NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 May 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, May 10, 2008

No, We Didn't Make Up The Controversies – A Reply to John Timmer


Does the biology textbook Explore Evolution manufacture false controversies about evolution, while ignoring real ones?

That's what biologist and science writer John Timmer claimed in a post earlier this week at Ars Technica. Timmer attended a two-day symposium on evolution at Rockefeller University and noted the many debates brewing there. "Evolution clearly has no shortage of controversies," he concluded . But those real controversies have "no overlap," he claimed, with the "ostensible" (i.e., fake) controversies supposedly "manufactured" by Explore Evolution. Bottom line for Timmer: while students may, or may not, need to learn about controversies in evolution – he leans strongly towards "not" – Explore Evolution is misleading at best, and the academic freedom bills being introduced around the country aren't needed.

Now, when he wrote his blog entry, Timmer hadn't actually read Explore Evolution. His comments about the book were based on what he could glean from the book's website, and from other writings by its authors.

But, as Timmer will see when his review copy of Explore Evolution arrives (one is on its way to his office in New York), the book does not manufacture the controversies it reports and many of the very debates he saw firsthand at the Rockefeller symposium were already featured in Explore Evolution's pages.

To take one example, students who might have learned from the book about the ideas of Canadian molecular geneticist W. Ford Doolittle, concerning problems with molecular homology would have been primed to ask Doolittle questions following his Rockefeller lecture.

In other words, those students would have been well-educated. Amazing, isn't it?

Open Any Evolutionary Biology Journal: Controversies Abound, at All Levels

First, let's correct the record. Timmer writes that Explore Evolution "presents common descent as controversial exclusively within the animal kingdom." That's false: the book considers, in some detail, molecular evidence, such as ORFan sequences (i.e., genes with no known homologues) and variant genetic codes, that is used to evaluate relationships among single-celled organisms. Thus, Timmer's claim that the controversies on display at Rockefeller have "essentially no overlap with the areas that Discovery would like to pretend are controversial" is simply wrong.

More seriously, Timmer should know that a single symposium – even one as fascinating as the Rockefeller event – does not a science make. Consider the topic of anatomical homology, central to arguments about the common ancestry of the animals. Explore Evolution focuses on the revolution in evolutionary theory's understanding of homology that has been brought about by discoveries in developmental biology and genetics within the past two decades. Many biologists unfamiliar with these findings still hold the standard textbook view that homologous anatomical structures are caused by homologous genes and developmental pathways.

But those textbooks need to be updated. As Günther Wagner (2007, 473) notes,

Intuitively, one would expect that the historical continuity of morphological characters is underpinned by the continuity of the genes that govern the development of these characters. However, things are not that simple: one of the most important results of the past 15 years of molecular developmental genetics is the realization that homologous characters can have different genetic and developmental bases. This seems paradoxical, because the historical continuity of morphological characters implies continuity of the (genetic) information about the characters.

Are students likely to learn about these discoveries from their standard biology textbooks? No. Will they learn about them in Explore Evolution? Yes.

Or consider Timmer's discussion of what he sees as a settled climate of opinion about the efficacy of natural selection:

Explore Evolution seems to think a reply can be made to the arguments in favor of natural selection. Based on the symposium, the scientific community clearly doesn't. Selective pressure made appearances in nearly every session.

Maybe, but that's not because the role of natural selection in biological explanation is uncontroversial, as Timmer asserts. Big fat volumes seeking alternatives to selection – Mary Jane West-Eberhard's massive Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (Oxford, 2003) tips the scales at 794 pages, printed in a magnifier-begging tiny font – dedicated symposia, and indeed entire research programs within evolutionary theory derive from a deep dissatisfaction from the neo-Darwinian emphasis on the centrality of natural selection. Michael Lynch of Indiana University (2007, xiii) expresses this dissatisfaction about as bluntly as anyone could:

…it is quite remarkable that most biologists continue to interpret nearly every aspect of biodiversity as an outcome of adaptive processes. This blind acceptance of natural selection as the only force relevant to evolution has led to a lot of sloppy thinking, and is probably the primary reason why evolution is viewed as a soft science by much of society.

Timmer calls Explore Evolution's discussion of natural selection "hallucinatory" – on the contrary, if anything, the book soft-peddles the problems. Again, will students learn about these debates from their standard texts? Almost certainly not.

The Coming Crisis for the Science Establishment

No, I don't much like the paranoid or ominous-sounding phrase "science establishment," but for the moment, it will have to do. (I have in mind organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the major professional scientific societies that regularly issue anti-ID edicts [you know who you are], and lobbying groups such as the National Center for Science Education.) There is a growing disconnect between statements issued for public consumption by "the establishment," about the certainties of evolution, and the actual state of evolutionary theory, as one finds it in the primary research literature, at meetings (such as the one Timmer attended, and where I often find myself), and in personal conversations and communications with evolutionary biologists. I speak from long experience. As that distance -- that disconnect -- increases, an inevitable crisis looms.

Here's an example. Natural selection, as Darwin discovered, explains the origin of biological complexity, novelty, and innovation. There's a stock phrase that populates any number of official statements about evolution. One could utter that statement in any biology classroom around the USA, and no one would blink. You know: Darwin found the process by which new structures evolved where they did not exist before.

Now here's the opening argument from a research paper I happen to be reading this week, from the evolutionary theoretician Armin Moczek (2008):

Given its importance and pervasiveness, the processes underlying evolutionary innovation are, however, remarkably poorly understood, which leaves us at a surprising conundrum: while biologists have made great progress over the past century and a half in understanding how existing traits diversify, we have made relatively little progress in understanding how novel traits come into being in the first place.

What happens to the credibility of the science establishment -- on the subject of the bona fides of standard evolutionary theory -- when "Darwin already explained that, put your hand down" comes into contact with "Well, we don't really know?"

Not letting the kids talk about it...there's a winning strategy.


Lynch, Michael. 2007. The Origins of Genome Architecture. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Moczek, Armin. 2008. On the origins of novelty in development and evolution. BioEssays 30:432-47.

Wagner, Günther. 2007. The developmental genetics of homology. Nature Reviews Genetics 8:473-479.

Posted by Paul Nelson on May 9, 2008 12:43 PM | Permalink


Intelligent Design fails as a pretense to science that tries to set religion and evolution at odds


By Steven L. Peck
Article Last Updated: 05/09/2008 11:06:03 PM MDT

The movie "Expelled" is, once again, unfortunately bringing to the foreground the creationist flanking maneuver of so-called Intelligent Design.

First, I want to be clear where I'm coming from. I am a biology professor and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I take particular delight in being raised a Mormon who was taught that education and knowledge are among our highest ideals.

Many are surprised to find that I am also an evolutionary biologist. I am also a member of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the United States' leading evolutionary science organization, and have published papers in its journal Evolution. I have published numerous scientific papers on the topic of evolution and believe that it is the best explanation for the diversity of life we see around us.

Evolution is at the heart of the biological revolution that has transformed everything from genetics, and medicine, to drug discovery and managing antibiotic resistance. As the great 20th century biologist Dobzhansky said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

As a biologist, I could not agree more. BYU has a number of faithful evolutionary biologists and evolutionary science is taught at Brigham Young University just as it is at any other accredited university. Intelligent Design has no place in BYU's science curriculum.

Let me be blunt. I find nothing of value in Intelligent Design for both scientific and religious reasons. Intelligent Design posits that evolutionary theory cannot explain the origin of biological complexity. This is nonsense. Evolution is the best explanation for complexity. The purveyors of Intelligent Design argue that complex structures like the eye cannot be explained by bouts of mutation and selection; they call this irreproducible complexity. However, the truth is the eye has been explained exactly in those terms, by many evolutionary thinkers.

The argument is tantamount to saying that skyscrapers are impossible to build because there is no crane large enough to construct one. In fact, the crane was part of the building as it was raised and finally was dismantled when no longer needed. In the evolutionary history of life, this happened again and again. We see the remnants of these "cranes" all over the place. The history of life is full of things being used and retooled, then lost. A whale's leg being turned into flippers, for example.

My next complaint about the Intelligent Design fiasco is its pretence to science. Exactly what makes it a science is not clear. It offers no testable hypotheses. It has established no research program. The theory of evolution has offered testable hypotheses that have been confirmed again and again. The theory of evolution says that we should find certain things in the fossil record, the genetic code of our genes, the distribution of plants and animals on the earth. We find those things.

Do not be detracted by supposed missing transitional forms. Fossilization is a rare process and we expect to find few transitional forms. But consider the recent lovely fossils coming out of China detailing the evolution of flight in birds from bird-like reptiles.

My last complaint about Intelligent Design is that it sets religion and science against each other. It puts forward a false dichotomy in students' minds that suggests that evolution and faith are incompatible. It makes people of religious faith suspicious of science. When students genuinely think that science and religion are incompatible, one of two things typically happens. They embrace science and, since it is incompatible to religion, religion is abandoned. The other is that they maintain their faith but remain inappropriately suspicious of science and dismiss its methods and findings, inclining themselves to superstition and pseudoscience.

I have to wonder if the reason science education in the U.S. is falling behind that of other countries is because misinformed people of faith have been dissing science to the point that many students are choosing other paths.

Faith and science need not be enemies. I embrace both fully and without reservation. My religious convictions are part of who I am. My science and faith reciprocate and inform one another. They are part of the way I understand my place in the universe.

Intelligent Design does nothing to promote the search for understanding and cooperation between these two vital ways of knowing. It is a darkening of the mind on every level, both religiously and scientifically. Please do not let it be taught to my children as a science. It is bad for both religion and science.

STEVEN L. PECK is an associate professor in the Department of Biology at Brigham Young University. E-mail: steven peck@byu.edu

Faith and science need not be enemies. I embrace both fully and without reservation. My religious convictions are part of who I am. My science and faith reciprocate and inform one another. They are part of the way I understand my place in the universe. Intelligent Design does nothing to promote the search for understanding and cooperation between these two vital ways of knowing.

Evolution questions are quest for truth


By Todd Linn Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ben Stein has put together an interesting documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." The movie treats some of the implications of the so-called "Creation and Evolution Debate," stressing the need for more open and honest dialogue on the issues within the academic community.

Contrary to popular belief, not all scientists speak with one voice on the matter of Darwinian evolutionary theory, especially as originally articulated by Charles Darwin in his seminal 19th century work, "On the Origin of Species." A number of gifted men and women have raised questions about the theory in recent years and have paid dearly for doing so. Because of the prevailing evolutionist mind-set within academia, one who merely questions the purported evidence for Darwinian theory may find himself "expelled" from his teaching post or research assignment.

Interestingly, not all of these scientists who dare to question Darwinian theory are believers in the God of the Bible. Some are simply pointing out inconsistencies and difficulties of the theory and allowing for the possibility that matter may have been created by an intelligent designer of some kind.

