NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 March 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bill could allow Intelligent Design in science class


Posted on Wed, Mar. 12, 2008

BY MARC CAPUTO mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

TALLAHASSEE -- The religiously tinged evolution-questioning theory of Intelligent Design could more easily be brought up in public-school science classrooms under a proposed ''academic freedom'' legislation being pushed by conservative lawmakers.

And it's not just the ACLU saying it anymore.

A leading voice for the Intelligent Design movement acknowledged as much Wednesday by saying that the theory constitutes ''scientific information,'' which the bill expressly and repeatedly says teachers should present in questioning and criticizing evolution without fear of persecution.

The remarks by Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, were made during a press conference with actor-columnist-speechwriter-gameshow host Ben Stein, who's exhibiting a documentary in support of the legislation.

The bill was drafted after the state Board of Education voted last month to include repeated mention of evolution and natural selection in state science standards for the first time in state history. The bill expressly bans the teaching of religious theories -- which a federal court has ruled Intelligent Design is.

But the legislation also repeatedly tells instructors to teach the ''full range'' of ''scientific information'' about biological and chemical evolution.

So does Intelligent Design constitute scientific information?

''In my personal opinion, I think it does. But the intent of this bill is not to settle that question,'' said Luskin. 'The intent of this bill is... it protects the `teaching of scientific information.' It's not trying to inject itself into the debate over Intelligent Design.''

Luskin said the institute, which advocates Intelligent Design, doesn't want it ''mandated'' in schools.

Church-state separatists say religious groups are trying to use the bill as a Trojan horse to introduce religion in science classrooms.

''The Intelligent Design movement has embraced this political strategy to sneak its religious views into the science classroom, and that's what you're seeing now in Florida,'' said Howard Simon, a Florida director for the ACLU, which filed the Dover case.

''The strategy is this: Let's call Intelligent Design scientific information, and let's make sure that teachers can teach that scientific information,'' Simon said, adding that his organization would sue if the bill became law and teachers began proselytizing in class.

The Discovery Institute vigorously denies that Intelligent Design is a religious theory and says the definition of the theory holds that life shows such patterns of design that it's the result of an intelligent cause, rather than natural selection.

What's that ''intelligent cause?'' The institute's top scientists say God, but they say that's not part of the theory.

Based on that belief, days of grueling testimony and something called the Discovery Institute ''Wedge'' document outlining a strategy to make science more ''consonant with Christian and theistic convictions,'' a federal judge in a Dover, Penn., case ruled in 2005 that Intelligent Design was too close to creationism for the science classroom.

Teachers can mention Intelligent Design or biblical creationism now, as long as it's not in the science classroom. In the science classroom, it's an open question as to whether teachers can mention these evolution alternatives.

Stein said his documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed shows that the academic freedom bill is needed.

''If there were complete freedom of speech, I don't think this bill would be necessary,'' he said. ``There are plenty of people who ask what seem to be innocent, sensible questions about the flaws and gaps and lacunae in Darwinism and they get severely punished for it.''

Stein said he didn't think the bill was aimed at ''protecting'' Intelligent Design. One of the drafters of the legislation, John Stemberger, president of the evangelical Florida Family Policy Council, said Intelligent Design can't be taught, though ''criticisms'' of evolution could.

When asked who would decide what ''scientific information'' is, Stemberger said the teacher would have to follow the curriculum and only bring up ''relevant'' information about chemical and biological evolution. Stein said it was the teacher who would decide.

Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms of Brandon and Rep. Alan Hays of Umatilla say their bill's intent is not to teach alternate theories, but to ensure that teachers and students will have the ability to freely question and criticize evolution.

Indeed, natural selection is under active challenge from evolutionary-developmental biologists, who say multicellular organisms can dynamically change form under certain environmental conditions, producing major evolutionary jumps.

Simon and mainstream scientists with the National Academy of Sciences say that's science, and that Intelligent Design is not because it ultimately rests on untestable supernatural entities.

Luskin, the Discovery Institute lawyer, said that's an irony: ``One of the funniest things in my opinion is that many of the people who are claiming Intelligent Design would be taught under this bill adamantly believe Intelligent Design is not science. So in their own view, the text of this bill would not protect the teaching of Intelligent Design.''

Said Simon: ``There is no constitutional right to mis-educate Florida students. If a science teacher is teaching serious science and is censored, that's an academic-freedom issue we would defend. But if they're having Sunday school in science class, that's a problem.''

Evolution education update: March 14, 2008

The second issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is now available on-line. The paleontologist Malcolm McKenna is dead. And a pro-science member of the Texas state board of education survived a primary challenge.


The second issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now available on-line. Featured are original scientific articles on such topics as evolutionary medicine, evolutionary trees, and punctuated equilibrium; curriculum articles on such topics as using Inherit the Wind in the science classroom, molecular evolution and HIV, and hominid evolution; and reviews of a host of books, including David Sloan Wilson's Evolution for Everyone and Philip Kitcher's Living with Darwin. Those interested in the intersection of science and art will enjoy a report on Esther Solondz's The Evolution of Darwin installation as well as a description of a project fusing evolutionary biology with ceramics and printmaking.

Also included is the second installment of NCSE's regular column for Evolution: Education and Outreach, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "The OOPSIE Compromise -- A Big Mistake," NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch write, "Opt-out policies are typically invoked to excuse students from activities to which they or their parents may have religious objections, such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, dissecting animals in a laboratory, or attending sex education classes. Occasionally, however, a school or school district allows students to opt out of academic topics, including, sometimes, evolution. Opt-out policies specifically including evolution are a big mistake -- for the students who opt out, for their classmates whose studies are disrupted, and especially for their teachers, who cannot fulfill their duty to instruct their charges about biology without emphasizing evolution."

For the second issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:

For Scott and Branch's article, visit:


Malcolm McKenna, a retired curator of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and a Supporter of NCSE, died on March 3, 2008, in Boulder, Colorado, according to the obituary in The New York Times (March 10, 2008). Born on July 21, 1930, in Pomona, California, he attended the California Institute of Technology and Pomona College, before graduating in paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also earned his Ph.D. In 1960, he joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History, his institutional home for four decades. After retiring from AMNH, he held adjunct positions at the University of Colorado and the University of Wyoming. Among his honors were the Gold Medal of the Paleontological Society of America, which he received in 1992, and the Romer-Simpson Medal of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, which he received in 2001.

According to the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology's obituary, McKenna's life's work was "a new Classification of Mammals Above the Species Level -- both living and extinct -- that in 1997 he and Susan Bell of the American Museum of Natural History published in both book and database form," but he "delighted most in interdisciplinary studies and exhorted his students and colleagues to synthesize knowledge as much as specialize in it." In a review of David Rains Wallace's Beasts of Eden published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution in 2004, McKenna wrote, "Forever, it seems, there has been a struggle between those who seek comfort in dogma and those who are willing to grow intellectually. ... We are still learning how evolution works but, unfortunately, creationist dogma is still holding back intellectual growth among the general public."

For the obituary in The New York Times, visit:

For the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology's obituary, visit:


In the March 4, 2008, primary election, Pat Hardy won the Republican nomination for the District 11 seat on the Texas state board of education, with 59% of the vote. A two-term veteran of the board, Hardy was challenged for the nomination by Barney Maddox, a urologist from Cleburne, Texas, who told the board in 2003 that the state standards were trying to "brainwash our children into believing in evolution" and who is billed by the Institute for Creation Research as "author of the biological sciences course material for the Creationist Worldview distance education program offered by ICR." The Associated Press (March 5, 2008) reported, "Hardy said her opponent kept his evolution views out of campaign mailings but did tell social conservatives he would vote with them. 'They could have taken a chance and pushed some of those buttons,' Hardy said."

The race was particularly important for the integrity of science education because, as the Texas Freedom Network explains in its recent valuable report The State Board of Education: Dragging Texas Schools into the Culture Wars, the far-right faction on the state board of education now holds seven seats on the fifteen-member board. The addition of Maddox would have ensured a reliable majority for the faction, which already is expected to launch a campaign aimed at undermining the treatment of evolution in the Texas state science standards as they are reviewed and revised in 2008. The state science standards determine both what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state, which is one of the largest textbook markets in the country.

For the Associated Press's story (via the Dallas Morning News), visit:

For the websites of the Texas Freedom Network and Texas Citizens for Science, 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!

Actor Ben Stein stumps for evolution bills


The Florida Family Policy Council brought out star power to tout its support for legislation that proponents say would protect public school teachers who criticize or question Darwinism and critics say would lead to religious lessons on creationism at the expense of science.

Wearing a black suit and tan sneakers, actor Ben Stein strode to a podium in the House office building during a news conference Wednesday and likened the situation for teachers and scientists who challenge Darwinism to the struggle of African Americans' during segregation.

"Let us all debate. Let us think. Let us be open to new ideas and new thoughts. We don't see that happening now unfortunately in many parts of the academic world," Stein said. "The Darwinists, and the neo-Darwinists in particular, have become more Darwinist than Darwin in the sense that they will not permit any question of Darwin."

The policy council's news conference also featured a short video introduction to Stein's documentary film challenging mainstream science, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Lawmakers will view tonight in a screening that is closed to the media. Media will not be be given a chance to view the film until April, said John Stemberger, president of the policy council's lobbying arm, Florida Family Action.

The so-called Academic Freedom Act gives public school teachers "a right to present scientific information relevant the full range of views on biological and chemical origins."

It does not "concern itself with Intelligent Design" or promote teaching "alternative theories," Stemberger said.

"Evolution should be taught in schools, but it should be taught in both the scientific strengths and weaknesses," he added.

A lawyer lobbying with the group said "Intelligent Design" would be considered a "scientific explanation."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida blasted the legislation in a statement Wednesday.

"Allowing schools to masquerade Intelligent Design as science would be a blunder and an embarrassment for the Florida Legislature," wrote Howard Simon, Florida's ACLU director.

The evolution battle began in Florida when the state Board of Education voted in February that evolution should be taught as "a scientific theory."

The decision pleased few involved in the debate: members of the science community said calling it a theory eroded its significance, and those in the religious community said it didn't do enough to allow the teaching of creationism.

In March, bills were filed in both the Senate and House paving the way for teachers to address Intelligent Design in class, that they cannot be punished for questioning evolution, and that students cannot be punished for their views.

The bills are sponsored by Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, in the House, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, in the Senate.

"Our teachers need to be able to stand before their students and lead them in an intellectual analysis of Darwin's theory without fear of harassment," Hays said at the news conference.

