NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 June 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Before Darwin


How the earth went from lifeless to life.

By Eric Smith

Even as political rhetoric and court battles reflect a public struggle over Darwin's theory of evolution as an explanation for the origin of humans, a different struggle is unfolding within science about the adequacy of evolution as a theoretical foundation for biology. On the surface, the two debates seem to have little to do with one another, but in a subtle way both reflect the need for a richer theoretical biology. The perception of evolution among the wider public might even be improved by better communication of scientific concerns about the limitations of evolutionary theory, and how those concerns are being addressed.

A sympathetic reading of public distrust over evolution would be that a simple theory of change seems too bare to account for the richness of structure we see in the world around us, and for how that structure first came to form. This certainly indicates a failure to appreciate the complex origins of order, and most popular science writing on evolution has been devoted to explaining the surprising and delightful origins of eyes, wings, or peacock's tails. But besides this, an intuitive discomfort that a theory of change cannot adequately account for genuine novelty has a scientific counterpart. The original emergence of life from a lifeless geosphere is one of the most striking such cases.

While they share a certain level of unease, the public and scientific debates diverge sharply on how to overcome the limitations of evolutionary theory. Public rejections of Darwinian ideas are bound up with a wish to introduce something more complicated than undirected variation and brute selection: a creator or designer responsible for novelty and innovation. In science, we recognize that while evolutionary theory is limited, some of the limits concern its connection to simpler - not more complicated - scientific principles than those introduced by Darwin. The remarkable story that is emerging about the origin of life is that these simpler principles may account for aspects of the biosphere that are older even than the evolutionary era itself, and which tie life at its core to the geochemistry of the earth.

Evolution as Biology's Unifying Theory

To understand the role and also the limitations of evolutionary thinking in biology, it is helpful to recall a little history. Biology as a unified science did not even exist until well into the 20th century. Before that time, only application domains were recognized: systematics, botany, morphology, ecology, paleontology, physiology, medicine, and so forth. Each of these fields had its own domain-specific knowledge and even some elements of theory. However, the possibility of an overarching theory for all of life was not central to any of them. When this situation changed, the change was not a result of new ideas, but rather of ideas that had already been current for nearly a century, and had gone unrecognized as a foundation for theoretical unity.

If public discontent with evolution stems from an intuitive appreciation of its limits, perhaps we as scientist can accomplish more by discussing these limits scientifically. The two ideas that we now think of together as the "theory of evolution" were Gregor Mendel's conception of the gene, and Charles Darwin's model of natural selection. Mendel had argued 1 in 1865 that traits do not mix like paint when they are handed down from parents to offspring, but rather are shuffled like cards. The concept of the unmixable source of a trait (say, whether peas would be smooth or wrinkled) was given the name gene, and Mendel's important observation was that the particular forms of genes usually did not change as they were passed from parents to offspring. This kind of faithful inheritance of traits, and shuffling instead of mixing of genes, allows populations to preserve diversity, instead of washing all traits out to some average form.

Darwin contemporaneously (1859) 2 had argued that the infrequent variations that do occur as traits are passed from parent to offspring need not be directed in order to enable adaptation. The greater reproductive success of individuals with better-adapted traits would be sufficient to establish the favorable forms. Darwin called this process natural selection as a reference to the selection exercised deliberately by human breeders, and he recognized that variation is necessary to give either breeders or nature the raw material from which to create changes in form.

The memory of life works so spectacularly well that it is often forgotten in biology just how difficult it is to produce a material that can remember anything, let alone remember it for billions of years. Mendel's heredity and Darwin's selection were not theoretically central to the many particular life sciences, and were not even linked to each other until they were brought together by several researchers in the 1930s and 1940s, into what Julian Huxley called the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology. 3 The key observation of the Modern Synthesis (as it is now known) was that Mendelian heredity preserves the diversity of forms available in a population, while Darwinian selection changes their frequency of occurrence. Together the ideas link variation on the short-term to change in average properties on the long term. This synthesis did not replace the domain-specific theory in many life sciences, and in many cases it did not significantly change how it was used. The Modern Synthesis proposed a way in which random variations, with no foresight, could systematically lead to population changes in a manner that made sense in each of these fields.

This theory of evolution is really a framework for thinking about change in the living world. It provides no specific guesses for the kinds of traits that may exist, no strong requirements or prohibitions on how they may interact to make a complex organism or ecosystem, and no commitments to how innovation can occur. Even the problem of how a differentiated population ultimately divides into two distinct species (posed in the title of Darwin's seminal work) 2 remains a major technical problem in evolutionary biology.

There is no reason to view Mendel's and Darwin's ideas as self-contained or complete for biology, in the sense that all needed principles of organization can be generated from these two ideas alone. What they provide is a new class of dynamics that is different from what had previously been considered in physics, chemistry, or engineering. While these ideas seem particularly suited to answering questions about life, they have also found their way into thinking about such diverse fields as economics and Internet security, so they are certainly not uniquely biological.

Evolution's Requirements

Darwin's ideas were controversial as soon as they were introduced, because he and his contemporaries appreciated (and he intended) that they separated the concept of "good design" (called adaptation in evolution) from a need for a designer. In the enthusiasm for this one point, many other equally important points about the principles of evolution have been glossed over, and their omission is starting to be felt in practical problems in biology. Both Darwin and Mendel, working more than 150 years ago, took as self-evident what constituted an individual organism, and with a little more care, which similar organisms constituted a species. They recognized that individuals reproduced similar types of individuals, apart from minor changes, and that birth and death of individuals marked the change of generations.

Carbon fixation is one of the most conserved reactions throughout the biosphere.Today, as we consider more life forms and their interactions, and especially as we consider the origin of life from a lifeless geosphere, the situation is more complicated. When multiple strains of virus "mate" by coinfecting a host, many different notions of individual become blurred even within a single infected cell: the two viral strains that might insert genes into the host genome; the viral and host genomes that are both struggling to control the same cell's metabolism; and the host cell's participation in a larger organism. We have learned that quite distinct strains of bacteria and archaea routinely exchange genes, and they probably did so much more promiscuously in the earliest stages of cellular life than they do today. Thus, the genetic and metabolic notions of individuality become even more loosely bound, and the concept of species becomes extremely problematic. These examples, and many others as well, illustrate that the concepts that Mendel and Darwin took as the starting points for their science may not apply to all biological situations. Indeed, even when they do apply, they must be explained within the context of a larger science.

We can identify four assumptions that must be made for evolutionary ideas to be even expressible, and we can then ask what science must be done to justify these assumptions, in particular for the first emergence of life.

1. Contingency Traditionally in physics and chemistry, preparing an experiment in the same way twice was expected to lead to the same outcome, as a criterion for asking well-posed questions. A feature that makes biology a fundamentally new science is that "replaying the tape" of life would, in many important respects, not lead to the animals and plants we see in the world today. 4 If the nature of life did not permit such variation, it would not have been possible for Mendel's peas to take either smooth or wrinkled forms, while remaining parts of viable pea plants. The fact that smooth or wrinkled variants could be passed down through heredity, without quickly reverting to a single form, meant that the form of each new generation was contingent on the form of its parents; that is, random variations in the past potentially could be preserved in populations for long stretches of time. Evolution can occur only when variations can arise and be preserved in this way.

2. Memory Of course, heredity requires not only the possibility for variants to persist; it also requires a way that the features of the parent can be remembered and passed down, and this is the role of DNA and RNA, the carriers of Mendel's genetic information. The memory of life works so spectacularly well that it is often forgotten in biology just how difficult it is to produce a material that can remember anything, let alone remember it for billions of years as life has remembered many details of cellular structure and function. Yet the material of cells is not different from the material of the nonliving world except in its arrangement, and it is well understood in physics that arrangements constantly decay due to thermal jittering and other shocks. Some of the most sophisticated ideas in the field of condensed-matter physics concern the making of materials such as magnets, whose order is self-reinforcing over long times, allowing them to form memory devices.

3. Control Memory alone is not enough for evolution to occur. Unless different genomes could reliably create different kinds of organisms and ways of life, the remembered variations could not be submitted to natural selection for comparison and judgment. But any controller, including a genome, must first have autonomy from the thing controlled (the definition of control is that instructions mostly flow in one direction), leaving the controller somewhat detached from feedback about the consequences of its actions. When the components of the controller themselves fluctuate, wear out, or fail, it becomes capable of unfettered mistakes, and all human-designed control systems ultimately rely on intervention from the human world to repair and re-align them. Yet within life, control mechanisms have not only spontaneously emerged; they are self-sustaining within the enclosed system of the biosphere.

4. Individuality The reason it is possible for Mendelian heredity to preserve variation, and for Darwinian selection to act on it, is that traits do not mix continuously like colors of paint. At the same time, traits are not inherited independently. The many variable features of an organism are reproduced as a package if the organism successfully reproduces, and they are lost as a package when it dies. The granular nature of both traits and the individuals in which they are aggregated make selection a very complex mathematical process. Moreover, as we saw above, many different ways of collecting traits together in individuals exist, each with different dynamics. Yet at the same time, new forms of individuality are rare, suggesting that there are stark limits to how traits may be bound together in an organism while preserving in it the ability to evolve. 5

In physics and chemistry, none of these four features is a common occurrence, and yet evolution presupposes all of them. If life began in a physical world where none of them was present, we must first understand how and why they came into existence, before we can apply evolutionary ideas to study their subsequent change and refinement. Some modern studies of the origin of life 6 are addressing these older problems of emergence and looking for mechanisms that were predominant before Mendelian/Darwinian evolution was possible. The possibility that these mechanisms were simpler than evolutionary mechanisms also suggests that they are more robust, and that the order they initiated may still be observable in the organization of the biosphere today.

New Views of Order in the Biosphere

How does such a change in theoretical perspective lead us to reexamine the order in the biosphere? For one thing, if we do not assume the primacy of individuals, we notice that the strongest regularities of modern life cannot be seen in individual traits, but only at an ecological level of organization. 6 Here we find a common set of reactions for the synthesis of biological molecules that is universal throughout the biosphere and across the whole history of life. The stability and invariance of metabolic pathways gives them the appearance of features of the geosphere rather than of anything that depends on memory or control by individuals.

One of the most primitive functions life must perform lies at the very core of metabolism: It is the capture of carbon from environmental carbon dioxide (CO 2), which was abundant in the prebiotic era, and its synthesis into the backbones from which the rest of biomolecules are made. An amazing, small cycle of only 11 simple molecules, known as the reductive citric acid cycle, is capable of performing this feat. Some version of the reactions in this cycle is the foundation for biosynthesis in every kind of ecosystem on earth.

The cycle's basic function is to access otherwise inert CO 2, combine the carbon with electrons, and make molecules capable of repeating this reaction. The reaction sequence has the remarkable property that any molecule in the cycle, by accreting CO 2 to become longer and then splitting into two, reproduces a second copy of the same molecule while returning the first copy. Thus, like compound interest, it grows and draws diffuse carbon into a very specific pathway. The mathematics of energy and carbon that flow through this cycle resembles the mathematics that drive a hurricane to become the major transporter of moisture and energy over the oceans where it forms (see Figure below).

