NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 January 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Evolution education update: January 9, 2009

The first antievolution bill of the year appears in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Kevin Padian and Nicholas Matzke discuss Darwin and Dover in the Biochemical Journal, and a reviewer for The New York Times addresses "Four Stakes in the Heart of Intelligent Design."


Senate Bill 320, prefiled in the Oklahoma Senate and scheduled for a first reading on February 2, 2009, is apparently the first antievolution bill of 2009. Entitled the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," SB 320 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The only topics specifically mentioned as controversial are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

Unsurprisingly, SB 320 is a further instance of the "academic freedom" strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution; as NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott recently wrote in their article "The Latest Face of Creationism," published in the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, "'Academic freedom' was the creationist catchphrase of choice in 2008: the Louisiana Science Education Act was in fact born as the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, and bills invoking the idea were introduced in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina ..." Of these, only the Louisiana bill was passed and enacted, over protests from the scientific, educational, and civil liberties communities.

The sponsor of the Oklahoma bill is Randy Brogdon (R-District 34), who was a cosponsor in 2006 of House Concurrent Resolution 1034. If enacted, HCR 1034 would have encouraged "the State Board of Education and local boards of education to revise the recommended academic curriculum content standards in science to ensure that, upon graduation, all students can accomplish the following: 1. Use of [sic] the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theory of evolution; and 2. Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for and against those theories." HCR 1034 died in committee in May 2006.

Oklahomans concerned about SB 320 are encouraged to get in touch with Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, a non-profit educational organization that promotes the education of the public about the methods and values of science and advocates excellence in the science curriculum. As OESE explains on its website, "The formation of OESE was prompted by the attempts in the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee in 1999 to diminish the teaching of evolution by the introduction of creationist textbook disclaimers to be inserted into any textbook used in public schools that discussed evolution. There have been bills introduced almost every year since 1999 for legislation that would allow teaching creationism in science courses; OESE has opposed all such attempts."

For the text of SB 320 (document), visit:

For Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit:

For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education's website, visit:

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


The Biochemical Journal inaugurated its series of review articles to commemorate the bicentennial of Darwin's birth by publishing Kevin Padian and Nicholas Matzke's "Darwin, Dover, 'Intelligent Design' and textbooks" (209; 417; 29-42). In it, Padian and Matzke explain, "we review very briefly the history of the 'evolution versus creation' controversy in American jurisprudence, focusing on the Dover trial as a watershed in the latest iteration of American creationism, namely 'intelligent design'. We review what ID is and what it claims to be, and how it differs from classical ID theology. We discuss the fallout from the Dover trial decision and what the antievolution forces are doing in its wake. And finally, we suggest what scientists -- whether evolutionists, biochemists, geologists or physicists -- can do about the collective societal inertia that continues to impede an integrative understanding of science among the American public."

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. Now a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Matzke worked for NCSE from 2004 to 2007. Seed magazine profiled him in 2006 as one of its nine "Revolutionary Minds." He was the lead NCSE staffer working on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, providing a wealth of scientific expertise and practical advice to the legal team representing the ultimately victorious plaintiffs.

For Padian and Matzke's article (PDF), visit:

For Padian's testimony and slides from the Kitzmiller case, visit:

For NCSE's collection of information about the Kitzmiller case, visit:


Writing in The New York Times (January 4, 2009), Charles McGrath reviewed a quartet of books relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy, described in the headline as "Four Stakes in the Heart of Intelligent Design." Beginning with Why Evolution is True (Viking, 2009), McGrath writes, "The author, 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." Even though the scientific case for evolution is unassailable, controversies over the teaching of evolution continue; Lauri Lebo's The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008) relates the story of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. McGrath writes, "her account is both well informed and at times deeply ... 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." Testifying on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case was NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, whose Only a Theory (Viking, 2008) "pretty much dismantles all the claims, such as they are, for the intelligent design movement. ... 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." Finally, Peter J. Bowler's Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons (Harvard University Press, 2007) provides a historical background to the controversy: "Bowler thinks that if we understand the history of the debate better we might be able to depolarize it," McGrath ruefully concludes, "but that may be too much to hope."

For McGrath's review in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/04/education/edlife/books-t.html

To buy the reviewed books from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), 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!

Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science


Article – January 8, 2009
Posted/Updated: 2009-01-08 09:51:54
Part 7

The theory of evolution has been shown for the false science that it is. What does this new knowledge mean to you?

By Bradford G. Schleifer

This series investigates the theory of evolution, revealing that there is much more to the story than what is commonly taught. After laying a truthful foundation and building upon it, the reader will see that the theory collapses, and that the confusing series of explanations, definitions and suppositions supporting it are weak and shallow. Each part builds upon the previous, and the entire series should be read to grasp the fullest picture—and the vital implications that flow from its conclusions.

Evolution can be compared to a murder case in a court of law. There may be physical "evidence," and witnesses with "sound testimony." However, if the defense could provide an airtight alibi for the accused, there would be no need to prove that a murder weapon did not belong to the defendant or that other physical evidence (or so-called evidence) was not related to the defendant. A sound alibi would cause the case to be dismissed.

In Part 6, we read Romans 1, showing how the minds of scientists and others have been blinded because they reject plain facts.

However, part of the verse was not quoted: "For the invisible things of Him [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (vs. 20).

You have seen the pillars of evolution torn down. The passage above now applies to you. May God's words thunder in your mind!

Because of all the proofs showing "His eternal power and Godhead," the same God who inspired Romans 1:20 to be written also inspired Psalm 14: "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God" (vs. 1).

It should now be no surprise why Arno Penzias, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for physics, stated, "Creation is supported by all the data so far."

Turning to God's Word

We do not have the space here to begin an in-depth look into Creation. Our website provides a wide array of articles demonstrating proofs that the universe was created. With evolution out of the way, it is important to look at God's Word—the Holy Bible—to appreciate all we have seen.

This article will be unlike the previous six. Evolution has been handily dismantled, but there is much more to investigate—and some misconceptions to dispel concerning the Bible.

We have finished examining what man teaches—we are now ready to investigate what God teaches.

Foundation of the New Testament

There exists within professing Christianity an idea that one can believe in some variant of evolution, while still advocating creation. This could not be further from the truth. The remainder of this article will demonstrate that these positions are diametrically opposed!

First, some groundwork. All buildings have a foundation, the base on which the rest of a building stands. Without it, the structure is never sound. Therefore, a correct foundation ensures a building meant to last.

You may be surprised to learn that the New Testament Church was also built upon a foundation. The Bible states that the Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20).

In construction, a cornerstone is the first stone to be laid. Verse 20 indicates that Jesus Christ was established before the Old Testament prophets, and reflects the many Old Testament prophecies foretelling His First Coming.

The verse also has another interesting aspect to it. The teachings in God's Church come from apostles and prophets, tying together both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the New Testament points to the Old Testament much more than most people realize. The apostle Paul, in particular, quoted the Old Testament numerous times. In the book of Romans alone, it was quoted 57 times! This is also true of the two epistles to the Corinthians. The first quotes the Old Testament 21 times and the second 10 times.

But what does this have to do with evolution? How do all the quotes, references and scriptures prove Creation? The link is in who the New Testament writers quoted—and the events they referenced.

The New Testament—and the entire Bible—was recorded for a purpose. II Timothy 3:16 states, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." Keep this in mind as we read New Testament verses.

The New Testament Record

The scriptures listed below cover a wide range of topics. Yet they all have one thing in common: Each is a statement from Jesus Christ or an apostle about events and people of the Old Testament.

When you read them, ask yourself if Christ and the apostles were confused or had blurred the truth to help make a statement. The only other option is to see the quotes for what they are—the inspired Word of God! These verses will help you understand why it is impossible to espouse evolution while declaring oneself a Christian:

"For Adam was first formed, then Eve" (I Tim. 2:13-15). This verse directly endorses the Creation account.

"Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses..." (Rom. 5:14).

"…the first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Christ] was made a quickening spirit" (I Cor. 15:45). Christ, as the second Adam, is a type of the first.

"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22).

"And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam…" (Jude 1:14-15). Genealogies in the Old Testament are extensive. When summarized in the New Testament, this validates the detailed renditions in the Old.

"So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations" (Matt. 1:17).

"But He [Christ] said unto them, Have you not read what David did…" (Matt. 12:3).

"The Lord said unto My Lord, Sit You on My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool? If David then call Him Lord, how is He his Son?" (Matt. 22:44-45).

"Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife…" (Matt. 1:20).

"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord…You have heard of the patience of Job…" (Jms. 5:10-11).

This list is extensive enough that most would not dismiss it as analogy or metaphor. But the most telling passage is recorded in the gospel accounts. The Old Testament is clear that Jesus would have direct lineage from King David. The book of Luke records this in exacting detail, identifying Christ's lineage all the way back to Adam!

Notice: "When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi…the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:23-38; NASB).

God did not inspire this to be recorded simply because it may be "interesting." Jesus Christ's lineage was extremely important!

It is ridiculous for one to believe that Jesus died for mankind's sins, yet at the same time dismiss a passage validating Creation. Further, the implications of Christ's lineage to Adam are critical. To have been the "second Adam" and heir to David's throne (upon which Christ will sit at His Second Coming), Jesus' lineage must be clear. Would Luke—inspired by God—make a mistake by incorrectly recording it? Was the Creator of the universe unable to ensure the accuracy of this passage?

While not related to the Creation account, there are many more New Testament scriptures pointing to Old Testament figures and events.

For instance, Christ compared the end of the modern age to "Noah's day" (Luke 17:26) and to Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 29). These verses alone prove two often contested Old Testament events. Either these events happened or Jesus Christ is a liar!

The New Testament also refers to the "preachers of righteousness." The lives of these men spanned hundreds of years.

