mountain, and they are rich in an exotic array of fossils. All those fossil species are now extinct; they were denizens of distant past. At Bash Bish Falls we have watched as great mountains rose to enormous altitudes in what would eventually be the Appalachian realm. Then we saw those mountains slowly weather away. We've seen glaciers advance down the Hudson Valley and, after they melted away, we saw Glacial Lake Albany fill most of our valley with icy meltwater. Altogether these historic events took enormous lengths of time: hundreds of millions of years.

If creationism or Intelligent Design is true, then all of this geological history is horribly misconstrued at best, fraudulent at worst. I and all of my colleagues are seriously deluded people. But, I have always tried to tell where you can go and see the evidence for yourself. I hope that many of you have done some of the many field trips that I have described. If so, you can judge for yourself. Our valley and our Earth are very old.

If creationism or Intelligent Design is true, then science itself is a hoax. Well, keep reading my columns and judge for yourself.

To contact columnist Bob Titus, visit www.thecatskillsgeologist.com.

©The Independent 2008

Revisioning Darwin's Theory as above Questioning


In science, theories are tested and debated almost constantly. As silly as it may sound, there are scientists who are still researching gravity. This isn't as absurd as you might think. While no one doubts that mass attracts mass and apples fall down, not up, scientists are still debating the nature of the underlying physical laws and fundamental particles that cause gravitational attraction.

There are always scientists curious about one aspect or another of any theory under scrutiny, and so they challenge it. There's nothing wrong with that; in fact, it is the very nature of science to challenge things.

Except when it comes to neo-Darwinism. Then scientists are supposed to shut up, not ask questions, not challenge anything. That isn't science. It isn't even what Darwin himself envisioned for science.

Darwin wrote:

A fair result can be obtained only by fully balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

It looks as is Darwin would have been sorely disappointed in what is considered a fair consideration of the evidence these days. In Florida there was recently a vigorous debate over how evolution should be taught. Dogmatic Darwinists are insisting that Darwinian evolution be presented without any sort of critical analysis, as if it were 100% above reproach, as if it were a natural law that left no doubts. That may be how they want to present it, but it's far from the truth.

Wired reported that:

The resolutions have been patterned after the one from St. Johns County, which calls for "teaching the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory rather than teaching evolution as dogmatic fact."

Critics say the resolutions' language is thinly veiled creationism -- either in the strictly biblical sense, or the more-modern take of "intelligent design," which purports to use scientific methodology to prove divine intervention.

Leave aside the ridiculously false assertion that ID proponents are trying to use scientific methodology to prove divine intervention. What's troubling here is the effort to relabel any questioning of Darwin's theory as the same as creationism. How convenient. The supreme court has ruled that creationism is not allowed in the classroom, so Darwinists simply tag any questioning of, or challenge to, their pet theory as creationism. Denmark smells relatively pristine in comparison.

This isn't exactly a new tactic. Self-proclaimed evolutionary biologist Patricia Princehouse espoused this back in 2005/06. More recently, in Texas it has become the practice to constantly claim that any criticism of evolution is the same as advocating intelligent design.

That would likely be news to the scores of scientists (many who are evolutionists themselves) who question parts Darwinian evolution.

Posted by Robert Crowther on February 29, 2008 8:59 AM | Permalink

Intelligent design an attempt to insert myth into public schools' science curriculum


March 1, 2008

I'm troubled by Alva James-Johnson's column advocating the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution in public school biology classes. ID is clearly an attempt to introduce Judeo-Christian myths into public schools, which is only appropriate in comparative religion classes.

She presents a small sampling of creationist scientists, whose preconceived notions lead them to twist their research, belying the mountain of evidence presented by biologists, geologists, astrophysicists, anthropologists and others, 99 percent of whom support an ancient universe in which evolution shaped life (evolution did not "order the universe," despite what Andrew McIntosh suggests, as evolution applies only to living organisms).

ID might be an acceptable pseudo-science for private schools, but if it is taught as an alternative to evolution in public schools, then all religions must get their say: Taoists with the myth of Old Pan Kou, Aborigines with their Rainbow Serpent, Hindus with their Old Earth Creationism, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and even Satanists should be free to offer alternatives.

Somehow, I doubt Ms. James-Johnson would support that notion. There are myriad religions: Keep them out of the science lab.

