Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Here's the third of Ken Miller's three guest posts on blood clotting, evolution, and intelligent design. (In case you missed them, here are the first and second posts.)
If you've had the patience to follow Part 1 and Part 2 of my replies to Casey Luskin's postings on the blood-clotting cascade, you might be wondering why he's gone to such trouble to beat a horse (Kitzmiller v. Dover) that left the barn more than three years ago (when that decision was filed). Quite frankly, I wondered a bit about that, too.
Now he's revealed his hand in Part 3 of the series. It's now apparent that his employers at the Discovery Institute are kicking off a attempt to show that Judge John E. Jones III got it wrong, and the Dover case was wrongly decided. What Casey is doing is laying down an artillery barrage designed to soften up the strongest part of the defenses against ID — its record of failure in the Dover trial.
Why is this necessary? Why bother re-trying a case that Luskin's colleagues have already lost? Because the Dover decision remains an open, and potentially fatal wound to the ID movement.
If ID surrogates in Louisiana, Texas, and other states are to argue that evolution is a controversial idea with serious scientific flaws, they've got a problem. They know that the parents and educators backing genuine science education for American students will pick up the Dover decision and cite chapter and verse from its ringing indictment of everything that Casey and the Discover Institute stand for. They also know that state legislators and school board members will consider the legal troubles that beset Dover and decide to pass on Discovery's persistent offers to guide them along the path of undermining evolution. In short, if Kitzmiller v. Dover stands, they're done for.
But they can't appeal the case — only the Dover School Board could have done that. Unfortunately for the Discovery Institute, it lost that opportunity in November of 2005, when the voters of Dover threw out their pro-ID Board and replaced it with one entirely happy with the decision that Judge Jones rendered six weeks later.
So, they've got only one recourse — to produce a revisionist narrative showing that the decision was flawed. Clearly they hope that their surrogates will then be able to pick up that narrative and use it to counter the scientific and legal disaster that was Kitzmiller v. Dover.
What Casey Luskin has done in Parts 1 and 2 of his revisionist history is to argue:
1) That I supposedly misled the court in my testimony about the "irreducible complexity" of the blood-clotting system by incorrectly characterizing the position of ID scientist Michael Behe.
2) That my testimony about missing parts of the blood-clotting system was supposedly irrelevant, since I hadn't done any experiments to show that the system would work despite the absence of several parts in some organisms.
And, now, what he's argued in Part 3 is that as a result of points (1) and (2), Kitzmiller v. Dover was a case wrongly decided on the basis of bogus scientific testimony. That means, according to Mr. Luskin, that it should not be used against the ID movement. And, just for good measure, he complains that key parts of Jones' decision were "copied" from statements provided by the plaintiffs.
As I showed in earlier responses to Luskin's revisionist history of the Dover trial, his narrative is wrong on each and every count.
• First, I didn't mislead anyone when I testified about the blood-clotting system on the opening days of the Dover trial. In fact, it's Mr. Luskin who is trying to mislead his readers today by misrepresenting Michael Behe's very clear written claims about the irreducible complexity of the system. Behe made that claim very clearly in his portion of the ID textbook Of Pandas and People, and he did it again on page 87 of Darwin's Black Box where he stated:
"Since each step necessarily requires several parts, not only is the entire blood-clotting system irreducibly complex, but so is each step in the pathway."
• Second, Luskin's willingness to misread Behe is then followed by an even more brazen attempt to misrepresent, "irreducible complexity," ID's own argument against evolution. The one strength of that argument is that it makes a testable prediction, namely, that the individual parts of an irreducibly complex biochemical system should have no function until all of those parts are assembled together. The difficulty, which Luskin has worked mightily to obscure, is that "irreducible complexity" fails that test at every turn. So he pretends that the existence of fully-functional clotting systems that are missing as many as five parts of the "irreducibly complex" system is no big deal. It is, in fact, a very, very big deal — because it shows that his argument, the claim of "design," and his revisionist account of the Dover trial are all dead wrong.
• What all of this means is very clear. The case that Luskin has attempted to make against the Kitzmiller decision is rotten from the ground up. The testimony I presented in court was accurate, the scientific case for the evolution of the blood clotting system is getting stronger every day, and his plea to ignore the facts case is an act of desperation from a side unable either to do scientific research or to assemble a coherent legal argument.
The only relevant question at this point is the Discovery Institute keeps highlighting its own failings in this way. Why are Casey and his employers now — three years after the Dover trial — trying to rehabilitate the tattered credibility of both Michael Behe and Pandas? What mischief are they planning now? The only conclusion I can draw is that they must be maneuvering for the next round of state board hearings or legislative sessions — and I'm concerned. These folks are a whole lot better at politics and public relations than they are at science, and that means that everyone who cares about science education should be on guard.
As promised, here's Ken Miller's second post on intelligent design, following on yesterday's introduction. [And here's the third and final post.]
In Part 1, I showed that Casey Luskin's charges with respect to my testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover were completely false. Michael Behe did indeed argue, throughout his 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box [DBB], that the "entire blood-clotting system" was "irreducibly complex," and I cited examples from that book to prove it. Therefore, the existence of a living organism missing so much as a single part of that system was indeed a falsification of ID's blood-clotting argument. Given that we now have examples of organisms (jawless fish) missing at least 5 components of that "irreducibly complex" system (see Doolittle et al, 2008), it's perfectly obvious that Luskin's attempts to rehabilitate that argument are hopeless.
Ever the optimist, Part 2 of Luskin's end-of-year project is to salvage Of Pandas and People, the creationist-turned-ID textbook that was at the heart of the Dover trial. Incredibly, in trying to accomplish this feat, he fails to understand the very argument he's trying to prop up. What Luskin does not seem comprehend is that irreducible complexity is not an argument for design — it is an argument against evolution. Simply stated, when a system is labeled as "irreducibly complex," the ID proponent is making a claim for the unevolvability of that system. The reason that such systems are said to be unevolvable is because their individual parts are supposedly nonfunctional until they are all combined into a single, working system. As Behe has said and written, "any irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional" [DBB, p. 39]. As Behe further points out, since those parts are nonfunctional on their own, they could not have been assembled by evolution, because "…natural selection can only choose systems that are already working…" [DBB, p. 39].
That would be a powerful argument against evolution — if it were true. Unfortunately, it's not, and the Dover trial demonstrated that for at least three of ID's favorite systems, blood-clotting, the bacterial flagellum, and the immune system. By pointing out, in court, that individual parts of each of these systems do indeed have perfectly functional roles, we showed that Behe's claim of unevolvability was false. (For details on the flagellum see Pallen & Matzke, 2006; the immune system, Bottaro et al, 2006; Jiang & Doolittle, 2003 present an evolutionary pathway for the blood-clotting system).
Luskin, however, ignores Behe's own logic and pretends that irreducible complexity is really an argument about whether parts of an established system are superfluous. In other words, to Luskin, the only way to show that a system is irreducibly complex would be to take a couple of parts out and see if it keeps working. That stunning error of logic is why he actually believes that pulling a wheel off my Trek road bike would demonstrate the irreducible complexity of the bicycle's design. It's also why he argues that it doesn't matter that whales are missing one part of the clotting system, bony fish are missing three, and lampreys are missing (although he doesn't seem to know this) five.
As a result, the only evidence he says he'd accept for evolution would be a knockout experiment "that removed certain components from the blood-clotting cascade, and found that the blood still clotted properly." But all that would actually show, of course, is that the system had superfluous parts. Luskin would then take a tiny step back and claim that what was left behind was still irreducibly complex.
Incidentally, Luskin suggests that the lack of Factor XII in dolphins is the result of a "functional constraint" associated with the design of vertebrates living in water. That, he presumes, is why dolphins and jawed fish both lack Factor XII. In his view, "Darwinists" (like me) may believe that "dolphins are supposedly descended from land-dwelling vertebrates," but that issue "will require further research to sort out." Really, Casey? As I pointed out in my testimony at the Dover trial, the key reason why evolution is science is that it is testable. If dolphins and other cetaceans are indeed descended from land-dwelling mammals, their ancestors should have had the genes for Factor XII in their genomes. During the transition to water, those genes should have been deleted or inactivated, perhaps as an adaptation to deep sea diving, and today their traces might still be present in the cetacean genome, if only we care to look.
Would you like to take a look and place a bet on the results of that "further research," Casey? As much as I'd like to win a few bucks from my friends at the Discovery Institute, it wouldn't be sporting, since such research was actually done more than a decade ago [Semba et al, 1998]. Whales possess a Factor XII pseudogene, an inactivated version of the very same gene carried by land-dwelling mammals. That pseudogene is a direct mark of their common ancestry with other mammals, and disproves any suggestion that constraints on cetacean "design" required the absence of Factor XII. Rather, ordinary genetic processes knocked out the gene, and today the pseudogene remains merely as evidence of their evolutionary ancestry.