Further, Moses is referenced in the New Testament 79 times. Are you beginning to see why the New Testament is built on the prophets—and why evolution is incompatible with true Christianity?

Countless more examples could be given, and each serves to strengthen the others. However, we have already gone beyond the Creation event. Simply put, the New Testament without the Old Testament would be as useless as a building without a foundation—it would have no support, and much of it would not make sense.

If you profess to be Christian, yet somehow still have faith in evolution, examine your beliefs. Analyze why you believe what you do.

Two "Adams" Reveal Supreme Purpose

An important parallel exists between Adam and Christ that must be understood. It offers another clue to God's purpose and the validity of the Creation account.

Further reading of I Corinthians 15 provides deeper insight to a comparison that Paul makes: "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Christ] was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward [at the Resurrection] that which is spiritual. The first man [the original Adam] is of the earth, earthy: the second man [Christ] is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also [by the resurrection] that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy [made of flesh], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [composed of spirit]" (vs. 45-49).

Paul's inspired statement starts with a reference to Genesis 2:7. Notice the phrase there: "And so it was written…" Again, this is powerful New Testament verification of the Genesis account! Paul knew that Adam "was made" by God—that this event did happen. Paul believed and understood the Old Testament account.

God gave Adam and Eve "dominion" over the earth (Gen. 1:26). This meant man would need to learn and produce—to generate—much knowledge as he subjugated the planet.

God designed human beings with minds that could create, devise, observe and experiment. Through an inherent ability to reason, mankind is able to properly process and interpret physical knowledge when it is placed within the framework God intended.

All knowledge falls into two categories: (1) the physical knowledge of how to work with matter and physical things, and (2) the spiritual knowledge necessary for people to develop personal relationships with both God and their fellow man. All knowledge is either physical or spiritual.

Adam and Eve's problem was in reasoning that both kinds of knowledge could be obtained on their own, through experimentation. Once they deviated from God's intended way, they had no hope of reaching the destination He purposed for them—and neither does mankind, which followed Adam and Eve's choice. When the first parents accepted the wrong premise as their starting point—that they could reason everything out themselves—they were destined to fail!

The accumulation of vast amounts of knowledge over millennia has not changed—and could never change—the fact that mankind is headed for the wrong destination. Curiously, in its quest for ever more knowledge, humanity continues to ignore facts regarding the fallacy of evolution. Many have been forced to conclude they must live life devoid of the most important knowledge—that about God!

Change of Framework

Now that you have finished this series, something should have happened to your knowledge of evolution. You should now be able to prove what is true—not just assume it to be. The facts will deflect the clever arguments of evolutionists. Proof is the fundamental difference between creationism and evolution. God's Word teaches us to, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5:21).

To prove something means to demonstrate it to be true or false. You have proven evolution false and, by the knowledge you have obtained, you are now able to debunk ridiculous assertions.

Evolution has gone from something "understood only by the scholarly" to an utterly illogical fallacy, believed only by the blind, foolish—and ignorant!

Does it not amaze you that evolution is taught as fact throughout most of the world, yet creation is ridiculed and lampooned as a simplistic and fanatical myth?

On the contrary, it is evolution that is simple—simply preposterous!

Consider. When you started this series, you unknowingly came to a fork in the road. As evolution was shown to be false, you began walking down a new path.

Knowledge Brings Responsibility

Throughout this series, you have learned new knowledge. It has been said that knowledge is of no purpose unless it is used.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea summarized a problem in ancient Israel that parallels that of evolutionists today: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you…seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children" (Hos. 4:6).

Without doubt, what you have learned throughout this extensive series is knowledge, and much of it was probably completely new to you.

With such an understanding comes responsibility. You no longer "lack knowledge," but are now left with the question of whether you will accept or reject it.

Notice Jesus Christ's words: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48).

With knowledge comes responsibility. This means choices must be made as a result of receiving it. You must now act on what you have learned.

Now we must ask: Who is the God you now know exists? What is the nature of the Being who created the universe, man, animals, plants—everything?

Some may have read this series assuming they already knew the answer to these questions. Their purpose was to gain knowledge in disproving evolution. But, like evolution, what most believe about God is not true.

Just as disproving the theory of evolution was only the first step toward understanding the origin of the universe and life within it, proving the existence of a Creator presents you with another path—that of who this God is. Taking this path will lead you to the understanding of why you were born.

Each of us has a specific purpose, unlike anything you have ever heard before. Learning that purpose—and your responsibility in it—lies down the new path that has been presented.

Only two questions remain:

(1) Will you act on the new knowledge you have received?

(2) Will you continue to study our publications, teaching you the truth about this God?


The Real Truth
A magazine restoring plain understanding
This article was printed from www.realtruth.org.

Related Literature
Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science – Part 1
Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science – Part 2
Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science – Part 3
Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science – Part 4
Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science – Part 5
Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science – Part 6
The Trinity – Is God Three-in-one?
The Universe – Part 3

Miller debunks the Discovery Institute again


January 9th, 2009 General 2009

Kenneth R. MillerIn a three-part guest essay posted at Carl Zimmer's blog The Loom, Kenneth R. Miller responded to a recent attack by the Discovery Institute on his testimony in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. At issue in the first part is the claim, found in both Of Pandas and People and Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, that the blood clotting system in vertebrates is irreducibly complex and therefore unevolvable. After rebutting the claim that he misrepresented Behe's claims in his testimony, Miller proceeds to explain the latest scientific research that undermines Behe's claims: "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."

Miller turns his attention in the second part of his essay to the Discovery Institute's attempt to rehabilitate the concept of irreducible complexity. Explaining Behe's argument, he comments, "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." The Discovery Institute's attack fails, he contends, even to represent Behe's argument correctly, and "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."

In the third part of his essay, Miller wonders why the Discovery Institute is bothering to assail the Kitzmiller decision three years after the fact. "The only conclusion I can draw," he writes, "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." Miller was prescient: the first two antievolution bills of the 2009 legislative session — Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 and Mississippi's House Bill 25 — have already appeared.

Over at the Panda's Thumb blog, Nick Matzke adds a host of details to Miller's rebuttal, noting that Behe in fact wrote the portion of Of Pandas and People that discusses the blood clotting system. Further, in Kitzmiller he testified that the treatment of blood clotting in Darwin's Black Box is "essentially the same," vitiating the Discovery Institute's attempt to insulate Behe from the failures of Of Pandas and People's treatment. In fact, the treatments differ somewhat, which, as Matzke notes, was a problem for Behe on cross-examination: "Behe could have just said 'I was wrong in Pandas, my newer definition is right.' But of course, the whole point of Behe being there was to defend the ID book on trial, which was Pandas, so he couldn't do that."

Miller is Professor of Biology and Royce Family Professor for Teaching Excellence at Brown University and the author of Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, 2008); he was the lead expert witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. A Supporter of NCSE, he received its Friend of Darwin award in 2003. Matzke, who is now a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, worked for NCSE from 2004 to 2007. He was the lead NCSE staffer working on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, providing a wealth of scientific expertise and practical advice to the legal team representing the ultimately victorious plaintiffs.

Leaked Recording of Scientology Founder Proves That Church Lied


Despite claims that have been made to the contrary, Scientology opposes the use of any psychiatric medications, including the Depakote that Jett used to control his seizures.

I extend my condolences to Scientologists John Travolta and Kelly Preston after the untimely death of their son, Jett. It is my sincerest hope that they did everything they could for the well-being of their son.

In doing so, however, they would be acting against the Dianetics practices of the Church of Scientology [2], which states that any mind-altering drugs "maim and destroy people [3]," and are thus strictly forbidden for use by any Scientologist. Depakote in particular is described as a harmful drug by the "Citizens Commission on Human Rights," a Scientology front group that opposes Psychiatry. [4]

Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures, such as those reportedly experienced by Jett Travolta. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard alleged in a 1972 lecture that epilepsy can be cured through a Scientology ritual called auditing, and that they will need to stop taking any epileptic drugs before going through the process. Hubbard referred to epilepsy related terms as "gobbledygook". [5]

John Travolta and his brother Joey Travolta reportedly clashed over Jett's diagnosis. According to UK newspaper, The Mirror, Joey believed "it was so obvious Jett was autistic just from spending five minutes with him, but the cruel fact of their religion meant his parents simply did not accept it." [6]

People magazine reported that Travolta family friend and actress Anne Archer said "I observed that he was significantly mentally handicapped. ... John always communicated to him as if Jett could completely understand him. ... It was a kind of sweet exchange, where he was just happy with anything that Jett offered. Anything." [7] Additionally, video of Jett taken in France in 2007 showed Jett exhibiting autistic symptoms. [8] Autism is not accepted within Scientology, which classes people with neuropsychiatric disorders as "degraded beings". [1]

The Travoltas have stated that they put Jett through the "Purification Rundown", a controversial Scientology program that involves administering dangerous doses of niacin, which has been found to cause liver damage. [9] The Purification Rundown is the same program that is used in Narconon and Second Chance, other Scientology front groups. Recently a Second Chance center in Albuquerque, NM was shut down because it was housing inmates charged with violent crimes, in violation of its lease. [10]

The circumstances of Jett Travolta's tragic death should only be discussed with the utmost respect for the family and for the facts, unlike the manner in which the CCHR and celebrity Scientologists have treated the grief-stricken in the past. [11][12]


[1] http://www.hollywoodinterrupted.com/archives/a_plea_from_hollywood_john_travolta_open_your_heart.phtml

[2] http://www.xs4all.nl/~jeta/scn/scans/Introspection-Release.html

[3] http://web.archive.org/web/20080119062934/faq.scientology.org/ref_4.htm

[4] http://web.archive.org/web/20051222024858/http://psychdrugs.freedommag.org/page14.htm

[5] Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. Taped lecture C7204C07 SO: Expanded Dianetics Lecture No.2 Expanded Dianetics and Word Clearing. 1972. Available online at: http://www.vimeo.com/2727682

[6] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2009/01/03/riddle-of-john-travolta-s-son-could-he-have-been-saved-115875-21013277/

[7] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28539943/

[8] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Iz7dopJrtE

[9] http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Narconon/detox.htm

[10] http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/politics/politics_krqe_albuquerque_city_pulls_plug_on_second_chance_200812262319

[11] http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/homepage/8998981804543180796

[12] http://www.metro.co.uk/fame/article.html?in_article_id=39173&in_page_id=7

Wen Hsing

Opinions expressed in this message reflect my personal views only.