Those who interpret the Bible in a straightforward manner, however, have little difficulty accepting the doctrine of creation. The Psalmist poetically describes the creative work of God earlier reported in the opening book of the Bible. Calling for all the heavens to praise the Lord, he writes: "For he commanded and they were created (Psalm 148:5)."

Although Christians have differed over the nuances of evolutionary theory, they have, in the main, accepted the fact that "God commanded and they were created." What is more, some of history's greatest scientists saw no conflict between science and the Bible.

German astronomer Johannes Kepler, for example, was a devout Lutheran who described his scientific discoveries as "thinking God's thoughts after him."

Galileo Galilei, often called the "father of science," was a believer in the God of the Bible and, while coming under fire from the Catholic Church for his rightful support of Copernicus, desired to remain loyal to the church.

And few people today know that Sir Isaac Newton actually wrote more on theology than he did on science.

Does academia no longer tolerate scientists who happen to have a biblical worldview?

One wonders what evolutionists fear when their theory is questioned. Is not the quest for truth all about honest inquiry?

The Rev. Todd Linn is pastor of First Baptist Church in Henderson, Ky.

Stanislaus State professor laments intolerance toward opponents of evolution


last updated: May 10, 2008 05:28:37 AM

When Curtis Grant, a retired history professor from California State University, Stanislaus, was watching Ben Stein's satirical documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," he thought of another CSUS professor, Richard Weikart.

Weikart wrote the 2004 book "From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany," which underlined Stein's views in the movie. Then Grant saw Weikart on screen -- Stein was talking with the chairman of the CSUS history department in the German cities of Hadamar and Dachau.

Hadamar, Weikart said this week from his office on the Turlock campus, "was the site where the Nazis killed 15,000 disabled people. Most were mentally ill, although they also killed the blind, they killed the deaf, they killed people with other handicaps.

"(Stein) asked about the links between Darwinism and the Nazi program. The Nazis' eugenics program sterilized about 400,000 people. That was put in place before the killing program (started) after World War II broke out.

"We filmed at Dachau (a concentration camp) as well. We talked more there about the connections between Darwinism and the war and racism. Of course, there's only three to four minutes in the movie. We probably spoke for about two hours in Hadamar and one and a half hours in Dachau."

Weikart, filmed in 2006, wasn't paid for his part in the film, although he and his son and daughter did have their expenses picked up for their trip to Germany.

The documentary has been panned by movie critics and attacked by scientists and atheists. One letter writer to The Bee called it a "pseudo-Christian documentary" (Stein is Jewish, not Christian) and a waste of "$7 on this purported plea for academic freedom."

Weikart, however, agrees with the film's underlying theme -- that an intolerance to opponents of evolution has led to severe restrictions and even job losses in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and religion.

"Intelligent design is an attempt to fill in the gaps of the brilliant theory of Darwinism," Stein said in a TV interview. "Maybe we're wrong. Maybe we're stupid. We just would like to present our views."

Those views are warped, according to the National Center for Science Education, which -- according to its Web site -- exists "to keep evolution in the science classroom and 'scientific creationism' out." On its sister site dedicated to blasting the people and views of Stein's documentary is this summary: "Expelled's inflammatory implication that Darwin and the science of evolution 'led to' eugenics, Nazis and Stalinism is deeply offensive and detrimental to public discussion and understanding of science, religion and history."

Weikart, who has spent years researching the subject, disagrees.

"(My) book argues that evolutionary ethics was an important factor in the shift in the late 19th and early 20th century away from a Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic," he said.

"There were quite a number of Darwinists, not only biologists, but social thinkers ... who thought the extinction of the American Indians and the Australian aborigines were part of the Darwinian evolution, the so-called elimination of the lesser. There were Darwinian thinkers who were promoting infanticide and eugenics and euthanasia, especially for the disabled, because they believed that natural selection was a good process but that humanitarian institutions (hospitals, religions) set aside the benefits of natural selection, so they had to find a way to get rid of those."

And those thoughts did influence Hitler and the Nazi party, Weikart said.

"These kind of ideas fed into Hitler's and the Nazis' ideaology by promoting a racial struggle for existence that resulted in the so-called extermination of inferior human races -- Gypsies, Jews, and it would have eventually included Slavs and other races as well."

The furor over the movie, Weikart said, basically proves Stein's point -- that there is no tolerance for those who disagree with evolution or evolutionary ethics. But he does understand some of the criticism.

"I think (the movie) does a really good job of raising a number of different issues," Weikart said. "Unfortunately, it's never able to explore any of those issues to any real depth, so I think that's why the critics have jumped on it. For example, they weren't able to say enough about Darwinism and Naziism to really explain it.

"I think for people who have an open mind, it raises a lot of issues they can explore further on their own. My book is selling pretty well, and I've been getting some e-mails from people talking about the issue. Most of them are positive, but I've received a few irate ones, too.

"The most ridiculous criticism I've heard is from Arthur Kaplan from the University of Pennsylvania, a bioethicist. He's a Jew and he took umbrage at the link between Darwinism and the Holocaust and called Stein a Holocaust denier. That's kind of absurd.

"The whole movie is about how people are being shut down, and here are people trying to shut it down. I think it exposes the intolerance of academe. One of the biggest issues raised in the film is academic freedom. To say it's narrow-minded is itself a rather intolerant view."

Weikart has been on a study leave this year and is finishing a manuscript called "Hitler's Ethic."

"It's a sequel," he said. "It shows that Hitler's ideology revolved around evolutionary ethics -- the idea that whatever promoted evolutionary progress is good and whatever hinders it is bad. That was Hitler's view; he used that to justify everything from military expansion to eugenics to exterminating races -- it all contributed to evolutionary progress."

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or snowicki@modbee.com.

Bring evolution debate into 21st century


Article published Saturday, May 10, 2008

IT HAS been 83 years since John Scopes was charged with violation of Tennessee state law for teaching evolution to high school students.

Now the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed claims the roles have been reversed and that academics are losing their jobs for promoting intelligent design, the hypothesis that life is too complex to be solely the result of evolution. The Blade gave front-page status to this movie and its claim that such advocates are being punished for questioning evolution; however, both the movie and article fail to investigate the stories behind the claims.

Such investigation should be central to any work of journalism and is warranted by a number of media reports and Internet sites disputing the claims of the movie. For example, the narrator Ben Stein states biologist Richard Sternberg was fired by the Smithsonian Institution, but fails to mention Mr. Sternberg was never a paid employee. The two tenured professors interviewed in the movie for their controversial advocacy of intelligent design were never in danger of losing their jobs, demonstrating that tenure does ensure academic freedom. In fact, the film presents only one case in which an assistant professor and intelligent design advocate was denied tenure; however, a clear connection between the denial of tenure and intelligent design was not demonstrated in the movie or The Blade article.

Expelled quickly loses interest in claims of firings and dismissals and moves on to a larger goal: to link the theory of evolution to atheism, fascism, eugenics, the Holocaust, and, interestingly, the music of John Lennon.

In a controversial move, Ben Stein interviewed under false pretenses prominent atheists who are proponents of evolutionary biology; the resulting edited interviews are clearly manipulated to serve the movie's premise. And the movie ignores prominent biologists who find no conflict between their acceptance of evolution and their Christian belief, notably Kenneth Miller, an evolutionary biologist and devout Catholic who testified against intelligent design in the Dover evolution trial, and Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who led the human genome project.

The most troubling aspect of the movie is its linkage of the theory of evolution to the Holocaust. To establish this connection, Expelled purposely confuses evolutionary theory, a scientific theory used to understand the diversity and relationship of life on Earth, with social ideologies such as Social Darwinism and Eugenics.

The film's intellectual dishonesty is plainly apparent when narrator Ben Stein recites a carefully edited excerpt from Darwin's Descent of Man: "With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."

In trying to forge a link between Darwin and the Holocaust, Mr. Stein neglects to quote Darwin's following sentences: "The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature." Whether it was imbued by evolution or a creator, Darwin recognized the transcendent value of the human conscience.

Why is this important? Just as the physical theories of motion, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics led to the technologies that transformed society in the 20th century, modern biology will enable technologies that will transform human society in the 21st century.

Through a growing understanding of the detailed workings of cells and genes, humankind is developing an increasingly sophisticated ability to manipulate organisms, from microbes to people. This should lead to revolutionary medical treatments and an increased quality of life, but there are also moral and societal implications that cannot be ignored. For our country to have an enlightened discourse on this requires a public educated in biology, including the theory of evolution, which is one of its pillars.

Unless we move the debate over evolution and the teaching of biology from the 19th century to the 21st century, we as a nation will sail into this uncharted territory with our eyes shut.

Tom Megeath is an assistant professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Toledo.

Bill C-51 threatens choices in healthcare, say critics


New rules may make illegal the promotion of natural products

Cornelia Naylor, For the Times Published: Friday, May 09, 2008

Alternative healthcare practitioners in Abbotsford are raising the alarm about proposed changes to the Food and Drugs Act that could make it illegal for them to recommend natural products like beet juice, garlic and camomile tea for therapeutic use.

Bill C-51, introduced in the House of Commons on April 8, proposes an overhaul of the Food and Drugs Act in the name of public health and safety. But some changes have alternative advocates alarmed and organizing protests including one in Vancouver's Robson Square at 10 a.m. Saturday.

"It's definitely a scary one," said Abbotsford's Chris Vallee, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and a registered acupuncturist. He and others committed to natural healing practices worry about the plan to replace the word "drug" with "therapeutic product," a blanket definition that would bring all natural products and treatments into the same category as synthetic drugs and make them subject to the same regulations.

Dr. Robert Ewing, a local naturopathic practitioner since 1993, says opposition to the bill is not about avoiding accountability.

"I don't think that nutritional supplements, herbs and things should be without any regulation. There should be some, but they should be reasonable, because some of these substances have been used for thousands of years and have endless safety track records," he said.

Requiring natural products to undergo costly clinical trials would effectively eliminate them from therapeutic use since natural products, unlike patented synthetic drugs, don't create enough profit to cover the cost of the trials, Ewing said.

Alternative medicine advocates say this undermines the right to choose what kind of health care people want.

"For those that don't want to take drugs, those that don't want to have surgery, there have to be other options," said Vallee. "When you're taking away choices, you're trying to control people, and I don't think that's fair for people's health."

Bill C-51 critics found further fuel for their concern in other proposed amendments that would expand the power of inspectors, and substantially increase penalties for those violating the new regulations, to fines of up to $5 million dollars and up to two years in prison.

For Ewing, Bill C-51 has implications that would affect even those who may never become interested in natural remedies because it would limit the role that alternative medicine has historically played in challenging the medical establishment to "grow and develop."

"This is taking away a freedom that could stunt medicine," he said.

© Abbotsford Times 2008



States Push Academic Freedom Bills
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

If creationism is a mutating virus, as many educators believe, then its latest guise is legislation to protect "academic freedom."