Like just about everything that comes out of the Discovery Institute, Luskin's idea of evidence isn't intended to advance scientific understanding — it's only designed to score debating points. Unfortunately, it doesn't do that, either. What Mr. Luskin clearly does not understand is that irreducible complexity is really an argument about how a system came to be, not whether it contains dispensable parts. And the argument, so clearly stated by Michael Behe in both of the books in question (Pandas and DBB) is that the whole system has to be assembled at once, in "one fell swoop," because partial assemblies, containing just a few parts, are "by definition nonfunctional." How do you test that assertion? By looking around in nature and seeing if partial assemblies of the more complex system do exist and are indeed functional.
What happens when you do that? You already know the answer. From the bacterial Type III secretory system to the simplified clotting system of the lamprey, each of the favorite examples of the ID movement have collapsed under the weight of scientific evidence. Once you discover that the parts of the system do indeed have functions of their own, even in different contexts, you've answered the challenge from ID. As Behe pointed out, "…natural selection can only choose systems that are already working.." Yup. And that's why once you've demonstrated that the parts of the system do indeed work just fine in other contexts, you're answered the ID challenge fully and completely. Case closed. Three years ago, in fact. Case closed, and ID lost.
Casey, if you really want to defend Michael Behe, a good place to start would be by reading him.
Coming next: From reliving the past to the future of creationism.
Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). "From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella." Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4: 784-790.
Bottaro A, Inlay MA, Matzke NJ (2006) "Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover 'Intelligent Design' trial." Nature Immunology 7: 433 – 435.
Doolittle RF, Jiang Y, Nand J. (2008) "Genomic evidence for a simpler clotting scheme in jawless vertebrates." J. Mol. Evol. 66:185-96.
Jiang Y, Doolittle RF (2003) "The evolution of vertebrate blood coagulation as viewed from a comparison of puffer fish and sea squirt genomes." PNAS 100: 7527-7532
Semba U, Shibuya Y, Okabe H, Yamamoto T (1998) Whale Hageman factor (factor XII): prevented production due to pseudogene conversion. Thromb. Res. 90: 31–37.
In September 2005, Ken Miller, a Brown University biologist, took the witness stand during a lawsuit known as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The plaintiffs, a group of parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, objected to "intelligent design" being required to be presented as an scientific alternative to evolution. Miller, the first expert witness called by the plaintiffs, showed that the key claims made by advocates of intelligent design are false. The plaintiffs won the case, and the people of Dover voted out the members of the Dover board of education who had pushed through the intelligent design requirements.
Over three years later, advocates of intelligent design are still trying to relive the case. In late December, the Discovery Institute unleashed a three-part attack on Miller's testimony, focusing on the evolution of proteins that make blood clot. I pointed out the absurdity of their arguments with the case of the one-wheeled bike.
But there's much more to this story, as Miller noted in an email he sent to me the other day–more science and more clues to the strategies intelligent design advocates will be using in the years to come.
While Miller is the author of a number of books and a frequent lecturer, he has not yet been absorbed into the blogosphere. And so I've invited him to share his thoughts in three posts. The first appears here; I'll post the next two over the weekend. [Update: Here's part two and part three.]
One of the enduring fantasies of the intelligent design (ID) movement is the notion that it might have won the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial if it hadn't been consistently "misrepresented" in testimony by witnesses from the scientific establishment. Even worse, they point out, when their own heroes like Scott Minnich and Michael Behe attempted to correct those Darwinist distortions, Judge Jones, that liberal, ACLU-friendly activist, paid no attention.
More than three years after Kitzmiller v. Dover, Discovery Institute spokesman Casey Luskin is still trying to win the case. During the trial itself, from which Discovery stalwarts William Dembski and Steven Meyer conspicuously withdrew, Luskin stood just outside the courtroom, spinning the day's testimony for any reporter willing to listen. Casey's still spinning, and now he's doing his manful best to resurrect one of Behe's favorite arguments for "irreducible complexity" (IC), the vertebrate blood clotting cascade. The culprit in its demise at the Dover trial, of course, was me. But according to Casey, my testimony was nothing more than "Smoke-and-Mirrors."
Here's what he says:
1) The Mirror: According to Luskin, I misrepresented Behe's arguments (from Darwin's Black Box) by pretending that they were "essentially identical" to those found in the ID textbook Of Pandas and People. They aren't, according to Luskin.
2) The Smoke: Luskin claims that I then used that misrepresentation of Behe's position to state that ID requires the entire blood clotting cascade to be irreducibly complex. Since Behe, according to Luskin, had actually limited his argument for irreducible complexity to a "particular segment" of the cascade, that's simply "wrong."
3) Then, another Mirror: Therefore, according to Luskin, any claim that the absence of three components of the cascade in the puffer fish refutes ID is absolutely false.
4) Finally, the Rehabilitation: Behe's actual ideas, according to Luskin, center around an "irreducible core" of components essential for the clotting reaction. Luskin argues that the core idea, which supports the intelligent design of the system, has stood up brilliantly under scientific scrutiny.
The scientific reality, of course, is entirely different. First, there's a perfectly good reason why I compared the clotting treatment in Pandas to Darwin's Black Box (DBB). They are indeed nearly identical, and that's because Behe himself wrote both of them. Second, Behe actually did state that the entire pathway is irreducibly complex in DBB. Casey might have skipped over those pages, but I didn't. Third, as a result, the absence of any components of the cascade in any organism is indeed a direct contradiction of Behe's formulation of ID. And finally, even Luskin's "irreducible core" has fallen apart as the result of the most recent research findings on the system.
Casey seems to forget — or to ignore — the fact that Behe has never even attempted to do any scientific research to show that he is right. He ignores the fact that ID's critics have produced a boatload of research showing Behe to be wrong while Behe himself has done no research on the system that might support Luskin. As a result, his attempts at rehabilitating the clotting cascade as an "icon" of ID are a complete failure. So, for the umpteenth time, let's go through this again.
Here are the details, one at a time.
1) The Mirror? The essence of Luskin's argument is that my testimony on the opening days of the Dover trial misrepresented Michael Behe's position on the irreducible complexity of blood clotting. I supposedly did this by falsely conflating Behe's arguments with those in the ID textbook, Of Pandas and People. According to Luskin, Behe's actual arguments (from DBB) are "much more precise." To be specific, in DBB, according to Luskin, Behe limited "his argument for irreducible complexity to a particular segment of the blood-clotting cascade."
The interested reader might begin by comparing pages 141-146 of Pandas to pages 81-97 of DBB (click here for both clotting diagrams). As you will see, the books show the system in identical diagrams (p. 143 and 82, respectively), clearly indicating that both were derived from a common source. That source, of course, was the author of both passages, Michael Behe.
More to the point, these matching diagrams show at least 16 different factors in the cascade. Both books then use these complex diagrams to frame the essence of the clotting argument in nearly identical language in both passages: All of the parts have to be present simultaneous for the system to work. Here's how he put it in the two books:
"When the system is lacking just one of the components, such as anti-hemophilic factor, severe health problems often result. Only when all the components of the system are present in good working order does the system function properly." [Pandas, p. 145]
"… none of the cascade proteins is used for anything except controlling the formation of a blood clot. Yet in the absence of any one of the components, blood does not clot and the system fails." [DBB, p. 86]
Writing in both books, Behe describes that as problem for evolution. Although the narrative style differs, the meaning of both passages is identical. Pandas notes similarities between some of the clotting proteins, which could be interpreted as evidence of common ancestry. However, it waves away that possibility by stating: "that even if this were the case, all of the proteins had to be present simultaneously for the blood clotting system to function" [Pandas, p. 146].
In DBB, the same issue is addressed this way: "The bottom line is that clusters of proteins have to be inserted all at once into the cascade. This can be done only by postulating a 'hopeful monster' who luckily gets all of the proteins at once, or by the guidance of an intelligent agent" [p. 96]. [emphasis in the original in both quotations].
In summary, there is at best only one difference between the two treatments, a passage found on page 86 of DBB:
"Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where details are less well known, the blood clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity. … The components of the system (beyond the fork in the pathway) are fibrinogen, prothrombin, Stuart factor, and proaccelerin." [DBB, p. 86]
By ignoring this important difference, according to Luskin, I had misrepresented Behe and misled the Court. Behe clearly stated that the system contained just those parts past the "fork" in the pathway. How dare I pretend otherwise? Oh, the dishonesty!
So, where did I get the idea that Behe's argument for ID actually included the whole system, just like Pandas's treatment? Easy. Unlike Mr. Luskin, I read Behe's whole book — including the parts before and after page 86, and I took Michael Behe at his word, as you will see.
2) The Smoke? The claim that Michael Behe meant to include only a handful of components from the cascade in his "irreducibly complex" system would come as a shock to anyone who has actually read DBB. Behe describes the system in great detail, asking us to consider the whole system in all its complexity, including each of its 16 different components. In fact, Behe emphasizes how critical each and every component of the system is, pointing out that the absence of certain factors (VIII and IX) cause potentially fatal human diseases (hemophilia A and B, respectively). But then, just as Luskin points out, on page 87, he suddenly seems to retreat, limiting the system to just four factors (fibrinogen, prothrombin, Stuart factor, and proaccelerin). So any suggestion to the contrary is unfair to Behe and ID, right?
