NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 November 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Homeopathy


Editor's note: Here is your nonsense news item of the day.

Saturday, November 01, 2008 by: Louise Mclean

(NaturalNews) In this article, I would like to dispel a plethora of myths surrounding homeopathy which have been used to discredit this highly efficacious healing art and science. Homeopaths are given few opportunities in the media to defend their profession, so a lot of misconceptions abound. The medical profession in general presents a fierce and blinkered opposition, yet as Big Pharma is learning of all sorts of amazing cured cases, they are determined to stamp out competition via EU regulation.

Myth No. 1 – Homeopathic medicines cure nothing

Homeopathy works by stimulating the body's own healing mechanisms, through like for like. A substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person can be used to cure the same symptoms in a sick person by giving a minute, highly potentized dose of that substance acting as a catalyst to jump start their own healing mechanisms. Everyone of us has our own natural innate healing powers. All that is needed is the correct stimulus to kick start it. In healthy people this may just be rest and good food but many people become 'stuck' in their physical, emotional or mental illness and cannot recover. Of course there are different levels of health and the choice of potency given should reflect that. Low potencies are given for very physically ill people and higher doses for those whose problems are emotional or of the mind. Homeopathy is very successful in treating emotional problems such as stress, anxiety and fears.

Unlike orthodox medicine, outcomes of homeopathic treatment are measured by the long term curative effects and the eradication of the disease state culminating in complete restoration of health. If we could have two year trials of outcomes for conditions such as asthma, arthritis and other chronic diseases, this could be proven.

Myth No 2 – Homeopathic medicines are just water

Homeopathic medicines are not made using only dilution. Dilution alone would do nothing whatsoever. Many homeopaths are getting tired of reading this highly inaccurate reporting in the media. All homeopathic medicines are made by a process of dilution and Succussion (potentization through vigorous shaking -- 100 shakes between each potency -- i.e. between a 1c and a 2c, between a 2c and a 3c potency, between a 3c and a 4c, etc, etc). Most homeopathic medicines can be bought in either 6c or 30c from Boots or from health shops. Higher potencies of 200c and 1m (1000c) can be obtained only from homeopathic pharmacies. Succussion is nowadays done by machines, originally by hand. Succussion brings out the formative intelligence of the substance and imprints it upon the 60% distilled water + 40% alcohol medium used to make homeopathic medicines -- alcohol acting as a preservative.

Myth No. 3 – homeopathic medicines are unscientific

Homeopathic medicines undergo a scientific 'Proving' where a control group of 50+ healthy volunteers ('Provers') are instructed to keep taking a remedy under trial until they develop symptoms which they must record in detail. Substances that have been rigorously tested include nearly everything on the Periodic Table -- metals, minerals and gases as well as plants and even things like snake venom.

The Provers are given a bottle of a new remedy being tested in the 30c potency and must keep taking it until they develop symptoms, which must be carefully recorded and then submitted to a database. The Provers must be healthy and symptom-free to start with so that the symptoms they experience are new ones caused by the remedy. They must keep a careful daily note of what happens and not discuss it with any of the other Provers. Whatever symptoms the Provers all experienced in common become the black type symptoms of the remedy which are then added to the Materia Medica of homeopathic medicines and Homeopathic Repertory (encyclopedia of symptoms). Thus the curative indications of a remedy are obtained for clinical use.

Symptoms have also been obtained through historical records of accidental poisonings, such as Arsenic and Belladonna. For example, poisoning by Arsenic causes vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness, anxiety and extreme chill. Therefore you might get a patient in this state (possibly after food poisoning) and Arsenicum in a homeopathic tablet will quickly alleviate them.

There are more than 4,000+ homeopathic medicines including nearly everything on the periodic table. But of course all of the remedies tested have been diluted and succussed (potentized), so they are not toxic like modern drugs.

The Homeopathic Materia Medica and Repertory are extremely large books or divided into volumes. The Repertory is divided into sections in this order: Mind, Vertigo, Head, Eye, Vision, Ear, Hearing, Nose, Face, Mouth, Teeth, Throat, External Throat, Stomach, Abdomen, Rectum, Stool, Bladder, Kidney, Prostate Gland, Urethra, Urine, Male, Female, Larynx, Respiration, Cough, Expectoration, Chest, Back, Extremities, Sleep, Dreams, Chill, Fever, Perspiration, Skin, Generals. Obviously some sections are bigger than others!

In the various Repertories, remedies are listed alongside the full range of symptoms (rubrics) in abbreviated form -- all information being systematically taken from Provings and clinical practice. Every human state of mind, emotions and body is listed. Symptoms that would mean nothing to a medical doctor can be looked up and the curative remedy found in these huge books. Homeopathy is a study of human nature, endlessly fascinating and how negative states of mind and emotions affect the physical body culminating in illness. Nowadays many homeopaths use computer software programmes which contain all this information.

Myth No. 4 – homeopathic practitioners receive inadequate training

In fact all qualified homeopathic practitioners undergo a four year training course at accredited Colleges, which includes Anatomy and Physiology, as well as Pathology and Disease, Materia Medica, Homeopathic Philosophy and study of the Homeopathic Repertory. Yet medical doctors and nurses treat after much shorter homeopathy courses. To be really good, you need to study intensively for about 10 years. Homeopathy is a lifetime's work and you never stop learning.

Myth No. 5 - there are no studies that prove homeopathy works

In the past 24 years there have been more than 180 controlled, and 118 randomized, trials into homeopathy, which were analysed by four separate meta-analyses. In each case, the researchers concluded that the benefits of homeopathy went far beyond that which could be explained purely by the placebo effect. Another meta-analysis found that 65 of the 89 trials analysed had produced an effect way beyond placebo, source WDDTY (www.wddty.co.uk) .

A study of 6500 patients at the Bristol Homeopathic hospital was conducted showing that over 70% of patients reported complete cure or significant improvement of their symptoms (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bris...) .

Historical records show that epidemics such as cholera and typhoid were treated successfully using homeopathy in the 19th century with very high success rates, compared to orthodox medicine (http://www.whale.to/v/winston.html).

A study on the properties of water was performed by Dr. Rustrum Roy. This paper provides an interdisciplinary base of information on the structure of liquid water.

The Structure Of Liquid Water; Novel Insights From Materials Research; Potential Relevance To Homeopathy, Rustum Roy1, W.A. Tiller2, Iris Bell3, M. R. Hoover4

Received: 2 August 2004 Revised: 6 September 2004 Accepted: 14



Homeopathy can never be tested properly through conventional trials because each prescription is individualized as every person is unique. Therefore 10 people with arthritis, for example, may all need a different homeopathic medicine. So it is far from ideal to follow the allopathic trial paradigm to test homeopathy. In orthodox medicine trials, all are given the same medicine to be tested. In homeopathy, all may be given different medicines!

"Anybody who has an understanding of the principles of homeopathy can be left in no doubt that we are dealing with a scientific therapeutic method in the best possible sense: it is based on observation, facts and phenomena and follows the rules of inductive logic that can be tested in daily practice. It is a comprehensive and comprehensible mode of therapy, which in some countries is first line treatment for the whole range of acute and chronic conditions. It has been proven abundantly that it is superior in the treatment of epidemic diseases to allopathy.

"It is amazing how people, who like to see themselves on the side of unprejudiced evaluation, can be so blinkered. People pass judgment on homeopathy who have never bothered to study it. Like any science it takes time to learn (especially to learn it correctly) and years of practice to master but the rewards for patients, practitioners and the NHS (National Health Service) purse are great. Before those who preach pure science come down on therapies like homeopathy too heavily, they should ask themselves how many of the accepted treatments within the NHS have a scientific evidence base?" (Peter Morrell. Hon. Research Associate, History of Medicine, Dept of Sociology, Staffordshire University, UK.)

With every homeopathic medicine we know exactly the substance it was made from, unlike most modern drugs where we have no clue of the ingredients. This is ironic too as all natural health products, whether vitamin, mineral or food supplement must clearly state on the label every single ingredient. When we go to the supermarket or health food shop, we hold up the packet or bottle and read what is in the product, yet people happily swallow prescription drugs with no idea whatsoever what they have taken! They could contain cyanide or any poison and the patient would be none the wiser. With the new class of genetically modified drugs, such as the one used in the Northwick Park drug trial in London, the dangers of a massive allergic reaction, such as the drug testers experienced, are even greater.

Those, who claim to be scientists, should have the ability to at least try to understand different paradigms. If not, they look more like people who have settled on a comfortable view of the world which might soon look very outmoded indeed. As the great musician and conductor Sir Yehudi Menhuin once said: 'Homeopathy is one of the few specialised areas in medicine, which carries no disadvantages but only advantages'.

Regarding the Horizon programme on homeopathy, Prof. Madeleine Ennis was not involved in the Horizon test. The test was carried out by Wayne Turnbull at Guys hospital, London. It has been conceded that the Horizon test was not an exact replica of Ennis' successful trials. Many of his protocols were different. You can read at this link where he added in an ammonium chloride lysis step which would have ended up killing the very basophils that were such an integral part of the test (http://www.homeopathic.com/articles/view,55) . Ennis' original test was replicated in 4 different labs in 4 different countries.

Dr. Peter Fisher's article in PubMed discusses the 'End of Homeopathy' editorial and meta-analysis published in the Lancet of 26th August 2005 and how nearly 100 successful studies that showed homeopathy worked were thrown out and only a few that were inconclusive were used. Dr. Fisher is the Queen's homeopathic physician and heads the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. (The vitriolic editorial was caused by the World Health Organization bringing out a draft report in 2005 which was favourable towards homeopathy!)

"The final analysis which concluded that 'the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects' was based on just eight clinical trials of homeopathy. The Lancet's press release did not mention this, instead giving the impression that the conclusions were based on all 110 trials." "One of the most serious criticisms is the complete lack of transparency: we have no idea which eight trials were included in the final, damning, analysis." "The literature references are not given, nor any information on the diagnoses, numbers of patients, etc., nor can these be deduced from the article. Prof. Egger has refused several requests to disclose the identity of the eight trials. This is not even a matter of scientific method, but of natural justice: the accused has the right to know the evidence against him."

"The Lancet meta-analysis in 2005 of homeopathic trials was said to be based upon 110 placebo-controlled clinical trials of homeopathy and 110 clinical trials of allopathy, which were said to be matched but were in fact reduced to 21 trials of homeopathy and 9 of conventional medicine and further reduced to 8 and 6 trials."

* (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articl...)

* Other Responses from the Homeopathic Community on the Lancet Article:(http://www.ontariohomeopath.com/Respons...)