Brian Kaplan

Coral Springs

Evolution theory full of holes: student


Updated 1 day ago
Letter to the editor:

Re: response to Packet letter, "Evolution is a proven fact" (Nov. 2, 2007)

I am a fourth-year biology student at York University, and I have taken enough evolution courses to know that the theory is full of holes.

For one thing, the evolutionist method of dating the earth (estimating its age) is faulty and inconclusive. Professors fail to teach that there is also scientific evidence that shows that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Furthermore, many scientists teach that evolution progresses by the gradual accumulation of "favourable" mutations. However, for fish to evolve gradually into people, there would have to be an increase in the information content of the genetic code, and mutations only serve to corrupt the existing information, much like defects on a computer's hard drive.

In response to some of the misleading statements of the previous article, many important discoveries in the past were made by scientists who believed in the Bible's account of creation. Historical figures such as Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Louis Pasteur made impressive scientific advances in their respective fields, all the while firmly believing in a designer of the universe. A more recent example is Dr. Raymond Damadian, a creationist who invented the lifesaving medical advance of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which is now being used worldwide.

Far from being accepted as fact by all reputable scientists, evolution is rejected by many researchers who are carrying out important work in nearly every area of science today. These include fields such as nuclear physics, geology, genetics, medicine, agriculture, and biochemistry.

While I am not advocating the teaching of creation science in public schools, I do believe that evolution should be taught for what it is: a theory, not a fact.

Daniel Wakefield

How Sputnik changed your life


01/03/2008 . Source: Ken Macleod

Scottish science fiction novellist of some reknown, Ken Macleod, chats about the impact of the Sputnik launch - a potted version of the talk he gave at the Satellite 1 con. Oh, and he's thinking of getting a t-shirt printed to read 'Fandom is where people contradict you just to be polite'. Sounds like a slogan to live by!

We're here to celebrate the launch of Sputnik 1. Now, when I was asked to talk about it I realised that there was no point in mugging up on the history of space exploration, because there are people here like Robert Law and Duncan Lunan who know much more about it than I do, and can say it much better. So instead I'm going to give you what I can do, which is a rambling rant about the cultural consequences of Sputnik.

We have an hour but you'll be relieved to hear I'm not going to talk for an hour. I understand from this week's news that if you can talk for an hour without notes you're somehow qualified to be the next Prime Minister. So there'll be plenty of time for questions and I hope contradictions, because this is fandom and as someone once said on rec.arts.sf.fandom, fandom is where people contradict you just to be polite. Someone should make a T-shirt with that slogan. Come to think of it, I'd like to make one that says: Fandom. Where the guy staring at your tits is trying to read your name-badge.

What I'm going to say about Sputnik is that it was a great achievement of Soviet socialism, and that it was for that very reason a great setback for human expansion into space; that it started the culture wars that are still shaking our world; and that it's why most of you are, like me, functionally innumerate.

The impact of the Sputnik launch was enormous. I know that because it was the first historical event I actually remember, and I was three years old at the time. I'm not saying I understood it. What I knew was that there was this thing in the sky that bleeped, and that it was very scary, and that it was going to come back to Earth. What that meant to me in 1957 was that I expected Sputnik to come back to Earth in the scariest place I knew, which was the dark cold passageway between the kitchen and the back door. I remember a Giles cartoon of the Giles kids looking at this spiky thing in a smoking hole in the ground, and this disturbed me too. A few months later we had Sputnik egg-cups, which were hemispherical and had four pointy legs, and which were really space-age because they had a vacuum between their outer and inner surfaces to ... but you're SF fans, you're ahead of me.

All this in a small way does indicate the astonishing scale and depth of how Sputnik entered popular consciousness. And in the context of the Cold War, the way it entered consciousness was that the Soviet Union had leapt ahead of the United States. That was certainly how the Soviet Union projected it. I have here on my jacket four Soviet space badges. One of Gagarin, one of Apollo-Soyuz, one of Koralyev, and one commemorating Sputnik. The last has a globe with a stylised orbit wrapped in yer-actual hammer and sickle, which is pretty much how it came across. It was seen as the socialist planned economy stealing a march on the capitalist market economy.

The people who saw it this way weren't just the Soviets. No, there were those in America who saw it the same way. In every rich, complacent, easy-going society, such as the US was - for all its tensions and fault-lines, such as at Little Rock - during Eisenhower's presidency, there are malcontents. People who just can't accept the self-indulgent, go-getting, individualistic way of life, with everyone living under his own vine and under his own fig-tree, and who have a radical programme to turn society upside down. They're called conservatives.