The introduction to Stein's film shows a series of provocative images as he narrates.

A fetus appears on the screen as Stein talks about Darwinists who want people to believe humans are the result of a clash between mud and lightening. The intro also uses footage of Adolph Hitler to demonstrate what Stein views as a stifling of free speech. Stein interviews scientists complaining about being ostracized for challenging Darwinism. And all the while he writes Do Not Question Darwinism Authority on a chalkboard over and over again like a punished student.

Stein ends the video introduction with a nod to his role as a dull school teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "Will anyone be left to fight this battle?" he asks. "Anyone? Anyone?"

-- Carol E. Lee carol.lee@heraldtribune.com

There's no alternative


Tristan Quinn

Published 13 March 2008

Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All
Rose Shapiro Harvill Secker, 296pp, £12.99

From acupuncture to zero balancing, via homoeopathy and urine therapy, this provocative book is a fierce attack on the "epidemic" of alternative medicine, now used by one in three of us. The author, a "fact-favouring sceptic", argues that this huge business is duping us, because there is no evidence that alternative medicine works, and it sometimes puts health at risk.

Shapiro argues that cancer brings together "the most duplicitous and dangerous manifestations" of the alternative medicine culture. She is stinging about the alternative medicine promoters who accuse doctors, researchers and drug companies ("the cancer industry") of suppressing "natural treatments" and even a cure itself, to retain power and protect profits.

Shapiro is outraged that alternative medicine is becoming increasingly available through the National Health Service, and cites a London hospital where spiritual healers work with leukaemia patients. She argues that the NHS is wasting money and "encouraging the public appetite for yet more worthless therapies". Although careful not to criticise those who use alternative medicine, she is perhaps overly optimistic that they will respond to her call to be more critical of its claims.

Florida Courts Throw Out Church Of Scientology's Second Request To Block Protests On Saturday


03/13/2008 (5:21 pm)

Scientology received is second blow as Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird rejected a second injunction filed by the Church to have protesters barred from protesting within 500 feet of the Church's Flag Land Base Center in Clearwater, citing similar reasons as the previous request rejected by Judge Linda Allan yesterday.

Though the Tampa Bay Tribune states this second injunction differed slightly, similar assertions were cited by the CoS in its filing. Some additional details on the report:

In the case Allan ruled on, the church was using a process usually used by women who are in fear of their abusive husbands or boyfriends. The church wanted all protestors to remain at least 500 feet away from church structures and officials.

Allan noted that the Church of Scientology is a corporation, not a person, and that the process the church's attorneys were seeking to stop the protesters is by law reserved for a "person who is the victim of repeat violence," according to a copy of her ruling.

The church's tact with Judge Baird was slightly different.

The bulk of the second petition was the same as the one Allan reviewed – alluding to threatening anonymous YouTube videos, for instance. But this time Scientology attorneys said the protestors, by standing at the entrances of church buildings, would "chill" church events and services, causing Scientologists not to attend. This, the church said, constituted a violation of church members' Constitutional rights.

Baird noted there was no evidence the 26 individuals named as members of Anonymous in the church's petition were responsible for any threats or wrongful acts against the church. And they hadn't been informed properly of the injunction the church was seeking.

"Under these circumstances, when threats from unknown individuals are received, or when incidents such as the various YouTube or MySpace postings are interpreted as threatening, the matter is more properly one for local law enforcement rather than the constitutionally extreme remedy sought by injunction without notice against these individuals," his ruling said.

In a strange coincidence, around the same time as Judge Baird's ruling was given, the report of a suspicious package was reported by the Church of Scientology at one of its local St. Petersburg orgs. It has since been detonated using a remote robot device by a Tampa Bay bomb squad.

Contained in the package was a "Bible, clothing and personal items."

Not found, a healthy does of skepticism and a dollop of irony.

Bypassing 'Big Pharma' with Alternative Medical Treatment


Holistic, non-toxic therapies gain ground in wake of drug recalls

Longwood, FL (PRWEB) March 14, 2008 -- Pamela Hoeppner, author of The Breast Stays Put ($15.99, paperback, 978-1-60477-103-9), is living proof that alternative treatments can not only keep you healthy but win the battle against cancer. She, along with two other new authors from Xulon Press, is spreading the word that people must take charge of their own healthcare and now have choices other than conventional medicine. In the wake of the healthcare crisis and repeated drug recalls, Americans are discovering the body's miraculous ability to heal itself through non-toxic and alternative therapies, or what one physician has called "the medicine of the 21st century."

After running her own successful business in Wellness Alternatives, Hoeppner faced the unthinkable. She was diagnosed with a malignant, fast-growing breast cancer. She declined all conventional treatment and chose an alternative approach with an impressive track record-- Protocel®. In her inspiring book, she shares her courageous story of overcoming a deadly diagnosis and provides prevention and treatment information. "With the Internet, and the world of alternative medicine it opens up only a click away, people today are taking charge of their lives, especially their health, and they're searching for options. The Breast Stays Put was my way of telling the world, 'You do have options--I found my answer--and I'm living proof that bona fide options and choices exist!'"

Author Ricki Pepin's son suffered for more than a decade with an unexplained, disabling illness. Desperate for answers, Pepin embarked on an intensive search for answers amid confusing and often conflicting medical data. She discovered seven biblical principles that she believes is God's prescription for healthy living. God's Health Plan: The Audacious Journey to a Better Life ($17.99, paperback, 978-1-60266-698-6; $27.99, hardcover, 978-1-60266-699-3), is based on her effort to find help for her child. "It's about wholeness and restoration of mind, body and spirit," says Pepin. "It's about adding life to your years, not just years to your life."

The seven principles encompass food choices, medical care alternatives, and environmental stewardship practices that will create healthier lives and a replenished world. Pepin believes we stand on the brink of a medical paradigm shift from fighting disease to maintaining health, but individuals face enormous frustration as they begin to take charge of maintaining their own health. "There is so much information available in the health industry today, and it is often hard to decipher what is true and what is mere hype," Pepin says. "This book will help ordinary people to sift out the fads and fallacies and find God's principles on health, which can lead to their own physical and spiritual restoration."

In the midst of confusing modern-day diets, food restrictions, and unnecessary fear-inducing food warnings, What the Best Doctor Recommends (paperback, 978-1-60477-552-5) reaches out to the many disillusioned souls who struggle with unnecessary food-related battles. Written by "Ms. Abigail" (penname), the book presents time-tested biblical secrets to eating--secrets which have been programmed within us since creation. It offers a simple, realistic, and logical solution for today's broad spectrum of dieting debates and health issues. Those principles helped the author completely overcome all her food-related issues on a physical, mental, and emotional level. "My mission is to spread a message of hope, one that lifts the confusion and relieves the frustration that countless diets and food restrictions have created in the lives of many," says Ms. Abigail.

Xulon Press, a part of Salem Communications Corporation, is the world's largest Christian publisher, with more than 5,000 titles published to date. Retailers may order the books mentioned above through Ingram Book Company and/or Spring Arbor Book Distributors.

Eyes wide open


Stealth politics is part of the plot

Trusting it's safe to step out on a limb a few inches, we'd like to credit the majority of Florida legislators who stayed away from the private prescreening of a movie Wednesday night — an event that wasn't open to the public and press.

It was a documentary by pop-culture, self-described intellectual Ben Stein called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," with a plot that challenges mainstream science with regard to evolution.

But the evening at downtown's IMAX Theater, which was rented out to Mr. Stein's group for $940, was a bust, with only about 100 people attending the movie. And most of those weren't lawmakers who were (tiptoeing out on that limb now) apparently not really interested in wading into a dispute that exacerbates two controversies.

One is an open-government issue wherein they were invited, en masse, to a private event that would be legal under our Sunshine Laws if only they didn't mention a word to one another about any state business during their time together. If they just munched the popcorn, kept their eyes on the screen, and left without making any verbal connections — least of all about the movie's stealth theme, which is the second controversy.

Though Florida's State Board of Education last month voted to require public school teachers to teach evolution and natural selection from middle school through high school, companion bills (SB 2692; HB 1483) now in the Legislature could have the effect of softening the board's action.

But part of the danger of the bills is that, while never mentioning creationism, it says teachers and students can not be punished for advancing other "scientific" theories. That could include creationism, of course, but could include racial superiority theories or any other theory that the teacher or students consider scientific.

Mr. Stein and supporters of the legislation couch their arguments around academic freedom for teachers or students to be critical of evolution without any kind of professional discipline or, for students, perhaps getting an F.

Not that either of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, can name any Florida teacher who has been disciplined or suffered reprisals for talking about creationism or Intelligent Design, according to a Monday Miami Herald report. The proposed legislation is probably not, as with many bills, as benign as it sounds.

So while many lawmakers no doubt declined to attend the private movie out of deference to the intent of our Sunshine Laws, it was fortunate that scheduling conflicts gave them good cover, too.

Gov. Charlie Crist had a reception for lawmakers at the Mansion Wednesday evening, and there was also a significant spiritual event going on. The 33rd annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit started at 6 p.m. at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More. It was part of "Catholic Days at the Capitol," and leaders from all branches of government, and Floridians of all faiths, occupations and political persuasion were invited.

The evolution of Darwin; ROM exhibit examines life of famed naturalist


Posted By Sheryl UbelackerIt seems strangely appropriate, somehow, that the opening exhibit in the Royal Ontario Museum's new show Darwin: The Evolution Revolution is a pair of giant tortoises. And not just because they are living cousins of the species the famed naturalist observed on the Galapagos Islands in 1831, but because of what they are doing.

Slow but steady, the pair perambulates around their sandy, rock-strewn enclosure locked shell-over-shell in a turtle embrace, demonstrating for all to see their own version of propagating the species.

It is "living evolution," remarks Josh Feltham, general manager of Reptilia, an educational reptile zoo northwest of Toronto that arranged for the breeding pair of tortoises to be included in the ROM show, along with a cat-sized green iguana and some ornate horned frogs.

The Darwin exhibition, which opened earlier this month and runs through Aug. 4, traces the life and times of Charles Darwin, whose seminal work On the Origin of Species almost 150 years ago forever altered our view of how the natural world evolved and humanity's place in it.

Organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York in collaboration with Toronto's ROM, Boston's Museum of Science, the Field Museum in Chicago and the Natural History Museum of London, the travelling exhibition features the most complete collection of specimens, artifacts, manuscripts and memorabilia related to Darwin to be displayed.

Leaving behind the tortoises, visitors take a journey down the path of Darwin's life - from his early years collecting beetles to his 1831-36 circumnavigation of the globe as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle to his life at Down House in Kent, England, where he and his wife Emma raised their 10 children and Darwin refined his theories on natural selection.

