Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Issue date: 2/3/09 Section: Opinion
It is now the 21st century, which is why I find it amazing to see some of my fellow students at UNM still buying into ideas that were dispelled in the 18th century.
The first scientists to show that creationism was wrong were not biologists, whom most people would think, but geologists.
Early geologists started to discover fossils from past life and noticed that 6,000 years is not nearly enough time to account for the diversity in the fossil record. Those first geologists were able, by using the fossil record, to construct the geological time scale that we still use today. The reason they were able to do this was biostratigraphy. The early geologists noticed that only in certain strata layers one would find certain fossils. In addition, the fossil record shows a gradual buildup of complexity through time.
Furthermore, Charles Darwin's idea was not that we came from monkeys; it was that the diversity of life on Earth is due to descent with modification. Darwin proposed that the mechanism for this modification was natural selection and sexual selection.
If anyone wants to learn more about this idea, I suggest that they take Anthropology 150 and the lab that goes with it. The class counts in the core requirements as a natural science.
As for the question asked, "Are we monkeys?" No, humans are not, but we are apes. From the cusps of our molars to our tailless bottoms and much in between, the human body screams ape anatomy. To go one step further, we are primates, which include monkeys. We are distantly related to modern monkeys. To everyone dancing around in the monkey masks, I suggest visiting the Maxwell Museum, which is located in the Anthropology Department. The Maxwell Museum is a museum about anthropology. "Ancestors Exhibit" is on permanent display, which has many hominids that came before modern humans. With great resources such as the ones pointed out before and many more in the anthropology, biology and geology department, there should be no excuse to remain ignorant on the origins of humans.
Confirmed Darwinist Explores the Possibility of Creationist Theory
In From Whence We Came, author Robert Soper presents his theory on why man suddenly changed from nomadic to civilized
NICE, France (MMD Newswire) February 3, 2009 -- In From Whence We Came: The Biblical Age of World Enlightenment, author Robert Soper offers a new look at man's origins, as he examines Darwinism, Creationism and new theories about the pyramids.
Did man spring from Adam or from an amoeba? Is it possible to believe in one of the world's great religions whilst at the same time accepting the principles of Darwin?
Yes, suggests the author. In his book, Soper attempts to prove that the Egyptian pyramids could never have been built the way experts believed, and instead, he gives what he feels is a viable, spiritual alternative for how and why they were constructed. As he explores and debunks what he believes are biblical myths and Darwinist inaccuracies, Soper also explores incidences that he feels add weight to the Creationist lobby.
Using the Bible and other source material, Soper aims to look at the ancient world through the logical eyes of an engineer. What happened simultaneously 20,000 years ago, he asks, which suddenly gave man the technical knowledge and tools to succeed? Soper explores where this knowledge may have come from and what it could all mean for people today. Meant to be stimulating to both Creationists and Darwinists, Soper feels that From Whence We Came will have readers both challenged and inspired.
About the Author
Robert Soper is the published author of World Slavery, which received runner-up in the non-fiction book category at the 2008 DIY Book Festival in Los Angeles and The Bones of Cathy King, which received first place in the unpublished category at the festival. The former editor of the in-house magazine for one of Britain's biggest motor racing clubs, he is now retired from his business career and living near Nice, France.
Feb. 3, 2009
by Gwen Evans
This is going to be a big year for evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin: 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book "On the Origin of Species," and Feb. 12 would be his 200th birthday. Throughout the year, Darwin Day events are planned around the world to celebrate the man and his work, and to explore Darwin's legacy of science and reason. (Read about events planned at UW-Madison.)
On the top of many Darwin Day speakers lists is Ronald Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine in UW-Madison's departments of Medical History and Bioethics and the History of Science, two of the nation's oldest such departments. Numbers is one of the world's leading authorities on the responses to Darwin and he has been invited to speak at Darwin anniversary events the world over, including the Vatican in March.
Just a few of the publications to his credit include "Darwinism Comes to America," "The Creationists," "Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew," and "Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths About Science and Religion."
His professional accolades include being named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to name a few.
Numbers' most recent tribute came from the History of Science Society, which honored him with the Sarton Medal, given to an outstanding historian of science selected from the international community in honor of lifetime scholarly achievement. "Receiving the Sarton Medal was an honor, but it didn't earn me any extra respect from my colleagues here," laughs Numbers.
Numbers sees the world through the eyes of a scientist but can appreciate the power and pull of the religious arguments for denying evolution, without dismissing the believers as ignorant or stupid.
Numbers is perhaps the unlikeliest of people to have become an expert on illuminating the interaction of scientific reason and religion. The son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister, he was educated in Adventist schools and grew up firmly believing in creationism and his church's literal reading of the Bible: that God created the world 6,000 years ago and that the fossil record can be explained by the one year of Noah's flood.
Then, while a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, he attended a lecture on the fossil forests of Yellowstone National Park. What he heard that evening sparked a crisis of faith that shook the foundation of his understanding of the world and his place in it. "That was the crack in the dam. I accepted that night the possibility that life had been on earth for 30,000 years," says Numbers. "Once I decided to accept scientific evidence against inspired claims, there was no stopping. I kind of knew it that night. I started questioning everything."
His loss of faith caused enormous pain and shame to his family – some of the old relationships and friendships are still strained. But perhaps it is his background that perfectly prepared Numbers to become a scholar on the history of science and religion. He sees the world through the eyes of a scientist but can appreciate the power and pull of the religious arguments for denying evolution, without dismissing the believers as ignorant or stupid.
Numbers is also respected by both evolutionists and creationists – he's even been asked to collaborate with some young Adventist historians on a book for a conference this October. "Some of my friends think I'm totally nuts to do something like this. But I don't much care about the personal beliefs of the historians as long as they are willing to confront the evidence in a naturalistic way. No miracles," says Numbers.
