NTS LogoSkeptical News for 21 March 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, March 21, 2008

Battle Against Teaching Evolution in Texas Begins


Should creationism win out, textbooks throughout the country–not just Texas–will challenge the theory of evolution in science curricula

By Jesse Hyde
Published: March 20, 2008

A few weeks before the March 4 Republican primary, a group of candidates gathered at the Shady Valley Golf Club in Arlington for a meet-and-greet luncheon with voters. For the most part, the candidates were seasoned pros who all seemed to know each other, but one stood out from the rest.

His name was Barney Maddox, and he looked lost. He wore an ill-fitting gray suit, his Coke-bottle glasses kept slipping down his nose, and he looked as if he cut his own hair. While the other candidates worked the room, Maddox wandered around, looking for a hand to shake. Eventually, he ended up at a table overlooking the golf course, where he sat alone, waiting for the event to begin.

Not much was known about Maddox, because he did not grant interviews to the press. He had, however, been identified as perhaps the most dangerous man on the ballot by the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group in Austin that keeps tabs on the religious right.

The reasons for this were clear. Maddox was a young-Earth creationist, a Bible-literalist who believed the Earth was just 6,000 years old. He had written part of the curriculum for the Institute of Creation Research, a Dallas-based school that offers courses in creation science, and he had lectured at the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, which claims to have fossil evidence that dinosaurs and man walked together. He had once called evolution "the most irrational belief ever held by man." Now he wanted a seat on Texas' State Board of Education.

His opponent, Pat Hardy, sat across the room. Fair-skinned and tall, with short red hair, she carried herself with the cheerful demeanor of a former school teacher, which she had been for 30 years. Social studies had been her subject, and truth be told, she missed the classroom. For the last six years she had served on the State Board of Education and was running for re-election. Hardy believed God had created the Earth, but she wasn't sure this belonged in the classroom. It was no secret this had made her the target of the religious right.

When their turns came to speak, Hardy went first, pointing out that she had 36 years in education and that as a member of the state board she had lead an effort to require that all high school students take four years of science before graduation. She considered this her proudest accomplishment on the board.

When she finished, Maddox stepped to the microphone. He said nothing of his experience in education, because he had none. Nor did he have any experience in politics. What he had to offer were true conservative credentials, he said, and if elected he would have something to say about the teaching of evolution, which he called "a pre-Civil War fairy tale." The candidates took a few questions from the audience, and when they were done, Maddox slipped out the door.

Over the next several weeks, Maddox ran a quiet campaign, avoiding events where the press might show up and ignoring their phone calls. While Hardy was relying on the mainstream press and the education establishment to get elected, Maddox was courting a different stripe of voters. He had the backing of the state home-school association, social conservative groups such as the Plano-based Free Market Foundation and people like former State Board of Education member Richard Neill, who, before serving as Maddox's campaign treasurer, had once endorsed a candidate who wanted to dismantle the public education system and replace it with private Christian schools.

Two weeks ago, while the rest of the state was watching the results of the Democratic presidential primary, Hardy quietly defeated Maddox. Had Maddox won, a movement more than 10 years in the making—a religious right takeover of the State Board of Education—would have been complete.

Already, the board is dominated by a far-right faction deeply concerned with promoting political and religious ideologies. In recent years, the board has rejected one textbook that taught about global warming—calling it "junk science" and "anti-capitalist"—and forced the publisher of another to replace a picture of a woman carrying a briefcase with a picture of a woman baking a cake. Board member Terri Leo has accused "liberal New York publishers" of inserting "stealth" homosexual messages into textbooks, and Republican David Bradley of Beaumont, the de facto leader of the far-right faction, once criticized an algebra book because it had pictures, recipes and references to Vietnam in it he considered inappropriate for the subject matter. Knowing that legally he could not reject a book on these grounds, he ripped the cover off. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, tossing pieces of the cover to both sides of his chair, "worthless binding. I reject this book."

All of which is a prelude to the looming battle over the science curriculum, which is up for review in November. Seven of the 15 board members support the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. With Maddox, they would have had a clear majority.

But even without Maddox the fight for control of the state board is far from over. And the battle over the teaching of evolution is just getting started.

It is no surprise that this fight—which during the last 150 years has been waged in courtrooms across the country—would now come to Texas. From the beginning, Texas has played an important role in the creationist movement. The infamous creationist textbook, Of Pandas and People, was published by the Richardson-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (which seeks to advance a biblical worldview in the classroom), and the first meetings of the intelligent design movement were held here. In fact, the strategy of the intelligent design movement, sometimes called "the wedge," was first outlined at a conference at Southern Methodist University in 1992.

In recent years the state has become a gathering place for the leading proponents of young-Earth creationism, which holds to a fundamentalist view of how the world was created. Last year, the Institute for Creation Research, which teaches that evolution is no more scientific than Biblical creationism, relocated from San Diego to Dallas because California would no longer offer accreditation for its degrees. Texas has proved a much more welcoming environment. In July, Governor Rick Perry appointed a devout young-Earth creationist named Don McLeroy to head the State Board of Education, and in November, the state's director of science education for public schools was forced to resign because she would not take a neutral position on the teaching of evolution.

Board members such as McLeroy share Maddox's fundamentalist view of the Earth's origins. McLeroy says he does not want to do away with the teaching of evolution (although he considers the theory "far-fetched") but he does think schools should "teach the controversy" surrounding the theory, although mainstream science holds that there isn't any more controversy about the theory of evolution than there is about the theory of gravity, and that remaining questions about evolution are simply opportunities for additional research.

The decision the state board makes on the science curriculum this November will determine what every public school student in Texas learns about science for the next 10 years. And that's not all. Because Texas buys more textbooks than every other state except California and publishers would rather not create separate editions for smaller states, the books ordered here will end up in classrooms across the country.

"If Texas falls, this is the beginning of a giant move backward in science education," says Chris Comer, the former science director who resigned in November. "What really disturbs me most of all is how the average citizen doesn't really care. The entire education system is about to be subverted, because this isn't just about science. This is about a group of people who are trying to dictate what should be taught in every subject, not according to research or facts, but according to their own whims and personal beliefs."

For both sides in this issue, the battle isn't just about education. For people like Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, it's about what kind of image Texas projects to the rest of the world and what kind of leaders we are producing for tomorrow.

"We can get them ready for the century they're living in, for the jobs that are being created right here in Texas, or we can give them a 19th-century education that puts them at a disadvantage to kids in every other state in this country and around the world."

The religious right frames the issue in a similar way. For them, teaching evolution is just a small part of a larger problem in society. The way they see it, America has become increasingly godless and materialistic. To hear them tell it, they are simply trying to return America to what it once was.

To understand the creationist movement, and the main arguments its adherents have against evolution, there is perhaps no better place to start than the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose.

The museum sits on the banks of the Paluxy, a slow-moving river in Somervell County that winds through rolling hills, thickets of mesquite and juniper and low-rising limestone walls before pouring into the Brazos River. The museum, which occupies a peach-colored trailer, is run by Carl Baugh, who claims to have found fossil evidence in the river that man and dinosaurs walked together. A few weeks ago, I drove out to Glen Rose to pay Baugh a visit.

When I arrived, a Baptist church group was sitting in the museum's main room watching a video in which Baugh explained the creationist theory. In the video, Baugh wore a red Mr. Rogers-style cardigan and carried himself with the earnest swagger of a televangelist. He had soft, almond-colored eyes, a gray pompadour haircut and a voice that was at once soothing and commanding. In another life, he could have anchored an evening news program or served as a stand-in for Dick Clark on American Bandstand.

I paid my $2 and looked around the museum, which was crowded with slabs of fossilized dinosaur footprints, tropical-looking plants and a fish tank holding a balloon-sized piranha. My gaze stopped at a black-and-white picture behind the cash register of what appeared to be a giant man at some kind of carnival or fair. It looked like something out of Ripley's Believe It or Not.

"Who's that?" I asked the guy behind the counter, a doughy 30-something with rosy cheeks.

"That's Max Palmer. He was 8-foot-2," he said wistfully. "He was a resident of Glen Rose and personal friends with Dr. Baugh."

"What does he have to do with all this?" I asked, pointing at a fossil gathering dust on a shelf.

"It confirms the Genesis account that men grew to be giants. Genesis 6:4."

Baugh materialized from the back room, shook my hand and glanced at his gold watch. He had just finished giving a lecture, he said, and was about to start another, but he could give me a few minutes.

Baugh arrived at Glen Rose in 1982, and by that time the Paluxy was already hallowed ground for creationists. Dinosaur fossils were first discovered in the river in 1909, and the next year there were reports that "giant man tracks" had also been found in a limestone shelf of the river.