Politicians in five U.S. states are pushing bills to enable educators to teach alternatives to evolution by protecting their "right" to discuss with students the idea of intelligent design (ID). Last week, scientists in Florida heaved a sigh of relief when the state legislature adjourned without reconciling differing versions of a bill seen as promoting ID. Similar legislation appears to have a good chance of passing in Louisiana, however, and is gathering steam in Missouri. Bills have also been introduced in Alabama and Michigan.

The language in the bills is modeled on a statute drafted by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, a prominent ID think tank. "They provide a permission slip for teachers to teach creationism--as long as it's called 'science,' " says Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. "If any one of them passes, it is going to be very encouraging to creationists in other states." Backers are hoping for a lift from a current movie with actor Ben Stein, called Expelled, that accuses scientists of silencing those who question evolutionary theory.

In Florida, ID supporters lobbied for a bill that would protect teachers from being "disciplined, denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against for objectively presenting scientific views regarding biological or chemical evolution." On 23 April, the state Senate passed it by a vote of 21 to 17. But the House sponsor, D. Alan Hays, replaced the Senate language with a single line that instead would require public schools to provide "a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." Hays's legislative assistant, Tiffany Rousseau, told Science that the change was made due to fears that conferring protection upon teachers "might be unconstitutional."

On 28 April, the House voted 71-43 in favor of Hays's legislation. But attempts at reconciliation failed. Senator Ronda Storms, who sponsored the bill, told the Florida Baptist Witness that "the House vehicle [had] veered off of the sure path to our destination."

In Louisiana, state senators voted unanimously that the state school board should promote "open and objective discussion of scientific theories … including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." A House committee was expected to take up the measure this week.

"It has been difficult to rally opposition," says Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. Forrest and other educators have formed the Louisiana Coalition for Science in a bid to block the legislation. Backers of the bill include the conservative Louisiana Family Forum.

Groups opposed to teaching creationism are likely to challenge any proposal that becomes law. But they would prefer to defeat the movement earlier. "One can reasonably conclude that the freedom [these bills] are trying to empower teachers with is to present the same material that was found unconstitutional in the Dover case, namely intelligent design," says Eric Rothschild, who represented the plaintiffs in their suit against the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board (Science, 6 January 2006, p. 34). But mounting a judicial challenge could be a costly and time-consuming process, Rothschild warns: "It's always better for bad laws to be avoided by legislators themselves."

Lyme advocates akin to creationists


May 9, 2008

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Time for Lyme Inc. and the Lyme Disease Association have a lot in common with proponents of creationism. They place belief (and politics) above science when discussing a matter that has been studied scientifically, looking for ways to fault the science that doesn't fit their preconceived notions, and to smear the scientists who report it.

Your Tuesday article, "Lyme disease expert defends research," states, "Since the guidelines came out in October 2006, two more double-blind studies have upheld (Dr. Gary) Wormser's position on chronic Lyme."

Apart from accusations of conflicts of interest, the response by those with an interest in publicizing Lyme disease is a hope that "they," whoever "they" are, "will find fault with the current guidelines."

By convincing Blumenthal to politicize the issue, those who oppose the science have followed the lead of the creationists and others who cannot accept science, and look for ways to circumvent it.

Richard A. Rosen, M.D.

Mount Vernon

Turkish Islamic author given 3-year jail sentence


Fri May 9, 2008 3:42pm EDT

By Thomas Grove

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Controversial Turkish Islamic author Adnan Oktar was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday for creating an illegal organization for personal gain, state-run Anatolian news agency said.

A spokeswoman for his Science Research Foundation (BAV) confirmed to Reuters that Oktar had been sentenced but said the judge was influenced by political and religious pressure groups.

Oktar had been tried with 17 other defendants in an Istanbul court. The verdict and sentence came after a previous trial that began in 2000 after Oktar, along with 50 members of his foundation, was arrested in 1999.

In that court case, Oktar had been charged with using threats for personal benefit and creating an organization with the intent to commit a crime. The charges were dropped but another court picked them up resulting in the latest case.

Oktar planned to appeal the sentence, a BAV spokeswoman said. No further details were immediately available.

Oktar, born in 1956, is the driving force behind a richly funded movement based in Turkey that champions creationism, the belief that God literally created the world in six days as told in the Bible and the Koran.

Istanbul-based Oktar, who writes under the pen name Harun Yahya, has created waves in the past few years by sending out thousands of unsolicited texts advocating Islamic creationism to schools in several European countries.

The court decision comes at a time when political tensions in officially secular but predominantly Muslim Turkey are high as the ruling AK Party faces a court case that seeks its closure for alleged Islamist activities, a claim the party denies.

Oktar's teachings echo those of Christian fundamentalists in the United States. He has publicly denounced Darwinism and Freemasonry in high-profile attacks.

Charles Darwin came up with the widely adopted evolutionary theory of natural selection in the 19th century.

Oktar's publishing house has published dozens of books that have been distributed in more than 150 countries and been translated into more than 50 languages. He has a wide following in the Muslim world.

But Turkish commentators say the group's books, numbering more than 200, are probably written by a pool of writers, a charge the author denies.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tree of life continues to evolve


Genetic comparisons of different animals realign branches By Carl Zimmer Globe Correspondent / April 28, 2008

Casey Dunn has gathered his share of weird animals. He dredged up sea spiders that live around the docks in Waikiki. He dived to the sea floor to scoop up mud, in search of bizarre, spiny creatures called kinorhynchs that are smaller than a grain of sand.

Dunn, a biologist at Brown University, hunts for weird animals to get his hands on their DNA. Hidden in their genes is a record of the history of the entire animal kingdom, some 700 million years of evolutionary change.

By analyzing the DNA of dozens of different kinds of animals, he and his colleagues have made some astounding discoveries about animal evolution. For one thing, the common ancestor of all living animals may have been more complicated than once thought.

While scientists have been analyzing DNA for a few decades now, this work is different. Instead of comparing a fragment of a single gene, as a scientist might have done 10 years ago, Dunn and his contemporaries can search through all of the DNA in an animal - its entire genome.

Comparative genomics, as this young science is known, is having a huge impact on biology, helping scientists answer many of science's deepest questions. It promises, for example, to shed light on how our genes make us prone to diseases, and how the genes of pathogens make them deadly.

"It has created a revolution in our ability to understand biology," said Steven Brenner, a computational biologist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Before comparative genomics, some researchers worried that they might never understand early animal evolution well. It's like watching a card game a mile away through a telescope. The details can be blurry.

"You have to look over this long distance to something that was relatively quick," Dunn said. "A lot of people wondered if we could ever find out how the major groups of animals are related to each other."

Dunn and his colleagues have now shown that they can.

The scientists have analyzed the biggest collection of data on animals ever assembled. They combined data on DNA from 77 different species, as varied as sponges, oysters, and humans. Some of the data came from earlier research by other scientists. Dunn and his colleagues also searched for obscure animals to get a wider selection. "It took us a couple years to get everything together," Dunn said.

With that information, they were able to reconfigure the tree of life.

They identified pivotal genes in all 77 species that they thought would provide insight into evolution. They then narrowed down this list of 3,000 or so genes to 150 that would provide the most insight into evolution.

"We needed to run over 100 computers for months on end to even make sense of this data," Dunn said.

"One of the most important results is that we get a result," he said. Instead of being lost in an ancient blur, many of the branches of the animal kingdom came into focus in their study. "It was a bit of a relief."

Some of the results confirmed relationships based on anatomy. The closest relatives to vertebrates, for example, include echinoderms (a group that includes starfish). But other results were surprising.

Two of the most species-rich groups of animals are the insects and nematodes, such as roundworms. For years, many scientists argued that insects were more closely related to us than nematodes. For evidence, they pointed to traits that insects and vertebrates share, such as an inner body cavity, which nematodes lack. But the new study supports a different view of animal evolution: Insects and nematodes are more closely related to each other than either is to us.

This result is not just important for understanding how animals evolved. (In this case, it appears that nematodes lost their body cavity after they branched off from the ancestors of insects.) The better scientists understand how insects and nematodes are related to us, the better they can translate the results of experiments on these animals to human biology.

"The human genome sequence would be nearly worthless without the value added by evolutionary comparisons to other organisms," said Mark Pallen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Birmingham in England.

The biggest surprise of the new study lies at the very base of the animal tree. Traditionally, scientists have considered sponges to belong to the oldest lineage of living animals. The next oldest lineages produced a group of species that included jellyfish and comb jellies, known as ctenophores. According to this view, the common ancestor of living animals was relatively simple. Only after the ancestors of sponges branched off did a nervous system begin to evolve.

Dunn and his colleagues discovered to their surprise that the comb jelly lineage is the oldest. To test this result, Steven Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium used a remote submersible to catch another species of comb jelly to analyze. It turned out that their original comb jelly had not been a genetic fluke.

Their discovery does not mean that our ancestors looked like comb jellies, Dunn stresses. "That's like saying that your cousin is your grandpa," he said. Much of the comb jelly's anatomy probably evolved after its ancestors split off from the ancestors of other living animals.

But the fact that comb jellies and most other animals share a nervous system suggests that their common ancestor did as well. Rather than being simple, as once thought, the common ancestor of living animals had already evolved to be relatively complex. And once the ancestors of sponges branched off, they must have lost their nervous system and evolved into filter feeders anchored to the sea floor. (They'd hardly be the only animals to have lost traits - consider the missing body cavity in nematodes, or our own vestigial tail bones.)

"It looks like there are both gains of complexity and reductions across the animal tree," Dunn said.

Other experts have praised the new study. "While clearly not the last word, this study represents the state of the art in animal phylogenies," Maximilian Telford of University College London wrote in the journal Developmental Cell.

Dunn predicts that comparative genomics will help tease out the relationships of other major groups of species, such as plants and bacteria. As prices continue to fall and methods continue to improve, the entire tree of life will come increasingly into focus. Scientists will be able to use the tree to trace the history of individual genes. Some of those genes make humans vulnerable to diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Other genes, shared among bacteria, boost their danger to our health.

Computers and DNA sequencers can't substitute for the hard work of searching for life's diversity. "If we're going to get serious about understanding how all things are related to each other, the real challenge is going to be the one that naturalists faced 200 years ago," he said. The one bottleneck Dunn foresees is the need to find more species.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Story of evolution can be seen as comedy of errors


April 26, 2008, 7:47PM

Scientists say intelligent design doesn't account for more amusing anatomical quirks

By FAYE FLAM Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — "Oh what a piece of work is man," wrote Shakespeare, long before Darwin suggested just how little work went into us. Somehow, that same process that gave us reason, language and art also left us with hernias, flatulence and hiccups.

One argument scientists often make against so-called intelligent design — the idea that evolution cannot by itself explain life — is that on closer inspection, we look like we've been put together by someone who didn't read the manual, or at least did a somewhat sloppy job of things.

Viewed as products of evolution, however, our anatomical quirks start to make sense, says University of Chicago fossil hunter and anatomy professor Neil Shubin, author of the recent book Your Inner Fish. And by focusing on our less lofty traits, evolutionary biology can help dispel one of the most egregious and even tragic fallacies surrounding Darwinian evolution — that it moves toward perfection, with man at the apex of some towering ladder.