And it was the conservatives who went ballistic about Sputnik. They demanded that America pull its socks up and get with the programme. And how did they set out to show these upstart commies - and more importantly, the then-undecided mass of humanity outside the rich countries - that America's way was best? By establishing a national, planned effort, implemented by a gigantic government programme co-ordinating the nation's resources, to get ahead of the USSR in space. This culminated in JFK's commitment to an eight-year plan to land a man on the Moon, around which which the nation could unite regardless of short-term profit calculations ... but you're ahead of me again.

Yes, establishing a big government bureaucracy to show the superiority of the market over planning has certain flaws. I have to say this point would never have occurred to me, and I would never have thought there was anything problematic about Project Apollo, if I hadn't come across a paper by James P. Hogan, Boom and Slump in Space, some years ago. Hogan has more recently gone off on the deep end about various matters but I think his argument here bears thinking about. He points out that with the X-15, and all the Right Stuff stuff, Americans were already on the edge of space, and there's no reason why further development on those lines couldn't have led to a space-plane. They were close to launching satellites. There was a whole range of different approaches back then, and if they'd been left to develop - driven partly by commercial interest, partly by military - instead of being subsumed by the one-track Apollo project, who knows where we might be now?

So much for Sputnik as a setback for space. On to the culture wars. One consequence of the Sputnik crisis was that the US authorities became persuaded that Soviet kids were getting a better science education, and indeed better education in general - there was a book called 'What Ivan Knows that Johnny Doesn't'. So, naturally, there was a big government enquiry and they revamped all the textbooks. One thing they rejigged was biology. US school textbooks had kept very quiet about evolution since the Drayton case. Now they put Darwin back in. Across the country, parents went apeshit.

Until then, creationism had been something of a backwater in the US. Back in the twenties a Seventh Day Adventist called Gearge McCready Price wrote a book called The New Geology, which argued that the entire geological column and the faunal succession shown in the fossil record was an artefact of Noah's Flood. Martin Gardner gives it a chapter in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952, 1956) and you can see how he treats it as just another wacky fringe idea. By then, most Christian denominations accepted evolution. Young fundamentalists who'd been trained in geology rejected McCready Price's notions as soon as they did some actual fieldwork.

They were particularly impressed with what they learned from geologists who worked for oil companies, and made decisions costing millions of dollars based on conventional geology. Most, even, of the creationists were reconciled to an old Earth, through the day-age theory, the gap theory, or whatever. One who wasn't was Henry Morris, a civil engineer who specialised in hydraulics. You can see where this is going. Together with a theologian, John Whitcomb, he wrote The Genesis Flood and scientific creationism was born. Parents who objected to Darwin in the schoolbooks now had a science book of their own. It was no longer a matter of science versus a literal reading of Genesis, it was godly science versus godless science, and the long march through the school boards began.

Secondly, I mean thirdly, innumeracy. When I was in primary school I was quite good at arithmetic. I used to read ahead in the textbook. Then I went to high school, and mathematics became incomprehensible. This was partly because my maths teacher was a war veteran with a short temper. Years later I met him and his wife in the street and he was the soul of kindness, pleased to hear how I was doing as a student, but when I was a school kid I didn't see that he was a good man trying to do his best by some very intractable pupils, and coping with commendable aplomb.

No, he simply terrified me. But it was the content of the textbooks that baffled me. We spent years learning about set theory, Venn diagrams, linear programming, binary and octal arithmetic, matrix algebra, and such-like arcana. Besides that we were supposed to learn geometry, trigonometry, algebra and I think finally calculus. I just couldn't see the connection. I left school with three maths O-levels, two of them compensatory for failing my Highers, and an inability to look at an equation without a feeling like you might get from electrodes stuck to your head.

It was only years later I found out that the New Maths had originated in the Sputnik crisis, out of some confused idea that it was very important for kids to understand how computers did sums and that the best way to understand arithmetic was to begin with its logical foundations. So as well as learning what had been worked out in the thousand-odd years between Euclid and Descartes, and which in a few centuries had been hammered into a fairly reliable curriculum, we had to learn stuff that a generation or two back was taxing minds like Frege and Russell.

