NTS LogoSkeptical News for 6 December 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, December 06, 2008

No intelligence allowed in Stein's film


The makers of Expelled, including Ben Stein, have not let facts stand in the way of their anti-Darwin screed

Peter McKnight, Vancouver Sun

Published: Saturday, June 21, 2008

Although you're probably not aware of it, scientists, lobby groups, the media and the courts are all united in a massive conspiracy to destroy your freedom. But have no fear, freedom fighter Ben Stein is here.

That, in effect, is the thesis of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the new anti-science "documentary" which opens across Canada on June 27, was produced by Vancouver's Premise Media, and stars Stein, the lawyer, actor, game show host and speechwriter for former U.S. president Richard Nixon.

The subtitle of the film is wholly appropriate as there is precious little intelligence displayed in its more than 90 minutes. But the subtitle's reference to the content of the film was unwitting -- it was meant to refer to a giant conspiracy to banish intelligent design theory from the halls of academe and the culture as a whole.

Now, you might ask, what exactly is intelligent design? But don't ask the producers of the film, since they don't even bother to define it. Don't ask Stein, either: I did, but all I got from him was a suggestion that the meaning of the term comes through in the film.

Since the producers evidently saw no need to define what their movie is about, allow me: Though proponents deny it, ID is the latest form of creationism, as it states that the apparent design in nature reveals that there must have been a designer. While proponents insist that ID has nothing to do with religion, they inevitably conclude that the designer is none other than the Judeo-Christian God.

ID is therefore a religious theory, rather than a scientific one. Scientific theories must yield testable hypotheses -- that is, they must make predictions and we must be able to test whether those predictions come true. But since we never know what God will do next, there is nothing to test, no way of knowing whether the evidence supports or refutes the theory. This explains why ID has failed to produce an empirical research program.

Had the producers included such a discussion, which would have taken all of five minutes, viewers would understand why university science faculties eschew ID. But Expelled is not about understanding -- it's propaganda pure and simple. Any discussion of the nature of science -- Stein demurred when I asked him to define "science" -- would collapse the fantasy world created by this deeply dishonest film.

By failing to tell us what ID is, and what science is, the producers are free to claim that universities have launched a witchhunt for scientists who've had the temerity to mention ID in their papers or lectures. Jobs lost, careers ended, live destroyed, all because these intrepid folks dared to challenge the "Darwinian establishment."

Chief among these Stein-sanctioned martyrs is Richard Sternberg, whose "life was nearly ruined," we are told, after he published a pro-ID paper by the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington journal. The movie claims that as a consequence, Sternberg lost his job and his office at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, where he worked as an unpaid research associate.

In reality, Sternberg had resigned as editor of the journal six months before publishing the Meyer paper, and he still has an office at the Smithsonian, though he apparently has not shown up there in years.

Similarly, the film charges that Iowa State University astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez -- who, according to Stein, had a "stellar academic record" -- was denied tenure thanks to his ID views and his pro-ID book, The Privileged Planet. Yet one-third of Iowa State's astronomers fail to receive tenure, and Gonzalez's previously impressive publication record dropped off dramatically when he assumed his position at the university.

That Expelled plays fast and loose with the facts regarding the situations of these and other academics reveals the producers' less than enthusiastic commitment to truth. But the truth would merely get in the way of the producers' efforts to show, not just that the "Darwinian establishment" expels ID advocates, but wishes to expel God Himself.

In order to do the latter, Stein interviews well-known atheist biologists such as Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers -- who were deceived about the purpose of the film -- in an attempt to dupe people into believing that Darwinism leads to atheism. Nowhere do we hear from prominent religious biologists such as Roman Catholic Brown University cell biologist -- and ID critic -- Ken Miller, or evangelical Christian geneticist -- and ID critic -- Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project.

When I asked Stein about the absence of scientists like Miller and Collins, he said the producers determined who would be interviewed. In what is about the only honest statement I've heard from the producers, associate producer Mark Mathis told the editors of Scientific American that including "Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily."

Mathis also made certain outrageous comments about Miller's faith, disputing whether he is a real Catholic, which would have come as a surprise to Pope John Paul II, who saw no conflict between Catholicism and evolution. But Miller's inclusion in Expelled would certainly have confused the film -- that is, harmed the producers' efforts to present evolutionary biology and belief in God as mutually exclusive.

That's not the worst of it. According to the film, Darwinism has led not only to atheism, but to something much worse: The Holocaust. Expelled intersperses clips of the Nazis with Stein's visit to Dachau, and Stein talks to several people who claim the Nazis were inspired by Darwin.

Nowhere does Stein mention the centuries of anti-Semitism before Darwin -- in fact, Expelled all but ignores anti-Semitism as a reason for the Holocaust. Consequently, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying, "Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry."

When I asked Stein about this statement, his response revealed his hostility toward the Anti-Defamation League more than anything else, as he told me bluntly, "It's none of their f---ing business."

In any case, to support the Darwin-Nazi thesis, Stein quotes a passage from Darwin's The Descent of Man, which supposedly indicates Darwin's support for eugenics: "With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."

Now the first thing to observe here is that this is not a literal quote -- parts of sentences are excised so the passage effectively says the opposite of what Darwin said. Further, Stein fails to quote the very next passage, which includes the lines: "Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature . . . if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil."

In effect, then, the producers are doing precisely what the Nazis did: Distorting Darwin's writing in order to justify their beliefs. On this point, there may be hope for Stein yet: When I alerted him to the alteration of the Darwin quote and read him the full passage, he said he was "kind of dismayed if that's true." He also said he would check it out, so I look forward to Stein disavowing at least that part of the movie.

I don't, however, expect the producers to disavow any part of the movie because their disdain for truth comes through loud and clear. Consequently, I'm not particularly bothered by the existence of Expelled. For it displays, in a way a movie review never could, the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the ID movement which, unable to construct a convincing argument, resorts to dishonesty and deceit.


© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Roger Ebert on Expelled


December 5th, 2008

Roger EbertThe popular film critic Roger Ebert reviewed the creationist propaganda movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed in a December 3, 2008, post entitled "Win Ben Stein's mind" on his blog on the Chicago Sun-Times website — and he pulled no punches. "The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics," he wrote.

"This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion," he added.

"And there is worse, much worse," Ebert continued, taking especial offense at Expelled's claim that the acceptance of evolution resulted in the Holocaust — "It fills me with contempt." Previously, the Anti-Defamation League said that the movie's claim "is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry." Expelled's lead, Ben Stein, responded, "It's none of their f---ing business," according to Peter McKnight, writing in the Vancouver Sun (June 21, 2008).

For a thorough critique of Expelled, including a collection of links to reviews of the movie, visit NCSE's Expelled Exposed website. Additionally, the next issue of Reports of the NCSE (volume 28, numbers 5-6) is a special issue devoted to debunking Expelled, containing reports on its reception, a summary of the ways in which organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted, a summary of the various controversies over its use of copyrighted material, and a detailed explanation of its unsuitability for the classroom.

Five Best Books That Emphatically Debunk Pseudohistory


DECEMBER 5, 2008, 9:37 P.M. ET

These books emphatically debunk pseudohistory and spurious 'knowledge,' says Damian Thompson

1. Fantastic Archaeology
By Stephen Williams
University of Pennsylvania, 1991

In the expertly researched and nicely sardonic "Fantastic Archaeology," Stephen Williams -- a former professor of archaeology at Harvard -- explores "the wild side of North American prehistory." The pages brim with cranks, mystics and peddlers of dubious historical claims who were determined to prove that America was discovered by -- well, take your pick: Phoenicians, Africans, Irish monks, Lost Tribes of Israel. As Williams shows, formulating bizarre theories about pre-Columbian America was one of the great amateur pursuits of the 19th century; today it is a permanent feature of the publishing industry and is still capable of making the odd millionaire, such Graham Hancock, who specializes in revealing the mystical roots of civilization with works such as "Footsteps of the Gods." Though Williams's study spans four centuries of wrongheaded thinking about the continent's untamed past, my favorite howler is of relatively recent vintage: Cyclone Covey's 1975 study, "Calalus," which solemnly presented the evidence for a Roman colony that supposedly thrived near Tucson, Ariz.

2. Speak of the Devil
By J.S. La Fontaine
Cambridge University, 1998

The subtitle of this book is "Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England," which gives the impression that the author, a leading anthropologist, is merely examining the phenomenon of the scare stories about satanism that swept Britain in the late 1980s, having migrated from America. In fact, Jean La Fontaine performed a vital role -- at some cost to herself -- in bringing this dreadful episode to an end. "Speak of the Devil" draws on her report, sponsored by the British government, into the allegations of unspeakable acts of degradation performed on small children by covens of devil worshipers. She found not only that there was no evidence that these covens existed but also that the accusations had been extracted from children by social workers and other "experts" who were determined to prove that the organized satanic abuse happened. The manipulation of children described by La Fontaine is shocking -- and deeply sad, because this modern witch hunt destroyed families, reputations and lives.

3. Tower of Babel
By Robert T. Pennock
MIT Press, 1999

No form of counter-factual "knowledge" is more insidious than modern creationism, which exploits public ignorance of science to present religious myth as heavily footnoted research. In "Tower of Babel," Robert T. Pennock provides a magisterial guide to the different schools of creationism, from the nutty to the plausible. He is particularly effective at exposing the sleight of hand employed by the "intelligent design" school, which uses the twisted methodology of all pseudoscientists: Start with what you want to prove -- in this case, that nature could not have evolved without divine intervention -- and then work backward.