Not so fast. Just keep reading. He doesn't actually limit his "irreducible core" at all in the way that Luskin now pretends. Instead, on the very next page [p. 87] he discusses the hopelessness of evolution being able to change even a "slightly simplified system" gradually into a "complex, intact system." Why? Because adding even a single step to the pathway is beyond the range of evolution. As Behe puts it, "From the beginning, a new step in the cascade would require both a proenzyme and also an activating enzyme to switch on the proenzyme at the correct time and place." Then he drops the bombshell that Luskin seems not to have noticed (or, at least he wasn't willing to tell his readers about):
"Since each step necessarily requires several parts, not only is the entire blood-clotting system irreducibly complex, but so is each step in the pathway." [DBB, p. 87]
Got that? The "entire blood-clotting system" is "irreducibly complex," and "so is each step in the pathway." Which Michael Behe should we believe? The pre-Dover trial one who described the whole magnificent system as an argument for ID? Or the one who flip-flops to a tiny core of just four proteins? Or the one who flip-flops again a page later, and once again says that the "entire blood-clotting system" and each of its steps are irreducibly complex?
I wasn't blowing any "smoke" when I characterized Behe's views as pertaining to the entire clotting pathway in both books. What I was actually doing, unlike Luskin, was taking Behe's claims in their totality. Behe really did argue that the whole system is irreducibly complex, and that it would be impossible for evolution to add so much as a single step to it. That's why I testified to the effect those missing clotting factors in the pufferfish were a fatal blow to Behe's argument. And so they are. The only mirror I held up to the Court was the one that reflected Behe's own written arguments in Pandas and DBB.
3) The Judge? Luskin seems surprised that the Judge paid no attention to Behe's attempts to "correct" my testimony on this point. After all, isn't the blood-clotting argument in DBB more carefully qualified than the one in Pandas? Well, it may be. It certainly is more detailed, since it is intended for readers a bit older than your average 14-year-old.
But there is something very strange, and even distressing, about Luskin's contention that the obvious failings of the arguments in Pandas are somehow less important than the ones in DBB. Why is it OK to give high school readers an argument about the irreducible complexity of the entire cascade that you know to be false (as Luskin admits), just as long as you modify that argument in another book? Luskin seems to have forgotten that the Dover trial was about an issue much more important than the fate of ID…. It was about what should be taught to high school science students. And, in that respect, the arguments in Pandas were the ones that really mattered. And those arguments, as my friend Casey Luskin has implicitly admitted in his first web posting, were completely wrong. Too bad he didn't spin that message at the trial.
4) An "Irreducible Core?" Here's where things get really, really interesting. Luskin maintains that the "irreducible core" is a "long-standing concept within ID thinking," and argues that this concept is well-supported by current research on the system. Well, is it? Does the blood-clotting system really contain an "irreducible core?"
Not even close. Luskin's own sketch of that core highlights seven (count 'em) components in that core (click here for that image. The core is the red box in his diagram). Those seven components are:
Factor VIII (Antihemophilic Factor)
Factor X (Stuart Factor)
Factor V (Proaccelerin)
Factor II (Prothrombin)
Factor XIII (Fibrin Stabilizing Factor)
According to Luskin, these form an "irreducible core" without which blood clotting would not be possible.
Once again, ID fails, and the culprit isn't a liberal judge, the ACLU, or even a slick-talking smoke-and-mirrors biology prof. It's nature itself, in the form of a collaboration between a nasty little beast called the lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), and a pioneering scientist who has spent his career working out the evolution of the clotting cascade. That scientist is Russell Doolittle of the University of California at San Diego Diego (which, as it happens, is the very same university where Casey got two degrees in Earth Science while simultaneously founding and managing his creationist "Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness" [IDEA] Club).
His 2008 paper [Doolittle et al, 2008] reports on a careful search through the lamprey genome. The lamprey, as luck would have it, has a perfectly functional clotting system, and it lacks not only the three factors missing in jawed fish, but also Factors IX and V.
Now, Luskin could object that Factor IX wasn't part of his "core," but Factor V certainly was. And, as Behe pointed out at length, the absence of factor IX causes potentially-fatal hemophilia in humans, which was part of his argument for the irreducible complexity of the whole system. The lamprey genome does contain a single gene, somewhat related to Factor X and Factor V, but not identical to either. As the paper's authors put it: "In summary, the genomic picture presented here suggests that lampreys have a simpler clotting scheme than later diverging vertebrates. In particular, they appear to lack the equivalents of factors VIII (or V) and IX, suggesting that the gene duplication leading to these factors, synchronous or not, occurred after their divergence from other vertebrates." [p. 195]. To make things even worse for Luskin's "core," a previous study from Doolittle's lab [Jiang & Doolittle, 2003] had already shown that the bits and pieces (protein domains) of most of the clotting factor proteins are present in a primitive, invertebrate chordate. This is exactly what one would expect from an evolutionary trajectory leading to the current system in vertebrates — the assembly of a complex pathway from pre-existing parts.
So, what are we left with? Nothing more than a vain attempt to pretend that ID's collapse in the Dover case was the result of misrepresentation and deception. For Mr. Luskin and his employers at the Discovery Institute, the generation of sound and fury continues, but in scientific terms, their continuing noise signifies nothing more than the utter emptiness of their failed ideas.
(Tomorrow: The fingerprint of evolution left in whale DNA.)
Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). "From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella." Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4: 784-790.
Bottaro A, Inlay MA, Matzke NJ (2006) "Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover 'Intelligent Design' trial." Nature Immunology 7: 433 – 435.
Doolittle RF, Jiang Y, Nand J. (2008) "Genomic evidence for a simpler clotting scheme in jawless vertebrates." J. Mol. Evol. 66:185-96.
Jiang Y, Doolittle RF (2003) "The evolution of vertebrate blood coagulation as viewed from a comparison of puffer fish and sea squirt genomes." PNAS 100: 7527-7532
Semba U, Shibuya Y, Okabe H, Yamamoto T (1998) Whale Hageman factor (factor XII): prevented production due to pseudogene conversion. Thromb. Res. 90: 31–37.
Canadian Christian documentary producer makes no apology for polarizing attack on Darwinism
By Douglas Todd January 3, 2009
It's hard to reconcile such a presentable, intelligent and Christian man with such an incendiary movie. Walt Ruloff, a 44-year-old Canadian high-tech mogul, was explaining why he came up with the idea to finance Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
He told the stories over lunch in a sun-filled restaurant on Bowen Island, where his family lives in a mansion once incorrectly reported to be the home of Hollywood actor Harrison Ford.
Ruloff readily admitted Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed provoked rage in many quarters when it was released across the continent this year. And he knows it will continue to rile some now that it's come out in DVD.
Despite the documentary's roots in Christianity, Ruloff explained how Expelled's front man became Jewish comedian-commentator Ben Stein, who was once Richard Nixon's speechwriter and is now a freelance conservative columnist for The New York Times.
In Expelled, Stein, with his trademark monotone, takes on the role of a Michael-Moore-like muckraker bent on exposing the allegedly closed minds of scientists who champion Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
The documentary links such scientists to Nazis. The reaction was what one would expect.
"We wanted to generate anger," Ruloff said.
"We always knew we'd get extreme anger on the one side and extreme support on the other. We also think we got extreme interest in the middle."
Even though evangelical leaders such as Focus on the Family's James Dobson cheered Expelled for accusing the scientific establishment of shunning researchers who believe "intelligent design" is inherent in the universe; most film critics went ballistic after the documentary's April 18 release.
I believe there are some reasonable arguments in Expelled. But the documentary hits extremely hard with its message. It has caused bitter polarization.
Throughout our conversation, I probed Ruloff about whether Expelled did more harm than good for the cause of forging more creative links between science and spirituality.
For instance, the website Rotten Tomatoes, which tallies up movie reviews across North America, reported that only 10 per cent of reviewers ranked Expelled positively.
Rotten Tomatoes' "consensus" of critics' opinion on Expelled was that it is, "Full of patronizing, poorly structured arguments ... a cynical political stunt in the guise of a documentary."
That compares to the 83 per cent of all critics who rated positively Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 911.
The New York Times' film critic called Expelled "the sleaziest documentary of all time."
Jeannette Matsoukis wrote: "Blithely ignoring the vital distinction between social and scientific Darwinism, the film links evolution theory to fascism (as well as abortion, euthanasia and eugenics), shamelessly invoking the Holocaust with black-and-white film of Nazi gas chambers and mass graves."
Ruloff seemed to revel in being dismissed by the mainstream. Despite his financial wealth, he sees himself as a cultural outsider. On this idyllic island near Vancouver, where he and his family have lived for 13 years, Ruloff described the delight Expelled's filmmakers had in capitalizing on the hostile review in The New York Times and elsewhere.
They decided to turn the flood of criticism from the secular media into their ongoing marketing strategy for Expelled, basically urging viewers to come see the documentary the Times described as the "sleaziest," etcetera.