In 1961, this alleged discovery was featured prominently in a book called The Genesis Flood, which would become the seminal text of the creationist movement. The book, which was written by Old Testament scholar John Whitcomb and college professor Henry Morris, held that the traditional scientific understanding of the geologic column was incorrect. The geologic column, which contains different layers of sedimentary rock, had not been created over millions of years, as science held, but had instead been formed in one year, as a result of the global flood and its aftermath. Noah's flood explained everything from submarine canyons to frozen woolly mammoths found in the arctic. The implications of this theory—which would later form the basis of Morris' "creation science"—were enormous. If true, then everything scientists believed about evolution and the history of the world—in other words, everything based on scientific evidence and observation—was wrong.

Ever since publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, Bible literalists had been buffeted with one scientific discovery after another that seemed to fly in the face of their faith. Now with The Genesis Flood, there was a book that attempted to reconcile science with the Bible instead of other way around. Since The Genesis Flood's publication, a parallel universe has been created for those who believe in creationism. Today, there are schools that teach creation science, museums where that science comes to life in skeletal displays and Hollywood-style films, and organizations that push these views into the public realm of mainstream thought.

Over time, the claims the book made about the discovery of "man tracks" at Paluxy would be challenged, and eventually, Morris himself would distance himself from what he had once said was found at the river.

Baugh was in his late 40s when he came to Glen Rose, eager to find the smoking gun of creation science. As he began digging in the limestone bed of the river, he says, he uncovered several large three-toed footprints probably from sauropods, or as they are more commonly known, brontosaurs. But as he kept digging, he found what he was looking for—a winding path of footprints that looked like the tracks of a breed of giant men. These tracks were in the same sedimentary layer as the dinosaur tracks, meaning they had been created at the same time. "I was blown away," Baugh says. "To secular scientists, this would be like finding a Cadillac with a polished bumper in the very same layer with the dinosaurs."

While Baugh's work was celebrated by young-Earth creationists, the science community has not been as welcoming. Evolutionists and students from local universities show up at his museum so they can ask him about his degrees (which reportedly came from diploma mills) and laugh at his claims.

I asked Baugh why science was so threatened by his work.

"They are threatened, aren't they?" he asked with a smile, surprised, it seemed, that a reporter would ask such a friendly question. "I ask the question, 'What are you afraid of, aren't we looking for truth, good science?'

"They're threatened because, in my opinion, if you lay the two scientific theories, creation and evolution, side by side, innately the student chooses creation. It's obvious that he's too complicated, that living systems are too complicated to have arisen by chance."

This has been the main tenet of creationism from the beginning, and it has held great sway with the public. In fact, in the 1970s and '80s, several states, including Louisiana and Arkansas, passed laws that either banned the teaching of evolution or required that where evolution was taught, creationism must be taught with it. That ended in 1987 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in public schools violated the constitutional separation of church and state because it relied on biblical texts and "lacked a clear secular purpose."

In the aftermath of that decision, the Institute for Creation Research, which was founded by Morris in 1970, proposed a new strategy for creationists. The ICR suggested that "school boards and teachers should be strongly encouraged at least to stress the scientific arguments against evolution in their classes...even if they don't wish to recognize these as evidences and arguments for creationism."

Edwards v. Aguillard also gave birth to a new arm of the creationist movement. Not long after the decision, the Texas-based publishers of the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People, which had been at the heart of the case, changed references to "creation" to "intelligent design." The book also offered the first definition to appear in print of intelligent design, which asserts that life is too complex to have arisen by chance and therefore must have a creator.

Today, young-Earth creationism and intelligent design represent two distinct belief systems within the creationist movement. Intelligent design, which does not define who the creator is and does not rely on the Bible as its foundation, has attracted more than 100 scientists—molecular biologists, biochemists and physicists among them—from places such as Yale, Princeton and the University of Chicago. Young-Earth creationists are much larger in number, primarily because of the explosion of Christian fundamentalism across the country in the last 50 years. While members of both camps claim their movement is different from the other, even conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have said there is no difference. "While young-Earth creationists and proponents of intelligent design do not always agree, their goals are the same: to undermine the teaching of evolution and introduce some form of creationist teaching into the classroom," says Barbara Forrest, an expert on the movement.

Back at the museum, I asked Baugh if he thought creationism should be taught in public schools.

"Of course," he said. "It has more evidence than evolution does."

He called over a high school math teacher named John Heffner, who had been listening in. Heffner was getting ready to give a lecture on how math proved that evolution was impossible. He wore jeans and cowboy boots and the look of a man weary with where the world had gone.

"Let's face it, evolution is the only theory of science that needs laws on the books to protect it," he said. "I think it's time to uncensor science. The evidence for creation is so strong that it's really illogical to believe anything else." (Science begs to disagree. For responses to his arguments, see "Arguments Creationists Make Against Evolution".)

He quickly ran through his criticisms of evolutionary theory, which could have been cribbed from the notes of a Creationism 101 class. He began with peppered moths.

In England, during the Industrial Revolution, factories spewed so much black smoke into the air that soot covered everything, including the trees in the forest. As a result, moths began to grow darker. Those that did not—the white-colored peppered moth—were gobbled up by hungry birds, while the darker-colored moths blended in with the trees. It was natural selection at work, and seemingly irrefutable proof that evolution was real.

"Well, it was all fake," Heffner said. "They faked the results."

He continued with Haekel's Embryo, which supposedly showed that the human embryo goes through evolutionary stages—first it has gills like a fish, then a tail like a monkey—before it is fully developed.

Well, that was a fake too. Haekel had changed drawings of dog embryos to make them look similar to human embryos.

And that wasn't all. Lucy, the ape-like fossilized skeleton found in Africa in 1974—the supposed "missing link"—was more plaster of Paris than actual skeleton.

"And on and on it goes," he said. "I think it's time for scientists to stop trotting out these tired old icons, recycling them every year in the textbooks, and move into the 21st century. Modern science, with its understanding of DNA and the human genome, has shown that the sort of complex information sequencing that exists on the cellular level could not have arisen by chance."

These arguments, roundly refuted by science, are used by creationists of all stripes, whether they are men like Baugh, who are more steeped in Bible literacy than formal scientific training, or college professors at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which has become the leading think tank for the intelligent design movement.

"The common misconception is that we want to bring the Bible into the classroom and just preach out of Genesis instead of teaching science, and nothing could be further from the truth," Heffner said.

"We actually want more evolution taught. We want the whole story taught. What we're getting right now is an edited version. The problems with evolution are numerous; they are well-known. We pride ourselves for teaching kids to think for themselves, and yet we don't give them the full information."

Heffner told me he was keenly interested in the upcoming State Board of Education review of the science curriculum. In fact, he had appeared before the board in 2003, when a biology textbook was up for review.

"I'll ask you what I asked them, 'Whose kids are these anyway? They're not the evolutionists' kids alone. They're our kids too.' And my second question to them was, 'What's wrong with the truth? What's wrong with telling kids the truth?'"

The way Heffner saw it, Texas was just the latest battleground in a war that had been raging ever since publication of Origin of Species. Secular science, and Darwinism in particular, had done more to erode the moral fabric of our country than anything else, he said. For him the choice was simple. On one hand there was Jesus and the belief in a life after death, and on the other was Darwin and pond scum.

"We look at what kids are doing now—with drugs and sex and all the violence and gangs—and we wonder why. Well, it's obvious. We expect kids to make the right decision and then you tell them that they're nothing but evolved pond scum, nothing but an animal? And you wonder why their world view is basically one of 'me and now.'"

Before I left, I went back to the original museum to get a look at the fossils Baugh claimed to have dug from the river. Baugh's assistant showed me a duckbill dinosaur skull, some dinosaur eggs out of China and the fossilized print of a three-toed dinosaur. During the same dig, he said, they had also found the footprint of a prehistoric woman, size 7.

He said he knew this sounded crazy to a lot of people, and that he regularly fielded hostile questions from science teachers and the like. But he had numbers on his side. "More than 50 percent of Americans reject evolution and believe in some form of creationism," he told me. He also had power on his side. President George W. Bush had advocated teaching the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory. Governor Perry had appointed a young-Earth creationist to head the board. And state Representative Warren Chisum, the powerful chair of the House Appropriations Committee, had gone so far as to distribute a memo to his fellow legislators attacking evolution as an anti-religious plot cooked up by an ancient Jewish sect. Perhaps the State Board of Education, being an elected body, was simply reflecting the will of the people.

As I was leaving, I thought of something Heffner had said: "If more than half the population doesn't believe in evolution, don't we also deserve equal representation in public schools? It's our tax dollars too, after all."

———— Last October, Chris Comer, then the director of science education for Texas public schools, got an e-mail inviting her to a lecture by a professor named Barbara Forrest. The name rang a bell. Forrest had testified in the much-publicized 2006 Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which intelligent design had essentially been put on trial. After two weeks of testimony, which had included detailed discussion of topics such as bacteria flagellum and Galapagos finches, the judge ruled that intelligent design was not a scientific theory, as its proponents claimed, but "an interesting theological argument" that could not "uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

Like the rest of the science world, Comer had closely followed the trial and had been interested in Forrest's testimony. As Forrest saw it, intelligent design was part of a covert strategy to get creationism into public schools. This view was based on a document she claimed to have uncovered called "the wedge," in which the leaders of the intelligent design movement outlined a 20-year plan to reverse "the stifling materialistic worldview" of which evolution was a part and replace it with "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." Like a metal wedge splitting a log, they would introduce intelligent design into the classroom, which would open the way for creationism. Forrest had written an exposé on the movement, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, and was coming to Austin to discuss the book.