As for Darwin, Numbers says Darwin was not the first person to write on evolution. An anonymous book, "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," was published in 1844. Among other things, Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" recounted the scientific observations he made during his five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle to South America and the Pacific.
Numbers also says Darwin's ideas are often misunderstood and get muddled with furious debates on human evolution (there was only one sentence in the book on that subject), creationism and intelligent design.
Numbers spoke with Wisconsin Week to shed some light on Darwin and the confusing and conflicting beliefs of antievolutionists.
Wisconsin Week: At the time of its publication in 1859, was "On the Origin of Species" controversial?
Numbers: "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation" was much more sensational and it sold better than Darwin. … Geologists had found lots of evidence of different inhabitants, fossils and animals of the past, but they stayed away from humans. It wasn't until the late 1850s that fairly conclusive evidence of human antiquity appeared. That really shook things up. And then Darwin argued that there's no such thing as a fixed species. Darwin, though, still allowed for the possibility of a creator … and showed how, by natural law, God could have populated the Earth by means of evolution. This took the sting out of things so it wasn't a choice between God and science.
WW: What don't we understand about Darwinism?
RN: One of the facts about Darwinism that is not well known is that the one part of Darwin's theory that was least accepted by fellow biologists was the theory of natural selection. He said that his main goal in writing "On the Origin of Species" was to overthrow the dogma of separate creations, which later came to be known as creationism — that God did it. He wanted a natural explanation for the origin of species. He said he was partial to the theory of natural selection as the mechanism for producing species … but he wasn't identifying natural selection as the heart of his theory.
Most people in the 19th century did not equate Darwinism with natural selection; Darwinism generally meant evolution. Within 15 years of the publication of "On the Origin of Species," most biologists had become evolutionists. A consensus about natural selection didn't develop until the 1930s and 1940s. Since then, there's been a lot of reading back into the past, with many biologists insisting that true Darwinism is evolution based on natural selection.
WW: Can you explain why, after 150 years, there is still such resistance to evolution?
RN: For creationists, history is based on the Bible and the belief that God created the world 6,000-10,000 ago. … We humans were perfect because we were created in the image of God. And then there was the fall. Death appears and the whole account [in the Bible] becomes one of deterioration and degeneration. So we then have Jesus in the New Testament, who promises redemption. Evolution completely flips that. With evolution, you don't start out with anything perfect, you start with primitive little wiggly things, which evolve into apes and, finally, humans. There's no perfect state from which to fall. This makes the whole plan of salvation silly because there never was a fall. What you have then is a theory of progress from single-celled animals to humans and a very, very different take on history, and not just human history.
WW: What do Americans believe about creation and evolution?
RN: Since the early 1980s, the Gallup Poll has asked something along the lines whether respondents believed that the first humans were created no more than 10,000 years ago. Responses have varied from 43-48 percent [believing this]. In 2005 or 2006, there was a different question added that asked if they believed in or leaned toward creationism, and 65.5 percent said yes. That's two-thirds of Americans! What we don't know, because no pollster has asked, is how many of these are old-earth creationists [who believe the Earth is old but that humans didn't appear until about 10,000 years ago]. It doesn't tell us much about young-earth creationists [who believe that all life began about 10,000 years ago]. [The poll] does tell us about suspicion toward evolution, especially human evolution. Also, it doesn't distinguish between creationism and intelligent design.
WW: What is intelligent design and where does it fit in?
RN: I suspect most people don't understand what intelligent design is. I've talked to enough people who didn't understand it to make me really suspicious, and there are even people who lecture about it and don't know what they're talking about. I don't define it; what I do is let the advocates of intelligent design speak for themselves. The biggest object of criticism from the intelligent design camp is known as "methodological naturalism."
The term "methodological naturalism" didn't exist until the 1980s, but the movement, based on the idea that scientists should limit themselves to nonsupernatural explanations, existed before then. Thus, if you come to a tough spot, and you say "God did it and there was a miracle," that's not doing science. Under the rule of methodological naturalism, that's cheating. That's a science stopper right there. From roughly 1750-1850, in one scientific discipline after another, the scientific practitioners lined up with the notion that there would be no more miracles in what was coming to be called "science." You could believe in miracles, but it wouldn't count as science. You could, for example, still share your beliefs about the role of God in nature with your church group, but you couldn't invoke God in, say, an article for the American Journal of Science and say, "And here's where God stepped in." This became a fundamental rule, and not just in science. Even historians adopted it and quit appealing to God or to Satan. Christians became avid practitioners of methodological naturalism because it didn't require them to deny their faith.
Now, the founders of the intelligent design movement regarded this as a terrible position. They argued that if the goal of science was to discover truth about nature, why would scientists arbitrarily tie their hands before they started their investigations and say we refuse to mention God even if they find compelling evidence of God or an intelligent designer? Their goal was to re-sacralize science, to turn the clock back 150 years and re-allow the supernatural to count as science.
It so happened that the area where they launched their biggest attack was evolution, but, of course, it wouldn't be limited to evolution. [Evolution is where] they think they have the best evidence for irreducible complexity, where you allegedly need God in order to explain things. Intelligent designers have a huge reservoir of support, in part because people don't realize what they're up to. Close to 90 percent of Americans are theists, who believe that there is a God, and that if there is a God, that God does something. So these people are not generally averse to the notion that God had been involved in creating and running the universe. But when I ask purported partisans whether they mind if science puts in a miracle here or God and Satan there, they say "Oh, that's crazy."
They tend to think intelligent design is benign in the sense of it simply being more open to God. They don't see it as changing the one most fundamental rule for doing science, which has worked very well for 150-200 years, and to go back to the old days when you could talk about God as part of natural philosophy.
