NTS LogoSkeptical News for 31 May 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Discovery Institute tries to cut down Forrest


May 31, 2008 Posted May 31st, 2008 at 9:35 am

Guest Post by Morbo

The neo-creationists who espouse "intelligent design" have hit a rough patch. In 2005, they lost a federal lawsuit over the teaching of ID in a Pennsylvania public school. "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," the documentary that was supposed to put ID on the national stage, was a critical flop and commercial failure.

ID advocates claim to be sophisticated thinkers promoting cutting-edge science. They're not, and just behind them lurk a band of knuckle-dragging young-Earth creationists who keep doing embarrassing things like opening multi-million museums showing dinosaurs and humans strolling around side by side. (All that's missing is Fred Flintstone yelling, "Willllllma!")

What's an ID advocate to do? How about launch a crude personal attack against a prominent critic? Sure, that always works!

The target in this case is Barbara Forrest, coauthor of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. In the book, Forrest and Paul R. Gross rip the mask off the ID charade, proving that it's all about religion, not science. That really annoyed the ID backers.

A university professor, Forrest lives and teaches in Louisiana. Recently, she has been speaking out against a proposed law there that would allow teachers to use "supplemental materials" when discussing evolution so as to promote "academic freedom."

This is the latest stunt from the ID crowd. I have to admit, it's pretty clever.

Their plan is to slip their theology into the classroom and undermine Darwinian evolution under the cover of legitimate instruction — thus spreading ignorance in Louisiana and other states. It's a sneaky ploy because to most people, the use of "supplemental materials" to promote "critical analysis" sounds reasonable.

But in this case it's not. Would we waste time teaching our children alternatives to the germ theory of disease? Why bother offering "supplemental material" critical of the existence of gravity? Should we allow "criticism" of the history of the Holocaust in the classroom? After all, some cranks write books saying it never happened. Shouldn't our children hear both sides?

The Discovery Institute, the nation's leading organization pushing ID, is apoplectic over Forrest. Recently, the Institute issued an entire paper attacking her. Among their charges, they note that Forrest is — gasp! — non-religious. She sits on the board of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association.

So let me get this straight: If anyone has the temerity to point out that Phillip E. Johnson, a former law professor who almost single-handedly launched the ID movement, once pointed out that his goal is to use ID to bring people to "the truth" of Jesus Christ, that person is a religious bigot who impugns the motives of the Discovery Institute. Yet it's perfectly acceptable for the Institute to attack Forrest for her lack of belief.

The Discovery Institute promotes lousy science and makes a sloppy attempt to dress up its fundamentalism in an ill-fitting lab coat. That's bad enough. But there's another reason why its "supplemental materials" must be kept out of our public schools: The group plays dirty and is unethical. It sets a poor example for children everywhere.

Let there be . . . animatronics


May 31, 2008 04:30 AM
Tim Harper
Washington Bureau

PETERSBURG, KY.–In the beginning, you need a place to park.

And The Creation Museum had the Boone County Planning Commission approve 663 more parking spots. And where once the Earth was formless and empty, there was now sufficient room for the tour buses and the RVs.

And the museum saw all that it had made. And it was very good.

A year ago, they laughed at Answers in Genesis chief executive Ken A. Ham and his $27 million, 20-hectare paean to the Genesis story of how God created the heavens and Earth in six days some 6,000 years ago.

But when The Creation Museum celebrated its first anniversary this week, it had already welcomed its 400,000th visitor – 100,000 more than anticipated.

It had to expand the parking lot to accommodate all those who have come to see this dart to Darwinism.

It houses a literal celebration of the Bible, and by all accounts was constructed by conventional means, but it does raise questions of Divine Intervention, carved as it is out of a Genesis-like formless and empty Earth, dotted by fast food outlets and cookie-cutter inns off Interstate 275, near Cincinnati.

Visitors come by bus and camper and on some weekends line up outside so they can find out – or confirm – how all those different dinosaurs really could fit on Noah's Ark.

They can wander through the Garden of Eden, muse on why the word "dinosaur" is not mentioned in the Bible ("the word was not invented until 1841"), learn what happened to those dinosaurs after God's catastrophic flood (killed by humans, either showing off or fearful of the giant animals, scholars explain on film) and cower in the aftermath of Adam's sins.

All the media mockery has helped attendance, says museum spokesperson Melany Ethridge, even if the majority of visitors were already creationism adherents.

"I think we've changed some minds or spurred some to reconsider what they thought they knew"

For all the petting zoos, dinosaur painting and hot-air balloon rides, the museum also features what can only be described as a visit to Hell.

In the dimly lit Culture in Crisis display, where visitors are essentially trapped awaiting a film on the six days of creation, they are bombarded with the results of Scripture Abandoned, a never-ending, repeating, verbal assault of statistics dealing with divorce, abortion, unwed mothers and extramarital sex.

It features a video of a frightened young girl confiding to a friend that she is pregnant, a young boy hovering over a computer spewing out Internet pornography (we are told the average kid's first exposure to pornography comes at age 11) and absentee parents, including the ubiquitous father, beer bottle in hand, watching sports on TV.

"I wouldn't say we trap people," Ethridge says, "but we do want you to understand that if you ignore the Bible, these things will happen to you.

"The Bible is our moral compass. If you ignore the teaching of the Bible, you'll be met with abortion, homosexuality and other evils."

Visitors are told that dinosaur fossils do not come with dates and time stamps, so that is a convenient starting point on two different views on Earth's creation.

"I start with the Bible," says one anthropologist.

Just to buttress the point, there is a life-sized cut-out of a young student and a word balloon: "I never heard this before in school."

Despite cultural battles that have erupted in Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states, evolution is still taught in U.S. schools, but those pushing for the teaching of creationism are still active.

That was why Mary Rotatori of Florence, Ky., had brought her three children – 8-year-old Madee, 5-year-old Matthew and 3-year-old Molly – to the museum on this day.

As she perused a display giving two different explanations of the creation of the Grand Canyon, Molly turned to her mother and said: "I think God did it."

"I think God did it, too," Rotatori replied.

She explains that she is trying to present the two views of evolution, creationism and Darwinism, to her children, so they can understand what the church teaches. In school, they're taught evolution.

"I would like to teach them the Biblical version," she says. "I would like them to believe that God did this, because I believe God did this. But I don't really teach. I don't know enough. I let the church do it.

"But they need to be exposed to both theories because they can't understand when they hear things other than what they are taught in schools."

The Creation Museum, with its boast "Prepare to Believe," may be heavy on the fire-and-brimstone school of teaching, but it is not devoid of a sense of humour.

Signs admonish visitors "Thou Shalt Not Touch" and one unfinished area bears a sign that reads: "This Space is Still Evolving."

Adam and Eve dioramas and dinosaur animatronics don't come cheap – adult admission is $19.95 – but the hours are good.

On the seventh day, they don't rest.

Tim Harper is the Star's Washington Bureau Chief. Contact him at tharper@thestar.ca.

Creation Museum plans expansion


Associated Press - 5/31/2008 5:50:00 AM

The group behind a museum that focuses on the biblical account of creation plans to expand the facility in Northern Kentucky over the next year, focusing on programs for children. Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham said that among additions to the Creation Museum will be kiosks aimed at kids and an outdoor playground.

The museum, which presents a literal interpretation of the Bible, has hosted more than 400,000 visitors since it opened last May. Officials hope to have 300,000 museum visitors in the next year.

Ham said the popularity of the museum in Petersburg -- just south and west of Cincinnati -- has brought requests from other religious groups that museums be built in their cities. He said there are no plans to do so. "Once you've done one, it's easier to do another one," museum co-founder and spokesman Mark Looy said. "But we just opened this a year ago, and we're just learning how to operate it. Opening a second one is a dream way off in the distance."

In the meantime, Ham said the museum is consulting with churches throughout the country to build one-room displays that will serve as mini-Creation Museums.

Since crowds have been larger than expected, the museum has already added some extras, such as more walking trails and a petting zoo. It also introduced new programming, a children's reading program, and theatrical performances. In the next year, there also are plans for an additional parking lot and an auditorium to host speakers and educational events, Looy said. There will be more rotating exhibits and butterfly and woodland areas near the outdoor gardens, he said.

Ham said his group wants to see people converted to Christianity, but wants to influence people directly, rather than challenge school boards to add creationism to curricula. "We want to challenge everyone's thinking. You never know what seeds you're sowing," he said.

Scientists rally against creationist 'superstition'


To mark a double anniversary celebrating Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, his supporters are taking the fight to their opponents

By Ian Johnston Sunday, 1 June 2008

The rise of creationism in Britain to the point where four out of 10 Britons believe it to be the literal truth – as well as the idea being taught in state-approved schools – has spread alarm throughout the scientific community.

But this week sees the start of a concerted fightback, as an 18-month celebration of evolution and its greatest proponent, Charles Darwin, gets under way, marking the 150th anniversary of the unveiling of his theory and the 200th anniversary of his birth.

People all over Europe will take part in a mass experiment to discover evolutionary changes to a species of snail; a major series of programmes is to be shown by the BBC; several books are to be published; and the Open University plans a new course on the subject.

Entries for a competition to design "Darwin's Canopy" – a piece of art to cover a ceiling in the Natural History Museum – will be unveiled this week, and the museum will hold a major exhibition on Darwin beginning in November.

Dr Bob Bloomfield, head of special projects at the museum and a key figure in the "Darwin200" project, said he was concerned by the prevalence of creationist ideas.

"The statistics in this country are quite frightening. If you add up the percentages that either believe in creationism or intelligent design, it is approaching 40 per cent," he said.

"I don't think society can be complacent when ideas which are unsound are perpetrated. We are trying not to compromise people's faith views, other than where they are absolutely inconsistent with science."

He said the teaching of creationism in schools was "very problematic".

Professor Jonathan Silvertown of the Open University, who is writing a book entitled 99% Ape: How Evolution Adds Up, said the OU would be running a course called Darwin and Evolution. "The idea is to give people a feel for the modern evidence," he said.

He and the geneticist Professor Steve Jones, of University College London, are involved in a mass science project to study changes in banded snails, by recruiting tens of thousands of people across Europe.