Evolution of hiccups

That misreading of evolution has been connected to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century, with the Nazis extending the man-as-ideal notion to blue-eyed blond German-man-as-ideal notion.

"Darwin didn't believe it, but some, who saw it through a more religious light, tended to want to interpret evolution as a steady march toward the pinnacle of humanity," says University of Pennsylvania ethicist Art Caplan, who has written extensively on the eugenics movement.

By today's understanding, evolution by natural selection doesn't march toward anything — it just modifies existing creatures to better compete in ever-shifting environments.

Understanding something as seemingly trivial as the evolution of hiccups can help clear up some profound misperceptions on the nature of life and humanity.

The sound of a hiccup echoes back to our very distant past as fish and amphibians some 375 million years ago, says Shubin. It's really just a spasm that causes a sharp intake of breath followed by a quick partial closing of our upper airway with that flap of skin known as the glottis. It's best if you can nip it in the first couple of hics, he says.

It's much harder to stop once you've let yourself get up to 10. By that point you've reverted to an ancient breathing pattern orchestrated by the brain stem that once helped amphibians breath, letting water pass the gills without leaking into the lungs.

"Tadpoles normally breathe with something like a hiccup," Shubin says.

The theme of his book is that we owe much of our anatomy to our animal ancestors. "Parts that evolved in one setting are now jury-rigged to work in another," he says. "When you look at the human body, you see layer after layer of history inside of us."

The first layer is what we share with chimpanzees and gorillas. The next goes back to mice and cows, while further down, you get to the relatively underappreciated layers we share with fish — which include the backbone and basic layout of the body.

Fishy news about hernias

Our descent from fish explains why men are so much more prone to hernias than women. In fish, Shubin explains, the testicles lie up near the heart.

(Had they remained there, he said, it would give a whole new meaning to the Pledge of Allegiance.)

The budding gonads still form up high in a human embryo, but male mammals reproduce better with their sperm kept a bit cooler than body temperature. And so during gestation, human testicles take an incredible journey down through the body to their destination in the scrotum.

The trip downward puts a loop in the cord that connects the testes to the penis, leaving a weakness in the body wall where the cord attaches that never quite repairs itself.

Hence the trouble with hernias down the road.

The matter of milk

No good story about human design flaws can pass up a discussion of flatulence — and science has addressed the kind that would occur if everyone in the world drank a tall glass of milk at the same time.

Geneticist Pragna Patel of the University of Southern California said one of her favorite examples of evolution in progress involves the gene that determines who can digest the sugars in milk and who cannot.

From genetic studies it appears that so-called lactose intolerance was our ancestral state.

A few people, however, were genetically gifted with an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose, and in groups that started drinking lots of milk around 10,000 years ago, that version of the gene started to take over.

Scientists recently sequenced the lactase gene and found 43 different variations that allow adults to drink the milk of other animals.

"It's the first clear evidence of convergent evolution," Patel said, though it's not known whether those lacking this innovation failed to pass on their genes because they suffered from lack of nutrition or just didn't get invited to any parties.

Why Genetic Similarities Don't Prove Evolution


Submitted by bgrnathan on April 26, 2008 - 7:22am. Nation - World | Religion

Yes, there are many genetic and biological similarities between species, but are these similarities because of common biological ancestry (macroevolution) or because of a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes in all of the various forms of life on earth from the simplest to the most complex. Neither position can be scientifically proved.

Dogs must breathe the same air as humans. The creationists, therefore, believe that the Creator designed similar lungs for both dogs and humans. The evolutionists believe that dogs and humans have similar lungs because they are related from millions of years ago.

It has been said that the eye of an octopus is more similar to the human eye than any other animal. Are we to assume from this that humans are more closely related to octopus than other animals?

Genetic similarities can only be used to prove relationship within a biological "kind" but not between biological "kinds". Since members within a biological kind can interbreed and reproduce the genetic similarities must be evidence of relationship.

If DNA can happen by chance then it is logical to believe in macro-evolution. But, the scientific evidence shows that DNA cannot happen by chance. This means it is more logical to believe that DNA similarities between species are due to a common genetic Engineer or Designer (God!).

The evidence from science shows that only microevolution (variations within a biological "kind" such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.) is possible but not macroevolution (variations across biological "kinds", especially from simpler kinds to more complex ones). The only evolution that occurs in Nature is microevolution (or horizontal evolution) but not macroevolution (vertical evolution).

The genetic ability for microevolution exists in Nature but not the genetic ability for macroevolution. The genes (chemical and genetic instructions or programs) for microevolution exist in every species but not the genes for macroevolution. Unless Nature has the intelligence and ability to perform genetic engineering (to construct entirely new genes and not just to produce variations and new combinations of already existing genes) then macroevolution will never be possible in Nature.

We have varieties of dogs today that we didn't have a couple of hundred years ago. All of this is just another example of microevolution (horizontal evolution) in Nature. No matter how many varieties of dogs come into being they will always remain dogs and not change or evolve into some other kind of animal. Even the formation of an entirely new species of plant or animal from hybridization will not support Darwinian evolution since such hybridization does not involve any production of new genetic information but merely the recombination of already existing genes.

Modifications and new combinations of already existing genes for already existing traits have been shown to occur in Nature but never the production of entirely new genes or new traits. This is true even with genetic mutations. For example, mutations in the genes for human hair may change the genes so that another type of human hair develops, but the mutations won't change the genes for human hair so that feathers, wings, or entirely new traits develop. Mutations may even cause duplication of already existing traits (i.e. an extra finger, toe, etc. even in another part of the body!), but none of these things qualify as new traits.

Evolutionists believe that, if given enough time, random or chance mutations in the genetic code caused by random environmental forces such as radiation will produce entirely new genes for entirely new traits which natural selection can act upon or preserve.

However, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that random mutations have the ability to generate entirely new genes which would program for the development of entirely new traits in species. It would require genetic engineering to accomplish such a feat. Random genetic mutations caused by the environment will never qualify as genetic engineering!

Mutations are accidents in the sequential molecular structure of the genetic code and they are almost always harmful, as would be expected from accidents. Of course, just like some earthquakes that don't do any damage to buildings, there are also mutations that don't do any biological harm. But, even if a good mutation does occur for every good mutation there will be hundreds of harmful ones with the net result over time being disastrous for the species.

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

Most biological variations within a biological kind (i.e. varieties of humans, dogs, cats, horses, mice, etc.) are the result of new combinations of already existing genes and not because of mutations.

For those who are not read-up on their biology, a little information on genes would be helpful here. What we call "genes" are actually segments of the DNA molecule. DNA, or the genetic code, is composed of a molecular string of various nucleic acids (chemical letters) which are arranged in a sequence just like the letters found in the words and sentences of a book. It is this sequence of nucleic acids in DNA that tells the cells of our body how to construct (or build) various proteins, tissues, and organs such as nose, eyes, brain, etc. If the nucleic acids in the genetic code are not in the correct sequence then malfunctioning, or even worse, harmful proteins may form causing serious health problems and even death.

There is no law in science that nucleic acids have to come together in a particular sequence. Any nucleic acid can just as easily bond with any other. The only reason for why nucleic acids are found in a particular sequence in the DNA of the cells of our bodies is because they are directed to do so by previously existing DNA. When new cells form in our bodies the DNA of the old cells direct the formation of the DNA in the new cells.

The common belief among evolutionists is that, if given millions of years, radiation and other environmental forces will cause enough random changes (mutations) to occur in the sequential structure of the genetic code of a species so that entirely new sequences for entirely new genes will develop which in turn will program for the formation of entirely new biological traits, organs, and structures that natural selection can then act upon.

Would it be rational to believe that by randomly changing the sequence of letters in a cookbook that you will eventually get a book on astronomy? Of course not! And if the book were a living being it would have died in the process of such random changes.

Such changes, as transforming one book into another or the DNA of one species into the DNA of another, especially one more complex, simply cannot occur by random or chance alterations. It would require intelligent planning and design to change one book into another or to change the DNA of a simpler species into the DNA of a more complex one.

Yes, it is true that the raw biological materials and chemicals to make entirely new genes exist in every species, but the problem is that the random forces of nature (i.e. radiation, etc.) simply have no ability to rearrange those chemicals and biological materials into entirely new genes programming for entirely new traits. Again, mutations only have the ability to produce variations of already existing traits. It would require intelligent manipulation of genetic material (genetic engineering) to turn a fish into a human being. The random forces of the environment cannot perform such genetic engineering!

If the environment doesn't possess the ability to perform genetic engineering and if macro-evolution really did not occur then how else can one explain the genetic and biological similarities which exist between various species and, indeed, all of life. Although it cannot be scientifically proven, creationists believe that the only rational explanation for the genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life is due to a common Designer who designed and created similar functions for similar purposes and different functions for different purposes in all of the various forms of life from the simplest to the most complex. Even humans employ this principle of common design in planning the varied architecture of buildings!

If humans must use intelligence to perform genetic engineering, to meaningfully manipulate the genetic code, then what does that say about the origin of the genetic code itself!

Many have confused natural selection with evolution itself. Yes, Charles Darwin did show that natural selection occurs in nature, but what many don't understand is that natural selection itself does not produce biological traits or variations.

Natural selection can only "select" from biological variations that are produced and which have survival value. The real issue is what biological variations can be naturally produced. What biological variations are naturally possible? When a biological change or variation occurs within a species and this new variation (such as a change in skin color, etc.) helps that species to survive in its environment then that variation will be preserved ("selected") and be passed on to offspring. That is called "natural selection" or "survival of the fittest". But, neither "natural selection" nor "survival of the fittest" has anything to do with producing biological traits and variations.

The term "natural selection" is simply a figure of speech. Nature, of course, does not do any active or conscious selecting. It is an entirely passive process. Darwin did not realize what produced biological variations. Darwin simply assumed that any kind of biological change or variation was possible in life. However, we now know that biological traits and variations are determined by the genetic code.

Natural selection works with evolution but it is not evolution itself. Again, since natural selection can only "select" from biological variations that are possible, the real question to be asking is what kind of biological variations are naturally possible. How much biological variation (or how much evolution) is naturally possible in Nature? As we have seen all biological variation or evolution is limited to within plant and animal kinds.

Another reason for why macroevolution is not possible in Nature is because a half-evolved and useless organ waiting millions of years to be completed by random mutations would be a liability and hindrance to a species - not exactly a prime candidate for natural selection. In fact, how could species have survived over, supposedly, millions of years while their vital (or necessary) organs were still in the process of evolving!

How, for example, were animals breathing, eating, and reproducing if their respiratory, digestive, and reproductive organs were still incomplete and evolving? How were species fighting off possibly life-threatening germs if their immune system hadn't fully evolved yet?