Carbon fixation is one of the most conserved reactions throughout the biosphere. It suggests that a bridge between geochemistry and life may be found in the mechanisms of metabolism and the principles of ecology, not in compartments or memory molecules, which could have come later. A metabolic organization capable of serving as such a bridge, however, could not have come from just any old network of organic chemical reactions. It would need to have been: 1) sparse within the network of possible reactions so that a few molecules were created in large supply, rather than a huge diversity of one-off molecules arising happenstance (which could not be assembled into anything); 2) particular, in that the pathways observed should be necessary and predictable, rather than accidents (which would depend on later memory mechanisms to be preserved), and 3) robust under jittering of the components, to permit later molecular memory systems to emerge using them as foundations. These principles can be used to find other primal reactions.

If the biosphere emerged through the self-organization of a metabolic system, like the citric acid cycle, the later formation of individuals would be understandable as solving a different problem of packaging. Distinct species can make up an ecosystem by partitioning metabolic tasks to become complementary specialists, but only if they solve the complex problems of obtaining the resources they do not make and settling into a balanced flow of resources among all the members of the ecosystem.

This view of the origins of life changes our understanding of the biosphere today in two ways. First, ecological principles become the foundations for the rest of biology, rather than merely secondary consequences of relations among individuals. Second, we should be warned that when we act as engineers in the living world, imagining that we can manipulate properties of individuals but remain ignorant of principles of ecology, we should expect the biosphere's response to be complex and not necessarily in accordance with our designs. The rapidly rising cost of industrial agriculture, and its fragility to shocks in energy supply, to pests, and to weather, is directly tied to the loss of natural ecological sources of stability in industrially managed agricultural systems.

When we consider what would be required for metabolism to have self-organized without supervision, we realize there is a rich, hierarchical, modular structure of the extant metabolism of the biosphere that looks far from accidental. The functions that particular chemicals fulfill, in the context of both the network and the constraints of the geochemical environment, suggest that the presence of these chemicals as a foundation for life may be required from first principles.

Many of the biological amino acids have simple and perhaps inevitable synthetic pathways starting from citric acid cycle backbones. Phosphorus, the element responsible for the assembly of large biomolecules by polymerization of small ones, naturally leads through a range of intermediate-sized compounds (technically termed cofactors, but we know many of them as the vitamins), which are central to molecular assembly and catalysis throughout metabolism. Even the genetic code, a master instruction set for the translation of RNA memory into protein control, has regularities that may be of precellular chemical origin. 7

Perhaps the most important feature of a chemical logic for metabolism on the early earth is that such a logic would not have become irrelevant when memory and control arose. More likely, it determined easy paths for biosynthesis, and gave fitness advantages to organisms that used them, over organisms that attempted to deviate too strongly. Thus we should not be surprised that modern life continues to respect an organization that first came about in the geosphere6.

The observations turned up in this way of asking about origins are ordinary enough, but they suggest a conceptual framework for biology that extends well beyond the classical theory of evolution, not only for the origin of life, but for its organization at all times. By drawing inputs from the many theoretical sciences that bear on the transition from lifeless to living matter, and in the process embedding biology more thoroughly in the framework of the other natural sciences, we learn that the required other origins of order may be simpler than the Darwinian paradigm, not more complex.

If public discontent with classical evolution as an inclusive theory stems partly from an intuitive appreciation of its limits, perhaps we as scientists can accomplish more by discussing how these limits are considered scientifically than by downplaying them.

Eric Smith is a professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

1. G. Mendel, "Experiments on plant hybridization," JR Hortic Soc, 26:1-32, 1901. (English translation)
2. C. Darwin, On the Origin of Species, London: John Murray, 1859.
3. J. Huxley, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, London: Allen and Unwin, 1942.
4. S.J. Gould, Wonderful Life, New York: Norton, 1989.
5. S.D. Copley et al., "A mechanism for the association of amino acids with their codons and the origin of the genetic code," Proc Nat Acad Sci, 102:4442-7, 2005.
6. L.W. Buss, The Evolution of Individuality, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
7. H.J. Morowitz, D.E. Smith, "Energy flow and the organization of life," Complexity, 13:51-9, 2007.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Evolution education update: May 2, 2008

Florida's antievolution bills are faltering but not quite fallen. Elsewhere, however, antievolution bills are on the march, with legislation introduced in Michigan and Alabama, and passing the state senate in Louisiana.


With drastically different House and Senate versions of what was once the same antievolution bill in the Florida state legislature, it remains uncertain whether antievolution forces will be able to devise a compromise bill to be sent to the governor before the legislature adjourns on May 2, 2008 -- especially with a host of other issues crowding the legislative calendar. At issue is Senate Bill 2692, which the Florida Senate passed and sent to the House on April 23, 2008. On April 28, 2008, the House pulled a switcheroo, substituting the language of its own, quite different and now tabled, bill, HB 1483, and sending the result back to the Senate.

As NCSE previously reported, SB 2692, proposed by Senator Ronda Storms (R-District 10), passed with few changes through the Senate's Pre-K-12 Education and Judiciary Committees. If enacted, the bill would be "providing public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution; prohibiting a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information; [and] prohibiting students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution," although the state department of education reported having no information on any such discrimination or penalization occuring.

The counterpart bill in the House of Representatives, HB 1483, underwent substantial modification by the House Schools and Learning Council after its sponsor, Representative Alan Hays (R-District 25), acknowledged that "the original form of the bill raised constitutional questions about proselytizing in public school science classes" (as quoted by the Miami Herald, April 11, 2008). As passed by the council, the bill would require teachers to provide a "critical analysis" of evolution, a phrase that the Associated Press (April 28, 2008) recognized as "one used by intelligent design advocates," although noting that its sponsor claimed that it would neither require nor allow teaching "intelligent design."

During the Senate's debate on SB 2692, the question of whether the bill would allow the teaching of creationism in Florida's public schools was discussed, but its sponsor was reticent to address the question, reportedly preferring instead merely to recite the text of the bill in response to questions. According to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel (April 17, 2008), "Storms repeatedly refused to answer questions on whether that could happen. Her only reply: teachers could discuss a 'full range of scientific views.'" Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller (D-District 31) complained in frustration, "We could have stuck bamboo shoots under her fingernails and she wouldn't have answered."

Storms was willing, however, to discuss the supposed need for the bill. The Miami Herald (April 18, 2008) reported, "Storms said her bill was designed to counteract the 'dogmatic' new state science standards requiring for the first time evolution to be taught and that 'people are afraid. Teachers are afraid. And students, by the way, are afraid.' Geller objected, noting her bill says the 'Legislature finds that in many instances' teachers and students have feared or been disciplined for teaching the full range of scientific information about evolution. When Geller asked her for names, Storms didn't have any but said six educators who planned to talk on the topic recently weren't given the time to address a recent Senate committee."

Subsequently, Storms attempted to ease the bill's passage by substituting the heavily amended House version, HB 1483, for her own; as long as the two houses have different versions, the bill cannot be sent to the governor. The Senate rejected the amendment on a voice vote, and then approved the unamended bill on a vote of 21-17 on April 23, 2008. Steve Geller told the Associated Press (April 23, 2008), "In 2008, it is embarrassing for us to be debating evolution," and worried that "the legislation would scare off high-tech industries that depend on sound science from moving to or staying in Florida."

In the wake of the bill's passage, its opponents continued to express their concern about its true intent and effect. "I know that the bill doesn't even mention creationism but that's what it's about," Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-District 59) told the Tampa Tribune (April 24, 2008). Such concerns were not materially allayed by Senate majority leader Daniel Webster (R-District 9), who told the Orlando Sun-Sentinel (April 24, 2008) that the bill was intended to promote critical thinking and inspire questioning, but added, alluding to Psalm 19, "Maybe King David was right when he ... looked up and the heavens declared the glory of God."

The Tampa Tribune (April 24, 2008) added, "The version of the plan passed in the Senate Wednesday does not align with the bill being floated in the House. With the legislative session set to close May 2, lawmakers will have to work overtime to make the bills palatable to both chambers." And there were signs that the task would be difficult, given that the Senate rejected Storms's attempt to substitute HB 1483 for her own bill. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported (April 24, 2008) that "Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who voted for the evolution bill and spoke in favor of it, was ... blunt about the shrinking time frame. He said Hays 'must be hitting the sauce if he thinks he's going to send the bill back here.'"

On receiving SB 2692 from the Senate, the House amended it by substituting the text of HB 1483, and passed the amended version on a vote of 71-43 on April 28, 2008. Debate on the bill proceeded along familar lines: as the Tallahassee Democrat (April 28, 2008) reported, "Proponents said the bill is needed to protect teachers and students from academic reprisal for challenging Charles Darwin's theories, while opponents said it was a veiled attempt at sneaking religion into the public schools." Representative Tony Sasso (D-District 32) warned, "We're opening the door to religious discussion by doing this."

A press release dated April 28, 2008, issued by the pro-science grassroots group Florida Citizens for Science, deplored the passage of the House bill, warning of "the stunting effect this legislation will have on science education, as students will be exposed to old, discredited arguments against evolution that have their roots in religious protestations against that science, and be misled into thinking those arguments have the same weight as the real scientific findings," and predicting that if the bill is enacted, "a Florida school district will face a legal fight that will cost millions of wasted taxpayer dollars."

Noting the apparent intransigence in both chambers of the legislature to compromise, the St. Petersburg Times (April 28, 2008) observed, "The Florida Legislature may not weigh in on the state's new standards for teaching evolution after all. Chalk it up to a difference of words between two lawmakers' bills, and the reality that there might not be enough time left this session to negotiate a compromise." Similarly, the Tampa Tribune (April 29, 2008) commented, "Prospects grew dim on Monday for legislation allowing public school teachers to criticize evolution theory in class when the House approved bill language that the Senate had already rejected."

Even if a compromise is reached, it is still unclear whether Governor Charlie Crist would sign a bill into law. The Fort Meyers News-Press (April 29, 2008) reported that Crist "ducked a question about whether he would sign the measure if it reaches his desk," but in an impromptu press conference in the press gallery during the House debate, the Palm Beach Post's blog (April 28, 2008) reported, Crist "showed little enthusiasm for the bill." "Asked if he believe in evolution, Crist said, 'I believe in a lot of things. We should have the freedom to have a good exchange of ideas.' But is legislation needed to guarantee that exchange? 'I'm not so sure,' Crist said."

For the Associated Press's 4/28/08 story (via WFTS TV), visit:

For the Orlando Sun-Sentinel's 4/17/08 story, visit:

For the Miami Herald's story, visit:

For the Associated Press's 4/23/08 story (via the Lakeland Ledger), visit:

For the Tampa Tribune's 4/24/08 story, visit:

For the Orlando Sun-Sentinel's 4/24/08 story, visit:

For the Sarasota Herald Tribune's story, visit:

For the Tallahassee Democrat's story, visit:

For Florida Citizens for Science's press release, visit:

For the St. Petersburg Times's story, visit:

For the Tampa Tribune's 4/29/08 story, visit:

For the Fort Meyers News-Press's story, visit:

For the Palm Beach Post's blog entry, visit:

For a longer version of the above story on NCSE's website, visit:

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


House Bill 6027, introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives on April 30, 2008, and referred to the House Committee on Education, is the very latest so-called "academic freedom" bill aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution, joining similar bills currently under consideration in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri. Contending that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human impact of climate change, and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the bill proposes to "provide clarification in these matters."