Among the artifacts is Darwin's original magnifying glass; one of only 27 original pages still existing from his manuscript for On the Origin of Species; the actual letter inviting him to join the Beagle expedition; and the tiny pistol and Bible he carried on the voyage. Displays include stuffed examples of the birds Darwin observed - from a variety of finches and a blue-footed booby of the Galapagos to a South American hummingbird and pigeons of all shapes and hues. A replica of his Down House study, containing artifacts from the late 19th century, transports the visitor to the place where Darwin spent much of his time in the last 40 years of his life (1809-1882) honing his observations on the natural world and writing his revolutionary scientific treatise.

But it is not just Darwin the scientist, Darwin the revolutionary thinker that the exhibition sets out to present, says Chris Darling, senior curator of natural history at the ROM.

As curator of this new exhibition, Darling wants visitors to get to know Charles Darwin the man.

"Darwin was an interesting guy; he was an interesting person and, in fact, he wasn't some sort of automaton scientist," Darling explains. "He had some of the same fears, some of the same foibles, a lot of the same concerns that we all have about family, friends, about his stature in the scientific community."

"These were all things that he was grappling with, ill-health as well, and with all these concerns there was still a very methodical program to document what he thought was - and rightly so - his theory, the noting of the causal explanation for natural evolution, that being natural selection."

Darling, an entomologist whose favourite part of the exhibition is that dealing with Darwin's insect collections, said historians know a great deal about the naturalist because of his voluminous correspondence. Over the years, he exchanged letters with more than 2,000 people.

"He sat in that chair and wrote letters for a good part of most of his days with all of the scientists throughout the world," says Darling, casting his eyes towards the replica study located mid-way through the exhibition.

"You can see the development of his idea. Now with e-mail, we don't have any of that," he says, musing on what the ephemeral nature of today's electronic correspondence will mean for future historians.

In fact, it was more than 20 years after his voyage on the Beagle that Darwin reluctantly published his theories on the "transmutation" of species, later dubbed evolution.

So fearful was he of the reaction to his views, that even before going public, Darwin was reticent about discussing his conclusions with friends, confiding in his writings that it was akin to "confessing to murder."

And when he did finally lay out his arguments, it shook Victorian society to the core.

"There was a huge negative reaction and he knew that was going to happen, because of the prevailing view at the time," says Darling, referring to the widespread belief that life began with divine intervention, and all the Earth's creatures had remained in the same immutable form since creation.

"The other thing that he also knew, and it perhaps is as important as the public reception, was the reception by his wife because she was extremely devout," he says.

"In his correspondence you can see that this weighed heavily on him."

ROM director and CEO William Thorsell says Darwin still creates controversy to this day.

The museum has no outside sponsor for the exhibition, he says, because it was quietly made clear by prospective backers that "Darwin's too hot to handle."

The 19th-century naturalist's theories on evolution continue to be dismissed by some, most notably religious fundamentalists.

"It's an interesting fact that in 2008 in Canada, as happened in the United States with sponsorship as well, there is resistance to getting too close to Darwin because of the excitation that Darwin is still able to create," Thorsell says.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Actor Ben Stein stumps for evolution bills


The Florida Family Policy Council brought out star power to tout its support for legislation that proponents say would protect public school teachers who criticize or question Darwinism and critics say would lead to religious lessons on creationism at the expense of science.

Wearing a black suit and tan sneakers, actor Ben Stein strode to a podium in the House office building during a news conference Wednesday and likened the situation for teachers and scientists who challenge Darwinism to the struggle of African Americans' during segregation.

"Let us all debate. Let us think. Let us be open to new ideas and new thoughts. We don't see that happening now unfortunately in many parts of the academic world," Stein said. "The Darwinists, and the neo-Darwinists in particular, have become more Darwinist than Darwin in the sense that they will not permit any question of Darwin."

The policy council's news conference also featured a short video introduction to Stein's documentary film challenging mainstream science, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Lawmakers will view tonight in a screening that is closed to the media. Media will not be be given a chance to view the film until April, said John Stemberger, president of the policy council's lobbying arm, Florida Family Action.

The so-called Academic Freedom Act gives public school teachers "a right to present scientific information relevant the full range of views on biological and chemical origins."

It does not "concern itself with Intelligent Design" or promote teaching "alternative theories," Stemberger said.

"Evolution should be taught in schools, but it should be taught in both the scientific strengths and weaknesses," he added.

A lawyer lobbying with the group said "Intelligent Design" would be considered a "scientific explanation."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida blasted the legislation in a statement Wednesday.

"Allowing schools to masquerade Intelligent Design as science would be a blunder and an embarrassment for the Florida Legislature," wrote Howard Simon, Florida's ACLU director.

The evolution battle began in Florida when the state Board of Education voted in February that evolution should be taught as "a scientific theory."

The decision pleased few involved in the debate: members of the science community said calling it a theory eroded its significance, and those in the religious community said it didn't do enough to allow the teaching of creationism.

In March, bills were filed in both the Senate and House paving the way for teachers to address Intelligent Design in class, that they cannot be punished for questioning evolution, and that students cannot be punished for their views.

The bills are sponsored by Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, in the House, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, in the Senate.

"Our teachers need to be able to stand before their students and lead them in an intellectual analysis of Darwin's theory without fear of harassment," Hays said at the news conference.

The introduction to Stein's film shows a series of provocative images as he narrates.

A fetus appears on the screen as Stein talks about Darwinists who want people to believe humans are the result of a clash between mud and lightening. The intro also uses footage of Adolph Hitler to demonstrate what Stein views as a stifling of free speech. Stein interviews scientists complaining about being ostracized for challenging Darwinism. And all the while he writes Do Not Question Darwinism Authority on a chalkboard over and over again like a punished student.

Stein ends the video introduction with a nod to his role as a dull school teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "Will anyone be left to fight this battle?" he asks. "Anyone? Anyone?"

-- Carol E. Lee

Tying Their Shrews


Those scurrilous evolutionists at Yale's Peabody Museum show how all life is connected.

By Vivian Nereim

Charles Darwin turns 200 next year—Happy birthday, dude!—and the Peabody Museum of Natural History is getting excited. You would think that a couple centuries would have kicked the last bit of dust over the grave of "intelligent design," but sadly, it ain't so. The people at the Peabody still have some convincing to do, and that's where Travels in the Great Tree of Life, a multimedia exhibit curated by evolutionary biologist, Yale professor and Peabody Director Michael Donoghue, comes in.

The greatest slap in the face to creationism at the Peabody right now is no longer the looming dinosaur bones. It's two funny-looking animals with spindly legs, rat tails, long wiggly noses and wide black eyes. They are "elephant shrews"—brothers, to be exact—on loan from the Smithsonian National Zoo for the next year. The shrews are the keystone of the Tree of Life exhibit. They are also adorable. And unlike most animals in the Peabody, they are alive.

Tree of Life is based on the concept of phylogeny, loosely defined as the study of how things are related to one another. Throw that whole kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus-species thing you memorized in high school out the window. Recent developments in the field of phylogeny are "revising the nomenclature of life," says Donoghue. Phylogeny is "turning the world upside-down as we know it," he says. "Many of the things we used to teach are outmoded." Furthermore, says Donoghue, phylogeny and creationism are "diametrically opposed."

So when Donoghue tells you that "we are more closely related to a mushroom than a corn plant," he doesn't mean you were fathered by a Shitake. (A common creationist misconception is the idea that, if evolutionists are right, then your great-great-ad infinitum-grandfather was a monkey.) Rather, it means that humans share a more recent common ancestor with mushrooms than with corn plants.

Phylogeny is full of fun surprises. An earthworm is more closely related to a clam than an insect. The dinosaur and the hummingbird share a common ancestor, demonstrated in the Tree of Life exhibit by a massive Albertosaurus skull with a teensy tiny humming bird hanging inside its mouth. The elephant shrews are, as their name suggests, closely related to the elephant, yet the museum needs just small glass boxes not a whole other building, to house them. Their big bendy noses do look like trunks when you think about it. (One brother is fittingly named "Cyrano.") Just how fast the field of phylogeny is expanding is demonstrated by the fact that the plaque describing the elephant shrew was already outdated at a press preview of the exhibit on Feb. 14. It identified 15 species of elephant shrew, but in the week after it was installed, a new species was discovered in eastern Africa, edging that number up to 16.

Phylogeny doesn't just demonstrate that things are alike, though. Genetics cuts both ways, and just as often, plants or animals previously assumed to be closely related are not. Two live plants on display as part of the exhibit are an example of this—they sure look alike, but Mary Kate and Ashley they are not. "You can be fooled by appearances," explains Donoghue. Phylogeny isn't just about rarities, either. The practical applications of the knowledge displayed in the Tree of Life exhibit are many, from agriculture to medicine. Particularly reactive to poison ivy? The plant has a common ancestor with the mango, explaining why many people who are allergic to poison ivy react badly to mangos, too.

The many treasures the exhibit holds—including two different scorpions, also alive, but generally less cuddly and more comatose than the elephant shrews—are designed to give the viewer a sense of the complexity of the biological interconnectedness of life. "I share a common ancestor with my shirt at some point in the past," says Donoghue, referring to the cotton threads woven through his button-down. "It's so mindboggling that people have a hard time getting their brain around it."

From cotton to man, phylogeny connects the most disparate strands of life. Kumbayah, indeed.


Science, religion have separate roles


Regarding the evolution/creation debate: I think science and religion would both benefit by simply minding their own business.

For example, scientific inquiry can't resolve moral issues or ever determine nature's ultimate "first cause." On the other hand, creationism doesn't even begin to qualify as a legitimate scientific theory.

The best that proponents of Intelligent Design can do is point out the gaps in our current state of knowledge and then claim that these present-day mysteries constitute evidence of divine intervention. But by invoking supernatural causation, creationists effectively excuse themselves from any burden of proof and so end up explaining nothing about how the material world actually works.

The late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould often spoke of the equally important, yet essentially separate roles of science and religion. This strikes me as a reasonable position that hard-core atheists and religious fundamentalists alike would do well to consider.

Alan Pendleton

Binghamton The future is asparagus http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_2766457.html?menu=news.quirkies

A Worcester fortune-teller claims she can tell people's futures by using asparagus.

Jemima Packington throws asparagus spears onto the floor and makes predictions based on how they land. Ms Packington, who calls herself Britain's only "asparamancer", has been showing off her technique at the British Trade and Travel Fair at Birmingham's NEC. She says she stumbled across her asparagus-predicting skills a few years ago by chance, after some stalks fell on the floor and she made a prediction which came true.