Professor Jones said religious students – even those studying medicine – were becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to evolution, saying he was "telling lies and insulting people's religion" by teaching the subject.

"They want permission not to come to those lectures and sit those exam questions," he said. "I have been teaching genetics and evolutionary biology for 30 years and for the first 20 I think the issue arose once. That's changed."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Say You Want Some Evolution?: Methodists Support Sound Science In Schools


May 23rd 2008

Plenty of religious people support sound science and see no conflict between faith and evolution.

Yesterday my colleague Joe Conn noted that some people in Louisiana are having problems with the teaching of evolution in public schools. Ben Nevers, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives there, is pushing legislation to allow the use of "supplemental materials" that question evolution in the classroom.

This is just another crusade to bring "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism in through the back door. It's tiresome. In response, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn wondered if those "supplemental materials" might be old "Flintstones" cartoons relabeled as documentaries.

Creationists often portray this as a battle between the godly and the godless. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. Plenty of religious people support sound science and see no conflict between faith and evolution.

Among them is the United Methodist Church (UMC), the very denomination of President George W. Bush. During the church's General Conference, held in Fort Worth from April 22 to May 2, the church passed not just one but three resolutions expressing its support for evolutionary science.

Our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) note that the first resolution expresses to "the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools," noting that "the United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and [s]tate" and that "[t]he promotion of religion or any particular religion in the public schools is contrary to the First Amendment."

The second resolution is a statement on science and technology. It says the UMC holds that "science's descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology….We find that as science expands human understanding of the natural world, our understanding of the mysteries of God's creation and word are enhanced."

Finally, the UMC revised an earlier resolution titled "God's Creation and the Church," to endorse a project called the Clergy Letter Project. The Project, founded by Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis, urges clergy to hold annual "Evolution Sunday" events where the intersection of faith and science is discussed.

A few years ago, the NCSE updated its excellent book Voices for Evolution, which compiles statements from various groups that back evolution and oppose creationism. The book contains an entire section of statements by religious groups and leaders.

Here's one of my favorites: "New scientific knowledge has led us to realize that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

What anti-God, fanatical secularist said that? Pope John Paul II.

By Rob Boston

Categories: Evolution & Creationism Religion in Public Schools

Tags: evolution methodists

One in Eight U.S. Biology Teachers Teaches Creationism


Survey reveals that creationism and ID are hardly extinct in high schools

By Laura Allen Posted 05.23.2008 at 12:12 pm

The results of the first national survey of teachers about evolution in their classrooms are in. Darwin would quiver in his boots to learn that in this day and age, one in eight American biology teachers teach creationism and intelligent design as a sound alternative to his theory. In fact, 13 percent of the country's teachers think they can run an excellent biology class without even mentioning Darwin or evolution. A few findings of note:

The surveyed teachers spent an average of 13.7 classroom hours per year on general evolutionary processes in their biology classes.

The majority spent no more than five hours a year on human evolution, and 17 percent did not cover it all.

Only two percent of teachers did not teach about evolution, human or otherwise, at all.

Thirteen percent of teachers thought an excellent biology course could exist without mentioning Darwin or evolutionary theory.

Twenty-five percent of teachers said that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design. About half of this subset—one in eight biology teachers—taught it not in critique but as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species" and one that "many reputable scientists" endorse.

Sixteen percent of all teachers surveyed believe personally in the "young earth" story of origins: that human beings were created by God in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. About 48 percent of the general public believes this.

The survey, which was conducted by a team of Penn State political scientists last spring, assessed 939 randomly sampled U.S. biology teachers. It appears in PLoS Biology.

Alternative Medicine: Only the dead are safe to try it


22 May 2008

When is it safe to try alternative medicine? According to doctors, it's when the patient is dead.

A woman of 19 underwent cranial surgery at an American hospital, but she died two weeks later. She was declared dead, but was kept on a ventilator to allow her parents to get to the hospital and see her. On arrival, the father asked that she be given a Traditional Chinese Medicine concoction, which he said was routinely used in his society for patients in a coma.

The doctors had several conversations with the father, but couldn't see how the herb could help a patient who was, to all intents and purposes, dead. Perplexed, they called in the hospital's ethics committee to ask whether they could administer the substance while the patient remained on a ventilator.

After much deliberation, the committee sanctioned the use of the herb as it offered "psychological benefits to the family and the absence of risk to the patient (since she was dead)." Sadly they weren't so concerned about the risk of the conventional treatment that killed her.

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2008; 299: 2188-93).

Animal Science Without Evolution


Contact: Jeannie Fulbright, Jeanniefulbright.com, 770-740-9315, jeannie@jeanniefulbright.com

MEDIA ADVISORY, May 25 /Christian Newswire/ -- Fascination with animals permeates childhood. Yet, with biology books oozing evolutionary propaganda and conjecture, an animal enthusiast's faith in the Bible is in danger of erosion. So how can a Christian child maintain and grow their faith if they want to study animals? The answer is the latest book in Jeannie Fulbright's creation science series, Exploring Creation with Zoology III, which covers the land animals created on the sixth day.

Released in March 2008, Christian book stores are already selling out of this well researched, scientifically profound book, which is the fifth book in Fulbright's creation science sequence. Covering all the land creatures from parasites to primates, Exploring Creation with Zoology III presents scientifically sound teaching, along with evidence for deliberate design, a biblical model for origins and explanations that expose the absurdity of evolutionary leaps of logic. All this is accessible to a child, with Fulbright's engaging writing style, full color photos and entertaining experiments and projects. Many children and parents alike will appreciate the chapter dedicated to dinosaurs. Not only will they learn the scientific classifications of the dinosaur kinds and become virtual experts in the field, families will discover data that supports the dinosaurs' recent history on planet earth.

"The animals God created are beyond fascinating. Children need a resource with which they can study them in-depth, one which does not compromise their faith or sow seeds of doubt," Fulbright communicated at a recent conference in Georgia.

One parent from Maine, commenting on a previous book in the series, wrote, '[This book is] written at a level that kids can understand. Mrs. Fulbright tackles the science of God's creation in such an inviting way that some days it's hard to stop reading. I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend this book and any other in the series."

Fulbright's books can be ordered from any bookstore, including, Christian Book Distributors (www.chirsitanbooks.com) or directly from the publisher, Apologia Educational Ministries (www.apologia.com).

If you would like more information on this book series, high resolution images or to schedule an interview with Jeannie Fulbright, please visit Jeannie's website at Jeanniefulbright.com, or e-mail Jeannie at jeannie@jeanniefulbright.com.

Evolution a set of facts, but not whole truth


from the Morning Sentinel

In the letter (May 14) "Not teaching evolution denies basic concepts," Charles Acker said, "It is in fact a theory in the same sense that the understandings of gravity, electromagnetism, relativity, photosynthesis and genetic transmission are 'only theories'."

This wide range of scientific theory, is just that, scientific theory.

The Bible speaks of species and genus in the book of Genesis. Species is defined in dictionary as a group of animals or plants that possess in common one or more distinctive characters in their offspring; genus, as a class of objects divided into several subordinate species.

I for one do not understand why both cannot be taught in school. Darwin was correct on his thoughts of evolution but not when it came to separating species and genus. No matter how hard a person wants to believe that you can cross a dog and a cat and get a cat-dog, the truth remains that it cannot be done.

Evolution will always take place in genus but never in species. Man is a specie and saying that we came from monkeys is not only false, but denies that man (all-inclusive noun, women and men) stands above all in God's great works.

When it comes to facts versus truth, it's always in the best interest of the student to teach both. Not to be one-sided.

By the way, truth never needs to be modified, only facts do.

Jerry Dummich

Letter: Consider all evolution alternatives


Published: May 26, 2008 - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.

Our legislators are right on target about teaching alternatives to evolution, but they need to require coverage of all viable alternatives. Science classes should at minimum cover theories that have significant support in the modern world. For example, the absence of Vikings in today's society means we can exclude their theory that the world is the side-effect of a big argument between the gods and the frost giants.

But we need to address the possibility presented by several Native American tribes that mankind crawled up from a series of underground worlds. There should be critical analysis of whether they came along the inside or outside of a giant reed; both views having adherents. There is also conflicting opinion about whether Spider Woman actually created people, or simply led them to the surface.

The Shinto theory is that a male and female god created the first land by dipping a jeweled spear into the ocean, after which they mated and gave birth to the rest of the land and various flora and fauna in turn. The first three women were made from a sword and the first five men from an ornamental chain.

Teachers should be required to enhance their students' reasoning ability by discussion of the exact order in which species were born, and why. Asia has many variations on the basic concept that a giant being named Pangu passed away and his remains formed the world — his breath became the atmosphere, his flesh became the earth, and the parasites on his body became humanity. Science education needs to address the evidence that this is true, which can be found daily in the pages of The Advocate.

Last, but not least, a number of African tribes share a belief that the Earth, its inhabitants and mankind were all successively vomited up by a god with an upset stomach. This clearly deserves a place in the modern science classroom. Just think for a minute and you'll probably come up with your own supporting evidence for it.

I hope that no reader who believes in these concepts takes offense at my writing. I am not making fun; I am in dead earnest. Real people, U.S. citizens who vote and pay taxes, hold to these as self-evident truths and have every right to do so.

If we are going to evaluate alternatives to evolution in science class, then it is flat-out un-American to favor one group's alternative over others.

Walt Eldredge
Retired petroleum employee
Baton Rouge

Beware of alternative treatments


[From Ireland]


Monday May 26 2008

More public awareness of the 'quacks' who exploit people with potentially fatal illnesses is needed, according to a group of doctors.

The medics, from St James's Hospital in Dublin, highlighted the cases of three patients who delayed medical treatment for head and neck cancer by going to alternative practitioners first.

In one case a 37-year-old woman with cancer on her tongue declined treatment after it was diagnosed at the hospital and instead went to the seventh son of a seventh son.

She was given a paste from plant extracts but when she returned to the doctors several months later she needed radical surgery. It was too late and she passed away.