The bill, if enacted, would require state and local administrators "to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and "to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum in instances where that curriculum addresses scientific controversies" by allowing them "to help pupils understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

Reacting to a previous antievolution bill introduced by the lead sponsor of HB 6027, John Moolenaar (R-District 98), the Michigan Science Teachers Association commented, "A legislative mandate that includes only evolution and global warming in such an evaluation may suggest to students and the public that these theories are somehow less robust or less scientific than are other scientific theories that were not selected for mandatory evaluation, e.g., plate tectonics, atomic theory, cell theory, relativity. Such inference would be in clear contrast to the preponderance of scientific evidence supporting both of these theories and would represent a dishonest and unprofessional approach to the sciences and science education in Michigan."

A further section of HB 6027 attempts to immunize it against constitutional scrutiny: "This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion." Significantly, however, Moolenaar previously cosponsored a bill that would have encouraged the teaching of "the design hypothesis as an explanation for the origin and diversity of life" in public school science classes, as well as a previous bill that would have amended the state science standards to refer to "the theory that life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator."

For information about HB 6027, visit:

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


House Bill 923, introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives by David Grimes (R-District 73) on April 24, 2008, and referred to the Education Policy Committee, is the latest in a string of "academic freedom" bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in Alabama. Previous such bills -- HB 391 and SB 336 in 2004; HB 352, SB 240, and HB 716 in 2005; HB 106 and SB 45 in 2006 -- failed to win passage. In 2004, a cosponsor of SB 336 told the Montgomery Advertiser (February 18, 2004), "This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind." Similar bills are still under consideration in Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri, and Michigan. The text of HB 923 as introduced is available on NCSE's website.

For the text of HB 923, visit:

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


Senate Bill 733, the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, was unanimously passed by the Louisiana Senate on April 28, 2008. If enacted, the bill would call upon the state board of elementary and secondary education to "allow and assist" teachers and administrators to "create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Included would be "support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review [the] scientific theories being studied"; teachers would be permitted to use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board."

Previously, in the Senate's Education Committee, the bill was renumbered (from SB 561), renamed, and revised, with the removal of "strengths and weaknesses" language and a list of specific scientific topics, "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." The executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, the religious right group that convinced state senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12) to introduce the bill in the first place, expressed disappointment at the revisions, telling the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 20, 2008) that his support of it was now only lukewarm, even though Nevers told the newspaper, "It didn't change the intent of the bill." But the Associated Press (April 29, 2008) reported that Nevers restored the list, saying that without it the bill was too vague. Speaking earlier to the Hammond Daily Star (April 6, 2008), Nevers was anything but vague about the bill, in effect acknowledging that its purpose is to ensure that "scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory."

For the text of SB 733 (PDF), visit:

For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:

For the Associated Press's story (via Education Week), visit:

For the Hammond Daily Star's story, visit:

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

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Dinosaurian DNA?: Soft-Tissue Revolution/Hard Issue for Evolution

Presented by David V. Bassett

(OCS Science Dept. Head / Creation Evidence Museum Staff Member / MIOS Chairman )

For over a decade, scientists have been uncovering evidence that brings the notion that dinosaurs were 'prehistoric' into serious question. Some of these discoveries include partially-fossilized and non-permineralized bones, still-elastic blood vessels, and nucleated blood cells with possible DNA fragments. These soft-tissue anomalies argue against evolutionary "deep-time" and for recent dinosaurs within a young-Earth, Biblical chronology.

Let's start this "dino-mite" summer "fleshing out" the details of radiocarbon-dating dinosaur bones, rediscovering "dinosaur mummies", and re-evaluating dinosaur soft-tissue evidence. Come join us for some C.S.I., Creation Science Investigation!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008, 7:30 p.m.

Dr Pepper StarCenter Farmers Branch
12700 N Stemmons Frwy
Farmers Branch, TX

The Dr Pepper StarCenter in Farmers Branch, TX is located on the east side of Stemmons Freeway (IH 35) between Valley View Lane and LBJ Freeway (IH 635).


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Dr. Jobe Martin Speak On the Subject 'Defend The Truth'

Dr. Martin began his scientific career as a believer in evolution, teaching at the Baylor College of Dentistry. As he studied the topic he began to see that there is very little scientific evidence to back up this version of origins. Now he lectures on the subject all over the country.

He is determined to help Christians to be ready to make a defense, to give an account of the hope that is within us (I Pet. 3:15), especially as it pertains to Creation and the issues surrounding it.

He will discuss the movie "Expelled" giving basic tips on how to nip the entire evolution lie in the bud. His presentation will include excerpts about The Secret that Oprah Winfrey is promoting (which is rooted in evolution). If you are a "God" then there is certainly no need for a "Creation God" as YOU are the Creator!

In the closing moments of "Expelled" we are told, "no lie can last forever." Why? One of the reasons is that Christians are aware of present dangers and prepare themselves to defend the truth. That?s what we will doing Tuesday evening. Please join us.

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

Tuesday, May 6th, 7:30 PM

Exhibit shows winged wonders' evolution


Jim Burns Special for The Republic
Jun. 6, 2008 12:00 AM

If, in this little slice of paradise where raspberry-colored petals of bougainvillea waft on afternoon breezes and jacaranda trees explode in lavender bouquets, your love of birds lies solely in their beauty, stop reading now. However, if the whole concept of "bird," the shape, the structure, and the evolutionary provenance of these things with wings fascinates you, there is a great treat awaiting you at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in downtown Mesa.

When you see a great blue heron overhead, do you think about the wonder of flight, or do you see a giant flying reptile, pterodactyl-like, huge head suspended on long, thin neck, seeking its next prey? When you see a cactus wren in your yard, do you think cute little state bird of Arizona, or do you see a feathered lizard, walking upright with measured reptilian gait, stalking its next meal?

Conventional scientific thinking over the past several decades told us that birds evolved from dinosaurs. An exhibit now at AZMNH, "Feathered Dinosaurs and the Origins of Flight," suggests otherwise. On loan from China, some of the 35 remarkable fossils in the display preserve not only bones, but the impressions of feathers. They imply there may be different answers than we thought to two long intriguing questions about the relationship between dinosaurs and birds. advertisement

Did dinosaurs and birds evolve from a common ancestor? Did flight originate from the ground up or from the trees down? Feather impressions found in the fossils of both flying reptiles and theropod dinosaurs indicate that the ability to fly, rather than feathers themselves, is the defining characteristic of a bird.

The evidence of long claws indicates a "climbing wing" in the ancestors of birds and suggests that the ability to perch may have predated the ability to fly. If so, structural features common to both dinosaurs and birds evolved not because of common ancestry, but through convergence, "a condition where similar characteristics evolve independently."

There are fossils with huge heads and jaws replete with rows of teeth. These creatures looked like dinosaurs, but bone structure indicates they were indeed birds, with feathers, which had already lost their ability to fly. There are fossils with flight feathers on their hind legs. These too had the appearance of dinosaurs, but bone structure reveals four wings and the ability to fly. There are fossils with long, reptilian tails. Bone structure says they too could fly.

This exhibition will give you a greater understanding of how scientists recreate evolution and classify creatures into families. And you will never look at a bird again in the same way. They are beautiful, with millions of years' history of continual adaptation and survival.

Jim Burns is an outdoor writer and photographer based in Scottsdale. Reach him at hawkowl@aol.com.

New York Times Gets It Wrong: Teaching Strengths and Weaknesses Is Nothing New


The New York Times is reporting on the scheduled review of Texas' science standards later this year by the state school board. Seems like this must be reporter Laura Beil's first rodeo because she gets all excited (mistakenly) about something that is old hat in Texas: textbook wrangling.

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are "creationism" or "intelligent design" or even "creator."

The words are "strengths and weaknesses."

Surely Beil did some research and found out that this battle last played out five years ago, so it's hardly new. Back then the issue really was textbooks. This time it's the language of the science standards themselves.

According to the critics, (of which Beil interviewed quite a few, as opposed to the one single person she spoke to that favors the current science standards, but balance and accuracy aren't exactly currency of the realm in the Times' news rooms, either Dallas or New York) the Texas science standards need to be revised to remove the phrase "strengths and weaknesses." They make the claim, and Beil runs with it, that this is a brand new idea cooked up by Discovery Institute.

As they say in Texas, "you can put your boots in the oven but that doesn't make 'em biscuits."

The central premise that teaching "strengths and weaknesses" of Darwin's theory (and chemical origin of life theories) is a new, post-Dover innovation is flagrantly false.

That this is false can be proven with only a minimal amount of research, which makes it so much more surprising that Beil would blindly follow the assertions of the NCSE and others without bothering to call the people they're attacking – Discovery Institute and Texans for Better Science Education.

Let's review. In 1998, the Texas Board of Education adopted the current set of science standards calling on students "to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." You can read the standards for yourself here. This is the language that the New York Times now insists is a new development!

But there's more. The year 1998 was also when Discovery Institute began defending the academic freedom of high school teacher Roger DeHart to teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. (You can see his story told in the DVD "Icons of Evolution.")

In 2002, the Ohio State Board of Education adopted a policy calling for students to be able to "critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." During the same year there were hearings before the board in which the strengths and weaknesses of evolution were discussed, and dozens of scientists petitioned the board to include critical analysis of evolution in the curriculum.

In 2003, the Texas Board of Education was asked to enforce its previously adopted "strengths and weaknesses" language in the adoption of biology textbooks that year. Unfortunately, the Board didn't do that, although it did insist that numerous errors overstating the evidence for Darwin's theory be corrected in the textbooks.

In 2004, Alabama introduced an academic freedom bill to protect the right of teachers to teach the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory. The Alabama bill has served as a model for many of the academic freedom bills on evolution that came later.

During the same year, a school district in Grantsburg, WI adopted the following science standard:

Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design.

All of this happened before anyone skeptical of Darwin's theory ever had the misfortune of even hearing about the squabbles of folks in Dover, PA.

Following Dover, the effort to protect the right of teachers to cover the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory continued. In 2006, Oklahoma's legislature considered an academic freedom bill, and local school boards in Louisiana and California adopted academic freedom policies dealing with covering the strengths and weaknesses of evolution and other science issues.

The story that critically examining the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory in the classroom is some newfangled idea is absurd. This is just another attempt of Darwinists to ignore the facts—which is certainly something they have a lot of practice doing.

Posted by Robert Crowther on June 5, 2008 11:37 AM | Permalink

Darwin's birthday challenge to creationism


Darwin's 200th birthday has become a rallying point for scientists opposing creationism as the 18 month long celebrations of his birth and the 150th anniversary of his theory started this week.

Four out of ten Britons now believe either in Creation or in its watered-down cousin Intelligent Design and Creationism is being taught in state-approved schools.

Dr Bob Bloomfield of the Natural History Museum who is a key player in the Darwin 200 project expressed his concerns: "The statistics in this country are quite frightening. 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".

