NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 June 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, June 20, 2008

Evolution education update: June 20, 2008

The antievolution bill in Louisiana is on the governor's desk, and the Louisiana Coalition for Science is calling upon him to veto it.

LOUISIANA CREATIONISM BILL IS ON GOVERNOR'S DESK

On June 16, 2008, the Louisiana Senate approved Senate Bill 733 as amended by the state House of Representatives. If Governor Bobby Jindal signs the bill or does not veto the bill within 20 days, it will become law. Will Sentell of the Baton Rouge Advocate reported (June 17, 2008), "Opponents, mostly outside the State Capitol, contend the legislation would inject creationism and other religious themes into public schools. However, the Senate voted 36-0 without debate to go along with the same version of the proposal that the House passed last week 94-3."

The Advocate explains that the bill "would allow science teachers to use supplemental materials, in addition to state-issued textbooks, on issues like evolution, global warming and human cloning. The aim of such materials, the bill says, is to promote 'critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied,' including evolution." The bill's chief sponsor, Senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12), explained: "I just believe that it is important that supplemental scientific information be able to be brought into the school system."

But the bill's opponents worry that it will bring other things into the schools. The Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told The Advocate that the bill "is clearly designed to smuggle religion into the science classroom, and that's unwise and unconstitutional." In an open letter to Governor Jindal, the Louisiana Coalition for Science called on the governor to veto the bill, describing SB 733 "a thinly disguised attempt to advance the 'Wedge Strategy' of the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get intelligent design (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes."

Paul Johnson, a science curriculum specialist for Terrebonne Parish, told the Houma Courier (June 14, 2008) that he worried that the law, if enacted, would open science classes to opinions and ideas without scientific warrant. He explained that students already come to class with misconceptions about evolution, adding, "We fight misconceptions and try to replace them with fact." NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told the paper that proponents of the bill have "been organizing for a while now and laying the ground work for this ... Everyone is made to feel if they dont go along with that agenda they will be painted as not devout enough."

Appearing on CBS's Face the Nation program on June 15, 2008, Governor Jindal replied to a question about his support of teaching intelligent design in the schools by saying, "I don't think this is something the federal or state government should be imposing its views on local school districts. I think local school boards should be in a position of deciding the curricula and also deciding what students should be learning. I don't think students learn by us withholding information from them. Some want only to teach intelligent design, some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent."

Pressed for his personal views on the matter, Jindal added, "I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn't created accidentally. I do think that there's a creator. I'm a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I'd certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science . I don't want them to be -- I don't want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness. The way we're going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science and let them not only decide, but also let them contribute to that body of knowledge."

Meanwhile, Louisiana's science teachers are reportedly unenthusiastic about the bill. Brenda Nixon of Louisiana State University, who works with the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, told Science (June 20, 2008) that "We have had overwhelming support from our science teacher members, who don't want to see this approved." Nixon noted also that the state's teachers already have the freedom to incorporate outside materials that are consistent with the state framework. Barbara Forrest told Science, "The only thing this bill does is give a green light for the school board to protect teachers who want to use creationist supplementary materials."

In addition to the Louisiana Coalition for Science, organizations opposing SB 733 include the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Ornithologists Union, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Botanical Society of America, the Natural Science Collections Alliance, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the Society of Systematic Biologists, and the Society for the Study of Evolution; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU of Louisiana, and the Center for American Progress.

For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:
http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/politics/20004849.html

For the LCFS open letter to Gov. Jindal, visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org/2008/06/17/jindal-veto-sb-733/

For Jindal's appearance on Face the Nation (video), visit:
http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=4181787n&channel=/sections/ftn/videoplayer3460.shtml

For Jindal's appearance on Face the Nation (PDF transcript), visit:
http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/FTN_061508.pdf

For the story in Science (subscription required), visit:
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/320/5883/1572a

For AIBS's letter to Gov. Jindal, visit:
http://www.aibs.org/announcements/080613_scientific_societies_ask_louisiana.html

For the AAAS's Alan I. Leshner's op-eds opposing the bill, visit:
http://www.nola.com/timespic/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1210051370253650.xml&coll=1
http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080528/OPINION0106/805280303/1007/OPINION

For Americans United's press release warning against the bill, visit:
http://www.au.org/site/News2?abbr=pr&page=NewsArticle&id=9881&security=1002&news_iv_ctrl=1241

For the ACLU of Louisiana's press release denouncing the bill, visit:
http://www.laaclu.org/News/2008/CreationismBill_061208.html

For the Center for American Progress's blog commentary on the bill, visit:
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/06/16/jindal-creationism/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=LA

LOUISIANA COALITION FOR SCIENCE CALLS FOR VETO

The Louisiana Coalition for Science released an open letter to Governor Bobby Jindal on June 16, 2008, calling for the governor to veto SB 733, the creationist bill recently passed by the state legislature. The press release announcing the open letter reads:

***

Creationist bill clears Louisiana legislature

Louisiana Coalition for Science calls on Governor Jindal to veto SB 733

Baton Rouge, LA, June 16, 2008 -- The Louisiana Senate has passed SB 733, a bill that creationists can use to force creationism into public school science classes. The vote accepts an amendment approved by the Louisiana House of Representatives. The amendment allows the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to prohibit certain supplementary instructional materials but gives no guidance about the criteria BESE should use for such prohibition. The LA Coalition for Science (LCFS), a group of concerned parents, teachers and scientists, has called on Gov. Jindal to veto the bill through an open letter on its website at http://lasciencecoalition.org.

"This bill doesn't help teachers. It allows local school boards to open the doors of public school science classrooms to creationism with the blessing of the state," explains LCFS member Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. "Governor Jindal surely knows that evolution is not controversial in the mainstream scientific community. He majored in biology at Brown University, and he belongs to a church that considers evolution to be established science and approves of its being taught in its own parochial schools. The LA Family Forum is pushing this bill over the objections of scientists and teachers across the state. The governor has a moral responsibility to Louisiana children to veto this bill." Forrest was an expert witness on the history of intelligent design creationism in a 2005 federal court case in which teaching intelligent design in public schools was ruled unconstitutional. She is the co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

Arthur Landy, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry in the Division of Biology and Medicine at Brown University, taught Jindal genetics in college. "Without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn't make sense," says Professor Landy. "In order for today's students in Louisiana to succeed in college and beyond, in order for them to take the fullest advantages of all that the 21st century will offer, they need a solid grounding in genetics and evolution. Governor Jindal was a good student in my class when he was thinking about becoming a doctor, and I hope he doesn't do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors." Landy is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology.

Patsye Peebles, a veteran teacher from Baton Rouge and a member of LCFS, joins the call for Jindal to veto the bill. "If the governor wants to do more for Louisiana schools and their students, he should veto this bill," insists Peebles. "Teachers don't need the legislature and the governor telling them how to teach science, and we certainly don't need creationist supplementary textbooks being foisted on us. This bill doesn't solve any problems that teachers face, and it promises to create a whole lot of new problems for hard-working teachers."

In an open letter to Jindal posted on the LCFS website, the group refers to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision which overturned a 1981 creationist law in Louisiana. The letter also points to the involvement of an out-of-state intelligent design think tank in promoting the current legislation. "SB 733 is a thinly disguised attempt to advance the 'Wedge Strategy' of the Discovery Institute," the letter explains. The Discovery Institute, LCFS points out, is "a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get intelligent design (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes." The letter further warns that "If SB 733 is allowed to become law, we can anticipate the embarrassment that it will bring to the state, not to mention the prospect of spending millions of taxpayer dollars defending the inevitable federal court challenge." The economic effects of the bill would be more widespread, given the governor's own statement that because of a "skills gap," the "training and education of our citizens does not meet the requirements of available jobs." Observing that "SB 733 sends the wrong message to the nation if we want to develop additional high tech companies such as the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LIGO, and other research universities and centers across the state," LCFS adds, "SB 733 will sacrifice the education of our children to further the political and religious aims of the LA Family Forum and the Discovery Institute, an out-of-state creationist think tank whose only interest in Louisiana is promoting their agenda at the expense of our children." The full letter is available online at http://lasciencecoalition.org.

Louisiana Coalition for Science is a grassroots group working to protect the teaching of science in Louisiana. On the web at
http://lasciencecoalition.org.