* from WDDTY:

* George Vithoulkas' 'Science of Homeopathy' is still considered an excellent exposition of the science.

More scientific studies:

* (http://www.vhan.nl/documents/Scientific...)

* (http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/cont...)

* (http://www.positivehealth.com/research-...)

* Bizarre chemical discovery gives homeopathic hint

Myth No. 6 - Homeopathic hospitals are a waste of money

There are 5 homeopathic hospitals in the UK -- in London, Liverpool, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol and Glasgow. They cost the NHS around £6 million a year. Compare that to the £100 billion for the total 2008 annual NHS budget! These homeopathic hospitals save money for the NHS as the Smallwood report commissioned by Prince Charles has demonstrated

At one of the earliest debates on the NHS Act 1948 the Government pledged that homoeopathy would continue to be available on the health service as long as there were "patients wishing to receive it and doctors willing to provide it". Many people who depend upon it are alarmed at the possibility that Homeopathy may no longer be available on the NHS. Since the passing of the NHS Act in 1948, a provision has always been made for people to be treated at homeopathic hospitals in the U.K. and until PCTs began to stop referring patients, there had indeed been long waiting lists, some 6 months or more.

See this letter sent out in May 2006 to the Chief Executives of all Primary Care Trusts signed by a group of Professors hostile to homeopathy and putting pressure on PCTs not to refer patients to the 5 homeopathic hospitals in the U.K. saying there was no evidence homeopathy worked (http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/pdf...).

Then another similar letter using the National Health Service (NHS) logo was sent out to PCTs in May 2007 from some of the same professors! It can be read here:



Eventually an explanation was put up on the Department of Health website at the end of October 2007, although by then the damage was done (http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsand...).

Read what David Tredennick, MP had to say in February 2008 about the possible closure of the homeopathic hospitals, recorded here in Hansard. "The Minister may recall that in May 2007 some doctors issued a spurious document -- printed on official paper, with the NHS logo -- claiming that homeopathic services should be decommissioned. The Government has never written to PCTs to refute that document." (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?i...)

Myth No. 7 – Cure with homeopathy is simply the Placebo Effect.

When Prince Charles treats his farm animals at Highgrove with homeopathic medicines do they know that a remedy has been put in the water they drink? Farmers successfully use homeopathic medicines for their cows suffering from mastitis. Does a tiny baby know when their fever drops dramatically using Belladonna or Aconite, that they have been given a homeopathic medicine?! As anyone who has treated animals and babies with homeopathic medicines will tell you, homeopathy works even better on animals and babies than it does on adults! If proof were needed, this is it. Not placebo.

Myth No. 8 - Homeopathic medicines contain no molecules

Any remedy under a 12c or a 24x potency still contains the original molecules of the substance and this is known as Avogadro's number. These low potencies are most suitable for physical illness of long duration as well as to heal specific organs that are not functioning properly.

Myth No. 9 – 'Anecdotal Evidence' does not constitute scientific evidence!

Most medical, surgical procedures and drug usage are not backed by studies -- only by anecdotal evidence. According to the U.S. Government's Office of Technology Assessment (Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment: Assessing the efficacy and safety of medical technologies. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1978), only 10-20% of all medical procedures and off-label drug usage are backed by clinical studies.

Strong anecdotal evidence among informed professionals is actually quite reliable -- at least as reliable as clinical testing.

Many clinical tests come to diametrically opposed conclusions. You could say that the problem was discovered through anecdotal evidence -- and merely confirmed through a peer reviewed study.

The problem isn't with the use of anecdotal evidence. It's with the double standard applied by the establishment (medical and regulatory) that holds complementary medicine to an absurdly higher standard, allowing medical doctors to do pretty much whatever they want. If informed anecdotal evidence is allowable for 85% of all medical procedure and drug usage, why is alternative health held to an impossible 0% standard?

Millions of people worldwide testify that homeopathy cures their illnesses yet apparently that cannot be construed as 'evidence'.

If a person were to walk out of their house to the town centre and witness someone having their bag snatched or witness a car accident, then when they relay this information to the Police or to their friends and family, it is anecdotal evidence.

If someone goes on holiday, stays at a nice hotel, eats delicious food, swims in the sea, comes back home and relates the holiday to their friends, that is anecdotal evidence.

Does that mean that the above never happened? According to the detractors of complementary or alternative medicine, yes it does!

Millions of people have been cured of their diseases and afflictions using homeopathy, herbs, healing, vitamin supplements, special diets and on and on. Yet according to orthodox medicine all of these cures are anecdotal evidence and as such do not merit any further investigation, study, or validity. As far as orthodox medicine is concerned, these cures never happened.

Yet what if someone witnessed a car accident and the Police wanted them to make a statement? Would the statement in court be dismissed as anecdotal evidence? Would the police, even if they arrived at the scene of the accident to find the person still there comforting the passengers or trying to help, say they had not been there and their evidence is non existent? I don't think so.

So how for so long have we put up with the top dogs in the medical establishment dismissing our cures as total nonsense, figments of our imagination, placebo cures, or outright lies?

How, when millions are cured around the world using homeopathic medicines, can these cures be dismissed as unworthy of attention, simply 'anecdotal evidence'.

Orthodox medicine implies through this that all cures with alternative medicine are untrue or simply imagined. Even when all the evidence is put before them, they become angry and even aggressive, simply refusing to see or to listen.

All the case notes in the surgery show that Mr. A had arthritis for 5 years, had been on anti-inflammatory medicines, yet after homeopathic treatment, the arthritis is cured. The reaction of the doctor is either disbelief or an attitude where they will not talk about it and do not want to know.

Of course there are some orthodox doctors who practice acupuncture, homeopathy or herbs themselves and who do believe that these therapies cured the patient but they are in a small minority. The opposition is always the top cancer specialists and professors whose lives and vested interests are the most challenged by the idea that anything other than pharmaceutical drugs or surgical interventions can cure the patient.

Very often the doctor's prognosis can create enormous fear in a patient making them much worse, striking terror in their hearts and creating a mental block to healing when told by 'experts' they will never get better.

Yet pharmaceutical drugs cure nothing. They merely suppress the symptoms driving them deeper into the body of the patient. Believe it or not, the disappearance of symptoms does not equal cure! Very often a new and deeper set of symptoms are created which are even more serious. Pharma drugs work through the Law of Opposites, eg. antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-convulsants, anti-hypertensives, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, etc, etc.

Hence the eczema patient whose skin symptoms have been suppressed, goes on to develop asthma. The arthritic patient whose joint pains are suppressed, eventually will go on to develop heart disease.

The doctor makes no connection whatsoever that their drugs have created these deeper illnesses but just goes on to give the patient more and more powerful drugs, making the patient sicker still. Then when they die, they say, 'We did everything we could'. Yes and you killed the patient!

So there is no question that dismissing cures as Anecdotal Evidence through the use of natural medicine, is nothing more than a whitewash and a desperate means of concealing the knowledge of those cures from the Public as a whole.

Samuel Hahnemann

"Hahnemann was a doctor but gave up his practice because he was appalled at the poisonous side effects of most available medicine. He started experimenting and did something rather novel -- he took some quinine, while perfectly healthy. He observed that the effect on him was identical to a malarial attack: alternating fever with heat and chills. This is where homeopathy started: a substance, given to a healthy individual, causes symptoms. If given to someone who suffers those symptoms, it will thus neutralize the sickness.

After his observations on quinine -- Hahnemann went on to test hundreds of substances on himself and willing, healthy volunteers -- used the tested substances for matching symptoms in his patients and all the while kept accounts of detailed observations. Of course, Hahnemann had an antecedent, still well-known today because all doctors still swear an oath to him to promise best medical practice: Hippocrates." (Peter Morrell. Hon. Research Associate, History of Medicine, Dept of Sociology, Staffordshire University, UK.)

Hippocrates stated that there were two laws of healing –- the law of opposites (allopathy) and the law of similars (homeopathy). A Greek physician called Galen had laid these rules down in about 150 AD. Homeopathic theories are based on fixed principles of the Laws of Nature which do not change -- unlike medical theories which are constantly changing! Homeopathy is both a science and an art.

"Far from being ideas-based, this is completely evidence-based, empirical medicine an almost unique concept at the time. After some years of practicing like this, Hahnemann was still not satisfied. The substances he was using, while more effective than normal medical practice, were still having side effects. Or, if he reduced dosage too far, there was no effect. This is when he developed the concept of potentization, the serial dilution that opponents of homeopathy deride." (Peter Morrell. Hon. Research Associate, History of Medicine, Dept of Sociology, Staffordshire University, UK.)

Treating the Whole Person or Holistic Healing

We are not just a collection of parts to be fixed as doctors treat us but always operating as a whole person all of the time. In other words medicines are chosen that treat the whole person and not just the part. This may seem strange to grasp and yet doesn't it in fact make total sense? Do we leave our sore throat on the desk of the physician as we leave the surgery? Or our arthritic knee behind? No, every single tiny function of our body operates as a whole, all of the time. You cannot treat one thing and not affect the rest. That is why pharma drugs are so dangerous, as for example, in treating a cancerous tumour, the medicine will affect and disturb the other systems of the body.

We are all energy beings (http://www.workingwithenergy.co.uk/ener...). The electricity in our bodies transmits messages to all parts/systems of the body. Illness is caused when these messages are not getting through. All systems of the body are communicating with each other at all times. Water is a great conductor of electricity and it transmits the electrical current. This is how homeopathic mediums work –- by communicating a current/pattern/frequency of energy via the whole human body to jump start the body's own inherent healing mechanisms.

Homeopathy treats different sorts of people with distinct characters and personalities as well as different physical looks and natures. It individualizes each person treating their diverse pattern of symptoms looking at them as a whole.

Is it not true that no two people are alike? That every person is unique? This is why you could line up 20 people with asthma and they might all need a different homeopathic medicine. There are in fact about 250 homeopathic medicines for asthma but the correct one for each person must be selected taking into consideration such things as what makes the condition better or worse, what time of day it comes on, whether the person is hot or cold, worse for damp, in need of fresh air or prefer the windows closed and so on. You would be amazed at how each person's symptoms are so different and yet all have been diagnosed with asthma.