She told BBC News: "I can't even remember what prediction I made when I was young but my family went very quiet and it came true and the rest is history." She has even used her gift of asparagus foresight on actor Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the comedy series Black Adder.

The asparagus he threw landed in the shape of a number four. Ms Packington predicted he should grab an opportunity that would present itself.

He reportedly said he felt as if a great burden had been lifted off his shoulders after his mystical encounter.

Prepared Remarks for Florida Academic Freedom Bill Press Conference


Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin is in Florida today participating in a press conference with sponsors of the proposed Academic Freedom Act there. The press conference also featured actor Ben Stein, who will be screening a pre-release version of the film Expelled for Florida legislators tonight. The press conference just concluded, and so here is the text of Luskin's prepared remarks. (Because of limited time, some parts of these remarks may not have been actually delivered.)

Prepared Remarks by Casey Luskin, Discovery Institute, for Press Conference on Florida Academic Freedom Act

March 12, 2008 Talahassee, Florida

Charles Darwin wrote that, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

That's the fundamental premise of the Academic Freedom Bill recently submitted to the Florida State Legislature by Senator Storms and Representative Hays.

Teachers and students should be able to discuss all the scientific evidence relating to Darwin's theory without fear of being harassed or losing their job.

The old Scopes trial-stereotype of teachers fearing persecution for teaching the evidence for evolution has been turned on its head. Today it's the teachers and students who are raising questions about Darwin's theory who are being stifled.

• In Texas, biology teacher Allison Jackson was ordered to stop presenting students with information critical of key aspects of modern Darwinian theory.

• In Washington state, high school biology teacher Roger DeHart was banned from presenting data from mainstream science sources critical of key parts of modern Darwinism. Then he was reassigned from teaching biology altogether.

• In Minnesota, Rodney LeVake was also dismissed from teaching high school biology after expressing doubts about the scientific evidence for Darwin's theory.

More cases of censorship and intimidation will be told in the upcoming documentary Expelled featuring Ben Stein, who we are thankful is able to be here with us today.

The need for this bill in Florida is especially pressing because of the recent adoption by the Florida State Board of Education of one-sided science standards that seem to allow no room for critical thinking about modern evolutionary theory. These dogmatic standards create a legitimate fear among teachers and students that they may be penalized if they try to discuss the scientific weaknesses as well as the strengths of modern Darwinism.

So what does this bill do? Simply put, it guarantees the academic freedom rights of teachers and students to discuss both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution without having to fear being fired or suffering other negative consequences.

It's important to point out that this bill equally protects the rights of all teachers and students, both those who favor Darwin's theory and those who question it.

Evolution proponents commonly complain that some teachers are fearful of presenting the evidence for evolution because of public pressure. This bill protects the rights of those teachers just as much as it protects the rights of teachers who want to present scientific information challenging parts of evolutionary theory.

Predictably, Darwinists are opposing the bill by promoting a lot of misinformation.

First, they are claiming that the bill would sneak religion or creationism into the classroom. Wrong. This bill only protects the teaching of "scientific information," and the bill expressly provides that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine."

Critics of this bill need to read the text of the bill, because it invalidates their fear-mongering.

Some critics have also claimed that the bill is intended to decide the debate over whether intelligent design is science and should be taught. Wrong again.

There are a growing number of scientists at universities and research institutions who believe that intelligent design raises legitimate scientific questions. But that's a debated opinion right now, and this bill does not decide that debate one way or another.

What this bill does decide is that teachers and students should have the right to discuss things currently considered scientific in the classroom even if it happens to be critical of modern Darwinism.

So what are some examples of scientific information that can be discussed under this bill?

- You could talk about the Cambrian explosion, biology's so-called "Big Bang" where over 500 million years ago nearly all of the major animal phyla appear in the same level of the fossil record without any clear evolutionary precursors.

- Or you might discuss the scientists who believe that the practical contribution of evolutionary biology to science is minimal. In the words of National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell, "None of the great discoveries in biology and medicine over the past century depended on guidance from Darwinian evolution--it provided no support."

- Or you might talk about the failure of Darwinian natural selection and random mutation to account for much of the highly-ordered complexity we see in biology, a failure admitted by many evolutionists themselves. For example, National Academy of Sciences biologist Lynn Margulis has acknowledged that "new mutations don't create new species; they create offspring that are impaired."

So what else is the opposition saying to this bill? Well, Florida Citizens for Science went so far as to call academic freedom, "smelly crap."

Academic freedom is not "smelly crap." It's the foundation of a free society.

Unfortunately, current proponents of evolution don't seem to understand that fact.

Again, they could learn something from Charles Darwin himself: "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Posted by John West on March 12, 2008 9:49 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Indians blinded looking for vision of Mary


KOTTAYAM, India, March 11 (UPI) -- Reports in India of a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary in the sky have led about 50 people to blind themselves by staring at the sun.

The visions are said to appear over the former home of a hotel owner in the Kottayam area in southeast India, The Daily Telegraph reported. One hospital in the district reported 48 patients had been admitted with burned retinas since last week, the British newspaper reported.

Churches have warned their congregations that looking at the sun will cause permanent blindness and have told them the supposed miracle is not one.

Before moving out, the hotel owner reportedly had also claimed to have statues of the Virgin Mary that cried honey and bled oils and perfumes.

Actor wants challenges to evolution taught in Florida schools


Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 ASSOCIATED PRESS

Actor Ben Stein wants Florida schools to teach challenges to evolution in science classes.

Stein played a boring teacher in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" but has no expertise in science. He was scheduled to appear at a news conference today with conservative religious lawmakers supporting the legislationin Tallahassee.

It was introduced in response to new science standards that for the first time use the term "evolution" instead of such terms "as changes over time" for the scientific theory. They also require teaching evolution in more detail.

Scientists and teachers say the new standards will help students improve their education and better prepare for high-tech jobs. Many religious groups say evolution goes against biblical teaching.

Turkey's survival of the fittest


The Islamic anti-Darwinism movement in Turkey is being helped by an unlikely source - US Christian conservatives, Dorian Jones writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Dorian L Jones in Istanbul for ISN Security Watch (12/03/08)

War makes strange bed fellows, especially in Turkey, where a dispute over creationism vs Darwinism has created an unusual alliance between the country's Islamists and conservative Christians in the US.

Darwin's Theory of Evolution, in layman's terms, proposes that life descended from organisms through "survival of the fittest." Creationism holds that life was created by an all-knowing being, that is, God.

Creationism advocates from the US traveled to Istanbul May 2007 to meet with their counterparts, seeking to galvanize their link in the fight to bring creationism to schools and universities in their respective countries. The meeting was endorsed by Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbas, a member of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"There are outstanding figures within Islamic theology who have participated in this discussion [of creationism]. There is no reason to be surprised, there is a very rich tradition," David Berlinski, keynote speaker for the meeting and an analyst for the US-based Discovery Institute, a Christian creationist organization, told ISN Security Watch.

"This is a hot issue. We are in the midst of a worldwide religious revival. Historians 500 years from now will talk about the religious revival of the late 20th century and early 21st century."

The meeting appeared to be well received by the audience of college and high school students, drawn from the city's elite education institutions.

"Darwinism is, of course, against Muslim belief system as well," Ayse Sayman, a 20-year-old student at Istanbul's Bosphorus University told ISN Security Watch. "That is why it makes sense that it is debated here as well. And counter-arguments should be developed to the theory. That is why I am interested in this."

Planting the seed in fertile minds

The May meeting is part of a growing battle for the hearts and minds of Turkey's youth. In fact, conference organizer Mustafa Akyol told ISN Security Watch, in Turkey the creationism-evolution debate is more extensive than it is anywhere in the world.

Akyol is also a member of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, established by Fethullah Gulen, leader of a wealthy Islamic sect that bears his name, the Gulen Movement. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile after fleeing charges of subverting the state, or more specifically, of attempting to "undermine secularism" in Turkey. After long trial, he was acquitted in 2006 but the case has since been reopened, despite the fact that he is said to actually be in the good graces of the current government.

Gulen has an influential network of TV and newspaper interests in Turkey along with close ties to the government. It is rumored he even has the ear of Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

The Gulen Movement, along with other creationist advocates, has been lobbying with increasing success for school textbooks to put creationism on equal footing with Darwinism.

Their efforts are causing increasing concern among Turkey's academic community. Last year, 600 academics presented a petition to the Education Ministry citing alarm over the growing presence of creationist ideas in biology text books.

"Here it explains how life evolved, this part is quite scientific, but then right after that, it starts with the creationist ideas. This should really not be in a scientific book, because this is a religious view," Molecular biology professor Asla Tolon told ISN Security Watch as she perused a state biology textbook.

Tolon, a professor at Bosphorus University, has been monitoring what she says is the encroachment of creationist ideas in school textbooks, which she says is leading her students to increasingly challenge the basic tenets of biology.

"Students sometimes get the idea that I am trying to teach them my own personal views, but this is not [true], because evolution is one of the basic theories," she said.

Teachers caught in between

Education Minister Huseyin Celik, an AKP member, said he has an open mind over the debate about evolution, but in 2005, the Ministry reportedly suspended five teachers for advocating evolution too strongly.

As the battle for ideas deepens they are finding themselves increasingly caught in the middle.

"In my school three out of five science teachers only teach creationism and I face pressure from them everyday. They also try to turn the children against us in their classes, saying we are atheists," a teacher told ISN Security Watch on the condition of anonymity.

"There are also religious groups who are always giving out creationist material both outside and inside school premises. These people also send petitions to the authorities complaining about teachers who support evolution. The pro-Islamic-controlled local authorities send faxes telling headmasters to send children to creationism meetings," she said.

The Turkish-based Knowledge Research Foundation, part of the Harun Yahya Islamic sect, is also at the forefront of the fight to promote creationism in schools.

"Evolution is a theory that has collapsed in scientific terms. Countless branches of science, such as genetics, microbiology and paleontology, have revealed that the claims of Darwinism are invalid," Adnan Oktan, the Foundation's leader, told ISN Security Watch.

"The reason why evolution is still espoused in the face of this scientific defeat is ideological. What science reveals is that the universe and life are the work of Allah."

Oktan's group distributed free copies of "The Atlas of Creation," a weighty and expensively produced 700-page textbook that claims to be scientifically based. The book says that Darwinism is "flawed" and that "God created the world." The Atlas was also sent to French, UK and Scandinavian schools and universities. A copy was also sent to ISN Security Watch.