In another case a 55-year-old man eventually sought medical treatment after attending a therapist who gave him a herbal drink and also engaged in the laying on of hands with prayers.

The doctors, from the hospital's department of otolargyngology, have now urged the Department Of Health and the Criminal Assets Bureau, to investigate the use of alternative medicine here and gather statistics on the "prevalence of quackery".

"Most human beings will do almost anything to prolong their existence or to relieve the suffering.

"Others will do anything to exploit these desires by selling what they claim to be pain killing remedies," they wrote in the Irish Medical Journal.

"In head and neck cancers, use of alternative therapies is reported to be around 15pc. This is because of the way it deblitates patients and affects their ability to eat as well as the possible disfigurement and changes in facial features. The efficacy of these therapies remains questionable, in fact the research in these areas can be nonexistent or at best of poor quality."

People are advised to be alert for claims of "miracle cures" and secret ingredients.

"We have a moral and ethical obligation towards our patients and this may require us to spend more time exploring their concerns."

There is no statutory regulation of complementary practitioners in this country and people are advised to attend a therapist who is affiliated to a professional association.

- Eilish O'Regan

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Creationism Creeps into U.S. Classrooms


Robin Lloyd
LiveScience Senior Editor
Wed May 21, 3:03 PM ET

One in eight U.S. high school biology teachers presents creationism or intelligent design in a positive light in the classroom, a new survey shows, despite a federal court's recent ban against it.

And a quarter of the nation's high school biology teachers say they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to the topics, with about half presenting it favorably and half presenting it as an invalid alternative.

Those results are part of a nationally representative, random sample of 939 teachers who filled out surveys between March 5, 2007, and May 1, 2007 on questions concerning the teaching of evolution. The figures have a 3 percent margin of error.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, also revealed that between 12 percent and 16 percent of the nation's biology teachers are creationists, and about one in six of them have a "young Earth" orientation, which means they believe that human beings were created by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years.

Scientists, on the other hand, agree that humans evolved from a common primate ancestor in a process that stretches back tens of millions of years. The theory of evolution on which this is based is one of the most well-supported theories in science.

By design

The highly publicized Dover ruling in 2005 banned the teaching of intelligent design in Pennsylvania public school science classes, and there have been many other legal victories at the state and local level for the teaching of evolution, but there is a disconnect between these rulings, science and what really happens in high school biology classes, said study leader Michael B. Berkman, a political scientist at Penn State University.

In the end, it is teachers, more than court cases, that determine what is presented in science class, the new research suggests.

"The status of evolution in the biology and life sciences curriculum remains highly problematic and threatened," writes Berkman and his colleagues, including Eric Plutzer and Julianna Sandell Pacheco, both of Penn State, in a peer-reviewed essay on the survey in the latest issue of the journal PLoS Biology.

Berkman and Plutzer have a longstanding project that focuses on the responsiveness of school districts to public opinion.

"This issue [the teaching of evolution] is particularly interesting in that context because the public opinion on it is in many ways so far away from where the experts are," Berkman told LiveScience. For instance, about 38 percent of Americans would prefer that creationism be taught instead of evolution, according to a 2005 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Hottest button

Other details of the survey results:

- The majority of biology teachers spend between 3 and 15 hours on evolution, which the National Academy of Sciences considers to be the most important concept of biology.

- The majority of teachers spend no more than five hours on human evolution.

- Only 23 percent of teachers strongly agreed that evolution is the unifying theme for their biology or life sciences courses, though the majority of teachers see evolution as essential to high school biology.

- The more biology or life sciences classes taken in college by a teacher, the more evolution they taught.

"This is the hottest of the hot buttons," Berkman said of the teaching of evolution. Even the strongest legal ruling "still gives boards of education, school districts and especially teachers considerable leeway."

Victory in the courts and state standards will not ensure that evolution is included in high school science classes, Berkman and his colleagues conclude. A bigger impact would come by focusing on certification standards for high school biology teachers, such as requiring all teachers to complete a course in evolutionary biology.

Berkman said he didn't know if this was likely to happen, but he hopes the new research "captures the attention of people who make decisions on that, science educators as well as scientists."

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Original Story: Creationism Creeps into U.S. Classrooms

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Missouri antievolution bill dies


When the Missouri legislative session ended on May 16, 2008, House Bill 2554 died, although it was passed by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education on April 30, 2008. If enacted, the bill would have called on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including such subjects as the teaching of biological and chemical evolution," and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." "Toward this end," it continued, "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution."

The intent and likely effect of HB 2554 was not lost on the editorialist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 27, 2008), who commented (in the course of marveling at the latest confirmation of the dinosaurian ancestry of birds), "Once again this year, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature that would encourage students to question evolution. House Bill 2554, sponsored by Rep. Robert Wayne Cooper, R-Camdenton, claims to support academic freedom for teachers, and to help students 'develop critical thinking skills.' Those are the latest fig leaves used by creationists in their long war against science and evolution." In previous legislative sessions, Cooper sponsored a total of three antievolution bills: HB 911 and HB 1722, calling for equal time for "intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools, in 2004, and HB 1266, calling for "critical analysis" of any "theory or hypothesis of biological origins," in 2006. All three of these bills died, although HB 1266, like HB 2554, was passed by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.

May 19, 2008

Naturalism disguised as evolution


Letter to the Editor

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In response to Robert Nazarete's May 17 letter ("Stein film can't disprove evolution") and to John Craig's May 20 rebuttal ("Evolution is a religion, not science"), I must commend Mr. Craig in clarifying what the scope of the movie was really about: the true lack of intellectual and scientific neutrality that is otherwise claimed by proponents of Darwinian naturalism. Please note the word "evolution" is not used here. This word carries different meanings to different people, and thus renders arguments against it moot.

To clarify, proponents of Darwinian naturalism use examples of adaptation and minor changes to justify the extrapolations that major changes (i.e., entire new biological families) come about, while detractors of Darwinian naturalism argue that major changes have never been scientifically observed, recorded or induced. By presenting actual biological events in such a positive light, proponents mask the real debate (while claiming scientific and philosophical neutrality), and they can get away with it because of use of the one word: evolution.

I will encourage the debate's focus on the more concise term "Darwinian naturalism." Only then will the irreligious bias and lack of neutrality from proponents become evident. Only then can the argument be successfully made that evolution is a religion, not science.

Robert Williams, Evans

From the Saturday, May 24, 2008 edition of the Augusta Chronicle

No prosecution for UK minor who called Scientology a 'cult'


The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of the government of the United Kingdom told the City of London Police on Friday that there will be no prosecution for a 15-year-old boy who called Scientology a "cult" at a May 10 peaceful protest.

The City of London Police had previously confiscated the boy's protest placard and gave him a court summons at the demonstration, which took place near St Paul's Cathedral at the Church of Scientology's London headquarters on Queen Victoria Street. The boy's poster read: "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult". The human rights organization Liberty has come out strongly against the City of London Police for their actions at the protest, and said they are pursuing an inquiry into the police force for what they say is a troubling freedom of speech issue.

Individuals from the group Anonymous have held monthly international protests against the Church of Scientology since February, as part of the anti-Scientology movement Project Chanology. The Project Chanology movement began when the Church of Scientology attempted to get a leaked Scientology promotional video featuring Tom Cruise removed from websites YouTube and Gawker.com.

Members of Anonymous were motivated by the actions of the Church of Scientology, and bombarded Scientology websites and were successful in taking some of them down. Anonymous later changed tactics towards legal measures, and held international protests against Scientology on February 10, March 15, April 12, and most recently May 10.

City of London Police approached the 15-year-old boy at the May 10 protest and cited section five of the Public Order Act 1986, which deals with "harassment, alarm or distress". In response, the boy cited a 1984 judgment given by Mr. Justice Latey in the Family Division of the High Court of Justice of Her Majesty's Courts of Justice of England and Wales, in which Latey called Scientology a "cult" and said it was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous". In the actual 1984 judgment made by Judge Latey, he stated: "Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. [...] In my judgment it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. [...] It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationships with others." The boy told fellow protesters he was not going to take the sign down, saying: "If I don't take the word 'cult' down, here [holding up his sign], I will be either, I think, most likely arrested or [given] a summons. I am going to fight this and not take it down because I believe in freedom of speech, besides which I'm only fifteen."

When the boy refused to take his sign down, City of London Police removed it, cited him with a court summons and informed him that the matter would be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The boy was the only protester who did not comply with the police requests to remove signs which referred to Scientology as a "cult". According to The Guardian, a CPS spokesman stated Friday that: "In consultation with the City of London police, we were asked whether the sign, which read 'Scientology is not a religion it is a dangerous cult', was abusive or insulting. Our advice is that it is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness, as opposed to criticism, neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression. No action will be taken against the individual."

"The CPS review of the case includes advice on what action or behaviour at a demonstration might be considered to be threatening, abusive or insulting. The force's policing of future demonstrations will reflect this advice," said a spokeswoman for the City of London Police in a statement in The Guardian.

The 15-year-old boy's mother called the CPS decision a "victory for free speech", saying: "We're all incredibly proud of him. We advised him to take the placard down when we realised what was happening but he said 'No, it's my opinion and I have a right to express it'."

The incident has generated significant interest on the Internet, from civil rights groups and anti-cult groups, and in the press. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, and Ian Haworth of the United Kingdom-based Cult Information Centre were highly critical of the actions of the City of London Police. George Pitcher of The Daily Telegraph called the actions of the City of London Police "a mockery of the law". Other publications also criticized the actions of the police, compared the boy to past civil rights protesters, and analyzed how the characterization of "cult" applied to Scientology. The Guardian reported that human rights activists "were outraged" when reports of the actions of the City of London Police at the protest surfaced this week. Marina Hyde wrote in a comment piece in The Guardian that the City of London Police should spend a little less time "reaching for the collar of free-speaking children". An article in The Guardian about the boy's court summons hit the front page of the website Slashdot on Wednesday, and an article about the statement by CPS hit the site's front page on Friday. The anti-Scientology website Enturbulation.org devoted its front page to the incident on Saturday.