As a result of Expelled being painted as too politically incorrect for the liberal elite, Ruloff said the film has so far earned $8 million. Expelled's website claims it is the "number-one documentary of 2008."
RAISED BY DEVOUT PARENTS
How did Ruloff, whose family loves attending a "quiet little church" on Bowen Island, first come up with the idea of making a documentary that would cause him to become a target of anger in secular, scientific and even some Christian circles?
It came in part out of Runoff's early years as a computer pioneer, raised in a devout church-going home.
He was "a software kid" who began "farting around" with software systems in the basement of the family house in Markham, Ont.
Even though he has taken only a few courses at post-secondary institutions, Ruloff eventually found himself designing "advanced logistics optimization algorithms."
They helped multinational companies "save hundreds of millions of dollars" distributing products around the globe. In 1998 he sold his company, Inter-Trans Logistics, to U.S. buyers for $160 million.
Along his high-tech way, Ruloff said he learned to challenge standard models of thinking. To be an innovator.
But he later met biotechnology researchers who told him they weren't allowed to "think outside the box" in science, especially on origin-of-life issues. They said it was forbidden to question the "atheistic materialism" that dominates science.
"You're supposed to question the current paradigm, the orthodoxies, of science. But we're not allowed to challenge the premises of so-called neo-Darwinism. It's crazy," Ruloff said.
He acknowledged in 2004 he became "just really excited" about censorship in the scientific community. "So I thought we need to do something: We could make a movie."
Ruloff spoke quickly and enthusiastically, as we shared French fries and drank cranberry juice in a rustic restaurant.
While taking a course at evangelical Regent College in Vancouver, Ruloff met a like-minded American, John Sullivan.
Together they decided to help finance a film that would show that scientific closed-mindedness has led to proponents of intelligent design being "expelled" from the academy.
Proponents of intelligent design (ID) generally argue a divine intelligence has a hand in forming the universe, though arguments vary on how that's done. Some critics claim ID is a front for creationism.
But Ruloff emphasized he is not a creationist. He does not believe the Bible's Book of Genesis accurately describes God fashioning the universe in six days about 6,000 years ago. Instead, Ruloff said he believes in an "old Earth."
I told Ruloff I agreed with him on many issues, including that most science departments are extremely poor at metaphysics. Many scientists are brilliant researchers in their (often-narrow fields), but most are not adept at handling the philosophical implications associated with evolution.
Still, I asked Ruloff whether he thought Expelled might have done more harm than good for the cause of blending science and religion -- or of advancing ID, which Expelled never precisely defines.
Its harsh tone mocked and almost demonized opponents, especially the anti-religious scientist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.
The documentary also interviews several ID proponents who say they lost academic positions because of their views. However, defenders of the scientific community have countered that Expelled's claims of academic persecution are misleading, if not false.
Ruloff says the film is accomplishing its goals, nevertheless. "What we really wanted to do was give scientists more courage. Science is in such lockdown. The only way we can give scientists courage is if we deal with the issue head-on -- in kind of an American style."
Adopting what he admits is a "Texas showdown" approach, Ruloff says Expelled attacks the "process of hyper-political correctness in the academy. It's getting worse. We wanted to expose the hypocrisy and the inconsistencies."
RULOFF KEEPS HIS LIFE PRIVATE
Ruloff didn't at first give much away about himself in our talk. He's private about his financial life and his religiosity.
"I live on Bowen Island for a reason: I like the peace and quiet," he said.
He wouldn't say how much money he put into the movie or how much the producers paid Stein.
He wouldn't provide the names of his wife or children. He also wouldn't share much about his Christianity.
He acknowledged he and his wife went in the late 1980s and early 1990s to St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church in Vancouver, one of the biggest and most conservative Anglican congregations in Canada. Most of St. John's members voted in 2008 to leave the Anglican Church of Canada over some bishops' support of same-sex blessings.
But now Ruloff will say only that he attends a "non-denominational" church on Bowen Island, which he'd prefer not to name.
He is equally coy about citing a thinker or author he admires, particularly a spiritual or Christian one.
'BERLIN WALL' DIVIDES SCIENCE, RELIGION
What Ruloff was willing to explain, however, was his strong feelings about how there is a "Berlin Wall" between science and religion.
He particularly sees the wall between the Judeo-Christian tradition and Darwin's theory of evolution, which many mainstream scientists interpret as denying the hand of any "intelligence" in shaping the universe.
Many critics have accused Expelled of being the latest salvo in the religious right's "culture wars." They maintain Expelled serves as an unofficial mouthpiece for Seattle's Discovery Institute, whose members figure prominently in the film.
The Discovery Institute is a large, conservative organization that champions ID and presses for it to be taught in public schools. Ruloff likes the "intelligent design crowd" at the Seattle think-tank because they "come out swinging" on political and educational fronts.
Even though proponents of ID say it is distinct from creationism, critics charge ID still upholds belief in the exclusiveness of a Biblical Supreme Being.
For his part, Ruloff accepts some aspects of Darwin's evolutionary theory. He generally agrees that "natural selection" is part of the evolutionary process. But he rejects the second major arm of Darwinian theory; that evolution occurs primarily through "random mutation."
As a result, Ruloff doesn't want to be known as an "evolutionary theist," as do many scientists who are Christian or Jewish. He calls himself an "adaptive theist."
When I suggested, along with the late American philosopher Charles Hartshorne, that the evolutionary process contains elements of both chance and purpose, Ruloff seemed to agree.
Since we didn't appear that far apart, I asked Ruloff what he thought of the work of other scientists and spiritual thinkers who have been promoting rapprochement between science and religion.
The most obvious is Sir John Templeton, the billionaire financier and Presbyterian who died this year. Templeton, who was an even wealthier man than Ruloff, took a subtler and, I suspect, more effective approach to the science-religion dialogue.
The founder of the Templeton mutual funds put some of his millions into offering awards and research grants that encouraged collaboration among leading thinkers who highlight the intersection between science and spirituality -- without necessarily advocating ID.
Recent recipients of the $1.9-million Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities have been cosmologist Michael Heller (who is also a Catholic priest), Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, mathematician John Barrow, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Charles Townes, mathematician George Ellis, environmental scientist Holmes Ralston and mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne (also an Anglican priest).
Some Templeton Prize winners are in the new book, Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution, edited by John B. Cobb Jr. They include Charles Birch, a microbiologist, and Ian Barbour, a physicist. The book argues that Darwin was a deist (a person who believes in a Supreme Being that does not intervene in the universe.) Therefore Back to Darwin maintains it is primarily neo-Darwinists who have aggressively shoved any hint of divinity out of evolutionary theory.
Ruloff, however, made it clear he wants to go much further than Templeton.
Ruloff negatively compared many Templeton Prize winners to the noted American geneticist Francis Collins, who is a Christian. Despite Collins publicly saying there are "elements of design" in the evolutionary process, Ruloff said Collins has not been nearly bold enough.
Ruloff repeated a charge that Collins, who rejects intelligent design as proposed by the Discovery Institute, "toes the line" and stays within the Darwinian camp because he continues to work for the National Institute of Health.
Collins, who would not participate in Expelled, has called such accusations "ludicrous." (I didn't know it at the time I talked with Ruloff, but I later discovered the Templeton Foundation in 2007 had criticized ID.)
Given the negative reaction to Expelled from many quarters, I asked Ruloff if he'd make any significant changes to it. He said no.
However, he did acknowledge he started out trying to make a less aggressive, more "scientific" movie.
The first version of Expelled leaned heavily on computer-generated images of cells, illustrating how their development relied on more than random mutation.
But alas, Ruloff said, "When we first watched that movie it was verrrrry boring."
So, with the help of Abbotsford screenwriter Kevin Miller, they made a more controversial film -- by splicing provocative black-and-white images in between Stein's punchy interviews with various scientists.
The final version of Expelled includes chilling reels of the Berlin Wall, of soldiers, of machine-guns, of scolding school principals and of extermination camps where "inferior" people, the disabled and Jews, were slaughtered.
Ruloff admitted the black-and-white footage pumped up the movie's emotional impact. And focus groups liked the combative tone about social Darwinism (loosely defined as "survival of the fittest"), which Ruloff said would increase the chances the documentary would reach a mass audience.
In an interview this summer with the National Post newspaper, Stein is quoted saying it was Ruloff who initially "got in touch with me and said he wanted to do something about Darwinism and how it leads to social Darwinism, which leads to Nazism and the Holocaust."
But Ruloff said it was actually Stein. Because of his Jewish heritage, Ruloff said, Stein came up with the idea of linking scientific Darwinism to the concentration camps. "It was always Ben Stein. He was fascinated with the underlying scenarios for mass-scale eugenics."
Whatever the case, Ruloff does not hide that he "absolutely" agrees with many points Expelled makes linking Darwinism to abortion and eugenics and death camps. Darwinism does so, he said, because it does not accept "the sanctity of life."