Contacts:

Barbara Forrest / barbara.forrest@gmail.com / 985-974-4244
Patsye Peebles / patsye.peebles@gmail.com / 225-936-6074

***

For the LCFS press release (PDF), visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org/docs/Release_Jindal_Veto_6.16.08.pdf

For the LCFS open letter to Gov. Jindal, visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org/2008/06/17/jindal-veto-sb-733/

For the LCFS website, visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org

ERRATUM

The June 13, 2008, evolution education update quoted from and linked to a story that was identified as published by the Lafayette, Louisiana, Advocate; it was in fact published by the Baton Rouge Advocate.

For the misidentified Baton Rouge Advocate story, visit:
http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/politics/19813589.html

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.

Sincerely,

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic

http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_23845.aspx

Monday June 16, 2008 CityNews.ca Staff

Colleen Leduc already had a lot going against her. The Barrie woman was holding down a job while struggling to raise her autistic 11-year-old daughter. She couldn't afford to give the child the intensive therapy she needed, and was forced to send her to a public school in the area.

So she was completely unprepared for what happened to her and the youngster, an almost unbelievable tale of red tape involving a strange claim from a teaching assistant, a bizarre decision by a school board, a visit from the Children's Aid Society (CAS) and most improbably of all, the incorrect pronouncements of a psychic.

Leduc's weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away.

The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard - the principal, vice-principal and her daughter's teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they'd received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse - and that the CAS had been notified.

How did they come by such startling knowledge? Leduc was incredulous as they poured out their story.

"The teacher looked and me and said: 'We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"

Victoria, who is non-verbal, had also been exhibiting sexualized behaviour in class, actions which are known to be typical of autistic behavior. (See other typical actions here) That lead authorities to suspect she had a bladder infection that may have somehow been related to the 'attack.'

Leduc was shaken by the idea. "It's actually your worst nightmare your child being violated," she admits. "So for them to even suggest that, and that be my worst nightmare, it was horrific."

But things got worse when school officials used the "evidence" and accepted the completely unsubstantiated word of the seer by reporting the case to Children's Aid, which promptly opened a file on the family.

"They reported me to Children's Aid," Leduc declares, still disbelieving. "Based on a psychic!"

The mom, who is divorced and has a new fiancé, adamantly denied the charges, noting her daughter was never exposed to anyone of that age. And fortunately she had proof. The mother was long dissatisfied with the treatment her daughter had received at the school, after they had allegedly lost her on several occasions.

As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her.

So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter, and was aghast that the situation had gone this far. But under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed, must report it immediately - and the CAS has an obligation to follow up.

And so a case worker came to the Leduc home to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct, only to admit there wasn't a shred of evidence that anything had ever happened at all. They labelled Leduc a "diligent" mother doing the best she could for her child under difficult circumstances, closed the file and left, calling the report "ridiculous."

"It is highly unusual, I will admit, to have a case called in based upon what a psychic might say," concedes Sue Dale of the Simcoe County CAS.

And what does the admittedly red-faced school board have to say about all this? "I don't have the information yet, but when we proceed with our own investigation we'll know more about that," is all Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, the Simcoe County Superintendent, was willing to allow.

And what does the local board have to say about all this? "I don't have the information yet, but when we proceed with our own investigation we'll know more about that," is all Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, the Simcoe County Superintendent, was willing to allow.

But that wasn't the end of the story.

While the board agrees it may have overreacted, accepted a rather dubious source and misinterpreted the signs of the so-called abuse, Leduc is now more convinced than ever that her daughter isn't safe at the campus and that she needs more intensive therapy.

As a result, she's refused to send Victoria back to class - or to the educational assistant who allegedly started the entire chain of events in the first place.

As a result of her stress and the need to stay home with her daughter, Leduc is now unable to work, has no place to send her child for the rest of the year, isn't sure where she'll go when school begins in September and is seeking legal advice.

Her goal: get the board to pay for the IBI therapy she believes her child should have had in the first place. She wants them to foot the bill for the expensive treatment - it can cost more than $50,000 annually - at least for the rest of the semester.

But school officials have refused.

Asked if she feels whether her entire support system has been yanked away, her answer is succinct and simple. "Yep," she nods.

And you don't need a psychic to know what that answer means.

Gov. Bobby Jindal Supports Creationism As Part Of 'The Very Best Science'

http://www.mister-info.com/?cmd=displaystory&story_id=10890&format=html

Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican politician from the U.S. state of Louisiana, appeared on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday and said he supports teaching intelligent design (ID) in public school as "the very best science." Jindal, who was elected governor in 2007, is a Hindu convert to Catholicism who takes the Bible literally.

In his exchange on the Sunday morning talkshow, "Some want only to teach intelligent design, some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent." This was the not the first time he has publicly supported intelligent design. In a September 2007 debate he supported the view of creationism saying, "Personally, it certainly makes sense to me that when you look at creation, you would believe in a creator."

In contrast, the scientific community considers creationism, including intelligent design, to be pseudoscience. Whereas, evolution is overwhelmingly accepted as a the foundation for modern biology.

Such ideas were underlined in 2005 when John E. Jones III, a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush, ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that "For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child" (page 24). Noting the tie between ID and creationism, "The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism" (page 31). He further explained, "ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID" (page 89).

Recently, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed legislation, which the National Center for Science Education said "opens the door to creationism in public school science classes." Jindal is expected to sign the bill.

Jindal is currently considered a possible Vice President candidate for John McCain's U.S. Presidential campaign.

Sources
"Bobby Jindal interview". Face the Nation, June 15, 2008
"Jindal supports intelligent design as a viable science". The Raw Story, June 15, 2008
"Creationist bill passed by Louisiana House of Representatives". National Center for Science Education, June 12, 2008
"The Second Coming of Bobby Jindal". Time (magazine), Oct. 04, 2007
Wikinews

Editorial: As a subject, creationism doesn't belong in schools

http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/editorials/stories/MYSA.061808.OPED.creationism.1267d691.html

Web Posted: 06/17/2008 05:52 PM CDT

San Antonio Express-News

About 16 percent of public high school science teachers subscribe to creationism, the belief that God created human beings within the last 10,000 years, according to a recent survey.

Nothing wrong there. People are entitled to their personal beliefs, and that includes teachers. The problem surfaces when those beliefs start creeping into the classroom.

Which is precisely what is happening. About 12.5 percent of U.S. biology teachers, according to a survey conducted by Pennsylvania State University, treat creationism as if it were a "valid science." The university polled 2,000 teachers throughout the country, ABC News reported.

"It seems a bit high, but I am not shocked by it," Linda Froschauer, past president of the National Science Teachers Association, told the network. "We do know there's a problem out there, and this gives more credibility to the issue."

In Texas, the state education board will enter the evolutionary battle this year. Board members, debating the use of science textbooks in the classroom, will not use the terms "creator," "creationism" or "intelligent design." Instead, the New York Times reports, they will debate whether teachers should discuss the "strengths" and "weaknesses" of evolution — a strategy that looks like a veiled attempt to inject creationism into the curriculum.

Teachers have no business foisting their religious beliefs on students, and the courts agree. One of the most significant rulings centered on a Dover, Pa., school district in 2005. A federal judge banned a policy requiring teachers to read a statement acknowledging the existence of intelligent design theory before teaching evolution.

A belief in intelligent design is a matter of faith, not science. If teachers believe in it, they should confine their lectures to their own kids in their own homes. To do it in a school setting is unconstitutional, and it undermines the education the kids are supposed to be receiving.

Louisiana Coalition for Science calls for veto of creationist bill

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2008/LA/543_louisiana_coalition_for_scienc_6_17_2008.asp

The Louisiana Coalition for Science released an open letter to Governor Bobby Jindal on June 16, 2008 calling for the Governor to veto SB 733, a creationist bill recently passed by the state legislature. The press release announcing the open letter reads:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Creationist bill clears Louisiana legislature

Louisiana Coalition for Science calls on Governor Jindal to veto SB 733

Baton Rouge, LA, June 16, 2008 The Louisiana Senate has passed SB 733, a bill that creationists can use to force creationism into public school science classes. The vote accepts an amendment approved by the Louisiana House of Representatives. The amendment allows the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to prohibit certain supplementary instructional materials but gives no guidance about the criteria BESE should use for such prohibition. The LA Coalition for Science (LCFS), a group of concerned parents, teachers and scientists, has called on Gov. Jindal to veto the bill through an open letter on its website at http://lasciencecoalition.org.