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

Usually what is meant by the term "biological kind" is a natural species but this may not always be the case. The key to keep in mind here is that in order for evolution in nature to occur from one biological "kind" to another biological "kind" entirely new genes would have to be generated and not just merely modifications and/or recombination of already existing genes. If, for example, offspring are produced which cannot be crossed back with the original stock then there is, indeed, a new species but if no new genes or traits developed then there is no macro-evolution (variation across biological kinds) and the two distinct species would continue to belong to the same "kind".

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fla. Senate Passes Evolution Challenge Bill


Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2008

By BILL KACZOR The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE | Public school teachers could challenge evolution with "scientific information" under a bill that passed today in the Florida Senate, but opponents said it would allow the teaching of religious theories.

The measure would prohibit school officials from punishing teachers who offer opposing views, but the bill loosely defines the permitted information to include "germane current facts" and "data."

Such information would not necessarily need to undergo peer review, the process by which scientists evaluate and test each others' work, said Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller, of Cooper City, who debated against the bill.

Majority Leader Dan Webster, though, said what's being called the "Evolution Academic Freedom Act" would simply allow a free exchange of ideas that question as well as support evolution.

"Could it be? Can't we ask that question?," Webster said.

A key issue is whether the bill would permit the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, which holds certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an "intelligent cause."

Some advocates say intelligent design is "scientific," but a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled it's a religious theory.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, has steadfastly refused to say whether she believes creationism and intelligent design are scientific and would be allowed to be taught under her bill. Her only response has been to cite provisions in the bill saying it would not require religious alternatives to be taught. Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, argued the measure would constitute an unconstitutional "establishment of religion" by the state.

It next goes to the House, which is considering a different bill that not only would allow teachers to question evolution but require them to present a "critical analysis" of Charles Darwin's scientific theory.

Storms wanted to substitute the House version for her bill, but the Senate rejected that attempt. Storms' bill (SB 2692) then passed 21-17 with only one Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin, of Orlando, in favor and five Republicans opposed.

The House bill (HB 1483) is awaiting a vote there. Both chambers, though, must pass identical language before a bill can be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist, who says he hasn't yet taken a position.

Both measures were filed in response to new science standards adopted in February by the State Board of Education. For the first time they use the word "evolution" instead of such terms as "biological change over time." They also require more intense and detailed teaching of the concept.

Geller said the legislation would scare off high-tech industries that depend on sound science from moving to or staying in Florida. Although evolution is called a scientific theory, to scientists "theory" means it's a well-supported and accepted explanation of nature, not simply a claim.

"In 2008, it is embarrassing for us to be debating evolution," Geller said.

Last modified: April 23. 2008 4:17PM

Commissioner recommends rejection of creationist program


April 23, 2008, 3:22PM

By APRIL CASTRO Associated Press Writer
© 2008 The Associated Press

AUSTIN — The Texas Commissioner of Higher Education has recommended that a state panel reject a school's proposal to offer a Bible-based online master's degree program to science teachers.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board is expected to accept the recommendation, which was also approved by a board committee, when they formally vote Thursday.

The Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research asked for state approval to offer the online master's program.

An advisory council has previously recommended that the board approve the proposal, which teaches creationism as part of science, but a vote was delayed in January after science advocates launched vigorous protests.

Raymund Paredes, Texas' higher education commissioner, said that because "the proposed degree program inadequately covers key areas of science, it cannot be properly designated either as 'science' or 'science education'" according to a statement.

Henry Morris, chief executive officer of the institute, said the organization probably will appeal the decision.

"It really wasn't a surprise given the current climate of opposition that exists," Morris said. "We anticipated resistance when we applied for it."

Morris said the proposed curriculum included the teaching of evolution but also included Bible-based alternatives.

Students and faculty in the institute must profess faith in a literal translation of Biblical creation, that God created the world in six days and that the Earth is much newer than evolutionary science suggests.

"Religious belief is not science," Paredes said. "Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing."

The Texas Freedom Network, a religious watchdog group, praised Wednesday's decision.

"The issue before the coordinating board isn't about academic freedom or free speech," said TFN president Kathy Miller. "The issue is whether the state will sanction the teaching of religion as science. Committee members today recognized that doing so would be a disservice both to science and to faith."

Evolution 1, Creationist Institute 0


April 24th, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Creationism studies in Texas went back to square one Thursday. The nine-member Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board backed Commissioner Raymund Paredes' recommendation to deny the Institute for Creation Research's bid to teach creationism as science.

After Wednesday's lengthy hearing and full day of testimony, board members voted that public testimony not be admitted today—proof, perhaps, that God is merciful.

The vote was quick and unanimous. Joe Stafford, assistant commissioner for Academic Affairs and Research, read into the record a Texas Education Code statute about preventing public deception in the face of fraudulent or substandard college and university degrees. He also read from Texas Administrative Code rules 12a and 12d, which discuss the quality and content of curricula.

Dr. Henry Morris, CEO of the Institute for Creation Research, told the Observer that his school will appeal the decision within 45 days. Morris said the ICR may also take its case to the Texas Supreme Court.

Creationism is fine, just don't call it science


By The Editorial Board | Thursday, April 24, 2008, 05:23 PM

Texas may not be the next Kansas after all. The state's Higher Education Coordinating Board voted Thursday to deny a biblically based institution the right to offer online graduate degrees in science education.

We applaud the board for setting this precedent in what will surely be a long series of battles involving science education in Texas. After the wars over the teaching of both evolution and intelligent design that have splintered Kansas for the past nine years, Texans can breathe at least a momentary sigh of relief.

The Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research, which sought coordinating board approval for an online master's degree in science, lacked many of the standards required of other universities to award degrees. Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said that the institute, by insisting on a literal interpretation of Bible's creation story, would fail to prepare students adequately for the field of science education.

The decision follows both Paredes' recommendation and a unanimous vote Wednesday by a coordinating board panel to deny the institute's petition. The proposed degree became an issue because a coordinating board advisory committee last year recommended approving the course of study. Paredes has said the advisory committee's review process was flawed.

Dedicated learning in its many forms is generally wonderful. But course work must be labeled correctly. The state is right to require that a graduate degree in creation studies, which the Institute of Creation Research offers, be called what it is - a degree in religion, not science.

State education officials should continue to keep religion separate from science as they debate and make final changes to the state's science curriculum this summer. Just as a graduate degree in science education shouldn't have a religious base, creationism should remain separate from elementary, middle and high school science education.

Once the State Board of Education approves a public school science curriculum, it will begin selecting new science textbooks. Texas has immense power in the textbook arena because it is the second-largest state, after California, to choose its books on a statewide basis. Textbook publishers tend to sell a Texas version of their books, depending on what the state deems acceptable. Many other states, in turn, adopt the Texas books for their students.

Texas officials must use their power over course curriculum and textbooks in responsible ways to ensure that Texas students receive the best science education possible. Failure to do that diminishes the ability of Texas students to compete nationally.

Paredes and the coordinating board took a correct and principled stand in denying the creationist institute's science course.

Evolution education update: April 25, 2008

A new video segment -- presenting three incidents in which NCSE helped concerned citizens to resist assaults on the integrity of evolution education -- debuts at ExpelledExposed. Meanwhile, the antievolution bill in Louisiana passes a Senate committee and is joined by a counterpart in the House, and the Institute for Creation Research suffers a setback in trying to offer a master's degree in science education in Texas.


"Teaching Creationism in Schools," the second in a series of videos produced by NCSE, debuted at www.ExpelledExposed.com on April 23, 2008. The brief video presents three incidents in which NCSE helped concerned citizens to resist assaults on the integrity of evolution education. In the video, NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott explains: "If we're going to have good science education, now and in the future, we have to support people like Erec [Hillis], people like the citizens of Dover, and people like the citizens in Kansas, and we have to put out those brushfires. And NCSE is going to be there until the last fire is out."

"Teaching Creationism in Schools" replaces "Teacher Expelled Over Religion," which is currently among the most-watched and most-discussed videos on YouTube. Since its launch on April 15, 2008, the video has been viewed over 200,000 times, and is already among the 100 most highly rated science and technology videos in YouTube's history, as well as in the top ten highest rated science and technology videos for the month. "We're overjoyed at the response we've gotten," commented NCSE's Scott. "The outpouring of concern and support for Ms. Comer and for the plight of science education has been truly gratifying."

The videos are helping to attract visitors to NCSE's website www.ExpelledExposed.com, which provides concise and reliable information on the mistaken and misleading claims of the creationist propaganda film Expelled, a discussion of the dishonest tactics of the movie's producers, and a burgeoning collection of links of reviews and news coverage. Among those taking notice are Michael Shermer, writing in the Los Angeles Times (April 16, 2008); Steve Mirsky, in Scientific American's podcast (April 18, 2008); and the movie reviewer for the Boston Globe (April 19, 2008).

For the ExpelledExposed website, visit:

For Michael Shermer's column in the Los Angeles Times, visit:

For Steve Mirsky's podcast for Scientific American, visit:

For the Boston Globe's review, visit:

For NCSE's press release about "Teaching Creationism in Schools," visit:


Senate Bill 561, called the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act," passed the Louisiana Senate Education Committee on April 17, 2008. As introduced, the bill contended that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," and extended permission to teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

The Baton Rouge Advocate (April 18, 2008) reported, "Senate Education Committee Chairman Ben Nevers, sponsor of the bill, denied that his proposal was a bid to promote creationism," and quoted Nevers as saying, "This bill does not promote religion or ask to introduce religion in any classroom." Earlier, however, Nevers acknowledged to the Advocate (April 1, 2008) that he introduced the bill at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right group that recommends a variety of young-earth and "intelligent design" creationist organizations, including the Institute for Creation Research, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism.

Before the hearing, the Shreveport Times (April 14, 2008) took a firm editorial stand against the bill, writing, "Even though it is presented with an attractive title and couched in the newest terms, Senate Bill 561 is not in the best interest of students, educators or religious leaders. It would open the door for high school science class curricula and discussions concerning matters best left to individual faith, families and religious institutions. The bill proposes bad law that has been tried before and has been struck down repeatedly by the courts," and concluding, "Religious doctrine and the science classroom must remain separate, and SB 561 should be ditched in committee."

But it was not to be, despite the testimony of what the New Orleans Times-Picayune (April 18, 2008) described as "a bank of witnesses" who "blasted the proposed Louisiana Science Education Act as a back-door attempt to inject the biblical story of creation into the classroom." The Advocate (April 18, 2008) reported that William Hansel, a scientist at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told the committee, "nearly all scientists oppose passage of this bill," adding that if enacted, the bill "will be seized upon as one more piece of evidence that Louisiana is a backward state by those who have popularized this image of our state."

Before its passage, the bill was renumbered (SB 733), renamed, and revised, with the removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language and the list of specific scientific topics. Even the sanitized version of the bill is likely to continue to spark controversy, owing to its creationist antecedents, from which its supporters may be unable to disentangle themselves. Discussing his support for the bill, David Tate, who serves on the Livingston Parish School Board, told the Times-Picayune, "I believe that both sides -- the creationism side and the evolution side -- should be presented and let students decide what they believe," adding that the bill is needed because "teachers are scared to talk about" creation.