Intrigued, Comer sent an e-mail to an online community of science teachers, notifying them of the lecture. Considering all the controversy over the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools, she figured the event could be enlightening.

According to Comer, an hour later she got an e-mail from a supervisor. She was told she shouldn't have sent the e-mail on a school computer. Comer apologized and then sent out another e-mail clarifying that her invitation had not been meant to suggest that she endorsed Forrest's views.

About a week later, Comer was told she could resign or be fired. Comer chose to resign.

Today, Comer says she's still not sure why she was fired, but she is almost certain it had something to do with the e-mail. For her, the episode is indicative of the power and influence of the religious right and how that has come to bear on the State Board of Education.

For most of its existence, the state board was not divided by political and religious ideologies. It occupied a sleepy corner of government, making headlines only when critics showed up to protest a sex ed book or the teaching of evolution. That began changing in the late 1980s, when the religious right began to realize the board's power. In addition to overseeing the $25 billion Permanent School Fund (a perpetual endowment established in 1854 to help finance public education), the state board also reviews curriculum and approves textbooks. In short, it determines what every public school student learns in every subject. For those interested in molding the minds of America's future leaders, there is no better place to start.

It wasn't until the election of San Antonio Republican Bob Offutt in 1992 that the Christian right's influence began to be felt on the board. Two years later, Offutt recruited five other far-right social conservatives to run. Their campaigns were ugly affairs and foreshadowed what lay ahead. In campaign fliers, Democratic incumbents were accused of promoting a "radical leftist agenda" that included homosexuality, lesbian adoption and condom usage. One flier included a picture of two shirtless men—one black and one white—kissing each other.

The smear tactics worked, and three of the five candidates won election. For the first time in history, Republicans had a majority on the state board. They would not have been able to do so if not for the support of James Leininger, a millionaire San Antonio hospital bed manufacturer known in leftist circles as "God's Sugardaddy." For the next 12 years, Leininger would continue to back state board candidates, often using his money to unseat a Republican who wasn't conservative enough. In 1998, he donated to the campaign of current chair Don McLeroy, and in 2004, he helped bankroll the candidacies of current board members Terri Leo, who directed attacks against a biology textbook in 2003; Barbara Cargill, the founder of a Bible-based science camp that teaches classes on intelligent design; and Gail Lowe, who also has advocated teaching the purported weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

Two years ago, he helped Cynthia Dunbar and Ken Mercer defeat their primary opponents by outspending them 3-to-1 and 5-to-1 respectively. During her campaign, Dunbar said she would like to see intelligent design taught in public schools, a concept she considers "at least as viable, if not more so, than evolution." With Dunbar and Mercer's victories, the religious right had attained seven seats on the board. Those seven members have voted in lockstep on almost every issue in the time since.

Ironically, despite their positions as guardians of the state public school system, several of these board members have eschewed public education for their own children, opting instead for home school and private schools. "I wish more voters and members of the media would ask about that," says Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network. "What is it exactly that you want to see done with public schools? And why, as someone who didn't even care enough about the public schools to join the PTA when your kids were young, do you now want to dictate what other people's kids learn and how they are taught?"

From the time social conservatives began taking control of the board in the mid-'90s, they pushed hard to remove material they deemed inappropriate from textbooks. In 1994, for example, social conservatives on and off the board demanded that publishers make hundreds of changes to proposed high school textbooks. Despite the fact that Texas had some of the highest teen birth and sexually transmitted disease rates in the nation at the time, they insisted that schools teach an "abstinence-only-until-marriage" form of sex education. They also made other demands, including that publishers remove illustrations of breast self-exams for cancer.

In response, in 1995 the state Legislature imposed strict limits on the board's ability to censor textbooks. The board could only reject a textbook if it contained factual errors, failed to meet manufacturing standards or did not meet established curriculum standards.

These guidelines had little effect on the board. Factual errors, board members decided, could include ideological objections to material either in textbooks or missing from them. In 2003, for example, the board demanded that a reference to the Ice Age occurring "millions of years ago" be changed to "in the distant past." A passage saying that fossils "explained" evolution was changed to "may explain" evolution. These changes conformed to the young-Earth creationist views that many of the state board members held.

By the next year, publishers were anticipating the arguments state board members would have to potentially objectionable material and responding in advance. Publishers brought proposed health textbooks to the board in 2004, for example, that did not have any information in them on using condoms to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The censorship has continued to the present day. Last month, board chairman McLeroy asked the board to reject a proposed revision of the language arts curriculum that a committee of educators had been working on for two years to complete. In its place, he recommended a substitute document that had been rejected 10 years before. It was the work of a former Waco-area high school English teacher named Donna Garner. According to several state board members, McLeroy supported the alternative document because it includes a reading list of approved books (classics mostly) that teachers can not waver from.

"It's all about control," says Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat from Corpus Christi who has been on the board since 1982. "They want to dictate to teachers exactly what they can have students read. It's no longer the choice of the teacher, or even the school district."

It is no surprise that Democrats such as Berlanga would butt heads with Republicans on the board, but in recent years even old-line social conservatives such as Geraldine "Tincy" Miller have found themselves alienated from the far-right faction.

Miller, from Dallas, has served on the state board since 1984. For her, the sign that things had gone too far came last November when the board voted to reject a math textbook.

The book in question, a third-grade text that teaches a series called Everyday Math, had been a success in Miller's Dallas district. Between 2003 and 2007, classes that used it in the Dallas Independent School District had seen math scores improve 11 percent. Fourth-grade classes that had used the same series had seen scores rise nearly 32 percent, and fifth-grades using the series had seen a 42 percent improvement.

Miller argued passionately for the books. The state math review panel recommended them, as did the state's commissioner of education, and several top-notch private schools in the Dallas were using the book. But for reasons Miller didn't understand, the seven far-right members of the board were arguing against it.

"They said the multiplication tables didn't go high enough. They said it introduced calculators too early and that was a crutch," Miller recalls. "So I turned to the publisher and said, 'Here are the concerns they have, are you willing to work with the board and make these changes?' And they said, 'Absolutely.' They stayed up all night working on it, and in the morning they made this beautiful presentation on how they would make the changes."

Miller says the publishers then asked the board if they had any other requests. None was given. The vote was called. And the book was rejected 7-6.

"You know what that was? That was a display of power. That's when I realized the direction the board had gone and became very worried," Miller says.

Like others, Miller now thinks the main reason the book was rejected was to set a precedent.

"If they can reject a math book and not give a reason, then they can do the same thing to a science book," Berlanga says. "It was very clever how they got rid of that book in November, and they will use the same tactics to get rid of books that don't say what they want about intelligent design."

Comer, the former science director, agrees.

"I think this whole thing has been a rehearsed effort to get ready for when the science standards come up," Comer says. "The book Barbara Forrest wrote on the intelligent design movement is almost a template for what they're doing right now. It is their manifesto; it is what they're doing in the state of Texas."

———— As it stands, Texas state law requires that science teachers go over the strengths and weaknesses of the evolutionary theory. But a committee of educators now working on revamping the curriculum standards will recommend to the board that that provision be taken out.

"What they say sounds very reasonable—teach the controversy—but there is no controversy about evolution within the science community," says Kevin Fisher, a secondary science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District who is on the committee. "We always get a chuckle when someone says it's just a theory. Gravity is a theory; atomic structure is a theory. Theories are open to change, but they're open to change only if there is evidence to support another theory, and as it stands there is no evidence to support intelligent design."

Board member Mavis Knight of Dallas says McLeroy has told her the teaching of evolution will not come up during the review of the science curriculum, but this seems highly unlikely based on what McLeroy told me, and what he has said in the past on the subject.

At a 2005 lecture at Grace Bible Church in Bryan, for example, he encouraged the audience to work toward undermining the teaching of evolution in public schools.

"Keep chipping away at the objective empirical evidence," he said. "Keep pointing out that their deductive reasoning depends on the premise 'nature is all there is' to be true. Remind them that they may be wrong."

When I called McLeroy in February, he told me that while he will not push for the teaching of creationism in public schools, he will resist any efforts to take out the provision that requires teachers go over the weaknesses of the evolutionary theory.

"Evolution should be taught because that's the dominant view of science, you have to teach it. But I want to teach more of it," he said. "Hey, they've been teaching it for 50 to 60 years and still most of the people don't accept it, because it's so far-fetched. It's far-fetched!

"I'm looking at a beautiful tree out here, and according to what's in those textbooks we share a common ancestor with that tree. We're not descended from the tree, but we share a common ancestor. I mean, that's a pretty bold claim, and it's not supported by any evidence."