Experts Challenge Pres.-Elect Obama to Include Complementary Medicine in Health Plan



Four luminaries in the complementary-medicine field have issued a call to President-Elect Barack Obama to include complementary therapies—approaches like massage, meditation and herbs—in his health-care plan.

In "'Alternative' Medicine Is Mainstream," published today in the Wall Street Journal, Ayurvedic expert and author Deepak Chopra, M.D., heart-care specialist Dean Ornish, M.D., Professor Rustum Roy and complementary-medicine instructor and author Andrew Weil, M.D., wrote, "It's time to move past the debate of alternative medicine versus traditional medicine, and to focus on what works, what doesn't, for whom, and under which circumstances. It will take serious government funding to find out, but these findings may help reduce costs and increase health."

The authors noted that preventive measures have been shown to halt or reverse the most prevalent diseases—heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.

"[Heart disease, which] accounts for more premature deaths and costs Americans more than any other illness is almost completely preventable simply by changing diet and lifestyle," they noted. "And the same lifestyle changes that can prevent or even reverse heart disease also help prevent or reverse many other chronic diseases as well."

In December MASSAGE Magazine reported on a national study that showed more Americans than ever are utilizing complementary medicine, and that the use of massage therapy had grown. Another recent study showed massage to be a feasible treatment for cardiac patients in an acute-care setting.

Friday, January 09, 2009

'Alternative' Medicine Is Mainstream


The evidence is mounting that diet and lifestyle are the best cures for our worst afflictions.


In mid-February, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the Bravewell Collaborative are convening a "Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public." This is a watershed in the evolution of integrative medicine, a holistic approach to health care that uses the best of conventional and alternative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and herbal remedies. Many of these therapies are now scientifically documented to be not only medically effective but also cost effective.

President-elect Barack Obama and former Sen. Tom Daschle (the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services) understand that if we want to make affordable health care available to the 45 million Americans who do not have health insurance, then we need to address the fundamental causes of health and illness, and provide incentives for healthy ways of living rather than reimbursing only drugs and surgery.

Heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer and obesity account for 75% of health-care costs, and yet these are largely preventable and even reversible by changing diet and lifestyle. As Mr. Obama states in his health plan, unveiled during his campaign: "This nation is facing a true epidemic of chronic disease. An increasing number of Americans are suffering and dying needlessly from diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and HIV/AIDS, all of which can be delayed in onset if not prevented entirely."

The latest scientific studies show that our bodies have a remarkable capacity to begin healing, and much more quickly than we had once realized, if we address the lifestyle factors that often cause these chronic diseases. These studies show that integrative medicine can make a powerful difference in our health and well-being, how quickly these changes may occur, and how dynamic these mechanisms can be.

Many people tend to think of breakthroughs in medicine as a new drug, laser or high-tech surgical procedure. They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lifestyle -- what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our relationships and social support -- can be as powerful as drugs and surgery. But they often are. And in many instances, they're even more powerful.

These studies often used high-tech, state-of-the-art measures to prove the power of simple, low-tech, and low-cost interventions. Integrative medicine approaches such as plant-based diets, yoga, meditation and psychosocial support may stop or even reverse the progression of coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, prostate cancer, obesity, hypercholesterolemia and other chronic conditions.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that these approaches may even change gene expression in hundreds of genes in only a few months. Genes associated with cancer, heart disease and inflammation were downregulated or "turned off" whereas protective genes were upregulated or "turned on." A study published in The Lancet Oncology reported that these changes increase telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that control how long we live. Even drugs have not been shown to do this.

Our "health-care system" is primarily a disease-care system. Last year, $2.1 trillion was spent in the U.S. on medical care, or 16.5% of the gross national product. Of these trillions, 95 cents of every dollar was spent to treat disease after it had already occurred. At least 75% of these costs were spent on treating chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, that are preventable or even reversible.

The choices are especially clear in cardiology. In 2006, for example, according to data provided by the American Heart Association, 1.3 million coronary angioplasty procedures were performed at an average cost of $48,399 each, or more than $60 billion; and 448,000 coronary bypass operations were performed at a cost of $99,743 each, or more than $44 billion. In other words, Americans spent more than $100 billion in 2006 for these two procedures alone.

Despite these costs, a randomized controlled trial published in April 2007 in The New England Journal of Medicine found that angioplasties and stents do not prolong life or even prevent heart attacks in stable patients (i.e., 95% of those who receive them). Coronary bypass surgery prolongs life in less than 3% of patients who receive it. So, Medicare and other insurers and individuals pay billions for surgical procedures like angioplasty and bypass surgery that are usually dangerous, invasive, expensive and largely ineffective. Yet they pay very little -- if any money at all -- for integrative medicine approaches that have been proven to reverse and prevent most chronic diseases that account for at least 75% of health-care costs. The INTERHEART study, published in September 2004 in The Lancet, followed 30,000 men and women on six continents and found that changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90% of all heart disease.

Joy, pleasure and freedom are sustainable, deprivation and austerity are not. When you eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, exercise, meditate and have more love in your life, then your brain receives more blood and oxygen, so you think more clearly, have more energy, need less sleep. Your brain may grow so many new neurons that it could get measurably bigger in only a few months. Your face gets more blood flow, so your skin glows more and wrinkles less. Your heart gets more blood flow, so you have more stamina and can even begin to reverse heart disease. Your sexual organs receive more blood flow, so you may become more potent -- similar to the way that circulation-increasing drugs like Viagra work. For many people, these are choices worth making -- not just to live longer, but also to live better.

It's time to move past the debate of alternative medicine versus traditional medicine, and to focus on what works, what doesn't, for whom, and under which circumstances. It will take serious government funding to find out, but these findings may help reduce costs and increase health.

Integrative medicine approaches bring together those in red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, because these are human issues. They are both medically effective and, important in our current economic climate, cost effective. These approaches emphasize both personal responsibility and the opportunity to make affordable, quality health care available to those who most need it. Mr. Obama should make them an integral part of his health plan as soon as possible.

Dr. Chopra, the author of more than 50 books on the mind, body and spirit, is guest faculty at Beth Israel Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ornish is clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Mr. Roy is professor emeritus of materials science at Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Weil is director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

Science lessons to stir debate

Evolution teaching rules before board


Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Published: Jan 9, 2009 - Page: 1A - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.

New arguments have erupted on how to teach evolution in Louisiana public schools.

Last year lawmakers enacted a law to overhaul the way evolution and other controversial science topics are taught in middle and high schools.

Now the focus is the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is required by the new law to come up with guidelines for local school districts that seek assistance.

A committee of the board is set to take up the issue Tuesday. Final action is expected Thursday.

However, what the rules should say is triggering behind-the-scenes jockeying by both sides.

Backers said the law is needed to give science teachers more freedom to hold discussions that challenge traditional theories, including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Critics contend the law is aimed at injecting religious themes into public schools.

An advisory panel set up by the state Department of Education has recommended guidelines that won praise from opponents of the law.

Barbara Forrest, of Holden, a professor and co-founder of the LA Coalition for Science, said the rules would block any efforts to inject creationism or intelligent design under the guise of science.

Christian creationism is the view that life began 6,000 years ago in a process described in the Bible's Book of Genesis.

Intelligent design advocates contend the universe stems from an intelligent designer rather than chance.

"I don't think there is anything in there that is going to give very much room to anyone who wants to teach creationism or who wants to undermine evolution," Forrest said of the advisory panel's proposed guidelines.

But Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, said the advisory panel's recommendations were merely the first draft in the discussions.

Mills said those proposed guidelines included "religious hostility" that went beyond the intent of lawmakers and was a "cheap shot."

The advisory panel's list of guidelines said science teachers should distinguish between science and religion, and offered definitions of faith and science.

Mills said he is cautiously optimistic that talks among department officials, the state board and lawmakers involved in the issue will be productive.

The LFF says it promotes traditional family values. It was a key backer of the law, which won overwhelming legislative approval.

The law, called the Louisiana Science Education Act, allows science teachers to use supplemental materials, in addition to state-issued textbooks, on issues such as evolution.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said in a letter in August to local superintendents and others that the law carries limits.

"Religious theories cannot be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking," said Pastorek, an attorney.

Dale Bayard, of Sulphur, a member of the state board, is chairman of the BESE committee that will review science standards.

Bayard said earlier this week he is not familiar with the latest version of the standards.

Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe and House handler of the science legislation, said Thursday he objected to a few items in the initial guidelines but is comfortable with the latest draft.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Creationists' Lair


A place for Creationists, both YEC and OEC, to discuss topics related to creationism, it's social, scientific, and political impact, it's proliferation, and how we interact with our society and opponents. I'm sure that mockers, scoffers, and trolls may want to comment here, but please IGNORE them and maintain a reasoned, respectful, and civil tone. The moderator WILL delete unsavory comments.

Intolerance on Parade in Texas Debate Over Evolution


Eric Lane, head of the local San Antonio chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, makes bold — and bogus — assertions in the San Antonio Express about the current debate over how to teach evolution, and what he imagines might be the reasons behind it. Not surprisingly, Lane apparently didn't bother to do a shred of research, instead seeming quite satisfied to let his imagination come up with all sorts ridiculous things.