4. Lost Christianities
By Bart D. Ehrman
Oxford University, 2003

"Lost Christianities" is the book you need to read before you are next assailed by a raging bore insisting that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that a giant Catholic conspiracy suppressed hundreds of scriptures revealing that Christ and his wife moved to France, founded a dynasty, etc. Yes, there were dozens of alternative versions of Jesus' life circulating among the Christians of the second and third centuries, and these works often were wildly heterodox -- suggesting that Jesus was one of many gods, for instance, and even proposing that he was followed out of the tomb by monsters. But as Bart D. Ehrman ably demonstrates, the stories were all bogus, confected by the pseudohistorians of their day.

5. Hystories
By Elaine Showalter
Columbia University, 1997

This is one of the truly indispensable books in my library, its dust jacket worn to tatters by frequent perusal. Elaine Showalter, a feminist literary scholar, rebuts disturbing reports of alien abduction, satanic abuse and even chronic-fatigue syndrome, describing them as "hysterical epidemics" rooted in the imagination and the disorientation of modernity. For this she became a hate figure of the pressure groups advancing particular causes. More than a decade later, though, most of the panics have subsided and Showalter's case looks stronger than ever. Crucially, she does not dismiss the real suffering that lies behind lurid claims. People will need true courage to face the "hidden fantasies, myths and anxieties" of what troubles them, she writes. "We must look into our own psyches rather than to invisible enemies, devils and alien invaders for the answers. . . . Our human dignity demands that we face the truth." Well said. But, alas, there are fortunes to be made from junk history and science, just as there are from junk food.

Mr. Thompson is the author of "Counterknowledge" (Norton, 2008).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Evolution education update: December 5, 2008

The Cincinnati Zoo distances itself from a widely criticized promotion involving Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum. Plus Kevin Padian, who serves as president of NCSE's board of directors, is continuing to speak and write in enthusiastic defense of the teaching of evolution. And a new batch of selected content from NCSE's journal is now available on-line.


"A promotional deal between the Cincinnati Zoo and the Creation Museum was scuttled Monday after the zoo received dozens of angry calls and emails about the partnership," reported the Cincinnati Enquirer (December 1, 2008). The promotion involved a package deal for tickets to the zoo's annual Festival of Lights and to a Christmas-themed event at Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum. The museum, which opened its doors in northern Kentucky during Memorial Day weekend 2007, aims to illuminate "the effects of biblical history on our present and future world" -- that is, to evangelize for Answers in Genesis's particular brand of young-earth creationism.

On November 30, 2008, biologist and blogger P. Z. Myers complained about the promotion at his blog Pharyngula, writing, "the Cincinnati Zoo has betrayed its mission and its trust in a disgraceful way, by aligning themselves with a creationist institution that is a laughing stock to the rest of the world, and a mark of shame to the United States," and urging his readers to write to the zoo to "point out the conflict between what they are doing and what their goal as an educational and research institution ought to be." Other bloggers echoed his call, and the zoo was evidently flooded with calls and e-mails, prompting it to cancel the promotion because of the uproar. No refunds will be necessary, since no packages of tickets had been sold.

NCSE's previous coverage of the Creation "Museum" includes Daniel Phelps's review and overview and Timothy H. Heaton's account of his visit. NCSE also sponsored a statement, signed by almost one thousand scientists in the three states surrounding the museum -- Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana -- expressing their concern about the effect of the scientifically inaccurate materials displayed there: "Students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level. These students will need remedial instruction in the nature of science, as well as in the specific areas of science misrepresented by Answers in Genesis."

For the story in the Cincinnati Enquirer, visit:

For P. Z. Myers's blog post, visit:

For Phelps's and Heaton's articles, visit:

For the NCSE-sponsored statement of concern, visit:


Kevin Padian, who serves as president of NCSE's board of directors, is continuing to speak and write in enthusiastic defense of the teaching of evolution. To inaugurate Evolution '09, San Francisco's celebration of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species, Padian spent about sixty minutes in a spirited and lively discussion of evolution and religion with Alan Jones, the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, on November 22, 2008. Now video of the event is available on-line from Fora.tv. Discussing the challenge of educating the public about evolution, Padian suggested that scientists need to talk about the major transitions in evolution -- his specialty as a vertebrate paleontologist -- "faster, harder, and more often." For specifics, see his commentary in the February 2008 issue of Geotimes and his article in Integrative and Comparative Biology 2008; 48 (2): 175-188.

Additionally, Padian discusses "The evolution of creationists in the United States: Where are they now, and where are they going?" in a forthcoming paper in Comptes Rendus Biologies, the proceedings of the French Academy of Sciences for life sciences. There he writes, "As evolutionary biology in all its forms continues to bring forth amazing new insights from the origin of whales to the evolution of microbial resistance, one would think that the anti-evolutionists would have less to cling to each year, and that they would give up their arguments as disproven misapprehensions. They will not, despite recent victories against ID as science and the lunacy of 'creation science'. Creationists reject the notion of a rational universe because they believe that evolution depends upon the dominance of 'random processes' that allow no divine direction or teleological goal. This is the core of the resistance to evolution in America, and it will not go away anytime soon."

In addition to serving as president of NCSE's board of directors, Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley and also Curator of Paleontology at the University of California's Museum of Paleontology. He recently received the 2008 Western Evolutionary Biologist of the Year award from the Network for Experimental Research on Evolution. He testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools. In his decision, Judge John E. Jones III wrote, "Padian's demonstrative slides, prepared on the basis of peer-review[ed] scientific literature, illustrate how Pandas systematically distorts and misrepresents established, important evolutionary principles." He also noted that "Padian bluntly and effectively stated that in confusing students about science generally and evolution in particular, the disclaimer makes students 'stupid.'"

For the video of Padian's talk with Jones, visit:

For Padian's commentary in Geotimes, visit:

For Padian's article in Integrative and Comparative Biology (subscription required), visit:

For Padian's paper in Comptes Rendus Biologies (subscription required), visit:

For information about Padian's Webby award, visit:

For Padian's testimony in Kitzmiller, with the slides he used, visit:

For the Kitzmiller decision (PDF), visit:


Selected content from volume 28, number 2, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are NCSE's Josh Rosenau's account of how the e-word -- evolution -- was finally included in Florida's state science standards and NCSE's Glenn Branch's report on the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board's decision to deny the Institute for Creation Research authority to offer a graduate degree in science education. And there are reviews, too: NCSE Supporter G. Brent Dalrymple discusses Pascal Richet's A Natural History of Time, Ken Feder reviews David Standish's Hollow Earth, and Kevin C. Armitage assesses Michael Lienesch's In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, The Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 28, numbers 5-6) is a special issue devoted to debunking the recent creationist propaganda film, Expelled, containing not only the material already to be found at Expelled Exposed, but also reports on the reception of Expelled at the box office, among critics, and in Canada; a summary of the ways in which organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted to the film; a summary of the various controversies over Expelled's use of copyrighted material; and a detailed explanation of Expelled's unsuitability for the classroom. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For selected content from RNCSE 28:2, visit:

For Expelled Exposed, visit:

For subscription information for RNCSE, 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!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Some British teachers support creationism


Published: Nov. 7, 2008 at 3:20 PM

LONDON, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- One-third of teachers in Britain would support teaching the beliefs of creationism alongside evolution in schools, poll results indicate.

The poll of 1,200 Teachers TV viewers found that one out of every three teachers surveyed indicated they would have no problem combining the scientific theory of evolution with creationism, the belief that all life was created by a deity, The Daily Telegraph said Friday.

Poll results found that 31 percent of teacher respondents agreed that creationism was worthy of being taught in British classrooms despite prevalent arguments against teaching religious beliefs in schools.

The Telegraph said 50 percent of respondents in the poll, whose margin of error was not reported, felt not offering creationism alongside evolution could alienate religious students.

Teachers TV chief executive Andrew Bethell said the poll's findings were indicative of a larger debate in society.

"This poll data confirms that the debate on whether there is a place for the teaching of creationism in the classroom is still fierce," he said.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc.

Catching up with RNCSE


December 3rd, 2008 NCSE 2008

Selected content from volume 28, number 2, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are NCSE's Josh Rosenau's account of how the e-word -- evolution -- was finally included in Florida's state science standards and NCSE's Glenn Branch's report on the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board's decision to deny the Institute for Creation Research authority to offer a graduate degree in science education. And there are reviews, too: NCSE Supporter G. Brent Dalrymple discusses Pascal Richet's A Natural History of Time, Ken Feder reviews David Standish's Hollow Earth, and Kevin C. Armitage assesses Michael Lienesch's In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, The Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 28, numbers 5-6) is a special issue devoted to debunking the recent creationist propaganda film, Expelled, containing not only the material already to be found at Expelled Exposed, but also reports on the reception of Expelled at the box office, among critics, and in Canada; a summary of the ways in which organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted to the film; a summary of the various controversies over Expelled's use of copyrighted material; and a detailed explanation of Expelled's unsuitability for the classroom. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

Ben Stein Wins Roger Ebert's Disdain


By Pareene, 3:45 PM on Thu Dec 4 2008, 5,331 views

At least America's last remaining actually influential film critic is Roger Ebert, and not, like, David Denby. Because Ebert, who can no longer speak due to removal of his cancerous jaw, now just writes crazy mean blogs and reviews and columns, calling out everyone who bugs him. Like Ben Stein, and his stupid anti-evolution movie.

Ben Stein, the Nixon speechwriter who was kind of funny, once, in a kind of funny movie, and was then in a series of successful contact lens solution ads, released a movie about how no one takes Creationism seriously. Ben Stein, who is an intelligent, educated person, does not actually believe in "intelligent design" but it's a useful little tool for furthering the "Christian conservatives persecuted by the liberal establishment" myth.