Harun Yahya members regularly distribute creationist DVDs and literature at Turkish schools. In shopping malls across the country, they organize attractive and colorful exhibitions with displays of fossils and models of dinosaurs standing next to humans, with the message "God created the world." Young men dressed in sharp suits hand out leaflets warning that Darwinism is "corrupting children's minds."

"Our scientific activities revealing the false nature of the theory of evolution are having a profound impact all over the world. Twenty years ago, 80 percent of people in Turkey believed in evolution, but nowadays nearly 90 percent of the public believe in creation," Oktan told ISN Security Watch.

With a little help from their friends

Much of the material Oktan's members use draws heavily on the writings of US-based creationist organizations.

The involvement of US Christian groups in Turkey in the battle against Darwinism has a long history. In 1985, the Dallas-based Institute of Creation Research collaborated with the then-Turkish government to introduce creationism into the country's school curriculum.

According to Dr Ozgur Genc, a professor at Bosphorus University and a leading opponent of creationism, its introduction was part of a wider state policy called the "Turkish Islamic synthesis."

The country's military rulers at the time, who had seized power in a 1980 coup, wanted to encourage religion to undermine the then-strong support in the country for left-wing ideas.

"They purged universities and high schools of thousands of liberal-minded teachers, replacing them with more religiously minded people. This opened the way to include creation in the curriculum," Genc told ISN Security Watch.

But Genc's opponents see the controversy as an indication that Turkey is becoming a more tolerant and open society.

"The secular camp has a very old idea of westernization in which it says religion is fully incompatible with modern life. But the West left that idea behind decades ago. I think through this debate we will have a more healthy Turkey," Akyol told ISN Security Watch.

"Over time we are steadily progressing towards a stage in which we can have a pluralistic society, in which the faithful, the people with a headscarf, the people with a mini-skirt [...] can all live together in a society. And when we reach that I think it will be a good example to the Muslim world."

But critics, such as the teacher interviewed by ISN Security Watch, argue that the methods being employed by Islamic creationist advocates raise questions about how tolerant a future Turkish society would be if the country's Islamic movement has its way.

"Of course, all teachers like myself worry about what can happen to our careers and lives, but I am not afraid. I will keep on struggling to teach evolution and not religion in my science classes[...] I believe it is the right of children to have a science-based education."

Dorian L Jones is an Istanbul-based correspondent reporting for ISN Security Watch. He has covered events in northern Iraq, Turkey and Cyprus. He is also a radio documentary producer.

Dolphin Therapy Smells Fishy

http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/livescience/sc_livescience/byline/dolphintherapysmellsfishy/26679144/SIG=10sog4vj6/*http://www.livescience.com Christopher Wanjek
LiveScience Bad Medicine Columnist
LiveScience.comWed Mar 12, 9:15 AM ET

For some physically and mentally handicapped children, swimming with dolphins is a dream come true. That dream is shared by a multi-million dollar industry that provides so-called dolphin-assisted therapy for a few thousand dollars per session.

For the dolphins, the interactions with humans tend to be a nightmare.

Yet while laboratory animal are at least poked and prodded for some good for humankind, interacting with dolphins provides no long-term human health benefits and is largely an unproven therapy that can cheat patients out of real treatment, according to two recent studies.

Reason for depression

Dolphin-assisted therapy emerged in the 1970s as a possible treatment for depression and later as a means to help children with autism and other mental and physicals disorders. It is a therapy founded on good intentions.

One of the earliest advocates was John Lilly, the notorious California counterculture M.D. who, after heavy doses of LSD, claimed to communicate with dolphins - and aliens, for that matter. Although Lilly hoped the slaughter of whales would end once humans understood how smart the creatures were, his work ultimately nurtured a feel-good industry that now supports the violent harvesting of dolphins from the wild - which kills many in the process and forces the survivors into captivity, where they are fed a diet of dead fish and must frolic before an audience thrice daily to the tune of "R-O-C-K in the USA."

Anecdotal evidence abounds on the Internet of dolphins making children feel better. Only one peer-reviewed study, however, from 2005, supports dolphin-assisted therapy, and this was a weak study at that. Published in the British Medical Journal, the study documented 25 adults with mild depression who were flown to Honduras for two weeks to either enjoy the beaches and play with dolphins, or just enjoy the beaches.

Remarkably, all the patients felt less depressed, but the 13 patients who played with dolphins were slightly less depressed than the 12 patients stuck with just a free vacation.

Fishy studies

Admittedly, it is tough to pull off a classic, placebo-controlled study on dolphin-assisted therapy. Patients tend to know whether they are swimming with dolphins or, say, squid dressed like dolphins. If they can't tell the difference, then there's no fixing their depression.

Nevertheless, this was the strongest study in favor of dolphin-assisted therapy, according to a review by Anna Baverstock and Fiona Finlay of the Community Child Health Department in Bath, England, in a paper to be published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, now available online.

Baverstock and Finlay conducted the review because a mother was seeking medical support for her son, and they needed to determine whether swimming with dolphins had any health benefits for children with cerebral palsy. The answer was no, or at best, dolphins were as equally effective at making children feel better as puppies, warm beaches or clowns.

Similarly, in September 2007 in the journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology, Lori Marino and Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University analyzed five studies supporting the use of dolphin-assisted therapy and found major methodological flaws in each one. The studies were either too small, prone to some obvious bias, or offered no long-term perspective.

Squeaking by

Two legitimate studies, however, provide some evidence that dolphins can affect human health, in theory. The more recent one comes from a Japanese group, published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science in 2006. The scientists found that dolphins increase their vocalizations when interacting with people and that this form of sonar, called echolocation, can penetrate the human body.

This complements work by a German group, published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in 2003, which found that echolocation could have an effect on biological tissue under some circumstances if repeated over several days or weeks. Just what the effect would be is unclear and, nevertheless, 80 percent of the dolphin-therapy sessions the scientists analyzed didn't reach this level of interaction.

As the obscure journal titles might reveal, this is all fringe science. It may be that we are merely charmed by the dolphin's Joker-like smile, which of course isn't a smile but rather the natural shape of its mouth that fools us into thinking they like us.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books "Bad Medicine" and "Food At Work." Got a question about Bad Medicine? Dolphin Therapy Smells Fishy

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Actor Ben Stein urges state lawmakers to pass 'academic freedom' bill


By Bill Cotterell • news-press.com Tallahassee bureau political editor • March 12, 2008

TALLAHASSEE — Actor and social activist Ben Stein visited Florida's capitol today, urging lawmakers to pass an "academic freedom" bill that would protect teachers and students from questioning evolution under newly adopted science curriculum standards.

Stein also joined John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council, and Casey Luskin, a lawyer from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, in defending a private screening of Stein's new film that has been arranged tonight for legislators. They showed a brief preview of the film, in which Stein recounts his meetings with teachers and scientists who have been shunned for questioning evolutionary theory.

Screening of the film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" was arranged for legislators, spouses and staff members at the IMAX theater of the Challenger Learning Center a block from the Capitol tonight. The House general counsel said the showing does not fall under the state's gift-ban law, because the film company does not lobby the Legislature, nor under Florida's open-meeting law -- as long as legislators don't discuss pending legislation.

Two bills by Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, would forbid school districts or state authorities to punish teachers or students in any way for raising questions about evolution. Stemberger said the new law is needed because of "dogmatic" new science standards adopted by the State Board of Education last month, which allow teaching of evolution as "a theory."

Stein said all scientific approaches ought to be protected in classrooms, not just evolution or creation-based theories.

"This bill is not about teaching intelligent design," said Stein. "It's about freedom of speech."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Science vs. creationism


Scientific community mobilizes defence of evolution

March 11, 2008

I never could understand, as a young television reporter in Saskatchewan, why scientists refused to defend evolution. It was 1980 and a controversy had erupted over creationism being taught in some science classes. I might have been asking scientists to debate the Flat Earth Society, so withering were their responses to my requests for an interview.

Paleontologist David Eberth explained to me last week that scientists used to believe debating the subject would imply creationism and evolution had equal merit.

"After they were done saying what a pile of poo this whole scientific creationism is, [they] basically wiped their hands of it and walked away," said Eberth, a senior research scientist at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta.

Your Interview

Questions about whether God had a role in creating life directly, indirectly, or at all - and even whether there is a God - can inflame debate and passions. Daniel Fairbanks, author of Relics of Eden, a book about the "fossils" in our DNA that show how life evolved, believes no reasonable person who looks at the evidence can deny evolution. Do you have any questions about the fossils in our genetic material? Do you doubt someone can accept evolution and believe in God? If you have a question for Dr. Fairbanks, post it here.

Big mistake. Being left with the ring to itself, creationism reinvented itself as intelligent design, with the claim that life is too complex to have developed randomly. Now, said Eberth, the science community is seeing "the negative education, political and socio-economic fallout for not engaging."

In books, in editorials, in speeches and on the internet, scientists are now defending evolution on any platform they can get. What's got them so rattled?

"It's the threat to science," said Daniel Fairbanks, author of the new book Relics of Eden.

The Brigham Young University geneticist — and Christian — writes that creationists and advocates of intelligent design "have successfully promoted history's most sophisticated and generously funded attack on science, claiming that evolution, human evolution in particular, is a 'theory in crisis.'"

Far from being a "theory in crisis," evolution is a fact.

In the 149 years since the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, scientists have uncovered a veritable Noah's flood of fossil and DNA proof that species evolved.

The evidence is, oh… pick a superlative: overwhelming, irrefutable, incontrovertible, up there with the earth is round and revolves around the sun.

Yet Christian creationism — the belief that the Bible is literally true — isn't just holding its ground in the face of all that evidence. It's seizing new territory, or so Eberth, Fairbanks and many others fear.

In Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas and elsewhere, Fairbanks writes, a powerful Christian fundamentalist movement conducts an "ongoing assault on science … whose political objectives are to cast doubt on the reality of evolution and to restrict or dilute it in the science curricula of public schools."

Science consistently wins in the courts. The most recent triumph was the 2005 decision against the Dover, Pennsylvania school district, where the courts ruled intelligent design was religion, not science. And ruled it unconstitutional.

Yet despite winning those battles, science is losing the war, according to Eberth. "We have a whole generation of kids in the U.S. who are having this stuff pumped down their throats," he said.

Evolution not in the curriculum

In Canada, the debate is less noisy. In fact, you might not be aware there is a debate.

Still, I was floored when Banff resident Scott Rowed, a member of the Centre for Inquiry, told me his daughter graduated from Grade 12 in Alberta without ever hearing the word "evolution."