The vote this November is expected to go along party lines, and if history is any indication, the state board chamber will be packed with young-Earth creationists such as John Heffner and Barney Maddox, science educators such as Fisher, and others who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

"What I'm hoping is that teachers come out in full force," Berlanga says. "Scientists are going to have to come out in full force, and I hope preachers will come out, as they have in the past, saying, 'Leave the creationism to me and my church, please don't leave it to the teachers. You teach the science, and I'll teach the faith.'"

For Comer, the stakes couldn't be much higher. Already, she says, science teachers are afraid to teach evolution, which she calls the cornerstone of biology.

"They look at my situation and they go, 'Boy, if she was fired, what hope is there for me?' And so they handle this with kid gloves. It's not just happening in Texas; it's happening across the country.

"Biology is such an important subject because it deals with understanding the human body and medicine and life. But it's not just about biology. I really think this whole thing about not understanding climate change and global warming and the attack on science in general that we've seen from this administration is another clear example of how radical groups that have little or no understanding of the nature of science are dictating to scientists what they can and cannot research, what they can and cannot say about subjects that are vital to our health and future."

In the end, the vote may come down to three board members—Tincy Miller, Hardy and Rick Agosto of San Antonio—who are seen as swing votes. Both Miller and Hardy, self-described conservative Republicans, told me they personally believe God created the Earth, but neither thinks this belongs in a science classroom.

While Hardy won her election comfortably, the amount of money Barney Maddox spent to unseat her was enough to put fear into the state's science community. Miller, once considered the most conservative member on the board, thinks she might be next.

"Oh, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they target my seat in four years," she says.

In the meantime, the creationist movement shows no signs of slowing down. A multimillion dollar creation evidence museum is going up on the campus of the Oak Cliff-based Christ for the Nations mission church. The Dallas-based Institute of Creation Research is waiting on approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer masters degrees in creation science.

"These people won't give up," says Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network. "They just keep evolving."

Because the Bible Tells Me So?


During Private Museum Tours, Denver Children Learn About Creationism

March 19, 2008—

Standing in the lobby of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Bill Jack and Rusty Carter pointed to the enormous teeth on the reproduced skeleton of a Tyrannosaurs Rex, and told a group of children and their parents that the fearsome T-Rex was really a vegetarian.

They said the T-Rex was vegetarian because at the time of the Creation, there was no such thing as death, so a T-Rex could not have eaten meat. There was no death until Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, they continued, and God's revenge was to curse the world with death.

Jack asked, "If this creature was designed to eat meat from the very start, what would he have to do until Adam and Eve sinned and death entered the world? What would he have to do?" The children replied in chorus, "Starve."

"Fast and pray for The Fall. Is that likely?" Jack asked. "The answer is, everyone look at me and say, 'No.' Try that with me.'"

"No!" the children replied.

Jesus: The Designer and Creator

Jack and Carter operate what they call BC Tours: "BC" stands for Biblically Correct. They take paying customers on tours of such places as the Denver Museum, the zoo, and fossil sites, giving an explanation of nature, biology and paleontology with a strictly Biblical interpretation. They lead 100 tours a year and have reached thousands of children since starting their company in 1988.

"We believe Jesus is our designer and our creator of everything that was ever made," Carter tells the group of about 30 home-schooled Christian children and parents.

Known as "young Earth creationists," Jack and Carter say the Bible tells them Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. In the scientific community, the earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Jack and Carter describe both Creationism and the theory of evolution as "philosophies" and "world views" that are essentially on a par with each other; it's just a question of which you choose.

They believe that the life that populates Earth is not the product of billions of years of evolution, but created by God in six 24 hour days. And they believe Adam and Eve walked the Earth with dinosaurs, and that all the dinosaur fossils found all over the world are probably the result of one catastrophic event, such as Noah's flood, and not 4.5 billion years of life and death.

A 2007 Gallup Poll found that more Americans accept the theory of creationism than evolution. When those surveyed were asked about their views on the origins of life, 66 percent said creation, defined as "the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years," is probably or definitely true. In comparison, 53 percent said evolution, defined as "the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life," is probably or definitely true.

Carter asked the children, "Is evolution a religion?" and they replied "Yes."

"Yes it's a religious belief," Carter said. "It's a philosophy."


They dismiss much of what's on display in the museum as "pseudo-science" and describe many of the graphic depictions of paleontology and evolution as merely "artwork." Standing before a display on "Life in the Cenozoic Seas," Jack told the group, "This is a great museum if they would take out the propaganda, if they take out the pseudo-science. It's appalling because students go away thinking that cows turned into whales."

They deride the notion that anything so complex as the human eye could be the result of random mutations, or that the scales of a fish could over millions of years become teeth.

"This is a fairy tale, " Jack declared to the children. "How do they know your teeth evolved from scales? Everybody, try that with me, how do you know?

"How-do-you-know?" the kids repeated in unison.

At another exhibit, Carter pointed to a fossil of a giant fish found in Kansas and said, "Who likes to fish? Who would believe you could catch a fish this big in Kansas ?"

The tours are tolerated but not sponsored by the museum.

"They selectively ignore the vast majority of science in their presentation," said paleontologist and Chief Curator Kirk Johnson.

Johnson, who was raised in a creationist household and taught to believe that the world was only 6,000 years old, said that personal observation and a long education have taught him that evolution is the only way that biology makes sense.

"All of science understands that evolution is a central tenet of biology," Johnson said. "That's how biology makes sense. That's how we make better medicines. That's how we understand food crops.

"If you want to map out life through time, the fossil record is really great for doing that," he continued. "There's a really nice record of what happened on this planet from the first real life forms we know of about 3.4 billion years ago until today."

Out on the museum floor, Jack and Carter stopped the group in front of a window display that contains samples of sandstone that have ripples created by water and fossils of ancient life. Bill Jack asked his group, "How do they date the fossil? By the layer in which they find it. They date the layer by the fossil and the fossil by the layer," he said. "That's circular reasoning."

In the next moment he stepped past and turned his back to a display on radiometric dating, the method by which scientists determine the age of rocks through the rate of decay of their natural radioactivity.

When later asked why he skipped the display, Jack said simply, "We can't cover everything."

Inside the museum's expansive bone and fossil storage room, Johnson said, "They have no clue about how accurate it is & Now it's plus or minus a tenth of a percent."

Preaching to the Choir

Jack and Carter are usually preaching to an agreeable audience. Many of their customers also are creationists, some looking for ways to further instruct their children or bolster their own beliefs.

Stacia Martin, who brought her 14-year-old son Shawn, said she had learned how to defend her faith in Jesus Christ.

"I learned that when you look at exhibits, don't take them at face value just because they're exciting looking or because they're interesting," she said.

Her son Shawn said he thinks the world is 10,000 years old, "Because the Bible says that."

According to Johnson there are benefits to the BC Tours, even if children are given a message diametrically opposed to what the museum presents.

"Regardless of what the tour guide is saying, some of those kids are going to start thinking for themselves," Johnson said.

Jack and Carter said that's exactly what they are teaching: that people should think for themselves, but think within a framework of Creationist belief. They say that life makes sense if you believe that God created all life, and man in his own image.

Otherwise, Jack said, "It is naturalism. All there really is, is nature, and everything comes from nature. And yes, that is antithetical to a supernaturalist world view, if you will, that there is a God who created, put order into the universe."

Jack and Carter are now training other people around the country to hold similar tours at their local museums, and they are also putting together tour materials for Christian teachers.

"I've chosen to believe the God of the Bible," said Jack. "Now the evolutionist has chosen not to believe the God of the Bible. So we've chosen to believe they're both matters of faith."

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

'Academic freedom' bill a way to sneak creationism into schools


Michael Mayo | News Columnist
March 20, 2008

Just when Florida's science classrooms seemed safe for evolution, along come some legislators with a thinly veiled attempt to inject religion under the guise of "academic freedom."

The proposed Academic Freedom Act would protect public school teachers who "present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins." The bill also would prohibit students from "being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution."

The bill is written with so much mumbo jumbo and wiggle room, you wonder what the true motives are.

"The bill does not allow or authorize the teaching of creationism or intelligent design," insisted Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who filed the House version of the bill.


Hays said the bill would allow discussions about "competing theories," along with "weaknesses" in Darwin's theory of evolution.

"This protects the freedom of speech for teachers in the classroom," Hays said. "I want teachers to be able to show those holes in Darwin's theory of evolution without fear of chastisement."

Great. Then why not have provisions covering teachers in all subjects, such as health teachers who want to discuss a full range of information in sex education classes, like birth control and abortion.

"That's more of a parental responsibility than a school responsibility," Hays said.

What kind of academic freedom is that?

The bill (HB1483/SB2692) is a reaction to last month's decision by the state Board of Education to formally include the word "evolution" in science curriculum standards for the first time. Broward and Palm Beach County public schools have long used the e-word, but districts in other parts of the state have chafed at the mention of evolution.

The old state standards, deemed inadequate by various science education groups, euphemistically mentioned "biological changes over time."