It isn't as if you can't read what Discovery's views are on science education, or even specifically what my own views are (they're all over this blog after all). So there's really no excuse to so blatantly misrepresent our position, and what our motivations are.

Lane writes:

In the upcoming months, the Texas State Board of Education will make a decision on whether public school science classes will teach scientific concepts or religious non-scientific beliefs known as intelligent design/creationism.

Right from the get-go Lane throws up a bogus straw man that he can waste his dozen paragraphs bashing the stuffing out of. The Texas SBOE is not considering religious non-scientific beliefs, nor ...

... creationism, and certainly not intelligent design for inclusion in science classes.

The real issue? The Texas SBOE (SBOE) is currently reviewing their state's science standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which were originally adopted in 1998. The controversial issue before the SBOE is whether the TEKS will retain language calling for students to learn about both the scientific "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Some have proposed removing that language from the TEKS entirely, while others have suggested that good science education that encourages critical thinking should apply to all aspects of the curriculum, especially to the teaching of controversial scientific theories like neo-Darwinian evolution.

Lane further proves his ignorance by suggesting that the whole debate is a fundamentalist, right-wing plot to usher in "a theistic fundamentalist Christian nation."

Intelligent design advocates, primarily associated with the Discovery Institute based in the state of Washington, assert that life is so complex that it can be explained only by an "intelligent cause or agent." In other words, a God. But not just any God. It has to be the God of Christianity. A Protestant. And a fundamentalist.

If Lane were right, I'd be in a world of trouble. I'm not a fundamentalist right-wing theocrat. I'm a libertarian agnostic. I work at Discovery Institute, so I can talk with some authority about the bogus charges Lane levels at the Institute and myself.

Nowhere do we ever argue or claim that science tells us the designer is God, any god. (I wonder how Lane would propose to scientifically determine that?) Science can't tell you who the designer is, and Discovery Institute and its fellows and staff are in agreement on that point.

For me this issue is, broadly, one of academic freedom and freedom of scientific inquiry, and a battle against intolerance. Specifically, the debate in Texas is about whether or not teachers will be free to discuss the full range of scientific evidence related to evolutionary biology. Will they be free to tell students about weaknesses in Darwinian evolution? Or will they be stifled by governmental regulations limiting them to only, dogmatically, presenting students with evidence that allegedly supports Darwin's theory.

Like Lane, I don't want to see religion taught in public schools. I agree that science is for science classes. Unlike Lane though, I want teachers and students to be free to discuss all the scientific evidence related to modern evolutionary theory, not just evidence purported to support it. Critical thinking is about weighing both the strengths and weaknesses of any argument. Darwin said it best, of course: "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Posted by Robert Crowther on January 6, 2009 3:20 PM | Permalink

Dawkins 'shocked' at teachers' creationism support


Wednesday, 07 Jan 2009 07:59

Professor Richard Dawkins' comments came at the atheist bus launch Printer friendly version Professor Richard Dawkins has hit out at science teachers being "so ignorant of science" after a poll showed a majority backed the teaching of creationism in schools.

The outspoken Oxford professor was responding to research out last month by pollster Ipsos Mori which found 65 per cent of teaching staff backed its discussion.

Creationism remains a politically sensitive subject. Many believe there is no place in science lessons for the belief that the Earth was created by God as told in the Bible.

And just one in four teachers agreed with the view that creationism should not be taught in schools.

Although a majority agrees science lessons are not the place for it to be discussed Prof Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, blamed Tony Blair's attitude for current guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

"Tony Blair was always soft on that," he told politics.co.uk.

"He would say things like 'in the interests of diversity' and things like that. I don't know about the Brown government."

Commenting on the Ipsos Mori poll, Prof Dawkins added: "I think there's a misperception it's kind of fair there are these two theories [creationism and evolution]. If there were two theories, of course it would be fair. There aren't."

He added: "I'm a bit shocked that science teachers should be so ignorant of science."

Prof Dawkins was speaking as he supported the launch of the Atheist Bus Campaign, which will see bus advertisements bearing the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Though pleased with the adverts, which will feature on 800 buses in Britain, he said he would have liked to see different slogans used in ways which would address ways in which children receive influence on religious issues outside school.

"Slogans which I'm particularly keen on are with respect to children – 'there's no such thing as a Christian child', for example," he commented.

"I think the automatic labelling of children with the religion of their parents is absolutely despicable."

Mark Steel: What creationists really hate is that we emerged by accident


If all species were designed, it was hardly by someone intelligent

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Charles Darwin would probably love the fact that the 200th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated with radio shows, documentaries and exhibitions, but he might not have enjoyed the way that furious Christians still despise his theories and try to prove the Bible is more reliable.

For example, the Discovery Institute has announced that: "We want students everywhere to speak out... for the right to debate the evidence against evolution and turn 'Darwin Day' into 'Academic Freedom Day'."

But they're lucky Darwin isn't forced on us the way religion has been, otherwise the national anthem would start: "Our Gracious Queen will be saved or not according to a series of factors that are sod-all to do with God," and once a week school assemblies would start with everyone singing: "All things biological/ All matter sweet or frightening/ Are Godless, real and logical/ See – where's the bleeding lightning?"

The creationists demand that biblical theories are taught alongside Darwin's theories of natural selection, which might sound reasonable except that creationism depends not on evidence but on faith. If all theories are given equal status, teachers could say: "Your essays on the cause of tornadoes were very good. Nathan's piece detailing the impact of warm moist air colliding with cool air, with original sources from the Colorado Weather Bureau, contained some splendid detail. But Samatha's piece that went "Because God is cross" was just as good so you all get a B+."

To improve their standing the anti-Darwin lobby have changed their tactics, so now instead of arguing for creationism they call their theory "intelligent design".

Mostly this consists of trying to illustrate how species are too complex to have been formed by nature. But then they can't help themselves, so you get articles such as the one by prominent advocate of intelligent design, David Berlinski, that starts: "Charles Darwin says, 'In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals.' Another man, Adolf Hitler says 'Let us kill all the Jews of Europe.' Is there a connection? Yes is the obvious answer." So there we are – study the differences between finches and you're half way to organising a holocaust.

The founders of intelligent design are nearly all creationists, and one of their books, Of Pandas and People, is identical to a book used by creationists. Except that, after a ruling in the US Supreme Court that creationism couldn't be taught in schools, the word "creationist" was deleted throughout, and replaced with "intelligent design".

The new theory, where it is new, states there are many species that can't have become the way they are through gradual evolution, because if you remove any one part of them the whole structure would collapse. So they must have been created whole, as they are now, without changing. But this ignores the beauty of Darwin's discovery, which is that species change not because they're on a march towards perfection but by accident.

What may be ideal for survival one day is no good once the environment has changed. For example if it gets colder, or the colour of the surroundings changes, the individuals in a species best suited to the new conditions will be the ones to last, and the species becomes altered.

Survival of the fittest means those accidentally matching the requirements of a new situation, not the creatures most prone to winning a scrap. Otherwise by now the only hamsters to survive would be those ones who could pick up the wheel and smash it over their mate's head, and the only surviving parrots would be the ones squawking: "Who wants some? Who wants some?"

And this dominance of the accidental is the most damning argument against intelligent design, because if all species were designed, it was hardly done by someone intelligent. If it was, how do you account for the parasitic wasp that lays eggs on its prey so they hatch and eat its victim while it's still alive?

More to the point, why are your most sensitive nerves at the end of your toe, where they're most likely to get walloped? Why are men's nuts in such a vulnerable location, ay? Bloody vindictive design that is. Why do dogs do the squashiest, most unpleasant turds that hide in the grass and spread themselves in the indentations on the bottom of your shoe, but don't start smelling until you get indoors and then render the place uninhabitable until you've left every window open for a month? Why, why, why?

Come on intelligent design people, the questions you have to answer have barely begun.

"Ask a Scientist: Bigfoot and Other Wild Men of the Forest"


Booze and yetis and all your hairy questions answered
Tuesday January 6, 2009

The other day I was meandering through the pet aisle of the local Walgreens, debating whether to get my sheltie — appropriately named Chewbacca — the hickory-smoked bone, the oven-baked biscuits, or the braided pig ears, when lo and behold, I spotted Bigfoot reaching for the tick and flea powder. Like this summer's spotting in northern Georgia by Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton, there was Bigfoot, checking in at a whopping 11 feet. The top of his head scraped the store ceiling as his large, beaming red-eyes stared right at me.

This summer, after Dyer and Whitton posted their now infamous YouTube video of a deceased Sasquatch, they subsequently received $50,000 from Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. — on "good faith" — but this money was soon returned. Keeping this in mind, I decided that instead of turning Bigfoot in, I would muster up the courage to ask him the question as old as time, the mysterious, elusive notion for which I have always wanted an answer: "big feet, big hands, equals ...?"

Apparently the answer is: yes. Bigfoot explained that there have been several studies yielding conclusive results, and then went on to diagram proportionality for me.

He also noted that his feet are 24 inches long and 8 inches wide, whereas Shaq's feet are about 16 inches long.

At this month's installment of "Ask A Scientist: Lecture Series," you'll be able to ask physical anthropologist Eugenie Scott all the questions I probably should've asked Bigfoot, like "Do you really exist?" Scott is a long-time critic of creationism and intelligent design, as well as the spokesperson for the PBS series Evolution, a featured guest on Penn & Teller's television show Bullshit!, and a winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. Join the festivities and swap your high school science tests for booze and yetis.

ASK A SCIENTIST: BIGFOOT AND OTHER WILD MEN OF THE FOREST Tues/13, 7–9 p.m., free. Axis Café, 1201 8th St. (between 16th and Irwin), SF. (415) 437-2947, www.askascientistsf.com.