"This bill doesn't help teachers. It allows local school boards to open the doors of public school science classrooms to creationism with the blessing of the state," explains LCFS member Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. "Governor Jindal surely knows that evolution is not controversial in the mainstream scientific community. He majored in biology at Brown University, and he belongs to a church that considers evolution to be established science and approves of its being taught in its own parochial schools. The LA Family Forum is pushing this bill over the objections of scientists and teachers across the state. The governor has a moral responsibility to Louisiana children to veto this bill." Forrest was an expert witness on the history of intelligent design creationism in a 2005 federal court case in which teaching intelligent design in public schools was ruled unconstitutional. She is the co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

Arthur Landy, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry in the Division of Biology and Medicine at Brown University, taught Jindal genetics in college. "Without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn't make sense," says Professor Landy. "In order for today's students in Louisiana to succeed in college and beyond, in order for them to take the fullest advantages of all that the 21st century will offer, they need a solid grounding in genetics and evolution. Governor Jindal was a good student in my class when he was thinking about becoming a doctor, and I hope he doesn't do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors." Landy is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology.

Patsye Peebles, a veteran teacher from Baton Rouge and a member of LCFS, joins the call for Jindal to veto the bill. "If the governor wants to do more for Louisiana schools and their students, he should veto this bill," insists Peebles. "Teachers don't need the legislature and the governor telling them how to teach science, and we certainly don't need creationist supplementary textbooks being foisted on us. This bill doesn't solve any problems that teachers face, and it promises to create a whole lot of new problems for hard-working teachers."

In an open letter to Jindal posted on the LCFS website, the group refers to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision which overturned a 1981 creationist law in Louisiana. The letter also points to the involvement of an out-of-state intelligent design think tank in promoting the current legislation. "SB 733 is a thinly disguised attempt to advance the 'Wedge Strategy' of the Discovery Institute," the letter explains. The Discovery Institute, LCFS points out, is "a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get intelligent design (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes." The letter further warns that "If SB 733 is allowed to become law, we can anticipate the embarrassment that it will bring to the state, not to mention the prospect of spending millions of taxpayer dollars defending the inevitable federal court challenge." The economic effects of the bill would be more widespread, given the governor's own statement that because of a "skills gap," the "training and education of our citizens does not meet the requirements of available jobs." Observing that "SB 733 sends the wrong message to the nation if we want to develop additional high tech companies such as the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LIGO, and other research universities and centers across the state," LCFS adds, "SB 733 will sacrifice the education of our children to further the political and religious aims of the LA Family Forum and the Discovery Institute, an out-of-state creationist think tank whose only interest in Louisiana is promoting their agenda at the expense of our children." The full letter is available online at http://lasciencecoalition.org.

Louisiana Coalition for Science is a grassroots group working to protect the teaching of science in Louisiana. On the web at http://lasciencecoalition.org.

Contacts:

Barbara Forrest / barbara.forrest@gmail.com / 985-974-4244

Patsye Peebles / patsye.peebles@gmail.com / 225-936-6074

June 17, 2008

Louisiana creationism bill is on Governor's desk

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2008/LA/204_louisiana_creationism_bill_is__6_17_2008.asp

On June 16, 2008, the Louisiana Senate approved Senate Bill 733 as amended by the state House of Representatives. If Governor Bobby Jindal signs the bill or does not veto the bill within 20 days, it will become law.

Will Sentell of The (Baton Rouge) Advocate reported (June 17, 2008) "Opponents, mostly outside the State Capitol, contend the legislation would inject creationism and other religious themes into public schools. However, the Senate voted 36-0 without debate to go along with the same version of the proposal that the House passed last week 94-3."

Bill supporter Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, defended the bill, telling The Advocate's Sentell: "It provides assurances to both teachers and students that academic inquiries are welcome and appropriate in the science classroom." Sentell explains that the bill "would allow science teachers to use supplemental materials, in addition to state-issued textbooks, on issues like evolution, global warming and human cloning. The aim of such materials, the bill says, is to promote 'critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied,' including evolution." Bill sponsor Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) explained: "I just believe that it is important that supplemental scientific information be able to be brought into the school system."

Bill opponents worry that the bill will bring other things into the schools. The Rev. Barry Lynn told The Advocate that the bill "is clearly designed to smuggle religion into the science classroom, and that's unwise and unconstitutional." In an open letter to Governor Jindal posted on its website, Louisiana Coalition for Science called on the Governor to veto the bill, calling SB 733 "a thinly disguised attempt to advance the 'Wedge Strategy' of the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get intelligent design (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes."

In a press release announcing the LCFS open letter to Governor Jindal, one of Governor Jindal's college professors lent his voice to the same press release. Professor Arthur Landy is University Professor at Brown University, and taught Jindal genetics. He reminded Jindal that "Without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn't make sense. In order for today's students in Louisiana to succeed in college and beyond, in order for them to take the fullest advantages of all that the 21st century will offer, they need a solid grounding in genetics and evolution. Governor Jindal was a good student in my class when he was thinking about becoming a doctor, and I hope he doesn't do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors." NCSE board member Barbara Forrest added, "Governor Jindal surely knows that evolution is not controversial in the mainstream scientific community. He majored in biology at Brown University, and he belongs to a church that considers evolution to be established science and approves of its being taught in its own parochial schools. The LA Family Forum is pushing this bill over the objections of scientists and teachers across the state. The governor has a moral responsibility to Louisiana children to veto this bill.""

In an appearance on CBS's Face the Nation on June 15, 2008, Jindal did not commit to signing the bill nor to vetoing it. Host Chris Reid asked Jindal about his views on intelligent design, and Jindal replied (PDF transcript), "I don't think this is something the federal or state government should be imposing its views on local school districts. … I think local school boards should be in a position of deciding the curricula and also deciding what students should be learning. … I don't think students learn by us withholding information from them. Some want only to teach intelligent design, some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent." Pressed about his personal views on the matter, Jindal added, "when my kids go to schools, when they go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking. I want them to be able to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data. I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn't created accidentally. I do think that there's a creator. I'm a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I'd certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don't want them to be--I don't want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness. The way we're going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science and let them not only decide, but also let them contribute to that body of knowledge. That's what makes the scientific process so exciting. You get to go there and find facts and data and test what's come before you and challenge those theories."

The Center for American Progress reacted to Jindal's statements by noting that Jindal's position "effectively giv[es] school boards carte blanche to teach scientifically inaccurate ideas, just like Kansas did in 2005, when it rewrote standards to cast doubt on evolution."

June 17, 2008 PROFESSOR CHALLENGES HOMEOPATHS TO PROVE THEIR TREATMENT WORKS http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/displayNode.jsp?nodeId=142327&command=displayContent&sourceNode=142322&contentPK=20892461&folderPk=79877&pNodeId=142332

BY RICHARD BIRCH

11:40 - 18 June 2008

A £10,000 challenge set up by a city professor has angered homeopaths.

Edzard Ernst, who researches complementary medicine at Exeter University, is offering a cash prize to anyone who can prove that homeopathy can be successful.Prof Ernst says the £10,000 reward will go the first person who can prove that the treatment works better than a placebo in scientific trials.

The professor claims to have carried out 200 strictly-controlled trials and says he is yet to find any firm evidence of successful homeopathy.

That is the belief that an ill person can be treated using a substance that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the illness; for example, that the essence of an onion could be used to treat hayfever.

He said: "If you do a systematic look at all the evidence, you fail to demonstrate strong evidence in favour of homeopathy."

It is not the first time Prof Ernst has been critical of homeopathy. In April, he hit out at guides published by The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH), saying they contained misleading and inaccurate claims about the benefits of alternative medicine.

He called for both Complementary Health Care: A Guide for Patients and the Smallwood Report to be withdrawn.

He said: "My job is to assess what works and what doesn't.

"I've done that for 15 years and have published thousands of papers which amount to considerable evidence.

"I think it's wrong that the public is being misled by a report from the FIH which is being paid for by taxpayers.

"I'm in favour of complementary and alternative medicine but it's got to be evidence-based. It's got to work and it's got to be safe.