"The underpinnings of our life sciences courses, our curriculum, are all based on the assumptions of evolution," said the Alberta Department of Education's Kathy Telfer. But evolution itself is not part of the core curriculum in most Canadian schools.

"It's not unheard of, in fact [it] may be quite common, for students to go through their entire public education without hearing about evolution," Jason Wiles of McGill University's Evolution Education Research Centre told me.

What else worries scientists?

Consider the ascent of Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and for several startling months a serious challenger for the Republican presidential nomination. A creationist, he suggested the U.S. constitution should be amended "so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."

And survey after survey has found roughly half of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, in a single act, within the last 10,000 years.

Only 22 % of Canadians hold that opinion, according to an Angus Reid poll published last June. Curiously, the same poll found 42 per cent of us agree with the creationist belief that we co-existed with dinosaurs.

In Europe, people used to scratch their heads over the furious evolution debate in the United States. Now they have their own alarums and excursions. The creationists have opened so many fronts that last fall a study by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe warned, "If we are not careful, the values that are the very essence of the Council of Europe will be under direct threat from creationist fundamentalists."

It's not just a blossoming Christian fundamentalism that alarms the council. It's also Islamic scientific creationism. The report describes how a Turkish book titled The Atlas of Creation had been sent to schools in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain. The author, Islamist preacher Harun Yahya, calls Darwinism a "ruse of Satan," which, he writes, "is collapsing and causing panic in the Darwinian global empire."

Science takes the offensive

Panic? No. Major concern? Yes.

Enough so that scientists are sending out a stream of books, lectures, and editorials explaining, demonstrating, defending evolution, including in January alone:

And Daniel Fairbanks published Relics of Eden. "There really is a movement going on here," he told me from his Utah office.

Fossils and DNA hold the proof

If fossils hadn't so thoroughly locked up the proof, the evidence Fairbanks presents would finish the job. For our evolutionary history is written in our DNA.

As an undergraduate exploring for fossils in his geology class, Fairbanks had already had to rethink his deeply religious upbringing. Accepting the story the fossils told "was a change in my world view," he said.

As a geneticist, he now studies a different kind of fossil. But the story they tell is the same.

These "relics" of our evolutionary past are segments of DNA, mutations, apparently redundant, which have accumulated over time and now clutter up the genomes of humans and other species.

"Each relic, we presume, was inherited from a common ancestor," Fairbanks told me. "The closer they are, then the more recent the common ancestor of that organism must be, and the more distant they are — that is, the more diverged they are — then the more distant the common ancestor must be."

The sequencing of three primate genomes — human, chimpanzee, and the rhesus macaque — was "a scientific opportunity unlike any that we have ever had before," said Fairbanks.

The chapters that demonstrate how genomes prove the evolutionary relationship may demand concentration from those of us without a degree in biology. Be prepared to learn about transposons, retroelements and pseudogenes. The payoff is in understanding why scientists find the evidence indisputable.

Fairbanks spent a lot of time on the primates because he has found that while many people are willing to believe other species have evolved, they draw the line at humans. "They just can't get beyond the point that we share common ancestry with other animals," he said.

Evolution, atheism and God

Fairbanks is troubled by the dichotomy laid out by two extremes: creationists and atheists. Both make the claim, he said, that you must believe in either evolution or God. You can't believe in both.

He himself has no trouble marrying the two in his personal life, but adds: "If one accepts that dichotomy, then the study of science is frightening. It seems to be something that is the enemy of religion when in fact it is not."

Perhaps atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have done more to damage evolution than to champion it.

In fact, rather than seeing creationists and evolutionists engaging in battle, Fairbanks has embraced the call made by one enthusiastic reviewer of his book for an "intellectual peace corps."

"Say I am a member of it," he told me.

Back in 1980, I finally did find a scientist who thought defending evolution in my news story would be worth his while. Taylor Steen, a biologist and a Christian, told me then that "creationism is bad religion. And it's bad science."

Science and scientists have paid a price for assuming that that simple answer — or none at all — would suffice.

Additional links

There are thousands of other websites where one can pursue these topics. Here are three that are worth exploring:


Eve Savory is a Vancouver-based reporter and science specialist with CBC News. She began her career in radio, transferred to television in the mid-1970s and, since 1981, has been one of The National's top science and health specialists, reporting extensively on environmental topics, health care, space exploration and the fight against AIDS.

Want to Teach Intelligent Design? Put It In a History Class


Stuart Nachbar

March 10, 2008

Stuart Nachbar has been involved in education politics and economic development for two decades as an urbna planner, government affairs manager, software executive, and now as a writer. For more details about his first novel, the Sex Ed Chronicles, please go to www.sexedchronicles.com

In 1980, the Reagan Revolution meant not only a reconsideration of sex education, but also a reconsideration of the theory of evolution. Back then, the alternative theory was called creationism or scientific creationism; today it´s called intelligent design.

I am no scientist, but I have issues with teaching intelligent design as science.

Intelligent design revolves around the idea of an "intelligent designer", some unexplained force that created life, the earth or the universe. The idea of an intelligent designer is explained more thoroughly in history, philosophy and theology than in science.

I can understand why; when an unexplained force is used to explain science, the end-result is science fiction until scientists prove otherwise. That´s their job, and they´ve done it very well. There´s been considerable advancement on Darwin´s theories, since his work, The Origins of Species was first published in 1857.

Until science provides an academic explanation of an "intelligent designer," I would consider intelligent design to be part of the history of scientific thought.

Just as societies once believed the planets in the Solar System revolved around the Earth.

Before Galileo proved otherwise, and he was tried as a heretic and placed under house arrest, because his scientific beliefs were in conflict with the Holy Scripture. The shame was that the Catholic Church did not express regret for their actions until 1992, 350 years after he died.

I do not know of a public school district in America that would not allow discussion of Galileo´s trial to take place in a high school European history or world history class. I also have no doubt that such a discussion would show a defeat for science over the popular public opinion of the 17th century.

Just as I do not know of a public school district that would not allow discussion of the Scopes Trial in a high school American history class.

The Scopes Trial was a triumph of public opinion over science; the laws of the State of Tennessee in 1925 prevailed over the testimony of scientists´ expert on evolution. John Thomas Scopes, the biology teacher on trial, was found guilty of breaking the law. He was not fired, only fined for his actions, although he never paid the fine and he never taught high school again.

It´s interesting, in both cases science lost to religion under the laws, philosophy and theology of the times. A man´s reputation suffered in the short term, past beliefs of a society remained challenged, but scientific inquiry moved forward.

That´s the main lesson; science is about investigation, not about accepting gospel as the answer for the unexplained. We live in a time when we are asking for scientific advancement and more science educators, yet we find politicians who want to see a non-scientific explanation for human development taught in public school science classes.

That´s confusing to me, is it confusing to you?

I can only hope those politicians, if elected to an executive chair, as governor or president, do not use evolutionary beliefs as a litmus test to appoint advisors or judges.

This would be a giant step backward for scientific inquiry, at a time we need it the most to provide thoughtful explanation and innovations to better manage natural resources and invigorate economies.

I have no issue with discussing intelligent design in the context of a history, philosophy or theology class; it has its place in those debates and there are many historical facts available for discussion. However, it should not be part of a science class, until it is proven as science.

I only hope the teachers fit Galileo´s trial into that curriculum too.

It provides great lessons for conservative politicians to learn–on how not to treat science and scientific inquiry.

Beth Leuck: Biologists not always good at communicating


March 11, 2008

The 1967 movie, "Cool Hand Luke," contains a well-known line, "What we have here ... is failure to communicate." Watching and listening to the public reaction after the Darwin Day talk by Dr. Barbara Forrest (author of "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design") at Centenary College makes me conclude that biologists fail to communicate not only the language of our profession but also how far our knowledge of biological phenomena extends.

Some fraction of this communication problem can be traced to just how difficult it is for even the most intelligent non-scientist to interpret the language of scientific research. For example, in a 2007 paper published in the journal Genome Biology, the eight authors report data from a study on the similarities of human and chimpanzee DNA.

Following is a quote: "A first conclusion of our analysis is that divergence is lower for genes located in rearranged chromosomes than for those in colinear chromosomes.

"We also report that non-coding regions within rearranged regions tend to have lower divergence than non-coding regions outside them."

That information makes perfect sense to a molecular biologist, but it borders on nonsensical to just about everyone else.

I had to read the paper several times and look up a few terms before I understood the authors' conclusions. In a nutshell, their results add to the large body of evidence that humans and chimpanzees share overwhelmingly similar, but not identical, DNA. But comprehending this vast body of evidence would be a daunting task for anyone not intimately familiar with it, including me.

How much easier if the evidence could be condensed to a few statements in plain English, but our biological knowledge and the techniques at biologists' disposal are so far advanced that a failure to communicate between research biologists and the public is inevitable.

So let's try something easier — communicating the scientific meaning of two terms that are tossed around casually by the general public. One term is evolution itself. Biologists define evolution as a change in allele frequency in a population over time.

Did that help you understand evolution any better? Probably not, thereby failing to communicate scientific meaning. Alleles are different forms of a gene, and a gene is a sequence of DNA in a chromosome. Now I should explain the structure and function of a gene, DNA, a chromosome, what I mean by a "sequence," and probably what a population is.

And when I try to define those terms so that an intelligent person can understand them, there will be a caveat associated with each one, or another biologist will define them slightly differently.

These problems surface during talks on evolution, and the complexity of the data supporting evolution does not lend itself to quick sound bites that are easily digested by most audiences, leading to — you guessed it — a failure to communicate.

The second term that is used differently by scientists than it is by non-scientists is "theory," as in "evolution is nothing but a theory." When I hear someone describe evolution that way, my response is, "thank you; you are correct." Scientists define a theory as an explanation that is broad in scope, has been tested repeatedly and is applicable over a wide range of phenomena.

The strongest word that can be used to describe a biological phenomenon is the word theory, making "the theory of evolution" the most powerful scientific explanatory mechanism for which we biologists have evidence.

Those of us in science can choose to live in a world that is not accessible to non-scientists, or we can try to rectify our failure to communicate. Centenary College supports the latter and encourages its science faculty to communicate the intricacies and excitement of science with the intelligent, inquisitive young adults we are fortunate to have in our classrooms.

Beth E. Leuck is a professor at Centenary College in the department of biology.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oldest Primate Fossil in North America Discovered


John Roach for National Geographic News

March 3, 2008

A newly found species small enough to fit in the palm of a hand is North America's oldest known primate, according to a new study.

Christopher Beard, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently discovered fossils of the 55-million-year-old creature on the Gulf Coastal Plain of Mississippi.