Newly discovered pink iguana sheds light on Galapagos evolution


mongabay.com January 06, 2009

A newly identified, but already endangered species of pink land iguana may provide evidence of the lizard's evolution on the Galápagos Islands, report researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Genetic analysis of the "rosada" iguana by Gabriele Gentile and colleagues shows that the species diverged from its iguana ancestor more than five million years ago, making it one of the oldest known examples of diversification on the fabled island chain where Charles Darwin collected much of the evidence — mostly among finches — to support his theory of evolution through natural selection.

"So far, this species is the only evidence of ancient diversification along the Galápagos land iguana lineage and documents one of the oldest events of divergence ever recorded in the Galápagos," write the authors, who note that the species emerged as the remote equatorial archipelago was still forming.

The rosada iguana — which was first spotted in 1986 — is so rare it is at risk of extinction. This status, coupled with its evolutionary importance, makes the species a top conservation priority write the researchers.

"These findings call for a conservation program aimed at evaluating the risk of extinction of this newly recognized species, which, based on currently available data, would be assignable to the 'critically endangered' category by meeting criteria B and C of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List."

CITATION: Gabriele Gentile, Anna Fabiani, Cruz Marquez, Howard Snell, Heidi Snell, Washington Tapia, and Valerio Sbordoni. "An overlooked, pink, new species of land iguana in the Galápagos," PNAS for the week of Jan 5, 2009.

The Evolution of Evolution


January 7, 2009 in Biology

Scientific American Editor in Chief John Rennie discusses the special January issue of the magazine, which focuses on evolution--2009 being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Subjects in the issue include the importance of natural selection, the sources of genetic variability, human evolution's past and future, pop evolutionary psychology, everyday applications of evolutionary theory, the science of the game Spore, and the ongoing threat to science education posed by creationist activists. Plus, we'll test your knowledge about some recent science in the news. Web sites related to this episode include www.SciAm.com/jan2009

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Troubling Times: N.Y. Newspaper Promotes Creation Museum During Special Arts & Leisure Weekend


January 5, 2009 Is the Gray Lady about to convert to fundamentalism?

I don't think so, but I was disappointed to see Kentucky's notorious Creation Museum listed among the attractions in The New York Times' Arts & Leisure Weekend Promotion heralded in a special pullout section of my newspaper last Sunday

During the Jan. 8-11 event, The Times sponsors public debates and discussions of contemporary issues and touts two-for-one admission discounts at museums, movies and shows in New York and around the country.

It sounds like a great thing for the arts and sciences, so I was surprised to see the Creation Museum, a bastion of fundamentalist pseudo-science, enrolled as one of only two participating museums in Kentucky. (The other was the Muhammad Ali Center.)

This inclusion is troubling because the Religious Right is always angling to present dogma as science in public school science classrooms. It sends a very misguided message when the Creation Museum is listed in a Times-sponsored event alongside prestigious scientific institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkley.

I know The Times knows better. Its editorials and news stories have consistently purveyed accurate information and opinion about the creationists' nefarious agenda.

In the EducationLife section in Sunday's paper, for example, Charles McGrath reviews four books that expose creationism – and "intelligent design," its latest iteration – as religion, not science. He lists Kenneth R. Miller's Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, Jerry A. Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, Lauri Lebo's The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America and Peter J. Bowler's Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity From Darwin to Intelligent Design.

I'm particularly glad to see the information about Ken Miller's book. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University (and active Christian), served as an extraordinary witness in the 2005 Dover, Pa., challenge to intelligent design in public schools brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the ACLU.

Times reviewer McGrath likes Miller's new work.

"In a few concise chapters," says the writer, "Mr. Miller pretty much dismantles all the claims, such as they are, for the intelligent design movement."

Adds McGrath, "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."

We couldn't have said it better. That's why it's alarming to see The Times touting the Creation Museum.

Americans United and our allies in the religious, scientific and educational communities have enough trouble keeping fundamentalism out of public school biology classes as it is. We don't need The Times lending help to the theocrats.

I love The New York Times. It's a truly great newspaper. Please tell me the Creation Museum promotion was someone's mistake of biblical proportions.

By Joseph L. Conn

Tax-evasion sentences upheld for 'Dr. Dino' and wife


From staff reports • January 6, 2009

An appeals court upheld the federal prison sentences of creationist minister Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo Hovind, who were convicted of a host of tax-fraud charges.

Kent Hovind, 55, is serving a 10-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield S.C.

He was found guilty in November 2006 of failing to collect and pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes, obstructing tax laws and structuring transactions to avoid financial reporting laws.

Jo Hovind, 53, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison on 45 counts structuring transactions to avoid financial reporting laws.

She has remained free pending the outcome of the appeal. U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers will decide at an unscheduled hearing when Jo Hovind will begin serving her sentence.

The 18-page page opinion from the 11th District Court of Appeal released last week says that the Hovinds now must pay more than $600,000 in restitution.

Forfeiture proceedings against the Hovinds' property, including their creationism theme park Dinosaur Adventure Land on Old Palafox Highway, are ongoing.

Creationists On The Run


Posted 1/5/2009 8:01:00 PM

2008 was a very bad year for the so-called "intelligent design" movement:

... it does give me an excuse to post my (now annual) list of things we didn't see from the main players of the ID movement:

- A peer-reviewed paper by Dembski, Wells, Nelson, Meyer ...

Or for that matter, a single peer-reviewed article offering either (a) evidence for design, (b) a method to unambiguously detect design, or (c) a theory of how the Designer did the designing, by any fellow of the DI.

- An exposition of Nelson's theory of "ontogenetic depth" (promised in March 2004)

- An article by Nelson & Dembski on problems with common descent (promised in April 2005).

- Nelson's monograph on common descent (currently MIA since the late 90's).


Politically, the DI shifted from "teach the controversy" to bleating about "academic freedom". Expelled bombed and influenced no one. Gonzalez ended up in Grove City College, an "authentically Christian" college in Pennsylvania. The five items are still MIA

2009 doesn't look as though it will be any better for the ID-crowd. The year has started with a devastating dismantling of the ID-movement's hapless leaders by the brilliant Kenneth Miller, who adds this:

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.

Posted by: Rob Breakenridge

Quote For The Day


"Scientology is unalterably opposed, as a matter of religious belief, to the practice of psychiatry, and espouses as a religious belief that the study of the mind and the healing of mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields.

I am in full agreement with this religious belief. I do not believe in or subscribe to psychiatric labels for individuals. It is my strongly held religious belief that all mental problems are spiritual in nature and that there is no such thing as a mentally incompetent person-- only those suffering from spiritual upset of one kind or another dramatized by an individual. I reject all psychiatric labels and intend for this Contract to clearly memorialize my desire to be helped exclusively through religious, spiritual means and not through any form of psychiatric treatment, specifically including involuntary commitment based on so-called lack of competence.

Under no circumstances, at any time, do I wish to be denied my right to care from members of my religion to the exclusion of psychiatric care or psychiatric directed care, regardless of what any psychiatrist, medical person, designated member of the state or family member may assert supposedly on my behalf. If circumstances should ever arise in which government, medical or psychiatric officials or personnel or family members or friends attempt to compel or coerce or commit me for psychiatric evaluation, treatment or hospitalization, I fully desire and expect that the Church or Scientologists will intercede on my behalf to oppose such efforts and/or extricate me from that predicament so my spiritual needs may be addressed in accordance with the tenets of the Scientology religion," - legal release form from the Church of Scientology. More background here.


Monday, January 05, 2009

You may have seen this letter already


Category: Creationism

Posted on: January 4, 2009 9:50 PM, by PZ Myers

A newspaper editor sent me this bizarre little letter. Apparently, the writer, a Mr Nick Lally, was spamming it all over the place, and his copy was also sent to addresses at these domains (actual email addresses stripped to protect the already put-upon):

@ncnnow.com, @krcb.org, @krcb.org, @californiaconnected.org, @humboldt1.com, @ksee.com, @telemundo.com, @koce.org, @cbs.com, @nbc4.tv, @angnewspapers.com, @modocrecord.com, @arcataeye.com, @pulitzer.net, @goldcountrymedia.com, @bakersfield.com, @bakersfield.com, @berkeleydailyplanet.com, @eastbayexpress.com, @canyonnews.com, @bhweekly.com, @bigbeargrizzly.net, @paloverdevalleytimes.com, @carmelpinecone.com, @carmichaeltimes.com, @chicoer.com, @chicoer.com, @triplicate.com, @gte.net, @svcn.com, @svcn.com, @svcn.com, @svcn.com, @svcn.com, @davisenterprise.net, @independentvoice.com, @ivpressonline.com, @herburger.net, @nctimes.com, @eurekareporter.com, @timesstandard.com, @dailyrepublic.net, @pressbanner.com, @fontanaheraldnews.com, @goldcountrymedia.com, @mcn.org, @fresnobee.com, @herburger.net, @gilroydispatch.com, @theunion.com, @hmbreview.com, @pulitzer.net, @thevalleychronicle.com, @freelancenews.com, @pinnaclenews.com, @hb.quik.com, @pe.net, @pulitzer.net, @valleysun.net, @kvsun.com, @recordbee.com, @compuserve.com, @lodinews.com, @pulitzer.net, @gazettes.com, @jewishobserverla.com, @laopinion.com, @dailynews.com, @DowntownNews.com, @latimes.com, @losbanosenterprise.com, @paloaltodailynews.com, @maderatribune.net, @maderatribune.net, @malibutimes.com, @MammothTimes.com, @mantecabulletin.com, @mcn.org, @almanacnews.com, @modbee.com, @modbee.com, @montereyherald.com, @morganhilltimes.com, @mtshastanews.com, @ktsftv.com, @sainte.tv, @indiancountry.com, @napanews.com, @marinij.com, @sierrastar.com, @ojaivalleynews.com, @dailybulletin.com, @dailybulletin.com, @ocregister.com, @palipost.com, @hax.com, @avpress.com, @paradisepost.com, .wilson@sgvn.com, @arguscourier.com, @arguscourier.com, @mtdemocrat.net, @bizjournals.com, @angnewspapers.com, @ptreyeslight.com, @portervillerecorder.com, @busjournal.com, @redbluffdailynews.com

That looks like he had found a directory of California newspapers and was sending his important missive to all of them. Lally is not from California, which makes me wonder if he flooded all the other states in the same way…let me know if you see some garbage with his name in it in your local paper.