Secularist of the Year winner, Professor Steve Jones of University College London, has been accused by university students of "telling lies and insulting people's religion'" by teaching evolution. "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".

Professor Jones is one of the many scientists involved in Darwin's birthday projects. He and Professor Jonathon Silvertown of the Open University are involved in a mass science project to discover evolutionary changes in banded snails that will involve tens of thousands of people across Europe.

Among other projects to celebrate Darwin and challenge creationism, the BBC will be showing a major new series and the Natural History Museum will open a Darwin exhibition in November.

Friday 6 June 2008

Creationist School Fights Ruling


Posted on: Tuesday, 3 June 2008, 06:00 CDT

By Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle

Jun. 3--A Bible-based school and research institute has asked the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to reverse its decision not to allow the school to offer a master's degree in science education.

A spokesman for the Institute for Creation Research said the appeal "paves the way" for it to file a lawsuit against the state agency.

But first, the issue will go to an administrative hearing. Joe Stafford, assistant commissioner for academic affairs and research at the coordinating board, said the independent Office of Administrative Hearings has 180 days to hear the case.

Institute spokesman Lawrence Ford said the voluminous appeal -- it is 755 pages long, including supporting documents -- is based upon a claim of "viewpoint discrimination."

The appeal described the board's decision as "academic (and religious) bigotry masquerading as Texas Education Code 'enforcement.' "

Board members and staff are accused of denying the request in April because the institute and its leaders believe the biblical version of the Earth's creation is literally true.

Institute CEO Henry Morris III said last spring his school's program includes information about evolution, although he and others affiliated with the school don't accept the proof of evolution offered by mainstream scientists.

Board members and Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said they were concerned the degree would not equip graduates to teach science in Texas' public schools.

The real issue, Stafford said Monday, is whether the institute's course work -- offered online and still available, although not accredited -- fits the label of the proposed degree.

The disputed degree is a Master of Science in science education. "Either the curriculum or the label has to change," Stafford said.

"That label has a particular meaning of preparing somebody as a science teacher."

Paredes reiterated that in a May 21 letter to Morris. "It was determined that the designation of the degree and the content of the degree were not adequately aligned," he wrote. "Approval would require either a change in the designation of the degree or a change in the content covered."

The institute is not inclined to do either, Ford said.

Both the institute and the coordinating board have posted on their Web sites (www.icr.org and www.thecb.state.tx.us) a 371-page document prepared by the institute last spring to describe its program.

The coordinating board has also posted the institute's appeal documents.


To see more of the Houston Chronicle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.HoustonChronicle.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Houston Chronicle

Battle Over Teaching 'Weaknesses' of Evolution Moves to Texas


By Lawrence Jones
Christian Post Reporter
Fri, Jun. 06 2008 10:07 AM ET

Darwinists in Texas are seeking to remove a science standard that requires schools to teach both the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution.

Under current standards for the state's science curriculum, students are expected to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

But when the Texas Board of Education look to update state science standards this summer, some committee members will ask the board to remove the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase, according to The New York Times.

Among those requesting the board to drop the phrase is Kevin Fisher, a committee member who told the NY Times that questions left unanswered by evolution shouldn't be regarded as its weaknesses.

Other critics include Texas Freedom Network, a group that has opposed state proposals for Bible classes and Bible textbooks in the past.

Several board members appear to favor the current standard, saying it maintains a balanced debate on evolution.

"Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven," Board Vice Chairman David Bradley told The Houston Chronicle. "Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

Bradley also dismissed concerns by critics over the board's intention to sneak religion into the classroom.

"The only thing that this board is going to do is ask for accuracy."

Barbara Cargill, the vice chair of the board's Committee on Instruction, said giving students the freedom to discuss both sides of evolution will ensure them a "well-rounded education."

"It prompts them to be critical thinkers, and it also helps them to respect the opinions of other students even if they disagree," she told The Houston Chronicle.

Meanwhile, Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, has rejected allegations that the group is using the "strength and weaknesses" rhetoric as a new strategy in pushing intelligent design in schools following the 2005 Dover case – when intelligent design was barred from being taught in Pennsylvania's Middle District public school science classrooms.

On the organization's blog site, staff member Robert Crowther points out that the "strengths and weaknesses" language was adopted by the Texas Board of Education over a decade ago, long before the Dover case, and that debate over it has been going on across the nation since then. In 2003, the Texas Board of Education was asked to enforce its previously adopted "strengths and weaknesses" language in biology textbooks but has yet to fully comply, according to Crowther.

The Cons of Creationism



Published: June 7, 2008

When it comes to science, creationists tend to struggle with reality. They believe, after all, that evolution by means of natural selection is false and that Earth is only a few thousand years old. They also believe that students who are taught a creationist view of biology — or who are taught to disregard the Darwinist view — are not being disadvantaged.

The Texas State Board of Education is again considering a science curriculum that teaches the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, setting an example that several other states are likely to follow. This is code for teaching creationism.

It has the advantage of sounding more balanced than teaching "intelligent design," which the courts have consistently banned from science classrooms. It has the disadvantage of being nonsense.

The chairman of the Texas board, a dentist named Don McLeroy, advocates the "strengths and weaknesses" approach, as does a near majority of the board. The system accommodates what Dr. McLeroy calls two systems of science, creationist and "naturalist."

The trouble is, a creationist system of science is not science at all. It is faith. All science is "naturalist" to the extent that it tries to understand the laws of nature and the character of the universe on their own terms, without reference to a divine creator. Every student who hopes to understand the scientific reality of life will sooner or later need to accept the elegant truth of evolution as it has itself evolved since it was first postulated by Darwin. If the creationist view prevails in Texas, students interested in learning how science really works and what scientists really understand about life will first have to overcome the handicap of their own education.

Scientists are always probing the strengths and weakness of their hypotheses. That is the very nature of the enterprise. But evolution is no longer a hypothesis. It is a theory rigorously supported by abundant evidence. The weaknesses that creationists hope to teach as a way of refuting evolution are themselves antiquated, long since filed away as solved. The religious faith underlying creationism has a place, in church and social studies courses. Science belongs in science classrooms.

Faith in science


June 7, 2008, 9:23AM

Creationists on the State Board of Education must stop trying to undermine the teaching of evolution

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

It's shaping up to be a long, hot summer, even by Texas standards, as the State Board of Education gears up to determine the curriculum standards for the state's new science textbooks. Science includes evolution — the phenomenon whereby the species on Earth today evolved from species now extinct. That fact is what creationists on the board don't believe in.

The focus of attention in this, the first overhaul of the science curriculum in over a decade, is not on the teaching of creationism, which has been rebuffed by several courts. It is on whether the curriculum will continue to include teaching on the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution.

It sounds reasonable. Who's against fair and balanced? But critics are alarmed that this is the latest chapter in what has become a national strategy of evolution's foes — a "teach the controversy" approach, whereby religion is propounded under the guise of scientific inquiry.

Given the recent comments of both the chairman and the vice chairman of the board, there is ample reason for alarm. As reported by The New York Times, the chairman, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, described the debate as being between two systems of science.

"You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system," he said. He rejects evolution and believes the Earth is just a few thousand years old, but he insisted his rejection was not based on religious grounds. "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science," McLeroy said.

Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont, told the Chronicle, "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved. Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

What students really need is to be able to study science from materials that have not been hijacked by creationists whose personal agenda includes muddying the science curriculum. Creationism is not a "system of science." It is a religious belief and as such has no place in a science curriculum.

Furthermore, evolution is not a theory that "cannot be proved." A scientific theory is not a guess, but a tested explanation of how and why a natural phenomenon occurs. There is no doubt among mainstream scientists that evolution is a well-documented and easily observed phenomenon.

McLeroy and Bradley are not alone in their beliefs. Seven of the 15 members, one short of a majority, believe in intelligent design, as does Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who unilaterally appointed McLeroy to chair the board last summer a few weeks after the Legislature disbanded. (Much simpler than having to defend his controversial choice during Senate confirmation hearings.) These members are aligned with social conservative groups known for their strong stands on evolution, sexual abstinence and other hot-button issues covered in textbooks, the Dallas Morning News reported last year.

In one welcome sign that people conversant with science will have some input, a state-appointed committee of science educators is reviewing the curriculum requirements. One of them, Kevin Fisher, a school science coordinator, told the Times that committee members will recommend that the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase be removed. "When you consider evolution, there are certain questions that have yet to be answered," he said. "But a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness."

One can only hope the State Board of Education will heed their recommendation. All people are entitled to their private religious beliefs, but nobody is entitled to use the state's public education system to promote them. What chance do Texas students have of competing in the 21st century if their learning of science is warped and stunted by such benighted leadership?

Knowledge and its discontents: Darwin passes his testings


By Michael Ruse
Article Last Updated: 06/07/2008 11:09:40 AM MDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - I want to talk about Darwinism - the theory of evolution of the 19th-century English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin.

Before you start to groan and say that you don't think you could read another thing on the science-and-religion clash and on why Intelligent Design should or should not be taught in schools, let me assure you that that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about Darwin's theory itself - first introduced to the world, incidentally, almost 150 years ago (July 1, 1858) and then expanded into the Origin of Species, which appeared the year after (November 1859).

What fascinates me about the theory is the way that Darwin realized that he had a problem and how he set out to solve it. The problem is that of convincing people of something that they could never see. Short of having a time machine and traveling into the past, no one is ever going to see the change of fish into amphibians, and then on to reptiles, mammals, apes, and, finally, to humans.

So why should we take the idea seriously? Why should we ever think that it could ever be much more than a "theory," meaning an iffy hypothesis like speculations on the Kennedy assassination? Why should we ever agree that evolution is a "fact"?

Darwin realized full well that often we don't have direct evidence, but that doesn't stop us from talking about facts. Indirect evidence can be overwhelming.

It can trump direct evidence even! Take a murder, or some other crime against the person. What would lead you to point a finger at a culprit? Sure, eyewitness testimony is going to be very powerful. But we all know that people under strain can be very unreliable about remembering faces. That is not a weakness; it is a very understandable aspect of human nature.

Much better in such cases is the indirect evidence - the clues, the bits and pieces that point to the culprit. Today, DNA evidence is nigh definitive and with good reason. Any good judge and jury would much sooner know about the molecules on the weapon than the recollections of someone who caught a fleeting glance and whose prejudices may be coloring memory.

What were the clues of evolution - what were the DNA fingerprints pointing to the claim that all organisms come from the same primitive ancestors by a long, slow, natural process of reproduction and development? The fossil record, obviously. Why do we find that the order is roughly progressive, from the primitive down deep to the modern and complex near the surface? Because the older forms are ancestors, that's why! Backing this up is the fact that the older forms are often midway between different modern forms. The earliest known specimen of the hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) could as easily be a wasp as an ant, an ant as a wasp.

Why, to take another area of inquiry, do the denizens off the Galapagos Archipelago in the Pacific look like (although slightly differing from) the inhabitants of South America rather than like the inhabitants of Africa?

Why, conversely, do the denizens of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic look like (although slightly differing from) the inhabitants of Africa rather than South America? Because the ancestors of the respective island groups came from the nearest continents and then went on evolving.