BBC News reported that attorneys for Liberty represented the 15-year-old boy to the CPS. In media statements Friday, Liberty said it would continue its inquiry into the actions of the City of London Police. "The police may have ended their inquiries into this tawdry incident but rest assured that Liberty's inquiry will continue. Democracy is all about clashing ideas and the police should protect peaceful protest, not stifle it," said James Welch, legal director at Liberty. "Reason has prevailed in the case of the anti-Scientology protester", wrote Welch in a comment piece in The Observer. According to The Press Association, Liberty's inquiry may result in actions taken against the City of London Police.

The City of London Police has faced controversy in the past for its close association with the Church of Scientology. When the City of London Scientology building opened in 2006, City of London Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley praised Scientology in an appearance as guest speaker at the building's opening ceremony. Ken Stewart, another of the City of London's chief superintendents, has also appeared in a video praising Scientology. According to The Guardian over 20 officers for the City of London Police have accepted gifts from the Church of Scientology including tickets to film premieres, lunches and concerts at police premises.

Unlike the City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police Service (the territorial police force responsible for Greater London excluding the City of London) has not raised an issue with protesters using placards with similar wording at protests against Scientology, according to The Guardian and Londonist.

Each of the Project Chanology international protests against Scientology has had a theme: the February protest called attention to the birthday of Lisa McPherson, who died under controversial circumstances while under the care of Scientology, the March protest was arranged to take place two days after Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday, the April protest highlighted the Church of Scientology's disconnection policy, and the May protest highlighted the Scientology practice of "Fair Game" and took place one day after the anniversary of the publication of Hubbard's book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Another international protest is planned for June 14, and will highlight the Church of Scientology's elite "Sea Organization" or "Sea Org".

"No charges over Scientology demonstration sign". Enturbulation.org, May 24, 2008
Marina Hyde "Intergalactic tyrants beware: the boys in blue are after you - Anyone who thinks the police aren't interested in diversity will be amazed by the links they have built with Scientology". The Guardian, May 24, 2008
kdawson "UK Prosecutors Say 'Cult' Acceptable". Slashdot, May 23, 2008
"Police facing action over teenage protester's arrest". The Scotsman, May 23, 2008
James Welch, legal director at Liberty "The cult of free speech - Reason has prevailed in the case of the anti-Scientology protester: none of us has a right not to be offended by the views of others". The Observer, May 23, 2008
"Liberty anger after scientology protest case dropped". Worthing Today, May 23, 2008
"Liberty backs 'cult' boy case". The Press Association, May 23, 2008
"No charges over Scientology demo: Legal action has been dropped against a 15-year-old who faced prosecution for branding Scientology a "cult"". BBC News, May 23, 2008
Anil Dawar "Schoolboy avoids prosecution for branding Scientology a 'cult'". The Guardian, May 23, 2008
"Fifteen Year Old Boy is Scientologists' Latest Target". National Secular Society, May 23, 2008
RS Davis "It's a Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult: Why is the British government shutting down the opponents of Scientology?". Nolan Chart, May 22, 2008
Dawn Olsen "Will Disclosure In Court Be Scientology's Undoing In UK Teen's "Cult" Case?". GlossLip, May 22, 2008
George Pitcher "Scientology arrest makes a mockery of the law". The Daily Telegraph, May 21, 2008
"Anonymous: Minor arrested for calling scientology a "cult"". Die Welt, May 21, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Evolution education update: May 23, 2008

A national survey of high school biology teachers suggests that evolution is still under siege. The United Methodist Church adopts a trio of pro-evolution resolutions at its General Conference. The antievolution bill in Missouri is dead. And NCSE continues to seek candidates for a position in its Public Information Project.


A noteworthy new paper describes a national survey of high school biology teachers about the teaching of evolution. According to Michael B. Berkman, Julianna Sandell Pacheco, and Eric Plutzer's "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait," published on May 20, 2008, in PLoS Biology, the survey was "the first nationally representative survey of teachers concerning the teaching of evolution." Among the highlights (quoting from the article):

* Overall, teachers devoted an average of 13.7 hours to general evolutionary processes (including human evolution), with 59% allocating between three and 15 hours of class time ... Only 2% excluded evolution entirely. But significantly fewer teachers covered human evolution, which is not included as an NSES benchmark. Of teachers surveyed, 17% did not cover human evolution at all in their biology class, while a majority of teachers (60%) spent between one and five hours of class time on it.

* We found that 25% of teachers indicated that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design ... Of the 25% of teachers who devoted time to creationism or intelligent design, nearly half agreed or strongly agreed that they teach creationism as a "valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species." Nearly the same number agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism or intelligent design they emphasize that "many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian Theory."

* Our teachers were each asked a question about their own personal beliefs about human origins. ... Among the biology teachers, 16% believed that human beings were created by God in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years (and an additional 9% declined to answer). Although this is a far smaller proportion than found among the general public (48%), our data demonstrate substantial sympathy for the "young earth" creationist position among nearly one in six members of the science teaching profession.

The authors conclude, "These findings strongly suggest that victory in the courts is not enough for the scientific community to ensure that evolution is included in high school science courses. ... Our study suggests that requiring all teachers to complete a course in evolutionary biology would have a substantial impact on the emphasis on evolution and its centrality in high school biology courses. In the long run, the impact of such a change could have a more far reaching effect than the victories in courts and in state governments."

For "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait," visit:


At its General Conference held in Fort Worth, Texas, from April 22 to May 2, 2008, the United Methodist Church adopted three resolutions relevant to the teaching of evolution in the public schools. First, and most directly concerned with education, the UMC expressed its opposition to "the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools," noting that "the United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and [s]tate" and that "[t]he promotion of religion or any particular religion in the public schools is contrary to the First Amendment."

Second, in the course of a statement on science and technology, the UMC affirmed, "We find that science's descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology. ... We find that as science expands human understanding of the natural world, our understanding of the mysteries of God's creation and word are enhanced." And third, the UMC revised its resolution on "God's Creation and the Church," to endorse the Clergy Letter Project (founded by Michael Zimmerman) and "its reconciliatory programs between religion and science," in which it urged its clergy to participate.

The text of the resolutions -- 80839, 80050, and 80990, respectively -- is available by using the Legislation Tracking feature of the UMC's website for the General Convention. The UMC's General Conference is the denomination's top policy-making body, which periodically revises church law and the "Social Principles" (related to a wide range of social and economic concerns) and adopts resolutions on various current moral, social, public policy, and economic issues. With over eight million members in the United States served by over forty-five thousand ministers, the United Methodist Church is the third largest religious denomination in the United States.

For the UMC's website for the General Convention, visit:

For the Legislation Tracking page, visit:

For information about the Clergy Letter Project, visit:


When the Missouri legislative session ended on May 16, 2008, House Bill 2554 died, although it was passed by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education on April 30, 2008. If enacted, the bill would have called on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including such subjects as the teaching of biological and chemical evolution," and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." "Toward this end," it continued, "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution."

The intent and likely effect of HB 2554 was not lost on the editorialist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 27, 2008), who commented (in the course of marveling at the latest confirmation of the dinosaurian ancestry of birds), "Once again this year, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature that would encourage students to question evolution. House Bill 2554, sponsored by Rep. Robert Wayne Cooper, R-Camdenton, claims to support academic freedom for teachers, and to help students 'develop critical thinking skills.' Those are the latest fig leaves used by creationists in their long war against science and evolution." In previous legislative sessions, Cooper sponsored a total of three antievolution bills: HB 911 and HB 1722, calling for equal time for "intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools, in 2004, and HB 1266, calling for "critical analysis" of any "theory or hypothesis of biological origins," in 2006. All three of these bills died, although HB 1266, like HB 2554, was passed by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.

For the text of Missouri's HB 2554, visit:

For the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's editorial, visit:

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


Please feel free to circulate the following job announcement to qualified candidates!

The National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization that defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools, seeks candidates for a position in its Public Information Project.

Staff members in the Public Information Project provide advice and support to local activists faced with threats to evolution education in their communities. They also provide information on evolution, evolution education, and related issues to the general public, the press, and allied organizations, and contribute as needed to NCSE's publications, both in print and on-line. Excellent communication skills, both written and oral, are necessary, as are a high degree of computer literacy and the ability to work cooperatively.

Candidates must have at least a college degree; advanced degrees in the sciences, particularly biology and geology, or in the history and/or philosophy of science, and/or science education, are pluses. A record of involvement in or understanding of the creationism/evolution controversy, or church/state separation issues in general, is also a plus.

This is a full-time permanent position with medical, dental, and retirement benefits in Oakland, California, to start as soon as possible. Telecommuting is not an option. Travel and public speaking may be required. Salary in the 40s, depending on qualification and experience.

Send c.v., brief writing sample, and the names of three references to NCSE, either by mail to NCSE, 420 40th Street, Suite 2, Oakland CA 94609-2509, by fax to (510) 601-7204, or by e-mail to pip@ncseweb.org. No calls, please. Materials must arrive by June 1, 2008, to be considered. NCSE is an equal opportunity employer.

For the same posting on NCSE's website, visit:


Due to a computer glitch here, the special May 16, 2008, evolution education update announcing NCSE's latest video was sent in triplicate. Sorry for the inconvenience!

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fight over evolution looms in Maine school district


Article Date: Sunday, May 11, 2008

WATERVILLE, Maine (AP) _ A Somerset County school district is being urged by one of its members to drop evolution from its high school science curriculums on grounds that it is an unprovable theory that should not be taught as fact.

"You can't show, observe or prove (evolution)," said Matthew Linkletter of Athens, a director of School Administrative District 59 who maintains that neither evolution nor creationism belongs in a science curriculum.

A spokesman for the state Department of Education disagrees, saying that evolution is based on proven science and its teaching in science classes is mandated by the Maine Learning Results program.

"For our students to be prepared for college work and life in the 21st century, it's necessary," said David Connerty-Marin. "Evolution is not just a belief, or based on faith, it's based on scientific evaluation. The worldwide science community supports it."

SAD 59 directors will take up Linkletter's arguments when they meet May 19. The district includes Madison, Athens, Brighton Plantation and Starks.