After homeopathic treatment, careful analysis is taken of the Direction of Cure of the patient's symptoms. Constance Hering was a converted skeptic of homeopathy. As a young man in Germany in the early nineteenth century, Hering had been assigned the task of reviewing Homeopathy because his medical mentor (a fervent anti-homeopath) had been asked by a publisher to write a book exposing homeopathy as unworthy. Having been given this task, Hering conducted a detailed study but concluded the opposite from the requested results! He was the first to talk about the Law of Cure which says that symptoms are cured from above down, from the inside out and in the reverse order of their appearance. This has stood the test of time in clinical experience. A simple example would be after a curative remedy is given for eczema all over the body, we would see the eczema start to move down and when it is only on the ankles, we know it is nearly cured.

The other very important point about homeopathic treatment is that very often the appearance of an illness stems back to an important event in the life of the patient such as a shock, fright, loss or grief suffered by them. The homeopathic practitioner will always enquire whether there was a life changing event that severely affected the patient. It is extremely common to find that the onset of a condition coincided with a major event. The homeopath will select a remedy that corresponds to the way the patient reacted to that event, mentally, emotionally and physically in order to clear the state which caused the illness. In other words you treat the cause, to remove the effect.

Examples of remedies for people who have undergone severe shock would be the following: If a person becomes very tired after a shock it would be Phos. Ac. when they become indifferent to their surroundings and loved ones. If they are just sitting there, not moving, staring in front of them, not speaking -- it would be the homeopathic remedy Opium. If they become terribly restless and anxious it would be Aconite. Arnica is for shock when people say they are fine, when they are obviously not. Ignatia would be in floods of tears, hysterical, slamming doors and telling people to go away. Platina would be very proud, angry and indignant. These are all possible ways people can react from a shock and homeopathy must treat the individual. The trick is to work out how people are behaving and which one they need!

Homeopathy works on fixed principles that correspond with the Laws of Nature.

The body has its own intelligence. That is why the human race has survived. When a baby is conceived, Nature chooses the best genes from both parents in order to create a stronger, healthier human. If the parents are both taking drugs of any kind, whether legal or illegal, the health of the baby will be compromised.

Doctors should look at Nature in order to study disease. Doctors and scientists would find all the answers and instead of going against it, learn from it. They really need to study health first before they study disease. There is only one true science and that is the science of Nature.

The human race has survived because we all have an innate healing power in our bodies. In homeopathy for example, this is called the Vital Force. Homeopathy stimulates the vital force to heal the body, through like for like (using a potentized substance that would cause the symptoms but in a tiny dose acts as a catalyst for healing).

If people want to improve their looks, homeopathy does just that. When you are healthy and well, you obviously look better! Homeopathic practitioners believe in prevention, having treatment can prevent illness rather than leaving it to the surgeon's knife. There are thousands of homeopathic medicines which treat every ailment known to man, truly the most wonderful science on this planet.

Many people buy self help books or think they can treat themselves with over the counter remedies. This is a short term solution. The reason is as stated above. You cannot treat individual symptoms without taking into consideration the rest of you! Only a qualified and experienced homeopath who will spend 1-2 hours taking your full medical history and all of your symptoms can prescribe the remedy that fits best. In other words if you have hayfever, the homeopath will take into consideration all other physical symptoms as well as your personality, to come to the correct prescription. Itchy, watery, red eyes, worse morning and evening would be Sulphur but only if all the other things about you fit the Sulphur picture. You cannot prescribe for yourself as you cannot take all of it into consideration at once. So if for example you buy Natrum Mur. for your hayfever (which is also an excellent remedy for this), it may work for a bit if you are healthy but the hayfever will come back, will not be cured for good, because it was not the remedy that fitted best.

The only exception to this rule is in the treatment of first aid and even then it often has to be individualized. An example of when it does not is having a molar removed at the dentist. Firstly you would take Arnica for bruising of the gums, secondly Hypericum for the pain as the anaesthetic wears off (will remove pain completely), thirdly Ledum for injection and fourthly Calendula (the remedy not the cream) for fast healing of the gums (or any other injury). Symphytum is the great healer of broken bones.

Homeopaths believe that illnesses manifest for three reasons: firstly they are genetically inherited from our parents, grandparents, forefathers. Secondly, they can be caused by a traumatic event such as death of a loved one, divorce, job loss -- any event that has a serious impact upon the person. Thirdly they can be caused from drugs taken by our parents (passed on to the foetus) or by ourselves. There is also of course accidents and injury.

Inherited disease can be traced back to one or more of what homeopaths call Miasms -- these are syphilis, gonorrhoea, psora (scabies), tuberculosis and cancer. We are all a mix of all of these as especially TB, dates back thousands of years. However one or more of the miasms is uppermost in a person and is an important aspect of the case-taking to determine the appropriate medicines.

So many people are in ignorance of the vast amount of study needed to become an expert in this field. Also there are hundreds of homeopathic books only available at specialist bookshops, many printed in India where homeopathy is more popular than orthodox medicine (http://www.minervabooks.co.uk/index.php...).

Attacks on Homeopathy

After the ever increasing attacks on alternative medicine in the media and in particular homeopathy, once again Professor Edzard Ernst, the 'first Professor of Complementary Medicine' (whose CAM qualifications have not been discovered despite repeated requests) discredits homeopathy. Yet in an interview with Geoff Watts in 2003 (http://www.studentbmj.com/issues/04/01/...) entitled 'A Scientist in the Alternative Camp', Professor Ernst stated: "Our family doctor in the little village outside Munich where I grew up was a homoeopath. My mother swore by it. As a kid I was treated homoeopathically. So this kind of medicine just came naturally. Even during my studies I pursued other things like massage therapy and acupuncture."

"As a young doctor I had an appointment in a homoeopathic hospital, and I was very impressed with its success rate. My boss told me that much of this success came from discontinuing mainstream medication. This made a big impression on me."

The truth is that homeopathy is getting ever more popular and the drugs companies are putting out their spin in overdrive through their science and media PR operation outlets to counteract this in any way they can.

The reason there is this incessant assault in the press against homeopathy is because Pharma wields enormous power over the media and because the popularity of homeopathy has been increasing due to the side effects of conventional medicine. Also, unlike other natural therapies, it is dispensed in pills and so in direct competition.

At leat six million people use complementary treatments each year in the U.K., which offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients.

The attacks against alternative medicine sometimes try to imply that it is dangerous. Yet compare the number of insurance claims against natural health therapies to those in conventional medicine. A top insurance company was asked how many claims had been filed against homepathic practitioners and said there had been hardly any, "only a couple in the last 10 years"!

Historical Facts

In view of the highly inaccurate reporting and vitriolic attacks in the recent press coverage on homeopathy, I would like to point out some little known historical facts concerning homeopathy.

The practice of homeopathic medicine flourished in both Europe and the U.S. during the 1800s and early 1900s and was spectacularly popular with European royalty and the British aristocracy, American entrepreneurs, literary giants, and religious leaders.

John D. Rockefeller referred to it as 'a progressive and aggressive step in medicine' and was under homeopathic care throughout the latter part of his life living to 99 years of age. A strong advocate of homeopathy, major grants of between $300-$400 million he intended for homeopathic institutions were instead used for orthodox medical institutions in the early 1900s, under pressure from his son and his financial advisor, Frederick Gates. (Source Dana Ullman)

In the United States in the early 1900s there were 22 homeopathic medical schools and over 100 homeopathic hospitals, 60 orphanages and old people's homes and 1,000+ homeopathic pharmacies. Members of the American Medical Association (AMA) had great animosity towards homeopathy after its formation in 1847 and it was decided to purge all local medical societies of physicians who were homeopaths. This purge was successful in every state except Massachusetts because homoepathy was so strong among the Elite of Boston.

The AMA wanted to keep homeopaths out of their societies and discourage any type of association with them. In 1855 the AMA established a code of ethics which stated that orthodox physicians would lose their membership if they even consulted with a homeopath. If a physician lost his membership, it meant that in some States he no longer had a licence to practice medicine.

Drug companies were antagonistic towards homeopathy, collectively trying to suppress it. The medical journals they published were used as mouthpieces against homeopathy and in support of orthodox medicine.

At an AMA meeting, a respected orthodox physician said: 'We must admit that we never fought the homeopath on matters of principles; we fought him because he came into the community and got the business.' Economic issues played a major role in what was allowed to be practiced.

Homeopathy attracted support from many of the most respected members of society in the U.S., such as William James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa M. Alcott, Mark Twain, former American Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley. In Britain among its supporters were George Bernard Shaw, Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats, William Thackarey, Benjamin Disraeli, Yehudi Menuhin. Other famous supporters were Dostoevsky, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Mahatma Ghandi.

Nowadays, celebrities using and supporting homeopathy are many and include among others: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tina Turner, Whoopi Goldberg, Pamela Anderson, Jane Fonda, Cher, Rosie O'Donnell, Martin Sheen, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jane Seymour, Lesley Anne Warren, Mariel Hemingway, Lindsay Wagner, Paul McCartney, Axl Rose, Linda Gray, Susan Blakely, Michael Franks, Cybil Sheppard, Dizzy Gillespie, Vidal Sassoon, Angelica Houston, Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova, David Beckham, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, Cliff Robertson, Jerry Hall, Diane von Furstenberg, Ashley Judd, Naomi Judd, Olivia Newton-John, Julianna Margulies, JD Salinger, Blythe Danner, Pat Riley (coach of the Miami Heat). The list of famous people who supported homeopathy is endless...

See 'The Homeopathic Revolution' by Dana Ullman MPH (www.homeopathicrevolution.com)

The aristocratic patronage of homeopathy in the U.K. extending well into the 1940s and beyond can be easily demonstrated. In the Homeopathic Medical Directories there are lists of patrons of the dispensaries and hospitals. They read like an extract from Burke's or Debrett's. See A History of Homeopathy in Britain by Peter Morrell, Honorary Research Associate in the History of Medicine, Staffordshire University, UK (www.homeopathyhome.com/reference/articl...).

Homeopathy is practiced nowadays in countries all over the world and is especially popular in France, South America and India where there are around 250,000 homeopathic doctors! In a recent Global TGI survey where people were asked whether they trust homeopathy, the following percentages of people living in urban areas said YES: 62% in India, 58% Brazil, 53% Saudi Arabia, Chile 49%, United Arab Emirates 49%, France 40%, South Africa 35%, Russia 28%, Germany 27%, Argentina 25%, Hungary 25%, USA 18%, UK 15%.