Why - and this was really powerful evidence - are the front leg of the horse, the arm of the human, the wing of the bat, the flipper of the porpoise, the paw of the mole, all apparently molded from the same bones connected in the same order when the functions that these forelimbs serve are so very different? Because these animals share common ancestors, and evolution took the early forelimbs and shaped them in different ways, according to need.

Why are the embryos of human and dog so similar but the adults so different? Because they share common ancestors. In the womb evolution had no need to make differences even though the adult forms were being molded into very different shapes with very different lifestyles and ways of functioning.

These were Darwin's clues - fossils, island inhabitants, forelimbs of vertebrates, similar embryos - and jointly they pointed to one and only one culprit. Evolution. And this is the reason why Charles Darwin and his theory are worth celebrating today. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that you cannot step into the same river twice. That is true. Everything changes. The evolutionists at my university and at your local university have gone way beyond Darwin, with theories and techniques of which he never dreamed.

To take just one example. Darwin knew nothing about the DNA molecule and how it functions. We do, and we have exploited that fact. In recent years, instead of looking at skeletons, evolutionists have been looking at molecules. And the fantastic findings are that the molecules of organisms as far apart as humans and fruit flies are even more similar than the forelimbs of humans and horses.

Apparently, organisms are built on the Lego principle.

We are all made from the same building blocks. It is how they are put together that counts. Go one way with Lego and you have the White House. Go another way, and you have the Monster from the Black Lagoon. Go one way with the molecules and you have fruit flies. Go another way, and you have Harrison Ford.

Another Greek philosopher, Parmenides, said that nothing changes. That is true also. The logic of evolution is unchanged and it is Darwin's logic.

Just as the vertebrate forelimbs point to evolution, so also - as or even more strongly - do the shared molecules of DNA. That is why Charles Darwin and his theory are worth celebrating.

And now I will break my promise not to mention science and religion. I believe that the human ability to peer into the past as do evolutionists is one of the most wonderful things that we ever do. If ever I wanted proof that although we may be modified monkeys we are nevertheless made in the image of God, this would be it.

Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University. His recent books include "The Evolution-Creation Struggle" and "Darwinism and its Discontents." Readers may write to him at: Florida State University, Department of Philosophy, Tallahassee, Fla. 32306; e-mail: mrusefsu.edu. He wrote this for the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.

A bitter fight over who can be called 'doctor'


Some who practice alternative medicine are upset over a new law recognizing trained naturopaths.

By MAURA LERNER, Star Tribune

Last update: June 7, 2008 - 10:19 PM

Under a new state law, naturopaths -- who use everything from herbal remedies to biofeedback -- will be allowed to register with the state and call themselves doctors without fear of running afoul of the medical establishment.

You might think that would be a cause for celebration throughout Minnesota's alternative-health community.

But you'd be wrong.

Instead, the new law has triggered a bitter rift among the vast array of people who practice alternative medicine, from homeopaths to folk healers to massage therapists.

To those covered by the new law, it's simply a way to get more respect and professional freedom for a particular brand of holistic medicine. But others see it as an assault in a turf war that could benefit a few highly trained practitioners at the expense of others.

"What they're trying to do is become the gatekeeper for natural health, so nobody else can practice," said Greg Schmidt, who runs the Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project, which led a pitched battle to sink the law.

Despite assurances to the contrary, the fissure remains.

"I didn't realize how much of an issue it was going to be," said Rep. Neva Walker, DFL-Minneapolis, who championed the bill for years before it finally passed and was signed into law in May. "[I] didn't realize somebody who had supported all forms of alternative healing for years was going to be an enemy."

The quest for recognition

Naturopathic doctors call their work a mix of modern and traditional medicine.

In some states, they are licensed professionals, much like medical doctors. The main difference, they say, is that they rely on herbs, vitamins and other natural, low-tech remedies to treat ailments that, they believe, are often caused by stress and lifestyle.

"It's blending the best of what we know in science with the best of what we know in natural medicine," said Leslie Vilensky, of New Prague, president of the Minnesota Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

In Minnesota, supporters have tried, on and off, to pass a naturopathic law since 1909. But they have been lumped in with other folk healers, allowed to work with patients as long as they didn't cross into territory reserved for doctors or other licensed professionals.

Sometimes, that's been tricky.

In 1996, Helen Healy, a St. Paul naturopath, was accused by the state Board of Medical Practice of practicing medicine without a license. Her case instantly became a cause célèbre for alternative medicine supporters. Natural healers of all stripes, from herbalists to homeopaths, protested in the streets over her treatment. Eventually the medical board compromised, allowing Healy to see patients within certain limits.

At that point, Healy, who runs the Wellspring Naturopathic Clinic, vowed to try to change state law to allow naturopathic doctors to practice freely. She never imagined that the biggest resistance would come from former allies.

"We're not trying to take away anybody's rights to use these gifts from nature," she said last week. "We just need to have a place ... for naturopathic physicians."

A divide among healers

For years, Healy and her colleagues pushed futilely for a law to license naturopathic doctors. This year, they changed strategy and proposed a less-formal registration.

It allows those who qualify to use the title "naturopathic doctor" and expand their "scope of practice" to include such things as ordering blood tests and MRIs, and admitting patients to hospitals.

It only applies, however, to graduates of four-year naturopathic medical schools -- about 26 people now practicing in Minnesota, according to the naturopathic group.

At first, they ran into flak from both sides. The Minnesota Medical Association (MMA), representing conventional doctors, objected to allowing naturopaths to prescribe drugs and perform minor surgery. When those items were dropped, the MMA withdrew its opposition.

But the alternative-medicine groups dug in their heels. Boyd Landry, who heads the Coalition for Natural Health in Washington, D.C., argued that it could lead to restrictions on other people practicing alternative medicine. "This is about market share. This is about turf," he said.

Schmidt, of the Minnesota group, agreed. "Regulatory schemes create boxes, and boxes fence people in as much as they fence people out," he said. Schmidt worried what would happen to naturopaths who are self-taught or took correspondence courses and don't qualify under this law.

"Why should they be denied a title?" he asked.

Supporters, though, say the new law doesn't interfere with anyone's right to practice alternative medicine. "Take a look at the bill; it's not there. The bill doesn't prohibit anybody," Healy said. "We are not trying to control the universe of natural health care."

The debate isn't over. The new law, which takes effect in July 2009, calls for a work group of both sides to hammer out the details. Both sides said that's a good thing.

Meanwhile, after nearly a century of trying, naturopaths are relishing their victory.

"It's not necessarily as complete or thorough as other laws, where naturopaths practice in other states," said Vilensky, president of the Minnesota group. "But we're very happy that we're able to do what we can do under this law."

But the alternative-medicine groups dug in their heels. Boyd Landry, who heads the Coalition for Natural Health in Washington, D.C., argued that it could lead to restrictions on other people practicing alternative medicine. "This is about market share. This is about turf," he said.

Schmidt, of the Minnesota group, agreed. "Regulatory schemes create boxes, and boxes fence people in as much as they fence people out," he said. Schmidt worried what would happen to naturopaths who are self-taught or took correspondence courses and don't qualify under this law.

"Why should they be denied a title?" he asked.

Supporters, though, say the new law doesn't interfere with anyone's right to practice alternative medicine. "Take a look at the bill; it's not there. The bill doesn't prohibit anybody," Healy said. "We are not trying to control the universe of natural health care."

The debate isn't over. The new law, which takes effect in July 2009, calls for a work group of both sides to hammer out the details. Both sides said that's a good thing.

Meanwhile, after nearly a century of trying, naturopaths are relishing their victory.

"It's not necessarily as complete or thorough as other laws, where naturopaths practice in other states," said Vilensky, president of the Minnesota group. "But we're very happy that we're able to do what we can do under this law."

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Evolution's Critics Shift Tactics With Schools


Pressure Hits States For Education Bills; A National Push
By STEPHANIE SIMON May 2, 2008; Page A10

They have spent years working school boards, with only minimal success. Now critics of evolution are turning to a higher authority: state legislators.

In a bid to shape biology lessons, they are promoting what they call "academic freedom" bills that would encourage or require public-school teachers to cast doubt on a cornerstone of modern science.


The Wall Street Journal asked the Discovery Institute's John West, a prominent advocate of intelligent design, to list several critiques of evolution that he'd like to see teachers present in class. Then we sought responses from Eric Meikle, who promotes evolution instruction through the National Center for Science Education. See what they had to say.A handful of states have considered such bills in recent years, but backers are now organizing a national movement, with high-profile help from actor Ben Stein. His new documentary, "Expelled," argues that educators suffer reprisals if they dare question evolution; in an attempt to spur action, he has held private screenings for legislators, including a recent showing in the Missouri statehouse.

The academic-freedom bills now in circulation vary in detail. Some require teachers to critique evolution. Others let educators choose their approach -- but guarantee they won't be disciplined should they decide to build a case against Darwin.


Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin of human beings?

Source: Gallup Poll of 1,016 U.S. adults, November 2004. Margin of error: +/- 3%

The common goal: To expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution. Most of this material is produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism, the belief that God created man in his present form.

"The creationist legal strategy has gotten more and more sophisticated," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that promotes the teaching of evolution.

Both houses of the Florida legislature passed academic freedom bills this month, but it is unclear whether backers can reconcile the two versions before the spring session closes Friday. If not, they will have to try again next year. Prospects may be better in Louisiana, where the state Senate this week unanimously approved a bill ensuring that teachers can go beyond the biology textbook to raise criticisms of evolution. Similar bills have just been introduced in Alabama and Michigan and this week passed through a house committee in Missouri.

"It shouldn't be a crime for teachers to give the best evidence for evolutionary theory and then, if they want, spend a day saying, 'Some people are raising questions,'" said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

The nonprofit institute, based in Seattle, promotes the theory that life was created by an unknown designer, possibly divine. It recently launched a petition drive to spur more states to take up such bills.

The legislative push builds on an emerging strategy developed by conservative Christians who consider evolution ungodly and a small group of scientists who find it implausible.

Over the last decade, these skeptics tried repeatedly to push Darwin out of -- or wedge alternatives to evolution into -- public-school science curricula. Those efforts largely failed, rebuffed by the courts or rejected by voters.

So activists regrouped. Their new tactic: Embrace lessons on evolution. In fact, insist students deserve to learn more -- including classes that probe the theory for weakness. They believe -- and their opponents agree -- that this approach will prove more acceptable to the public and harder to challenge in court.

Those promoting the new bills emphasize that academic freedom doesn't mean biology teachers can read aloud from the Book of Genesis. "This doesn't bring religion into the classroom," said Florida state Rep. D. Alan Hays, a Republican.

The bills typically restrict lessons to "scientific" criticism of evolution, or require that critiques be presented "in an objective manner," or approved by a local school board.

Evolution's defenders respond that there are no credible scientific critiques of evolution, any more than there are credible alternatives to the theory of gravity. The fossil record, DNA analysis and observations of natural selection confirm Darwin's hypothesis that all life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor over four billion years.

In the scientific community, while there may be debate about the details, the grand sweep of evolution is unassailable. "There's no controversy," said Jay Labov, a senior adviser for education and communication with the National Academy of Sciences.