Named Teilhardina magnoliana, the animal is related to similarly aged fossils from China, Europe, and Wyoming's Big Horn Basin.

"They are very, very primitive relatives of living primates called tarsiers, which live today in Southeast Asia," Beard said.

But the layer of rock in which the new fossils were found raises the controversial possibility that primates appeared in North America before their close relatives showed up in Europe, as previous studies had suggested, Beard added.

A paper on the find appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(The research was sponsored in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

Land Bridge Crossing

The discovery suggests that Teilhardina primates migrated to North America across the Bering land bridge from Asia, Beard said. Then the creatures proceeded to Europe across an Atlantic land bridge that emerged thousands of years later.

Previous research had suggested the primates reached the Americas via a westward route instead, from Asia through Europe. But that path was submerged at the time the primates show up in ancient Mississippi, Beard said.

At that time, the world was undergoing an ancient global warming event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM. Many scientists believe the PETM is analogous to what the world is experiencing today due to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Unlike today, however, there were no polar ice caps. In fact, sea levels were falling as Earth's shifting landmasses opened up huge ocean basins. (Related: "Volcanic Activity Triggered Deadly Prehistoric Warming" [April 26, 2007].)

T. magnoliana dates to a time before sea levels had fallen enough for primates to cross over to North America from Europe, Beard said.

"We know the sea level was high when our fossil primates lived in Mississippi, because the actual bed that yielded our fossils is a marine bed," he noted.

Most of the fossils at the site were shark teeth and similar objects. The primate's skeleton, he said, likely washed into the shallow estuary from the coastline.

A second fossil bed in a higher layer was laid down by a river or stream, not an ocean, indicating that sea level continued to fall after the primate fossils were deposited, Beard added.

The same sea-level imprints are found in the rock section where Teilhardina was found in Europe. This indicates that Teilhardina arrived there after the sea level had dropped.

"So we know the Teilhardina fossils we're finding in Mississippi are older than the ones that have been found in Europe and along with that they are anatomically more primitive," Beard said.

Data Questioned

Philip Gingerich is a paleontologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He argued in a 2006 PNAS study that ancient primates migrated to North America via Europe.

Gingerich's study was based largely on comparison of carbon isotope signatures from the fossil beds where the ancient primates were found in Europe, Asia, and Wyoming. Scientists use the signatures to identify and date events within the PETM.

Beard acknowledges that his study lacks an appropriate carbon isotope signature.

Gingerich said the missing data makes Beard's claims impossible to validate.

Sea level rose and fell several times during the PETM, making geologic markings difficult to interpret, Gingerich added.

"We're talking about events here that could be separated by as little as 10 or 15 or 20 thousand years," he said.

But though Beard has been unable to find the carbon isotope record at his site in Mississippi, he said he has found an aquatic microorganism that is associated with the record. That, combined with the other geologic evidence, makes him confident in his result.

Tropical Climate

T. magnoliana is best suited to live in hot, muggy climates, Beard added.

So scientists can infer that even the northern reaches of North America were forested, warm, and wet when these creatures migrated across the Bering land bridge, Beard said.

If T. magnoliana indeed predates the Teilhardina find in Wyoming, it would also indicate the primates stuck to the coasts for tens of thousands of years before the climate changed enough for them to migrate inland.

"It took time for the North American ecosystems, especially in the interior part of the continent, to kind of adapt to this big warming event," Beard said.

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Cool View of Science at Meeting on Warming


March 4, 2008
Reporter's Notebook

Several hundred people sat in a fifth-floor ballroom at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square on Monday eating pasta and trying hard to prove that they had unraveled the established science showing that humans are warming the world in potentially disruptive ways.

One challenge they faced was that even within their own ranks, the group — among them government and university scientists, antiregulatory campaigners and Congressional staff members — displayed a dizzying range of ideas on what was, or was not, influencing climate.

On Sunday night, the dinner speaker was Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist with a paid position at the antiregulatory Cato Institute who says humans are warming the climate — he projects a three-degree Fahrenheit warming by 2100 — but disputes the value of cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases.

At lunch on Monday, the message from S. Fred Singer, a physicist who runs a group challenging climate orthodoxy, was that climate change was mainly driven by vagaries in the sun.

When asked whether he disagreed with Dr. Michaels's prediction for 21st-century human-driven warming, Dr. Singer said, "I don't make predictions."

The two-day gathering, which concludes Tuesday, was organized by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago group whose antiregulatory philosophy has long been embraced by, and financially supported by, various industries and conservative donors.

Riley E. Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who has studied the influence of conservative policy institutes, said in an e-mail message that such events were designed to foster the impression of "little Davids battling the Goliath of the environmental establishment."

But Dr. Dunlap said such activities were well financed and, "When you have the full support of some of the wealthiest and most powerful political actors in the nation, you can hardly be considered to be underdogs."

The main targets at the meeting were former Vice President Al Gore, who has portrayed global warming as a "planetary emergency," and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has issued four sets of reports assessing the human impact on climate over 20 years.

The latest reports, published last year and embraced by all major nations and scientific academies, concluded that most warming since 1950 has been caused by humans and that centuries of rising temperatures and seas and ecological disruption lay ahead if emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide were not curbed.

At the Heartland meeting, presenters critiqued computer simulations of global climate and the quality of temperature records. Others focused on the societal and economic impact of both climate change and proposed responses, including limits on carbon dioxide. Some speakers focused on past warm periods in which civilization flourished, and cold periods in which people struggled against famine.

A centerpiece of the meeting was a short report by 24 authors, led by Dr. Singer, provocatively described as the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change." Its main conclusion was this: "Our findings, if sustained, point to natural causes and a moderate warming trend with beneficial effects for humanity and wildlife."

Participants repeatedly attacked the idea that there was a consensus on the danger of human influence on climate. Some tried to convey the impression that their view represented an emerging and opposite consensus that humans were not warming the world — or that if they were, it was not a problem.

In the hallway outside the meeting rooms, Kert Davies, a campaigner from Greenpeace, sought out reporters.

"This is the largest convergence of the lost tribe of skeptics ever seen on the face of the earth," Mr. Davies said, pointing to knots of participants. "How does this message of theirs stack up against that of Governor Schwarzenegger, John McCain, G. E., Wal-Mart, and everyone else who's getting on board pushing for change? I'm the skunk at the garden party."

The meeting was largely framed around science, but after the luncheon, when an organizer made an announcement asking all of the scientists in the large hall to move to the front for a group picture, 19 men did so.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Evolution education update: March 7, 2008

Two antievolution bills are introduced in Florida. New Mexicans for Science and Reason's Science Watch show is now available via podcast. And a reminder about the availability of speakers from NCSE.


Senate Bill 2692 was introduced in the Florida State Senate on February 29, 2008, under the rubric of "The Academic Freedom Act," by Ronda Storms (R-District 10). The bill purports to protect the right of teachers to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological origins" and the right of students not to be "penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution." Presumably attempting to avert the charge that it would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the bill also specifies that its provisions "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

Although the bill explicitly states, "The provisions of this section do not require or encourage any change in the state curriculum standards for the K-12 public school system," SB 2692 was introduced to satisfy the demands of Florida creationists disappointed by the state board of education's February 19, 2008, vote to adopt a new set of state science standards in which evolution is presented as a "fundamental concept underlying all of biology." At the blog of Florida Citizens for Science, Brandon Haught wrote, "Chances are that this bill will go nowhere, slipping into a soap opera coma. It's typical grandstanding, and everyone knows it. ... This bill was written in a way to make it way too obvious what the purpose is, and so it won't be taken seriously." But, he added, "It still wouldn't hurt to write to your Florida legislators to let them know what you think of this." A corresponding bill, House Bill 1483, was was introduced in the Florida House of Representatives on March 4, 2008, by D. Alan Hays (R-District 25).

The Tampa Tribune (March 4, 2008) reported that although the chair of the Senate Committee on Education Pre-K-12 hopes to schedule a hearing on SB 2692, "the plan faces plenty of resistance from lawmakers in both parties, who say they are loath to rewrite the teaching standards that the state Board of Education passed last month." Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller (D-District 31) was quoted as saying, "I never thought I'd be in the Florida Senate in the 21st century, still having the same debate about evolution," adding, "I don't care if they say this is 'science,' ... You may find a few quack scientists who say it is, but it isn't." The Tribune (March 4, 2008) also editorially denounced the bill, writing, "If Florida lawmakers really want world-class curriculum, they'll let education experts -- not politicians -- build them." And a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times (March 6, 2008) argued, "reasonable people should ask lawmakers in Tallahassee to keep Florida moving toward enlightenment by tossing out Storms' backward-looking bill."

In a March 6, 2008, blog post, the St. Petersburg Times's Ron Matus investigated whether, as the bills allege, "educators have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution." Hays, the sponsor of HB 1483, was unsure, adducing only the testimony of two teachers who addressed the state board of education and conceding that the bill's language might have to be altered. Citing the National Science Teachers Association's informal survey from 2005, Matus observed, "If surveys are to be believed, though, most of the evolution-related pressure being put on science teachers is aimed at those who want to teach the scientific consensus about evolution, not those who want to teach the 'full range of scientific views' -- which would presumably include the fringe notion that evolution is not backed by strong evidence."

For the text of SB 2692 and HB 1483 (PDF), visit:

For Brandon Haught's comments, visit:

For the Tampa Tribune's story, visit:

For the Tampa Tribune's editorial, visit:

For the column in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:

For Matus's blog post for the St. Petersburg Times, visit:

For the NSTA's report on its survey, visit:

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


Science Watch, sponsored by New Mexicans for Science and Reason, is a weekly science radio show, broadcast on KABQ 1350 AM in the Albuquerque area. But now, with the debut of the Science Watch podcasts, the show is available to everybody with access to the internet. Among the archived episodes relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy are interviews of Barbara Forrest and Kenneth R. Miller, and interviews of Nick Matzke and Pedro Irigonegaray are expected to be added soon.

Co-host M. Kim Johnson explains of the shows, "Almost all have a science story of the week, media fumble (and occasional touchdown), creation corner, science trivia question, and the main event. We try to have fun and still hit the serious stuff. Remember, folks, these are recorded live, so you get to hear the sneezes, uh ohs, and the whole kit and caboodle. Nothing is edited. We take responsibility for our own mistakes, and there are a few -- just to see if you are paying attention."