Anyway, you'd think that such a widely disseminated letter must contain very important information, but I doubt that the gang here will be surprised at all to learn that it is a poorly written collection of creationist crap. I've put it below the fold for your grisly appreciation.

By the way, the author claims to have been a science teacher. I wonder how many young minds were poisoned and how much inquiring curiousity was stifled by this ignorant know-nothing.

Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter to all clergy…and to the spiritual leaders of our churches and synagogues throughout our country.

Charles Darwin's birthday is fast approaching February 12, '09, with a 200 year celebration. The National Center for Science Education led by known atheists, are encouraging churches to join the Darwin Day celebrations. To date there will be 850 Darwin Day events worldwide. I find it interesting that this "Trojan Horse" is aimed directly at churches as well as schools. Evolutionists have already been quoted as saying: "A backward collared clergy is worth more then an atheist on a school board any day". So, before you spiritual leaders consider preaching Darwin's theory in your churches and synagogues in the name of looking progressive or tolerant to your congregations, its best that you know all the facts first:

Actually, the NCSE is a secular organization that studiously avoids taking any position on the atheism/religion wars (I know; I'd like them to take my side, but they keep refusing.) There is one 'known atheist' there, Eugenie Scott, but she is probably the most adamant one there about not troubling the houses of gods.

Eugenie Scott is also the one with that quote, sorta. She actually said,

One clergyman with a backward collar is worth two biologists at a school board meeting any day!

I am always amused that creationists never get their quotes right, not even when it says just about exactly what they want it to say. Of course, Genie isn't saying she's trying to sneak a trojan horse into Christianity — she's pointing out that there are plenty of gullible sheep who will pay attention to anything a clergyman says on school boards, and that they aren't all so stupid that they'll believe in nonsensical creationism.

But let's move on to Mr Lally's "facts".

1. Evolution is not Biblical. All Christians should know that the major theme of the Bible is that every thing was created "very good" followed by original sin, thus resulting in death (physical and spiritual) and ending with atonement through Jesus Christ. Preaching evolution to Christians is anti-Biblical because now you have death coming before original sin. Evolutionary teaching just flip-flops the Biblical theme so that there is no need for Christ.

Well, yes, he's right, in a way. Evolution is not compatible with his interpretation of the Bible. Of course, the Bible is such a raging gemisch of priestly babble, unanchored to reality in any way, that it's pretty darn easy to yank any interpretation you want out of it, and some people claim it is compatible with evolution. I really don't care. You might as well fight over whether Dr Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham is compatible with evolution — you're inflating the significance of the text beyond all bounds and without consideration for what the authors actually intended.

Oh, yeah…and this whole idea that I'm personally damned by 'original sin' and that I need to believe in the magic non-sacrifice of a man-god hybrid in order to be forgiven is total bullshit. Your peculiar interpretation, which is incompatible with evolution, is a bollocks-waving pile of inflammatory garbage that only a lunatic could find rational.

Scientifically: 1. Life can only come from life. It's called the law of biogenesis proven by Louis Pasture. You cannot come from a rock.

Louis…Pasture? Come on, man, the little things count. These slip-ups make you look like a fool. And say…two number ones? Can't you count?

There is no law of biogenesis. This is a creationist invention. Scientists have been talking for decades about chemical evolution, the transition from non-life to life, the fuzziness of the boundary, and the fundamentally chemical nature of life itself. You don't just get to declare an arbitrary law by fiat and pretend that science is on your side. And no, Louis Pasteur did not prove anything of the kind. He showed that bacteria and fungi do not spontaneously appear; he knew nothing of progenotes, chemical replicators, and autocatalytic sets.

2. Information in the chemicals of our DNA can not come from matter or energy.

It has been proven by Dr. Werner Gitt that information can only come from intelligence which begs the belief that DNA acts like a CD programmed by God.

Werner Gitt is a young earth creationist whose arguments have been shown to be false, built on the kind of arrogant pretension common to the truly ignorant. Besides, we see information accumulate in molecules by entirely natural processes; bacteria routinely express simple genetic changes that produce new information, and I'm quite sure bacteria aren't intelligent, and that these changes don't occur by intent anyway.

3. The fossil record is an indictment against evolution. We have not found the transitions between single celled animals to complicated invertebrates, nor have we found transitions between invertebrates to vertebrates. All we find in the fossil record is that organisms just show up completely formed with hardly any changes from the "biological explosion" to today. Anthropologists have found 87% of all the living fossils and not one transition.

Actually, we do have transitions between single-celled and multi-cellular organisms. We do have transitions between invertebrates and vertebrates — look up protochordates sometime. Your ignorance of these basic facts is not evidence.

And come on, that 87% is just made up, isn't it? It doesn't even make sense. How can you talk about finding a specific fraction of all the living fossils, whatever those are?

4. We even discovered mammals which evolution teaches came millions of years after the reptiles together with dinosaurs in the fossil record!

I don't know what fossil record you've been looking at, but the one scientists use shows mammal-like reptiles preceding the dinosaurs. This is old news. A reptilian radiation produced many branches, including an early line that led to the modern mammals, but it was the saurian line that flourished best in the Mesozoic.

5. Never have we found a mutation that offers new genetic information that is beneficial to the organism in order to evolve. The majority of mutations are harmful, a lost of genetic information, or a mix up of the same genetic information. That is why mutation and natural selection doesn't work.

All those wonderful new crop varieties that keep us well-fed and prosperous? They are the outcome of mutations. All those pests and diseases that are resistant to our poisons and antibiotics? Mutations, again. Obviously mutations can be beneficial.

Most mutations are completely neutral. We know the error rate in DNA replication, and we know that Mr Lally was born with several hundred novel mutational changes to his DNA, and we see that he is … oh, wait. Bad example. I carry several hundred random changes made to my parents' DNA, and I am mostly normal.

I'm afraid that Mr Lally doesn't understand selection, either. It doesn't require that a majority of mutations be beneficial — a tiny minority is sufficient. Darwinian processes are all about increasing the frequency of rare events into a majority.

6. Even among the hominids, i.e., "Lucy", Australopithecus afarensis, has been proven to be nothing more then a chimp. Dr Lubenow demonstrated that Lucy's foot was tampered with by evolutionists placing Homo habilis bones in its ankle to make it look bipedal.

First, let's clarify something. Marvin Lubenow is a creationist with a Masters degree in theology, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Christian Heritage College, founded by Tim LaHaye and Henry Morris, and demanding a strict biblical literalism. It is an undergraduate institution (for the sadly deluded, I must add) and isn't even qualified to hand out post-graduate degrees. Lubenow's expertise is non-existent. You can also read a review of Lubenow's book in which he makes this claim, and see that he's not exactly competent in the field.

Any preacher that professes Christ in the name of evolution is doing himself and his parishioners a big disservice because they are not giving God or His Word, the Bible, the authority it deserves. Thanks to those people who are teaching evolution, Christianity is losing over 75% of their youth. (Barna Research, 2000)

Phenomenal! I'm glad you had some good news to share, Mr Lally!

I have to disagree, though. Any preacher willing to acknowledge reality and reason is doing his parishioners a favor. If that drives them away from the lies of religion, he's doing them an even greater service.

As a retired science teacher I assure you that we were super naturally created by intelligence, a God of super natural powers. And fortunately, we were given a written history of this account in the Bible and in the Torah.

Nick Lally
Green Township, NJ

I pity your former students, and I'm overjoyed that you're finally out of the school system.

On the origin of speciation


Evolution abounds, and science shows how, but still explores why

By Scott LaFee, staff writer 2:00 a.m. January 1, 2009

Charles Darwin's contributions to biology evolved from lessons learned and species collected during a five-year voyage (1831-36) aboard the HMS Beagle. It was the visible differences between Galapagos mockingbirds — not finches — that triggered his first ideas about species diversity, subsequently expanded by Darwin's huge collection of beetles and other insects. The first edition of his 1859 opus, "On the Origin of Species," contains just a single illustration: A stick-like rendering of a tree of life. It is crudely drawn but visionary. (Cristina Martinez Byvik photo illustration / Union-Tribune) - Darwin's legacy

The first in an occasional series marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book, "On the Origin of Species."

No one knows how many species of animal, plant, fungus and microbe live on Earth.

Almost 2 million have been described, but millions more exist. Thousands of new species are identified each year, mostly small or microbial, but also birds, fish and mammals.

In a study of just 19 trees in Panama, 1,000 of the 1,200 beetle species found were not previously known. An estimated 40 percent of South America's freshwater fish have not yet been classified.

According to the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, a single square meter of temperate forest can hold 200,000 mites. A similar-sized plot of tropical grassland may contain 32 million nematodes; a single gram of its soil 90 million bacteria and other microorganisms.

Life abounds – and it abounds in variety. Even before the English naturalist Charles Darwin published his epic 1859 book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," scientists and others had pondered the divergence of nature's multitudes, a process now called speciation.

Darwin himself provided no definitive answers. He lived and worked before the discovery of genes and modern understanding of heritability. But his labors provoked new questions and thinking, then and now.