FILM ON COLLAPSING ECONOMY PLANNED
What's next for Ruloff?
"I'm taking a break," he said with a laugh. "The last three years have been crazy, crazy."
When I note he seemed weary, he insisted it was not from the negative reaction to Expelled, or about how it has failed to return the original financial investment that he and others put into it. There is always the hope of DVD sales, which he said are so far "pretty good."
Ruloff said he felt tired mainly from the non-stop travelling involved in getting the film made and promoted. "I have a young family and I'd rather be at home." As soon as our interview ended, he was going to "go putz around the house and do some e-mails and pick up my kids from school and hang around with them."
Despite his pleasant demeanour, Ruloff seems like the kind of guy who is always up for a good brawl for what he feels is the right cause. After selling his company, he now works on a project-by-project basis.
"When I get my strength back, I'm going on another crazy venture."
It will probably be another documentary, he said, featuring Stein. But it will be quite different. "It will be on the [collapsing] economy. We'll go under the covers and look at what really happened. We'll analyse the fraud aspect to it. That's not being talked about enough."
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
In a recent post, I pointed out the obvious — that traditional allopathic medical practice is capable of causing considerable harm to patients, and I appealed to some of the particularly nasty critics of alternative medicine to back off with the venom directed against practitioners and ordinary people who have experienced benefit from alternative medicine or who are concerned about the risks associated with vaccinations. We doctors have our hands full protecting patients from our own mistakes, without spending our time excoriating accupuncturists. A little perspective is in order.
So why are these particular bloggers so obsessed with hatred for people who question medical or scientific orthodoxy? Most of these arrogant critics are atheist/materialist physicians, and their anger is fueled by the refusal of the public and many other scientists and physicians to accede to their orthodoxy. Their issue is ideological, not medical or scientific. Scientism is a materialist religion — a metaphysical stance — and its priests don't suffer questions lightly.
My view on the debate between allopathic medicine and alternative medicine is straightforward: follow the evidence wherever it leads, and do so with professionalism and respect. It is based on the evidence that I doubt the efficacy of many of the claims made by proponents of alternative medicine, and it's based on the evidence that I support intelligent design theory and the viewpoint that the mind is not merely the brain. In that sense, I'm very much a denialist. I deny many of the claims of proponents of alternative medicine, I deny some of the claims made by proponents of allopathic medicine, and I deny Darwinism as an adequate explanation for life and I deny materialism as adequate for the mind. I'm interested in evidence, not doctrinal purity or ideological bullying.
For my temerity, I got 'smackdowned.' One PalMD from 'Denialism blog' thumped his anonymous chest:
Smackdown, please (yes, Egnor, I'm talking to you)
…You see, once you wander off the reality reservation, you open up your mind to all kinds of narishkeit. Take Dr. Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon. He holds some fantastical beliefs about mind-body dualism and creationism. His big thing is "non-materialist neuroscience"---an idea that is prima facie ridiculous, especially for someone who plays with brains all day, and can quite literally change someone's mind with a scalpel…
It's not worth quoting much more. You get the drift. So who is 'PalMD'? 'PalMD' is an anonymous physician blogger who claims to be an "internist in the Midwestern United States." He's challenged me by name with a schoolyard taunt, but... what's his name? Who is 'PalMD'?
The irony is delightful. PalMD claims to represent mainstream 'science-based medicine,' yet he lacks the courage to blog under his real name. I've always blogged under my own name, because I have little respect for physicians who express viewpoints on the internet and yet are afraid to have their names associated with their opinions. I mean what I say, and I'm willing to stand by it. I don't say one thing anonymously, and another thing for attribution.
Why then is PalMD — who's 'talking to…me' — afraid to provide readers with his own name? Obviously, he's afraid that people will link his opinions with his name. 'PalMD' is afraid that his patients will google his name and read his blog. Perhaps his patients would realize that they're the people who he derides as idiots, crazy, cultists, 'anti-science,' and 'Deniers.' Perhaps his patients would take offense at his equation of people who don't march in lock-step with his atheist/materialist beliefs (that is, most people) with Holocaust deniers. Perhaps PalMD's patients and colleagues would realize that their doctor/colleague is an arrogant bigot who ridicules Christians who pray and believe they have souls:
...illogical thinking leads to the adoption of idiocy...[Egnor] reached out to the creationist cults. Apparently their brand of crazy wasn't enough for him...[Egnor] bemoans the arrogance of doctors...[b]ut what is his solution?... Prayer? ...So [Egnor] believes that the mind is not brain-dependent---so what?...Does he make sure to use a Sharpie to demarcate the soul before putting steel to flesh?
Devout Christians who take Genesis literally (i.e. half of Americans) are 'idiots' and members of "creationist cults"? PalMD should be afraid that anyone would read his swill and link it to his name. It's likely that most of his patients, colleagues, and friends pray, believe in God, and believe they have souls, and they probably would take offense if they knew that their doctor/colleague/friend equated them with cultists and Holocaust deniers because of their religious beliefs. Anonymous blogging is common among atheists/materialists/Darwinists, and for a reason. Despite their claim to represent mainstream science, many Darwinian fundamentalists like PalMD are ill-tempered bigots who are loathe to have their opinions publicly associated with their names. For obvious reasons.
So I won't be engaging in a 'Smackdown' with PalMD unless I (and readers) know who 'PalMD' is. It's hard to take an anonymous chest-thumping bigot seriously. Once I know his real name, and once his viewpoints are publicly associated with his name, we can begin a genuine discussion about medical errors, medical arrogance, scientism, bigotry, 'denialism' and...oh yes... cowardice.
Posted by Michael Egnor on January 3, 2009 6:31 AM | Permalink
Kathleen is a speed reading expert, vice president of the National Management Institute, and the author of four books, Time Management Made Easy, Test Your Entrepreneurial IQ, Reverse Speech: Hidden Messages in Human Communication, and Spirit Incorporated: How to Follow Your Spiritual Path From 9 to 5. She wrote a column for five years for Success magazine and wrote and produced the best-selling audio-cassette programs, Speed Read to Win and How to Organize Yourself to Win. Her articles and ideas on how to increase personal and professional effectiveness have appeared in more than 200 national publications. In addition to being a best-selling author, Kathleen is a professional speaker and a business consultant. Thousands of people from all levels of business, science, education, and industry have taken her courses.
Editor's note: Emphasis added. There is nothing I can add to that.
By CHARLES MCGRATH
Published: December 24, 2008
Next month is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, who by an odd quirk of history was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln, and to commemorate the occasion there are almost as many Darwin books jamming the conveyor belt as there are new books about Abe. These recent additions to the already vast Darwin literature include biographies, encyclopedias, defenses of evolution and reconsiderations of "The Origin of Species," which came out 150 years ago, another milestone worth remarking.
But in this country at least, Darwin is not nearly as beloved as Lincoln, and in the struggle for bookstore supremacy he will most likely fall short. Polls repeatedly suggest that at least half of all Americans regard as fundamentally erroneous Darwin's conclusion that human beings are descended from earlier species, and Kenneth R. Miller in his new book "Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul" points out that among industrialized nations we rank next to last, above only Turkey, in our acceptance of evolution and its principles.
As recent court cases in Kansas, Georgia and Pennsylvania demonstrate, we are still, more than 80 years after the so-called Scopes monkey trial, suing one another over whether evolution ought to be taught in the schools, and for those who are opposed, it's not just an idle matter. While still a congressman, Tom DeLay linked the teaching of evolution directly to the school shootings at Columbine.
"Teach the controversy" is the watchword of those who want to smuggle the notion of intelligent design into the school curriculum. Expose students to both sides. This position has been endorsed even by President Bush, who has himself wobbled on whether he believes in evolution. In his retirement he might want to look into "Why Evolution Is True," being published later this month, which goes over the evidence, some of it brand new. The writer, Jerry A. Coyne, is not as eloquent as Richard Dawkins or Stephen Jay Gould, probably the two most famous defenders of evolutionary theory, but in some ways he's more informative about the basics, and he makes an unassailable case.
Like most evolutionary scientists, he contends that there is no controversy to teach, because intelligent design, which is really creationism in a new garment, is simply not a legitimate scientific theory. But if there is no controversy there is certainly an issue — one that might profitably be studied not in biology class but in history or civics. It reveals a lot about the great American tradition of anti-intellectualism, which seems to be getting stronger, not weaker, even as the country supposedly becomes better educated, and about the strange way we're turning the court system, of all places, into a referee on scientific principles.
A good place to start such a class might be Lauri Lebo's "Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America," which is a history of the latest such court case, stemming from a lawsuit filed in Dover, Pa., in 2004 by 11 parents seeking to block the local board of education from making intelligent design part of the ninth-grade biology curriculum. Ms. Lebo was the education reporter on the local paper, The York Daily Record, and her account is both well informed and at times deeply (almost embarrassingly) personal: the whole time she was reporting the story, she was struggling with her own beliefs and also locked in argument with her father, who owned a fundamentalist Christian radio station.