But Gallup polls consistently show that nearly half of American adults reject evolution. A third are upset that schools teach it, according to Gallup.

Several states, including South Carolina and Pennsylvania, have passed science standards requiring students to think critically about evolution.

Ms. Scott, of the science-education group, regards the academic-freedom bills as a more serious threat to evolution education because they give teachers so much latitude. "This is basically a get-out-of-jail-free card for creationist teachers," she said.

So far, few teachers have come forward in favor of these bills. The Florida Education Association, which represents 140,000 teachers, opposes the concept.

Doug Cowan, a public-school biology teacher, said his colleagues are often afraid to speak out.

Mr. Cowan said he tells students: "I'm going to give you the evidence for evolution and the evidence against, and let you decide." For instance, he'll mention Darwin's observation that finches evolve different-shaped beaks to suit different ecosystems. Then he'll add that you don't see a finch changing into another species.

Asked what evidence he presents to bolster evolution, Mr. Cowan paused. "I don't have any," he said.

Mr. Cowan's principal said that teachers are not supposed to veer from the approved textbooks. That's why Mr. Cowan would like a legal guarantee he can teach as he sees fit.

"This is America," Mr. Cowan said. "My gosh. Why walk on eggshells?"

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

Trouble ahead for science

By Kenneth R. Miller May 8, 2008

AMERICAN science is in trouble, and if you wonder why, just go to the movies. Popular culture is gradually turning against science, and Ben Stein's new movie, "Expelled," is helping to push it along.

"Intelligent Design," the relabeled, repackaged form of American creationism, has always had a problem. It just can't seem to produce any evidence. To scientists, the reasons for this are obvious. To conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Intelligent Design is nothing more than a "phony theory." No data, no science, no experiments, just an attempt to sneak a narrow set of religious views into US classrooms.

Advocates of Intelligent Design needed a story to explain why the idea has been a nonstarter within the scientific community, and Ben Stein has given it to them. The story line is that Intelligent Design advocates are persecuted and suppressed. "Expelled" tells of this terrible campaign against free expression, and mocks the pretensions of the closed-minded scientific elite supposedly behind it.

There are many things wrong with this movie. One example: Viewers are told that Dr. Richard Sternberg lost his job at the Smithsonian Institution because he edited a paper favorable to Intelligent Design. Wrong.

Sternberg wasn't even employed by the Smithsonian (he had no job to lose), and had resigned as journal editor six months before the paper was published. In fact, the irony is that neither Steinberg nor any of the other people featured as martyrs in "Expelled" lost jobs as a result of their advocacy of Intelligent Design, while many others who supported evolution have. In 2007, Chris Comer, the director of science education for Texas schools, was fired for having done nothing more than forwarding an e-mail announcing a pro-evolution seminar.

The movie also uses interviews with avowed atheists like Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," to argue that scientific establishment is vehemently anti-God. Never mind that 40 percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science profess belief in a personal God. Stein, avoiding these 50,000 people, tells viewers that "Darwinists" don't allow scientists to even think of God.

Puzzled, the editors of Scientific American asked Mark Mathis, the film's co-producer, why he and Stein didn't interview such people, like Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project), Francisco Ayala, or myself. Mathis cited me by name, saying "Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily." In other words, showing a scientist who accepts both God and evolution would have confused their story line.

Despite these falsehoods, by far the film's most outlandish misrepresentation is its linkage of Darwin with the Holocaust. A concentration camp tour guide tells Stein that the Nazis were practicing "Darwinism," and that's that. Never mind those belt buckles proclaiming Gott mit uns (God is with us), the toxic anti-Semitism of Martin Luther, the ghettoes and murderous pogroms in Christian Europe centuries before Darwin's birth. No matter. It's all the fault of evolution.

Why is all this nonsense a threat to science? The reason is Stein's libelous conclusion that science is simply evil. In an April 21 interview on the Trinity Broadcast Network, Stein called the Nazi murder of children "horrifying beyond words." Indeed. But what led to such horrors? Stein explained: "that's where science in my opinion, this is just an opinion, that's where science leads you. Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place. Science leads you to killing people."

According to Stein, science leads you to "killing people." Not to cures and vaccines, not to a deeper understanding of nature, not to wonders like computers and cellphones, and certainly not to a better life. Nope. Science is murder.

"Expelled" is a shoddy piece of propaganda that props up the failures of Intelligent Design by playing the victim card. It deceives its audiences, slanders the scientific community, and contributes mightily to a climate of hostility to science itself. Stein is doing nothing less than helping turn a generation of American youth away from science. If we actually come to believe that science leads to murder, then we deserve to lose world leadership in science. In that sense, the word "expelled" may have a different and more tragic connotation for our country than Stein intended.

Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, is author of "Only a Theory - Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul," which will be published next month.

Kenneth R. Miller: Countering Intelligent Design


by Sarah Gold, Religion BookLine -- Publishers Weekly, 5/7/2008

Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, author of Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, June; reviewed in PW April 14), is a leading opponent of intelligent design and a member of the Catholic Academy of Sciences of the United States.

RBL: How did you become involved in the debate over intelligent design?

Miller: In 1981, a group of students in Campus Crusade for Christ invited a scientific creationist to campus and asked me to debate him. I put them off but listened to an audio tape of a lecture to know where this guy was coming from. The more I listened, the more upset I got, on two grounds. The first was the scientific misrepresentation and distortions; the second was that these guys would dare to say, "We speak for religion." The group sold so many tickets that we had to move this debate to the hockey rink, and I whupped the guy. In his own in-house newsletter he said that this guy Miller at Brown was the most effective evolutionist debater he had ever encountered.

RBL: Another biologist has been addressing issues of science and faith: Richard Dawkins. How do you feel about the "new atheism" of Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others?

Miller: The best, the clearest, and most incisive writer about evolutionary theory alive on the planet is Richard Dawkins. He also is—and I told him this to his face—the most evangelical atheist I've ever met. He believes that religion is not only false and incorrect but also a destructive force in society and therefore needs to be eliminated. Now he's welcome to hold that opinion, but I think very often his writing gives the impression that he is speaking for science itself. And he's not, because, if God is defined as a force outside of nature, then the existence or nonexistence of God is simply not a scientific question, because science can only deal with things that are in nature.

The Templeton Foundation has asked 10 individuals to write 1,000-word essays [http://www.templeton.org/belief/] on the question: does modern science make religion obsolete? They asked if I would mind going one-on-one with Christopher Hitchens. He's already sent me a 500-word screed ripping me and my essay apart, and I have had great fun writing 500 words back at him and expect a couple more exchanges.

RBL: I'd like to ask about Michael Behe, a leading proponent of intelligent design whom you have occasionally debated. You're both practicing Roman Catholics, you're both biologists. How did you end up with completely opposite views on evolution and intelligent design?

Miller: I have long since given up trying to figure out why other people think the way they do. But I have an interesting background. My father was brought up in a very strict Catholic family and was guided by his mother into seminary. After two and a half years, he decided he liked girls too much and dropped out. Later he met a really nice girl in New Jersey, my mother, who turned out to be Protestant, and they got married. My mother converted to Catholicism, but we lived with my mother's Protestant parents. I didn't go to Catholic school but did go to catechism and lived in a town that was around 40% Jewish. My first couple of girlfriends were Jewish.

I got into science at an early age and I never saw any conflict between science and religion. That's the ethos of modern Catholicism. If you go to the new biology building at Notre Dame University, inlaid on the floor are the words, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Bills would give teachers freedom teaching evolution


Posted on May 13, 2008 | by Michael Foust

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Ben Stein's movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" has been out less than a month but apparently already is having a significant impact in the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Legislatures in three states -- Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri -- are considering academic freedom bills that would give teachers greater protection and freedom in teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. Passage of any of the bills would be a first for any state, according to officials at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports the bills. Similar bills in Alabama and Florida died this month, although the ones in the other states, particularly Louisiana, seem to stand a better chance.

"There has definitely been a raising of consciousness among people that there is a problem of censoring scientific information that challenges evolution," the Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin told Baptist Press. "I think Expelled definitely has played a role. However, this [issue] isn't something that is brand-new.... I just think that the message is really getting out right now and the consciousness of our nation is really being raised to the fact that this is a very big problem."

The bills do not mention Intelligent Design, a theory promoted by the Discovery Institute and one that is at the heart of "Expelled." Intelligent Design teaches that certain features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process such as natural selection. In the documentary, Stein interviews supporters of Intelligent Design who say they have been shunned or fired -- that is, "expelled" -- for their beliefs.

In fact, Luskin said, the language of the bills in Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri does not even allow for ID to be taught. Nevertheless, he said, the bills would be a significant step forward.

"I work with teachers all around the country, and I get contacted by teachers who are being shut down by an administration because they want to simply mention scientific critiques of evolution, and in many cases these teachers have to go and retain legal counsel just to get the right to do this," he said. "These legislative measures will give teachers the kind of protection they need so they can talk about both the scientific evidence for and against evolution without having to fear for losing their jobs."

The National Center for Science Education, an organization that, according to its website, "defends the teaching of evolution in public schools," opposes all three bills.

The Louisiana bill (SB 733) -- which passed the state Senate 35-0 April 28 and now is in a House committee -- says the state board of education "shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators" to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied," including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." A teacher would be allowed to "use supplemental textbooks" in addition to the textbooks in use. In addition, the bill says it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine."

The Michigan bill, HB 6027, was introduced in the state House April 30 and currently is before the education committee. It would allow teachers to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

The Missouri bill, HB 2554, passed a House committee April 30. It would permit teachers to teach about the "strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution."

"The language in those bills pertains to only teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution," Luskin said. "That language does not even cover the teaching of alternatives like Intelligent Design."

Contrary to what some might assume, the Discovery Institute does not support the mandated teaching of Intelligent Design in classrooms, Luskin said.

"Our position is that when Intelligent Design gets pushed into the classroom, it tends to politicize the debate over Intelligent Design, and we want Intelligent Design to be able to progress as a science, and not become a political hot potato," he said. "So our position is simply that teachers should be required to teach the evidence for and against evolution."

"Expelled" is No 12 on the list of top-grossing documentaries of all-time, according to a list at BoxOfficeMojo.com. It has made $7.2 million and needs to make roughly $600,000 more to crack the Top 10.


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Column: Keep God out of science class


May 13, 2008

Five states recently have considered legislation to protect the "academic freedom" of public educators who wish to question the scientific evidence for biological evolution: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Missouri.

The cry of "academic freedom" is the latest mutation of creationism, distilled in the legal laboratories of the Discovery Institute in Seattle from the dregs of earlier, failed legislative efforts to permit "balanced treatment" of evolution alongside other, religious points of view. This message is also promoted in Ben Stein's movie "Expelled", which is currently playing at Crossroads Cinema in Wausau. Likely the timing of the movie's release and the various states' initiatives is not coincidental.

The first indication of this new tactic surfaced in a comment by the Discovery Institute prior to the 2005 Dover creationism trial: "(T)he outcome of this lawsuit could be that the court will try to tell scientists what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not ... a flagrant assault on free speech."

Thus, the Discovery Institute (and Ben Stein) would define the boundaries of science by notions of free speech, rather than by the methods of inquiry established in this field of knowledge over 400 years of work and testing in the natural world.