For information about Science Watch, visit:

For the Science Watch podcast archives, visit:


Here at NCSE, we've just updated our list of available speakers, which now includes our newest staff members, Joshua Rosenau and Anne D. Holden, as well as three members of our board of directors, Barbara Forrest, Kevin Padian, and Andrew J. Petto. As the only national organization that is wholly dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools, NCSE is the perfect place to provide someone to speak to your organization or university about issues relevant to evolution education and attacks on it. So if you need a speaker, please feel free to get in touch with the NCSE office -- if nobody from NCSE is available or suitable, we'll try to find you someone who is!

For a list of NCSE speakers, 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!

Intelligent Design is nonsense, say scientists


7 March 2008

The International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) says that "intelligent design" is neither sound science nor good theology. Intelligent Design theorists do not have proper research programmes to make their points. In fact, what they believe is against science, according to the seven scientists who prepared the statement for the ISSR, a scholarly body devoted to dialogue between science and world faiths.

The whole of the society's membership, many of whom are Christian, were involved in a consultation about the statement. The ISSR says it "greatly values modern science, while deploring efforts to drive a wedge between science and religion."

The ISSR statement said Darwinian natural history did pre-empt some accounts of creation. "However," say the scientists, "in most instances biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels." Intelligent Design is not science and science should not try to elevate itself into a comprehensive worldview."

The International Society for Science & Religion was established in 2002 for the purpose of the promotion of education through the support of inter-disciplinary learning and research in the fields of science and religion conducted where possible in an international and multi-faith context.

The Society took shape after a four-day conference in Granada, Spain, which until the late 15th century was the center of peaceful discourse between scholars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Phillip Clayton, California-based philosopher and theologian:

"What we are hoping for is a cross-fertilization between two of the greatest forces of the human spirit - science and religion."

The late Arthur Peacocke, Church of England priest and physical biochemist at Oxford University :

"As we face the universal claims of science and confront its new challenges together, may we find a common spiritual ground among ourselves."

Bruno Guiderdoni, research director at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics:

"Once our spiritual nature is recognized, how is it possible to bring violence to each other?"

Intelligent Design

ISSR, feeling the need for an authoritative statement on the controversial topic of 'Intelligent Design', has asked a committee of experts among its members to formulate such a statement. The resulting document has been accepted by the Society's Executive Committee, and may be read by clicking here.

Evolution Controversy

ISSR would like to draw attention to a report - "Science, Evolution, and Creationism" - prepared by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S., which we believe provides an important resource for an understanding of evolution by the general public. It can be read online or downloaded by clicking here and following the links to the report.

Religious Reasons for Supporting Science

ISSR believes that people of all the main religious faith traditions have strong reasons for supporting the scientific enterprise. We also believe that these reasons, while they may vary from tradition to tradition, should be articulated as well as possible within each of them. An admirable example of this, in the view of our Executive Committee, is a Pastoral Letter recently circulated within the United Church of Christ, which may be read by clicking here.

Is this reform or regression?


Posted on Thu, Feb. 28, 2008
By BETSY ONEYSpecial to the Star-Telegram

Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel, wrote about reforming education in the Jan. 23 edition of Forbes.com. We should, he said, "shift from knowledge acquisition, which limits learning to rote memorization and parroting back facts." He said we need "knowledge creation," which involves "learning how to learn."

Learning how to learn, says this former university professor, "cultivates skills that are vital for today's knowledge economy -- [skills that include] critical thinking, collaboration, analysis, problem solving, communication and innovation."

Several State Board of Education members, if they go unchecked, will have Texas children spending 13 years on rote memorization and parroting back facts instead of learning. They will lead children out of the future of technology and innovation and take them down a dead-end road.

Not only that, but these SBOE members will recklessly waste the $85,000-plus in taxpayers' money that has been spent to ensure that Texas children get the education, knowledge and skills that Barrett says they will need.

More than two years ago, the state board commissioned the development of a new set of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards. A group of highly qualified and successful teachers collaborated and came up with a document that outlines a rigorous curriculum for Texas' K-12 students. It focuses on what Barrett called "knowledge creation" and "learning how to learn."

It was a huge undertaking, and the product is essentially sound. It was still undergoing final editing for language and organization when the board received a close-to-final draft in January.

But at the last hour, board Chairman Don McLeroy introduced a substitute amendment for the document because, he said, the commissioned draft was unacceptable. This proposal, supported by board members Gail Lowe and David Bradley, had been rejected 10 years earlier by the board because it was not viable or relevant even then.

The amendment, written by a narrow interest group and questionable in its validity, was re-introduced without significant changes, if any. It is a sterling example of "rote memorization and parroting back facts." It is not education reform -- it is education regression.

First, it fails to take into account the needs of a diverse student population with a suggested reading list that is unnecessarily limited in its range. Children who are not yet accomplished and sophisticated readers want and need to see themselves in stories.

The amendment's methods and materials fail to teach "learning how to learn," a skill that becomes increasingly necessary as technology moves us ever faster into the future.

Research has shown time and again that process is what successful teachers teach, and what unsuccessful teachers don't teach. Process is at the core of the commissioned TEKS.

Another basic difference involves the roles of the teacher and students. Under the amendment, the classroom is teacher-centered, with the teacher feeding information and pupils passively receiving it. The commissioned TEKS assumes a student-centered classroom, where the teacher creates or designs a learning situation and the students actively engage in their learning: consuming information, thinking, questioning, analyzing, innovating, creating. The teacher then serves as role model, support or coach.

McLeroy's last-minute introduction of the amendment required teachers, who had been reviewing the commissioned document and were preparing to recommend edits, to spend the little remaining time focusing instead on convincing board members that they are asking for disaster.

Twenty-five teachers testified -- teachers who know firsthand the need for education reform. Their voices were essentially one in their message: The amendment is so flawed, so backward, that it does not warrant consideration. They said that the commissioned proposal should be refined in its language and organization and then adopted.

Even though these teachers were articulate, eloquent and passionate, some SBOE members ignored the testimony, demonstrating that they were uninterested in learning from the experts' knowledge and experience. One member seemed angered by an exceptionally eloquent testimony by one teacher, and she stunned observers when she launched into an unwarranted personal attack on the speaker.

It is one thing for individuals to choose to home-school their children and in so doing to choose methods and materials that they find relevant for themselves. But it is quite another to use these same materials and methods in public school classrooms when Texas teachers know that they will exclude the majority of children.

Texas, now rich in diversity of races, religions and socioeconomic levels, needs education reform that is inclusive and teaches knowledge creation.

An SBOE subcommittee will meet Friday to discuss this issue again.

Texans may have no greater responsibility at this time than to make sure our curriculum is inclusive, not exclusive, and that our children learn skills that will serve them in the future.

Write to sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us and ask board members to reject the ideas from the amendment and to decide in favor of education reform that will serve all the children of Texas.

Betsy Oney of Fort Worth holds a master of education degree and is a Master Reading Teacher (and English-as-a-second-language teacher) in the Arlington school district.

Ben Stein's Intelligent Design Movie


Published March 3rd, 2008 in Bizarre.

A movie called "Expelled," pitting intelligent design against Darwinism and featuring actor and conservative writer Ben Stein, is due out in theaters this April.

Let's begin by acknowledging that movie trailers can be misleading. Perhaps this film is a fair-minded, even handed investigation of the place of religion in academic science. As a former grad student in the humanities who somehow managed to earn a Ph.D. in English lit, I have first-hand experience with the biases and sometimes insular thinking of the academy.

However, based on repeated viewings of the trailer, it appears that Expelled is merely a slick, well-produced bit of creationist propaganda–the latest conservative salvo in the ongoing culture wars timed to strike during an election year.

The film's argument, such as it is, is that any scientist in (and presumably also out) of academia who dares to question the theory of evolution is immediately shunned, ridiculed and denied tenure. As such, "Big Science," as it's called in the movie, is accused of systematically oppressing scholars who dissent from the mainstream, Darwinist line–a point underscored, bizarrely, with images of the ovens at Auschwitz.

Let's pause here for a second. The trailer, which lasts perhaps five minutes, includes two prominent references to Nazi Germany–one clip shows Hitler making a speech, the other shows various concentration camps and emaciated Holocaust victims. The film maker's intention, I assume, is to obliquely compare the oppressive tactics of "Big Science" to the genocidal policies of the Nazis. (And, by extension, the film equates the dissenting scientists it champions with victims of the Holocaust.)

Check out the trailer here:

At first this struck me as supremely weird. But then it seemed to make sense. Intelligent design and its precursor, creationism, have always had about them a whiff of desperation, an overeagerness to be taken seriously as bone fide science. Because that has not happened, proponents of intelligent design now resort to Michael Moore-like tactics of overkill and extreme, unabashed propaganda.

I don't want to get into the nitty gritty of intelligent design vs. evolution. There's been a ton written about that, and you can read a good overview of the opposing viewpoints here and here.

But I do want to address the claim that scientists are being persecuted in academe because they challenge Darwin. Academe has its pros and cons, but overall it remains valuable as one of the few institutions where almost anything goes. Spend a few moments online and you'll find papers written by professors arguing some of the strangest things. And this is good. Academics are for the most part professional skeptics, people trained to question, doubt and verify. Scientists are especially careful. You'll rarely hear a scientist make a claim that something is outright true or that they've definitively proved something or once and for all solved a problem. As a science writer, I spend a lot of time talking with scientists about their research, and they're always careful to explain that their findings are inconclusive, or incomplete, or open to question. In short, there are very few absolute truths in science.

But the Darwinian theory of evolution comes about as close as you can to attaining the status of rock-solid fact. Over the past century and a half, supporting evidence has piled up. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming. Einstein's theory of general relativity seemed utterly odd and contrary to common sense when it was first proposed. But the evidence backs it up, so we accept E=MC2 as fact. The same can be said for evolution.

So if there are in fact scientists out there whose careers have been derailed by their support for intelligent design, it's not due to the sinister machinations of an evil, "Big Science" cabal. It's because the scientists in question produced shoddy work. Natural selection is a testable theory that's been verified time and again. Intelligent design is a theological concept that cannot be definitively tested and proven either correct or incorrect. Ergo, it's not science.

And that's the main point. There's plenty of room in academe for creationism and intelligent design–in departments of religion, philosophy, sociology and other disciplines. But intelligent design is not science. And scientists who stake their reputations defending it as such are taking a risk in the same way that an astronomer who argues that the sun revolves around the earth (an idea once accepted as gospel truth) is certain to be met with ridicule.

Again, to be clear, I'm basing this entirely on a five minute trailer. So go see the actual movie when it comes out and make up your own mind about its merits. And let me know what you think.

Sources: Expelled website, Skeptic's Dictionary