The case cleaved the community in much the same way, especially after it turned out that several of the school board members, who were basically clueless about both evolution and intelligent design, had lied when they claimed religious considerations were not behind their wish to introduce intelligent design. The judge, ruling for the plaintiffs, accused the Dover Board of Education of "breathtaking inanity," which brought down such a hail of denunciation from anti-evolutionists that for a while federal marshals had to guard his house and family. And when the town of Dover, weary of the whole mess, eventually voted out the old school board, the televangelist Pat Robertson delivered his own verdict: if a disaster were by any chance to hit the town, the citizens shouldn't look to God for help.
The lead witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover case was Mr. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University and the author of "Only a Theory," and from his book you can easily see why he was so effective. He is clear and incisive and knows how to make things like the bacterial flagellum comprehensible to the layman. The flagellum, a little rotor-like mechanism that propels bacteria in the digestive system, so closely resembles what we would call an engine of human design that proponents of intelligent design have concluded it must be the work of a master designer.
In a few concise chapters Mr. Miller pretty much dismantles all the claims, such as they are, for the intelligent design movement. The flagellum, he says, far from being a custom design, so to speak, made from parts expressly created for that purpose, is, like so much else in nature, a jury-rigged device made from bits cobbled together from the cellular spare-parts bin.
Mr. Miller also adds an impassioned argument for why the rest of us shouldn't just turn our heads and let a few benighted school systems teach whatever they want. Good students will eventually see the light, one argument goes, and as for the others — well, they probably weren't going to be biologists anyway. But Mr. Miller believes that our very scientific soul is at stake and that the argument for intelligent design is just the first step in an attempt to redefine science itself and make it consonant not with scientific truth but with whatever you want to believe.
The reason the anti-Darwinians are willing to go so far is that they see themselves in a life-and-death struggle to keep society from being secularized and traditional values from being undermined. In fact, evolutionary theory contains no moral component whatsoever, but the gap between religious fundamentalists and those who want to preserve the principle of free scientific inquiry may be unbridgeable. Ms. Lebo concludes sadly, "We're never going to fix this."
In "Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity From Darwin to Intelligent Design," first published last year and due out in paperback in April, Peter J. Bowler points out that extreme biblical literalism — of the sort that insists that creation took place as Genesis depicts it — may be more widespread now even than in 1859, when "The Origin of Species" was published.
There was a great 19th-century tradition of clergymen scientists who studied the natural word and especially the fossil record for evidence of the divine plan, and many of them embraced Darwin's discoveries or at least the possibility that the biblical account might be metaphorical. Only in the 1950s, Mr. Bowler says, did strict biblical literalism become the foundation for mainstream creationism. His book also documents a long history of liberal compromise in which theologians tried to reconcile evolution with Christian belief.
To a large degree, though, these compromises depended on a misunderstanding of Darwinism, clinging to a notion of progress and purposefulness that is not really supported by evolutionary theory. Darwinism, strictly interpreted, describes a world that is random, haphazard and mostly unpredictable. Other compromisers have posited a creator who doesn't bear much resemblance to the benevolent, all-powerful God of the biblical accounts and doesn't guarantee much in the way of meaning to life.
There is a middle way, theologians and even some scientists like Mr. Miller keep insisting, but it's not easily arrived at. The trouble with many of the new philosophies, like Mr. Miller's idea of "evolutionary cosmology," which sees our existence in the world as an inherent part of nature itself, is that they lack the clarity, simplicity and emotional satisfaction of traditional religion; and even what Stephen Jay Gould used to call the "cold bath" of Darwinism, when we finally get over thinking of ourselves as the pinnacle of life's purpose, is in its own wayjust as powerful and arresting. Mr. Bowler thinks that if we understand the history of the debate better we might be able to depolarize it, but that may be too much to hope. Most of us are in the blissful position of having already made up our minds without bothering to think about it.
Charles McGrath, former Book Review editor, is a writer at large at The Times.
A version of this article appeared in print on January 4, 2009, on page ED34 of the New York edition.
EVOLUTIONARY GEMS FROM NATURE
"15 Evolutionary Gems" is a new resource summarizing fifteen lines of evidence for evolution by natural selection, provided by the journal Nature. The editors explain, "About a year ago, an Editorial in these pages urged scientists and their institutions to 'spread the word' and highlight reasons why scientists can treat evolution by natural selection as, in effect, an established fact ... This week we are following our own prescription. In a year in which Darwin is being celebrated amid uncertainty and hostility about his ideas among citizens, being aware of the cumulatively incontrovertible evidence for those ideas is all the more important. We trust that this document will help."
The fifteen evolutionary gems, as Nature describes them, are in three categories: gems from the fossil record (land-living ancestors of whales, from water to land, the origin of feathers, the evolutionary history of teeth, and the origin of the vertebrate skeleton), gems from habitats (natural selection in speciation, natural selection in lizards, a case of co-evolution, differential dispersal in wild birds, selective survival in wild guppies, and evolutionary history matters), and gems from molecular processes (Darwin's Galapagos finches, microevolution meets macroevolution, toxin resistance in snakes and clams, and variation versus stability). References and links to relevant resources are provided.
For "15 Evolutionary Gems" (PDF), visit:
For the editorial introduction, visit:
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS FOR EXPELLED
As 2008 drew to a close, the good news for the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was that their creationist propaganda movie was getting a bit of press again. The bad news is that it was in the lists of the worst movies of 2008. The Onion's A.V. Club (December 16, 2008), was quickest out of the gate, commenting, "There are terrible movies, and then there are terrible movies that cause harm to society by feeding into its ignorance. Nathan Frankowski's odious anti-evolution documentary belongs in the latter category. ... Few moments in cinema in 2008 were as shameless and disgusting as the Expelled sequence where Stein solemnly visits a Nazi death camp and unsubtly links 'survival of the fittest' theory to the Holocaust."
John Serba of the Grand Rapids Press (December 26, 2008) wrote, "Ben Stein hosts this pro-Intelligent Design documentary that forgets to include a compelling argument for this viewpoint, and instead chooses to equate Darwinism and its legions of rational scientist followers with Nazis and the Holocaust. Facts rooted in reality are at a premium in this insidious, crassly manipulative dreck." Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel (December 26, 2008) commented, "Ben Stein's documentary was a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'" Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger (December 27, 2008) described Expelled as lifting "its nonsensical knowledge of early man from an Alley Oop comic and its sense of honest inquiry from a snake-handling preacher." In the LA City Beat (December 30, 2008), Andy Klein wrote, "Stein's 'intelligent design' documentary has all the red flags -- inadequate or misleading identification of interviewees, aggressively manipulative editing, extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence, and extreme leaps of logic ... particularly suggesting guilt by association, even to the point of laying blame for the Holocaust on Darwin." And Ken Hanke of the Ashville, North Carolina, Mountain Xpress (December 31, 2008) said that Expelled was "as corrupt a piece of work as you'll ever encounter."
Expelled fared no better north of the border. Jay Stone of the Canwest News Service (December 26, 2008) described Expelled as "a masterwork of intellectual dishonesty." And Richard Crouse of Canada AM (December 30, 2008) commented, "Wrapping his thesis in good old American jingoistic rhetoric -- remember this guy used to write speeches for Nixon -- Stein repeatedly compares Darwinist scientists to communists by the suggestion that the only way they can get funding for research is to be good Darwinist 'comrades' and even makes the outrageous connection between Darwin's theory and Nazism." Crouse added, "Perhaps it isn't just a coincidence that the host's initials are B.S."
For the various lists and articles, visit:
For NCSE's Expelled Exposed website, visit:
AUSTRALIAN GEOLOGISTS STILL OPPOSE CREATIONISM
The Geological Society of Australia recently updated its policy statement on science education and creationism. A previous version of the statement (reprinted in the third edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution) from 1995 read, in part, "The Geological Society of Australia considers that notions such as Fundamental Creationism, including so called 'Flood Geology', which disregard scientific evidence such as that based on repeatable observations in the natural world and the geological record, are not science and cannot be taught as science ... The Society states unequivocally that the dogmatic teaching of notions such as Creationism within a science curriculum stifles the development of critical thinking patterns in the developing mind and seriously compromises the best interests of objective public education. ... the Society dissociates itself from Creationist statements made by any member." The 2008 update differs from the 1995 version only in specifying that the statement applies to "intelligent design" and in bearing the endorsements of all of the presidents of the society from 1994 onward. Established in 1952, the Geological Society of Australia is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote, advance and support the earth sciences in Australia.
For the GSA's statement (PDF), visit:
For information about Voices for Evolution, 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.
With best wishes for the new year,
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
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!
Category: Alternative medicine • Medicine • Quackery
Posted on: January 2, 2009 7:00 AM, by Orac
Here we go again.