Now, the question is, was all that really necessary? Take evolution in school biology. Evolution was absolutely pervasive in US culture in the 50s, in popular science, in science fiction, in museums. Would it have been such a disaster to leave it out of schoolbooks? When I went to Glasgow University and wanted to take biology, I mentioned that I hadn't studied it at school. In the UK, of course, there's no problem with evolution in school textbooks, and never has been, until very recently - there certainly wasn't a problem in the 70s. I was told that school biology was such rubbish anyway that the university biology course just started from scratch.

Or take the question of 50s America's decadent luxury production, which was alleged to be causing them to fall behind the Soviet Union in military and technological hardware. What the people who made that criticism forgot is a basic feature of the market economy, which is that frivolity is the wave of the future. England industrialised by pioneering the industrial production of cotton frocks. Think of the role of sugar, tea, coffee, cotton, groundnut oil for soap ... serious consequences came from these frivolous demands.

Now, there's no doubt that Sputnik, Apollo, Mir, Skylab and now the International Space Station were great achievements. But without them, who knows what might have been? What if space travel had been driven by frivolity? We might then be having this con in an orbital pleasure palace, where ... but you're SF fans, you're ahead of me.

Ken Macleod

(c) Ken Macelod 2008

Calling evolution a 'theory' won't end debate


March 2, 2008

By Joλlle Anne Moreno

Florida's public school science standards have just been updated for the first time since 1996, and no one is happy.

Under the new standards, teachers will be required to introduce core concepts of evolution and natural selection starting in the sixth grade. High school students will study more complex aspects of evolutionary science starting in ninth grade. Although students will be told that evolution is "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology," they must also be told that evolution is a scientific theory.

No legitimate scientist can, or should, object to the classification of evolution as theory. Scientists understand that evolution is a theory because it is a unifying set of observations and measurements that have been tested repeatedly and accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. Evolution, gravity and plate tectonics are all theories.

So why object to the new requirement that public school teachers label evolution as "theory"?

There are two reasons to oppose the new mandatory characterization of evolution as theory. The first is that non-scientists often use the word "theory" to describe assumptions based on limited information or knowledge, and public school classrooms are filled with kids, not scientists. Forcing this new theory label into the science curriculum is a transparent effort to confuse our children.

In 2005, when the Cobb County School District in Georgia tried to place stickers in all biology textbooks that said "evolution is a theory, not a fact," the federal court concluded that this statement "has the effect of implicitly bolstering alternative religious theories of origin by suggesting that evolution is a problematic theory even in the field of science." Florida's new standards serve similar religious objectives by undermining Darwin's explanations of natural phenomena, which have been supported by a century of empirical evidence.

To the extent this is a war of ideas fought with words, Florida has opened the classroom door for pseudoscientific ideology-based alternative theories for the origin of natural life, such as arguments based on irreducible complexity, creationism or "intelligent design."

The second reason to oppose the theory label is we should not teach our children that faith and reason are interchangeable. Recent polls reveal that approximately half of all Americans adults do not "believe" in evolution. When children are encouraged to discount evolution as "only" a theory, they learn to approach all science-based controversies, not with an appropriately healthy level of skepticism and critical thinking skills, but with the dangerous and profound misconception that belief and proof are interchangeable.

Technically, evolution is a theory and, for now, teachers will follow new Florida standards. But this debate is far from over.

School boards around the country should learn from Florida's example. Evolution is not dogma. It is, according to the late Stephen J. Gould, Harvard University's most prolific and influential evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, "one of the half dozen 'great ideas' developed by science."

Perhaps our public school teachers will accurately communicate that, to scientists, the word "theory" is not pejorative. But if they fail or refuse to do this, our children will suffer. Public schools cannot accommodate theistic, partisan and non-scientific objectives, unless we are willing to risk our commitment to the principle that church and state must remain separate and our opportunity to raise children trained to think, to think critically, and to think for themselves.

Joλlle Anne Marino is professor of law at Florida International University.

Evolution education update: February 29, 2008

The adoption of a new set of science standards in Florida continues to attract comment. Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., who attacked evolution in a nationally televised debate in 1997, is dead. And NCSE's archives are still accepting donations via a wishlist on Amazon.com.