Thus, most people don't really understand intelligent design. Besides, many admirers and critics mistakenly conflate it with young-earth creationism, and others embrace it as just another critique of materialistic evolution.
Michael Behe [a leading advocate of intelligent design] claims that this discovery [of irreducible complexity, which argues that some biological systems are too complex to have evolved from a simpler form] should rank in the history of science up there with the discoveries of Newton and Lavoisier and Einstein. If he did find evidence of God, that would be huge, and I would put it up there. However, no one but Michael Behe and his buddies thinks he has discovered evidence of God. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
WW: So antievolutionists quarrel with evolution for different reasons?
RN: In this context, you have two types of evolution, theistic and nontheistic, and the boundary is very fuzzy. I joke with a friend of mine who writes on theistic evolution, asking him: "How many supernatural interventions does it take to make a creationist?" In the late 19th century, at least one prominent antievolutionist thought that the answer was only three supernatural interventions: for the creation of matter, life and humans. But many self-identified theistic evolutionists thought many more than that. So you can't even tell by the number of supernatural interventions who believed what.
Until well into the 20th century, most critics of evolution were known simply as antievolutionists. The term "creationism" wasn't widely used until the end of the 1920s, because the people who opposed evolution couldn't agree on anything. They were all Bible believers, but they had different interpretations of the Bible. Many of the fundamentalists in the 1920s, at the time of the Scopes trial, believed in the antiquity of life on Earth, that there had been millions of years of plants and animals and that the Garden of Eden occurred 6,000-10,000 years ago. Most fundamentalists who left a record of their opinions accepted the fact of the antiquity of life.
The movie "Inherit the Wind" is a complete skewering of history. William Jennings Bryan always believed that the days of Genesis represented vast geological ages. At the Scopes trial, he testified that antievolutionists didn't care whether creation had taken six days or 600 million years. Age wasn't the issue; the origin of humans was.
A much smaller group of antievolutionists explained the fossil record by attributing it to the one year of Noah's flood. They were first known as flood geologists. Then, in about 1970, they renamed themselves scientific creationists or young-earth creationists — they're all the same people.
WW: How is all this regarded by nontheistic scientists? What's all the hubbub about?
RN: To a certain extent, the controversy has been invented by science writers, to whom I would give very bad grades. Even reputable magazines such as TIME and Newsweek write about how intelligent design is splitting the science community. Over the years, the intelligent design people have kept a list of scientists willing to sign a statement in dissent from evolution – they've gotten about 700 or so to sign it. Is that high or low? You can't get a good figure on how many scientists there are in the world. But I've found a pretty reliable approximation that there are 3-10 million from the president of the International Council of Scientific Unions. From that, I took the lowest possible number, 3 million, and divided it by 700, which gives the intelligent designers less than 0.023 percent of the world's scientists. It's a miniscule percentage.
It's funny, I'd get calls from journalists during the Dover trial [2005 trial in Pennsylvania that challenged a school district's requirement to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution] and they'd ask if this was the end of young-earth creationism. No, no, no! It just means that this is the exciting event right now. And sure enough, a year and a half later, the creation museum opens [in Kentucky] and everyone says, "That's where the action is now. Was intelligent design beaten in Dover and has it now gone away?" No, they're both flourishing. It's just that the press has to have a court trial or a political battle or something weird, like a $27 million museum, to attract its attention. You can't tell anything about the issues by news coverage.
There's also this understandable, but hair-brained notion, that coverage should be balanced. Well, I guess that we should give the flat-earthers balanced treatment, too. Do we give holocaust deniers balanced treatment when it comes to talking about 20th century history? Do we give astrology or alchemy equal time? That's the defense many journalists seem to use.
I congratulate my friends in the intelligent design movement. They've convinced a large number of people there's a controversy. But the controversy is largely in their own minds and in the news coverage. And then they try to convince school boards to teach this bogus scientific controversy.
WW: How do we teach evolution?
RN: It varies greatly from place to place. Polls show that in some states a substantial percentage of biology teachers don't believe in evolution. So they're not going to be good at teaching evolution. In many places it's so controversial, some teachers just ignore it. It's taught well in some places, but overall, it's not a great achievement of American high school or collegiate education.
John A. Farrell
February 03, 2009 12:55 PM ET
Over to your right, at the start of his U.S. News op-ed on creationism, Henry Morris contends that 60 percent of Americans believe in the Jewish and Christian myth of creation: that some 10,000 years ago, a Supreme Being created an Adam and Eve and so began the human race.
He cites this statistic as a reason for including creationism, along with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in public school biology classes.
By doing so, of course, Morris exposes the silliness in his own argument.
Humans believe in lots of stupid stuff. Ghosts. UFOs. Satan. Collateralized Debt Obligations.
Our ancestors believed that the sun was a flying God named Apollo. The Hopi, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Mormons, and many other peoples have composed elaborately varying songs of creation. It is our nature, when looking out at the great twin expanses of space and eternity, to come up with comforting myths.
The alternative—"They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more"—makes for truly courageous literature, but too many sleepless nights.
Here's a challenge for Mr. Morris, as we consider the seriousness of popular opinion. Name one great movie star who hasn't played a supernatural being, or otherwise starred in a science fiction or fantasy flick.
The pop culture industry—that supposed font of liberal atheism—constantly fills our heads (and its bank accounts) with comforting imagery of dancing angels, talking pigs, kung fu pandas, star cruisers, zombies, cavemen riding dinosaurs, sensuous vampires, lost loved ones who linger as friendly spirits, comic book superheroes, cuddly aliens, prep schools for wizards, and cute beeping robots.