The fact is, teachers have always had a right to question any theory, and the best teachers do just that with great knowledge and skill. In history, a good teacher might question an established idea concerning a historical event; in English, teachers present alternative interpretations of texts.

But there are limits to this, which have nothing to do with freedom. The boundaries of what can be legitimately taught in a given class are set by relevance and competency in the discipline.

In science, an instructor has to teach and demonstrate the practice of good science. For example, an instructor who questions evolution because "Evolution is only a theory -- has not been proven and does not make predictions, cannot be falsified, is not testable, is circular reasoning, cannot be replicated, has not been observed, is not the simplest explanation, etc." simply demonstrates a profound lack of knowledge of the content of science and its methods (for an exhaustive list of bogus objections, see http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html).

An instructor's right to present these views can be legitimately questioned on grounds of competency in the subject, and should not be protected by legislative action. When states encourage attacks on evolution in public institutions they do not protect freedom of speech for educators, but defend ignorance of science and promote academic fraud against students.

Now, this cuts both ways, although I don't imagine that legislators had it in mind to protect anti-religious views in science classrooms under freedom of speech. But, if so, that would be equally wrong-headed. Nature may well be the handiwork of a god, but there's no way to prove that it is using the methods of science, let alone decide whose particular god that might be (science and technology, along with mathematics, are probably the only human enterprises that have consistently transcended cultural differences across the world). However, neither can any godly influence be denied on purely scientific grounds. It is not good scientific practice or even in the practice of science at all to draw conclusions about anyone's god.

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that anyone has the right to say just anything in a science classroom based on "academic freedom" or freedom of speech. The truth is, neither religious nor anti-religious views are appropriate in a science class.

Keith Montgomery is a professor of geography and geology at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County and a member of the Wausau School Board.

Evolution education update: May 2, 2008

The two antievolution bills in the Florida legislature are dead; Kenneth R. Miller excoriates the creationist propaganda film Expelled; and a creationist's lawsuit against Woods Hole was dismissed. And NCSE is seeking candidates for a position in its Public Information Project.


When the Florida legislature ended its session on May 2, 2008, legislative attempts to open the door to creationism died in the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 2692, as originally introduced, purported to protect the right of teachers to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution." The bill resembled a string of similar bills in Alabama as well as a model bill that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism, recently began to promote, and was widely viewed as a backlash against the treatment of evolution in Florida's new state science standards.

As NCSE reported, SB 2692's originally identical House counterpart, HB 1483, was substantially altered, requiring public schools to provide "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." The phrase "critical analysis" is commonly used by "intelligent design" advocates in their campaign to undermine the teaching of evolution. The sponsor of SB 2692, Senator Ronda Storms (R-District 10), then sought to smooth the bill's passage by revising it to match HB 1483, but was unsuccessful. On receiving SB 2692 from the Senate, the House substituted the text of HB 1483 and returned it to the Senate, which then restored the text of the bill and sent it back to the House, where it died. HB 1483 was already tabled, and is now dead, too.

Throughout the discussion of SB 2692, its supporters maintained a studied vagueness about what "scientific information" was contemplated. Asked by the Miami Herald (March 13, 2008) whether "intelligent design" constituted "scientific information" in the sense of the bill, for example, a representative of the Discovery Institute equivocated, saying, "In my personal opinion, I think it does. But the intent of this bill is not to settle that question," and adding, unhelpfully, "The intent of this bill is ... it protects the 'teaching of scientific information.'" And during debate on the Senate floor, Storms was noticeably reluctant to address the question of whether the bill would license the teaching of creationism, preferring instead simply to recite the bill's text.

Storms was also unable to justify the bill's claims of persecution. A report to the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee stated, "According to the Department of Education, there has never been a case in Florida where a public school teacher or public school student has claimed that they have been discriminated against based on their science teaching or science course work," and the St. Petersburg Times (March 6, 2008) pointedly commented, "most of the evolution-related pressure being put on science teachers is aimed at those who want to teach the scientific consensus about evolution, not those who want to teach the 'full range of scientific views' -- which would presumably include the fringe notion that evolution is not backed by strong evidence."

Similarly, the sponsor of HB 1483, Representative Alan Hays (R-District 25), was forced to acknowledge that "he didn't have any names" of teachers who feared retribution for "teaching the 'holes' in evolution," the Miami Herald (April 28, 2008) reported. His idea of "critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" was suggested by his comment, reported by the Herald, "No fossils have been found and no witness has ever seen one species turn into another. This is only a theory." Representative Carl Domino (R-District 83), voting against the bill, commented, "There are a lot of strange things out there that I don't want teachers teaching," according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (April 28, 2008).

Nevertheless, the bills passed their respective houses, as NCSE reported. Whether due to the intransigence of their supporters or to the host of other issues crowding the legislative calendar, however, a compromise was not reached before the end of the legislative session. In its editorial reviewing the accomplishments of the legislature, the Tampa Tribune (May 3, 2008) commented, "The session will be remembered for what WASN'T done to compromise the quality of education in Florida" (emphasis in original), immediately adding, "Sen. Ronda Storms was rebuked in her effort to infuse religion into lessons on biological evolution."

NCSE congratulates and thanks those in the Sunshine State who fought against these antievolution bills, including the editorial boards of the state's newspapers, the writers and framers of the state science standards, scientists at the state's universities and in industry, the ACLU of Florida, a handful of vocal legislators from both parties, and, especially, the grassroots group Florida Citizens for Science, whose spokesperson Brandon Haught commented at the end of the legislative session, "Let us take a moment of silence for House Bill 1483 and Senate Bill 2692, the deceptively named 'academic freedom' bills. Time of death: 6 p.m." But looking ahead to the challenges of the next legislative session, Haught added, "I doubt they will rest in peace, though."

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

For the St. Petersburg Times's story, visit:

For the Miami Herald's story, visit:

For the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's story, visit:

For the Tampa Tribune's editorial, visit:

For Brandon Haught's comment at Florida Citizens for Science, visit:

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


Writing in the Boston Globe (May 8, 2008), Kenneth R. Miller blasts the creationist propaganda film Expelled, writing, "American science is in trouble, and if you wonder why, just go to the movies. Popular culture is gradually turning against science, and Ben Stein's new movie, 'Expelled,' is helping to push it along." "There are many things wrong with this movie," Miller observes, citing not only its errors of fact but also its deliberate misrepresentation of science as atheistic: "showing a scientist who accepts both God and evolution would have confused their story line."

Moreover, Miller continues, "by far the film's most outlandish misrepresentation is its linkage of Darwin with the Holocaust. A concentration camp tour guide tells Stein that the Nazis were practicing 'Darwinism,' and that's that. Never mind those belt buckles proclaiming Gott mit uns (God is with us), the toxic anti-Semitism of Martin Luther, the ghettoes and murderous pogroms in Christian Europe centuries before Darwin's birth." (The Anti-Defamation League similarly condemned Expelled for misappropriating the Holocaust.)

After quoting Expelled's spokesman Ben Stein's bizarre claim that "Science leads you to killing people," Miller concludes, "'Expelled' is a shoddy piece of propaganda that props up the failures of Intelligent Design by playing the victim card. It deceives its audiences, slanders the scientific community, and contributes mightily to a climate of hostility to science itself. Stein is doing nothing less than helping turn a generation of American youth away from science."

Miller, a Supporter of NCSE, is a professor of biology at Brown University, the coauthor of the most widely used high school biology textbook in the United States, and the author of Finding Darwin's God and the forthcoming Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, which Publishers Weekly (April 14, 2008) described as "thoroughly enjoyable and informative." NCSE's website www.ExpelledExposed.com contains a collection of reviews and resources concerning Expelled.

For Miller's column in the Boston Globe, visit:

For the Anti-Defamation League's statement about Expelled, visit:

For Publishers Weekly's review, visit:

And for www.ExpelledExposed.com, visit:


Nathaniel Abraham's lawsuit against Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was dismissed on April 22, 2008. Contending that he was fired, in violation of his civil rights, for not accepting evolution, Abraham filed suit against the research center on November 30, 2007, alleging that his rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeking compensatory and punitive damages. In his complaint, Abraham claimed that acceptance of evolution "was in no way a bona fide occupational qualification of employment, was not previously mentioned or implied as a requisite of hiring, and was never listed among necessary criteria for the advertised position." But as NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott told the Boston Globe (December 7, 2007), "It is inconceivable that someone working in developmental biology at a major research institution would not be expected to deal intimately with evolution."

The lawsuit was dismissed, the Boston Globe (April 29, 2008) reported, when "US District Court Judge William G. Young agreed with the institution's lawyer that the researcher did not file his lawsuit within the time frame required by law." In June 2006, Abraham filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which ruled against him in April 2007, stating that there was insufficient probable cause to find that his supervisor and Woods Hole engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices. Included was a notification to Abraham that in order to file a lawsuit, "Your lawsuit must be filed WITHIN 90 DAYS of your receipt of this notice; or your right to sue based on this charge will be lost" (emphasis in original). The defendants moved for a dismissal accordingly, but were also ready to argue that accepting well-established scientific principles relevant to the grant under which Abraham was hired, including evolution, was implicitly a requirement of employment.

For the Boston Globe's stories, visit:

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

Evolution education update: May 16, 2008

A new antievolution bill appears in South Carolina. The Islamic creationist "Harun Yahya" is sentenced to prison in Turkey. The antievolution bill in Alabama is dead. And NCSE continues to seek candidates for a position in its Public Information Project.


Senate Bill 1386, introduced in the South Carolina Senate on May 15, 2008, and referred to the Senate Committee on Education, is the newest so-called "academic freedom" bill aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution, joining similar bills currently under consideration in Louisiana, Michigan, and Missouri. Similar bills in Florida and Alabama died when the legislative session in those states ended. The South Carolina bill contends that "[t]he teaching of biological and chemical evolution can cause controversy, and some teachers may be uncertain of administrative expectations concerning the presentation of material on these scientific topics" and that "public school educators must be supported in finding effective ways to present controversial science curriculum and must be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution in an objective manner."

Accordingly, S. 1386 would, if enacted, amend the state's education code to provide: "The State Board of Education, superintendents of public school districts, and public school administrators may not prohibit a teacher in a public school of this State from helping his students understand, analyze, critique, and review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological and chemical evolution in an objective manner. This act does not condone the promotion of religious or nonreligious doctrine, the promotion of discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonreligious beliefs, or the promotion of discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. By no later than September 1, 2008, the State Department of Education shall notify district superintendents of the provisions of this act, and each superintendent shall then disseminate to all employees within his district a copy of the provisions of this act."

The lead sponsor of S. 1386, Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), spearheaded a number of previous antievolution efforts in the legislature. In 2003, he tried to amend a bill dealing with instructional materials and textbooks to require a disclaimer about the origin of life as "not scientifically verifiable"; withdrawing the amendment, he then successfully amended the bill to establish a nineteen-member South Carolina Standards Committee to "(1) study science standards regarding the teaching of the origin of species; (2) determine whether there is a consensus on the definition of science; (3) determine whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools." The Greenville News (May 1, 2003), reported that Fair "said his intention is to show that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific alternative that should be taught in the public schools." The bill died, however, when the legislature adjourned.