The Florida state board of education's vote to adopt a new set of science standards on February 19, 2008, is continuing to attract comment, due largely to the board's decision to adopt, not the final draft of the standards as submitted by the writing committee, but a revised version in which the phrase "the scientific theory of" was inserted before mentions of plate tectonics, cell theory, atomic theory, electromagnetism, the Big Bang -- and evolution. The Orlando Sentinel (February 16, 2008) reported, "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." And there was opposition to the revised version from a majority of the writing committee, as well as from board member Roberto Martinez, who described the revisions as "an effort by people to water down our standards."

Nevertheless, Florida Citizens for Science regarded the vote as a clear triumph: "Florida won! Science education won! Teachers, students, Florida's future economy, etc. all won! No, it wasn't a clean victory, but it was a victory nonetheless." NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch, writing for Beacon Press's blog, observed, "Evolution is still described, correctly, as 'the organizing principle of life science' and as 'supported by multiple forms of evidence.' And the standards distance themselves from the pejorative sense of 'theory' that creationists from Bryan onward like to exploit: 'a scientific theory is the culmination of many scientific investigations drawing together all the current evidence concerning a substantial range of phenomena; thus, a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer.'"

The eminent biologist Paul R. Gross, who was in charge of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's 2005 evaluation of science standards that awarded the grade of F to Florida, was less sanguine, describing the revisions to the standards as "transparent and wacky" in the Tallahassee Democrat (February 25, 2008). Gross argued, "The standards refer persistently to the scientific theory of evolution, so should they not at least touch upon the implied nonscientific theories of evolution? Surely we should ask, 'Are there any such theories?' No. Not for any serious scientific or any other educational purpose. What then, pray, is the point of belaboring, with the pompous prefix 'scientific theory of,' the following: evolution, cells, geology, atoms?" He added, "In fact, it provides inside Florida's new standards a perfect counter-example to the intellectual integrity the standards themselves promote."

The revisions, in any case, were obviously not enough to satisfy Florida's creationists, including board member Donna Callaway, who was pressing for a so-called academic freedom amendment which, the Miami Herald (February 19, 2008) reported, would have given teachers the explicit permission to engage students in "critical analysis" of the evidence for evolution. The next fight may be in the state legislature: House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-District 111) told the Florida Baptist Witness (February 21, 2008) that he thought that the Florida House of Representatives would be receptive to legislation to revise the standards along the lines proposed by Callaway. The Orlando Sentinel (February 23, 2008) editorially criticized the idea, writing, "This academic-freedom law is just an attempt to sneak creationism through the schoolhouse's back door. ... Even with the last-minute compromise, the new science curriculum is a huge improvement. Leave it alone."

For the Orlando Sentinel's story, visit:

For Florida Citizens for Science's blog post, visit:

For Branch's blog post for Beacon Press, visit:

For Gross's op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat, visit:

For the Miami Herald's story, visit:

For the Florida Baptist Witness's story, visit:

For the Orlando Sentinel's editorial, visit:

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


William F. Buckley Jr., widely considered to be the father of the modern conservative movement, died on February 27, 2008, at the age of 82 in Stamford, Connecticut, according to The New York Times's obituary (February 27, 2008). Born in New York City in 1925, Buckley served in the Army from 1944 to 1946 before entering Yale University, from which he graduated in 1950. In 1955, Buckley founded the magazine National Review, which helped to define the conservative movement. In 1965, he ran for mayor of New York City on the Conservative Party ticket, winning 13.4% of the vote. The next year, he began to host the public affairs program Firing Line, airing first on WOR-TV and later on PBS; the program ran for thirty-three years and 1504 episodes. A prolific author, Buckley was first famous for his 1951 indictment of Yale's faculty, God and Man at Yale, and his 1954 coauthored defense of Senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthy and His Enemies; among his other books are a string of spy novels featuring CIA agent Blackford Oakes. Buckley also wrote copiously for National Review and in his syndicated column "On the Right." He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991.

With respect to the creationism/evolution controversy, Buckley will be best remembered for his participation in a 1997 Firing Line debate with the title "Resolved: The Evolutionists Should Acknowledge Creation," conducted at Seton Hall University in South Hall, New Jersey, on December 4, 1997, and moderated by Michael Kinsley. Buckley joined Phillip E. Johnson, Michael J. Behe, and David Berlinski in arguing for the affirmative, while Kenneth R. Miller, Michael Ruse, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, and Barry Lynn argued for the negative. In his opening statement, Buckley retreated from the debate's title, saying, "Not everyone on the affirmative side embraces creation. What we contend is that everyone should acknowledge creation as an alternative explanation for cosmic and biological happenings now thought by so many as naturalist in providence and momentum," but continued, "my colleagues and I judge that the evidence for the naturalist theory of evolution is not merely insubstantial, it is fanciful." As the debate proceeded, however, it remained unclear what Buckley's objections to evolution were and what indeed he thought evolution was; both Ruse and Lynn were unsuccessful in attempting to elicit a clear explanation from him.