Zeus Information Service
Alternative Views on Health
Copyright © Louise Mclean 2008 About the author

Louise Mclean, LCCH MHMA, is a homeopathic practitioner with 20 years experience. She is also the Editor of Zeus Information Service which came into being in February 2003. Its purpose is to help unify the Worldwide Health Freedom movement – people and organisations who believe in the value of natural health therapies and want to continue using them. Subscribers receive free Zeus News bulletins containing important articles from the global press and top websites – on Health Freedom, Alternative Medicine, Homeopathy, Pharma, Environment, GM Food, Vaccines andPolitics. The subject of health is extremely wide ranging and Zeus presents articles on a host of key subjects affecting it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Catechism Versus the Data (Part 3): The "Fact" of Evolution


This is the third in a blog series responding to John Timmer's online review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution. The first part is here, and the second here.

3. Open Your Catechism to Page One: The Fact of Evolution

So what is the "fact" of evolution? Timmer argues that "aspects of the theory [of evolution] can be safely treated as fact," and in support of this point, cites a paper by the Canadian geneticist T. Ryan Gregory, entitled "Evolution as Fact, Theory and Path."

Here is how Gregory (2008, 49) defines the "fact" of evolution:

The notion that species may change through time and that living organisms are related to one another through common descent…species have changed over time and are connected by descent from common ancestors.

Change through time, descent of organisms from common ancestors -- hey, that sounds familiar:

Evolution #1: "Change over time" First, evolution can mean that the life forms we see today are different than the life forms that lived in the past. (EE, p. 8)

…we have to make an important distinction between the terms common descent and Universal Common Descent. You may think the terms mean the same thing. They don't. As we've just seen, it's possible to think that some organisms share a common ancestor without thinking that all organisms are descended from a single common ancestor. (EE, p. 10)

If the "fact of evolution" means simply change over time and common descent, then EE affirms the fact of evolution. But that's hardly surprising: so does almost any biologist, from the staff of the young-earth Institute for Creation Research to the curators of the American Museum of Natural History.

That's not what "the fact of evolution" means to most evolutionary biologists, however. The standard view is Darwin's single (monophyletic) tree, rooted in LUCA:

The millions of diverse living species we find around us in the modern world are descended from a common ancestor that lived in the remote past. (Ayala and Valentine 1979, 1)

Evolution asserts that the pattern of similarity by which all known organisms may be linked is the natural outcome of some process of genealogy. In other words, all organisms are related. (Eldredge and Cracraft 1980, 2)

It is important to realize at the outset that evolution is not "just a theory." It is, again, a theory and a fact…[N]ew forms of life are continually generated by the splitting of a single lineage into two or more lineages. This is known as "speciation." About five million years ago, a species of primates split into two distinct lineages: one leading to modern chimpanzees and the other to modern humans. And this ancestral primate itself shared a common ancestor with earlier primates, which in turn shared a common ancestor with other mammals. The earlier ancestor of all mammals shared an even earlier ancestor with reptiles, and so on back to the origin of life. Such successive splitting yields the common metaphor of an evolutionary "tree of life," whose root was the first species to arise and whose twigs are the millions of living species. Any two extant species share a common ancestor, which can in principle be found by tracing that pair of twigs back through the branches to the node where they meet. (Coyne 2005, 23; second emphasis added)

If "all organisms are related" (meaning "any two species share a common ancestor" in a universal evolutionary tree) because they "descended from a common ancestor," then the fact of evolution means Universal Common Descent, or Darwin's Tree of Life: "all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form" (1859, 484).

Universal Common Descent is a "fact," however, coming under increasing skeptical scrutiny from evolutionary biologists, as Timmer saw first-hand at the Rockefeller University symposium on evolution this past May. Since the first edition of EE was published in 2007, prominent biologists such as Craig Venter, Eugene Koonin, and William Martin have added their doubts to those of Carl Woese, W. Ford Doolittle, Michael Syvanen, and the other evolutionary skeptics of Universal Common Descent cited in EE.

Consider, for instance, Eugene Koonin's "biological big bang" proposal:

…it is generally assumed that, in principle, the TOL [Tree of Life] exists and is resolvable although, in practice, full resolution might never be attained and, furthermore, might not even be particularly important for understanding the actual events that transpired during the respective transitional stages.

Here, I argue for a fundamentally different solution, i.e., that a single, uninterrupted TOL does not exist, although the evolution of large divisions of life for extended time intervals can be adequately described by trees. (2007, 3; reference numbers omitted)

Or Craig Venter:

We're just at the tip of the iceberg of what the [genetic] divergence is on this planet... One question is, can we extrapolate back from this data set to describe the most recent common ancestor. I don't necessarily buy that there is a single ancestor. It's counterintuitive to me. I think we may have thousands of recent common ancestors and they are not necessarily so common. (Brockman 2007, p. 42)

Or William Martin:

Traditional approaches to characterizing prokaryote genome evolution focus on the component of the genome that fits the metaphor of a tree. The issue is how large that component is over the fullness of evolutionary time. Although there can be little doubt that a considerable component of prokaryote genome evolution over recent evolutionary time scales is fundamentally treelike in nature, differences in gene content exceeding 30% among individual strains of E. coli demonstrate that LGT [lateral gene transfer] has substantial impact on genome evolution even at the species level. Our findings indicate that, over long evolutionary time scales, the cumulative role of LGT leaves almost no gene family among prokaryotes untouched....When all genes and genomes are considered, the tree paradigm fits only a small minority of the genome at best; hence, more realistic computational models for the microbial evolutionary process are needed. (Dagan et al. 2008, p. 10043; note numbers omitted)

Now this is a case where the catechism is going to lead students straight away from interesting puzzles, for reasons having nothing to do with intelligent design: both Koonin and Venter are on record as strongly opposing ID. When Carl Woese -- for what it's worth, another opponent of ID -- argues that "the time has come for Biology to go beyond the Doctrine of Common Descent" (2002, p. 8745), will students be allowed to learn about the molecular data motivating his argument?

Or will it be back to the catechism? Incidentally, Timmer fumbles Woese's argument, saying it "partly hinges on definitions, rather than some objectively apparent biological property." But Woese's case rests on objective molecular characters, their apparent incompatibility within a single common ancestor, and the non-homology of key proteins across domains (see Roberts et al. 2008). The Archaea, Eucarya, and Bacteria were defined on the grounds of molecular data, not verbal distinctions.

Fears about giving aid and comfort to ID advocates, no matter how misplaced those fears may be, will, if given their head, irreparably damage science education in America. Teaching the theory of evolution responsibly entails far more than giving students a familiar catechism to recite.

Up next: The Origin of the Tetrapods


Ayala, Francisco and James Valentine. 1979. Evolving: the theory and processes of organic evolution. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings Pub. Co.

Brockman, John, ed. 2007. Life: What A Concept! An Edge E-Book, available at http://www.edge.org/documents/life/Life.pdf.

Coyne, Jerry. 2005. The faith that dares not speak its name. The New Republic, 22/29 August 2005, pp. 21-33.

Dagan, Tal, Yael Artzy-Randrup, and William Martin. 2008. Modular networks and cumulative impact of lateral transfer in prokaryote genome evolution. PNAS 105:10039-10044.

Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species. London: John Murray.

Eldredge, Niles and Joel Cracraft. 1980. Phylogenetic Patterns and the Evolutionary Process. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gregory, T. Ryan. 2008. Evolution as Fact, Theory, and Path. Evolution: Education and Outreach 1:46-52.

Koonin, Eugene. 2007. The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution. Biology Direct 2:21.

Roberts, E., A. Sethi, J. Montoya, C.R. Woese, and Z. Luthey-Schulten. 2008. Molecular signatures of ribosomal evolution. PNAS 105:13953-8.

Woese, Carl. 2002. On the evolution of cells. PNAS 99:8742-77.

Posted by Paul Nelson on October 28, 2008 10:45 AM | Permalink

The Catechism Versus the Data (Part 2): Much Ado About A Footnote Citing Christian Schwabe


This is the second in a blog series responding to John Timmer's online review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution. The first part is here.

2. Much Ado About A Footnote Citing Christian Schwabe

One theme of EE addresses differing views among evolutionary biologists about Darwin's Tree of Life, i.e., the theory of the universal common ancestry of all organisms on Earth: more precisely, the monophyly of terrestrial life, rooted in the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA. While the majority position within evolutionary biology endorses monophyly, a growing minority of workers argue for multiple independent origins, or polyphyly (see below). It's an important controversy, well worth the attention of textbooks.

But Timmer accuses EE of a "bait-and-switch" move in describing this controversy. By "lumping…together in a single footnote" several scientists with very different views about the overall pattern of life's history, he argues, EE tries for "borrowed credibility," misleading its readers about the true outlines of the current mono- versus polyphyly debate.

Timmer is particularly exercised by EE's inclusion of the ideas of Professor Christian Schwabe of the Medical University of South Carolina, whose publications he calls "borderline deranged." Given the space Timmer uses to criticize Schwabe, one might think that the latter's ideas receive significant attention in EE.

No, actually: the book mentions Schwabe exactly once, in a single footnote (which cites three of his papers). Timmer claims that EE lumps Schwabe together with other, better-known scientists, such as National Academy of Sciences member Carl Woese, as advocates of the polyphyletic view, without informing the reader about the different number of separate origins postulated by their respective theories.

But here is the actual EE footnote (p. 11):

Scientists who support a polyphyletic view differ on how many trees one should expect to find in the "orchard" of life. Some, such as microbiologist Carl Woese of the University of Illinois, argue that life on earth is descended "not from one, but from three distinctly different cell types" ("On the evolution of cells," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 (2002):8742- 77; 8746). Others, including Malcolm Gordon of UCLA and Christian Schwabe of the Medical University of South Carolina, think there might be a greater number of separate trees.

And that's it. No misdirection or lumping: Woese says three independent origins; Schwabe and Gordon say more. Anyone who reads the EE footnote should grasp that scientific opinions about polyphyly differ.

Let's go back, however, to Timmer's charitable label for Schwabe, "borderline deranged," as it gives us our first opportunity to address the catechism versus data dilemma in more depth.

Timmer acknowledges that "every couple of years, [Schwabe] publishes a paper in which he argues in favor" of his "borderline deranged" ideas. These, however, "are not scientific controversies," Timmer claims, but "actually opinions that have barely registered within the wider scientific community."

Really? To see how Schwabe's research raises challenges to monophyly and universal common ancestry, consider this excerpt from one of his papers cited in EE:

Against this background of high variability between relaxins from purportedly closely related species, the relaxins of pig and whale are all but identical. The molecules derived from rats, guinea pigs, man and pigs are as distant from each other (approximately 55%) as all are from the elasmobranch's [shark's] relaxin. … Insulin, however, brings man and pig phylogenetically closer together than chimpanzee and man. (Schwabe 1994, 171-2) According to Timmer's catechism, however, none of this is worth talking about, because Schwabe's ideas are just too crazy for serious consideration.