The Force is ever with us. When you add all that mythology to the pervasive influence of Sunday church services, religious schooling, and Christian rock radio, it's a wonder that science can carve out any space in our culture at all.
Skeptical journalism? Well, consider U.S. News—which gives Mr. Morris and his superstitions equal time, in homage to "objectivity."
And yet, we humans can compartmentalize. We may not want to weigh the pointlessness of life in every waking moment—there are too many fun things to do. But at some level we acknowledge that myths are myths and facts are facts and it's better for the race if we keep the two things separate. The place for that is science class. And we need to keep it that way.
By Kevin Hardy
Published on Wed., February 4th, 2009
Although Charles Darwin has been buried for more than 100 years, his ideas haven't rested with him.
Feb. 12 marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," in which he proposed his theory of evolution through natural selection. Several events are scheduled at the University to celebrate Darwin's work.
Bruce Lieberman, professor of geology and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum, will present the lecture "What Darwin Started: Evolution and the Fossil Record," at 7 p.m. at the Natural History Museum.
Lieberman said he would survey Darwin's work and the new discoveries that had shaped the theory of evolution since Darwin's time. He described evolution as a cornerstone to scientific knowledge.
"All scientists accept the fact that humans evolved," Lieberman said.
Despite the apparent consensus in the scientific community, creationism and intelligent design remain two popular alternatives to Darwin's theory of "descent with modification."
In a May 2008 Gallup poll, 44 percent of respondents said they believed "God created man in present form," which is the basis of creationism. In the same poll, 36 percent of respondents said they believed "man developed, with God guiding," a statement more in line with intelligent design. Forty-four percent of respondents said they agreed "man developed, but God had no part in the process."
These conflicting viewpoints remain present at the University.
"To put it very simply," said Leonard Kristalka, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, "Darwin established once and for all that all organisms, including humans, shared a genetic ancestor."
Kristalka said Darwin dismissed the idea that humans were a breed separate from other organisms.
"Just as Galileo discovered that the Earth was not at the center of the solar system," he said, "Darwin discovered that humans were not at the center of any kind of creation."
Kristalka said creationism and intelligent design went against all modern science, mistaking people's religious faith for scientific evidence.
"If people want to believe in creationism or intelligent design, that is fine," he said. "But to confuse that with knowledge is ignorant and arrogant."
According to Natural History Magazine, intelligent design was a widely accepted explanation of the natural world until the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" in 1859. Tony Bedora, a local minister with Campus Christians, said his beliefs were most closely aligned with intelligent design, the belief that biological systems resulted from purposeful design by a creator.
"I don't think I would say that evolution isn't a possibility." Bedora said. "God could have used evolution to create living things."
Kassidy Spring, Garnett sophomore, said she agreed with microevolution, the idea that small changes occurred within species over time. However, Spring said she took issue with macroevolution, major evolutionary changes that occurred at the level of species. She said she didn't believe humans evolved from another species, but that evidence showed things had changed over time.
"I think the only explanation for the fact that we live in an environment that is so perfect for us, that our bodies function with near perfection, and that our natural world works in perfect order," Spring said," "is that there had to be something that designed and created it all."
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, creationism, the belief that an absolute god created all living things as they now exist, wasn't a major part of the religious scene until after the Civil War.
Jennifer Harness, Ottawa senior, described herself as a creationist. She said she took the first two books of Genesis "quite literally" and believed the world had been in existence for 18,000 to 50,000 years. She also said she believed dinosaurs and humans coexisted at some point in time.
"There may even be things existing today that we think are extinct that would create a paradigm shift in our thinking," she said.
Harness said her skepticism of evolution stemmed from her personal faith.
"In my opinion," she said, "we can't prove that all life on earth began as an accident."
Lieberman acknowledged that science and popular opinion were not exactly on the same page.
"Science is not necessarily a popularity contest," Lieberman said. "We're in a time where this debate is politically charged. Science should be and tries to be outside the realm of politics."
In addition to the lecture, the Natural History Museum will host a birthday party for Darwin at 4 p.m. on Feb. 12.
The radio drama "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial," based on the John Scopes evolution trial will be performed tonight at the Lied Center. Hollywood's Ed Asner and John Heard highlight the show's cast.
— Edited by Chris Horn
February 5, 2009
Scientists are preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin, writes Deborah Smith.
Cane toads marching across the top end of Australia are a striking example of evolution in action. In the seven decades since these poisonous pests were introduced to Australia, both the invaders and the native animals they can kill have changed as a result of natural selection.
Most dramatically, the toads at the front line of the offensive have evolved much longer legs that allow them to hop further and faster, conquering 40 to 50 kilometres of new territory a year.
Evolution - "descent with modification", as Darwin put it - may have the reputation of being a very slow process, taking thousands or even millions of years. But it can also occur very quickly, says a University of Sydney biologist, Rick Shine, who has charted the onslaught of the marauding amphibians.
Fortunately for native species, the super toads are also more prone to arthritis and diseased spines, which could be their eventual undoing.
"There has been a cost to taking a toad with a body plan meant to sit around in a swamp and turning it into a long-distance athlete," he says.
The toad's native predators, including red-bellied black snakes, have also evolved new survival tricks. "There has even been a shift in the relative head size of the snakes that make it less likely that they can eat a toad large enough to kill them," Professor Shine says.
He is sure that Charles Darwin would be pleased to hear these quintessentially Australian stories if he were here. "I think Charles would be sitting back feeling very excited about some of the recent work showing that his beloved evolutionary process occurs much more rapidly than he thought," Professor Shine says.
The great naturalist's 200th birthday next Thursday will be celebrated in Sydney, around Australia and across the globe with dinners, public lectures, conferences, new books and exhibitions. November, as well, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's most famous tome, On The Origin Of Species.