Linkletter's pastor, Roy Blevins of Church of the Open Bible in Athens, favored a suggestion from SAD 59 Chairman Norman Luce that a philosophy class might provide a better forum for the study of evolution.

"That's a sane approach," Blevins said. "The evolution concept is a theory, and not provable. If the science department at Madison High is simply teaching theory, then you ought to leave it in the science department."

Madison Town Manager Norman Dean, who taught science in Madison from 1962 through 1996 and once taught Linkletter, characterized his former student's proposal as "absolutely stupid."

"I thought we already had the monkey trial," he said, referring to the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee that tested a law banning the teaching of evolution.

Information from: Morning Sentinel, http://www.onlinesentinel.com/

Room for Creationism


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I believe that our society is big enough not only for those who subscribe to the evolution of life from primeval scum, but also for those who believe that "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)

With respect to their earthy earthly bodies, the latter also know that "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Gen 3:19)

For the evolutionist, we may simply paraphrase: "Scum thou art, and unto scum shalt thou return."

Think Green.

J.W. Leonard

Alaska Junction

Letter: Says theory of evolution is outdated


May 14, 2008

Please feel sorry for people who believe in evolution as if it be their god. I believe they are operating in 1800s science, before electron microscopes were invented, before the 21st century scientific advances in technology.

Poor Darwin never knew of the enormous complexity of the "simple" cell.

Today in the 21st century, technology has advanced so much that real scientists have been able to study the cell structure enough to realize that it is not simple.

I believe only those lacking real information still hold onto Darwin's theory of evolution.

To become educated, go to see "Expelled," an enlightening and captivating documentary that is playing in Macedonia. I think it is worth the trip and the price of the ticket. It will give you fresh, up-to-date ideas to think about. You owe it to yourself to become informed. When you go, do not miss the beginning.

Raija "Amy" Daley


Science and Religion wed in the Embrace of Sacred Evolution


Diana deRegnier

May 14, 2008

Five Nobel Laureates have endorsed the book "Thank God for Evolution! How the marriage of science and religion will transform your life and our world," by Michael Dowd, Viking edition on-sale date: June 19, 2008.

Craig Mello, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine proclaims, "The science vs. religion debate is over! Michael Dowd masterfully unites rationality and spirituality in a worldview that celebrates the mysteries of existence and inspires each human being to achieve a higher purpose in life. A must read all, including scientists."

With humor and panache, Michael relates the true romance tale of his transformation to evolutionary evangelist. Michael then presents the 13.7 billion year history of the Universe and resolves the great debate between science and religion while maintaining respect for both fields. And, with infectious optimism, Michael gives us a peek into our emerging future.

February 1988, in a course taught by Albert LaChance, a cultural therapist, Michael Dowd heard the story of the Universe as a sacred epic and began to weep. "I knew I would spend the rest of my life sharing this perspective as great news," says Michael. "My evangelizing began shortly thereafter as an avocation wedged into the rest of my life… By no longer opposing evolution, but wholeheartedly embracing it as the 'Great Story' of 14 billion years of divine grace and creativity, I now have a more intimate relationship with God and a more joyful walk with Christ than ever before."

"We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins—star stuff pondering the stars!" – Carl Sagan

In the 1980s, Michael pursued an education in religion at Evangel University and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the '90s, he shifted from United Church of Christ ministry into interfaith sustainability work and community organizing. In the spring of 2000, Michael received a prophetic declaration from a friend who had taken him to a Pentecostal/Charismatic worship service. "I have a word from God for you…Thus sayeth the Lord, 'My son, I have called thee home to reveal thy true mission. Step out boldly with thy beloved and fear not. For I will bless thy steps and thy ministry more abundantly than thou canst imagine.'"

"Praise God! I'm ready!" Michael thought. Then, "I wonder why God likes Elizabethan English so much?" And, finally, "Whoa boy, did you hear that? God said, 'with thy beloved.' You'd better get moving, dude. You don't even have a girlfriend!"

Fast forward several months to a lecture given by cosmologist Brian Swimme, where Michael meets Connie Barlow, an acclaimed science writer and author of 4 books including "Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life" and "The Ghosts of Evolution." Michael and Connie were married in June 2001.

Three months later, when the World Trade Center was attacked, the couple felt compelled to reevaluate their priorities. Connie had been scheduled for a meeting on September 12 in Tower I.

In October 2001, they watched a PBS television special, "Evolution: A Journey into Where We're From and Where We're Going." Afterward, Connie turned to Michael and said "You need to be out there speaking to those students. You need to show how an evolutionary understanding can enrich one's faith!"

Since 2002, Michael and Connie have traveled the northern continent in a van proclaiming the sacred story of cosmic, biological, and human evolution. On their van are 2 decals, one the Jesus fish, the other the Darwin fish – kissing. "Many passersby flash a smile when they see it, although disapproving responses are not uncommon. A retired biology professor in Lawrence, Kansas took one look at the decals and laughed, 'Oh great! Now you p*** everyone off!'"

A playful approach to the serious subject helps the two maintain perspective and keep their quest fresh. Far from a hardship though, Michael and Connie enjoy their life on the road and "feel blessed to experience the stunning beauty of this vast continent." They say that they are nurtured, too, by the invitations they often receive to stay in people's homes. Surely, the rewards are reciprocal.

"I see science and religion can be mutually enriching." Dowd says in the book. "We are in the early stages of one of the most far-reaching transformations into which human consciousness has ever ascended. Today's conflict between science and religion is the catalyst by which both will mature in healthy ways. Neither will drive the other into extinction. Rather, both are moving in remarkable, previously unthinkable directions."

Michael further predicts that believers and non-believers will come to see "evolution is a gift to religion, and that meaning-making is a gift to science. As the religions come to embrace the science-based history of the Cosmos, each tradition's core insights will be accessed in larger, more realistic ways then ever before. Cultures in conflict will find common ground that today seems inconceivable."

For churches and secular organizations, Michael presents the 13.7 billion year history of the Universe with vivid pictorials and dramatic speeches. His enthusiastic presentations inspire awe, delight and most importantly, a basic understanding of how evolution and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. In fact they present the perfect match for wedded bliss.

In response to seeing posters of Hubble Telegraph photos at a presentation, Joyce Keller sent him a poem in which she says:

Hot blue stars born out of the red glow of galaxies,

a pulsating firestorm of fluorescent clouds,

the obsidian sky of deep space.

Spirals of comets, like swirling diamond necklaces.

Black holes, exploding supernovas,

a hundred thousand light-years away—endless, unimaginable.

And I knew that, finally, I had seen the face of God.

Download or watch the history of the universe flash trailer on ThankGodforEvolution.com or on YouTube.com.

Diana deRegnier writes the column SpiritLinks for AmericanChronicle.com and UPI ReligionAndSpirituality.com from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her articles appear in numerous Internet and print publications around the world. © Copyright 2008 by Diana deRegnier

Geneticists at the American Museum of Natural History trace the evolution of St. Louis encephalitis


Solving the mystery of disease origins Public release date: 15-May-2008

Contact: Kristin Phillips
American Museum of Natural History

Before West Nile virus arrived in this country, we had (and still have) a home-grown relative of this pathogen. An epidemic of unknown origin exploded around St. Louis, Missouri in the autumn of 1933, a disease that is now known to be transmitted by mosquitoes from birds to people. Now, a new analysis of the genome of St. Louis encephalitis completed at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is shedding light on the evolution of this virus.

Under the direction of Susan Perkins, Assistant Curator of Microbial Genomics, postdoctoral fellows Gregory Baillie, Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, and Eric Waltari sequenced the entire genetic code of 23 strains of the virus that cause St. Louis encephalitis, all from the genus Flavivirus. Previous research had found that recombination (the cutting and pasting of strands of genetic material, in this case RNA) explained the evolution of this virus, but these studies sequenced just a single gene of the virus. Because the whole-genome approach turned a microscope on the entire set of instructions for St. Louis encephalitis, the AMNH researchers were able to determine that a single mutation in the coding for an envelope protein rather than recombination most likely caused changes that made the virus pathogenic to humans. "Recombination is important for disease; it makes novel proteins or genes that the immune system has never seen before," explains Perkins. "But in this case, it was population dynamics combined with slight changes in the form of point mutations that have been important in the evolution of this virus."

Genetic analysis also allowed Perkins and colleagues to trace the evolutionary path of the Flavivirus virus. They determined that the older, less derived strains, or more ancestral strains, are from South America. The North American and Haitian strains were passed from common bird hosts such as finches, robins, blue jays, and doves into humans by the Culex mosquito after the virus exploded into a new continent. To time this event, researchers again turned to the genomic code: by determining the rate of mutation in the virus, Perkins found that the division between the South and North American strains happened about 116 years ago. "St. Louis encephalitis is a perfect storm between infected bird hosts coming into a new area and the mosquito vectors transferring the virus to humans," says Perkins. "It is the North American version of West Nile."

St. Louis encephalitis is currently found throughout the United States, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 4,651 cases between 1964 and 2005. Symptoms range from a mild headache to high fever and tremors. Mortality is between 5 and 30% and is higher among the elderly.

This research was published in the May issue of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Additional coauthors are Joseph Maffei and Laura Kramer from Arbovirus Laboratories of the New York State Department of Health. The research was made possible by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the U.S. Army Research Office, the Wadsworth Center Media and Tissue Culture facility, and the World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses through the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, the Computational Biology Service Unit from Cornell University, and CamGrid at the University of Cambridge.

No. 56

UC Berkeley Staff Face Lawsuit Over Pro-Evolution Bias


By Alexander J. Sheffrin
Christian Post Reporter

Thu, May. 15 2008 12:02 PM ET

Staff members at the University of California-Berkeley are being sued in court over a pro-evolution Web site, hosted by the school's science program, that ridicules religious denominations that do not agree with evolution.

Evolution Challenged in Maine School District

The Pacific Justice Institute, a religious liberties group, claims that the Web site – which was designed with $500,000 in federal backing – endorses religious views that support evolution while deriding those that do not, thus constituting an illegal and public endorsement of religion by the university.