For the obituary in The New York Times, visit:

For a transcript of the 1997 Firing Line debate, visit:


NCSE's archives house a unique trove of material on the creationism/evolution controversy, and we regard it as part of our mission to preserve it for posterity -- as well as for occasions such as Kitzmiller v. Dover, where NCSE's archives helped to establish the creationist antecedents of the "intelligent design" movement. We cordially invite you now to help NCSE's archives keep up-to-date by purchasing books for NCSE through our wish list at Amazon.com. We're pleased to report that fifty-nine books have been purchased already, and we thank the donors for their generosity.

For NCSE's wish list at Amazon.com, 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!

Race could tilt Texas state Board of Education in social conservatives' favor


Supporter of creation science could unseat ex-high school teacher

08:41 PM CST on Tuesday, February 26, 2008
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Social conservatives are moving to secure their first majority on the politically divided State Board of Education, backing an avowed creation-science supporter against a veteran Republican board member in a closely watched Fort Worth-area race.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, is being challenged in the GOP primary by Cleburne urologist Barney Maddox, a critic of the theory of evolution who calls it a "myth" on a creation science Web site and who once testified that Texas schoolchildren are "brainwashed" into believing in evolution.

Ms. Hardy, a former high school social studies teacher and now a curriculum adviser in the Weatherford school district, is known for being a swing vote on the 15-member board and for leading an effort to require that all high school students take four years of science. She is in her sixth year on the state board.

There is no Democratic opponent in the general election, so if Dr. Maddox won the primary, it would hand social and religious conservatives a majority on the board and potentially trigger an ideological shift affecting textbook selection and the curriculum taught in public schools.

"There is already a seven-member bloc from the far right on the board, and their ability to grow that margin by one could hasten the trend we are already seeing of political ideology taking precedence over needs of our children and their future," said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network.

Those aligned with social conservatives contend it is their turn to shape education policy in Texas.

"The way it breaks down on almost every issue is 8 to 7, with the other side in charge," said Donna Garner, a former teacher and frequent critic of the board majority.

"If we could get rid of Pat Hardy and elect Dr. Barney Maddox, then the votes would be 8 to 7 in favor of our side. Dr. Maddox has pledged to vote with our side whenever possible," she wrote in a commentary distributed over the Internet.

Dr. Maddox declined to be interviewed.

Ms. Hardy, who touted her own conservative background, said she draws a line when it comes to education in Texas.

"It is about what is best for kids, not what is best politically. I have been in education for 38 years and am extremely knowledgeable in the field," she said.

"My opponent knows nothing about education, except that he got one. That's not a reflection on his person, but he has no experience [in education], and his main interest is in evolution and how to oust it [from schools]. He wants to insert creationism into our classrooms, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that you cannot bring religion into public schools."

Campaign finance reports filed this week indicated that Mr. Maddox has a decided financial edge, with expenditures of $61,203 in the last month and $70,000 in loans to his campaign – including $55,000 of his own money. Ms. Hardy's report, on the other hand, indicated expenditures of just $4,017 and $5,850 in campaign contributions.


Duties: Adopts textbooks, approves curriculum standards for all subjects, decides education policy and oversees $25 billion Permanent School Fund

Membership: 15 board members, with seats now held by 10 Republicans and five Democrats

Elections in 2008: Seven members are up for election, but only two – Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, and Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, have opponents in the party primaries. Ms. Berlanga is opposed by Lupe Gonzalez of Mission, and Ms. Hardy is opposed by Barney Maddox of Cleburne.

Terrence Stutz


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Ian Juby Present
Profound Evidence
For Noah?s Flood

Do dinosaur egg nests refute the idea of Noah's flood? How could desert sand dunes (now "fossilized" within the Grand Canyon) be formed in the middle of a raging global flood? Why does it matter if there has been a global flood or not?