Philip Batterham, a geneticist at the University of Melbourne and organiser of a conference in Melbourne next week called Evolution: The Experience, says it is appropriate that this year is also the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning his telescope to the skies. Both giants of science changed forever the view of our place in the world.
"Galileo showed that the earth did not sit at the centre of the universe, and Darwin said that as human beings on this earth, we are not separate from other life," Professor Batterham says. "We are a branch on the tree of life."
Darwin's brilliance was in recognising the complexity of life and distilling the simplicity of its common ancestry. "Like many great discoveries, if you look in retrospect, you can see how elegant it was," he says.
Darwin knew nothing about genetics, or how DNA provides the variation that underpins natural selection and survival of the fittest. "But he got the process remarkably right."
As a researcher on agricultural pests, such as the cotton bollworm, that rapidly develop resistance to insecticides, Professor Batterham says "there are times when we want to stop evolution". Disease-causing microbes that quickly develop resistance to drugs are another major concern.
Darwin's birthday is also the perfect opportunity to consider our future, and whether our species will survive climate change, and how much damage will be done to ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforests. "They're intrinsically Darwinian questions," Professor Batterham says.
Evolution, extinction and global warming will be the theme of a Dining With Darwin dinner in Sydney next Wednesday night, organised by the Australian Museum and Botanic Gardens Trust. The CSIRO scientist Michael Raupach, who is one of the speakers, says that our world has been shaped by evolutionary cycles of diversification and winnowing. "However, we are now facing such rapid environmental shifts from climate change that unguided evolution cannot keep up. Our only option is to use our brains as well, to guide us out of climate and ecological danger zones that we can foresee, before we blunder into them."
We live on a finite planet, says Dr Raupach, co-chairman of the Global Carbon Project. "Our future depends on living within its means."
After Darwin returned to England following his five-year voyage in the Beagle, he never left his native British Isles again. But in the next 40 years he was enormously productive, says Steve Jones, a geneticist at University College London. "In a lifetime he did about six lifetimes' worth of science. I'm left breathless with admiration."
Darwin's most famous book, however, has tended to obscure the genius of his other research on topics including earthworms, barnacles, plant hormones, and expressions of joy and despair in dogs, apes and men, he says. "He wrote six million words in 19 published works, hundreds of scientific papers and innumerable letters."
Professor Jones, who will give a public talk in Sydney tonight showing "human evolution is more or less over", has updated these lesser-known works in his new book, Darwin's Island: The Galapagos In The Garden Of England, as a tribute to the "founder of the science of life".
Like Sir David Attenborough, he receives lots of hate mail from creationists. It's a good sign, he says. "These guys know they're idiots, and they don't like being reminded of it."
But scientists need to be careful in the way they handle the religion versus evolution debate, says a Florida University philosopher, Michael Ruse, an agnostic who has been an expert witness in legal challenges to teaching creationism in US schools.
Professor Ruse, who will give a public talk in Sydney on February 17, believes the British evolutionist Professor Richard Dawkins is playing into the hands of the creationists by attempting to tie Darwin's theories to atheism, a religious view which can't be taught in US schools. "It gives the creationists a legal case," he says.
The evolution conference will cover many areas, including the theory that music has been central to the evolution of the human mind and the question of why we love the foods that make us obese and send us to an early grave.
But Professor Batterham, a Christian, says the celebrations in Melbourne will also include a church service that will explore the common ground between science and biblical belief. "We want to build bridges rather than burn them. There's been enough of that over the past 150 years."
Both faith and science are pursuits of truth, he says. "And at least we both believe life is precious."
Details of Darwin celebrations are at evolutionaustralia.org.au.
February 3, 11:20 PM
by Holly LaFon, Dallas City Hall Examiner
The great rift of hearts and minds in this country over the topic of our origins showed little sign of closing recently when the Texas Board of Education shuffled their policies on teaching evolution in schools.
The change involved leaving out the requirement that students be taught both the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution (the measure to keep the "strengths and weaknesses" language, present since the 80's, in the newly redesigned curriculum only just failed because the Board members tied the vote).
As an intelligent-design blogger at the Discovery Institute noted (and as the story in the media at large soon shifted to reflect), simultaneous with this defeat was the success of a measure calling for students to discuss the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of Darwinism – presumably this means discussing whether or not Darwinism is a sufficient explanation for biodiversity.
It is hard to see the difference between these two measures – in a way, one might argue that the "sufficiency" measure is more threatening to Darwinism, as if one discusses strengths and weaknesses a nuanced portrait is painted (whether or not such nuances are accurate) whereas if one frames the issue in terms of potential insufficiency, the door to wholesale rejection is opened. It seems, in short, that contrary to the tone of early reports, there were no decisive victories in the ongoing debate, and the status quo was reinforced.
What is so tragic about all of this is that is hard not to feel that attitudes on both sides contribute to the deadlock. On some level, the attitudes are understandable - the various evidentiary arguments on both sides are far too detailed to go into here, of course, but they both have the character of asserting completely contradictory statements.
To the ID-theorists, creationists, and doubters, there are many scientists and thinkers who cast legitimate doubt on evolution, whereas to the majority of the scientific community, these figures are flatly treated as nonexistent or illegitimate. As long as this is the case, the conflict will continue.
What is needed is some willingness on both sides to imagine what is unthinkable to them, and to at least pretend that their side could be wrong – if the engagement is open in this nature, the opportunity arises for collaborative investigation and mutual agreement on the results. When evolution proponents call the attempts of their opponents Trojan horse schemes to sneak creationism into school, little is served – it would be wiser, to try and defeat the objections on their own terms rather than cast aspersions about motives.