But someone forgot to tell journal editors and referees. Schwabe's "deranged" ideas -- coming from a tenured professor of biochemistry, and based in part on the puzzling features of relaxin (not "reflexin," as Timmer writes), and its phylogenetic distribution -- have cleared editorial review at the following journals:

Were these papers ignored? No: the relaxin puzzles are well-known; as other biologists who study relaxin observe (Wilkinson et al. 2005, 3),

Relaxin evolution has confounded researchers for decades. High sequence variability in relaxins across closely related species is a well-known feature of this peptide, however startling similarities have been observed between very distant species such as pigs and whales.

Nor have Schwabe's heterodox ideas about the evolutionary process escaped critical notice. His 2004 paper in the journal Chemistry and Biodiversity was followed immediately -- in the very same issue -- with a critical reply, as was the case with Schwabe's 1999 FASEB Journal paper. Hafner and Korthof (2006) argue vigorously against Schwabe's position, and Wilkinson et al. (2005, 9) note that "relaxin evolution has been the centre of much controversy," which they believe their approach has been able to resolve.

"The centre of much controversy" -- but Timmer says (falsely) that no one cares, because it's all "borderline deranged" anyway. Thus, what might be an interesting case study, supported by multiple peer-reviewed publications, pro and con, about how to interpret molecular evidence in relation to the tree of life and its origin, would be tossed aside by Timmer, in favor of the catechism: the "fact" of evolution, never mind the data.

As we mentioned above, EE cites Schwabe in a single footnote. His name never appears in the main text. A reader who followed up the Schwabe citations, however, would find a rich controversy, likely to stimulate thinking.

And that's good, all worries about the complicated data notwithstanding.

Up next: The "Fact" of Evolution


Hafner, Martin and Gert Korthof. 2006. Does a "500 million-year-old hormone" disprove Darwin? The FASEB Journal 20:1290-2.

Schwabe, Christian. 1994. Theoretical limitations of molecular phylogenetics and the evolution of relaxins. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 107B:167-77.

Wilkinson, Tracey N., Terence P. Speed, Geoffrey W. Tregear, and Ross A.D, Bathgate. 2005. Evolution of the relaxin-like peptide family. BMC Evolutionary Biology 5:14.

Posted by Paul Nelson on October 24, 2008 11:44 AM | Permalink

The Catechism Versus the Data: A Reply to John Timmer about Explore Evolution (part 1)


Explore Evolution the Arguments for and Against Neo-darwinism

This is the first in a series of blog entries replying to John Timmer's online critique of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution, posted by Paul Nelson on behalf of the book's production team.

1. Introduction: Sending Him the Book Didn't Help

On September 24, 2008, biologist and science writer John Timmer published an online review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution (EE). Timmer had previously written about EE without having read it, so Discovery Institute sent him a copy.

Alas -- having EE in his hands improved neither the quality of Timmer's writing about the book, nor indeed his coverage of the relevant science. In fact, Timmer so baldly misrepresents both the content of Explore Evolution, but especially the associated scientific evidence and controversies, that his review perfectly illustrates the need for a book like EE.

Our reply will reverse the order of Timmer's review. He starts by using nearly 1200 words to speculate about the motives of EE's authors. Since Timmer did not contact any of us, his speculations -- such as "the authors know precisely the sort of conclusions they'd like everyone to reach" -- cannot be better than groundless. We shall comment briefly in the last part of our reply, however, on a couple of his more philosophical points.

We want to focus on the science. Timmer's review reflects a deep dilemma that increasingly confronts educators in biology. The devil is in the details -- the data -- but if organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, or the National Association of Biology Teachers, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, don't want students to hear about the devil, namely, about challenges to accepted theory, then they will have to omit -- i.e., censor -- the data, namely, the evidence and how biologists variously interpret it.

Hence, many scientific publications that raise interesting questions about evolution will never see the inside of a classroom. The questions are too risky. Science education will become a catechism, diverging from science itself, because the questions now being raised by many evolutionary biologists cut ever closer to claims long held to be "fact."

This dilemma -- call it the catechism versus the data -- does not concern intelligent design, which has already found its way into public attention without science classroom endorsement. The dilemma concerns, rather, how evolution is taught. When students hear that "biologists today know that natural selection explains the origin of complexity," or "all biologists agree that every living thing descended from a single common ancestor" -- stock claims in many biology textbooks -- they are being miseducated about the actual state of the science.

And that is wrong.

In what follows, then, we rebut Timmer's hopelessly inaccurate construal of the contents of EE, and the evidence on which the book rests.

Up next: Much Ado About a Footnote Citing Christian Schwabe

Posted by Paul Nelson on October 24, 2008 11:35 AM | Permalink

`Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed' is out on DVD. Site touts local book


12:13 PM Sun, Oct 26, 2008 | Permalink Sam Hodges E-mail News tips

The Intelligent Design documentary called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" is out on DVD. The Web site promoting the film has a page recommending books on the subject, and the first one is "The Design of Life," by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells. Dr. Dembski, who holds advanced degrees in math and phiilosophy, is a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and also is academic editor at the Richardson, Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics. He's a fellow of the Center for Science and Culture of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.

Does evolution imply atheism?


Posted on: October 27, 2008 10:36 AM, by PZ Myers

We've got another troll in the comments — she wouldn't necessarily be a troll, except for the dead giveaway of asking the same question a dozen times and running away from any answer any of the non-troll commenters might give. The question is, "Does evolution imply atheism?", and I'm going to have to disagree with most of the people who have already answered it by giving a conditional yes.

First, let's clear up the incoherence of the question. I understand it as, "Does understanding science [it's not just biologists who exhibit this phenomenon!] lead to an abandonment of religious beliefs?", and that's the question to which I think an affirmative is the correct answer. It ought to; scientific thinking is corrosive to religious belief. However, it is a messier answer than just a "yes" or "no" can properly address, because most people don't accept a religion for rational reasons, because people are obdurate animals who don't easily change preconceptions, and because people have different religious backgrounds that can shape their response to science. Here's why I think that a general yes is the best answer, though.

First, there is the easy case of individuals coming from a fundamentalist background that hysterically asserts a whole barrage of counterfactual claims: that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that there is an afterlife in which you will be afflicted with hellfire if you don't obey their particular and peculiar dogma, that there is a god who cares about your penis and who will take requests for miraculous intervention, etc. Science smashes that kind of faith. I know many people who have left such religions specifically because a little dose of scientific knowledge exposes the fact that their preachers have been lying to them for years. There is a good reason that St Augustine cautioned against the common, standard practice of the biblical literalists:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

Augustine isn't concerned about the validity of science, of course — he's concerned that saying materially and obviously false things about the natural world will lead to souls being lost to Christianity. And he's right. All it takes is knocking out a few of the props holding up religious belief, and the whole house of cards can come tumbling down, with much attendant trauma. The people I know who have experienced the most anguish about evolution and leaving the church come from this kind of background, where the threats to apostates are the most dire and the claims about the world most absurd.

But what of more moderate religious belief? Is that also eroded by science? That's been my personal experience. I did not come out of a fundamentalist background at all — to the contrary, the church of my youth was relatively liberal about science, and never said a negative word about evolution (or any word, for that matter). Yet at the same time, they made a whole series of strange claims that they insisted were the very foundation of their special religious belief: the divinity of Jesus, the trinity, salvation, original sin, etc. Thinking scientifically means that you question assumptions and that you ask epistemological questions and you try to rationally justify the acceptance of ideas, and that's the antithesis of religious thinking. If you apply scientific reasoning to even that moderate version of religion, it crumbles — there is simply no evidence for any of their claims.

Of course, some people avoid that problem by simply never thinking scientifically about their beliefs. That's an easy out, because most beliefs aren't the product of rational thought, anyway…but it's a cheat, and it doesn't negate the idea that science is in conflict with religion.

Does science lead inevitably to atheism? No, because individuals can choose to not think scientifically, but also because what it really does is simply destroy the underpinnings of organized religion — the body of dogma that represents assailable claims of fact. That still leaves a few alternatives, with some refuge left untouched in agnosticism and a kind of mushy deism. Of course, to most people who object to godlessness anyway, those are functionally equivalent to atheism.

Stephen Hawking to address Vatican conference on evolution


October 31, 2008

There is no contradiction between creation and science, says Benedict XVI

Richard Owen in Rome

Stephen Hawking, the cosmologist and author of the bestselling A Brief History of Time, is to take part today in a conference at the Vatican on Darwin, evolution and intelligent design.

Pope Benedict XVI this morning opened the conference, organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which will last until next Tuesday. He said that like modern Popes before him, he saw no contradiction between the Christian concept of Creation and science. He cited Galileo, whom, he said "saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author." He added: "To "evolve" literally means "to unroll a scroll", that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity, and has been held dear by many scientists."

Professor Hawking, 66, recalled that he had taken part in a Vatican scientific conference 30 years ago, when he had observed that since the universe had no identifiable beginning, there had been no creation. He joked that he hoped the Pope was unaware of this, "otherwise I might share the fate of Galileo".

Last month, the Vatican said the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible but there was no need for a posthumous apology to Charles Darwin, who, in the 19th century, was attacked by the Church of England for theories which contradicted the Biblical account of the Creation.

The Catholic Church accepts evolution, but sees it as part of the divine plan. Pope Benedict has been described as a "theistic evolutionist" who believes that God created life through evolution, and thus that there is no inherent clash between religion and science.

The Catholic Church does not take the Genesis story that God created the world in six days literally, regarding it instead as an allegory. However some Christians - not least in the United States - do take the Genesis account literally and object to evolution being taught in school.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Vatican Council for Culture, said scientists, theologians and philosophers would gather next March at a conference organised by the University of Notre Dame and six pontifical universities to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "Upon the Origin of the Species".

Cardinal Paul Poupard, Monsignor Ravasi's predecessor as head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said that Genesis and Darwin's theory of evolution were "perfectly compatible" if the Bible was read "correctly". The real message of Genesis was that "the universe didn't make itself and had a creator" he said.

He said: "Maybe we should abandon the idea of issuing apologies as if history was a court eternally in session" . He noted that unlike Galileo, Darwin had never been formally condemned by the Catholic Church, "nor was his book ever banned".

In additional remarks to the conference, the Pope told the scientists that "in choosing the topic 'scientific Insight into the evolution of the universe and of life', you seek to focus on an area of enquiry which elicits much interest. In fact, many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe."

He added that his predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II had noted "that there is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences......In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence."