Defining terms

What is a species exactly?

Darwin considered the question to be impossible to answer, writing in 1856: "It is really laughable to see what different ideas are prominent in various naturalists' minds when they speak of 'species.' It all comes, I believe, from trying to define the indefinable."

But rather than being indefinable, species makes claim a multiplicity of definitions. Which one depends upon who is asking and why.

"Scientists differ on this," said Dan Bolnick, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. "Because speciation is usually a gradual process, there is no dividing line any more than there is a dividing line between youth, middle age and old age. Speciation is a process, not an event."

More than two dozen concepts of "species" have been published. The standard definition describes species as a population of similar-looking organisms that produce evolutionarily fit offspring.

But Bolnick says other definitions apply, depending upon the goals of the researcher. Someone interested in finding and naming new species, for example, might settle for observable differences in shape, size or color. A geneticist, on the other hand, would look for subtler dissimilarities in genomes.

The ability to breed is not necessarily a factor.

"Even if you use the criterion of reproductive compatibility, how compatible is too much to consider groups separate?" asked Bolnick. "What if the interbreeding species hybridize 10 percent of the time? One percent? One hundred percent? The cutoff is arbitrary."

And what if a species doesn't have sex at all?

Bdelloid rotifers are microscopic aquatic animals that reside in ponds, rivers, wet soils and mosses. They reproduce asexually, producing eggs that are genetic clones of the mother. Males do not exist.

Bdelloid rotifers have been reproducing this way for at least 40 million years, yet they have evolved into multiple species.

"One remarkable example is of two (rotifer) species living in close proximity on the body of another animal, a water louse," said Tim Barraclough, a biologist at the Imperial College in London. "One lives around its legs, the other on its chest, yet they have diverged in body size and jaw shape to occupy these distinct ecological niches."

Multiple choice

What causes rotifers and every other form of life to diverge, to speciate?

Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, says it might simply be an accident of evolution.

"The overarching question in biology is, why does nature come in these discreet packages at all?" Coyne said. "Why does a continuous process like evolution give rise to these discontinuities, to separate species? It may be that there are just so many ways to make a living, and distinctions must be made. You can't be a fish, for example, with feathers. But broadly speaking, nature doesn't want speciation. It's not better that there are more species. It just happens."

How it happens is better understood. The basic mode is called allopatric speciation: Two populations of the same species become geographically separated, perhaps by the formation of mountains, a shift in the course of a river or emigration.

Living in different places, these species are exposed to different environmental or selective pressures. One location may be richer in water and certain kinds of vegetation; the other may have different predators.

Over time, each population adapts to its particular environmental demands. Each population evolves. If the adaptations are profound enough, the single species becomes two or more distinct species. If these species later come back into contact with each other, they may no longer have the interest in or ability to successfully reproduce.

Therese Markow is a professor of biology at the University of California San Diego who specializes in speciation. "We're interested in capturing the earliest events in speciation," she said. "We want to capture populations that are different enough that they're starting to diverge, to become different species, but not yet completely speciated."

Markow focuses upon four types of fruit fly found in the deserts of Baja California and across the Sea of Cortez on the Mexican mainland and elsewhere. The flies share a common ancestor, but each is on a continuum of evolutionary divergence, each moving toward becoming a distinct species.

"All of these drosophila (fruit flies) breed in decomposing cacti, but millions of years ago, they partitioned the niche," said Markow. They live, feed and breed on different kinds of rotting cactus; one has abandoned the cactus altogether and lays its eggs in the soil beneath, its larvae feeding on the toxic juices that leach into the ground.

"The flies are becoming distinct species," said Markow. "In many ways, they remain much the same. They look alike. Adults will sometimes feed next to each other, but they also recognize the other fly is a different species.

"It's not unlike humans and other primates. We're related. We see similarities. But we also know we're different. It's in our evolutionary interest to know that."

Allopatric speciation, though, is just one way life gets complicated. Organisms can diverge even when they maintain contact. The London underground mosquito, for example, is a variant of the species Culex pipiens. It entered the underground subway system in the 19th century and stayed. Individual subway mosquitoes still encounter their surface cousins, but the transfer of genes is restricted. The insects do not share sufficient genetic information, and so the mosquitoes have evolved away from the other: Their genomes are dissimilar. They exhibit behavioral differences. They have trouble mating.

In similar fashion, the Ensatina salamanders ringing the Central Valley in California have split into different subspecies. Individuals come into contact, like the ends of links in a chain, but each subspecies has become specifically adapted to its particular habitat.

Such adaptations and differences can also occur within a single habitat. Cichlid fish in East Africa, for example, have diverged into multiple species within single lakes, probably to take advantage of different food sources or through sexual selection.

More factors

Geographic isolation and natural selection are clearly major factors driving speciation, but they are not the only ones. As researchers probe more deeply, employing scientific tools and knowledge Darwin never dreamed of, they reveal ever-more complexity.

Revelations about genomic structures, how genes turn on and off and the remarkable ability of nature to use the same tools in different ways in different species have all dramatically boosted researchers' knowledge, said Andrew Bohonak, an associate professor of biology at San Diego State University.

Consider the work of Ron Burton, a professor of marine biology at UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies a species of copepod – a small crustacean – found in tidal pools along the local coast.

"The populations inhabiting the pools are genetically differentiated on various spatial scales," Burton said. "For example, we can easily distinguish Ocean Beach copepods from those in La Jolla."

In the lab, Burton can mate these different populations, producing hybrids. "This suggests that the populations are in an early stage of speciation." But the progeny reveal "surprisingly low fitness." They do not survive long or well.

The problem, according to Burton, is not environmental adaptation. Both copepod species can live in the same type of tidal pool. Rather, their hybrids' poor evolutionary prospects are due to incompatibilities between their nuclear genome inherited from both parents and a handful of mitochondrial genes inherited from the mother.

"These genes are crucial to the energy-generating system of cell, so small incompatibilities directly affect the fitness of the animals," Burton said.

The divergence between the copepod populations might reflect environmental adaptations, but Burton says there's no evidence of that. Instead, he believes the cause is random genetic mutations accumulating in isolated populations.

"Only when those different mutations are put together by hybridization are the incompatibilities apparent," said Burton, and thus the distinctiveness of the two species emerges.

Taking time Generally speaking, Darwin assumed evolution to be a long, gradual process. In the 1970s, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould proposed a popular alternative called "punctuated equilibrium." Based upon the fossil record, Eldredge and Gould argued that evolution consisted of long periods of nonchange or "stasis" interrupted by brief bursts in which many new species appeared. The cause of the bursts was not known. Natural selection was believed to be a fine-tuning mechanism, not a major force.

Punctuated equilibrium has fewer adherents now, said David Jablonski, a professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago. Critics contend it doesn't accurately or fully reflect life's revealed complexity; that species diverge and emerge on different timetables, each based on different sets of factors and influences.

David Reznick, a professor of biology at UC Riverside, studies evolution rates in natural populations of guppies in Trinidad. He has recorded change rates "on the order of 10,000 to 10 million times faster than what Gould and Eldredge described as punctuations in the fossil record."

Selective pressures like food and climate are far more powerful than Eldredge, Gould and other scientists had previously thought. They accelerate change. So, too, do random genetic mutations.

"Organisms like ferns sometimes experience a doubling of chromosomes," said Reznick. "This change can create a barrier to breeding with other members of what had been the same species; such a barrier is the prevailing definition for species. These rare events can, in theory at least, create species in a single step."

Like evolution, the broad process of speciation is ongoing and inevitable. It's happening now, everywhere. The ultimate question is, what will happen next? In truth, there's no way to know. The past is not prologue.

In the fossil record, mass extinctions have been followed by periods of huge biological diversification: the rise of mammals, for example, after the dinosaurs died out 67 million years ago.

Though it's commonly believed the dinosaurs' disappearance opened new ecological niches for mammals, Mike Arnold, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Georgia, said every mass extinction may not presage a subsequent blossoming of biodiversity.

"We're in the middle of an enormous mass extinction right now, one that could produce opportunities for new life," Arnold said. "But this time there's a caveat. This mass extinction is human-mediated. It's largely caused by things like destruction of habitat, which may result in irreversible harm in terms of evolutionary diversification.

"Environments are being modified, but maybe not in any way that life can adapt to and evolve in. There's not a lot of opportunity for diversification in a world of concrete."

Certainly some kind of life will persist, adapt, evolve. That's what life has done for billions of years and what it will likely do for billions more. It just might not be the kinds of life we value.

It just might not be us.


"Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, Viking, 2009. A new and popular examination of evolution by a renowned expert.
"The Reluctant Mr. Darwin" by David Quammen, Norton, 2007. An intimate biography that explores the man and how he devised evolutionary theory.
"How and Why Species Multiply" by Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant, Princeton University Press, 2007. Charles Darwin studied the finches of the Galapagos Islands; the Grants have made the finches their life's work, using them as a prism through which they explain evolutionary biology.

Media Abdication Contributes to Scientifically Illiterate America


Eric Baerren

January 5, 2009

One of the most significant and underreported developments in American science during 2008 was how the reporting of science itself changed. Or, rather, the way reporting resources were devoted to science. If Barack Obama's pledge is to actually use science as a tool to shape policy, those changes will be a disservice to the American people.

The announcement in early December by CNN to cut its entire science department was made with no fanfare. Part of that is undoubtedly the horrible environment in which media outlets operate today. It seems as if a week doesn't go by in which a different media corporation doesn't announce layoffs.

While there is a reason for concern about the general decline in newsroom staffs overall, there should be special concern for how the American public educates itself about science. The American public, thanks to a de-emphasis on science in public schools, already finds itself in a hole when competing against other countries. Americans, to put it mildly, are a scientifically illiterate bunch.