"The almost indiscriminate approval from the FIH is almost dangerously misleading."

Homeopaths have reacted with anger to his £10,000 challenge, branding it a publicity stunt and they already had "more than enough proof".

Dr Robert Mathie, of the British Homeopathic Association, said: "What is needed is more investment in homeopathy research, not facile enticements by scientists who should know better."

Frederiek Maddock, a homeopath from Crediton, said: "Dr Ernst does not appear to have done his research properly and is very selective in what he decides to believe.

"This is not a very professional way to do this. Whether anyone will take up his challenge is a matter for the homeopathic association."


Sunday, June 15, 2008

La. House supports changes to science teaching

http://www.nola.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-39/1213222164265360.xml&storylist=louisiana

6/11/2008, 7:12 p.m. CDT
By MELINDA DESLATTE The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal that would let science teachers change how they teach topics like evolution, cloning and global warming in public schools was overwhelmingly approved Wednesday by the Louisiana House.

The bill by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, would let teachers supplement school science textbooks with other materials. The House voted 94-3 for the measure.

The Senate already has agreed to the bill, but it heads back to that chamber for approval of a provision that would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to prohibit supplemental materials it deems inappropriate. Nevers said he will ask the Senate to approve the amendment. He stressed that the amendment does not require BESE to review all the materials. The state board would only step in if someone raised a question about whether the material was appropriate.

Supporters say the bill — titled the "Louisiana Science Education Act" — is designed to promote critical thinking, strengthen education and help teachers who are confused about what's acceptable for science classes.

"It basically protects teachers to be able to teach controversial subjects in science without looking over their shoulders," said Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, who handled the bill in the House. He also said the bill was not aimed at promoting any religious doctrine.

Opponents say the proposal is a veiled attempt to add religion to science classes and to challenge well-established science teachings.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the bill would promote teaching creationism in public schools and said some teachers might use supplemental materials produced by fundamentalist Christian organizations.

"It's time for Louisiana to step into the 21st century and stop trying to teach religion in public schools," Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of the organization, said in a statement. "Laws like this are an embarrassment."

The organization said any attempt to introduce religious materials in science classes will prompt a lawsuit.

Three House members voted against the bill: Reps. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans; Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans; and Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

Associated Press writer Kevin McGill contributed to this report.

University of California Defends Its "Right" to Propagate Pro-Evolution Religious Doctrine

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/06/university_of_california_defen.html

Last month the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments on Jeanne Caldwell's appeal from the District Court's dismissal of her lawsuit against the University of California and the National Science Foundation regarding religious statements made on the University of California's "Understanding Evolution" website. (Full disclosure: Jeanne Caldwell is my wife.) The website, which is programmed and hosted by the University of California in conjunction with the National Center for Science Education, was created with over $500,000 in financial support from the National Science Foundation. The District Court had dismissed Jeanne Caldwell's lawsuit on the basis of her alleged lack of standing to bring the action. The District Court's ruling, if upheld on appeal, would essentially render the internet an "Establishment Clause-free zone" by barring citizens from suing to stop a governmental endorsement of religion that occurs on the internet. The District Court did not reach the merits of Jeanne Caldwell's Establishment Clause claim.

The key part of the UE website targeted by Jeanne Caldwell's lawsuit is a webpage titled, "Misconception: Evolution and religion are incompatible," in which the UC gives K-12 teachers suggested responses to students in their classroom who ask whether evolution is inconsistent with their personal religious beliefs. Prior to the announcement of the lawsuit in the media, the UC religious response webpage read:

Response: Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world. The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution. (Emphasis added.)

After Jeanne Caldwell's lawsuit against the University of California over the UE website was reported in the media, the UC revised its religious response webpage to read:

Response: Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science, only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world. The misconception that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution. (Emphasis added.)

Both versions of the religion webpage include a link to doctrinal statements by seventeen religious denominations and groups endorsing evolutionary theory on a webpage hosted by the National Center for Science Education. A statement by the United Church of Christ, for example, declares that evolution is consistent with "the revelation and presence of... God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit." The UC religious response webpage does not link to doctrinal statements by any religious groups that hold that evolution is inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute argued the case at oral argument on behalf of Jeanne Caldwell. Mr. Snider pointed out that the UC's religious response webpage, with its link to seventeen denominational statements on evolution, amounts to the State of California endorsing and disseminating religious materials in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Some Darwinist apologists have attempted to justify the UC's religious response webpage by claiming that it merely "describes" rather than "endorses" religious viewpoints on evolution. However, at oral argument, this was not the UC's position at all. Rather, the UC defended its right to engage in religious propagation, as long as it does so in the context of a supposedly secular enterprise.

Two members of the three-judge panel hearing the appeal asked William Carroll, the attorney for the UC, whether the UC takes a position on religion on its religious response webpage. Mr. Carroll never did answer the question directly, even after Circuit Judge Betty Fletcher described that question as the "critical" question in the case Instead, Mr. Carroll side-stepped her question by arguing that the UC's defense on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim is that the Court should consider the UC's religious response webpage in the context of the website as a whole.

Mr. Carroll's indirect answer to the court's key question was a tacit admission that the UC indeed takes a position on religion on its religious response webpage. Notably, Mr. Carroll did not argue the fallback position that the UC's religious response webpage purportedly only describes religious positions rather than endorsing them.

So why would the UC stake out the more aggressive position that it has the right under the Establishment Clause to engage in religious advocacy as long as it is buried within a larger secular enterprise? One possible explanation is that Mr. Carroll did not think he could sell the court on the premise that the UC religious response page merely describes rather than endorses a religious position. Another possible explanation is that the UC does not want to be limited to merely describing various religious viewpoints on evolution; it wants to be able to advocate particular religious doctrine on evolution.

After all, according to the NCSE and UC's grant application to the National Science Foundation, one of their primary purposes in establishing the UE website was to combat the alleged "influence of a minority of vocal Christian fundamentalists throughout the country" on biology curricula and instructional materials. Of course, pinning the reasons people don't support evolution solely on a religious group marginalized from the mainstream is purposefully misleading. People from varied religious backgrounds (or no religious background, for that matter) dispute evolution on scientific grounds. And this includes the majority of Americans. In 2004, a poll showed that only 13% of Americans believe that humans developed through purely natural evolutionary processes. It is impossible that the other 87% are "a minority of vocal Christian fundamentalists."

Unwilling or unable to defend evolution on scientific grounds, the UC and NCSE have apparently concluded that their best option is to address any religious objections to the theory by proactively re-engineering the religious beliefs of children. In particular, the UC seeks to replace school children's belief in traditional Christianity, and its Creation story, with belief in a Christian theology that embraces a Darwinist creation story. And the UC and NCSE seek to achieve this goal in K-12 biology classes.

It turns out the people who always claim to want to keep religion out of science actually want to convert our children's biology classes into Darwinian Sunday School classes.

Posted by Larry Caldwell on June 14, 2008 12:00 AM | Permalink

The Sky Is Falling!: Scientists, Educators And Civil Liberties Activists Rightly Sound Alarm About La. Legislation

http://blog.au.org/2008/06/13/the-sky-is-falling-scientists-educators-and-civil-liberties-activists-rightly-sound-alarm-about-la-legislation/

June 13th 2008 "The legislature shouldn't be allowing creationists to undermine Louisiana public schools. The House of Representatives just gave the Religious Right a green light to use other people's children for their own agenda." -Barbara Forrest

On Wednesday, with just two weeks left in the legislative session, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved SB 733, a bill intended to facilitate the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn promptly responded, calling the proposed law an "embarrassment" and guaranteeing legal action if the measure is used "to promote religion in Louisiana public schools."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Science Education, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Association of Biology Teachers and the new grassroots Louisiana Coalition for Science, decry the legislation as a poorly disguised attempt to bring creationism and its latest variant "intelligent design" (ID), into the classroom under the guise of academic freedom.

In response to statements by Lynn and threats of legal challenges, the Discovery Institute (DI), a conservative think tank that champions ID and helped push SB 733, resorted to name-calling AU "Chicken Littles." I believe that if Darwin were still alive to know that in 2008 American public schools are still being pressured to teach creationism he might be inclined to think the sky actually is falling.

Louisiana is not the only state in which the DI has attempted to push its creationist agenda this year. Similar bills have been introduced in five other state legislatures: Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Michigan, and South Carolina. (In Florida, Alabama and Missouri, the bills have died without passing, although Florida came awfully close.)