The proposed legislation, still in the early stages in the House, was pushed at a news conference in Tallahassee last week. On hand were religious conservatives, an attorney for a think tank, and Ben Stein, the eclectic economist, essayist, game-show host and actor who has produced a documentary on intelligent design, which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution.

Hays is a retired dentist who said he spent "hours and hours in classrooms learning biochemistry, zoology and organic chemistry."

He's also a Baptist who believes that God created the world and all its creatures. "I'd rather have our teachers teach kids how to think than what to think," Hays said.

Hey, I'm all for that, too.

So in that context, I'm not uncomfortable with having critical and wide-ranging classroom discussions that use facts to explore different views. I'm not even opposed to bringing up "competing theories" that touch on religion in science classes, so long as those religious explanations aren't endorsed.

But if Hays and other legislators want to go there in the name of "academic freedom," then they should be consistent.

If it's OK for science teachers to discuss the holes in Darwin's theory of evolution, it should be OK for health teachers to discuss shortcomings with the "abstinence only" dogma that has been deemed the only acceptable talking point when it comes to preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

If it's OK for science teachers to talk about controversial alternatives to Darwin, it should be OK for health teachers to talk about birth control and abortion.

"At this point we don't need to introduce any more controversy," Hays said. "It's already controversial enough."

With intellectual inconsistency such as this, it's hard to see this effort as anything other than a ham-handed attempt to keep the flames of religion vs. evolution in public schools burning.

Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Read him online weekdays at sun-sentinel.com/mayoblog. Reach him at mmayo@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4508.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Opposition to the antievolution bills in Florida


The antievolution bills recently introduced in the Florida legislature continue to elicit opposition. The bills closely resemble a string of similar bills in Alabama -- HB 391 and SB 336 in 2004; HB 352, SB 240, and HB 716 in 2005; HB 106 and SB 45 in 2006 -- as well as a model bill that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism, recently began to promote. Asked by the Miami Herald (March 13, 2008) whether "intelligent design" constituted "scientific information" in the sense of the bill, a representative of the Discovery Institute equivocated, saying, "In my personal opinion, I think it does. But the intent of this bill is not to settle that question," and adding, unhelpfully, "The intent of this bill is ... it protects the 'teaching of scientific information.'"

In a press release (document) issued on March 17, 2008, a majority of the writers and framers of the Florida state science standards denounced the bills, House Bill 1483 and Senate Bill 2692, which purport to protect the right of teachers to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution." Describing the bills as "a subterfuge for injecting the religious beliefs held by some into the science classroom," the writers and framers emphasized their support of "the discussion of scientific questions -- including those in evolution -- in the science classroom," but added, "these discussions should be conducted in an evidence-based manner that conforms to the Nature of Science benchmarks in the science standards recently approved by the Florida Board of Education."

The writers and framers were not alone. In a press release issued on March 12, 2008, the ACLU of Florida's executive director Howard Simon commented, "The presumption of this bill is that all you have to do to teach something in a science class is to call it science." Although "intelligent design" is not explicitly mentioned in the bills as within "the full range of scientific views," it is not explicitly excluded, either, and Simon added, "Simply saying something is science does not make it so and calling Intelligent Design science, does not make it science. ... Allowing schools to masquerade Intelligent Design as science would be a blunder and an embarrassment for the Florida Legislature. The courts have spoken on this issue and the message was clear: Intelligent Design, because it relies on a supernatural power, is a religious view not a scientific view."

Newspapers in Florida also continue to decry the bills. The Tampa Tribune's columnist Daniel Ruth complained (March 8, 2008), "Of course Storms and her legislative Taliban are attempting to undermine the Board of Education's established science standards to finagle religious concepts like creationism and/or the Wizard In The Sky theology into the teaching of biology." More sedately, the editorial page editor of the Tallahassee Democrat (March 15, 2008) observed, "If the full Legislature goes along with this galling intervention into daily classroom instruction, teachers will be able to teach whatever they want regardless of state standards, and teenagers will be endlessly debating the specifics of things they cannot possibly understand because they've never been taught solid, well-considered and agreed-upon instructional materials."

Writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (March 20, 2008), columnist Michael Mayo commented, "Just when Florida's science classrooms seemed safe for evolution, along come some legislators with a thinly veiled attempt to inject religion under the guise of 'academic freedom.' ... The bill is written with so much mumbo jumbo and wiggle room, you wonder what the true motives are." Noting that the sponsor of HB 1483, Alan Hays, wasn't willing similarly to promote the "academic freedom" of "health teachers who want to discuss a full range of information in sex education classes, like birth control and abortion," Mayo concluded, "With intellectual inconsistency such as this, it's hard to see this effort as anything other than a ham-handed attempt to keep the flames of religion vs. evolution in public schools burning."

The fate of the bills is uncertain. The education blog of the St. Petersburg Times (March 17, 2008) comments, "It's anyone's guess how much traction the bills will get, but it's not hard to envision a scenario where they end up on Gov. Crist's desk. On the House side, the bill has the support of House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, who is widely considered to be a future candidate for governor and could use the bill to shore up support from religious conservatives. On the Senate side, the education committee headed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is shaping up to be the key hurdle." HB 1483 was sent to the Schools & Learning Council on March 7, 2008, but was not considered at its March 18, 2008, meeting; SB 2692 was sent to the Senate Education Pre-K-12 and Judiciary committees on March 20, 2008. Florida Citizens for Science is providing background information (PDF) about, and a critique (PDF) of, the bills via its blog.

March 20, 2008

New Analysis Suggests Earlier Start for Upright Walking


Published: March 21, 2008

As early as six million years ago, apparently close to the beginning of the human lineage, an ancestral species had already developed the transforming ability for upright walking, scientists reported on Thursday.

A reconstruction of the fossil bone based on data from CT scans.

The findings are described in a report in the journal Science by Brian G. Richmond and William L. Jungers, paleoanthropologists at George Washington University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, respectively. The research included an examination of the original fossils and a comparison with skeletons of modern humans and protohumans and also chimpanzees.

Although the French discoverers of the fossils, Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut, had suspected that the species was bipedal, they said they were not sure, and other scientists were even more skeptical.

Dr. Richmond said in a telephone interview that he was given access to the bones, deposited in a bank vault in Nairobi, and made his independent tests under the watchful eyes of a guard. The size of the specimen's hip joint, the shape and strength of the wide thigh bone, and other characteristics, he said, provided "convincing evidence to confirm Orrorin's bipedal adaptations."

The scientists said their analysis of hand and arm bones showed the species "most probably also climbed trees, presumably to forage, build nests and seek refuge."

A more surprising result to emerge from the study appeared to contradict an earlier hypothesis about Orrorin's relationship to later species in the human lineage, Dr. Richmond and Dr. Jungers said.

The fossils were first thought to be related more closely to the genus Homo than to Australopithecus, an intermediate genus that first emerged nearly four million years ago and included species living as recently as two million years ago. This seemed to make Orrorin a more direct human ancestor, possibly relegating "Lucy" and other australopithecines to a side branch of the family tree.

Dr. Richmond and Dr. Jungers found instead a close similarity between the Orrorin thigh bone and hip mechanics and those of Australopithecus. This suggests, they said, that the basic pattern of two-legged walking appeared very early in human evolution and persisted with only minor variations over a period of four million years.

"I expected much greater differences between the two, given that Orrorin is twice as old," Dr. Richmond said.

An accompanying article in the journal quoted Dr. Pickford and Dr. Senut as being pleased to have confirmation that their fossil species was bipedal, but did not back off from their insistence that other aspects of the skeleton showed its closer resemblance to much later Homo.

Other scientists agreed that the findings seemed to confirm Orrorin was indeed an early ancestor of humans and not more closely linked to apes, as had been argued by critics.

In light of the new research, Dr. Richmond said, Orrorin not only was a "basal member" of the human family but also had walking mechanics that went largely unchanged until the rise of Homo, especially in Homo erectus less than two million years ago.

More recent fossil discoveries, in Chad, have apparently revealed a protohuman species even more primitive than Orrorin. The species, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, is estimated to have lived close to seven million years ago, which is thought to be when the human and chimpanzee lineages diverged from a common ancestor. But the fossils from Chad, mainly a single skull, are too fragmentary for scientists to establish whether this species also walked on two legs.

Rethinking Early Evolution: Earth's Earliest Animal Ecosystem Was Complex And Included Sexual Reproduction


ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2008) — Two paleontologists studying ancient fossils they excavated in the South Australian outback argue that Earth's ecosystem has been complex for hundreds of millions of years -- at least since around 565 million years ago, which is included in a period in Earth's history called the Neoproterozoic era.

Until now, the dominant paradigm in the field of paleobiology has been that the earliest multicellular animals were simple, and that strategies organisms use today to survive, reproduce and grow in numbers have arisen over time due to several factors. These factors include evolutionary and ecological pressures that both predators and competition for food and other resources have imposed on the ecosystem.