Anyway. This movie, Expelled, was not taken seriously by really anyone, least of all Roger Ebert, who responded to demands that he review it by posting a nutty column about all the crazy things creationists believe.

That, apparently, did not appease either those demanding Ebert take the film seriously or those demanding Ebert eviscerate the film amusingly, so yesterday he posted a million-word takedown of Ben Stein and pseudo-science and evangelical Christianity and everything, basically.

And there is worse, much worse. Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it "From Darwin to Hitler." He finds a Creationist who informs him, "Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism." He refers to advocates of eugenics as liberal. I would not call Hitler liberal. Arbitrary forced sterilization in our country has been promoted mostly by racists, who curiously found many times more blacks than whites suitable for such treatment.

Ben Stein is only getting warmed up. He takes a field trip to visit one "result" of Darwinism: Nazi concentration camps. "As a Jew," he says, "I wanted to see for myself." We see footage of gaunt, skeletal prisoners. Pathetic children. A mound of naked Jewish corpses. "It's difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place," he says. Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.

Yeesh. Not since Deuce Bigalow has Ebert been so critical.

(Then, just just for kicks, Ebert answers a letter from a reader regarding our post on the "Worst Review Ever" by publicly naming the letter-writer as the former U.S. editor for FHMOnline, i.e. the person who is pissed off at being unemployed while reviews like that one get some idiot paid. Hah.)

Read More: criticism, ben stein, roger ebert, evolution, bullshit

God and Suicide Prevention in the Military


Category: Politics

Posted on: December 2, 2008 9:23 AM, by Ed Brayton

A few weeks ago I mentioned a powerpoint presentation by a military chaplain that advocated creationism as a means of keeping soldiers from committing suicide, but I couldn't make it public yet. Now my friend Chris Rodda, who discovered the powerpoint on the web, has published about it at DailyKos so you can see the details.

As Chris notes, this presentation was given at a mandatory meeting to more than 1000 soldiers and sent out as an email to 5000 more. Capt. Christian Biscotti says that the solution to suicide in the military it to convince soldiers that evolution is false and that they were created specially by God. Much of it is based on Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life.

The powerpoint continues much ignorant blather about Darwin, evolution and humanism. It's the usual litany of "evolution leads to communism" arguments you've seen a thousand times. In the third slide included in the post, you can see Biscotti compare America and the Soviet Union and he actually lists Darwin as a leader of the Soviet Union! Here it is:

Creationist Presentation

Staggering. Apparently Biscotti has never heard of Lysenko and is ignorant of the fact that the Soviet Union explicitly rejected evolution in favor of Lysenkoism. In fact, as fellow ScienceBlogger John Wilkins documents at TalkOrigins, Lysenko criticized the chance aspects of Darwinian evolution the same as creationists do:

"Such sciences as physics and chemistry have freed themselves from chance. That is why they became exact sciences.

Animate nature was developed and is developed on a foundation of the most strict and inherent rules. Organisms and species are developed on a foundation of their natural and intrinsic needs.

By getting rid of Mendelism-Morganism-Weismannism from our science we banish chance out of biological science.

We must keep in mind clearly that science is the enemy of chance."

As Wilkins notes, "Mendel, Morgan and Weismann were the biologists who discovered genes and mutation. Their work underpins modern biology and modern evolutionary theory."

Biscotti also misuses Pat Tillman, who was an atheist, as an example of the power of faith:

Another segment of Capt. Biscotti's presentation, titled "FAITH is Foremost," contains three stories -- his own personal story, the story of the woman who made the news a few years back by talking her way out of a hostage situation by reading to her captor from The Purpose Driven Life, and, incredibly inappropriately for a presentation promoting religion, the story of Pat Tillman. I'm sure everyone remembers Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich's outrageous remarks that Tillman's parents' dissatisfaction with the investigation of their son's death was caused by their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, saying in an ESPN.com interview, "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more -- that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough." I'm fairly certain that the Tillmans would not be very happy to find out that their son is now being used as an example in a presentation promoting religion to the military.

All of this would be merely stupid if not for the fact that attendance of this fundamentalist drivel was mandatory for more than 1000 American soldiers.

Romania removes theory of evolution from school curriculum


Romania's withdrawal of the theory of evolution from the school curriculum could be evidence of a growing conservative tendency in teaching. Evolution has been removed from the school curriculum in a move which, pressure groups argue, distorts children's understanding of how the world came into being.

Meanwhile, religious studies classes continue to tell Romanian children that God made the world in seven days.

The theory of the Origin of Species and the evolution of humans is no longer present in the compulsory curriculum, through a nationwide decision made under the previous Government in 2006. Before the change, Darwin's theory was taught to pupils aged 18 or 19 years old. This was also in the curriculum during the Communist period of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Information on natural selection, how fish turned into lizards and, more or less, a summary of the first 4.5 billion years of the world until man walked the earth is now optional.

"We don't teach the theory of evolution anymore," said one 38 year-old Bucharest-based biology teacher.

But the Minister of Education, Cristian Adomnitei, argues that biology is taught within the context of evolution. "This subject can be found implicitly from middle school to high-school," the Minister tells The Diplomat. "Do you think that the studies about the world where we live, its evolution or genetics can ignore the evolution theory? This is impossible."

But Remus Cernea, president of Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience, is unimpressed by the Ministry's position on implicit learning.

"How can the evolution theory be implicit?" Cernea says. "The evolution theory is either present in the curriculum and in the text books and is studied by everybody, or not present in the curriculum and nobody studies it."

Meanwhile, in religious classes, pupils are taught that the world was created in seven days and God made plants on the third day and the sun on the fourth. Textbooks claim the first man was Adam, who was 'made of ground', and that Eve, the first woman, was made from one of her husband's ribs.

"The Romanian state, whether it intends or not, offers pupils a unique perspective on the world, the religious one, without any critical scientific or philosophical offset," argues Cernea.

Biology has been cut from two hours to one of teaching per week for the final two years in many high schools. In place of evolution, kids are taught more about human ecology and the environment, subjects which one biology teacher says children find boring.

"Kids find out what really happened from the Discovery channel," she adds. "They don't really believe the world was made in six days. Well, I hope they don't."

No one is accusing the Orthodox Church of any kind of conspiracy to replace evolution with creationism by the back door. "The only motivation I can see is the lack of vision on pupils' education in Romania," says Cernea.

In 2006, the Ministry of Education and Research also removed Voltaire, Camus and Nietzsche from the philosophy curriculum. These three writers are noted for their critical views on religion and Nietzsche's pronouncement that 'God is dead'.

Some teachers fear a creeping conservative tendency in Romania's schools.

At present, children are taught religious classes from ages seven to 18. This is mostly an Orthodox curriculum. They are also taught that to sleep in on Sunday mornings is bad because children should be going to church.

"It's not being taught about religion and what it means," said one headmistress. If a parent wants their child not to attend the classes, because they are, for example, Jewish, Muslim or agnostic, he or she has to draft a letter to the school. The child then sits in a library or the head teacher's office working on, say, maths or languages.

But there are new proposals to make all religious classes compulsory for the education system, regardless of the parents' wishes. All children who do not want to attend Religion classes would attend a Moral and Religious Education class. But there is no one qualified to teach Moral and Religious Education. Some teachers fear that the classes will, with minor additions, be the same Orthodox curriculum dictated by a religious studies teacher to a single Jew, Muslim or Humanist in a library or staff room.

Mainstream Medicine Invests in Complementary & Alternative Medicine


Paul Ramsey, founder of Ramsey Healthcare, and Natural Health International are bridging the gap between supplements and pharmaceuticals. Femmenessence™ offers women and mainstream medicine a naturally safe alternative that works. Five year published clinical trials and research reveal an 84% success rate in reducing menopausal symptoms. We are extremely excited to have Mr. Ramsay involved with NHI we understand that the future of healthcare must be an integrative approach but in order for that to become mainstream there must more quality control and clinical research relating to natural alternatives. …the most important thing is to get ride of the bridging the gap between supplements and pharmaceuticals

San Francisco, CA (PRWEB) December 4, 2008 -- Paul Ramsay is the founder and major shareholder in Ramsay Healthcare, one of the largest private hospital operators in the world with over 100 hospitals globally. Mr. Ramsay is now a significant shareholder in Natural Health International, the ground-breaking nutraceutical company that introduced Femmenessence™ to the US market. Femmenessence™ is the first herbal product with double blind placebo controlled clinical trials demonstrating statistically significant effects on the hormone levels of peri and post menopausal women. In these trials Femmenessence™ showed an 84% success rate in reducing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Unlike other herbal options for post menopause Femmenessence™ increases levels of estradiol, progesterone, LH and thyroid hormone, while reducing FSH. The research also shows promise with respect to heart and bone health, with reductions in body weight, LDL, triglycerides and improvements in HDL, gastro intestinal absorption and bone density. The most interesting aspect of Femmenessence™ is its completely novel mode of action. Unlike HRT or bio identical hormones, it does not introduce hormones into the body, nor does it work like the black cohosh, soy or red clover. Rather Femmenessence™ supports the body's own regulation of the complete hormonal profile through the Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal Axis.