You know, now that it's 2009, I had hoped that one of the most irritating people alive would continue his blissful quiet. I'm referring, of course, to Deepak Chopra, that Indian physician who demonstrates that a medical training is no protection whatsoever against pseudoscientific and anti-scientific thinking. Indeed, Chopra goes far beyond that in that, not only has he become a leader of the so-called "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) movement, also sometimes called the "integrative medicine" (IM) movement that seeks to "integrate" treatments that range from the dubious to outright quackery with effective scientific medicine, but he has subjected numerous other field besides medicine to his "quantum" lunacy, including evolution. Indeed, so bad is Chopra's "science-y" quantumness, that I even coined a term for it: Choprawoo. I even came up with the only response ever needed to Choprawoo. He had been quite quiet of late, and that was a good thing.
Given that I'm still (sort of) on vacation until Monday, I didn't want to have to do too much heavy lifting, you know, like actually reading some peer-reviewed articles and doing an in depth analysis and critique. Fear not! I will be trying to do that more frequently in 2009. But in the meantime I couldn't think of a more amusing and at the same time more frustrating way to start the new year than to take a look at Chopra's latest, which he couldn't resist posting to that repository of anti-science and antivaccination stylings The Huffington Post and also to his own personal blog. Apparently, Chopra is very unhappy about an article by Steve Salerno that the Wall Street Journal published right after Christmas entitled The Touch That Doesn't Heal.
The WSJ article was that rarest of things for the mainstream media. It was a direct, skeptical, and science-based attack on CAM/IM. Indeed, while expressing fear that any comprehensive health care reform undertaken by the incoming Obama administration could provide the opening for CAM advocates and their boosters in Congress like Dan Burton and Tom Harkin to insert language into any reform legislation that would force the government to pay for quackery. It is a fear I share, and I was happy to see a major newspaper publish such an editorial. I was even more happy to see the article's conclusion:
Is there anecdotal evidence that unconventional therapies sometimes yield positive outcomes? Yes. There's also anecdotal evidence that athletes who refuse to shave during winning streaks sometimes bring home championships. It was George D. Lundberg, a former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who said: "There's no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data." We'd do well to keep that in mind as we plot the future of American health care. It's not like we've got billions to waste.Speak it, brother Salerno!
This article, predictably enough, has riled Deepak Chopra. He's not happy about it at all. Oh, no. Nor are his buddies, including the Godfather of the Popularization of Woo and Lover of Anecdotal Evidence above controlled observations, Dr. Andrew Weil, and that king of pseudoscientific arguments for homeopathy, Dr. Rustum Roy. Truly, this is an Unholy Trinity of Woo, and the results are very predictable. They view Salerno's article as the "opening salvo" against CAM/IM.
I certainly hope it is. I certainly hope it's the first of a veritable barrage that would put the bombardment of Normandy in preparation for the D-Day invasion to shame. I hope it's the first of a barrage that flattens any pretensions Chopra and his ilk have to scientific legitimacy, pulverizing it to a cloud of dust the way a shell pulverizes its target.
Dr. Chopra seems rather unhappy at how he was characterized in the article, and he starts out with, instead of Choprawoo, a bit of Choprawhine:
Without discernible professional credentials in health reportage, the writer opened his piece by pledging allegiance to "scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine." He next declared opposition to integrative medicine, and characterized as "gurus" two proponents of integrative medicine, Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil, choosing to overlook that we both are highly trained MDs with almost 40 years of clinical-experience. Joining us in our response is Rustum Roy, an internationally known scientist, and member of five major National Academies of Science Engineering, who has spent ten years researching a wide range of health technologies, both ancient and modern. We predict that while they may try to dismiss us, the Wall Street Journal writer and editors will find they can't dismiss a burgeoning field of medicine currently saving and improving millions of lives worldwide.
Ah, yes. The classic "argument from authority." How dare that unwashed non-M.D. criticize us? whines Chopra. After all, we're doctors, dammit!
So friggin' what?
Chopra and Weil long ago gave up their claim to being science-based. This is true of Chopra more than Weil, the latter of whose proclivity for--if you'll excuse me, I can't resist--"integrating" the unproven and dubious with some sound medical advice is infuriating, particularly his advocacy of "uncontrolled clinical observations" over sound clinical trials and epidemiology and his proselytization of CAM/IM to the point that he is "integrating" it into family medicine residencies. In this, Weil may well be the greater threat to science-based medicine that Chopra. That's because Deepak Chopra, with his "quantum" nonsense, is so far off the deep end that very few, even in academia, take him seriously. Andrew Weil, on the other hand, mixes just enough sound medicine with his woo that he goes down a lot easier. You won't hear him going on and on about "quantum universal consciousness," as Chopra does, but you will hear him blurring the distinction between medicine that is dubious and that is science-based, which allows him to be the Trojan horse filled with quackery that medical schools are now eagerly letting into their fortresses.
In any case, titles mean nothing here. As I have discussed time and time again, an M.D. after one's name is no guarantee whatsoever that that person has the slightest understanding of the scientific method or what does and does not constitute good science. Indeed, Deepak Chopra is living proof of that, as is Andrew Weil, David Katz, not to mention the horde of physicians signing petitions expressing "Dissent from Darwin" over evolution on pro-"intelligent design" creationism sites. Come to think of it, Chopra has been known to say some very stupid things about evolution as well. Arguments matter, not titles, and Chopra and his Trio of Woo can't marshal them. Of course, it's all a plot by The Man (and Big Pharma, of course) to keep The People down:
We believe that Salerno's piece is the opening salvo from the right aiming to influence the incoming administration as it strategically allocates resources for improving the U.S. health and wellness system. Fortunately, Tom Daschle, the upcoming Health and Human Services Secretary is better informed than either the WSJ writer or those who dictate WSJ editorial policy. The co-author (along with Jeanne Lambrew) of Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crises, Daschle names the principal challenge to true reform, "[S]pecial interests are especially numerous and influential in the health-care system. Health care comprises one-sixth of our economy... since cutting costs is tantamount to cutting profits for many of these special interests, it is reasonable to expect (an) all-out war to defeat reform."
As in Mr. Salerno's article, this war extends to advancing ill-informed pseudo-scientific arguments to discredit effective low-cost health care options precisely because they compete with the current high-cost system.
"Special interests"? My irony meter exploded again into a twisted, smoldering heap of quivering, sparking circuits. It is, in fact, the CAM/IM movement spearheaded by the likes of Chopra and Weil that represent the quintessential "special interest." It is pretty ballsy of them to try to appropriate the "reform" label, of course, because if any aspect of the health care system needs reform, it's the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), which allows supplement makers to sell their supplements with minimal oversight. As long as they don't make specific claims to be able to treat or cure a disease or condition, they can pretty much say anything they want in their advertising. If I were reforming the health care system, one thing I'd most definitely want to do would be to repeal the DSHEA and give jurisdiction over supplement sales back to the FDA.
I also find it curious that Chopra would politicize this as an attack from the "right." One other thing I've said time and time again about unscientific medicine and quackery: It's totally a bipartisan affair, although admittedly the reasons for supporting quackery differ tend to differ with politics. On the "left," for example, the push for CAM/IM is associated with a "wholistic" treatment and a whole lot of suspicion of big pharma, big medicine, and corporate interests. On the "right," CAM/IM is sold more as an issue of "health freedom," which in reality means "freedom for quacks to do whatever they want" and the removal of all protections against quackery, as represented by Ron Paul, who is one of the greatest enablers of quackery Congress has ever seen. The idea from the right is that laws protecting the public against quackery and unscientific medical practices represent an unacceptable infringement of individual liberty. Indeed, two of the biggest boosters of CAM/IM there are in Congress are both Republicans: Ron Paul and Dan Burton, the latter of whom is especially known for his antivaccine views and in support of autism quackery.
More importantly, any true "reform" should require evidence of efficacy for therapies for which the government pays. In this, CAM/IM, by and large, has failed miserably. Chopra et al seemingly almost implicitly recognize this, because they only arguments they can come up with are attacks against science-based medicine, not postive arguments based on science for the efficacy of their preferred woo. Indeed, they present not a single positive scientific argument, just vague claims and paranoid attacks:
Nor does it sustain a doctor's sworn duty to "first do no harm." Abundant evidence uncovers high-tech medicine, with its powerful drugs, as a major, possibly the leading, cause of death in this country. The National Academy's data attributes 100,000 deaths per year to physicians' errors, added to well over 100,000 deaths due to severe drug interactions and another 100,000 fatalities from hospital-based-infections. (For a detailed analysis, see Death By Medicine, by Gary S. Null, et al.)
Why is the allegedly "scientifically proven" health care that the WSJ writer champions so dangerous to health? The blind allegiance to "evidence-based medicine" overlooks how readily this form of research can be manipulated. It was first developed to isolate patentable agents for drug formulations. In scientific arenas outside of mainstream medicine, this "statistics-based medicine" is regarded as dubious science at best. Narrowly confining itself to costly, selectively published, industry-sponsored clinical trials, to promote pharmaceutical products, "evidence based medicine" is the marketing "icon" used by the current system to squelch lower cost competitors.