While the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), an affiliate of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, claim that the bill they helped Sen. Bill Nevers introduce is merely intended to promote open debate and not creationism, the argument is a shameless sham.

On its Web site, the LFF offers a textbook addendum on creationism; this is the exact type of material that SB 733 is intended to invite into the classroom. Additionally, Casey Luskin, DI Program Officer for Public Policy and Legal affairs asserted that the Louisiana bill is a "significant step forward" in allowing teachers to teach "scientific evidence for and against evolution." In fact, DI is known for its commitment to religious certainties, not scientific evidence.

Federal courts have already struck down similar statutes intended to bring religion into the classrooms. In 1987, the Supreme Court invalidated a Louisiana law requiring "creation science" to be taught alongside evolution in Edwards v. Aguillard, and in 2005 a federal district court stuck down a policy in Dover, Pa., requiring the teaching of ID in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Districts. Both courts defined creationism or ID as clearly religious and therefore unconstitutional in public school science classes.

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert witness in the Kitzmiller case, argues: "The legislature shouldn't be allowing creationists to undermine Louisiana public schools. The House of Representatives just gave the Religious Right a green light to use other people's children for their own agenda."

Perhaps the sky isn't falling, but American United staff members are certainly not "Chicken Littles" for blowing the whistle on the great injustice about to be dealt to Louisiana public school pupils.

By Ilana Stern

Local teachers and lawmakers oppose curriculum change

http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20080614/ARTICLES/806140312

By Matthew Pleasant Staff Writer

Published: Saturday, June 14, 2008 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 at 12:05 a.m.

HOUMA -- A bill some argue will allow educators to teach religious concepts in public classrooms has inched closer to the governor's desk and now waits for a Senate vote scheduled early next week.

Dubbed the Louisiana Science Education Act, the bill passed the House this week with overwhelming support, including that of nearly all local lawmakers.

The debate over the bill has a national reach and polarizes even those at a local level who question whether its supporters have a truly educational aim.

Sponsored by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, the bill would allow teachers to choose "supplemental materials" to help students "understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories in an objective manner."

The act is designed to promote "critical thinking skills" at elementary, middle and high schools on topics including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning," according to the bill.

Paul Johnson, science-curriculum specialist for Terrebonne Parish, said the law would open science classes to opinions and ideas untested by scientific rigor.

"It's confusing to kids when you teach them a topic that has no scientific basis," he said.

A state-approved curriculum sets every teacher's agenda in the parish, he said, including lesson plans, worksheet and activities. In addition to a textbook chosen by a peer panel, teachers can choose their own materials to bolster lesson plans.

Judging which materials are appropriate is part of what makes teaching difficult, he said.

"We know a good teacher uses multiple sources," Johnson said. "You are continually making decisions not only on content, but on the behavior of students sitting in the classroom. You have to be a top-notch decision maker all day, everyday."

When it comes to evolution, he said teachers don't spend a lengthy amount of time covering the topic, but students ask about it.

"They'll argue about things that are scientifically incorrect," he said. "We fight misconceptions and try to replace them with fact."

A NATIONAL DEBATE

Similar bills in Missouri, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida died before reaching the full legislature this year. So far, Louisiana is the only state to come close to passage.

Alan Richard, a spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board, said similar bills are proposed almost every legislative season. This year is no different.

"None of this legislation has passed to become state law," he said. "But it remains to be seen what will happen in Louisiana."

Some trace the bills to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank that supports researchers critical of evolution. Others link the state's act to the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious lobbying group based in Baton Rouge.

"They've been organizing for a while now and laying the ground work for this," said Josh Rosenau, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, an evolution-advocacy group in Oakland, Calif., that tracks the progress of such bills. "Everyone is made to feel if they don't go along with that agenda they will be painted as not devout enough."

John West, a spokesman for the Discovery Institute, said the bill might have been drawn from model statutes on its Web site. The institute advocates for such bills, which he said would be academically liberating if passed.

"You have this mentality you can't talk about conflicting evidence that even the scientists themselves talk about in journals," West said. "Students need to learn about the best evidence for evolution, but also the mainstream dispute over evolution."

Barbara Forest, a Southeastern University philosophy professor who formed the Louisiana Coalition for Science in response to the bill, said Nevers' goal is to get creationism onto the curriculum.

"School boards can permit teachers to use creationist supplementary materials in their classrooms," he said. "It will permit the teaching of creationism in the guise of science."

LOCAL LAWMAKERS

Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, voted for the bill the first time it went through the Senate and said he plans to do so again to approve revisions made the House. According the amendment, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education could ban texts deemed inappropriate.

"Young minds need to be exposed to those critical-thinking points," Gautreaux said. "To shield people from diverse thinking is a mistake," he added.

Rep. Damon Baldone, D-Houma, voted in favor of the bill. He said concerns have been overstated.

"We've heard from other teachers that feel they don't have the freedom to use outside information," he said. "In a good education, you should be exposed to all the facts and all the different theories out there."

Other local lawmakers -- Sens. Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan and Reggie Dupre, D-Bourg and Reps. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, Jerry "Truck" Gisclair, D-Raceland, and Jerome Richard, no party affiliation-Thibodaux -- also voted in favor of the bill. State Rep. Gordon Dove was absent when the vote was taken.

Louisiana House Passes Academic Freedom Bill on Evolution and Other Science Issues

http://www.foxbusiness.com/story/louisiana-house-passes-academic-freedom-evolution-science-issues/

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BATON ROUGE, La., June 11, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ ----By a vote of 94-3, Louisiana's House of Representatives today passed an academic freedom bill that would protect teachers and school districts who wish to promote critical thinking and objective discussion about evolution and other scientific topics.

There was no vocal opposition, and the floor speech by Rep. Frank Hoffman made clear that the bill was about science, not religion.

"This bill promotes good science education by protecting the academic freedom of science teachers," said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute. "Critics who claim the bill promotes religion instead of science either haven't read the bill or are putting up a smokescreen to divert attention from the censorship that has been going on."

Known as the Louisiana Science Education Act, the bill now goes to the Louisiana Senate for final concurrence. The Senate previously passed the bill by a vote of 35-0, but a minor amendment adopted by the House means that the Senate must pass the bill again.

According to the bill, upon the request of a local school district, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must "allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment ... 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."

The bill also allows school districts to permit teachers to "use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner," although the state board of education could veto those materials.

The bill expressly states that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine."

The Science Education Act is similar to an academic freedom policy adopted in 2006 by the Ouachita Parish School District.

This year, six states have considered academic freedom legislation designed to protect teachers who teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. Many of the bills have been adapted from sample legislation developed by Discovery Institute, including a model statute posted online at www.academicfreedompetition.com .

At least nine states currently have state or local policies that protect, encourage, and sometimes even require teachers to discuss the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

http://www.discovery.org

A counterattack for evolution

http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bal-al.bk.review15jun15,0,3019508.story

By Glenn C. Altschuler | special to the sun

June 15, 2008

Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
By Kenneth R. Miller

Viking / 244 pages / $25.95

In 1794, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, became a casualty of the French Revolution. Arrested and sentenced to death, he pleaded for time to complete his research. "The Republic has no need of scientists," the judge replied. Lavoisier was beheaded, his body thrown into a mass grave.

Although scientists fared much better in the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of people remain uneasy with or hostile to them. With its emphasis on chance and change (through mutation and natural selection), they believe, modern science undermines faith in an orderly world in which everything has been foreseen and foreordained. By God.

With support from the Bush administration, anti-evolutionists have gained the initiative in the struggle for America's "scientific soul." But the issue has been joined. The books under review are three among many in which scientists defend the persuasive power and practical utility of scientific reason in terms accessible to lay audiences. Without the consent of informed citizens, the authors remind us, American preeminence in science cannot endure.

The Drunkard's Walk is an informative, irreverent and iconoclastic investigation of the role of randomness in daily life. Drawing on studies in psychology, probability and statistics, Leonard Mlodinow, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, demonstrates that by failing to give pride of place to unforeseeable or fluctuating forces, most of us make faulty assumptions about causes and effects.