"We are extremely excited to have Mr. Ramsay involved with NHI" said James Frame CEO of Natural Health International, "we understand that the future of healthcare must be an integrative approach but in order for that to become mainstream there must more quality control and clinical research relating to natural alternatives." Mr. Frame went on to discuss what would be required "…the most important thing is to get ride of the "us" and "them" attitude that currently exists and have clinical trials that combine pharmaceutical grade protocols with natural products of the quality and dose recommended by natural product industry experts. It is up to the natural products industry, of which we are a part, to set its own standards ensuring customers have guarantees of quality, efficacy and safety. Every herb we have ever researched works, the issue is making sure you provide the customer with a quality, stable, bio-available dose."

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Natural Health International is unique in the natural products industry combining species, phenotype selection and organic and biodynamic type farm practices with proprietary manufacturing processes for each individual herb. Also distinguished by its scientific and clinical research, the company's vertical integration ensures control of the whole manufacturing process from seed to shelf. With a head office in San Francisco, NHI oversees operations in Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand, France, Peru and Asia. Natural Health International is launching Femmenessence™ in the UK and Canada and will be expanding its retail presence to include Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia in 2009.

For more information contact:
Natural Health International
James Frame
(415) 243- 9992


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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Win Ben Stein's mind


By Roger Ebert on December 3, 2008 12:25 AM

I've been accused of refusing to review Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled," a defense of Creationism, because of my belief in the theory of evolution. Here is my response.

Ben Stein, you hosted a TV show on which you gave away money. Imagine that I have created a special edition of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" just for you. Ben, you've answered all the earlier questions correctly, and now you're up for the $1 million prize. It involves an explanation for the evolution of life on this planet. You have already exercised your option to throw away two of the wrong answers. Now you are faced with two choices: (A) Darwin's Theory of Evolution, or (B) Intelligent Design.

Because this is a special edition of the program, you can use a Hotline to telephone every scientist on Earth who has an opinion on this question. You discover that 99.975 of them agree on the answer (A). A million bucks hangs in the balance. The clock is ticking. You could use the money. Which do you choose? You, a firm believer in the Constitution, are not intimidated and exercise your freedom of speech. You choose (B).

Squaaawk!!! The klaxon horn sounds. You have lost. Outraged, you file suit against the program, charging it is biased and has denied a hearing for your belief. Your suit argues that the "correct" answer was chosen because of a prejudice against the theory of Intelligent Design, despite the fact that .025 of one percent of all scientists support it. You call for (B) to be discussed in schools as an alternative theory to (A).

Your rights have been violated. You're at wit's end. You think perhaps the field of Indie Documentaries offers you hope. You accept a position at the Institute of Undocumented Documentaries in Dallas, Texas. This Institute teaches that the rules of the "$64,000 Question" are the only valid game show rules. All later game shows must follow them literally. The "$64,000 Question" came into existence in 1955. False evidence for earlier game shows has been refuted by scientists at the Institute.

You look for a documentary subject. You know you cannot hope to find backing from the Main Stream Media, because they all fear reprisals from the powerful Game Show Establishment. You seek a cause that parallels your own dilemma, and also illustrates an offense against the Freedom of Speech. Your attention falls on the persecution of Intelligent Design advocates like you, who have been banished from Main Stream Academia.

This looks like your ideal subject. But where can you find financing for such a documentary? You discover a small, promising production company named Premise Media. You like the sound of that word premise. It sounds like a plausible alternative to the word theory. To confirm this, you look both up in your dictionary:

premise noun. A previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion: if the premise is true, then the conclusion must be true. e.g., if God exists, then he created everything.

theory noun. A system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. e.g., Darwin's theory of evolution.

Your point exactly! You do a web search for Premise Media. Its co-founder, Walt Ruloff, has observed, "the scientific and academic communities were deeply resistant to innovation, in this case innovation that might revise Darwin's theory that random mutation and natural selection drive all variation in life forms." You could not agree more. Darwin's theory has been around for 150 years, and is stubbornly entrenched. This is a time for innovation, for drawing on fresh theories that life and the universe were intelligently created in recent times, perhaps within the last 10,000 years. How to account for dinosaur fossils? Obviously, dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as human beings.

Ben Stein, you are growing more excited. You continue your research into Premise Media. Its CEO, A. Logan Craft, once observed that questions about the origin of Earth and its life forms "are answered very differently by secularists and people who hold religious beliefs." Can you believe your eyes? Craft has depended upon one of your own favorite logical practices, the principle of the excluded middle! This is too good to be true.

By his premise no secularists believe in Intelligent Design, and no people with religious beliefs subscribe to Darwin's theory. If there are people with religious beliefs who agree with Darwin (Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Mormons, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, for example) they are mistaken because they do not subscribe to A. Logan Craft's religious beliefs.

He is certainly right about secularists. You think it's a shame he's right, because then the 1968 Supreme Court decision was correct, and Tennessee's anti-evolution law was "an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, taken literally." Therefore, according to the Court, ID was a religious belief and did not belong in a science classroom but in a theology classroom. This clearly would be wrong, because the new approach to teaching ID in schools omits any reference whatsoever to religion. It depends entirely on the findings of scientists who are well-respected within A. Logan Craft's religious tradition. These scientists of course are perfectly free to be secularists, although almost every single one seems to be a fundamentalist Christian. This is America.

You meet with the people at Premise Media. It is a meeting of the minds. At a pitch meeting, they are receptive to your ideas, although with the proviso that you should change the proposed title of your film, "From Darwin to Hitler," because that might limit the market to those who had heard of neither, or only one.

You and Premise Media agreed that the case for ID had not always been argued very well in the past. For example, a photograph of a human footprint overlapping a dinosaur track (proof that Man walked the Earth side by side with dinosaurs) has been questioned by secularists, who say the footprint looks more like the print of a running shoe. If you studied it carefully, it could be argued that they had a point, although skewed by their secularist bias.

What was needed was better use of photographic evidence. For example, in your film, "eXpelled: no intelligence allowed," you document the story of Guillermo Gonzales, who was denied tenure at Iowa State because of his personal premises, after 400 professors signed a petition opposing "all attempts to represent Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor." Gonzales was forced to accept employment at Grove City College, an evangelical Christian school in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

In documenting the secularist hysteria and outrage against Gonzales, you use more convincing photographic evidence than the footprint. For example, you use footage showing a newsstand selling copies of the New York Post with this front page headline:

1. Creationist on the loose
2. Support the Petition
3.Stop Gonzales

The typographical design of the New York Post logo, the cars and store signs in the background, and the clothing of the people in the street establish without question that this footage was filmed in the late 1940s. Gonzales was born in 1963. So your film would prove beyond doubt that his enemies walked the Earth with his parents.

Gonzales, trained as an astronomer, cited as proof of Intelligent Design that "Earth is in a prime location for observing the universe." Thus he refutes the theory of elitist secularist academia that the universe "does not have an edge nor center, just as the Earth's surface does not have an edge or center." Since all you have to do is look up at the sky to realize that the whole universe is right up there to be seen, the secularists fly in the face of common sense. Yet for stating such an obvious premise, Gonzales was opposed for tenure at Iowa State. That hit home, Ben Stein. He was a victim like you.

You release your film "eXpelled."As you fully expect from all your experience, it is rejected almost unanimously by the MSM. It receives an 8% rating on the TomatoMeter, earning it a place on the list of the worst-reviewed films of all time. In a review not catalogued by Tomatoes, ChristianAnwers.net writes that your film "has made Ben Stein the new hero of believers in God everywhere, and has landed a smart right cross to the protruding jaw of evolution's elite."

Again, the useful excluded middle. Those for whom Ben Stein is not a hero are not believers in God. It also follows that the phrase "believers in God everywhere" does not extend to believers in God who agree with Darwin. So ChristanAnswers has excluded two middles at one fell stroke.

Let's hope that word doesn't get back to the bosses of the critic named "Yo" at hollywoodjesus.com. Yo takes a chance by saying:

This creator could have been anything of intelligence, including aliens. Intelligent Design is a scientific movement, not a religious one, a fact stated more than once in interviews in this film. Unfortunately, those statements are constantly ignored as 'Expelled' continually brings up the question of God's existence and thereby equates the movement with a belief in God.

And right there, Ben Stein, we can clearly see Yo's error. He has included the middle.

Here is Stein's most urgent question: "How does something that is not life turn into something that is?"

Stein poses this stumper to a jolly British professor who seems direct from Monty Python. He thinks there's a "very good chance" that life might have started with molecules on crystals, which have a tendency to mutate. Cut to a shot of a turbaned crystal-ball gazer. Stein dubs them "joy riding crystals." He wonders what the odds would be of life starting that way.

"You would have to have a minimum of 250 proteins to provide minimal life functions," an ID defender explains. We see an animated cartoon of the Darwinian scientist Richard Dawkins pulling at a slot machine and lining up--three in a row! Not so fast there, "Lucky" Dawkins! The camera pulls back to show one-armed bandits stretching into infinity. To win, he'd have to hit the jackpot about a gazillion times in a row. An Intelligent Design advocate estimates a streak like that would take a trillion, trillion, trillion tries. (That number is a fair piece larger than 3 trillion.)

Quite a joy ride. ID's argument against the crystal theory seems like a new version of its classic argument, "How could an eye evolve without knowing there was anything to see?" Very easily, apparently, because various forms of eyes have evolved 26 different times that scientists know about, and they can explain how it happened. So can I. So can you if you understand Darwinian principles.

Anyway, the slot machine conundrum is based on an ignorance of both math and gambling. From math we know that the odds of winning a coin toss are exactly the same every time. The coin doesn't remember the last try. Hey, sometimes you get lucky. That's why casinos stay in business.