But in describing the ecology and reproductive strategies of Funisia dorothea, a tubular organism preserved as a fossil, the researchers found that the organism had multiple means of growing and propagating -- similar to strategies used by most invertebrate organisms for propagation today.

Funisia dorothea grew in abundance, covering the seafloor, during the Neoproterozoic, a 100 million-year period ending around 540 million years ago in Earth's history, during which no predators were around. Mary Droser, one of the paleontologists involved in the study and a professor of Earth sciences at UC Riverside, first discovered the rope-resembling organism in 2005 near Ediacara, South Australia (the site of the excavations), and gave it its name (Funisia after "rope" in Latin; dorothea after Dorothy, Droser's mother).

"How Funisia appears in the fossils clearly shows that ecosystems were complex very early in the history of animals on Earth -- that is, before organisms developed skeletons and before the advent of widespread predation," said Droser, who was joined in the research by James G. Gehling of the South Australia Museum.

Droser and Gehling observed that Funisia appears as 30 cm-long tubes in the fossils. They also observed that the tubes commonly occur in closely-packed groups of five to fifteen individuals, displaying a pattern of propagation that often accompanies animal sexual reproduction.

"In general, individuals of an organism grow close to each other, in part, to ensure reproductive success," said Droser, the first author of the research paper and the chair of the Department of Earth Sciences. "In Funisia, we are very likely seeing sexual reproduction in Earth's early ecosystem -- possibly the very first instance of sexual reproduction in animals on our planet."

According to Droser and Gehling, the clusters of similarly sized individuals of Funisia are strongly suggestive of "spats," huge numbers of offspring an organism gives birth to at once. Besides producing spats, the individual tubular organisms reproduced by budding, and grew by adding bits to their tips.

"Among living organisms, spat production results almost always from sexual reproduction and only very rarely from asexual reproduction," Droser said.

Rachel Wood, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, who was not involved in the research, said the finding shows that fundamental ecological strategies were already established in the earliest known animal communities, some 570 million years ago.

"The fact that Funisia shows close-packed growth on the sea floor allows us to infer that this organism also reproduced sexually, producing a limited number of larval spatfalls," she said. "This is how many primitive animals, such as sponges and corals, reproduce and grow today. So although we do not know the affinities of many of these oldest animals, we do know that their communities were structured in very similar ways to those that exist today."

Scientists believe that a clear picture of the early ecosystem on our planet can inform us how early life evolved, what it looked like, and how organisms respond to environmental and other changes.

"The nature of the early ecosystem also clues us on what to look for on other planets in our search for extraterrestrial life," Droser said.

Study results appear in the March 21 issue of Science. The research was largely funded by the National Science Foundation. NASA provided additional support.

Adapted from materials provided by University of California - Riverside.

Richard Dawkins, World's Most Famous Darwinist, Stoops to Gate-crashing Expelled


Like many films in pre-release, Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is being selectively screened around the country to develop a buzz.

Press will be invited to screen the final version in three weeks, I'm told, while the official opening in theaters is April 18. Surprisingly, even the private screenings are causing excitement. Audiences love it.

In January I saw an early version that was screened in Fort Lauderdale and I will be at a Seattle screening soon. The Darwinists who are portrayed in the film -- giving answers to questions submitted in advance! -- are worried about what the public will think of their views when produced incontrovertibly in their own words. What they say is damning, all right, but it's not much different than what they write in books and say in speeches and other appearances.

There is a growing fear by the producers that Darwinists may be trying get into the showings to make bootleg copies (for the Web?), possibly in hopes of damaging the commercial value. Others may be crashing because they want to trash it before it even gets reviewed by the media. P.Z. Myers, who was not let into a showing last night in Minnesota, probably falls in the latter category.

Amazingly, the best selling Oxford scientist/author Richard Dawkins also crashed a showing of Expelled in Minnesota last night and he not only was let in, but introduced at the end of the showing.

Dawkins apparently acknowledged that he had not been invited and did not have a ticket. A sophomoric side to his ideological campaign is thus revealed.

Dawkins, understandably is nervous about this film, among other reasons because Ben Stein has him on camera acknowledging that life on Earth may, indeed, have been intelligently designed, but that it had to have been accomplished by space aliens! This is hilarious, of course, because Dawkins is death on intelligent design. But it turns out that that view applies only if it includes the possibility that the designer might be God.

Myers, of course, relished being expelled from Expelled, but objective observers know that Myers is the most vociferous advocate of expelling Darwin critics from academia. Not from movie pre-screenings where he wasn't invited, mind you, but from their jobs. Too bad the film doesn't show (and I wish it had), his promotion of advice to attack teachers and professors who dare question Darwin's theory. The whole point of Myers is that he is a take-no-prisoners, crusading atheist scientist who has made it his purpose in life to harass people who disagree with him. Dawkins turns out to be his buddy and mutual admirer.

Frankly, I wish the producers would have a special pre-release screening for the Darwinists who are interviewed in the film -- and invite some of the rest of us who have seen their depredations up close. We'd be glad to debate right there.

Among other things, I'd like to read some of the Darwinists' statements and charges back to them and ask them to defend themselves. One of the most preposterous is that the well-funded' Discovery Institute is funding this film! ( 1-They seem to have far more money available to them than we do, and 2-We are saving our pennies for the upcoming Broadway musical comedy, Darwin's Folly.)

I have to say something else, personally. I have been sandbagged by one TV and documentary crew after another. So have Discovery-affiliated scientists. The interviewers all say they just want to understand the issue. Going in, they are quite clear about definitions, for example, and only start using Darwinist definitions of our positions when they report. They never provide questions in advance and even if they say they will stick to science questions and public policy, almost all sneak in questions about personal religious beliefs. Then, of all the footage, guess what gets on TV or in the documentary?

So it really is pathetic of Dawkins, et al to complain that when they were interviewed for Expelled they didn't know that the film was inherently unfriendly. These are interviewees who received pre-agreed questions, signed release forms after the interviews were conducted, and actually got paid for their time.

I am getting more excited about Expelled myself and can't wait to see the finished version. I suspect I'll wish that the film was twice as long and had twice as much from Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, et al. From what I already have seen, they really expose themselves as the anti-intellectual, bullying poseurs they are -- small men who above all are afraid of a fair contest.

Posted by Bruce Chapman on March 21, 2008 4:16 PM | Permalink

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered in Palau


John Roach
for National Geographic Magazine

March 10, 2008

Thousands of human bones belonging to numerous individuals have been discovered in the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Some of the bones are ancient and indicate inhabitants of particularly small size, scientists announced today. (See pictures of the Palau remains and where they were found.)

The remains are between 900 and 2,900 years old and align with Homo sapiens, according to a paper on the discovery. However, the older bones are tiny and exhibit several traits considered primitive, or archaic, for the human lineage.

"They weren't very typical, very small in fact," said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Berger was on vacation in 2006, kayaking around rocky islands about 370 miles (600 kilometers) east of the Philippines, when he found the bones in a pair of caves.

The caves were littered with bones that had been dislodged by waves and piled like driftwood. Others had remained buried deep in the sandy floor, and more, including several skulls, were cemented to the cave walls.

Berger returned later that year with colleagues to excavate some of the remains with funding from the National Geographic Society. (National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

A paper to appear tomorrow in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE describes the findings and what they suggest about small-bodied humans.

Interpreting the Bones

Two sets of human bones were found in the Palauan caves. The most recent remains were found near the entrance to one of the caves and appear normal in size. Older bones found deeper in the caves are stranger and much smaller.

The smaller, older bones represent people who were 3 to 4 feet (94 to 120 centimeters) tall and weighed between 70 and 90 pounds (32 and 41 kilograms), according to the paper.

The diminutive people were similar in size to the so-called hobbit discovered in National Geographic Society-supported excavations on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003.

Scientists classified the hobbit as a separate human species, Homo floresiensis.

According to Berger, the estimated brain size of the early Palauans is about twice the size of the hobbit brain.

Several other features, including the shape of the face and hips, suggest that the Palauan bones should be classified as Homo sapiens.

If the interpretation of the Palauan remains is correct, the find may add more fuel to the debate over whether the Flores hobbit is a unique species, Berger said.

Aside from being tiny, the Palauan bones show that some of these people lacked chins and had deep jaws, large teeth, and small eye sockets, according to the paper.

Some of these features were considered important in originally distinguishing the hobbit as a unique—and archaic—species, Berger said.

But the Palauan remains suggest these features may just be a consequence of insular dwarfism, a shrinking process that some scientists attribute to the stresses of a small island environment.

Palau lacks indigenous terrestrial mammals and large reptiles that early Palauans might have used for food.

Archaeological records indicate fishing was not a local activity until about 1,700 years ago, around the time bigger bones appear in the caves.

The early Palauans' limited diet, combined with a tropical climate, absence of predators, a small founding population, and genetic isolation, may have produced "these very odd features and very small body size," Berger said.

The Controversy

William Jungers, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York and a former National Geographic grantee, stands by his conclusion that the hobbit is a unique species.