The group also points to parts of the site that feature pro-evolution religious denominations alongside faiths that the site says adhere to creationism and "explicitly contradict science."

In another section on the Web site, teachers are informed to consider all objections by students to evolution as "different from legitimate inquiry" and "disrupt[ions]" to the learning process.

"Whatever one's views on the origin of life or the theory of evolution, it is completely inappropriate for the government to declare that some religious denominations are better than others," explained PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider, in a statement. "The Supreme Court has long held that government must not decree what is orthodox in religion, and we are seeking to hold UC Berkeley to that standard."

Roy Caldwell, who is among the professors being sued by PJI, denied the assertion, arguing that the site simply made "facts" available to users.

"Basically, what we have is a page that deals with the misconceptions and challenges to the teaching of evolution, and we provided resources to teachers to answer them," he told UC Berkeley news. "One of those questions is, 'Aren't religion and evolution incompatible?' And we say, 'no,' and point to a number of sites by clerics and others who make that point."

PJI President Brad Davis emphasized that the case was a clear situation of viewpoint discrimination.

"Government actions that demean a group's faith clearly express state hostility toward religion and must be contested," he said.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed by PJI in 2005 and dismissed because of what judges said was a "lack in standing," will be reviewed this week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On the Web: evolution.berkeley.edu

Spiffy Book Misleads on Evolution


Posted on: Wednesday, 14 May 2008, 21:00 CDT

By Abram Katz

Writing under the name Harun Yahya, Oktar has written a massive, beautifully illustrated and rather troubling book, "Atlas of Creation." This is the kind of book, in size and shape, you might use to press flowers. It weighs about 10 pounds. It's printed on heavy, glossy paper and must have cost a fortune to publish.

Setting aside that Oktar has blamed Jews and Freemasons for trying to contaminate Turkish culture, and has written off the Holocaust as an unfortunate typhus epidemic, the book is more than a little on the creepy side.

The size and sophistication of the volume suggests that Oktar must have a lot of money, and hence influence in some quarters.

Oktar's thesis, such as it is, claims that Charles Darwin was wrong about evolution.

By extension, he also challenges virtually all modern biology. His argument is that Darwin predicted intermediate forms of life, as evolution proceeded from simple organisms to more complicated ones, and that no such fossils have been found.

We know such fossils indeed have been found, and that modern anatomical and genetic similarities between organisms support evolution.

But, Oktar will have none of that.

As proof of there being no evolution, Oktar presents hundreds of photographs purporting to show fossils of animals that he supposes are identical to their modern forms.

Typical of his approach is a suspicious photo of a hyena skull, allegedly from the Cretaceous period, 85 million years ago.

One major problem here is that hyenas, or more accurately the hyaenids, did not appear on Earth until about 17 to 18 million years ago. That would be Miocene, not Cretaceous.

And, contrary to Oktar, there are many fossils of earlier relatives of hyenas. Moreover, the fossil hyena skull that Oktar presents resembles a plaster recreation of a skull. There are a number of anatomically odd features, but even assuming the fossil is real, Oktar's point is not.

Some pages later, Oktar shows a hyena skull from the Miocene period, 9.5 million years ago. The point, supposedly, is that hyenas have always existed in the same form -- except that the possibly phony fossils in the book do not even look similar.

And so it goes, with an alleged fossil panda from 96 million years ago -- long, long before there were any pandas. That would have been a world dominated by dinosaurs.

Pandas, in fact, are a strong argument for evolution. They have adaptations to be herbivores. Certain features of the skull, for example, differ from other bears. This reflects the need to grind up bamboo. And, there is the panda's well known "thumb," used for traveling from branch to branch.

Contrary to Oktar, there are many examples of "intermediate" organisms. Check out human evolution, for instance.

Oktar also seems to imply that evolution would require one species to morph into another. That's not how evolution is required to work. The old population may continue to thrive along with the new.

After all, we're related to apes, but apes did not "turn into" people.

No matter how many times Oktar states there is no evidence of evolution, there is. Plenty of it. Right in front of his nose, if he cared to see it, in birds, butterflies, flowers and even humans.

Abram Katz can be reached at akatz@nhregister.com or 789-5719.

(c) 2008 New Haven Register. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning.

Source: New Haven Register

Fair proposes bill to teach alternatives to evolution


The Associated Press


GREENVILLE, S.C. --Greenville Sen. Mike Fair has introduced a bill to allow teachers to discuss alternative theories to evolution, a bill he concedes has no chance of passage this year.

The Republican told The Greenville News the bill would not advocate teaching any point of view. Fair says children at being "spoon-fed" theories as facts.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the year June 5, meaning there is no time for the bill to pass this year. Fair says he hopes to start a debate on the idea and will introduce the bill again next year.

Education Department spokesman Jim Foster says the bill is unnecessary. Foster says teachers already are free to discuss science. He says the bill would only be needed if it was designed to introduce material that is not scientific.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Detoxify with ions


Intelligencer Journal

Published: May 08, 2008 00:01 EST


1 of 4 Alternative healing and medicine have grown in mainstream popularity over the past decade. Detoxification of the body is one of the methods used in alternative medicine and is said to clear the body of its toxins.

Local salons, holistic businesses and even natural food stores are offering ionic detoxification, and one of the more popular methods is the ionic foot bath.

Ionic detoxification is the process of rebalancing the body's energy through a bio-charge, according to Bio-Cleanse, manufacturer of the Ionic Detox Foot Bath. The complex energy fields of the unit permeate the water, realigning the body's energy field. This realignment, according to Bio-Cleanse, releases the cellular-level toxins through the body's pores.

There is some skepticism surrounding the ionic detoxification process. The results are not measured in as an exact science but are based on people "feeling better," say skeptics, who include Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine, who on his Web site calls the concept of ionic detoxification "complete nonsense."

But Joni Saber of Lancaster firmly believes in its effectiveness.

Saber, who was raised by health-conscious parents, began an ionic detoxification business after she was diagnosed with Graves' disease. The thyroid condition left Saber always feeling tired.

This exhaustion prompted Saber to look into alternative health treatments, and she began her detoxification business, Joni's Health and Wellness Emporium, to help others and herself.

"The foot bath is one way to help yourself cleanse your body of toxins," Saber said. "There are toxins affecting your body all of the time from the environment, diet and even medicines."

The bottom of the foot contains 2,000 pores, according to Saber, and traditional Chinese medicine subscribes to the thought that every pore is connected to some part of your body. The ion detoxification process borrows from this idea, and advocates claim the body is cleansing itself through the feet.

Throughout the ion bath process, the water will change colors, which are said to directly relate to different areas of the body, according to Saber. If the water turns a yellow/green, the kidney, bladder, urinary tract and prostate are being detoxified. A black or dark color can mean the liver is being cleansed by the treatment, Saber said.

The cleansing is not always accomplished in one treatment, Saber said. It may take several to work on a certain area of the body, and those who perform the treatment suggest 10 to 14 visits to maintain the results of the foot baths. Saber charges $25 per session.

There are people who can not have ionic foot baths, including people with electronic devices in their bodies or who have open diabetic sores on their feet, chemo patients and pregnant women.

The foot bath is not meant to diagnose any medical problems, it is used to cleanse the system. Saber and those who give the foot baths cannot make any medical recommendations, but they do work with a client's doctor if necessary.

At the first ionic detoxification visit, Saber will ask for the person's background information, including health history and doctor's information.

During a recent foot bath at Saber's home, Saber prepared the plastic foot bath tub with a new liner and bottled water. As she poured the water in she explained that any kind of water can be used for the machine — tap, purified or spring. She does not suggest using well water because it is not filtered in any way.

The Bio-Cleanse machine reads the salt level on the person's skin and determines whether salt should be added to the water.

"The salt is needed to cause a reaction," explained Jason Wheary, who was receiving the foot bath and has had several of them performed.

Throughout the foot bath, Saber encourages clients to drink water. This helps to "move the toxins through the system," Saber explained.

The purging of the toxins happened gradually over the 30-minute session, and the water slowly took on a yellow/green tint and acquired a cloudy, milky appearance.

"That's the lymphatic system," Wheary said as he read the classifications of color for the foot bath.

Saber allows clients to read their own results then compares her findings with theirs.

"This allows them to see how the system works and evaluate the results themselves," Saber said.

The results are different with each bath, Wheary said. His last foot bath yielded orange-tinted water, Wheary said. This represents a detoxification of the joints, according to the Bio-Cleanse literature.

To Wheary this made sense, because he had worked out twice the day before and was sore and stiff on detox day. After that foot bath, he said, he felt "rejuvenated."

"My legs were not so tired; they felt refreshed."

E-mail: cesbenshade@lnpnews.com

Expelled: An Exercise in Futility


By Max Mautner May 08, 2008

Ben Stein, of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Win Ben Stein's Money, recently produced a movie entitled Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The documentary-style movie asserts that "educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired for the 'crime' of merely believing that there might be evidence of 'design' in nature."

Before I dig into the argumentative posturing that Ben Stein forwards, I should provide two disclaimers: #1: I have not yet seen the movie. It has not been released nationally in theaters at the time of my writing this article. #2: I am not a scientist in any formal sense of the word. I'm majoring in math; I do not know very much about photons, electrons, or the table of elements that provide the building blocks for life.

But neither does Ben Stein, a lawyer of 38 years and a media figure for over 20. His career certainly does not disqualify him from debating the relevance of the theory of Intelligent Design, or ID, to science, but Stein's campaign for integrating it into the field of science is both incorrect and misguided. As a theory of the origin of species, ID has a shallow history that is largely over-shadowed by creationism: a 1987 Supreme Court case, Edwards v. Aguillard, struck down a law that required equal-time teaching between creationism and evolution in the classroom. The decision was based upon the fact that the law was primarily intended for forwarding religion through government action, and creationism was determined to be religious by intent. What shortly followed resembled a rapid relabeling of biology textbooks being used in the offending public schools. Proponents of creationism were quick to make the superficial name-change to Intelligent Design, so as to distance their ideological curriculum from explicitly mentioning religion. What unfortunately followed was argumentative posturing: creationists focused on teaching the glorification of a purposeful design, rather than about the purposeful designer (which I think we can all admit is an ambiguous concept for what most people call God).