The odds of winning on a single number at roulette are 37 to 1. The odds of winning a second time in a row are also 37 to 1, because the table doesn't know who you are. Every single winning roll beats the odds of 37-to-1. And on and on. The more times in a row you win, the more times you face 37-1 against you. If Russian Roulette were played with a gun containing 37 bullets and one empty chamber, it would quickly lose most of its allure--by a process explained, oddly enough, by Darwin.

Still, in July 1891 at Monte Carlo, the same man broke the 100,000 franc bank at a roulette table three times. Wikipedia reports, "A man named Charles Wells won 23 times out of 30 successive spins of the wheel...Despite hiring private detectives the Casino never discovered Wells's system. Wells later admitted it was just a lucky streak. His system was the high-risk martingale, doubling the stake to make up losses."

The odds against Wells doing that are pretty high. But as every gambler knows, sometimes you do actually hit a number. You don't have to do it a trillion trillion trillion times to be a winner. You only have to do it once. This is explained by Darwin. If you are playing at a table with other gamblers and you win $100 and none of them do, you are just that much better able to outlast them as competitors. When the casino closes, one person at that table must have won more than any of the others. That's why casinos never close. Of course if you gamble long enough, you will eventually lose back more than the others. Your poor spouse tells you this. You know it is true.

But tonight you feel lucky. If you leave the table still holding your pot, you could become as rich as Warren Buffet. Somebody has to. Look at Warren Buffet. Evolution involves holding onto your winnings and investing them wisely. You don't even have to know to how to hold onto your winnings. Evolution does it for you; it is the bank in which useful genetic mutations deposit themselves. There is a very slow rate of return, but it's compounded. At the end of one eon, you get your bank statement and find your pittance has grown into an orang utan. At the end of the next eon, it has grown into Charles Darwin. Scientists, at least 99.875 percent of them, believe that in the long run only useful mutations deposit in this bank. Those mutations with no use, or a negative effect, squander their savings in a long-running bunko game, and die forgotten in the gutter.

The assumption of "Expelled" is that no one could possibly explain how Prof. Monty Python's molecules and their joy-riding crystals could possibly produce life. As luck would have it, at about the same time as the film was being made, teams of scientists at the universities of Oregon and North Carolina explained it. They "determined for the first time the atomic structure of an ancient protein, revealing in unprecedented detail how genes evolved their functions."

"This is the ultimate level of detail," said the evolutionary biologist Joe Thornton. "We were able to see exactly how evolution tinkered with the ancient structure to produce a new function that is crucial to our own bodies today. Nobody's ever done that before." Unfortunately, this momentous discovery was announced almost too late to be mentioned in Ben Stein's film. It wasn't totally too late, but it would have been a great inconvenience for the editor.

What tools did the scientists use? Supercomputer programs and, I quote, "ultra-high energy X-rays from a stadium-sized Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to chart the precise position of each of the 2,000 atoms in the ancient proteins." What did you expect? They put a molecule under a microscope and picked off bits with their tweezers?

Intelligent Design "scientists" in "Expelled" are offended by being called ignorant. When Stein points out that "Catholics and mainstream Protestant groups" have no problem with the theory of Evolution, he is informed by an ID advocate, "liberal Christians side with anybody against Creationists." Now we have the smoking gun. It is the word liberal. What is the word liberal doing here? The Theory of Evolution is neither liberal nor conservative. It is simply provable or not.

Besides, I would not describe the Vatican as liberal. Look how cautiously it approached Galileo. He only claimed the earth revolved around the sun. No big deal like the earth being ideally placed in the universe. There are millions of conservative scientists, and only a tiny handful disagree with evolution, because rejecting scientific proof is not permissive conservative behavior. In that one use of the word "liberal" the Creationist religious agenda is peeking through. I would translate it as "evolutionists side with anybody against a cherished Evangelical belief." Why are they always trying to push evolutionists over the edge, when they're the ones clinging by their fingernails?

Scientists deserving of the name would share the delight of 99.975 percent of his or her colleagues after learning of the Oregon-North Carolina findings. Then, if they found a plausible reason to doubt them, they would go right to work hoping to win fame by disproving them. A theory, like a molecule, a sea slug and a polar bear, has to fight it out in the survival of the fittest.

"Expelled" is not a bad film from the technical point of view. It is well photographed and edited, sometimes amusing, has well-chosen talking heads, gives an airing to evolutionists however truncated and interrupted with belittling images, and incorporates entertainingly unfair historical footage, as when it compares academia's rejection of Creationism to the erection of the Berlin Wall.

Hilariously, the film argues that evolutionists cannot tolerate dissent. If you were to stand up at a "Catholic and mainstream Protestant" debate and express your support of Creationism, you would in most cases be politely listened to. There are few places as liberal as Boulder, Colo., where I twice debated a Creationist at the Conference on World Affairs, and yet his views were heard politely there. If you were to stand up at an evangelical meeting to defend evolution, I doubt if you would be made to feel as welcome, or that your dissent would be quite as cheerfully tolerated.

Ben Stein and the author of "On the Origin of Species"

In the film, Ben Stein asks predictable questions, and exploits an unending capacity for counterfeit astonishment. Example:

Scientist: "But Darwin did not title his book On the Origin of Life. He titled it, On the Origin of Species."

Ben Stein (nods, grateful to learn this): "I see!"

The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics. It isn't even subtle. Take its treatment of Dawkins, who throughout his interviews with Stein is honest, plain-spoken, and courteous. As Stein goes to interview him for the last time, we see a makeup artist carefully patting on rouge and dusting Dawkins' face. After he is prepared and composed, after the shine has been taken off his nose, here comes plain, down-to-earth, workaday Ben Stein. So we get the vain Dawkins with his effete makeup, talking to the ordinary Joe.

I have done television interviews for more than 40 years. I have been on both ends of the questions. I have news for you. Everyone is made up before going on television. If they are not, they will look like death warmed over. There is not a person reading this right now who should go on camera without some kind of makeup. Even the obligatory "shocked neighbors" standing in their front yards after a murder usually have some powder brushed on by the camera person. Was Ben Stein wearing makeup? Of course he was. Did he whisper to his camera crew to roll while Dawkins was being made up? Of course he did. Otherwise, no camera operator on earth would have taped that. That incident dramatizes his approach throughout the film. If you want to study Gotcha! moments, start here.

That is simply one revealing fragment. This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.

And there is worse, much worse. Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it "From Darwin to Hitler." He finds a Creationist who informs him, "Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism." He refers to advocates of eugenics as liberal. I would not call Hitler liberal. Arbitrary forced sterilization in our country has been promoted mostly by racists, who curiously found many times more blacks than whites suitable for such treatment.

Ben Stein is only getting warmed up. He takes a field trip to visit one "result" of Darwinism: Nazi concentration camps. "As a Jew," he says, "I wanted to see for myself." We see footage of gaunt, skeletal prisoners. Pathetic children. A mound of naked Jewish corpses. "It's difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place," he says. Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.

© Copyright 2008 Sun-Times News Group

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A New Picture of the Early Earth


Published: December 1, 2008

The first 700 million years of Earth's 4.5-billion-year existence are known as the Hadean period, after Hades, or, to shed the ancient Greek name, Hell.

That name seemed to fit with the common perception that the young Earth was a hot, dry, desolate landscape interspersed with seas of magma and inhospitable for life. Even if some organism had somehow popped into existence, the old story went, surely it would soon have been extinguished in the firestorm of one of the giant meteorites that slammed into the Earth when the young solar system was still crowded with debris.

Scars on the surface of the Moon record a hail of impacts during what is called the Late Heavy Bombardment. The Earth would have received an even more intense bombardment, and the common thinking until recently was that life could not have emerged on Earth until the bombardment eased about 3.85 billion years ago.

Norman H. Sleep, a professor of geophysics at Stanford, recalled that in 1986 he submitted a paper that calculated the probability of life surviving one of the giant, early impacts. It was summarily rejected because a reviewer said that obviously nothing could have lived then.

That is no longer thought to be true.

"We thought we knew something we didn't," said T. Mark Harrison, a professor of geochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. In hindsight the evidence was just not there. And new evidence has suggested a new view of the early Earth.

Over the last decade, the mineralogical analysis of small hardy crystals known as zircons embedded in old Australian rocks has painted a picture of the Hadean period "completely inconsistent with this myth we made up," Dr. Harrison said.

Geologists now almost universally agree that by 4.2 billion years ago, the Earth was a pretty placid place, with both land and oceans. Instead of hellishly hot, it may have frozen over. Because the young Sun put out 30 percent less energy than it does today, temperatures on Earth might have been cold enough for parts of the surface to have been covered by expanses of ice.

In a new analysis, published in the current issue of the journal Nature, the zircons, the only bits of earth older than 4 billion years definitively known to have survived, provide another tantalizing hint about the Hadean period. Dr. Harrison and two U.C.L.A. colleagues, Michelle Hopkins, a graduate student, and Craig Manning, a professor of geology and geochemistry, report that minerals trapped inside zircons offer evidence that the processes of plate tectonics — the forces that push around the planet's outer crust, forming and shaping the continents and oceans — had already begun.

"The picture that's emerging is a watery world with normal rock recycling processes," said Stephen J. Mojzsis, a professor of geology at the University of Colorado who was not involved with the U.C.L.A. research. "And that's a comforting thought for the origin of life."

With the old views of the Hadean period, the origin of life on Earth posed a huge problem. The earliest, and still debated, evidence for life lies within rocks in Greenland dated at 3.83 billion years. The rocks show a shift in the relative amounts of carbon-12, the usual form of carbon, and carbon-13, a less common but stable form of carbon. That shift was attributed to the presence of microorganisms, which would tend to concentrate the lighter carbon.