He notes that the small bones, large teeth, lack of a chin, and other features that characterize the early Palauans as well as the hobbits can be found in other small-bodied human populations around the world.

But "the smallest-bodied people on Earth do not converge on the proportions and various aspects of morphology of the hobbits," Jungers said.

Jungers points out that the hobbit is distinguished from modern humans by jaw structures called transverse tori, which are seen in human ancestors, such as australopithecines and some Homo erectus fossils, he noted.

Chris Stringer, lead researcher in the human-origins program at London's Natural History Museum, points to other defining characteristics in the hobbits' feet, teeth, and shoulder and wrist bones.

Based on this evidence, he says, "I still believe that the Flores material is something distinct and primitive."

Berger says his team has yet to analyze the shoulder, feet, and wrist bones in their Palauan sample and thus cannot comment on how they compare to the hobbit bones.

A Disease Factor?

Unlike the Palauan bones, the hobbit fossils include a skull with an exceptionally small braincase. Its volume is much smaller than that of small-bodied peoples living today on other Pacific islands and in the forests of Africa. It is also smaller than that of the early Palauans.

Some scientists argue that the unusually small brain volume of the hobbit makes it not a unique species but rather a small-bodied Homo sapiens with microcephaly, a genetic disease that causes small brains and other abnormalities.

(Read related story: "'Hobbit' Humans Were Diseased, Not New Species, Study Says" [May 18, 2006].)

A team of researchers from Australia recently reported that the unusual limbs of Homo floresiensis may also have been influenced by disease.

The distortions, they claim, are sometimes seen in the offspring of a normal, small-bodied human female with goiter.

Berger says his team's findings might support these disease arguments. But they have yet to find an individual in their sample who had one of these diseases and therefore can't make a comparison.

The Debate Continues

Dean Falk is an anthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee who received National Geographic funding to compare the Flores skull with both microcephalics and modern humans without disease.

She and colleagues from the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology concluded in a study published last year that the hobbit was not microcephalic.

Falk said the finding closed the microcephaly argument. The Palauan remains, she added, are just a set of small bones, representing small-bodied people.

""But being small does not make one comparable to Homo floresiensis," she noted. "It makes one small—period."

Steven Churchill, a paleontologist at Duke University and co-author of the new study, says the Palauan discovery expands the known range of variation in modern humans in Southeast Asia, adding context in which to interpret the hobbit fossils.

Several scientists, he adds, continue to believe "there's something wrong with Flores."

One of these scientists is Robert Martin, the curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

He says it's well known that small-bodied human populations exist in Southeast Asia.

A community of pygmies now lives near the Flores hobbit site in the village of Rampapasa, so finding small-bodiedHomo sapiens on Palau, he says, "is no surprise."

From Martin's perspective, the problem with the classification of the hobbit as a separate species is that it is based largely on the brain size of "one microcephalic individual in Flores. … Body size is really a separate issue."

According to Berger, the new findings suggest that "you don't have to look very far to find the facial and dental characters thought to be unique in Flores."

If traits such as those found among the early Palauans are common on islands, he said, then scientists who want to name a new species in the human lineage will have to present "a much better case built on a lot more fossils before the world will buy it."

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Dino-Era Feathers Found Encased in Amber


James Owen
for National Geographic News

March 11, 2008

Seven dino-era feathers found perfectly preserved in amber in western France highlight a crucial stage in feather evolution, scientists report.

The hundred-million-year-old plumage has features of both feather-like fibers found with some two-legged dinosaurs known as theropods and of modern bird feathers, the researchers said.

The find provides a clear example "of the passage between primitive filamentous down and a modern feather," said team member Didier Néraudeau of the University of Rennes in France.

The study team isn't sure yet whether the feathers belonged to a dino or a bird.

But fossil teeth from two dino families thought to have been feathered were excavated from rocks just above the layer that contained the amber, Perrichot said.

"It is entirely plausible that the feathers come from a dinosaur rather than from a bird," he said.

Perrichot and colleagues described their research last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Downy Plumes

Paleontologists at the University of Rennes found the tiny feathers encased in a lump of amber, a fossilized tree resin, in a quarry in the Poitou-Charentes region of France in 2000.

Researchers at the European Synchrotron of Grenoble then scanned the amber to reveal the feathers' fine structures. The plumes' central shafts, or rachis, are primitive and most closely resemble down feathers, the study team noted.

The feather filaments, or barbs, had yet to become fully fused at the base and—similar to modern down—they lacked hooklets known as barbules to hold the filaments together.

Today's birds could not fly with such feathers, the team said.

Studies suggest primitive feathers first evolved in flightless dinosaurs that generated heat internally and so would have benefited from the insulation that down can provide.

Feathers later evolved for use in flight, the theory holds, although experts debate whether birds' immediate ancestors were tree-dwelling, gliding dinosaurs or terrestrial dinos that ran at high speeds and eventually lifted off the ground.

Either way, the amber-encased feathers show for the first time the transition from downy filaments toward an aerodynamic, planar shape that enabled flight, Perrichot said.

"This most critical step in the evolution of feathers" was suggested by evolutionary theories but had never previously been seen in either modern or fossil feathers, he said.

Team member Néraudeau added that this missing link has been "an argument for creationists and others to reject the theropod-birds lineage and to argue in favor of different origins for theropod feathers and bird feathers."

"First Good Look"

Nick Longrich, of the University of Calgary in Canada, said "this could be our first good look at a dinosaur body feather."

The bird-fossil expert, who was not involved in the study, noted that the newfound feathers are around 50 million years younger than the first known flying bird, Archaeopteryx, which lived about 150 million years ago.

"Obviously this animal [the feathers came from] isn't directly ancestral to anything except later dinosaurs, but it's quite likely that we are seeing aspects of the ancestral [feather structure]," Longrich said in an email.

"So the animal isn't transitional' but it may preserve a transitional structure."

It's also possible that the simplified structure of the feathers isn't so primitive, he added.

Modern flightless birds such as ostriches and emus have highly simplified feathers, he said.

More samples from the fossil record are needed to settle the issue, so "hopefully this study will cause more people to look for dinosaur feathers in amber," Longrich added.

Polish Physicist and Priest Wins Templeton Prize


By Mona Ghuneim New York 12 March 2008

A Polish cosmologist, physicist, philosopher and Catholic priest is the recipient of the 2008 Templeton Prize, the world's largest monetary award given to an individual. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

Does the universe need to have a meaning? It's one of the fundamental questions 72-year-old scientist and theologian Michael Heller poses and examines in his research and writings. Heller is the author of more than 30 books on topics such as relativity, quantum mechanics, geometry and the history of science. He also teaches philosophy and theology at Krakow's Pontifical Academy.

At a news conference in New York to announce the $1.6 million award, John Templeton, Jr., of the Templeton Fund said Heller has creatively worked in physics, philosophy and theology and shown that these three areas of human inquiry can relate to each other.

"He [Heller] emphasized that science and religion have always interacted with each other and that this interaction can be imminently fruitful without at all violating the autonomy of science, provided that the inquiry is carried out in conformity with sound methodolgical principles," Templeton said.

The prize was created in 1972 by mutual funds tycoon John Templeton to encourage the advancement of knowledge in spiritual matters. His son, John Templeton, says Heller is an especially significant recipient because of his efforts to bridge science and religion at a time when Poland was under strict Communist rule.

Templeton says Heller toiled through the overt anti-intellectualism and anti-religious dictates of the Soviet era to produce his work.

Heller says his interest and belief in both science and religion have motivated his work for the past 40 years.

"What can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning," he said. "And both are prerequisites of the decent existence. And the paradox is that these two great values seem often to be in conflict."

Heller says he is able to reconcile science and religion and doesn't believe that the two are mutually exclusive.

The Templeton Prize was based on the founder's belief in the importance of spirituality. Mother Teresa, who received the Nobel Prize in 1979, was the first recipient of the Templeton award in 1973.

Polish priest/cosmologist wins Templeton Prize


Rev. Michael Heller, a Polish priest who teaches at the Pontifical Academy of Theology, was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for work connecting physics, cosmology, theology and philosophy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Michael (Michal) Heller, a Polish Roman Catholic priest and cosmologist whose intellectual and religious life has been grounded in the insights of both science and religion, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize, believed to be the largest yearly monetary award given to a single individual. Heller, 72, who teaches at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow, was awarded the prize for his work in connecting the realms of physics, cosmology, theology and philosophy.

In an interview with Ecumenical News International the day before the 12 March announcement, Heller reiterated his belief that the oft-described "two worlds" of religion and science are not at odds, saying that without the meaning afforded by religion, "science would be meaningless".

Heller has had a long interest in examining such questions as "Does the universe need to have a cause?" and he has engaged sources from different disciplines that might otherwise have little otherwise in common, the John Templeton Foundation said in announcing Heller's winning of the prize.