Quoting from St Thomas Aquinas, the Pope said that "to state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously."

The world, far from originating out of chaos, "resembles an ordered book" the Pope said. "Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is "legible". It has an inbuilt "mathematics"...... We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities".

He said: "thanks to the natural sciences, we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity's place in the cosmos." He quoted John Paul II as observing that "scientific truth, which is itself a participation in divine Truth, can help philosophy and theology to understand ever more fully the human person and God's Revelation about man, a Revelation that is completed and perfected in Jesus Christ."

Creation establishes God's order, Pope tells conference on evolution


October 31, 2008

Meeting on October 31 with members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who have gathered in Rome for a discussion on evolution, Pope Benedict XVI observed: "In order to develop and evolve, the world must first 'be,' and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence."

The Holy Father told the group that faith does not resist scientific inquiry into the development of life. Faith accepts science, and offers its own perspective, he said. Galileo, the Pope recalled "saw nature as a book whose author is God." That approach, he said, "helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos."

Moreover, the Pontiff continued, the recognition of a spiritual being prior to the material world "points to the existence of the intellective soul of a free transcendent subject." This, he said, affirms the Christian belief that every person has a soul, which is immortal.

Source(s): these links will take you to other sites, in a new window.

Universe does not originate from chaos; it is a cosmos (VIS)

CAM Pseudoexperts: Edzard Ernst nails it


Posted on: October 31, 2008 7:16 AM, by Abel Pharmboy

PalMD has a nice post up at denialism blog reviewing a recent NYT article on a foundation run by DKNY's Donna Karan donating $850,000 USD to Beth Israel Medical Center to study the combination of Eastern and Western healing methods. PalMD has the details but he then gets into an area about which I am rather passionate: the incredibly low scientific-based bar that is allowed by journalists and hospital administrators for individuals to be considered "experts" in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

As the good doctor notes of one such expert:

Other than his standard medical qualifications, I'm not sure why this guy has anything special to offer a cancer center. If it's pushing strange supplements, homeopathy, or cranial-sacral therapy, well, perhaps the cancer center isn't interested in being modern any longer.

When I started teaching about herbal medicines vs. Rx drugs from natural products I was blown away by how quickly CAM people and the MSM began to consider me an expert. The CAM people deserted me when I gave a fact-laden critical analysis at one of their annual tradeshows about ten years ago (I haven't been invited back since), but some people in the MSM still turn to me because they can count on valuable commentary.

I don't believe I've ever written about this at Terra Sig in the past but University of Exeter's Dr Edzard Ernst wrote a terrific 2006 editorial entitled, "CAM Pseudoexperts," in his review journal, FACT: Focus on Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Ernst appropriately skewers these CAM pseudoexperts although he did not go quite far enough, IMHO, to communicate that journalists should have a more critical eye when seeking out and interviewing such individuals (although the audience was not intended to be journalists):

I have to admit, I occasionally get irritated by some of the so-called CAM 'experts' that so vociferously dominate our field, but more often these people amuse me. Virtually all fields of medicine are driven by healthcare professionals and scientists, but CAM is different - it is an area that is driven by consumers. It also is an area where, relative to mainstream medicine, scientific knowledge is still in its early infancy. These important differences have many far-reaching implications, and one of them is that almost everyone seems to be an 'expert' in CAM. . .

. . .The personality of the pseudoexpert merits detailed psychological analysis. It helps, I think, not to be too intelligent. This makes it easier for the pseudoexpert to fall victim to his or her own powers of persuasion. The result is often an almost religious belief of the pseudoexpert in the correctness of his or her assertions. One cannot readily disprove a religion and those pseudoexperts who mistake CAM for a religion cannot even conceive the possibility of being wrong. Not all pseudoexperts, however, are true believers nor are all of them stupid. Some are highly motivated by strong self-interest. These are the ones who tend to be addicted to the limelight of public interest. If you read the Sunday papers and follow how some health writers promote certain treatments, you probably understand what I mean. One does not need to do an awful lot of research to find that some of these pseudoexperts are motivated by financial rewards. For others the attraction lies in the prospect of fame or power. Attractive positions and distinctions wait for those who loudly and unscientifically promote what the government of the day or other VIPs want to hear.

I apologize in advance to Dr Ernst for such extensive quotation but his Focus on Alternative and Complementary Medicine doesn't get the distribution it truly deserves (free text TOC here). This article is now a standard component of my handouts whenever speaking with journalists about natural products and the distinction of this science-based field from herbal medicine.

In fact, Dr Ernst: you should really start a blog.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Evolution education update: October 31, 2008

The author of The Devil in Dover is interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, while a recent talk by NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott on science education is now available on-line. And a recent survey among Eastern Orthodox laity in the United States provides interesting data on their attitudes toward creationism and evolution.


In San Francisco for a speaking tour, Lauri Lebo, who reported on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case for the York Daily Record and then wrote The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America (The New Press, 2008), was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle's Nanette Asimov, with the result appearing both in the newspaper (October 31, 2008) and on its podcast. Discussing the genesis of the case, Lebo explained that at first, the creationists on the Dover Area School Board "had been talking about creationism. They said the Earth is 6,000 years old. They believe man walked with dinosaurs. They also knew they could not push God into science class. They needed something a little sneakier. This is what intelligent design was." "Intelligent design" itself she described as "revamped creationism, the idea that life is so complex that it demands a guiding hand."

A lawsuit eventuated, of course, in which NCSE aided the legal team for the plaintiffs and in which three members of NCSE's board of directors, Brian Alters, Barbara Forrest, and Kevin Padian, served as expert witnesses. In his verdict, as Lebo explains, the judge "said not only that the board members lied, he chided the 'breathtaking inanity' of what the board had done in trying to push their religious views into science class. The big question was: Would he also rule that intelligent design was not science? And that is what he did." Asked to assess the impact of the decision, Lebo said, "It only affects Dover. However, outside Dover, a lot of districts have been paying attention. Ohio took their intelligent-design-friendly curriculum guidelines out. This cost Dover taxpayers $1 million. So districts are paying heed. However, this battle is not over. We're seeing big challenges in Texas and Louisiana -- and we expect other ones under the guise of academic freedom."

For the Chronicle's interview with Lebo, visit:

For the Chronicle's podcast with Lebo, visit:

For information about The Devil in Dover, visit:

And for information about Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott spoke on science education at the Innovation 2008 conference, and video of her talk is now available on-line. The session in which she participated, entitled "Renewing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education," was introduced as "American students have slipped to 17th in science and 24th in math compared to students in other countries. We need to ensure [that] students graduate with the science and technology skills for success in the work force and with the science literacy needed for an active role as citizens in a technologically sophisticated democracy. Policy leaders and educators will look at these trends and discuss strategies to renew American STEM education." Drawing on her experience at NCSE in defending the integrity of science education , Scott offered a series of recommendations for improving the quality of STEM education in the United States. The conference, which took place October 20 and 21, 2008, was sponsored by Science Debate 2008 and the Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.

For Scott's talk (from 7:40 to 27:15), visit:


A recent survey among Eastern Orthodox laity in the United States provides interesting data on their attitudes toward creationism and evolution. According to the report, published as Alexei D. Krindatch, The Orthodox Church Today (Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, 2008), the survey was conducted from September 2007 to May 2008. Information was gathered by a mail survey of a nationally representative sample of lay members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America (GOA) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the two largest Orthodox denominations in the United States. There were nearly 1000 respondents from 103 parishes.

Two relevant questions were included in the survey. First, respondents were asked, "Would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism instead of evolution in public schools?" Krindatch writes, "American Orthodox laity (GOA and OCA alike) are divided in three almost equal groups: those who favor teaching creationism instead of evolution in American public schools (33%), those who reject this idea (35%) and those who are unable to take one or [another] stand on this matter (32%)" (p. 151). College graduates and those who described their theological stance as "moderate" or "liberal" (as opposed to "traditional" or "conservative") were more likely to oppose teaching creationism instead of evolution.

Second, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "Evolutionary theory is compatible with the idea of God as Creator." Krindatch writes, "the American Orthodox laity are deeply divided among themselves in their approach to the compatibility of evolutionism and creationism. Almost equal proportions of our respondents either agreed (41%) or disagreed (38%) with the statement ... Further, more than one-fifth (21%) of parishioners were unable to evaluate this statement and said that they are '[n]eutral or unsure'" (p. 152). College graduates, converts to Orthodoxy, and those who described their theological stance as "moderate" or "liberal" (as opposed to "traditional" or "conservative") were more likely to agree.

For The Orthodox Church Today (PDF), visit:

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


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

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Simulator allows scientists to predict evolution's next best move


Biologists today are doing what Darwin thought impossible. They are studying the process of evolution not through fossils but directly, as it is happening. Now, by modeling the steps evolution takes to build, from scratch, an adaptive biochemical network, biophysicists Eric D. Siggia and Paul Francois at Rockefeller University have gone one step further. Instead of watching evolution in action, they show that they can predict its next best move.

In Darwinian evolution, even the slightest, infinitesimal beginnings can lead to tools as complex as the human eye. But how do innovations like these get started and propagated by natural selection when their raw material is merely individual random genetic mutations? By looking at the series of mutations in evolutionary space, Siggia, head of the Laboratory of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics and Paul Francois, a postdoc in his lab, now provide a computational answer to one of Darwin's biggest questions.

In this evolutionary space, Francois and Siggia instructed their algorithm to find a network that worked very much like an eye after adjusting to different levels of light. "The eye is a very good example of adaptation," says Francois. "It admits different amounts of light when light levels change, and after some period of adjustment, your eyes work equally well as before. That's what we selected for; we instructed our algorithm to find a network that after responding to some input, always comes back to its initial value, or level of working. That's perfect adaptation."

To find this network, the algorithm, like Darwinian evolution, showed no mercy. During each generation, the algorithm randomly added, deleted or changed the features of genes in a population of gene networks and selected only those that were the most fit, and thus most likely to reproduce. After duplicating the fittest networks in each generation, it repeated the process of mutation, selection and duplication over and over again until it eventually arrived at the network that adapted perfectly to a random biochemical input.

Francois and Siggia found that certain mutations automatically increased a network's fitness and thus were immediately selected. "When you look at systems like the eye or structures like the human spinal cord, you think how could these have evolved from a simple network," says Francois. In their current study, Siggia and Francois looked at how a complex biochemical network could evolve, and an answer came together: It is built through a specific series of mutations that is repeated over and over again, from scratch, every time they restart their simulations.