Unfortunately, once Americans enter the real world, there aren't tools readily available for them to become better educated. The reason for that is that media outlets, which provide the first, most important source of education, have turned science reporting the last couple of decades into a joke.

Much of that can be attributed to a campaign waged by corporate interests to weaken how science shapes policy. Right-wing think tanks, funded at first by tobacco money and more recently flush with cash from fossil fuel concerns, have worked assiduously to weaken trust in science.

The point of journalism, however, is to weed out bad sources of information, and to make sure that weight is distributed by reliability.

Over the years, journalists have fallen down on this job, on a wide range of issues. A few years back, the New York Times gave equal weight to geologists and religious theorists in a science story exploring why books explaining the Grand Canyon's formation as via a single geologic event were in national park gift shops.

This he said/she said reporting muddled other issues, too. A few years back, the Discovery Institute came to semi-prominence during the debate over Intelligent Design. Its representatives were frequently given equal footing in stories about evolution with research biologists, even though none of them came from any relevant scientific discipline.

Perhaps no issue has been more badly muddled by bad reporting than global warming. Today, just as it has been for the last decade, the debate over global warming is about the details – how much is the globe warming and how much impact are people having? The American people are badly out of touch with the latest scientific developments, with a greater percentage skeptical than are relevant scientists.

It's not as if the American people have demanded to be kept in the dark. Surveys of media consumers regularly turns up data suggesting that people want real information on energy and environmental issues. Media managers responded with things like round-the-clock coverage of Paris Hilton's jail sentence.

That started to change the last couple of years. Over the loud, noisy objections of politically motivated operatives, journalists have started reporting the issues based on science, not talking points. Media companies pledged to beef up their coverage.

Cuts at CNN, and at other networks, are an unfortunate reversal of that. Although the trend has been toward better coverage, the damage has already been done. The Internet, where people increasingly get their information, has a long memory, is filled with garbage and has no internal way to filter out nonsense. The risk, then, is that of people more thirsty for science information, but whose thirst is at risk of being sated by information made available when journalism was sitting down on the job.

© 2009 North Star Writers Group.

Dr. Egnor: taking medicocrity to a whole new level


Category: Religious Extremism

Posted on: January 3, 2009 10:35 PM, by PalMD

I hate to do this to you but I have to fisk a fisking. You see, Dr. Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon, was a bit miffed about my takedown of a particularly idiotic post of his.

For those of you who left your program at the gate, Egnor is a (apparently competent) neurosurgeon in New York. He's known on the internets for having joined up with the creationist cult pseudoscientific organization, the Discovery Institute. Just as DI has little to say of relevance to the history of life on Earth, Egnor has little of relevance to say about medical science, as far as I can tell.

The thing is, his skills as a neurosurgeon are likely to be unaffected by his religious beliefs. Not so his critical thinking skills. As I explored in the aforementioned piece, Egnor has bought into the garbage spewed forth by some of the worst quacks on the Continent. While I happen to think his religious beliefs are somewhere between cute and silly, I find his medical beliefs (and that is what they are---beliefs) execrable. And so, I jotted down some of my thoughts about the ways in which his thinking is muddled.

His response to my response? More logical fallacies. More smoke and mirrors.

I would have loved to see him try to defend his ideas on facts. You know, things you can measure, or at least conceive of measuring. Maybe a plea from him to look beyond whatever narrow worldview I hold, to look at a big picture that I'm missing.

But no, he goes straight for one of my favorites, the non sequitur. Let me explain.

Just to review, the non sequitur is one of the weakest rhetorical devices. It just shouts, "my argument is so weak that QUICK, LOOK A MOOSE!!!!."

In this case, rather than discussing his misguided view about benefit vs. harm in medicine, he bemoans my supposed anonymity (program note/shameless plug: don't forget ScienceOnline09, at which I will be co-moderating a discussion on pseudo- and anonymity in the blogosphere). You see, whatever handle I choose to blog under (and I happen to like mine), it is the content of my writing that should be judged (and if you're feeling cruel, the style as well). This judgment should be separate from any knowledge of who I am, which is hardly a secret (although I do try to keep it one click away from easy spamming and trolling).

But Egnor is out of ideas, so he goes right for the...shins. He bemoans the cowardice of my anonymity (sic), without addressing the content of my criticism. For example, after quoting from my piece:

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.

He explicitly eschews the content, and goes straight for a mix of ad hominem attack and misdirection. Has this guy ever actually followed a hyperlink?

Oh, after calling me a whole bunch of names, he does state a supposed fact: half of all Americans are devout Christians who take Genesis literally.

Roffle roffle. Really? According to Gallup, the number of Americans who believe the Bible is the literal word of God is closer to a third, making it just as irrelevant as any arugumentum ad populum. According to another poll, in which about half of Americans did not believe in evolution, about 74% of Americans with post-graduate degrees "believe in" evolution.

Remember, truth is consistent with itself. Reality doesn't care how many people vote for it. It's still reality. I'd be willing to wager that well over half the population doesn't know what gravity is other than it having something to do with falling. Still, they don't fly off the globe.

Dr. Egnor, despite all your posturing and irrelevant blogviating, you haven't addressed any facts. Like the rest of the Discovery Institute, you seem unhappy that reality doesn't conform to your beliefs. That's kind of pitiful.

Just remember, no matter how firmly grounded you feel your beliefs to be, Eppur, si mouve.

PalMD is a practicing internist in the Midwestern United States. Aside from the great joy he finds in his family and his work, he likes communicating some of that joy to others. He has a special interest in the ways patients---and we are all patients at one time or another---are deceived by charlatans. He aims to change the world, one reader at a time. Previous writings can still be found here.

Review: Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne


10:16 05 January 2009 by Rowan Hooper

The first "why" that struck me on seeing Why Evolution is True was why do we need yet another book on evolution? There are lots of good ones out there already and nothing less than a mountain of evidence to support the reality of evolution by natural selection.

But we do need another, insists Jerry Coyne, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Chicago, because creationism is spreading.

And he's right - creationism is all over the place, not just in the US, where it often gains huge amounts of publicity. In December, a UK poll found that 29% of science teachers thought that creationism should be taught in science classes alongside evolution; a state of affairs that Richard Dawkins called "a national disgrace". It is also on the rise in Islamic countries.

Careful persuasion

Creationism, Coyne tells us in this wide-ranging, beautifully written account, is like a roly-poly clown that pops back up when you punch it. But he resists the temptation to punch. He seeks to persuade, by carefully leading the reader through the overwhelming evidence, that evolution is a fact.

The audience is those who are uncertain about explanations of life's diversity. The book is not aimed at people who hold faith-based positions - Coyne considers them to be lost causes - but you have to wonder how many people who are "uncertain" will be won over.

Coyne describes, for example, giving a talk on evolution versus intelligent design/creationism to a group of rich Chicago businessmen. You would think that people in the business world might think that evidence for something is worth taking into account, but this was the response Coyne got from one audience member after his lecture: "I found your evidence for evolution very convincing - but I still don't believe it".

Wedding present

It is unfortunate that there are large numbers of people for whom no amount of evidence and elegant argument will do. For those of us comfortable with the fact of evolution, even those already familiar with many of the arguments and the examples demonstrating evolution, there is much in his book that is new and stimulating, even refreshing.

I loved reading of how Raymond Dart was literally handed the greatest fossil find of the twentieth century - the "missing link" between apes and modern man - while dressing for a wedding. Other highlights include a section on the remnant signs of evolution, such as the vestigial tail at the end of our spines, and a fascinating account of how evolution and even speciation can be seen occurring before our very eyes in the lab.

Coyne ends by asking where evolution leaves us, and shows that it ennobles us, that human civilisation has improved despite our animal nature. That's why, when creationism is spreading to the extent that there is even a creationist church in the main town in the Galapagos, of all places, that we need another book on evolution. This is a marvellous one.

Top ten evolution articles in 2008


Posted by ranjankul in Other News

New Scientist has made a list of the top ten evolution articles that it presented in the year 2008.

So, the top 10 articles on evolution in 2008 are: -

How trees changed the world: 450 million years ago, there was no such thing as a tree, with few plants growing more than a centimeter tall. Between then and now, things happened to give another dimension to plant growth and to create the diversity we see today.

Reclaiming the peppered moth for science: The peppered moth used to be the textbook example of evolution in action. Then, about a decade ago, creationists began an orchestrated a campaign to discredit it - and with it the entire edifice of evolution. Now biologists are fighting to take it back.

Uncovering the evolution of the bacterial flagellum: The whip-like tail of some bacteria has become the cause celebre of the "intelligent design" movement and a focal point in science's ongoing struggle against unreason.

Evolution: What missing link? - The fossil record used to be thought of as a patchy and unreliable record of evolutionary change. Today, that record is much more dependable. When it comes to "transitional fossils" - those that bridge the gap between major groups of organisms - we now have some excellent examples.

Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions - Evolution is perhaps the best known yet least understood of all scientific theories. New Scientist presented the facts behind common misunderstandings that have grown up around the concept.

Rewriting Darwin: The new non-genetic inheritance - We resemble our parents and can fall prey to the same diseases mainly because we inherit their genes. Yet, there is another form of inheritance that does not rely on genes, one that allows characteristics to be passed on that are acquired during a person's lifetime.

The Ordivician: Life's second big bang - The Cambrian period, starting about 540 million years ago, is famous for the appearance of all but one of the types of creatures we see around us today. Yet in terms of new species, this period cannot hold a candle to a little-known explosion of life called the Great Ordivician Biodiversification Event.

Vestigial organs: Remnants of evolution - From goosebumps to wisdom teeth, vestigial organs have long perplexed biologists. What was their original purpose and what happened to make them redundant? (ANI)