What was surprising, perhaps unbelievable, in the old views was that life started immediately at the end of the Late Heavy Bombardment, seemingly showing up the instant that it was possible.

In the new view of the early Earth, life could have emerged hundreds of millions of years earlier. "This means the door is open for a long, slow chemical evolution," Dr. Mojzsis said. "The stage was set for life probably 4.4 billion years ago, but I don't know if the actors were present."

The revolution in early Earth studies comes largely from rocks in western Australia. The rocks are three billion years old, but they contain zircons that are older. Zircons, made primarily of the elements zirconium, oxygen and silicon, are extremely hard and durable and can survive conditions that erode, melt or otherwise transform the rock around them.

The zircons also contain enough uranium that they can be precisely dated by the decay of that uranium. In 2001, two groups, one led by Dr. Harrison and the other by John W. Valley of the University of Wisconsin, reported that the Australian zircons formed during the Hadean period as long ago as 4.4 billion years and were later embedded in the younger, 3-billion-year-old rocks.

The relative amounts of oxygen isotopes in the zircons points to the presence of water. Minerals like clays and carbonates that form in water prefer to incorporate oxygen-18 into their crystal structure, and the zircons contain relatively high levels of oxygen-18 compared to the more common oxygen-16.

In the U.C.L.A. study, the researchers studied tiny mineral grains trapped inside the zircons between 4 billion and 4.2 billion years ago as they were being formed. From the mix of elements they identified in the minerals, the scientists could calculate the depth and temperature at which the zircons crystallized — 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 15 miles — and the calculations showed a flow of heat coming out of that part of the Earth of 75 milliwatts per square meter.

That is too cool. The Earth during the Hadean period may not have been hellish, but it was hotter than today, and the heat flow should have been about three times the amount that was calculated.

That meant the zircons formed in a cool part of the crust. On Earth today, one such place is a subduction zone, where an ocean plate slides under a continental plate and is pushed into the mantle. The waterlogged ocean plate then melts at relatively low temperatures. The U.C.L.A. scientists believe that the high water content and the low temperatures inferred from the zircons thus point to the existence of such a subduction zone. And a subduction zone could not have existed unless some type of plate tectonics was already at work.

"It's not a smoking gun," Dr. Harrison said. "But we're left without any other plausible explanation."

Many geologists believe that the crust was too thin or the interior too hot for plate tectonics to occur back then. Neither Venus nor Mars shows obvious signs of plate tectonics, past or present, suggesting that only a limited range of planetary temperature and structure give rise to the phenomenon.

Dr. Sleep of Stanford said of the U.C.L.A. findings: "It may well be a subduction zone. It looks like a subduction zone."

Dr. Valley has also concluded the Earth became cool and watery early in its history, but remains skeptical about the inferences about plate tectonics.

"To me, it's not ruled out by anything," he said, "but it's far from proven with the certainty that Mark states it." Dr. Valley said it was possible that some of the elements measured by the U.C.L.A. researchers might have infiltrated the zircons through tiny cracks.

If plate tectonics were overturning the Earth's crust during the Hadean period, it would have shaped not just the land forms, but also the air and the climate.

In the 1980s, a climate model proposed a thick atmosphere of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, raising the average surface temperature to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, not quite boiling.

But if plate tectonics had already begun, much of the carbon dioxide would be trapped in carbonate rocks and then pushed into Earth's interior. In 2001, a climate model by Dr. Sleep and Kevin Zahnle of the NASA Ames Research Center found that the late Hadean Earth then would have been somewhat chilly.

Neither near-boiling temperatures nor the chilly conditions make life impossible, but these factors could change ideas about how and when life started.

Earth, like the other planets, coalesced more than 4.5 billion years ago. It is commonly hypothesized that almost immediately, a Mars-size object about 4,000 miles wide hit it — a true cataclysm that vaporized much of the object and Earth. Some of the debris ejected into orbit became the Moon. The molten Earth cooled quickly, probably within a few million years, and nothing that large ever struck again.

Dr. Sleep said his calculations suggested that during the 700 million years of the Hadean period about 15 objects 100 miles wide or wider hit the Earth. About four of the objects were wider than 200 miles, and those collisions would have been violent enough to boil off most of the oceans. (By contrast, the more recent object that hit the Earth 65 million years ago and helped kill off the dinosaurs was about 6 miles wide.)

But in numerical simulations that will be presented this month at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Dr. Mojzsis and Oleg Abramov, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, show that the Late Heavy Bombardment impacts were not quite as lethal as had been thought.

"Things are hurt really bad," Dr. Mojzsis said. But the computer calculations indicated that even rocks up to 300 miles wide would not kill everything, that pockets would exist where organisms that thrive in high-temperature environments like hydrothermal vents could survive.

Genetic studies of current life support that notion, pointing to an organism that lived in a high-temperature environment as the last common ancestor. That does not mean that life started there, but that is almost certainly where survivors of the giant impacts would have huddled.

For the question of whether life existed during the Hadean period, researchers would like to find carbon and then perform an isotope analysis similar to what was done with the Greenland rocks. Despite analyzing 160,000 grain-size zircons, the U.C.L.A. researchers have not found carbon. (Another group has reported the presence of small diamonds, but that has not been confirmed.)

The search for more substantial amounts of Hadean rock also continues. Three months ago, researchers reported that a swath of bedrock in northern Quebec might be 4.28 billion years old, which would provide a mother lode of material to study. That bedrock includes intriguing structures known as banded iron formations, which are believed to occur only with the help of living organisms. But other scientists have questioned the age of the rocks, suggesting that they may really be 3.8 billion years old.

Dr. Mojzsis said "Hadean" might not be a misleading name for the earliest eon of Earth's history, after all. The ancient Greek concept of hell was not one of fire and brimstone. "In Greek mythology, Hades was a dark, cold, mysterious place," he said. "It seems to me the Hadean is living up to that moniker."

Updated statement on evolution?


Monday December 1, 2008
Categories: Evolution and science

At LDS Science Review, a call to update the 1909 First Presidency statement "The Origin of Man" during its centennial year of 2009. That seems like a fine idea, although any update would require consensus among senior LDS leaders on a new statement and I doubt that will happen. Maybe in 2109.

Evolution does not trouble Mormons as it seems to trouble Evangelicals. Evolution is taught as a mainstream biology course at BYU, the flagship LDS university, and there is a very active research focus in evolutionary science within BYU's biology department. One of the nicer things about being LDS is that it doesn't make you choose between religion and science.

Surprisingly, the 1909 statement is still cited and quoted by the Church. For example, here is the entire text of the entry "Evolution" in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

The position of the Church on the origin of man was published by the First Presidency in 1909 and stated again by a different First Presidency in 1925: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity .... Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes (see Appendix, "Doctrinal Expositions of the First Presidency").

The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again (D&C 101:32-33). In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution, the First Presidency of the Church, then consisting of Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley, addressed all of the General Authorities of the Church on the matter, and concluded, Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church ....

Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: "Adam is the primal parent of our race" [First Presidency Minutes, Apr. 7, 1931].

posted by Dave Banack @ 1:00pm Permalink

Monday, December 01, 2008

Homeopathic practice finds niche among HispanicsBy Magdalene Perez


Staff Writer
Posted: 11/18/2008 03:02:47 AM EST

STAMFORD - When Juan Shutte began feeling heat and pains in his face and back, he went to a clinic, but doctors told him they couldn't find the problem.

That's when Shutte, a Peruvian immigrant who owns a cleaning business, read about Dr. Melissa Robinson in a Spanish-language newspaper.

Robinson's practice, Natural Solutions for Health, uses nutritional counseling, diet and exercise planning, thermal massage and dietary supplements to heal the body without prescription drugs or invasive surgeries.

Shutte, a pot-bellied man who looks much younger than his 70 years, decided to try it. Within two months, his blood pressure lowered and his symptoms significantly subsided, he said.

"I had gone to the clinic for a few months and I didn't feel any different," Shutte said. "Now I'm coming here, and I feel a little better. The medicines she gave me helped calm the pain a lot."

Robinson, one of many doctors in the small but growing field of naturopathic medicine, has helped build her private practice in Stamford by offering her services to the Hispanic community at affordable rates.

Early in her practice, Robinson discovered Hispanic patients were drawn to the type of natural medicine she offered. Now most of her business comes from Hispanics, she said.

"I feel like we're really fulfilling a need in the community," Robinson said. "They're helping me, so I can build this business."

Robinson operates out of a single-room office on Glenbrook Road above a Chinese restaurant and decorative glass shop. Shutte had an appointment Saturday, part of a routine of biweekly visits for the past two months. Robinson began by interviewing Shutte, mostly in Spanish, with the help of a translator.

"Como estas?" Robinson said, asking, "How are you" in Spanish. "Are you taking your medicine?"

She went through the routines of a primary doctor - taking blood pressure, listening to Shutte's heartbeat, taking his weight. But instead of writing a prescription for blood pressure medication, which Shutte once took and disliked because of side effects, Robinson recommended he supplement his diet with fish peptides, flax, pumpkin seeds and cucumber.

That will help Shutte's symptoms, Robinson said. For another problem, his weight, Robinson gave Shutte worksheets to record his diet for the next two weeks and advised him not to eat late at night. When he returns, they will figure out how to improve his nutrition, Robinson said.

After the visit, Robinson summed up the philosophy of naturopathic doctors.

"We all believe the body has a natural ability to heal itself," she said.