"So this is really the idea," says Francois. "From one step to the next, you know, more or less, evolution's next best move. In our simulations, that's what we see."

Physical Biology: June 1, 2008

Contact: Thania Benios 212-327-7146

Principal: 8th Grade science teacher taught religion


Freshmen had to re-learn science principles after leaving junior high

Thursday, October 30, 2008 1:33 PM

By Dean Narciso


The principal of Mount Vernon High School became frustrated by teacher complaints that freshman students needed to be re-taught 8th grade science.

During the fifth day of a hearing to determine whether 8th-grade science teacher John Freshwater will keep his job, a medical doctor also testified that pictures of marks on a student who says Freshwater burned him with a lab instrument were "superficial" second degree burns that could produce underlying damage.

Freshwater is accused of burning a student, teaching religion in his science class and failing to follow the district's orders. Freshwater says the district wants to fire him because he refused to remove a Bible from his desk.

Mt. Vernon High School Principal Kathy Kasler testified that e-mails, teachers' comments and a teacher's surveys of her students showed that some 8th grade science students were being taught creationism, the religious belief that a deity created the universe.

Kasler received an e-mail in August from high school science teacher Bonnie Schutte reading in part:

"Teaching creationism is illegal and the state Department of Education is looking for the names of schools who are allowing this to happen so that they can make an example of them."

On surveys given by Schutte students stated: "We learned different looks on evolution" and "I liked debating about creation and evolution."

"I find it extremely unfair to have to start each school year re-teaching students how science actually works," Scutte wrote. "Professionally, I'm very tired of this."

Kasler said she's known of complaints about Freshwater for about seven years, and that she asked the middle school to assign her daughter to another science teacher.

Freshwater's attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, asked Kasler how far she took her concerns about Freshwater. She said she advised other administrators, but didn't do more because Freshwater was not her employee.

"If she had problems with somebody, based on her years of experience, and her leadership training, she certainly could have taken further action," Hamilton concluded.

Photographs of marks that Freshwater is accused of making on the arm of Zachary Dennis were analyzed by a Youngstown doctor, who called them "superficial second-degree burns."

Dr. David Levy, chairman of emergency medicine at St. Elizabeth Health Center said that such burns can cause underlying damage and can be more dangerous to children, whose skin is thinner and moister than adults.

Levy also said that since electricity passes through arteries and nerves, "chaotic rhythms" of the heart could result.

Hamilton asked Levy whether high voltage metal balls popular at some science museums, and used to make hair stand on end, would be any safer that the device Freshwater used.

Levy replied: "Not necessarily."

The hearing continues through Friday. Attorney scheduling conflicts could postpone the hearing next week.

Intelligent Design and science


Vancouver Sun

Published: Friday, October 31, 2008

Science is the collecting of observed evidence.

Peter McKnight's Science and Religion series should acknowledge that evolutionists and Intelligent Design proponents possess the exact same evidence.

ID proponents simply believe that the most logical explanation for the evidence is creationism, or Intelligent Design.

For instance, evolutionary scientists continue to attempt to duplicate the origin of life by trying to make life out of non-life, a requirement for the evolutionary model to be true. But even in the most sterile clinical laboratory experiments, it hasn't been done.

If you are like most people and have only looked at issues of origin from an evolutionary standpoint, I suggest you Google the creationism/ID websites to see the evidence for yourself.

Evaluate both sides to determine the best explanation. True science is not an enemy of creationism.

Tim Spangler


© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Teacher: Students were mistaught


Colleague testifies in Mount Vernon case

Friday, October 31, 2008 2:54 AM By Dean Narciso


A Mount Vernon High School teacher said she had to reteach science to freshmen after they received improper instruction from eighth-grade teacher John Freshwater.

"If they had been taught evolution in a scientific manner, they would not have agreed that evolution is controversial," Bonnie Schutte said.

Surveys that Schutte gave her students at the beginning of each school year included observations about their eighth-grade science classes, including: "It's all opinion. It's not proven fact," "It's a very open subject" and "we can't say what happened in the past because we weren't there."

Concerned that students wouldn't pass the science portion of the Ohio Graduation Test, Schutte complained to administrators, but little was done until this year.

Freshwater is in the fifth day of a hearing that is to help determine whether he will be fired. He is accused of teaching creationism, the religious belief that a deity created the universe, and failing to obey orders to remove religious displays from his classroom.

Freshwater says the district wants to fire him because he refused to remove a Bible from his desk.

Last fall, Schutte sent Mount Vernon High School Principal Kathy Kasler an e-mail: "Teaching creationism is illegal and the state Department of Education is looking for the names of schools who are allowing this to happen so that they can make an example of them."

Kasler said that she's known of complaints about Freshwater for about seven years, and that she asked the middle school to assign her daughter to another science teacher.

Freshwater's attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, asked Kasler how far she took her concerns about Freshwater. She said she advised other administrators but didn't do more because he was not her employee.


Intelligent Design and science


Editor's note: Robert Crowther is Director of Communications for the Center for Science & Culture of the Discovery Institute, the major proponent of Intelligent Design. Vancouver Sun

Published: Friday, October 31, 2008

Intelligent Design goes beyond biology and encompasses physics, chemistry and cosmology, as well. It is not creationism, nor was it developed to get around court rulings.

Oxford scholar F.C.S. Schiller employed the term "intelligent design" in 1897, writing that "it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design."

In By Design, a history of the current controversy, journalist Larry Witham traces the roots of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement in biology to the 1960s and '70s.

Leading theoretical physicist Paul Davies described the fine-tuning of the universe as "the most compelling evidence for an element of cosmic design."

Fred Hoyle, the eminent theoretical physicist and agnostic, followed with The Intelligent Universe (1983). He wrote: "A component has evidently been missing from cosmological studies. The origin of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubik cube, requires an intelligence."

In 1984, one of the first scientific books advocating intelligent design appeared, Mystery of Life's Origin, which was favourably received by leading scientists and scholars.

Also that year, biologist Ray Bohlin published The Natural Limits to Biological Change, one of the first books to use the term "intelligent design" in its modern sense.

All of this was before court cases such as Edwards v. Aguillard.

McKnight's attempt to discredit ID is as far afield as what he says about the Discovery Institute.

It is a secular think-tank, and our research into intelligent design and evolutionary theory is rooted in science, not religion.

Robert Crowther


© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Oldest Malarial Mummies Shed Light on Disease Evolution


Andrew Bossone in Cairo for National Geographic News

October 30, 2008

The oldest known cases of malaria have been discovered in two 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummies, scientists announced.

Researchers in Germany studied bone tissue samples from more than 90 mummies found in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, now called Luxor.

In addition, a separate team at University College London recently found that a pair of 9,000-year-old skeletons—a woman and a baby—discovered off the coast of Israel were infected with the oldest known cases of tuberculosis in modern humans.

Both finds contribute to the burgeoning field of paleopathology, or the study of ancient diseases.

Examining ancient DNA for clues about how and why disease-causing organisms evolve and mutate could have a tremendous impact on modern medicine.

"This will help us understand how these deadly diseases were able to infect humans," said Andreas Nerlich, a pathologist at the Academic Teaching Hospital München-Bogenhausen who found the mummies' malaria.

"Knowing this may help us to find strategies to prevent the introduction of new infectious diseases or the re-emergence of ancient ones."

Combating Drug Resistance

Even with today's medical advances, millions of people die each year from malaria, for which there is no effective vaccine.

Tuberculosis, a potentially fatal bacterial infection, has strains that have grown resistant to antibiotics and other treatments.

"Tuberculosis is becoming real problem in developed countries such as the U.S. or Switzerland, where [the bacteria] don't react anymore to antibiotics because they have … mutated," said Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich.

Studying ancient diseases that have changed over time could help scientists better understand how modern diseases mutate in reaction to drugs.

"If you go back in the past and see this genetic fingerprint [of a disease], say a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago or ten thousand years ago, it helps you to assess how it might actually react in the future," said Rühli, who was not involved in either study.

This makes mummies and other ancient human remains even more valuable to paleopathology than written records.

"Humans are the best archives of humans," Rühli said. "If you have papyri on which [ancient doctors] diagnosed diseases, it's less reliable than if you actually have molecular or archaeological proof."

Other diagnostic tools, such as radiology and CT scans, have helped researchers find medical abnormalities in mummies, including arthritis, sclerosis, bone fractures, dental problems, and injuries.

(Related: "King Tut Died From Broken Leg, Not Murder, Scientists Conclude" [December 1, 2006].)

But such scans provide little definitive evidence of an infection, and archaeologists frown on more invasive procedures such as autopsies.

Sampling tissues to look at DNA is both less damaging to the mummy and more precise in terms of studying diseases.

"A CT scan of a mummy may identify changes very suggestive of tuberculosis, while DNA analysis provides a clear proof of the infection by showing the specific pathogen," Nerlich, of the German teaching hospital, said.

Path to a Cure?

Although pathologists have not yet used ancient DNA to develop specific treatments for modern diseases, they believe their work has that potential.

Ancient samples of a microorganism's genetic code can show what its DNA looked like before any of its known mutations developed.

An antibiotic designed to target a disease-causing bacteria in its earliest stages could then potentially cure its modern variations.

But getting to that stage requires studying as many samples as possible.

So far scientists have documented dozens of ancient cases of tuberculosis, contributing to the wealth of knowledge about the disease.

"Mycobacteria [such as tuberculosis] has a very strong cell wall, which we think helps to protect the DNA a bit within the mummies," said Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy. (Test your knowledge of illnesses with our infectious diseases quiz.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lebo's front-row seat at modern 'monkey' trial


Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Board of Education in tiny Dover, Pa., earned a dubious distinction in 2004, becoming the first public district to require teachers to introduce religion while casting doubt on evolution.

Although Christianity is serious business in Dover, the idea of supplanting science with religion angered many parents. So, in 2005 - with the ACLU and the National Center for Science Education in Oakland - some parents sued to stop the religious requirement. The epic First Amendment case was Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District.

One reporter covering the case was Lauri Lebo, who grew up near the town of about 2,000 and wrote for the local York Daily Record. In her new book, Lebo not only explains the best public defense of evolution since the Scopes "Monkey" trial of 1925, but she also shows how the issue divided the town - and threatened her own relationship with her evangelical father.

Lebo's book is "The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America."

Q: This case centers on intelligent design. What is that?

A: Intelligent design is revamped creationism, the idea that life is so complex that it demands a guiding hand.

Q: What did the school board require teachers to do?