At times, Mlodinow grants too much power to randomness. Sometimes success is the residue of industry, intelligence and good judgment. Nonetheless, by illuminating "illusions of patterns and patterns of illusions," The Drunkard's Walk provides a humbling reminder that we should not judge others - or ourselves - solely by the results that are "achieved."

While Mlodinow seems indifferent to the implications of randomness for the existence of God, George Vaillant, a psychoanalyst and research psychiatrist at Harvard, believes that spirituality has a neurobiological basis. Composed of "positive emotions" - love, joy, hope, forgiveness, compassion and awe - spirituality, he claims, is as common to human beings as breathing.

Spiritual Evolution gives neither aid nor comfort to religious traditionalists. Where spirituality is hard-wired into the limbic brain, religion is an artifact of culture, cognitive rather than emotional. Spirituality enhances empathy and trust. Religion promotes mistrust and division.

The "mere mention of spirituality," Vaillant acknowledges, leads some of his colleagues "to roll their eyes with disbelief." Spiritual Evolution is unlikely to convert the skeptics. "Positive emotions" may reflect an advance in cultural evolution. But it takes, well, a leap of faith to use the positive emotions as proof that life has "meaning" - or to bridge the gap between science and religion.

That gap is growing, according to Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University. Creationists, "now re-branded as proponents of Intelligent Design," have had considerable success in shaping the public debate about evolution. No longer relying explicitly on the Bible, I.D. advocates insist that "irreducibly complex systems" in nature require a designer. And that Darwinian descriptions of the origins of life are just theories, not facts. A solid majority of Americans agrees with them.

In Only A Theory, Miller, the lead witness for the prosecution in the landmark evolution case in Dover, Pa., in 2005, demolishes the assertions of advocates of Intelligent Design. Given the vast number of extinct species, he writes, their designer seems persistent but not very skillful. Citing an avalanche of evidence, Miller demonstrates that systems identified by I.D. as "irreducibly complex" aren't. Though I.D. trumpets its connections to information theory, biochemistry and molecular biology, Miller concludes, as did Judge John Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover, it rests, ultimately, on ignorance. Extending an olive branch to religious Americans, Miller suggests that evolution and faith aren't really in conflict because all of nature is part of God's providential plan. In this sense, he believes, the conviction that "the universe had us in mind from the very beginning" is a "perfectly valid metaphor."

Intelligent Design ideologues are no more satisfied with a metaphor than evangelicals were at the Scopes trial. And so the "evolution wars" rage on, and "bad science" continues to permeate public policy.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin professor of American studies at Cornell University.

Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

Beliefwatch: Camping

http://www.newsweek.com/id/37495

Newsweek Web Exclusive

The battle over evolution is moving beyond the courtroom and into summer camp. The Christian Camp and Conference Association says 50 percent of its member camps—which include summer camps and year-round after-school programs reaching 6 million kids every year—have a science curriculum about God's Creation. A Christian camping environment "allows us to bring kids to a wonderful knowledge of what's going on in Creation and in God's web of life," says John Ashmen, the group's vice president. At the summer camp at Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, Wis., for example, campers can go on a seven-room "Creation Walk," where each room showcases one of the Bible's seven days of Creation. Says Karen Good, outdoor education director at Timber-lee, "The curriculum is designed to open their eyes so when they go back to school [and hear about evolution] they say, 'Oh, that sounds goofy!' "

Other camps are fighting back by offering summer programs teaching evolution. In late June, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno, Calif., sponsored the fourth season of Chalice Camp, a science camp that uses song, dance and drama to teach children about scientific discoveries about human origins. This is the inaugural season of Camp Inquiry, a weeklong camp for children 7 to 16 in western New York. For the camp's Natural History Day, the 25 campers will participate in the "Creationism vs. Evolution" challenge, where they'll go on a nature hike to learn about adaptation and evolution, take plaster casts of animal tracks to start a discussion of how humans are related to certain animal lines and study the arguments against intelligent design. Camp Quest, an atheist camp with several branches throughout the United States, teaches campers about evolution, as well as beekeeping, astronomy and the separation of church and state. "Our sense is that evolution isn't being taught enough [in schools] or that people are becoming afraid to teach it," says Chris Lindstrom, director of Camp Quest West.

Research shows that even camps that don't have a particular spiritual mission might still increase spirituality in children: a 2005 American Camp Association study found that parents notice a statistically signif-icant increase in children's spirituality levels after they've attended camp. Getting the kids outdoors apparently makes them appreciate nature and wonder who or what created it.

—Rebecca Phillips and Dena Ross

© 2006


Friday, June 13, 2008

Evolution education update: June 13, 2008

A creationist bill in Louisiana passed the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Ken Miller is to appear on Science Friday and The Colbert Report to discuss his new book; a second antievolution bill appeared in Michigan; and editorials react to the recent story in The New York Times about the impending struggle over Texas's state science standards.

CREATIONIST BILL PASSED BY LOUISIANA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

On June 11, 2008, with less than two weeks left in the legislative calendar, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 733, a bill which opens the door to creationism in public school science classes. The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Frank Hoffman and in the Senate by Sen. Ben Nevers, purports to promote "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."

The Associated Press (June 12, 2008) reports, "The Senate already has agreed to the bill, but it heads back to that chamber for approval of a provision that would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to prohibit supplemental materials it deems inappropriate. Nevers said he will ask the Senate to approve the amendment. He stressed that the amendment does not require BESE to review all the materials. The state board would only step in if someone raised a question about whether the material was appropriate." Meanwhile, the Alexandria Town Talk (June 8, 2008) observes, "State lawmakers are looking at a hectic two weeks as the 2008 legislative session draws to a close with many major issues yet to be settled." Outstanding legislation includes next year's budget, infrastructure construction bills, a voucher proposal for New Orleans public schools, and other controversial legislation.

As The (Lafayette) Advocate (June 12, 2008) explains, "Ignoring threats of a lawsuit, the Louisiana House voted for legislation Wednesday that could change the way evolution is taught in public schools. The measure, Senate Bill 733, failed to generate a single question, passed 94-3 and appears poised for final approval. 'If this new law is used to promote religion in Louisiana public schools, I can guarantee there will be legal action,' said Barry Lynn, executive director of [Americans United for Separation of Church and State]. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required equal time on creationism when evolution is taught in public schools." In a press release issued on June 11, 2008, Lynn added, "Louisiana students deserve better, and Louisiana taxpayers should not have their money squandered on this losing effort."

Louisiana Coalition for Science, a grassroots group recently founded to advocate for accurate science education, decried the vote in its own press release (June 11, 2008). Barbara Forrest, a founding member of the group and a member of NCSE's board of directors, said, "The Louisiana legislature tried to force creationism into public schools in 1981, and they lost in the U. S. Supreme Court. The Discovery Institute, a national creationist organization, and the Louisiana Family Forum are using the same old tricks, but with new labels. In Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District in 2005, I showed that intelligent design was cooked up as a new name for the same old creationist arguments, and the strategy behind this bill is no different. Despite their denials, even the bill's backers know that SB 733 is a creationist bill written in creationist code language." She concluded by saying, "Now that the House has passed the bill, the Senate has one more chance to do the right thing. The entire country is watching. They should reject this bill and let teachers do their jobs. This bill is being pushed by creationist groups and does nothing to help Louisiana, our teachers, or our children."

In the Louisiana Coalition for Science press release, Patsye Peebles drew on her years of experience as a biology teacher to oppose the bill. "I was a biology teacher for 22 years, and I never needed the legislature to tell me how to present anything," she said. "This bill doesn't solve any of the problems classroom teachers face, and it will make it harder for us to keep the focus on accurate science in science classrooms. Evolution isn't scientifically controversial, and we don't need the legislature substituting its judgment for the scientists and science teachers who actually know the subject."

If the bill passes the Senate, it is uncertain how Governor Jindal will respond. The Washington Times (June 12, 2008) reports, "A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal would not say whether he will sign the bill, saying only that he will review it when it gets to his desk."