Similarly, those with objections to Darwinism would be wise to unpack and be open about their metaphysical, moral, and religious qualms about the theory – even if their evidentiary claims are legitimate, pretending that their dismay about Darwinism is a purely scientific reaction causes their opponents to doubt their motives and good faith.
More than one-fifth prefer creationism or intelligent design, while many others are confused about Darwin's theory
The Rescuing Darwin survey was timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth
Half of British adults do not believe in evolution, with at least 22% preferring the theories of creationism or intelligent design to explain how the world came about, according to a survey.
The poll found that 25% of Britons believe Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "definitely true", with another quarter saying it is "probably true". Half of the 2,060 people questioned were either strongly opposed to the theory or confused about it.
The Rescuing Darwin survey, published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, found that around 10% of people chose young Earth creationism – the belief that God created the world some time in the last 10,000 years – over evolution.
About 12% preferred intelligent design, the idea that evolution alone is not enough to explain the structures of living organisms. The remainder were unsure, often mixing evolution, intelligent design and creationism together. The survey was conducted by the polling agency ComRes on behalf of the Theos thinktank.
A spokesman for Sense about Science, an independent charitable trust, said it was important for scientists and educators to disentangle religious belief from evidence.
James Williams, a lecturer at Sussex University, said: "Creationists ask if people believe in evolution. Evolution is a theory and a fact. You accept it because of the evidence. What the creationists have done is put a cloak of pseudo-science to wrap up their religious belief."
Later this month scientists and academics from across Europe will meet in Dortmund, Germany, to discuss evolution and creationism. It will be the first European conference of its kind to deal with different aspects of attitudes and knowledge related to evolution. They will discuss specific difficulties regarding the acceptance of evolution theory in their home countries.
Williams, who will give a paper presenting a British perspective on evolution and creationism in school science, said: "Evolution is very badly taught in schools so the results of the survey don't surprise me. On the other hand, creationism has traditionally been an issue in North America and there is a big problem in Australia and Turkey. It matters if people don't understand how science works."
The Rescuing Darwin project includes the launch of Darwin and God, a new book on the naturalist's religious beliefs, at Westminster Abbey, where he is buried, and a debate about evolution and religion. Participants will include Dr Denis Alexander, Lord Robert Winston, Professor Steve Jones and Professor Nancy Rothwell.
Events celebrating Darwin's achievements are taking place throughout the year. Cambridge University is hosting a festival to unravel themes of science, society, literature, philosophy, theology and music arising from his writings, life and times.
The Natural History Museum, in London, is exhibiting previously unseen specimens and artefacts, while Darwin's home in Kent, Down House, opens to the public from 13 February.
National Geographic News
February 3, 2009
It's an evolutionary discovery Darwin himself would have been proud of.
Forty-seven million years ago primitive whales gave birth on land, according to a study published this week that analyzes the fossil of a pregnant whale found in the Pakistani desert.
When the fossil was discovered, nine years ago, University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich was thrown off by the jumble of adult and fetal-size bones.
"The first thing we found [were] small teeth, then ribs going the wrong way," Gingerich said. Later, "it was just astonishing to realize why the specimen in the field was so confusing."
The head-first position of the fetus was especially telling.
Land mammals are generally born head first, and marine mammals are born tail first.
"It is not surprising that it was born on land," said Gingerich, who has received funding for his work from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
"There is a high rate of mortality associated with giving birth at sea," he said. Newborn whales risk drowning, getting lost, and being eaten by sharks, among other things.
"On land, you still have to hide, but there are fewer threats," he explained.
The fossil is a cousin of the contemporary early whales Rodhocetus and Artiocetus, which came from the same fossil beds.
Whales' slow transition from land to sea is documented in other fossils, but this is the most complete to fill a gap during this time period.
"This is a big discovery because it tells us about life history, or the way early whales lived their lives, [which is something] that is difficult to learn from fossils," Gingerich said.
The most famous other seafaring animals to be found fossilized with a complete fetus were ichthyosaurs, a reptile group that lived roughly 245 to 100 million years ago.
"Not since have we seen fossils of marine-dwelling vertebrates that tell us so much about the biology of evolving an ocean dwelling way of life from a terrestrial ancestor," said Louis Jacobs, a vertebrate paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas.
"It is a missing link of the most informative sort," Jacobs added.
"Charles Darwin would delight."
February marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the150th anniversary of publication of the Origin of Species.
(Read more about Darwin's evolutionary theories in National Geographic magazine's "Darwin's First Clues" [February 2009].)
From Land to Sea
For the last 30 years, Gingerich has scrubbed the sands of Pakistan and Egypt—where an ancient ocean once hit the shore—for fossils that help piece together whale evolution.
Still, much remains unknown about the trajectory from land to sea.
What paleontologists do know about the first whale ancestor is that it was originally a furry, four-legged omnivore that evolved into a range of amphibious species nearly 50 million years ago, and then into fully aquatic species around 45 million years ago.
Whales eventually lost the connection between their backbone and hind legs, then gradually lost the hind legs and vestigial bones completely.
The new adult fossil—8 feet (2.6 meters) long—has four legs, with the hind two still connected to the backbone. The fetus has well developed teeth, indicating that it was prepared to fend for itself soon after birth.
"The completeness of the limbs and limb bones make it possible for the first time, I believe, to analyze the limb function and ability of the animal to move in and out of the water," said Duke University paleontologist Elwyn Simons.
"These complete limbs are almost exactly intermediate between a seagoing creature and a land animal."
Before they shed their hind legs, land-dwelling whale ancestors are believed to have scavenged dead fish that washed up along the shore, eventually sliding into the ocean after recognizing feeding opportunities there, Gingerich said.
"Seals and sea lions did the same thing," he added. "But they seemingly stopped part way, whereas whales kept going.