Fair was quickly at it again, however, introducing a bill in the next legislative session that would have established the South Carolina Standards Committee. The language about "alternatives to evolution" was removed from the bill in committee, however. Regrouping, Fair then introduced S. 909, a bill modeled on the so-called Santorum language stripped from the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. If enacted, S. 909 would have required, "Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." The bill failed, but Fair won himself a description as "the dominant voice advocating for S.C. schools to teach more than Charles Darwin's theories of evolution," according to The State (June 17, 2005).

In 2005, Fair also launched a campaign against the treatment of evolution in the state's science standards. As a member of the state's Education Oversight Committee, he pressed for the expansion of "critical analysis" language already present in the standards dealing with evolution, despite the criticism of then State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, who told The State (February 13, 2006), "'Critically analyze' is not just wordsmithing ... It carries with it a whole campaign against evolution." After a seven-month delay during which Fair and his confederates unsuccessfully lobbied for insertion of "critical analysis" language into all of the evolution indicators, the EOC approved the standard as submitted. But even here Fair claimed victory, telling AgapePress (June 15, 2006) that it was a precursor to allowing the teaching of "intelligent design" in South Carolina's public schools.

For the text of S. 1386, visit:

For South Carolinians for Science Education's website, visit:

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


Adnan Oktar, the Islamic creationist who writes under the pseudonym "Harun Yahya," was sentenced by a Turkish court to three years in prison for "creating an illegal organization for personal gain," according to a report from Reuters (May 9, 2008). The charges reportedly stemmed from a previous trial in which Oktar was "charged with using threats for personal benefit and creating an organization with the intent to commit a crime." A spokesperson for BAV confirmed the fact of Oktar's sentencing to Reuters, but claimed that the judge was influenced by pressure groups and stated that Oktar would appeal the verdict.

Oktar is the head of the Foundation for Scientific Research (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV) in Ankara, Turkey. BAV originally adopted its arguments from young-earth creationist organizations in the United States, but discarded claims about a young earth and a global flood flood not vouched for by the Qur'an or Islamic tradition. Subsequently, BAV evinced a degree of sympathy for "intelligent design" creationism instead, employing catchphrases like "irreducible complexity" and using the phrase "intelligent design" as equivalent with "creation." Later, however, Harun Yahya denounced "intelligent design" as insufficiently Islamic.

According to the historian of creationism Ronald L. Numbers, "Initially BAV focused its missionary activities on Muslims in the Turkic Republics and in the Balkans, but it quickly expanded to reach Muslims throughout the world," with speakers dispatched to Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Britain, South Africa, and, as Pat Shipman reported in RNCSE, the United States. And its efforts have lately not been limited to Muslims: in 2007, unsolicited copies of a lavishly produced tome entitled The Atlas of Creation were distributed to bemused teachers and scientists in France, the Netherlands, and the United States, as NCSE reported.

For the Reuters story, visit:

For Pat Shipman's report of a BAV presentation at Penn State, visit:

For NCSE's report on The Atlas of Creationism in the United States, visit:


House Bill 923 was among the hundreds of bills that died in the Alabama legislature "because they did not pass in the house where they were introduced," the Associated Press (May 7, 2008) reports. The latest in a string of "academic freedom" bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in Alabama, HB 923 purported to protect the right of teachers in the state's public schools (including both K-12 and colleges and universities) to "present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning," especially with regard to topics that "may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins." The bill also purported to address the rights of students, providing that "no student in any public school or institution of higher education ... shall be penalized in any way because he or she may subscribe to a particular position on any views." In 2004, a cosponsor of a previous version of the bill, SB 336, told the Montgomery Advertiser (February 18, 2004), "This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind."

For the Associated Press story (via AL.com), visit:

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

Evolution education update: May 20, 2008

A special issue of NCSE's evolution education update with information about NCSE's latest video.

Creationism's evolution, caught on tape

A nonprofit's archives track the rise and fall of attacks on evolution

Oakland, California, May 20, 2008 -- Evolution's opponents have taken another round of losses recently, with the failures of the creationist propaganda movie Expelled, a creationist bid to grant science education degrees in Texas, and antievolution legislation in Florida, Alabama, and Missouri. A new video from the National Center for Science Education shows how the nonprofit's archives preserves the history of creationist attacks on science education, and how NCSE uses information from its archives to block new attacks.

"With creationists," explains Eugenie C. Scott, NCSE's executive director, "there's a lot of recycling: the same arguments are made over and over, just with new labels and rhetoric. So when we needed to show that 'intelligent design' was a rebranding of creationism, we went to the archives and proved that the same people had been making the same arguments, just dressed up with a fancy new name."

The new video, "Jesus in My Classroom," posted today at www.ExpelledExposed.com, shows how NCSE's archives helped win the seminal Kitzmiller v. Dover trial by tracing the history of the "intelligent design" textbook at issue in the trial. As the video shows, a clipping in NCSE's archives tipped off lawyers for the Dover parents that the textbook was originally intended to present "both evolution and creation." After a Supreme Court decision holding it unconstitutional to teach creationism in science class, the textbook authors replaced references to "creation" with "design." Careful review even found a so-called missing link: a passage in which "creationists" was revised to "cdesign proponentsists," rather than the intended "design proponents."

"Our archives aren't just for lawyers," says Charles Hargrove, NCSE's archivist. "Historians and other social scientists who need access to back issues of creationist periodicals like the Bible-Science Newsletter or tapes of creationist debates rely on these archives. The fight over creationism is an important part of American history, and our archives are vital for researchers at NCSE and beyond." NCSE's archives include over 2500 books, nearly 100 linear feet of magazines, pamphlets and personal papers, and over 500 hours of video and audio recordings.

Josh Rosenau, a spokesman for NCSE, describes how he uses these archives. "When a new creationist textbook or pamphlet or video emerges, we can locate previous works by the same authors, and trace the inspiration for their bogus scientific claims." Echoing NCSE's motto, he added, "When you're defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools, you have to know what you're up against -- even if it turns out to be something familiar."

The National Center for Science Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The NCSE maintains its archive of source material on the history of creationism at its Oakland, California, headquarters. On the web at www.ncseweb.org.

NCSE's other website, www.ExpelledExposed.com, is a resource for journalists, teachers, and curious moviegoers who want the full story behind the creationist movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.


Eugenie C. Scott, scott@ncseweb.org, 800-290-6006
Josh Rosenau, rosenau@ncseweb.org, 800-290-6006
Charles Hargrove, hargrove@ncseweb.org, 800-290-6006

For this press release on NCSE's website, visit:

For a PDF version of this press release, visit:

For ExpelledExposed.com, visit:

Evolution education update: June 6, 2008

Concern is mounting about the prospect of attempts to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards. Meanwhile, the antievolution bill in South Carolina is now dead. And a spot is unexpectedly open for NCSE's excursion to the Grand Canyon -- call now if you want to come along!


"A battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution," Laura Beil reports in the June 4, 2008, issue of The New York Times, "and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are 'creationism' or 'intelligent design' or even 'creator.' The words are 'strengths and weaknesses.' Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the 'strengths and weaknesses' of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse."

The story mentions the recent spate of antievolution bills invoking "academic freedom" -- such bills have died in Florida, Alabama, Missouri, and South Carolina, but are still active in Louisiana and Michigan -- but observes, "In Texas, evolution foes do not have to win over the entire Legislature, only a majority of the education board; they are one vote away." The chair of the Texas state board of education, Don McLeroy, describes the debate as between "two systems of science" -- "You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system," he told the Times -- but avowed, "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science."

In 2003, "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. In the end, however, all of the textbooks were adopted without substantial change. Now the committee charged with the task of revising the standards plans to recommend the removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language, Kevin Fisher, a member of the committee, told the Times, commenting that the "weaknesses" listed on a Texas creationist website were "decades old" and have "all been thoroughly refuted." But the board is free to reject or amend the committee's recommendations.

Also quoted in the article were NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch, who commented on the trend of "antievolution policies in sheep's clothing"; Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, who explained, "'Strengths and weaknesses' are regular words that have now been drafted into the rhetorical arsenal of creationists"; and Dan Foster, former chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and past president of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas, who worried, "Serious students will not come to study in our universities if Texas is labeled scientifically backward."

The Times story follows on the heels of a story in the San Antonio Express-News (May 31, 2008), which similarly predicted, "After feuding for months over how to teach school children to read, the State Board of Education soon will shift to a topic that could become much more controversial -- the science curriculum. Science, after all, involves biology. And biology is built on the theory of evolution, raising fears among some observers that social conservatives on the 15-member panel will try to shade textbooks with religion." One of those social conservatives, the board's vice chair David Bradley, explained, "Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven. Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

In a commentary posted at Texas Citizens for Science's website, Steven Schafersman commented, "What Bradley and his colleagues actually plan to do is damage evolution instruction by trying to get the new science standards to mention alleged but false 'weaknesses' of evolution, in order to weaken evolution content, confuse students and make them think science is less accurate and reliable than it really is about biological origins, and intimidate teachers to avoid or minimize the subject (as many of them do now in Texas)." With respect to Bradley's description of evolution as theory not fact, he added, "This banal canard is indulged in by every creationist who thinks he can get away with it. ... Evolution is a fact, if fact is defined as something for which so much reliable evidence exists that it would be irrational to deny it."

Likewise, David Hillis, a distinguished biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Express-News that the main purpose of the "strengths and weaknesses" language "is to introduce religious ideas and anti-science ideas into the science classroom," adding, "Evolution is an easily observable phenomenon, and has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt. The 'theory' part of evolutionary theory concerns the experiments, observations, and models that explain how populations evolve. At this level of introductory instruction, it is ludicrous to think about teaching what some people disingenuously call 'weaknesses.' ... We teach what is known and has been supported by a huge body of scientific research."

For the story in The New York Times, visit:

For the story in the San Antonio Express-News, visit:

For the Texas Freedom Network, visit:

For Schafersman's commentary at Texas Citizens for Science, visit:

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


When the South Carolina legislature adjourned on June 5, 2008, Senate Bill 1386 died in committee. If enacted, the bill would have amended the state's education code to provide: "The State Board of Education, superintendents of public school districts, and public school administrators may not prohibit a teacher in a public school of this State from helping his students understand, analyze, critique, and review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological and chemical evolution in an objective manner." Its main sponsor, Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), spearheaded a number of previous antievolution efforts in the legislature; the Greenville News (May 1, 2003) reported that Fair said, with reference to a previous bill he sponsored, that "his intention is to show that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific alternative that should be taught in the public schools." South Carolina is the fourth state in which "academic freedom" antievolution legislation failed in 2008, after Florida, Alabama, and Missouri; similar legislation is still active in Louisiana and Michigan.

For the text of S. 1386, visit:

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


Due to last-minute cancellations, there is a spot (and possibly two spots) open on NCSE's 2008 Grand Canyon excursion -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 30 to August 6, 2008, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of Grand Canyon and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. The cost is $2710. Call NCSE now!

For information about the trip, visit:

For a summary of the story about the trip in The New York Times, visit:

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


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

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