As a practitioner of alternative medicine, Robinson said she is sometimes marginalized. Some insurance companies do not cover her work, and it can be difficult to connect her patients with low-cost access to specialists for X-rays, blood work, MRIs and other services, she said. Sometimes patients need treatments, such as surgery, that are out of her realm, she said.

But Robinson's philosophy of using herbs and natural cures is one that many people from Latin America are quick to embrace, said Ingrid Fallaque, Robinson's translator and intermediary with the Hispanic community. Many Hispanics are familiar with natural remedies from their own countries and feel more safe using them than taking pills, said Fallaque, who is from Peru.

"When I talk to people, that's the most important thing for them," Fallaque said. "They grew up with it. Even my own mother used to give me herbs for everything."

Robinson's approach goes beyond physical symptoms. Another patient, Francisco Rosario, 16, started seeing Robinson about two months ago after a friend of the family recommended the practice to his mother.

Rosario had low energy and felt uninterested in most everything. He'd watch TV instead of being active and was skipping classes at school. He tried prescription medication, but it made him feel worse, Rosario said.

Robinson gave him vitamins, fish oil and a natural amino acid to help him with his moods, an approach that can be characterized as holistic medicine, in which doctors view the physical and the mental as interconnected.

Rosario said the difference was clear.

"I feel more calm, I understand more, and I can pay attention," Rosario said. "Before I just didn't care."

Robinson didn't stop there. She helped Rosario get a job at a church and asked him how he was doing in school, offering to help tutor him in math.

Asked why she put in the extra effort, Robinson thought a moment.

"Sometimes people need a spokesperson for them," Robinson said. "I want to follow through and make sure people get better."

- Staff Writer Magdalene Perez can be reached at magdalene.perez@scni.com or 964-2240. Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/18/science/18soul.html

Published: November 17, 2008

In a mountainous kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey, there lived in the eighth century B.C. a royal official, Kuttamuwa, who oversaw the completion of an inscribed stone monument, or stele, to be erected upon his death. The words instructed mourners to commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts "for my soul that is in this stele."

University of Chicago archaeologists who made the discovery last summer in ruins of a walled city near the Syrian border said the stele provided the first written evidence that the people in this region held to the religious concept of the soul apart from the body. By contrast, Semitic contemporaries, including the Israelites, believed that the body and soul were inseparable, which for them made cremation unthinkable, as noted in the Bible.

Circumstantial evidence, archaeologists said, indicated that the people at Sam'al, the ancient city, practiced cremation. The site is known today as Zincirli (pronounced ZIN-jeer-lee).

Other scholars said the find could lead to important insights into the dynamics of cultural contact and exchange in the borderlands of antiquity where Indo-European and Semitic people interacted in the Iron Age.

The official's name, for example, is Indo-European: no surprise, as previous investigations there had turned up names and writing in the Luwian language from the north. But the stele also bears southern influences. The writing is in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and a Semitic language that appears to be an archaic variant of Aramaic.

The discovery and its implications were described last week in interviews with archaeologists and a linguist at the University of Chicago, who excavated and translated the inscription.

"Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased," said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university's Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. "But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone."

A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: "I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele."

Dr. Pardee said the word used for soul, nabsh, was Aramaic, a language spoken throughout northern Syria and parts of Mesopotamia in the eighth century. But the inscription seemed to be a previously unrecognized dialect. In Hebrew, a related language, the word for soul is nefesh.

In addition to the writing, a pictorial scene chiseled into the well-preserved stele depicts the culture's view of the afterlife. A bearded man wearing a tasseled cap, presumably Kuttamuwa, raises a cup of wine and sits before a table laden with food, bread and roast duck in a stone bowl.

In other societies of the region, scholars say, this was an invitation to bring customary offerings of food and drink to the tomb of the deceased. Here family and descendants supposedly feasted before a stone slab in a kind of chapel. Archaeologists have found no traces there of a tomb or bodily remains.

Joseph Wegner, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the research, said cult offerings to the dead were common in the Middle East, but not the idea of a soul separate from the body — except in Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, Dr. Wegner noted, the human entity has separate components. The body is important, and the elite went to great expense to mummify and entomb it for eternity. In death, though, a life force or spirit known as ka was immortal, and a soul known as ba, which was linked to personal attributes, fled the body after death.

Dr. Wegner said the concept of a soul held by the people at Sam'al "sounds vaguely Egyptian in its nature." But there was nothing in history or archaeology, he added, to suggest that the Egyptian civilization had a direct influence on this border kingdom.

Other scholars are expected to weigh in after Dr. Schloen and Dr. Pardee describe their findings later this week in Boston at meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature.

Lawrence E. Stager, an archaeologist at Harvard who excavates in Israel, said that from what he had learned so far the stele illustrated "to a great degree the mixed cultural heritage in the region at that time" and was likely to prompt "new and exciting discoveries in years to come."

Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, said the stele was a "rare and most informative discovery in having written evidence together with artistic and archaeological evidence from the Iron Age."

The 800-pound basalt stele, three feet tall and two feet wide, was found in the third season of excavations at Zincirli by the Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute. The work is expected to continue for seven more years, supported in large part by the Neubauer Family Foundation of Chicago.

The site, near the town of Islahiye in Gaziantep province, was controlled at one time by the Hittite Empire in central Turkey, then became the capital of a small independent kingdom. In the eighth century, the city was still the seat of kings, including Panamuwa, but they were by then apparently subservient to the Assyrian Empire. After that empire's collapse, the city's fortunes declined, and the place was abandoned late in the seventh century.

A German expedition, from 1888 to 1902, was the first to explore the city's past. It uncovered thick city walls of stone and mud brick and monumental gates lined with sculpture and inscriptions. These provided the first direct evidence of Indo-European influence on the kingdom.

After the Germans suspended operations, the ruins lay unworked until the Chicago team began digging in 2006, concentrating on the city beyond the central citadel, which had been the focus of the German research. Much of the 100-acre site has now been mapped by remote-sensing magnetic technology capable of detecting buried structures.

This summer, on July 21, workers excavating what appeared to be a large dwelling came upon the rounded top of the stele and saw the first line of the inscription. Dr. Schloen and Amir Fink, a doctoral student in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, bent over to read.

Almost immediately, they and others on the team recognized that the words were Semitic and the name of the king was familiar; it had appeared in the inscriptions found by the Germans. As the entire stele was exposed, Dr. Schloen said, the team made a rough translation, and this was later completed and refined by Dr. Pardee.

Then the archaeologists examined more closely every aspect of the small, square room in which the stele stood in a corner by a stone wall. Fragments of offering bowls to the type depicted in the stele were on the floor. Remains of two bread ovens were found.

"Our best guess is that this was originally a kitchen annexed to a larger dwelling," Dr. Schloen said. "The room was remodeled as a shrine or chapel — a mortuary chapel for Kuttamuwa, probably in his own home."

They found no signs of a burial in the city's ruins. At other ancient sites on the Turkish-Syrian border, cremation urns have been dated to the same period. So the archaeologists surmised that cremation was also practiced at Sam'al.

Dr. Stager of Harvard said the evidence so far, the spread of languages and especially the writing on stone about a royal official's soul reflected the give-and-take of mixed cultures, part Indo-European, part Semitic, at a borderland in antiquity.

Disco. spins some more tunes


Category: Policy and Politics

Posted on: November 19, 2008 7:23 PM, by Josh Rosenau

I want to add a point to my response to the Disco. Inst.'s claim that TFN's survey of Texas biology teachers is a "push-poll" and "jackbooted thuggery."

That language is unbecoming and unprofessional, but we have all come to expect that from the Discovery Institute.

It is also hypocritical.

I know they read TfK, so they know why it is inaccurate and inappropriate to call the TFN survey "a push-poll," but here they go again, writing that "TFN is parading a push-poll survey of scientists they did recently." It still isn't a push poll. And the Disco. crew should know better than to throw stones when they've commissioned polls from firms accused of push polling, polls which employed nonstandard methodology and biased questions.

On the DI's website, they tout polls they commissioned from Zogby, purporting to show that Ohioans back the teaching of ID in public schools.

The problem is, Zogby's reputation as a pollster is pretty dubious:

Zogby has long been known for refusing to use sound methods in designing his samples. The use of only listed telephone numbers, and the self-selected samples of voters in his online surveys, are the two most salient problems.…

Regardless of how loopy are Zogby's results, or his sampling methods, his polls contribute to what Kathy Frankovic, in her AAPOR presidential address in 1993,[i] referred to as the "noise and clamor" of the polls. Thus, they're worth noting, if only in disbelief.

Indeed, their methodology in the Disco. poll was pretty awful. Good polls are conducted across three days (to reduce sampling error based on who is away from home on a given night) and do not sample on weekends (including Friday night), since that reduces response rates in nonstandard ways. Disco.'s poll was conducted on only two days, only one of them a weeknight. Furthermore, Zogby uses listed phone numbers rather than random dialing, which introduces bias into the subset of the population who are called. Finally, the questions Disco. asks in their survey are highly biased. Asking whether "Biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it" assumes that there is, in fact, scientific evidence against evolution. As it stands, teaching no evidence against evolution actually does present all the existing evidence against evolution. Disco.'s poll obscures that fact. The small number of questions on Disco.'s survey could be a marker of a push poll, but the relatively small sample and the demographic questions asked at the end move it beyond that realm under standard criteria (as the extensive questions on the TFN questionnaire exonerate it of Disco.'s allegation of "push-polling").

Furthermore, Zogby just got hit with very credible accusations of push polling. Nate Silver knows from polls, and while he's using a definition slightly different than Mark Blumenthal's from yesterday, I think he makes a good case that Zogby's standards are lax, and that they are too willing to let their clients produce unscientific results, purely for the sake of propaganda. This accusation against Zogby has a long pedigree, and so long as Disco. is happy to avail themselves of such shoddy methods, they would be wise to avoid baseless and unjustified claims of push-polling against their opponents.