The new study appears this month in the online journal PLoS One.
Fossils Show How Whales Evolved to Hear Underwater (August 11, 2004)
Ancient Walking Whales Shed Light on Ancestry of Ocean Giants (September 19, 2001)
Whales Evolved From Tiny Deerlike Mammals, Study Says (December 19, 2007)
Discovery Institute today announced the launch of Academic Freedom Day in honor of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday on February 12, 2009.
"We're celebrating Charles Darwin's birthday by supporting what he supported: academic freedom," said Robert Crowther, Director of Communications at Discovery Institute. "Like Darwin, we recognize the importance of having an open and honest debate between evolution and intelligent design."
In his revolutionary On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question." This quote is the cornerstone of the Institute's Academic Freedom Day efforts.
The Institute's Center for Science and Culture is sponsoring Academic Freedom Day, assisting student groups, clubs, and individual students to organize Academic Freedom Day Events centered on Darwin's birthday and his fair-minded approach to freedom of inquiry.
These events will give students and youth workers a way to express their support for free speech and the right to debate the evidence for and against evolution. In preparation for Academic Freedom Day, the CSC has launched academicfreedomday.com, a website where students and others will be equipped to support academic freedom and fight censorship in tangible ways, like signing the academic freedom petition on evolution, wearing Academic Freedom Day t-shirts, entering the academic freedom on evolution video and essay contest, screening movies like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed starring Ben Stein and Icons of Evolution, and starting Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) clubs.
"With the release of Expelled last year, we found that many young people want to know what they can do to stand up for academic freedom," Crowther explained. "Now we're equipping them to make a difference in science education across the country."
For more information on Academic Freedom Day, visit www.academicfreedomday.com.
Posted by Robert Crowther on February 4, 2009 9:32 AM | Permalink
Submitted by SHNS on Wed, 02/04/2009 - 11:15. By DAVID YOUNT, Scripps Howard News Service religion
After being summoned by inquisitors and shown the instruments of torture, the scientist Galileo consented to keep to himself his disquieting discovery that the Earth is not at the center of God's universe.
Charles Darwin, born 200 years ago, preached a more disturbing theory -- that the physical universe had evolved by chance, with no need for a creator.
Unlike Galileo, the Victorian scientist was honored in life and death by his Christian nation. To this day, tourists tread upon a marble slab in London's Westminster Abbey, inscribed, "Charles Robert Darwin. Born 12 February 1809. Died 19 April 1882."
Although he was not threatened by inquisitors, Darwin hesitated 17 years before publishing his findings in "On the Origin of Species," acknowledging that "it was like confessing to a murder." He waited another dozen years before releasing "The Descent of Man," in which he concluded, "Man, with all his noble qualities, still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origins." The contemporary English commentator Brian Appleyard says, "Implicit in this is the statement: we are not the children of God, the noble stewards of creation; we are deeply embedded in the blind workings of nature, cousins to the virus and the vegetable." In short, we humans are at the mercy of mutable nature, and only the fittest of us will survive.
To this day, with rare exceptions, the scientific community agrees with Darwin, while most Americans cling to the notion that God created the universe and maintains it, cherishing homo sapiens as his greatest triumph.
I was educated by Catholic nuns, whose faith was not shattered by Galileo's and Darwin's discoveries. The sisters taught evolution because they assumed it was simply the mechanism through which the creator chose to work. I suspect that most Americans are comfortable with the same notion, sensing no clear conflict between science and faith on the matter.
In America today, 200 years after Darwin's birth, it is mainly pious school boards that fear that exposing children to evolution in the classroom amounts to teaching them to be atheists.
Galileo's heliocentrism can be demonstrated, but Darwin's evolution can only be theorized. The Victorian scientist knew nothing about genes, nor could he explain how random mutations could produce something as complex as an eye. Although Darwin observed micro evolution in the shape of beaks of Galapagos birds, "his conclusion that this proved ... species transforming into other species was a leap of faith," Appleyard says.
Originally, scientists assumed that every man and woman required 100,000 genes to support his or her complexity. Later they discovered we have only one-fourth or one-fifth as many genes as suspected, sharing most of them with the common mouse.
We can thank Darwin for helping us to be humble about our place in the universe, leaving room for thanking God for his imagination in creating both mice and men.
(David Yount's new book is "How the Quakers Invented America" (Rowman & Littlefield). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount(at)erols.com.)
Column: Anniversary events mark discoveries in astronomy and evolution.
By Robert C. Cowen| Columnist for The Christian Science Monitor/ February 4, 2009 edition
Science columnist Robert Cowen talks about celebrating scientific achievements during this special anniversary year.
Science columnist Robert Cowen
This is a year of celebrations for the world's scientists. Biologists remember Charles Darwin, whose 200th birthday falls within this month. November marks the 150th anniversary of his seminal book "On the Origin of Species." Astronomers honor Galileo, who made the first telescopic observations of celestial objects 400 years ago this autumn.
But while scientists whoop it up for their historic heroes, they want fellow citizens of the world to join the festivities. The aim, they say, is to share the wonder and insights of their science with all humanity.
Astronomers kicked off the International Year of Astronomy last month with a symposium in Paris. The "year" includes events organized around the world, such as well-illustrated presentations and lots of eyeball-to-telescope public viewing and Internet-accessible cosmic images. The logo branding these events proclaims "The Universe: Yours to Discover." If you want to join the fun and download that logo explore the website at astronomy2009.org.
There will likewise be many ways to celebrate Darwin's bicentennial. The high point will be a five-day festival of science in July at the University of Cambridge in England. When a similar three-day science festival was held there at Darwin's centenary in 1909, you had to be there to enjoy it. But thanks to the Internet, much of this year's festival can be shared globally. Check out the website at www.darwin2009.cam.ac.uk.