Obviously an ideology like ID cannot be discredited purely based on guilt-by-association. Without consideration of Ben Stein's ideological predecessors, ID precepts still have no basis in the field of science in which he claims relevance. The contemporary definition of science according to the Oxford English Dictionary is "those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws." Darwin's theory of evolution is a result of empirical research about the phenomena related to species' development over time. (After all, what kind of phenomena of the material universe can we study without evidence?) It is not difficult to make the simple and correct association between evolutionary theory and its parent-subject, science.

What is ID's claim to scientific relevance? Expelled posits the possibility that "perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance." The not-so-subtly-implied belief is that there exists a type of intentional design or plan underlying what we define to be life. Maybe so, but there is no empirical evidence that makes this claim relevant to the scientific community's pursuit of knowledge about the material world.

To look for empirical causes and effects is science. Just because the debate over moral meaning or purpose is not a scientific issue does not mean the personal pursuit of it is trivial, for there is something to be gained from questioning the assumed randomness in certain branches of science, including both quantum physics and evolutionary biology. This raises an important question: are the forces we assume to be random in fact determined, whether we can perceive them or not? It is extremely important to distinguish between this question and the question of purposeful reality. Where ID presumes purpose, evolutionary biology rigorously observes the material phenomena. If we cannot perceive the determination of these random forces in quantum physics and evolutionary biology, people may have the comfort—however false it could potentially be—that there are higher powers that we cannot see.

Expelled targets the alleged closed-mindedness of academia and institutions of higher education in a misguided attempt at faith-mongering. Science departments at institutions of higher education are accused of discriminating against ID believers, though often these professors have ideological disagreements with scientific fact. How can a scientist be a rewarding addition to a department if he or she refutes empirically-accepted fact? The field of natural sciences does not need metaphysical debates forced upon tenure confirmation hearings for them to make a decision about a professor's capabilities as a scientist. Expelled foolishly picked the scientific community as its target without considering whether the debate it wishes to have is truly relevant to science.

Francisco Ayala Makes Confused Religious Arguments for Evolution


The mainstream media's "framing" of the evolution-debate would have us believe that Darwin-skeptics are the ones who make religious arguments and try to push religion into the science classroom. But the evidence shows that the Darwinists are often the ones who push religion — and in an unashamed manner, at that. A recent UC Irvine news article reports on a lecture given by leading evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala where he suggested that religion should be discussed in science classes. Ayala said, "the fact that science is compatible with religion is an important thing to state in science classes." He continued making religious arguments for evolution, contending, "The theory of evolution is better for religion than intelligent design."

But the most peculiar statement by Ayala was, "[I]t is not impossible that evolution was guided by God." I do not find that statement odd because I think it is wrong — in fact, I personally completely agree with Ayala's statement. No, the statement is strange because Ayala himself made arguments last year that seemingly flatly contradict any God-guided evolution. In an article Ayala published in the prestigious scientific journal, Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) USA, he stated, "In evolution, there is no entity or person who is selecting adaptive combinations." How would Ayala reconcile those seemingly contradictory statements? He doesn't say.

In fact, Ayala's 2007 PNAS article starkly promotes materialist views of evolution: He concludes that "evolution conveys chance and necessity jointly enmeshed in the stuff of life; randomness and determinism interlocked in a natural process..." Ayala's PNAS article contends that it was "Darwin's greatest accomplishment" to remove "a Creator or other external agent" from biology. Just to make sure you aren't bringing any kind of purpose or teleology into evolution, Ayala's 2007 PNAS article explains that an evolutionary account "does not necessitate recourse to a preordained plan, whether imprinted from the beginning or through successive interventions by an omniscient and almighty Designer." Ayala isn't saying that this "preordained plan" might exist, for he is adamant that "Biological evolution ... is not the outcome of preconceived design." (emphasis added) He forcefully concludes in his PNAS article that Darwin completed a "conceptual revolution" that "is nothing if not a fundamental vision that has forever changed how mankind perceives itself and its place in the universe."

Those statements were made in 2007, but yet now Ayala contends that "it is not impossible that evolution was guided by God" and that therefore "science is compatible with religion." Unfortunately, Ayala has yet to provide a clear, detailed rationale for how he reconciles all of those statements.

Posted by Casey Luskin on May 8, 2008 7:06 AM | Permalink

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Evolution and the Word "Theory"


Michael Giardinello
Issue date: 5/8/08 Section: Opinion

The theory of evolution is arguably the most misunderstood theory in all of science. In a recent poll conducted by USA Today, it was found that almost half of Americans (47%) believe that evolution is either definitely or probably not true. But almost all scientists (95%) believe the theory to be either definitely or most likely true.

The poll reveals two things: nearly half of Americans doubt evolution, and there is a significant difference in belief between the general public and the scientific community. Being that evolution is a scientific theory, why would so many nonscientists doubt the beliefs of scientists? An underlying reason is unreason -- misconceptions.

One of the greatest misconceptions about evolution is embedded in the misuse of the word "theory" in its application to science. The common antecedents that result in this misuse of the word are manifested in either genuine ignorance, or disguised ignorance. People are either genuinely mistaken of the word's intent, or they are well aware of the word's scientific definition, but still use the nonscientific definition in an effort to spawn doubt.

The word "theory," when used in everyday language, can be defined as a general assumption that is formed by speculation -- for example, "I have a theory on why those girls keep looking at us so oddly." The word "theory" when applied to science, however, can be defined as a myriad of facts evaluated in relation to one another, which are then used to explain phenomena -- for example, the Atomic Theory or General Theory of Relativity.

The difference in meaning is significant. The difference between the two can be deduced to validity, with the common definition being least valid, and the scientific definition being most valid. What makes science science is the application of the scientific method to cause and effect relationships. For explanations to be devised, the cause and effect relationship being experimented on must be observable, measurable and empirical. The everyday use of the word "theory" does not require these standards.

Upon clarification of the scientific meaning of the word "theory," there are many people who will, subsequently, reassess their opinions on evolution. But there will still remain those people who will continue to deliberately spread the misconception. These traffickers of misconceptions infiltrate the psyche of their targets with their half-truths with the intent to devalue the theory of evolution.

In 2002, the administrators of the Cobb County School District in Georgia mandated that warning stickers be put on the biology textbooks used by the school district.

The warning stickers read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material must be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

The problem with this sticker is conspicuous -- the administrators were implying that evolution is a sham. They flat-out said that evolution is "not a fact" and "is only a theory." Out of all the content composing the text, they chose only evolution to be "critically considered." Why not the cell theory or other theories? The reason they tagged evolution by its lonesome is because the administrators were supporters of intelligent design. They didn't want students to approach evolution with an "open mind" as they said.

The administrators were aware that by using the stickers, the students would generate false impressions about evolution. The children would obviously be affected, wondering why someone would put the stickers on in the first place.

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court was also aware of the false impressions the stickers would generate. The court ruled that they were in violation of the First Amendment, and the stickers were removed. On Election Day, after the court had made its decision, all of the administrators were voted out of office.

A fair portion of the nearly half of Americans who doubt evolution vindicate their skepticism of evolution based upon this, and other, propagated misconceptions. Evolution, because it's a theory, is a higher form of knowledge than a fact. Virtually all biologists will agree that evolution is the glue that holds all of biology together. Theodosius Dobzhansky, the late distinguished evolutionary biologist, once said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Evolution is by no means only a theory.

My Denialism and Dr. Stephen Novella's Latest Fumble on the Mind-Brain Problem


"Denialist" has become the slur du-jour of materialists. Dr. Stephen Novella, ardent acceptist, takes me to task for denying the truth of his personal materialist ideology of mind-brain causation. He believes that the brain causes the mind entirely, without remainder. I believe that the brain causes the mind partly, with remainder. He's a materialist, I'm a dualist. That makes Dr. Novella angry:

Dr. Egnor must be tired of always being wrong - or at least he would be if he had the insight and intellectual honesty to see how persistently wrong he is. Alas, so far he has not demonstrated such insight. I have been engaged in an ongoing blog debate with Dr. Michael Egnor, who writes for the propaganda blog…Egnor has mangled most of his arguments, has misrepresented my opinions, has cruelly assaulted logic (as you can see he has a proper home at the Discovery Institute) - but now he demonstrates that he is incapable of reading a simple sentence and comprehending its meaning…His arguments are persistently wrong. He has not acknowledged his prior egregious errors - which is evidence for lack of insight and/or intellectual dishonesty. He completely misrepresented what I wrote -so either he did not understand it, or didn't care. Egnor has mangled his arguments and abused logic. These are NOT personal attacks - these are legitimate criticisms of his behavior.

My "cruel assault on logic" and "incapability of reading a simple sentence" have seduced me into very bad behavior…denialism:

This is, in fact, a common strategy of denialism in general - the denial of legitimate science. Denialists would have us believe….This is the dance that denialists do…This is another example of what I have written about before - that denialists confuse questions at different levels of understanding….But like those other denialists…[emphasis mine]

When it comes to materialism, I'm a denialist to the bone. But what is it about my denialism that so infuriates Dr. Novella? He deigns to inform:

Dr. Egnor…forced me to spell out in detail the logic behind my statement.

Yep. I want Dr. Novella to spell out the logic behind his statements. Scrutinizing Dr. Novella's logic is a useful exercise. Let's consider an example.

In a paper published in the May issue of Nature Neuroscience — "Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain" — Chun Siong Soon and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany show that brain activity may precede conscious decision-making by as much as ten seconds. Subjects were asked to push a button with either the right hand or the left hand, which they were free to choose. Seven to ten seconds before the conscious decision, brain activity sometimes appeared that appeared to correlate with unconscious decision making. The correlation was slight. The specific hemisphere in which the brain activity occurred correlated with the hand used sixty percent of the time (no correlation at all would be fifty percent).

Dr. Novella sees clear evidence…to support his own materialist ideology! He writes:

Given my recent posts concerning materialism vs dualism (does the brain cause mind), I also want to point out that this research falls squarely in the materialism camp. Causes precede their effects - brain activity precedes conscious awareness and action - the brain causes mind. That much seems pretty clear.