The Advocate (April 19, 2008) editorially agreed that the antecedents of the bill were problematic, writing, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism -- the story of creation as told in the biblical book of Genesis -- into science classrooms." Acknowledging the revisions of the bill, the editorial commented, "At this point, the wording of the bill seems more symbol than substance. But its implication -- that real science is somehow being stifled in Louisiana's classrooms -- doesn't seem grounded in actual fact. This kind of rhetorical grandstanding is a needless distraction from the real problems the Legislature should be addressing."

Speaking to the Advocate (April 20, 2008), the executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum expressed disappointment at the revisions to the bill, describing his support of it as now only lukewarm, even though its sponsor, Ben Nevers, told the newspaper, "It didn't change the intent of the bill." However, Barbara Forrest, the co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design and a member of NCSE's board of directors, commented, "The bill itself is still a very problematic bill, a stealth creationism bill," explaining, "The strategy now is to sanitize the terminology, which is what they did with the original bill and which they are doing now."

The next day, House Bill 1168 was introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives on April 21, 2008. Dubbed the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act," HB 1168 is a counterpart of the original version of Senate Bill 561. Its sponsor, Frank A. Hoffman (R-District 15), was formerly the assistant superintendent of the Ouachita Parish School System, which in 2006 adopted the controversial policy on which HB 1168 and SB 561/733 are based. A local paper editorially described it as "a policy that is so clear that one School Board member voted affirmatively while adding, 'but I don't know what I'm voting on'" (Monroe News-Star, December 3, 2006).

For the articles in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:

For the editorial in the Shreveport Times, visit:

For the article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visit:

For the text of the bills (PDF), visit:

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


At its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the Institute for Creation Research's request for a state certificate of authority to offer a master's degree in science education, the Houston Chronicle (April 24, 2008) reported. The board's vote accorded with a recommendation issued on April 23, 2008, by the board's Academic Excellence and Research Committee, which in turn was based on a recommendation by Raymund Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education.

According to a THECB press release, "Paredes based the recommendation on two considerations: 1) that ICR failed to demonstrate that the proposed degree program meets acceptable standards of science and science education; and 2) that the proposed degree is inconsistent with Coordinating Board rules which require the accurate labeling or designation of programs ... Since the proposed degree program inadequately covers key areas of science, it cannot be properly designated either as 'science' or 'science education.'"

Paredes's recommendation was echoed by a host of scientists in Texas. Recently, for example, a survey conducted by Raymond A. Eve for the Texas Freedom Network and NCSE polled 881 science faculty members at fifty public and private Texas universities for their opinions of the ICR's request for certification; nearly 200 faculty members responded, with 185 (95% of respondents) opposed to certifying the program.

At the committee meeting, the Dallas Morning News (April 23, 2008) reported, Paredes said, "Evolution is such a fundamental principle of contemporary science it is hard to imagine how you could cover the various fields of science without giving it the proper attention it deserves as a foundation of science." "In insisting on a literal interpretation of biblical creation," Paredes added, the ICR's science education program "gives insufficient coverage to conventional science and does not adequately prepare students in the field of science education."

The Austin American-Statesman (April 24, 2008) editorially applauded the board's decision, writing, "We applaud the board for setting this precedent in what will surely be a long series of battles involving science education in Texas. After the wars over the teaching of both evolution and intelligent design that have splintered Kansas for the past nine years, Texans can breathe at least a momentary sigh of relief. ... Paredes and the coordinating board took a correct and principled stand in denying the creationist institute's science course."

Despite the board's vote, the issue is not definitively resolved yet. The ICR will now have 45 days to file an appeal or 180 days to reapply for another certificate of authority. After the committee's vote, the Dallas Morning News reported, the ICR's chief executive officer Henry Morris III "said the institute may revise its application or take its case to court. 'We will pursue due process,' he told the board. 'We will no doubt see you in the future.'"

For the story in the Houston Chronicle, visit:

For a press release about the TFN/NCSE survey, visit:

For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit:

For the editorial in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:

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

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Evolution of the insect Sox genes.


The Sox gene family of transcriptional regulators have essential roles during development and have been extensively studied in vertebrates. The mouse, human and fugu genomes contain at least 20 Sox genes, which are subdivided into groups based on sequence similarity of the highly conserved HMG domain.

In the well-studied insect Drosophila melanogaster, eight Sox genes have been identified and are involved in processes such as neurogenesis, dorsal-ventral patterning and segmentation.

Results: We examined the available genome sequences of Apis mellifera, Nasonia vitripennis, Tribolium castaneum, Anopheles gambiae and identified Sox family members which were classified by phylogenetics using the HMG domains.

Using in situ hybridisation we determined the expression patterns of eight honeybee Sox genes in honeybee embryo, adult brain and queen ovary. AmSoxB group genes were expressed in the nervous system, brain and Malphigian tubules.

AmSox21b and AmSoxB1 RNA were localized within the oocyte, suggesting a role in dorsal-ventral patterning for these two genes. AmSoxC, D and F were expressed ubiquitously in late embryos and in the follicle cells of the queen ovary.

Expression of AmSoxF and two AmSoxE genes was detected in the drone testis.

Conclusions: Insect genomes contain between eight and nine Sox genes, with at least four members belonging to Sox group B and other Sox subgroups being represented by a single Sox gene.

Hymenopteran insects have an additional SoxE gene, which may have arisen by gene duplication. Expression analyses of honeybee SoxB genes implies that this group of genes may be able to rapidly evolve new functions and expression domains, while the totality of the SoxB gene expression pattern is maintained.

Author: Megan J Wilson and Peter K Dearden
Credits/Source: BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:120

Published on: 2008-04-26

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House Toughens Up Evolution Challenge


Published: Saturday, April 26, 2008


TALLAHASSEE | A bill that would ensure teachers are not punished for challenging evolution in the classroom was debated Friday in the Florida House but amended to include more stringent language that would mandate alternate views to evolution be taught.

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow teachers to challenge evolution with 'scientific information' and prohibit school officials from punishing teachers who offer opposing views.

The House took up that bill Friday but added an amendment that would actually require teachers to present a 'critical analysis' of Charles Darwin's scientific theory. That language had been part of a previous House bill on the subject.

House lawmakers have already debated the added language extensively. Opponents say the bill would expose science classes to information that has not necessarily undergone peer review, the process by which scientists evaluate and test each others' work, and invite nonscientific theories in science classes.

'To mix science with faith does damage to both,' said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, during Friday's debate.

But supporters say what's being called the 'Evolution Academic Freedom Act' would simply allow a free exchange of ideas that question as well as support evolution. Rep. Alan Hayes, R-Umatilla, who sponsored the amendment to add the 'critical analysis' language said questioning evolution is not the same as teaching religion and people should not be afraid of discussion.

A key issue with the bill is whether it would permit the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, which holds certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an 'intelligent cause.'

Some advocates say intelligent design is 'scientific,' but a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled it's a religious theory.

A final vote on the bill (SB 2692) should come next week, but because it was amended, it would have to go back to the Senate.

The legislation was filed in response to new science standards adopted in February by the State Board of Education. For the first time they use the word 'evolution' instead of such terms as 'biological change over time.' They also require more intense and detailed teaching of the concept.

Supporters of the bill have not shown evidence that any teachers have been disciplined for questioning evolution but have cited anecdotal evidence of science teachers who claim they have been harassed.

Last modified: April 26. 2008 8:52AM

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Creationism doesn't measure up to science

Kingsley Guy | COLUMNIST April 16, 2008 Article tools E-mail Share Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Reprints Post comment Text size: A society declines through the corruption of the ideals that made it great. In the United States, one of those ideals is equality. Intended by the founders of the country to mean equality of individuals under the law, the concept has degenerated into a crass egalitarianism that posits the equal validity and merit of ideas and expression.

Elvis Presley's music has equal value to Mozart's, egalitarians insist. Jackson Pollock's artwork is as worthy as Da Vinci's; the biblical account of how humans came into being has merit equal to that of the scientific, and should be taught side-by-side with evolution to give students a choice of what to believe.

Such egalitarianism results in a devaluing of aesthetics and critical thinking and impedes progress in both the arts and sciences.

The Florida Evolution Academic Freedom bill now moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature is an example of such egalitarianism. Supported by the religious right, it proclaims that teachers or students cannot be punished for "objectively" presenting scientific information offering alternatives to evolutionary theory.

Kingsley Guy E-mail | Recent columns

The bill sounds innocent enough, but what qualifies as objective and scientific? Some so-called "scientists" have broached the idea that creation took place about 6,000 years ago, and claim to have the data to back this up. But what is the origin of their hypothesis?

In the mid-17th century, an Anglican churchman named James Ussher examined the chronology of events in the Bible, including the "begats." He concluded creation began on the eve of Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. A colleague later pegged the time at 9 a.m., although he failed to specify whether this was Standard or Daylight Savings Time.

Ussher's mode of thinking isn't accepted by all or even most Christians. The Catholic Church in the 1950s endorsed the Big Bang theory as consistent with Catholic doctrine. Pope John Paul II acknowledged the validity of evolutionary teachings, although he did not sign on specifically to Darwin.

The concept of "intelligent design" has now made it into the spotlight. Advocates claim life is so complex it could not exist without the participation of an intelligent, creative force. That's an intelligent hypothesis, but not a scientific one. Someday, science may prove the validity of intelligent design, but as of now, it requires a leap of faith.

Scientific progress, of course, is as much about correcting mistakes as uncovering truths. Newtonian physics put men on the moon, but Einstein's physics demonstrated its flaws and limitations. When Darwin published his findings in 1859, scientific concepts such as systems theory and feedback loops didn't exist. Today, some bona fide scientists are exploring the idea that consistent patterns influence the evolutionary process.

Scientists need to keep an open mind, for there's no telling what the future will bring in the way of knowledge. As Florida moves into that future, however, its public schools need to deal with real science, and not pseudo-science based on the begats or equally questionable foundations.

Republicans in government should remember Terri Schiavo. They pandered to the religious right by trying to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube, but their actions appalled millions of other Floridians, and they felt the backlash.

The same could hold true for evolution. Legislators may win some votes through an egalitarian approach toward biological science, but they risk alienating plenty of other Floridians who want to live in the 21st century rather than the 17th.

Commentary by retired Editorial Page Editor Kingsley Guy appears on alternate Wednesdays. Readers may e-mail him at harborlite3@bellsouth.net.

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Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Teach the Controversy?


The Ben Stein documentary 'Expelled' posits a conspiracy to keep 'intelligent design' out of the classroom. Even if that case is exaggerated, is there an argument for considering some alternative theories that seem far-fetched?
April 16, 2008

Today, Shermer and Lukianoff discuss efforts to include "intelligent design" and other such hypotheses in classroom curricula. Previously, they weighed allegations of instructor bias in college classrooms and debated what roles a school might have in the expressions of its students. Thursday and Friday, they'll discuss the extent to which teachers should accommodate ideological diversity and whether professors should get lifetime tenure.