Science's only gold standard are facts derived from reproducible results, however unpalatable those facts are to current theory. When theories fail to explain the facts, they lose viability. The spectacular failures of "evidence based" medical theories include the millions spent on ineffective AIDS vaccines, the collapse of interferon as the wonder drug for cancer, and the marginal decrease in cancer deaths despite billions wasted during decades of fruitless research. Many once-standard treatments devised via this theoretical model now stand discredited, like the use of Thalidomide and Thorazine.
Yes, you saw it right. Chopra and his addle-brained trio of woo-meisters are actually citing Gary Null! I hate to point out to Chopra that the article he cites is about as bad as pseudoscience and advocacy of quackery gets, full of cherry picking of data and ignoring any context or benefit. So bad is it that the relentlessly anti-evolution neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor cited it. Moreover, Gary Null is a known über-quack, HIV/AIDS denialist, coffee enema maven, and antivaccinationist. That Chopra et al would think him to be a reliable source for any analysis of science or medicine shows just how off the plantation Chopra and company are. Indeed, Harriet Hall and Peter Lipson (also here) both demolished this article. I'd suggest that Chopra read their analyses if I thought it would do any good, but it won't. After all, if they think that the failure to develop an HIV vaccine or the only modest improvements in cancer survival for cancers other than childhood cancers is evidence that evidence-based medicine is a failure, rather than a reflection of the difficulty involved in making such a vaccine or the extreme complexity of developing cancer treatments, respectively, they are even more clueless than I had thought before.
Chopra's other attacks on science-based medicine rely, as do those of most apologists for quackery, on the "science has been wrong before" fallacy. Yes, science has been wrong before. Yes, what we believe about illness and its treatment today is likely to change based on new findings. Here's the rub. The reason that the treatments listed by Chopra were ultimately abandoned was not because some woo-meister doubted that they worked. It was because physicians applied the scientific method to the study of them and discovered that they did not work as well as thought or even did not work at all. Science is self-correcting. It may not be as quick as we would like; it may be far messier than non-scientists like Chopra and Weil like; but inevitably it does weed out ideas that don't reflect nature and treatments that don't work.
This is in marked contrast to CAM/IM, where there is no treatment that has ever been abandoned because science has shown it to be no more effective than placebo. Indeed, even Laetrile, whose lack of efficacy was conclusively demonstrated in the 1980s, is still touted in some sectors. Meanwhile, homeopathy, the 200 year old placebo that won't die (Rustum Roy's handwaving about the "memory of water" and the utter failure of homeopaths to be able to distinguish homeopathically "potentized" treatments from water notwithstanding), rears its ugly head in even academic medical centers. If there's one thing that distinguishes CAM/IM from evidence-based medicine, it's that it's faith-based more than anything else. In yet another irony, CAM/IM has been able to co-opt evidence-based medicine by ignoring prior probability far more than big pharma could ever dream of. (See Prior Probability: The Dirty Little Secret of "Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine by Kimball Atwood IV and its two followups for more.) At least big pharma has to justify scientifically its treatments; there is no such requirement of CAM/IM.
The final part of the article boils down to what I like to call the "big bait and switch." It begins:
Over the last three decades, millions of Americans, and a dedicated group of physicians and practitioners have front-line, hands-on experience with integrative health care. Via concerted research and clinical practice, international scientists and practitioners, have progressively uncovered the root causes and the most effective treatments for health maintenance and restoration. This is science's cutting edge.
Really? Perhaps Chopra could point me in the direction of this CAM/IM "cutting edge" research that has "uncovered the root causes and the most effective treatments for health maintenance and restoration." I've looked, and I've yet to see it. I'll settle for just a handful of studies representing "cutting edge" research in CAM that have uncovered the root causes and most effective treatments . What I have seen, as I've documented time and time again, are badly conceived, poorly designed, and equivocal studies that are oversold by woo-meisters like Chopra as representing far more than they, in fact, do represent.
Now here's the bait and switch:
One sine qua non for any future sustainable U.S. health system is the necessity to empower, rather than undercut each citizen's right to choose health care and take responsibility for his/her own wellness. Countless chronic diseases result from the neglect of basic wellness measures. The blame for underutilizing such proactive, cost-saving approaches lies directly with the official policy of blind reliance on drugs and surgery, whatever the cost. The public has been lulled into medical apathy on the false assumption that if something goes wrong, fix-it mechanics will tune up your body the way a garage tunes up your car.
A new integrative medicine system would marry the superb options of high tech emergency care, its brilliant surgical achievements, the tried and least harmful pharmaceuticals, by empowering and educating its citizens to maintain wellness and prevent disease, through improved nutrition, exercise, stress-management, and a wide range of other proven integrative approaches. Sadly, mainstream medicine largely ignores these viable health approaches, because they're not financially lucrative.
The reason I call this a "bait and switch" is that CAM/IM apologists like Chopra try very hard to appropriate science- and evidence-based modalities like good nutrition and exercise, along with health maintenance measures, as being somehow "alternative" or "integrative" (the bait) when they are in the purview of "conventional medicine." That they may be underemphasized (which is arguable, although not as clearly so as Chopra would have you believe, given how hard lifestyle changes are to persuade patients to undertake) does not mean that we have to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and ditch evidence-based medicine in favor of Choprawoo. Indeed, the appropriation of such modalities by the CAM/IM movement is the "foot in the door," so to speak, that (or so CAM/IM advocates hope) will allow the entrance of the more dubious therapies (the switch). Today, nutrition and excercise, tomorrow homeopathy. To CAM/IM advocates, it would seem, it's all the same. Far be it from them to worry themselves about doing the actual hard work to do the science that determines what treatments do and don't work. Far easier to appropriate a possibly underutilized part of science- and evidence-based medicine and then wrap it in woo, which is exactly what Chopra does in this article. He can't do otherwise, because he doesn't have the evidence for nearly every other form of CAM/IM other than perhaps herbalism, which is, let's face it, nothing more than the way medicine was practiced 200 years ago, with the use of crude plant extracts as drugs simply because the technology didn't exist to isolate the pure, active ingredients.
Basically, the argument being made by the Woo-meisters Three boils down to an attack on evidence-based medicine based on exaggeration and cherry picking, topped off with a huge dollop of conspiracy-mongering and playing the victim. There is not a single positive, science-based argument that Chopra's woo or Andrew Weil's "integration" of the dubious with the evidence-based produces better health outcomes than the evidence-based medicine they attack. I'll concede it's probably cheaper, but that's just because, at least in this case, you get what you pay for.
Chopra's article demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt is that advocates of unscientific medicine and quackery apologists are a potent political force, and their new strategy has become clear. With the impending inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States, they see a huge opportunity in his plans to overhaul the government health care system to insert into legislation provisions that will pay for unproven and pseudoscientific CAM/IM modalities. They will sell these provisions as "reform" and as "health maintenance," when they represent neither. If advocates of science- and evidence-based medicine remain silent, they may well succeed. They may well succeed anyway in spite of the promising start that Obama has had in appointing supporters of science to his team, but we can at least try to limit the damage.
For Release December 22,2008
Dennis Wagner,Executive Director
Phone:719 .633 .1772
Kevin Wirth,Director of Media Relations
Phone:360 .990 .5422
Website:see www.arn.org/top10 for web version with hyperlinks to source information on the top ten Darwin and Design news stories of 2008.
Colorado Springs, CO – December 22, 2008
Access Research Network has just released its annual "Top 10 Darwin and Design News Stories" and its "Top 10 Darwin and Design Resources" list for 2008.
Gaining top honors on the news list was a detailed expose on the Evolution Industry by freelance reporter Suzan Mazur. Mazur broke the story with an article in March and followed with a six-part e-book on the "Altenberg 16," the 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature who met at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria in July. What is the significance of this event? Each of the participants recognizes that the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence and they met to try and formulate some new mechanism for evolution.
"What is ironic about this story" stated ARN Executive Director, Dennis Wagner, "is that on the eve of the Darwin Bicentennial Celebration kicking off in 2009, we have the leading scientists of our day declaring that Darwin's molecule-to-man theory of evolution, which purports to explain our existence purely by random mutations and natural selection, is essentially dead. What exactly are we celebrating about Darwin in 2009?"
"Part of our mission at ARN is to help educate the public about issues relating to Darwin and Design. One of the things we do is monitor science news and other reports related to this topic, and provide access to resources designed to help others better understand the full scope of this issue" says Kevin Wirth, ARN Director of Media Relations. "For example a growing a number of breakthroughs are being made by scientists who are 'reverse-engineering' living systems and applying the design principals they discover to man-made technologies. One interesting story from 2008 was the report of engineers who are building better turbine blades and wings. They studied the shape of whale flippers with one bumpy edge, which inspired the creation of a completely novel design for wind turbine blades. This design has been shown to be more efficient and also quieter, but defies traditional engineering theories."
An online version of the Top 10 Darwin and Design stories for 2008 with hyperlinks to original news sources can be found at www.arn.org/top10.
Access Research Network is a 501(c)3 scientific and educational organization dedicated to providing accessible information on science,technology and society issues from an intelligent design perspective.
Access Research Network
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Colorado Springs, Colorado 80937-8069