For the text of SB 733 (PDF), visit:
http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=482728

For the Associated Press story (via the New Orleans Times-Picayune), visit:
http://www.nola.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-39/1213222164265360.xml&storylist=louisiana

For the Alexandria Town Talk story, visit:
http://www.thetowntalk.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080608/NEWS01/806080303/1002

For the Lafayette Advocate story, visit:
http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/politics/19813589.html

For the press release from Americans United, visit:
http://www.au.org/site/News2?JServSessionIdr009=1ecizlso04.app7b&abbr=pr&page=NewsArticle&id=9881

For the press release from the Louisiana Coalition for Science, visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org/2008/06/12/reject_sb_733/

For the Washington Times story, visit:
http://washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jun/12/new-front-opens-on-evolution-wars/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=LA

KEN MILLER ON SCIENCE FRIDAY AND COLBERT REPORT

NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller will appear June 13, 2008 -- today! -- on the second hour of the nationally broadcast NPR program Science Friday to discuss his new book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, 2008), of which Michael Ruse writes, "Ken Miller's new book, Only a Theory, is everything we have come to expect from him -- informed, witty, and above all deeply serious about matters of concern to us all. He takes so-called intelligent design theory apart, piece by piece, showing it for the sham that it is. In its stead, Miller makes a very strong argument for the truth and beauty of evolutionary thinking and begs that we not keep this wonderful science from our children." Check local listings for the station in your area. Also, Miller will appear on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report on June 16, 2008.

For information about Science Friday, visit:
http://www.sciencefriday.com/

For information about The Colbert Report, visit:
http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_colbert_report/index.jhtml

To buy Only a Theory from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE), visit:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/067001883X/nationalcenter02

A SECOND ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN MICHIGAN

Senate Bill 1361, introduced in the Michigan Senate on June 3, 2008, and referred to the Senate Committee on Education, is yet another "academic freedom" bill aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution. Identical to House Bill 6027, which is still in the House Committee on Education, SB 1361 would, if enacted, 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."

In a press release dated May 20, 2008, Michigan Citizens for Science blasted HB 6027, writing that "it does a disservice to teachers, school administrators and local school boards by urging them to incorporate material into science classes that is at odds with well-established science. The bill itself notes that 'some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects,' yet it does nothing to clear up that uncertainty. It does not spell out what ... 'the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories' are that teachers are supposed to discuss and that lack of definition is intentional. This is a recipe for disaster, ushering teachers and school boards into a Dover trap, by inviting them to include material that not only has no scientific basis, but has already been declared in Federal court to be unconstitutional to teach. HB 6027 ushers schools down a path that will inevitably lead to expensive and divisive court battles. This legislation should be rejected."

For the text of SB 361, visit:
http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2008-SB-1361

For Michigan Citizens for Science's press release, visit:
http://michigancitizensforscience.org/main/nfblog/2008/05/20/mcfs-press-release-on-hb-6027/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Michigan, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=MI

EDITORIALS ON THE IMPENDING STRUGGLE IN TEXAS

In the wake of the June 4, 2008, report in The New York Times on the impending struggle over the presence of "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards, the Times addressed the issue editorially, writing (June 7, 2008), "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." Observing that "[e]very 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," the editorial concluded, "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."

Closer to the scene, the Houston Chronicle (June 7, 2008) explained that "strengths and weaknesses" language is "a 'teach the controversy' approach, whereby religion is propounded under the guise of scientific inquiry," adding, "Given the recent comments of both the chairman and the vice chairman of the board, there is ample reason for alarm." Rebuking Don McLeroy, who described the debate to the Times as between "two systems of science" -- "You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system" -- the editorial commented, "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,'" and ended by asking, "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?"

For the editorial in The New York Times, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/07/opinion/07sat3.html

For the editorial in the Houston Chronicle, visit:
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/5823928.html

For the June 4, 2008, story in The New York Times, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/04evolution.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=TX

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.

Sincerely,

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Founders knew about evolution, chose intelligent design

http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/fischer/080611

Bryan Fischer Bryan Fischer June 11, 2008

Contrary to popular belief, as historian David Barton points out, the theory of evolution was around long before Charles Darwin. As far back as the 6th century B.C., Greek writers Thales and Anaximander had propounded the theory centuries before the birth of Christ. Aristotle, influenced by his intellectual forbears, also advocated a form of evolution.

Other ancient writers like Diogenes, Empedocles, Democritus, and Lucretius, all writing before the time of Christ, added variations to the theory, including such things as survival of the fittest, natural selection, and mutability of the species.

Philosophers Renee Descartes in the 17th century and Immanuel Kant in the 18th century had argued for the theory of a gradual origin of the solar system as an alternative to instantaneous creation.

According to Dr. Henry Osborn, curator of the American Museum of Natural History, the Founding Fathers lived in what he calls the third of history's four periods of evolution. Osborn lists almost three dozen influential writers of the colonial period who supported evolutionary theory to one degree or another. All, you will note, prior to the advent of Darwin.

All through the history of human thought, the debate over the origins of man has been a debate between two competing theories: a theistic and non-theistic explanation. Theism attributes origins to God, while non-theism attributes it to nature.

The point here is that the Founders were not in fact ignorant of the theory of evolution. It had been around for 2400 years by the time they produced the Declaration of Independence with its flat and unambiguous proclamation that man is a created being, not an evolved one, and that there is a Creator who is the source of our civil rights.

Even Thomas Paine, the most anti-religious of those who shaped the thinking of America at the time of the War for Independence (he said the Bible is "a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy"), rebuked the French educational system for teaching science and natural philosophy apart from any reference to "the Being who is the Author of them," going on to say that "all the principles of science are of divine origin." How is it, he said, "that when we study the works of God in creation, we stop short and do not think of God?"

Benjamin Franklin, one of the few deists involved in producing the Declaration, is worth noting since he, along with Thomas Jefferson, was likely the least orthodox of the Founders. And since Jefferson actually wrote the Declaration, we know what he thought on the subject.

Here is Franklin on the subject of origins: "It might be judged an affront to your understanding should I go about to prove this first principle: the existence of a Deity and that He is the Creator of the universe." He adds, "That the Deity is a being of great goodness appears in His giving life to so many creatures."

And again: "That He is a being of infinite power appears in His being able to form and compound such vast masses of matter (as this earth, and the sun, and innumerable stars and planets)."

Franklin goes on, "[W]hat power must He possess, Who not only knows the nature of everything in the universe but can make things of new natures with the greatest ease and at His pleasure! Agreeing, then, that the world was at first made by a Being of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, which Being we call God."

The point here is quite simple: you will hear some argue, falsely believing that the theory of evolution did not exist until Darwin, that if the Founders had only written the Declaration after being exposed to the theory of evolution, it might look different. Well, in point of fact, they did write the Declaration after being exposed to the theory of evolution, and it looks just fine.

Bryan Fischer is the Executive Director of the Idaho Values Alliance, whose mission is to make Idaho the friendliest place in the world to raise a family. He has an undergraduate degree in Philosophy (from Stanford University) and a graduate degree in theology.

© Copyright 2008 by Bryan Fischer
http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/fischer/080611

Louisiana House Passes Academic Freedom Bill on Evolution and Other Science Issues

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/06/louisiana_house_passes_academi.html

Baton Rouge -- By a vote of 94-3, Louisiana's House of Representatives today passed an academic freedom bill that would protect teachers and school districts who wish to promote critical thinking and objective discussion about evolution and other scientific topics.

There was no vocal opposition, and the floor speech by Rep. Frank Hoffman made clear that the bill was about science, not religion.

"This bill promotes good science education by protecting the academic freedom of science teachers," said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute. "Critics who claim the bill promotes religion instead of science either haven't read the bill or are putting up a smokescreen to divert attention from the censorship that has been going on."

Posted by Anika Smith on June 11, 2008 5:13 PM | Permalink

Louisiana House approves creationist bill

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2008/06/louisiana_house_approves_creat.php

Posted on: June 12, 2008 12:46 AM, by Josh Rosenau

SB 733, a creationist bill in the Louisiana legislature, was approved on a lopsided vote in the Louisiana House of Representatives today. It now moves back to the Senate, where small differences between this bill and the Senate version must be reconciled before it can go to Governor Jindal. Jindal is a leading contender for John McCain's vice presidential nomination.

In response to this and other attacks on the teaching of evolution in Louisiana, the indefatigable Barbara Forrest (author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design) and other activists in the Pelican State have organized a group to advocate for accurate science education.

Here's their take on this event:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New group stands up for sound science education in Louisiana

LA Coalition for Science decries House support for SB 733, calls for Senate to reject bill

Baton Rouge, LA, June 11, 2008 – In response to numerous attacks on science education in the Bayou State, concerned parents, teachers and scientists are getting organized. The new group Louisiana Coalition for Science calls upon the Senate to oppose SB 733, a bill which will open the door to creationism in public schools.