If you've got science, we'll talk
By Michael Shermer

Will anyone have the courage to stand up to Ben Stein and his money? Anyone? Anyone?

I will. I was interviewed by Stein in my office, am featured in his film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," saw a screening of it last month at the National Religious Broadcasters' convention (tellingly, a film allegedly about science education is being marketed to religious groups), and have written a thorough critique of it at skeptic.com and sciam.com (see also expelledexposed.com). Here I know of what I speak, and as such I can assure you of two things: First, the film is wrong in virtually every one of its factual claims about evolution and the alleged persecutions of those who challenge the theory, and second, viewers will be hoodwinked into believing all the lies for the same reason they were taken in by Michael Moore's films -- the power of filmic propaganda to trump facts and reason. Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels would have praised "Expelled."

The facts are these: No one has ever been fired or denied tenure (or "expelled" from school) for challenging Darwinism or for promoting "intelligent design," or ID creationism. The details of each alleged case of persecution presented in the film can be found at the aforementioned websites, but take it from a former creationist (when I was an evangelical Christian) and current evolutionary theorist (I teach a course in the subject at Claremont Graduate University) that Darwinism always has been and continues to be challenged by scientists. In Charles Darwin's own time, of course, numerous books and articles were published critiquing his theory, and through the turn of the century there was still no underlying mechanism to explain how natural selection works and why so much skepticism remained. From the 1930s through the '60s, the neo-Darwinian synthesis and its many variants seriously revised many aspects of Darwin's original theory. In the '70s, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge successfully remodeled Darwinian gradualism with their theory of punctuated equilibrium.

In the 1980s, Lynn Margulis overthrew neo-Darwinism in the microscopic world with her theory of symbiogenesis, demonstrating that random changes in DNA and natural selection alone do not lead to speciation (at a science conference I attended she said, "It was like confessing a murder when I discovered I was not a neo-Darwinist"). In the '90s, sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists battled Gould's and Richard Lewontin's belief that Darwinism cannot account for much of human psychology and culture. Currently, David Sloan Wilson's theory of group selection is making inroads into seriously modifying models of individual selection, and I even heard the highly respected evolutionary theorist William Provine (featured in "Expelled") tell an audience of scientists, "Natural selection does not shape an adaptation or cause a gene to spread over a population or really do anything at all."

What? How can this be? According to Stein, no one is allowed to doubt Darwinism, and yet scientific conferences, papers and books are full of challenges to the theory, all of which are taught in biology classes. What gives? Creationism, that's what. Despite the best efforts of the proponents of intelligent design to present their theory as pure science having nothing to do with religion, Stein has unwittingly debunked that myth in a film with a central thesis that intelligent design is a religious doctrine and that is why it is not taught. Because of that pesky establishment clause in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, religion has been systematically expelled from classrooms to culture. Has it?

Of course not. Is there anyone in America who hasn't heard of intelligent design? These guys have created one of the most successful PR campaigns in the history of ideas, duping shills like Stein to pitch their case to the American public in hopes that no one will notice that their isn't a drop of science in ID. The reason ID isn't taught in science classes is because there is nothing to teach. Seriously. Nothing. Not a single experiment. No data. Not even a theory. As the ID proponent Paul Nelson (also featured in "Expelled") confessed: "Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity' -- but, as yet, no general theory of biological design."

So, Mr. Stein, and all you erstwhile ID proponents, when you have some actual science to present, we would be only too happy to consider it. We await your data.

Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine (skeptic.com), a monthly columnist for Scientific American, an adjunct professor at the School of Economics and Politics at Claremont Graduate University and the author of 10 books.

How Ben Stein could really help students

By Greg Lukianoff

Don't hold back, Michael -- tell us what you really think!

I contacted the producers of "Expelled" on Wednesday and told them about this Dust-Up. They set me up alone in a Park Avenue theater in New York for an exclusive night screening of the film. I felt very fancy, indeed, but sat down wondering what it was going to be about. After all, having reviewed thousands of free-speech claims by college students over the years, I cannot remember one instance of a student being expelled for arguing for ID or against Darwinism.

I will try to sort through what I saw. The movie starts with images of the Berlin Wall and a string version of "All Along the Watchtower," followed closely by Johnny Cash's version of "Personal Jesus." It then highlights the cases of a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution and professors at Iowa State University, Baylor University and George Mason University who Stein alleges got in trouble in different ways for mentioning or defending ID. Next came interviews with scientists and representatives of the Discovery Institute, both for and against ID. The main "villain" of the film is introduced here: Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, ardent atheist and author of "The God Delusion."

The film then goes in a pretty disturbing direction, with images of the Berlin Wall and tanks turning to images of Adolf Hitler and his scientists exterminating the physically or mentally handicapped. Stein meets with the author of "From Darwin to Hitler" and then discusses how Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and other Americans were leading proponents of eugenics. Next thing you know, Stein is at Dachau, where he says, "Evil can sometimes be rationalized by science," and strongly implies all this could happen again -- I guess if we don't reject Darwinism?

Stein leaves out the fact that there is quite a bit of difference between Social Darwinism (which he conflates throughout the movie with Darwinism) and current evolutionary theory. He also completely ignores that the other major faction of mass murderers in Europe -- the communists -- during the time of the Nazis rejected Darwinism and subscribed to the genetic theories of Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko's theories (for instance, that environmentally acquired characteristics could be passed down through genetics) were distinct from Darwin's, which the communists explicitly rejected as "capitalistic." And yet communists managed to kill millions without Darwin's help. "Expelled" then argues that Darwinism is bad because it devalues human life and that the rejection of ID is a threat to America itself.

The last major field trip of the film is to the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Stein once again equates the alleged conspiracy against ID to the building of the Berlin Wall and part of President Reagan's famous "tear down this wall." The ending of the film is supposed to be inspirational, with Stein arguing that "no lie can live forever" and ends with Stein repeating his famous "Anyone, anyone?" line from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

After one hour and 40 minutes, I was left a little perplexed as to what Stein was actually trying to say. America is heading toward death camps? Evolution is a lie? Dawkins does not believe in Ganesh or Allah?

But no matter what the point of the film was, my primary reaction to it was personal. Despite all of Stein's talk about honoring academic freedom and free speech, I had to wonder, where has he been all these years? As part of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, I have been fighting abuses of free speech on campuses and violations of academic freedom for most of this decade. I have seen literally thousands of examples of such abuses. And although FIRE has successfully fought hundreds of cases on behalf of wronged students and faculty, serious abuses persist. If Stein really cares about this fight, he needs to join it for real and not just on behalf of one allegedly forbidden argument.

If you are reading this, Mr. Stein, I ask you to please take a look at the cases I cited yesterday. Please take a look at the violations against religious students' rights (including banning "The Passion of the Christ"), the gross violations of due process, the crazy indoctrination of students, and the actual ideological litmus tests at schools as prestigious as Columbia University's Teachers College. Did you know that most colleges that FIRE surveys maintain oppressive speech codes? Did you know that many colleges maintain tiny and out-of-the-way free speech quarantines called speech zones? We could use some high-profile help here, Ben. With your power and influence you really could help bring a missing dose of liberty back to campuses. But if you only care about ID education, I suspect that you will only be preaching to people who already agree with you.

Greg Lukianoff is a constitutional lawyer and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (thefire.org). He is a frequent guest on national TV news programs and a blogger at the Huffington Post.

Evolution education update: April 18, 2008

NCSE's website debunking the creationist propaganda film Exposed is experiencing high traffic and winning high praise. The antievolution bills in Florida are wending their way through the legislature. And the Geological Society of London adds its voice for evolution.


NCSE's new website ExpelledExposed is experiencing high traffic and winning high praise. And no wonder: in addition to concise and reliable information on the mistaken and misleading claims of the creationist propaganda film Expelled, a discussion of the dishonest tactics of the movie's producers, and a burgeoning collection of links of reviews and news coverage, it also features a special video segment commissioned by NCSE about someone who really was "expelled" over creationism: Chris Comer, the Texas education official who was forced to resign after announcing a lecture by Barbara Forrest. Bookmark the site and visit it often: it will be constantly updated with new material -- including new video segments -- over the next few weeks.

A brand-new feature there: the "Set Ben Straight" contest. In promoting the creationist propaganda film Expelled, Ben Stein managed to stick his foot in his mouth over and over again, issuing what seemed to be a ceaseless stream of ignorant, offensive, and just plain daffy claims. Here's your chance to set Ben straight. Send your favorite claim with a short, well-documented, and well-reasoned refutation. We'll post the best for all the world to see. And five lucky entrants will receive a year's subscription to Reports of the NCSE along with their choice of a book from NCSE's shelf. But you only have ten days, and a wealth of silliness to examine, so act now! Full contest details are available on the ExpelledExposed website.

Writing in the Guardian (April 15, 2008), Adam Rutherford says, "Fortunately, the cavalry have arrived right on cue in the form of the US national centre for science education and its head -- Eugenie Scott -- herself another duped contributor to Expelled. They have launched Expelled Exposed, a counter-offensive website which tells more honest stories behind these so-called martyrs." Blogging for Americans United (April 17, 2008), Rob Boston recommends ExpelledExposed as providing "a wealth of resources debunking the claims of 'Expelled.'" And in eSkeptic (April 17, 2008), Michael Shermer similarly praises "www.expelledexposed.com, where physical anthropologist Eugenie Scott and her tireless crew at the National Center for Science Education have tracked down the specifics of each case."

For the ExpelledExposed website, visit:

For Adam Rutherford's column, visit:

For Rob Boston's blog post, visit:

For Michael Shermer's column, visit:

For NCSE's April 15, 2008, announcement of ExpelledExposed, visit:

For information about the Chris Comer case, visit:


The antievolution bills -- the so-called Academic Freedom Acts -- in Florida are progressing, despite protests from teachers, scientists, and the Florida ACLU, and despite the criticisms of the legislature's own staff. On March 26, 2008, the Senate version of the bill, SB 2692, was passed by a 4-1 vote by the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee; on April 8, 2008, it was passed by a 7-3 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee; it is presently on the Senate floor. The House of Representatives version of the bill, HB 1483, was amended and passed by a 7-4 vote in the House's School and Learning Council; it is presently on the House calendar.

All three committees received reports from the legislature's staff raising serious questions about the bills. The reports noted that the bills addressed a non-existent problem: the report to the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee, for example, stated, "According to the Department of Education, there has never been a case in Florida where a public school teacher or public school student has claimed that they have been discriminated against based on their science teaching or science course work." After the committee's hearing, Senator Ted Deutch (D-District 30) told the St. Petersburg Times (March 26, 2008), "We didn't hear from anyone today that suggested there were any kind [of] repercussions for questioning evolution with science."