"Michael Heller's quest for deeper understanding has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge as well as expanding the horizons of science," John M. Templeton Jr, the president of the John Templeton Foundation, said in a statement in conjunction with the announcement of the award at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.

In prepared remarks for the formal announcement, Heller said he had "always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us Knowledge, and religion gives us Meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence."

This happened at a time when the family was trying to find its bearings after being first deported, like some 1 million other Poles, to Siberia under orders of Joseph Stalin, followed by war-time transfers to the Volga region of the Soviet Union and then, eventually to western Poland.

The experience of the Second World War gave Heller a sense of a higher calling. "Without higher motives, life is vegetation, it's not human life," observed Heller in describing how his determination to excel academically led him on a path that combined the Catholic priesthood and academia.

Heller said he plans to use the Templeton money to help create a planned Copernicus centre that, in conjunction with Jagiellonian University and the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow, will promote science and theology as an academic discipline.

The priest will formally receive the 2008 Templeton Prize - the full name of which is the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities - from by Prince Philip, the husband of the British monarch, at a 7 May Buckingham Palace ceremony.

The John Templeton Foundation has since 1973 awarded the prize, which is currently valued at 820 000 British pounds, or more than US$1.6 million.

God to scientists: Can't we all get along?


Submitted by NeuroJoe on Fri, 2008-03-14 18:47. Topic: bioscience and medicine

The report, titled "Science, Evolution, and Creationism" is available for free as an 88 page pdf file here. There's also a summary available for those of us with a short attention span, as well as a podcast.

I haven't had a chance to read through the full text yet but the gist of the article is that science and religion provide separate but not necessarily conflicting frameworks with which we can understand the world. It also discusses the importance of teaching evolution in the classroom and why creationism is not an appropriate topic to debate in a science class setting.

The National Academies Press produces some outstanding reports and this seems to be well worth a read.

Men's News Daily Contributor Exposes Media's Misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as Creationism


Over at Men's News Daily, editor Mike LaSalle has a post entitled, "Darwin Ist Tot: Intelligent Design is Not Creationism" that observes, "Science is practiced by scientists, not by priests. But recently science and religion appear to have become indistinguishable, as for example in their respective institutional intolerance of competing ideas." Since leading scientists oppose ID by misrepresenting it as a silly appeal to "magic," LaSalle observes that "[m]y daily crop of the term 'Intelligent Design' on Google News usually brings a plurality of articles that have in common a missionary intent to define Intelligent Design as a hands-down flavor of biblical creationism." LaSalle offers his witty suspicions about what goes on in the backrooms of the newsmedia:

It's almost as though everyone in the Science-as-Public-Opinion business got a YouTube saying something to the effect, "Attention all Science Opinion contributors in the Main Stream Media: The following is an instruction from the Supreme Politburo at Central Command. You are hereby advised that whenever you are forced to use the two words 'Intelligent' and 'Design' together in the same sentence, you must ALWAYS include 'Creationism' as a qualifier. If you have questions about this, please submit them in writing to your supervisor. That is all."

Sadly, Mr. LaSalle has many examples to justify his observations about the newsmedia's confusion on this issue. Let us hope that perhaps some members of the media are watching so they can avoid this confusion in the future.

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 15, 2008 12:25 AM | Permalink

Rowan Williams: Society can't handle science


By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 9:59am GMT 16/03/2008

Society is ill-prepared to handle scientific breakthroughs because it lacks understanding of human life, the Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed.

Dr Rowan Williams issued his warning as MPs prepare to vote on proposed laws which will allow scientists to create hybrid human-animan embryos for research.

The archbishop claimed that the planned reforms threaten to open the door to practice that conflicts with religious belief, and said that society does not have the "moral perspective" to cope with such momentous advances.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he also criticised evolution theory as "limited", urged politicians to be open about their faith, and attacked religious conspiracy theories such as the Da Vinci Code.

While he welcomed the potential of science to find cures to life-threatening and debilitating diseases, he expressed concern at the failure to tackle the implications of major discoveries.

"The problem is with our own inability as a society to know what to do with discoveries of science," he said.

"Man playing God is not a problem about science. It's a problem about our decisions about the results of science and we shouldn't be so much afraid of science as we should about our own inability to have a clear moral perspective on these matters."

The Government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now going through Parliament, would allow the creation of "saviour siblings" to donate organs to an older brother or sister; remove the requirement on fertility clinics to consider a child's need for a father; and permit lesbian couples to be registered as legal parents.

advertisementRebel Labour MPs are seeking a free vote on the Bill. Plans to keep hybrid embryos alive for 14 days have divided scientists, who say the move would further the fight against disease, and critics who say it is morally wrong.

The archbishop said: "We haven't as a society got a sufficiently clear notion of what constitutes a human organism. My own view is that an embryo is a human organism but that requires some argument, which isn't something that can be settled simply by science alone."

Dr Williams said that evolution presented one of the biggest conflicts between religion and science and claimed that people have been misled by academics such as Richard Dawkins.

"It's a limited theory about certain limited phenomena which is very plausible as far as it goes but it's not a complete philosophy."

He argues that champions of neo-Darwinism have oversold the theory as "a key which fits all locks and can tell you not only about evolution but where beliefs come from, what truth means".

The archbishop will use a series of high-profile lectures this week to renew his call for people to pay more attention to the historical evidence supporting the Bible, rather than "ludicrous" conspiracy theories.

"People get away with extraordinary assertions about Christian origins, which they have picked up from here and there, yet there is a mountain of research which is increasingly friendly towards the Gospels being reliable documents," he said.

"The Judas Gospel is a cardinal case and the sort of ludicrous, persistent Jesus-was-married-to-Mary-Magdalene sort of thing which keeps coming back in spite of the fact there is just nothing to go on it.

"Sometimes it is because, yes, what is presented can be so uncomfortable that it's much more convenient to believe that it is all the 'wicked' Church's conspiracy.

"The conspiracy theory is always attractive because it is dramatic, but look hard at what's there. I think that any Christian will say we are quite prepared to argue this in public as long as you like and as hard as you like."

He also said that politicians should be open in talking about their faith. Tony Blair last year claimed that people who speak about their religious faith can be viewed by society as "nutters".

"I'm quite happy with politicians being honest about their faith or their lack of it," he said. "I think it is something that gives you a sense of what a person is like and where their convictions come from." Viewpoints Evolution 'racist' http://www.pressconnects.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080316/OPINION/803160312/1005/OPINION

Posted Sunday March 16, 2008

There is a problem teaching evolution in our schools. Evolution is racist. Anthropology interpreted through the eyes of evolutionary thought yields but one conclusion: Racism is inherent to human evolution.

Contemporary evolutionists are mum about the racist roots of evolution. In his book "The Descent of Man," Darwin blatantly categorized the races into the lower races and the higher civilized races. He predicted that in future centuries the civilized races of man would almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races of the world. Indeed, Darwin was a racist and those who buy into his hypothesis may not have racism on their lips but it is etched in their minds.

Racism is a reproach to mankind, yet we allow educators to arouse and kindle it by teaching evolution as scientific fact in our schools. We will never rid our lives of the hatred and shamefulness of racism as long as our children are taught a construct where humans have descended from apes.

Kenneth E. Burbank

Glen Aubrey

In Britain, creationist theory is evolving


Groups that oppose Darwin are making headway in schools.

By Gregory Katz, Associated Press March 15, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Schools are increasingly a focal point in this battle for hearts and minds.

A British branch of Answers in Genesis, which shares a website with its American counterpart, has managed to introduce its creationist point of view into science classes at a number of state-supported schools in Britain, said Monty White, the group's chief executive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church uses a gorilla campaign for event


March 16, 2008
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent

VALPARAISO -- People around downtown Valparaiso during lunchtime next week will see gorillas.

Heartland Christian Center plans to have someone dressed as a gorilla walking around during lunch hours Monday through Friday this week to promote a speaker on creation science on March 29 and 30.

"You're definitely going to notice a gorilla," Senior Pastor Phil Willingham said.

The gorilla will be tethered to someone wearing a mini-sandwich board, about three by two feet -- advertising the event and being led around by the fake simian.

They plan just to walk along the area, "basically not a whole lot of interaction with people unless they come up," Willingham said.

Then the two living advertisements will hand out small cards with information about the speaker, creation science expert Malachi King, who will speak at Heartland at 170 S. Indiana 49.

King will speak on Noah's Ark at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29, on creationism vs. evolution at 10 a.m. March 30 and on the world before the flood at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 30.

The church came up with the idea after brainstorming about a real monkey, which had the problems of "the availability of a monkey, the liability of a monkey," Willingham said. "We don't want something jumping on anybody."

Eventually, some realized, "We have a gorilla suit. Why don't we use that," he said.

City officials approved the unique form of advertising Thursday at the Board of Works and Safety meeting.

City Attorney David Hollenbeck said that the city's position is that gorilla and "keeper" are fine as long as they do not block pedestrians and take care of any litter from the fliers.

The church will have people to collect discarded fliers, Willingham said.