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a founding member of the Louisiana Coalition for Science (LCFS), says, "The legislature shouldn't be allowing creationists to undermine Louisiana public schools. The House of Representatives just gave the Religious Right a green light to use other people's children for their own agenda." Forrest is the author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design and has served as an expert witness on the issue of intelligent design creationism. "The Louisiana legislature tried to force creationism into public schools in 1981, and they lost in the U. S. Supreme Court. The Discovery Institute, a national creationist organization, and the Louisiana Family Forum are using the same old tricks, but with new labels. In Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District in 2005, I showed that intelligent design was cooked up as a new name for the same old creationist arguments, and the strategy behind this bill is no different. Despite their denials, even the bill's backers know that SB 733 is a creationist bill written in creationist code language." The 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard overturned a Louisiana law requiring teachers to "balance" the teaching of evolution with creationism. In the Kitzmiller case, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design is a form of creationism and that teaching it is an unconstitutional entanglement of religion with the state.

Patsye Peebles, a veteran biology teacher from Baton Rouge and a founding member of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, agrees that the bill should be rejected. "I was a biology teacher for 22 years, and I never needed the legislature to tell me how to present anything. This bill doesn't solve any of the problems classroom teachers face, and it will make it harder for us to keep the focus on accurate science in science classrooms. Evolution isn't scientifically controversial, and we don't need the legislature substituting its judgment for the scientists and science teachers who actually know the subject."

SB 733 lists evolution as an issue deserving of special scrutiny. Scientificorganizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the National Association of Biology Teachers have spoken out against this tactic of singling evolution out for criticism.

Betsy Irvine, a Presbyterian minister in Baton Rouge, explains, "Evolution is very strong science, and its place in science class should be uncontroversial. Many Christian traditions, including Catholicism, acknowledge the compatibility of evolution and Christian faith. It is shameful to see people sowing division on this subject. The spirit behind these attacks isn't just bad science, it's bad theology. This bill is an attack on the millions of faithful Christians who accept evolution. The best way both to protect the teaching of science in our public schools and to show respect for the religious freedom of all Louisiana residents is to unequivocally reject SB 733."

Forrest, who testified against the bill before the House Education Committee, calls upon the Senate to reject the bill. "Now that the House has passed the bill, the Senate has one more chance to do the right thing. The entire country is watching. They should reject this bill and let teachers do their jobs. This bill is being pushed by creationist groups and does nothing to help Louisiana, our teachers, or our children. It's heartbreaking to see so few people willing to stand up for Louisiana."

Forrest also commends the three legislators Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, Rep. Jean-Paul Morrell, and Rep. Karen Carter Peterson who had the courage and integrity to speak out for the children of Louisiana by voting against the bill. "These three legislators put principle over politics. What a shame that 94 others could not do the same thing."

Louisiana Coalition for Science is a grassroots group working to protect the teaching of science in Louisiana. See http://lasciencecoalition.org.

Contacts:

Barbara Forrest barbara.forrest@gmail.com 985-974-4244

Patsye Peebles patsye.peebles@gmail.com 225-336-9023

Louisiana Will Face Lawsuit If New Law Brings Religion Into Public School Science Classes, Says Americans United

http://www.au.org/site/News2?JServSessionIdr009=1ecizlso04.app7b&abbr=pr&page=NewsArticle&id=9881&security=1002&news_iv_ctrl=1241

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Church-State Watchdog Group Warns Against Using Anti-Evolution Legislation To Advance Fundamentalism In The Classroom

The Louisiana House of Representatives today approved a measure that opens the door to teaching creationism in public schools, an action that is likely to spark litigation, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Approved by a 94-3 vote, the so-called "Science Education Act" (SB 733) allows public school teachers to use "supplemental materials" when discussing evolution.

Americans United and other groups contend that those "supplemental materials" are likely to be anti-evolution books, DVDs and other items produced by fundamentalist Christian ministries. The measure is being pushed by the Louisiana Family Forum, the Discovery Institute and other Religious Right forces.

"It's time for Louisiana to step into the 21st century and stop trying to teach religion in public schools," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Laws like this are an embarrassment."

Lynn noted that Louisiana legislators have repeatedly tried to water down the teaching of evolution. In the 1980s, the state passed a law mandating "balanced treatment" between evolution and creationism. The measure was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987. Some parishes in Louisiana have voted to paste "disclaimers" in science books, casting doubt on evolution.

"If this new law is used to promote religion in Louisiana public schools, I can guarantee there will be legal action," Lynn said. "Louisiana students deserve better, and Louisiana taxpayers should not have their money squandered on this losing effort."

Americans United and allied organizations successfully brought a lawsuit against the teaching of "intelligent design" creationism in Dover, Pa., public schools in 2005. That case ended with the Dover school board being required to pay significant legal fees.

Louisiana's new proposal would permit teachers to introduce "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials" when studying evolution, global warming, human cloning and the origin of life.

The measure now returns to the state Senate, which has already approved a previous version of the bill.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

New Dinosaur May Link S. American, Aussie Dinos

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080610-australia-dinosaur.html

James Owen for National Geographic News

June 10, 2008

A rare fossil found in Australia suggests dinosaurs were able to traverse the vast prehistoric continent of Gondwana, scientists report.

The hundred-million-year-old fossil belonged to a two-legged meat-eater, or theropod, that is closely related to Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, a giant, big-clawed carnivore from Argentina, says a team led by Nathan Smith of the University of Chicago's Field Museum.

The discovery could help redraw the world map during the dinosaur era, researchers add.

That's because the newfound Australian dinosaur shows that animals could travel across Gondwana during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 65 million years ago.

This in turn suggests that Gondwana's Southern Hemisphere landmasses broke up later than traditionally thought.

Strange Forearm

The study is based on the unidentified theropod's arm bone, which was discovered at Dinosaur Cove in southeastern Australia in 1989.

The fossil has unique features that solidly link it to the South American Megaraptor that was first described in 1998, Smith said.

"Megaraptor has a huge hand with a big [clublike] claw and a very strange forearm, so if you had to pick one bone to refer to, then the ulna [arm bone] might be that bone," Smith said.

The length of the fossil bone, 7.6 inches (19.3 centimeters), suggests the dinosaur was about half the size of Megaraptor.

This size difference could be because it is a smaller species or because it was a juvenile, Smith said.

The still-nameless Australian specimen is described this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Animal Exchange

Previously scientists thought that Australian animals were isolated from life on other Gondwana landmasses during most of the Cretaceous because of geography and climate, the study authors said.

"What we now have is demonstration that there must have been some kind of [animal] exchange between Australia prior to about a hundred million years ago," Smith said.

The new study also supports alternative models for the break up of Gondwana.

Traditionally it was thought that Africa and South America separated from eastern Gondwana—which included Antarctica, Australia, India, and Madagascar—some 138 million years ago.

The alternative models show Africa separating first.

The new study is not the final say on the matter, Smith emphasized.

But "I think in the future we are going to start seeing more [Australian fossils] that really demonstrate close affinities with other animals in South America."

(Related: "Giant Dino Found in Fossil 'Lost World'" [October 16, 2007].)

Little Evidence

Yet the Australian husband-and-wife team who led the excavation of the theropod fossil aren't convinced by the findings.

Patricia Vickers-Rich, a paleontologist at Monash University in Victoria, said "too much is being interpreted based on a single bone."

The Australian dinosaur fossil record is "very scanty," she said, so "rather sweeping generalizations about biogeography are made based on very little evidence."

Tom Rich, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Museum Victoria, echoed his wife's comments.

He added that other Australian dinosaurs from the same period seem to be more closely allied with those from Asia than South America.

The reason for this is a "complete mystery to me," he wrote in an email, since a map of the world of that time would show "Australia was much further from Asia than it is today."

But, he said, "fossils should not be identified on the basis of geography if one is going to do meaningful paleobiogeographic reconstructions—otherwise one will be going around in a very tight logical circle."

The Riches said that more theropod bones from the Dinosaur Cove area are currently being studied. "There could be half a dozen different theropods," Tom Rich said, though the condition of the fossil bones may not allow individual species to be identified.