A: They had crafted a four-paragraph statement to be read to students that raised questions about evolution, said it was not a fact and that there are other theories of how we've gotten here, including intelligent design. Then students were referred to a textbook in the library. The students were never allowed to ask questions. The teachers refused (to comply), and the administrator read the statement.

Q: The U.S. Supreme Court has outlawed teaching creationism in public school. Why did the school board think it could get away with intelligent design?

A: They were getting help from the Thomas More Law Center, (which) pledges to be the "sword and shield" for Christians. The district's attorney said, "You can't do this - you've been talking about creationism - and that you are motivated by religion is quite clear." The brazenness of what the school board was doing was amazing. The goal was to take this case to the Supreme Court.

Q: You're saying they pretended it wasn't creationism.

A: Very much so, yes. At first, they had been talking about creationism. They said the Earth is 6,000 years old. They believe man walked with dinosaurs. They also knew they could not push God into science class. They needed something a little sneakier. This is what intelligent design was.

Q: What's Dover like?

A: It's a conservative area. But there are also people who believe that teaching their children about God is their constitutional right, not the right of the school board. They hold these values quite dear.

Q: How hard was it for parents to go against the school board and their neighbors?

A: For some, it was quite difficult. A lot of them were afraid that they would be the people "banning God" from their community. A lot of the plaintiffs are very active in their churches. But they believe in science. The ACLU was looking for plaintiffs, and one by one, 11 parents did come forward.

Q: Big themes in your book are hypocrisy and self-righteousness. How did this case bring those issues out into the open?

A: One of the most painful elements of this case was watching how the school board members lied. They had talked about creationism, yet when it came time to give their depositions, they denied making these remarks. Their remarks had been recorded in the newspapers by two reporters, Joe Maldonado and Heidi Bernhard-Bubb. They said Joe and Heidi had made up the remarks. These are reporters of very deep faith, but the board said, nope, they're liars.

Q: Your father, Dean Lebo, ran a Christian radio station. You and your family are mainly agnostics. How did your coverage of this case affect your relationship?

A: My father has five kids, and he was always terrified that if we did not believe as he did, we would go to hell. I understood his fear. So for many years, I pretended that I believed. However, when I was dealing with the board members' lies, I would come to my father and say, look, they're slandering fellow Christians. And he would never denounce that. That really bothered me, and during the trial, I stopped trying to play along that I believed as he did.

Q: The judge was John Jones, a Bush appointee and Republican. Because of that, the defendants felt confident he would rule in their favor. What happened?

A: A lot of the pro-intelligent-design groups speculated wildly that he was in their pocket. As the trial progressed, there was a lot of time spent watching the judge to see how he reacted. When there was some fascinating scientific testimony going on, he was leaning forward with the rest of us.

Q: How did he rule?

A: In the end, he said not only that the board members lied, he chided the "breathtaking inanity" of what the board had done in trying to push their religious views into science class. The big question was: Would he also rule that intelligent design was not science? And that is what he did.

Q: What's the impact of that?

A: It only affects Dover. However, outside Dover, a lot of districts have been paying attention. Ohio took their intelligent-design-friendly curriculum guidelines out. This cost Dover taxpayers $1 million. So districts are paying heed. However, this battle is not over. We're seeing big challenges in Texas and Louisiana - and we expect other ones under the guise of academic freedom.

The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America: By Lauri Lebo (New Press; 2008; 238 pages; $24.95)

To listen to a podcast with author Lauri Lebo, go to sfgate.com/ZFFX.

E-mail Nanette Asimov at nasimov@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disco. Inst. tapdances, accuses me of unspecified "errors"


Posted on: October 28, 2008 6:28 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Disco. DJ Rob Crowther is upset.

A few days ago, I pointed out that his underling, Casey Luskin, has repeatedly misrepresented the Texas science standards revisions, in particular alleging conflicts of interest which do not exist while ignoring the profound conflicts of interest affecting expert reviewers Stephen Meyer (of the Discovery Institute) and Ralph Seelke.

In response to my post, Crowther writes:

Josh Rosenau has a post up yesterday attacking Casey Luskin that has a number of errors.

After a bit of whining about how the evil MSM have treated him cruelly, Crowther contrasts my claim that

At issue is a Disco.-inspired standard in the older TEKS which requires teachers to have students "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" (my emphasis).

Crowther insists, "I corrected this back in June," and quotes himself:

Let's review. In 1998, the Texas Board of Education adopted the current set of science standards calling on students "to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." You can read the standards for yourself here.

I see no conflict between his quote of my post and his restatement of his earlier position. I did not claim that the language was of some vintage other than 1998, I merely asserted that the language in those standards was inspired by Disco. That inspiration could have taken any of several forms, and Crowther has taken no steps to deny that.

Crowther continues by complaining that:

As for claims that we try to get intelligent design into the curriculum, that's just not the case.

I cannot say for certain where I claimed otherwise, since the closest I came to such a claim is this:

Disco. and their allies had hoped to use that language about "strengths and weaknesses" to push their brand of creationism into classrooms,

Is Crowther conceding that ID is "their brand of creationism"?

If not, this is a complete non sequitur. If so, that rather changes the whole dynamic of this discussion.

What I wrote, though, encompasses both the teaching of IDC, and the teaching of long-repudiated creationist claims as "weaknesses of evolution," a tactic employed by Explore Evolution, a book promoted by Disco. and written by Disco. staff and fellows. Casey acknowledges that the strengths and weaknesses standard would make it easier for that book to be introduced into Texas classrooms. I fail to see the error on my part.

I hope that Crowther will correct his misstatements about me at his very earliest convenience.

Copper ruins in Jordan bolster biblical record of King Solomon


New carbon dating shows the site is older than previously believed. Critics say there's still no evidence of an empire.

By Thomas H. Maugh II October 28, 2008

A massive copper smelting plant in the biblical land of Edom is at least three centuries older than researchers previously believed, placing it firmly in the traditional timeline of King Solomon, considered the greatest ruler of Israel, researchers reported Monday.

The existence of Solomon 3,000 years ago has been questioned by some scholars over the last two decades because of the paucity of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical record and the belief that there were no complex societies in Israel or Edom capable of building fortresses, monuments and other sophisticated public works, such as large mines, in the 10th century BC.

"We're not answering the question" of whether Solomon existed, he said. "But we've brought empirical data that shows we have to reevaluate those questions. We're back in the ballgame now."

Archaeologist William Schniedewind of UCLA agreed, saying Levy "is completely right. The scientific evidence seems to be going in his favor."

Critics, however, charge that Levy is overinterpreting the importance of the radiocarbon dates, because there is no evidence of habitation at the earliest dates to go with them. That suggests the site was operated periodically by nomads and not associated with any city or kingdom, much less an empire, according to archaeologist Piotr Bienkowski of the University of Manchester in Britain.

Without further evidence, "it is premature to start talking about links with a 'biblical Solomon,' " he said.

Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University in Israel, added: "Taking the biblical description of King Solomon literally means ignoring two centuries of biblical research."

The stories recounted in the Old Testament, he said, "depict the concerns, theology and background of the time of the writers" in the 5th century BC and cannot be accepted as factual.

According to the Old Testament, Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba who brought Israel to its ancient fruition, ruling an empire that stretched from the Euphrates to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. He is said to have built the First Temple in Jerusalem, amassed a fortune in gold and written the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

The legendary King Solomon's Mines of book and movie fame, however, were mythical gold and diamond mines in Africa, according to experts.

According to the Bible, Solomon reigned for 40 years before dying in 931 BC.

Finkelstein and others, however, have argued that Jerusalem was barely inhabited at that time and could not have been the center of an empire. This "minimalist" view holds that Israel did not develop into a true state until the 8th century BC.

The current center of the controversy is a 24-acre site called Khirbat en-Nahas -- Arabic for "ruins of copper" -- about 30 miles south of the Dead Sea and 30 miles north of the famed archaeological site of Petra in Jordan. It is the largest Iron Age copper factory in the Middle East.

The most notable characteristic of the site is the massive accumulation of black slag produced during the ancient smelting process. The site includes more than 100 buildings, including a fortress. Mines and mining trails abound.

Because wood was used to produce the heat for smelting, charcoal samples are available for dating. Two years ago, Levy reported radiocarbon dates from the site indicating that mining was taking place in the 10th century BC. Finkelstein and others objected, noting that archaeological evidence in the nearby highlands of Edom showed no evidence of habitation before the 8th century BC.

To answer those criticisms, Levy's team excavated through 20 feet of slag near the center of the site, carefully documenting the location of each bit of charcoal and other artifacts. The charcoal was then dated by physicist Thomas Higham of Oxford University.

The bottom stratum of the site revealed a period of extensive mining that lasted for about 40 years around 940 BC and produced 9 feet of slag. There was then a major disruption in mining about 910 BC, followed by a resumption in the 9th century BC.

In the stratum associated with the disruption, they found an Egyptian scarab from the eastern Nile delta and an amulet linked to the Egyptian goddess Mut.

The "tantalizing question," Levy said, is whether these artifacts are associated with the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I (known as Shishak in the Bible), who conquered much of Palestine following the death of Solomon.

Records in Egypt show that Sheshonq's troops occupied Hazevah, about eight miles from Khirbat en-Nahas.

"We can't believe everything ancient writings tell us," Levy said. "But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible."

Maugh is a Times staff writer.


Texas Science Standards Debate Is About Darwinian Evolution, not Intelligent Design


Science standards review processes always seem to send Darwinists into a misinformation flurry. The current review of Texas' standards is no exception. Josh Rosenau has a post up yesterday attacking Casey Luskin that has a number of errors. Josh is in elite company, as these are the very same errors that spread like the flu through the MSM last spring. At that time we reported how the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, were misreporting the facts about "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas science standards.

Now Josh writes:

At issue is a Disco.-inspired standard in the older TEKS which requires teachers to have students "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" (my emphasis).

I corrected this back in June:

Let's review. In 1998, the Texas Board of Education adopted the current set of science standards calling on students "to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." You can read the standards for yourself here.

As for claims that we try to get intelligent design into the curriculum, that's just not the case. Our science education policy is very clear. In November of 2003 Discovery Institute issued a Q&A that stated:

Does Discovery Institute advocate requiring intelligent design theory in textbooks as an alternative? Absolutely not. We are NOT seeking to have intelligent design included in textbooks or in classroom instruction. We only want factual errors corrected and legitimate scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism presented.

Darwinists are fond of trying to change the subject from teaching the case for and against Darwinian evolution, and make this a debate over whether or not to include intelligent design in the curriculum. That isn't the issue.

Posted by Robert Crowther on October 28, 2008 10:42 AM | Permalink