I disagreed. I pointed out that Chun's study merely demonstrated that an unconscious mental state may (weakly) correlate with a simultaneous unconscious brain state. That correlation wasn't evidence either way for causation, which is the issue in the materialism/dualism debate. Perhaps the unconscious mind caused the brain state, or perhaps the brain state caused the unconscious mind. Perhaps the causation is more complex. Chun's study didn't address these issues.

This observation led to Dr. Novella's pique:

Dr. Michael Egnor…has cruelly assaulted logic…he is incapable of reading a simple sentence and comprehending its meaning…His arguments are persistently wrong. He has not acknowledged his prior egregious errors - which is evidence for lack of insight and/or intellectual dishonesty.

Correcting my "cruel assault on logic" and my "intellectual dishonesty," Dr. Novella sets me straight:

Further - there are two types of correlation to consider in this study, and Egnor is choosing the one that he feels makes his point without ever acknowledging that he is doing so. One correlation is the correlation between brain activity and the decision-making process. This correlation in the study is very strong. The other correlation is between the particular pattern of brain activity and the specific choice that is made - this correlation is weak in the study: only 60%.

There are indeed two types of correlation in Chun's study. The first type is the correlation involving general brain activity recorded 7-10 seconds before the subjects made the conscious decision to use a specific hand to press the button. However, the recording of "brain activity" 10 seconds prior to the decision merely means that the subjects were thinking 10 seconds before the decision — it provides no evidence as to what they were thinking about. The regions of the brain that were activated are known to be associated in some circumstances with planning, but the association is often nebulous, and activation of these regions provides little in the way of information about the content of the thought. Perhaps they were thinking, "What if I don't feel like pressing the button at all," or "what shall I get for lunch?" or "how much are they going to pay me for doing this?" The mere recording of generic brain activity during the study is meaningless, because the subjects were continuously conscious, and there's no clear evidence, without hemispheric localization, to infer that the brain activity involved an unconscious decision about hand selection, which was the whole point of the study. So Dr. Novella's assertion that the first brain activity correlation was "very strong" suggests that Dr. Novella didn't understand the study. Ten seconds before subjects pressed the button there's no doubt they were thinking about something.

It's what they were thinking about — subconsciously — that matters and that was the point of the study. And it's the side of the brain activity — the laterality and its correspondence to hand selection — that matters. It is only this second correlation that pertains to this question of hand choice. Yet this correlation is very weak. Forty percent of the time the brain activity was on the wrong side of the brain, and this would contradict the hypothesis that the activity represented lateralized planning. And of course 50% correlation — a shift of only 10% of the data from the correct to the incorrect hemisphere — would lead to a conclusion of mere chance, with no correlation at all with planning.

So Dr. Novella describes as "very strong" a correlation that means nothing (brain activity occurs in conscious subjects), and claims as vindication for his materialist ideology a marginal correlation between brain and hand lateralization that is barely greater than chance.

Furthermore, even if one accepts this weak correlation, the correlation does little to advance the materialist theory of causation of the unconscious mental process. Both materialists and dualists believe that brain activity often correlates with mental activity. It's causation that we disagree about, and as we'll see, careful consideration of the results of Chun's experiment cast doubt on the strict materialist theory of brain-mind causation.

Do Chun's results (60% correlation with hand choice; 40% lack of correlation with hand choice) really mitigate in favor of the materialist hypothesis? Consider Dr. Novella's own criterion for this debate:

"If the mind is completely a product of the material function of the brain, then we will be able to correlate brain activity with mental activity – no matter how we choose to look at it."

Dualism predicts the inverse:

If dualism is true and the mind is partly the product of the material function of the brain and partly the product of something else, then we will not always be able to correlate brain activity with mental activity – no matter how we choose to look at it

Keep in mind that materialism posits that mind states are always identical to brain states, because mind states are brain states, entirely. The materialist prediction is that the correlation between mind state and brain state must be 100%, minus experimental error. Dualism posits that the correspondence between mind states and brain states is not exact, because there are aspects of mind states that are not identical to brain states. Dualism predicts that the correlation is less than 100%, and that this lack of correlation cannot be explained away entirely as experimental error.

Chun's research shows that 40% of the time there is no unique brain function lateralized to the hemisphere involved in the hand choice, despite the presumption that an unconscious mental state is active at that time. Their research reveals very poor correlation between mind states and brain states. Is the correlation very poor — not much more than no correlation — entirely because of experimental error (if materialism is true), or is the correlation very poor because... part of the mind state isn't caused by the brain state (if dualism is true)? If materialism is true, and the actual correlation is 100%, then the experimental error of Chun's experiment is so high as to render the results virtually worthless. If that's true, why would Dr. Novella choose this research to lend support to his theory? And why would the experimental error be so high? fMRI is one of the most sensitive methods we have of non-invasively measuring local neuronal activity. Its spatial resolution is excellent (3 to 6 millimeters), and it is so precise and so reliable that we use it to plan surgical resection of tumors and epileptic foci very close to critical brain regions. Was the failure of fMRI to detect any lateralizing activity in 40% of patients entirely due to error inherent in the technique? Is Dr. Novella claiming that those subjects had no unconscious processing? If Dr. Novella is claiming that the experimental error is genuinely 40% (which it must be if materialism is true), what evidence can he provide that all of the lack of correlation is mere error? Can Dr. Novella cite any other fMRI studies that have demonstrated such astonishingly high experimental error? Does he even understand that there is a problem with his claims about the research?

Then of course there's the most parsimonious explanation: there is poor correlation between mind state and brain state measured by fMRI because the mind state isn't entirely caused by the brain state. What if the failure to detect lateralized brain activity in 40% of subjects were not caused entirely by experimental error, but was partly the result of an absence of specific brain activity synchronous with unconscious planning? With lack of correlation at 40%, most researchers (without an ideological bias) would conclude that the processes — the mind state and the brain state — were obviously not identical. That would be clear evidence for dualism — the theory that the mind is not entirely reducible to the brain.

Dr. Novella seems unaware of the implications of the very research that he cites. By his own criteria, the evidence of very poor correlation between brain state and mind state mitigates in favor of the dualist view, not the materialist view.

Ironically, Dr. Novella asserts that this evidence — evidence that by his own criteria mitigates against materialism and for dualism — falls clearly into the materialist camp. No doubt it does. Weak and misinterpreted evidence seems to pile up in the materialist camp.

Dr. Novella is a materialist ideologue. He has difficulty drawing coherent scientific inferences, and his rhetorical style is little more than condescension and contempt. He brooks no questions. When it comes to challenges to his personal materialistic ideology, Dr. Novella sneers, dissembles, and ultimately invokes parsimony:

The problem with [dualism] is that it is unnecessary - it is adding an unnecessary step and violates Occam's razor.

William of Occam was a 14th Century English scholastic philosopher and a father of modern epistemology. He was also a Franciscan friar, and by his vows (…God is Spirit, and man is created from dust and in God's image…) — he was a dualist.

So even dualists end up, posthumously and incongruously, in the materialist camp. Denialists are everywhere.

Posted by Michael Egnor on May 8, 2008 12:14 PM | Permalink

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Could Science and the Chronicle of Higher Education Be Any More Biased – or Wrong?


The documentary Expelled keenly observes that scientific ideas begin in the academy, but if they're to get out to the people, they must pass through a series of barriers and "checkpoints," which means they can be hindered or stopped at any point along the way. In the film, the first checkpoint is the academy, which polices journals and controls research grants and funding. The second checkpoint is comprised of watchdog groups, like the NCSE, that work hard to organize and kindle opposition against Darwin-skeptics. The next checkpoint is the media, which carefully selects the sources of information it will broadcast to the public on this issue. When all those checkpoints fail, the final checkpoint is the courts. (This idea is explained in the diagram at left.) The film features various animated sequences explaining how Darwinists use these "checkpoints" to prevent scientific dissent from evolution from reaching the public.

Some members of the media don't like being seen as a "checkpoint," so they have been working hard in their coverage of Expelled and academic freedom legislation to misinform the public on these topics. The latest examples are a biased and error-filled post at the Chronicle of Higher Education by Richard Monastersky and a one-sided article about academic freedom legislation in the journal Science

Monasterky's post unashamedly praises the fact that "University professors have joined other science advocates to battle so-called 'academic freedom' bills under consideration in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, and Missouri." Monastersky does his part to oppose academic freedom legislation, never quoting the actual text of the bills (which state that they "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine") and instead quoting Barbara Forrest, who reportedly "called it a 'stealth creationism bill.'" Monastersky apparently missed the fact that just last week, University of Missouri Professor of Medicine John Marshall testified in favor of an academic freedom bill before the Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.

Monastersky shows his true colors in this debate by favorably referring readers to the NCSE and Panda's Thumb for more information on the legislation. He even quotes Panda's Thumb's self-description as a blog for "defenders of the integrity of science." In the one sentence where Monastersky mentions the proponents of the legislation, he writes: "The Discovery Institute, which promotes the teaching of intelligent design, supports the passage of the legislation." He misrepresents our position because Discovery Institute has long opposed mandating intelligent design in the classroom, and these bills are not about pushing alternatives to evolution into schools. In fact, the bills in Michigan, Louisiana, and Missouri have language that would not even protect the teaching of scientific alternatives to evolution, such as intelligent design.

Science published an article wrongly equating intelligent design with creationism and stating that "creationism is a mutating virus." The article quotes no supporters of the bill, and only quotes critics of the legislation. Eugenie Scott was quoted echoing Barbara Forrest's talking points, stating, "They provide a permission slip for teachers to teach creationism." Again, Science chose not to even report any of the actual language of the bills (see above), which could never sanction the teaching of creationism.

So what we see here is the media checkpoint working closely with the watchdog checkpoint to endorse the misinformation coming from the academia checkpoint. Collectively, they coordinate efforts to promote distorted and one-sided information about academic freedom legislation to the public. It seems that balanced and objective reporting on evolution has been expelled from Science and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Posted by Casey Luskin on May 11, 2008 12:00 AM | Permalink

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