Ian Juby will expound on current research involving dinosaur eggs, fossil footprints in the wrong strata, as well as some of the preliminary results from fascinating research involving moving water, newts, and the formation of the fossil footprints within the Coconino sandstone of the Grand Canyon.

Mr. Juby is the founder of Canada's first Creation museum, the Creation Science Museum of Canada. He is also the founder and director of the International Creation Science Special Interest Group for Mensa members and a member of Mensa Canada. He has studied the origins debate for over 15 years and his museum displays can be seen in seven museums throughout North America.

Come join us for a walk through some of the profound evidence of the global flood that swept over the earth, and its implications in the creation/evolution controversy.

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

Tuesday, March 4th, 7:30 PM

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Florida Standards Support Evolution--With a Twist


Science 29 February 2008:
Vol. 319. no. 5867, p. 1168
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5867.1168

News of the Week
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

Florida scientists declared victory last week after the state Board of Education approved science standards that for the first time explicitly embrace the teaching of evolution. But antievolution activists are claiming that the vote bolsters their position that evolution is a "just a theory" and therefore unproven. Such is life on the front lines of the continuing battle over teaching evolution in U.S. schools.

The basis for the dueling claims is a last-minute change by state school officials to a document drafted by an advisory committee made up of scientists, educators, and the public. In lieu of evolution, the standards now refer to "the scientific theory of evolution." State education officials say the new wording was intended to appease conservatives without compromising on accuracy. To be consistent, officials applied the same wording to every other scientific concept mentioned in the standards, for example, changing "photosynthesis" to "the scientific theory of photosynthesis."

The changes were made after state Representative Marti Coley phoned in during a 4 February conference call to the board and asked that the word "theory" be added to the draft standards. Mary Jane Tappen, director of the education department's Office of Mathematics and Science, then talked with members of the standards writing committee and other scientists. The additional words may make the document "cumbersome," she admits, "but some of us felt the document got better."

On 19 February, the board voted 4 to 3 to approve the revised version. Two members who voted with the majority--Linda Taylor and Kathleen Shanahan--had asked that the word "theory" be included. But two who voted against adopting the standards--Roberto Martinez and Akshay Desai--said they were angered by the last-minute rewording. "What's going on here is an effort by people who are opposed to evolution to water down our standards," Martinez said before casting his vote.

Nobelist Harold Kroto, a chemistry professor at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee who helped rally public support for the standards, believes the new language allows scientists and teachers to make a clear distinction between scientific and unscientific theories. "The original standards were fine, but this might actually be better in the long run," he says. "The phrase 'scientific theory' gives us leverage to differentiate between theories that are supported by evidence and those that aren't." The simple addition of "theory" would have been disastrous, he adds.

That's not how some conservatives see it, however. Coley issued a press release soon after the board's vote "applauding" the decision "to teach evolution as a scientific theory, not a scientific fact as had been earlier proposed." Coley says the standards now are "inclusive of a variety of viewpoints."

Some of the 23 individuals on the standards writing committee who had expressed concerns about last-minute changes seem satisfied with the final wording. "Our hackles went up when we heard of the request to add 'theory' " just to the references to evolution, says Sherry Southerland, a science education professor at FSU. "But we felt that putting the language throughout the standards would take care of that concern."

Tappen believes that the new standards leave no room for the teaching of alternative ideas about how life came to be, at least not in a science class. "Theories that are not scientific may be discussed in a humanities or a comparative religion course," she says. But the difference may not be clear to everyone, concedes FSU evolutionary biologist Joseph Travis. "If somebody wants to say a particular religious idea is a scientific theory, that's another issue."

The change failed to appease board member Donna Callaway, who had been pushing for an amendment to allow the teaching of alternatives to evolution. And the Seattle, Washington-based Discovery Institute, which advocates teaching students to question evolution, called the new wording "an impotent change." An analysis of the new standards posted on its blog carried this headline: "Florida State Board Tricked Into Meaningless 'Compromise' to Retain Dogmatism."

Hard-liners unhappy with the standards don't intend to let the matter rest. In a 21 February interview published in the Florida Baptist Witness, an organ of the Florida Baptist State Convention, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, Republican Marco Rubio, said he and other House leaders are considering introducing legislation to allow teachers to teach criticisms of evolution.

Callaway says she would support such an effort. "People have asked me why I don't question math concepts or grammar," she explained to Science. "I tell them, 'Those things have nothing to do with life. Evolution is personal, and it affects our beliefs.' "