The bill's original sponsor, Senator Ronda Storms (R-District 10), told the Ft. Myers News-Press (April 9, 2008) that "There have been instances where both teachers and students feel muzzled," citing cases in which teachers have supposedly been assigned to extra duties in retaliation for questioning evolution. But Mary Bahr, a veteran science teacher who helped to write the new state science standards, told the Lakeland Ledger (April 9, 2008) that in her fifteen years of teaching in Marion County, "I have never heard anyone express concerns for their academic freedom, or that they felt constrained from teaching all the scientific evidence surrounding any concept."

Furthermore, the report to the Education Pre-K-12 Committee observed that, while teachers are given the right to present "objective scientific information" to students, "the bill is silent on who defines the objectivity of the scientific information presented," adding, "The administration and the teacher may have quite different views on the objectiveness of the information presented." Senator Larcenia Bullard (D-District 39), who voted for the bill in committee, told the St. Petersburg Times (March 26, 2008) that she still "had reservations" and "might not support it if a final Senate vote is taken." She added, "I believe this is going to open the door for some serious problems in the public school system."

The report to the Judiciary Committee also noted, "because evolution and countervailing theories are subject to intense controversy, objective presentation of scientific information critical of the theory of evolution may be difficult to achieve in the classroom. If at any point objectivity is abandoned, it is possible that a court could determine that the state is promoting religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." Echoing the concern, Senator Steve Geller (D-District 31) told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (April 8, 2008), "I believe the purpose of this bill is to let people bring their religious beliefs into school."

The ACLU of Florida actively opposed SB 2692 as it was proceeding through the Senate. At the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee hearing, the St. Petersburg Times (March 26, 2008) reported, "ACLU lobbyist Courtenay Strickland said if schools act on the bill, the civil liberties group would sue, as it did in a landmark Pennsylvania case [Kitzmiller v. Dover] that rejected creationism." At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Ft. Myers News-Press reported (April 9, 2008), Rebecca Steele, Director of the ACLU of Florida's West Central Florida regional office, testified, "This bill is bad for education, it's bad for our efforts to bring the biotech industry to Florida and it's bad for the constitution."

SB 2692 was modified somewhat by the Education Pre-K-12 Committee, which changed its name from the "Academic Freedom Act" to the "Evolution Academic Freedom Act," defined "scientific information" as used in the bill as "germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution as prescribed in Florida's Science Standards," and changed a clause providing that students "may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials" to "shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through normal testing procedures." The Judiciary Committee passed the bill without changes.

In the House, HB 1483 was modified differently, and substantially, by the House Schools and Learning Council. The Miami Herald (April 11, 2008) reported that its sponsor, Representative Alan Hays (R-District 25) acknowledged that "the original form of the bill raised constitutional questions about proselytizing in public school science classes" and substituted a one-line version instead. The proposed substitute would require public schools to provide "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution," not explaining what "critical analysis" involves or the special need for it to be applied to evolution.

Even the one-line version of the bill aroused doubt in the council hearing. The St. Petersburg Times (April 11, 2008) reported, "During further discussion, Rep. Shelly Vana, D-Lantana, suggested the bill is unnecessary. A science teacher herself, Vana said good science educators already use the inquiry method to get students to think critically. 'Why has evolution then been singled out?' she asked Hays. 'Because right now there is no prohibition from doing this.'" Hays claimed that it was necessary to protect teachers seeking to "provide a critical analysis" of evolution, although the Times (March 6, 2008) previously reported that it was unable to substantiate such claims of persecution.

The amended version of HB 1483 passed the House Schools and Learning Council on a party-line vote, after the panel rejected a proposed amendment that would have removed the reference to "critical analysis," language exploited by creationists in Ohio and elsewhere; in practice, proposals for "critical analysis" of evolution have translated as proposals for scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution. According to the Miami Herald (April 11, 2008), Representative Martin Kiar (D-District 97) expressed his concern that "'criticisms' of evolution could include biblical creationism. 'The Bible says something else than evolution,' he said. 'So that's a criticism, and this bill allows that. Unfortunately, it's not constitutional.'"

For the report to the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee (PDF), visit:

For the story about SB 2692 in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:

For the story in the Ft. Myers News-Press, visit:

For the story in the Lakeland Ledger, visit:

For the report to the Senate Judiciary Committee (PDF), visit:

For the story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, visit:

For the amended version of SB 2692, visit:

For the story in the Miami Herald, visit:

For the amended version of HB 1483, visit:

For the story about HB 1483 in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:

For the St. Peterburg Times's report investigating the claims of persecution, visit:

For Florida Citizens for Science's coverage on its blog, visit:

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


In a statement issued on April 11, 2008, the Geological Society of London denounced young-earth creationism, "creation science," and "intelligent design" as "a trespass upon the domain of science," and described the great age of the earth, the great age of life on earth, and evolution by natural selection as "long established beyond doubt," adding, "Close study of the structure and organisation of living animals and plants clearly indicates their common ancestry, and the succession of forms through the fossil record, as well as the genetic record contained in every living organism, provides powerful evidence of the reality of evolution."

Appended to the society's brief statement was a list of further resources, including the Royal Society of London's statement on on evolution, creationism, and "intelligent design"; the National Academy of Sciences publication Evolution, Science, and Creationism; the International Society for Science and Religion's statement on the concept of "intelligent design"; and the testimony given in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial by Kevin Padian, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and president of NCSE's board of directors. Founded in 1807, the Geological Society of London is the United Kingdom's national society for geoscience, and the oldest geological society in the world.

For the Geological Society of London's statement, visit:

For the cited resources, visit:

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Win Ben Stein's monkey


Posted: April 21, 2008 1:00 am Eastern

© 2008

Evolution. Intelligent design. These are terms that can cause great consternation in the minds and hearts of many, particularly opponents of each view. Now that anxiety and debate has resurfaced in theaters everywhere with Ben Stein's new documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." (To see a trailer of the movie or access its free resources, go to the "Expelled" website.)

In short, the press kit says "Expelled" "exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy." In other words, the film is an expose on how academic institutions have become so pro-evolutionary that they have restricted educational learning and freedoms by excluding human origin alternatives like intelligent design, or ID (that some form of intelligence, or God, created the cosmos).

Even before its release, some neo-Darwinian critics were already denouncing the film, based upon what they say are fallacies or discrepancies in it. For example, some say "Expelled" wrongly assumes that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution paved the way for the Holocaust. Others assert that the Dover trial and ACLU are misused and misrepresented. Still others accuse that Ben Stein's auditorium speeches are contrived. Or that a scientist, whose employment was allegedly terminated because of bias against his beliefs in ID was not actually fired. Even now some are trying to silence and even expel the movie from theaters.

'Expelled' or expunged?

I like Ben Stein. I think he's funny, creative and an insightful commentator on a host of issues. I'm not bent on defending him or "Expelled," but I'm glad he made it. I saw it this weekend, and I liked it. I think it will wake up many people to the truth. What truth? That educational arenas have become limited learning environments, because of biases against God, the Bible and creationism. Stein is correct in saying that passionate antagonism and hostility (that parallels any fundamentalist extremism) equally exists in naturalist and neo-Darwinian camps. Proof of their avid bias can be easily seen in some evolutionists' reviews of this film. Many are loaded with as much inflammatory language, intolerance and bigotry, as any hate-filled group.

I'm not endorsing the movie because it is flawless in its presentation, but because it raises issues of educational suppression. Why can't creationism or ID be taught in public schools? Naturalists answer by saying that ID is not science. Rather than debate classifications, however, I would further ask: Why can't variant theories of the origins of life be presented even outside science classes? Isn't education based upon presenting a wide array of knowledge and opinions?

Since when does science own the market on how life began? If it is based largely upon empirical investigation of present, repeatable data, then the evolutionary theory for the beginning of life stands upon no more solid ground than ID. Why? Because neither theism nor the naturalistic view of life's earliest origins are provable in a strict scientific sense. They are both past, unrepeatable singularities, which takes them out of the scientific realm of study and observation. For example, no branch of science can prove how inorganic matter produced organic cellular life. And evolution, even if accepted as factual, does not dispel a Creator because neo-Darwinism cannot definitively explain the inception of life on Earth. So, if both evolution and ID stand upon similar hypothetical platforms of discussion and possibility, why can't they both be taught in academic arenas as theories of our origins?

Again, dissenters of creationism answer these questions by classifying ID as a religion, and further saying that religion belongs in homes and churches. Says who? They answer: The First Amendment and the separation of church and state bans ID from entering classrooms in any form. What they don't realize, however, is their conclusion is a constitutional misinterpretation and bastardization of the First Amendment. It was written and adopted, among other reasons, so that Congress would neither establish a federal religion nor restrict religious or speech freedoms, which can include not barring religious instruction in the classrooms.

Yesteryear's philosophy of education

Whether theories of life's origins are classified as religion, science, philosophy or social studies, our Founding Fathers would adamantly disagree in locking any out of classroom instruction. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia, did so with an expectation that a spirit of freedom would flourish among alternate educational views. While he prohibited sectarian theology in that particular university to establish its distinction from other denominationally affiliated higher institutions, Jefferson did not abolish instruction or debate on providence, theism or creationism (which he even embedded in the Declaration of Independence).

On Dec. 26, 1820, he wrote to Destutt Tracy, "This institution of my native state, the hobby of my old age, will be based upon the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and expose every subject susceptible of its contemplation." One day later, he wrote to William Roscoe a similar but expanded thought: "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

Most of our Founders were enthusiastic advocates for teaching religion and the Bible in public schools. Though space prohibits a more exhaustive treatment, here are a couple representative patriotic thoughts:

Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote "To the citizens of Philadelphia: A Plan for Free Schools," on March 28, 1787: "Let the children who are sent to those schools be taught to read and write, and above all, let both sexes be carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education."

In 1789, during the same time when the First Amendment was written, then President George Washington signed into law the Northwest Ordinance, which states, "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Noah Webster, the "Father of American Scholarship and Education," stated, "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."

Is there room in your classroom?

If America's Founding Fathers espoused openness to religion being taught in schools, then it beckons the question: Why don't we? The fact is, to leave out of educative curricula the most influential text in Western civilization, including in American history, law and literature, is a blatant and biased withholding of proper public instruction.

That is why my wife, Gena, and I are on the board of the National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which has helped 443 public school districts in 37 states to implement a course on it. Already, 210,000 students have been taught from it. You too can learn more about the curriculum, why its teaching is constitutional, and how it can be implemented in your public school by contacting:

National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools
Post Office Box 9743
Greensboro, NC 27429
(877) OnBible
(336) 272-3799
(336) 272-7199 (fax)

It's time for every parent, teacher and school district to answer in the affirmative the question of Fisher Ames, who assisted in the creation of the First Amendment and was also chosen but declined (for health reasons) the presidency of Harvard University in 1805, "Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?"