The Mind and Materialist Superstition


Philosophy. The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.

1 a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation
b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition
2: a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary

(in a human or other conscious being) The element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges.

Materialists have taken note of the growing efforts by non-materialist neuroscientists to point out the deep problems with the inference that the brain is entirely the cause of the mind. Materialist neuroscience, like materialist evolutionary biology, is a vacuous orthodoxy, and its proponents resent threats to their dogma. Darwinian explanations for functional biological complexity are nonsense, but some familiarity with the relevant science is necessary to understand that it is nonsense. Materialist explanations for the mind are transparent nonsense.

Consider the six characteristics of the mind, generally accepted by materialist and non-materialist scientists and philosophers. Each of the six poses enormous problems for a materialistic explanation:

Intentionality is the "aboutness" or meaning of a mental state, the ability of a mental state to refer to something outside of itself. Ink on paper has no meaning unless it is conferred by a mind, which wrote it or read it. Matter may have intentionality only secondarily ("derived intentionality"). The problem of intentionality is believed by many philosophers of the mind to be the most serious challenge to materialism. "Meaning" is imparted to matter by a mind; matter isn't the source of meaning. Therefore matter (brain tissue) can't be the entire cause of the mind.

Qualia is subjective experience, which is first person ontogeny. You can describe pain, using science or literature or whatever. But the experience of pain is something qualitatively different. There is nothing in science which infers subjectivity — no "Newton's Fourth Law" by which objective matter produces subjective experience. No material law or principle invokes subjectivity, yet subjectivity is the hallmark of the mind.

Persistence of Self-Identity
We are the same person throughout our lives, despite a continual turn-over of matter in our brains. The matter that constitutes your brain today is different matter, for the most part, than the matter that constituted your brain ten years ago. Furthermore, your brain matter is organized differently now than it was ten years ago. Yet your sense of identity, which is a fundamental characteristic of minds, is continuous over time. You are you, despite profound changes in brain matter and organization. What property then is the "same" that accounts for you being the same? It's not matter and it's not organization of matter. Hume thought that the sense of personal continuity was the result of a continuous string of memories, but his theory begs the question. Who is it that has the string of memories? Continuity of self is a prerequisite for a string of memories, so it can't be the result of a string of memories. Persistence of self-identity through time can't be explained materialistically; the most reasonable explanation is that there is an immaterial component of the mind that is continuous over time.

Restricted Access
Restricted access means that I, and only I, experience my thoughts first-hand. I can choose to describe them to others, and others may be able to explain better than I some of the ramifications of my thoughts, but only I experience them. Even a lie-detector machine or a functional MRI doesn't permit other people to experience my thoughts; they are merely material expressions of my brain activity, akin to speech. This is entirely unlike matter. I know the brain anatomy (matter) of my patients much better (usually) than they do. I know what their brains look like, whereas they have never actually seen them. Yet I have no first-hand experience of their thoughts, no matter how well I know their brain. We each have absolute restricted access to the experience of our own thoughts. Matter does not have this property, and therefore matter cannot be the entire cause of our thoughts.

Incorrigibility, which is related to restricted access, means the unassailable knowledge of one's own thoughts. If I am thinking of the color red, no one can credibly refute that fact. Of course, I may be lying about what I am thinking, or I may be mistaken about the implications of my thoughts, but I experience my thoughts in a way that no one else does. If I say (honestly) that I like impressionist painting, it is nonsensical for someone else to assert, "You are mistaken; you don't like impressionist painting." This incorrigibility isn't a property of matter. I can hold an honest opinion that the hippocampus is in the parietal lobe (it isn't; it's in the temporal lobe). My interlocutor can point out that I am incorrect about the material issue (where the hippocampus is located), but he can't plausibly argue that I'm wrong that I hold that opinion. Incorrigibility is a property of mind, but not matter.

Free Will
If the mind is entirely caused by matter, it is difficult to understand how free will can exist. Matter is governed by fixed laws, and if our thoughts are entirely the product of brain chemistry, then our thoughts are determined by brain chemistry. But chemistry doesn't have "truth" or "falsehood," or any other values for that matter. It just is. Enzymatic catalysis isn't true or false, it just is. In fact, the view that "materialism is true" is meaningless… if materialism is true. If materialism is true, than the thought "materialism is true" is just a chemical reaction, neither true nor false. While there are some philosophers who assert that free will can exist in a deterministic materialistic world (they're called "compatibilists"), and some have argued that quantum indeterminacy may leave room for free will, the most parsimonious explanation for free will is that there is an immaterial component of the mind that is undetermined by matter.

So is the materialist inference that the mind is caused entirely by the brain plausible? Please note that materialism has failed to offer any explanation for any of the six salient characteristics of the mind. Not a single salient characteristic of the mind is a property of matter. The strict materialistic explanation for the mind — the attribution of immaterial mental acts and properties to brain matter — is, by definition, a materialist superstition, a "false irrational conception of causation in nature maintained despite evidence to the contrary."

Of course, on reflection, we wouldn't expect neuroscience to have important things to say about the material/immaterial nature of the mind. Neuroscience studies correlations between material events and behaviors, which are third-person objective phenomena; it has provided no explanation for subjective-first person processes, which is the essential quality of the mind. The assertion that neuroscience demonstrates the material nature of the mind is an ideological assertion, a misuse of neuroscience to serve a tenuous materialist agenda.

In Wolfgang Pauli's deathless phrase, the materialist explanation of the mind "isn't even wrong." It's superstitious nonsense. Materialism can't explain the mind, because the salient characteristics of mental states — intentionality, qualia, persistence of self-identity, restricted access, incorrigibility, and free will — do not admit material explanations.

A coherent and meaningful understanding of the mind requires a repudiation of this materialist superstition. Strict materialism offers some insight into behavioral correlations — behavioral arousal is associated with activation of neurons in the brainstem reticular activation system — but materialism offers nothing to explain the subjective properties of mental experience, which constitute the mind as we actually experience it. A genuine understanding of the mind must be open to immaterial causation, because there is nothing in materialist science (or materialist philosophy) that can account for subjective experience.

The viewpoint that matter has desires, intentions, and subjective experiences has a long history in human affairs. It was the foundation of Aristotelian natural philosophy — matter fell to the earth because it seemed to "desire" to return to its natural place. The ancient world was haunted with "sentient" inanimate objects — talismans, charms and idols. Children attribute wishes and feelings to stuffed toys. Since the dawn of man we have ascribed sentience and feelings and will to matter, and a salient triumph of modern science has been to expunge this attribution of subjectivity to matter. The work of physical science is to identify and if possible quantify regularities in the "third person objective existence" of matter. Matter has third person objective existence. The mind, as experienced, has first person subjective existence.

Superstition is "a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary." The foundation of the scientific revolution is the repudiation of the inference that matter has will, emotions and desires. If there is anything that modern science has demonstrated beyond dispute it is the gulf between objective and subjective ontogeny — between matter and mind. Yet the materialist superstition isn't completely gone. It persists in its modern scientific manifestation — the inference that the mind is entirely caused by the brain — which is a superstition.

Posted by Michael Egnor on November 26, 2008 8:49 AM | Permalink

Dr. Bill Elliott: Ginkgo biloba fails its test


Dr. Bill Elliott
Posted: 11/30/2008 10:19:55 PM PST

The National Center for Complementary and Alternatives and Medicine (NCCAM), has attempted to bring objective scientific rigor to many alternative and complementary medicine practices in order to test their validity. Those of us who trained in traditional medical schools were often skeptical of alternative treatments, but we have been interested to see if some of these treatments might actually work. NCCAM has funded many large studies, but the results have generally been disastrous for the multibillion-dollar complementary and alternative medicine business in this country, with most of the NCCAM-sponsored studies showing no benefit from alternative treatments.

The latest casualty is ginkgo biloba.

In a large study funded by the center, researchers at five medical schools across the country, including University of California at Davis, enrolled more than 3,000 older adults of which 2,587 had normal memory and brain function and 482 had mild memory loss.

Using the format that is now the gold standard for medical studies, half of the patients were randomly picked to take 120 milligrams of ginkgo biloba twice a day and the other half took an identical placebo pill. Neither the patients nor their treating physicians knew which pill they were taking until the end of the study (double blind study).

Patients were assessed every six months for six years to see if they developed dementia. Within the study group 523 patients developed dementia, mostly Alzheimer's disease, including 246 patients who took the placebo pills and 277 patients who received ginkgo biloba. In other words, there were slightly more cases of dementia in the group taking the ginkgo biloba supplement than the placebo pill.

The researchers made a point of using a standardized formulation of ginkgo biloba extract using the highest dose used in other reported studies. They will continue to follow some of the subjects to determine if the benefit may take longer than six years, but based on this study, ginkgo biloba cannot be recommended to promote brain health and prevent dementia.

Some may think that doctors are gleeful with these results, but in reality most doctors would welcome a safe, inexpensive supplement to prevent dementia - one of the most heartbreaking diseases we see. But we also need proof, and most doctors have been unwilling to recommend many supplements to patients without convincing evidence that they work.

Americans will spend more than $100 million on ginkgo biloba this year. While this study may not be good news for the companies that make this supplement, at least we can now recommend that our patients use their hard-earned dollars on something more useful.

Dr. Bill Elliott is physician in charge at Kaiser Novato Medical Offices and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.