All this outreach is aimed at helping to increase public understanding of science. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which supports the Cambridge festival, emphasized that point in its journal Science saying: "In today's society where science is broadly integrated in enhancing human welfare such a broad public understanding is required of not just new discoveries, but of their deep and enduring roots."
Darwin's theory of evolution envisions useful new traits arising naturally within a species giving the individuals so favored an edge for survival. This theory of natural selection or survival of the fittest remains a guiding principle in biology. But Darwin thought the changes arose only within a given species. He envisioned life's evolution as a tree starting from a single common ancestor and branching again and again as changes arising within existing species gave rise to more and more new species.
Modern DNA studies indicate that species can acquire new traits by sharing genes with each other. This makes life's evolution look more like a web of interacting strands than an ever branching tree. The question of what metaphor to use for life's evolution is at the cutting edge of biological research today. Darwin's key idea of natural selection remains useful but has itself evolved.
Scientists are keen to share their understanding of the thought processes by which yesterday's science leads to a better understanding of nature today. In an editorial in the journal Science, cosmologist Martin Rees at Britain's Cambridge University put it this way: "Science is the one truly global culture, and it is surely a cultural deprivation to be unaware of the chain of events … whereby, on at least one planet, Darwinian selection led to the emergence of creatures able to ponder their origins."
05 February 2009
By Zoë Corbyn
The University of Westminster's controversial BSc courses in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are to be overhauled to give them a stronger science content following the results of an internal audit.
The audit was commissioned last year by Geoffrey Petts, the vice-chancellor, to explore the balance between "critical scholarly activity" on the courses and their "vocational aspects" designed to produce practitioners.
In a letter to staff on 12 January, Professor Petts says he will act on recommendations from the audit, which was overseen by Alan Jago, a former Westminster pro vice-chancellor.
"The overarching aim of these actions ... is to strengthen and make more explicit the 'scientific' nature of the integrated health undergraduate degrees," he writes.
"Given the controversial nature of some of the provision in the scheme, it is essential that we are delivering on our promise of a science-based training."
He outlines a series of new initiatives to be taken by Westminster:
- strengthening scientific "learning outcomes";
- strengthening the scientific and academic qualifications of staff and the scholarly activities of practitioner staff;
- reviewing the courses and therapies to see what would be more appropriate to deliver as foundation degrees;
- clarifying in course regulations that science modules have to be passed;
- strengthening students' final-year projects to make them more scientific;
- developing high-quality MSc programmes in selected areas.
David Colquhoun, a professor of pharmacology at University College London and campaigner against degrees in complementary and alternative medicine, said the review was welcome, given an unsatisfactory status quo.
However, he said, the actions proposed by Professor Petts were "rather timid", "illogical" and "bound to fail to solve the problem".
"He now has Salford's example to think about," Professor Colquhoun said. His comment was made in reference to a decision by the University of Salford, reported in Times Higher Education in January, to stop offering undergraduate degrees in acupuncture and complementary medicine because they are no longer considered "a sound academic fit".
Westminster is the biggest provider of CAM courses in the UK, offering 11 BSc degrees. A spokesman for the university said that, once implemented, the changes would ensure that Westminster could continue to deliver courses that met both student demand and the needs of employers in this area.
The University of Central Lancashire is also currently reviewing its CAM courses.
Metroplex Institute of Origin Science
Hear Randy Guliuzza Describe
The Human Visual System
The human eye is so highly specialized that Charles Darwin mused whether his theory was not preposterous in light of the eye?s complexity. Darwin should have listened to his instincts, because scientific discoveries in the last 130 years have shown that the human visual system is so complex it is absurd to attribute its development to random natural processes. This discussion will cover several of the fascinating design features of the visual system, including microscopic and gross critical interaction between visual, memory and motor centers of the brain. The inescapable conclusion will be that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Randy Guliuzza, M.D., P.E., M.P.H. has a B.S. in Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, a B.A. in theology from Moody Bible Institute, an M.D. from the University of Minnesota, and a Masters in Public Health from Harvard University. Dr. Guliuzza served nine years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps and is a registered professional engineer. He was a physician in the U.S. Air Force until retiring in 2008. Dr. Guliuzza is a speaker and debater for the Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX.
Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy
Farmers Branch, TX
Tuesday, Febuary, 2nd, 7:30 PM
VICTORY OVER "WEAKNESSES" IN TEXAS
In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the Texas state board of education approved a revision of the state's science standards lacking the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language, which in 2003 was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. The removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language represents a tremendous victory for science education in Texas, with the Dallas Morning News (January 23, 2009) describing the failure of a proposed amendment to reintroduce it as "a major defeat for social conservatives." But the struggle is not over, for a number of scientifically indefensible revisions to the biology and earth and space science standards were adopted at the last minute. Defenders of the integrity of science education in Texas plan to expose the flaws in these revisions and hope for a reversal when the board takes its final vote on the standards at its March 26-27, 2009, meeting.
The crucial vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language took place on January 22, 2009, the second day of the board's meeting. During the first day of the board's meeting, as NCSE previously reported, dozens of witnesses expressed their views about the proposed standards, including NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who urged the board to heed the advice of the scientific and educational experts who revised the standards and decided to omit the "strengths and weaknesses" language. Board members who opposed the amendment cited the need to respect the work of the experts, according to the Morning News, with Mary Helen Berlanga commenting, "We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do," and Geraldine Miller similarly commenting, "We need to respect what our teachers have recommended to us." Similarly, Rick Agosto was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News (January 23, 2009) as saying, "I have to consider the experts.
Members of the board who favored the amendment seemed, however, to consider themselves to be experts. Ken Mercer -- who is on record as claiming that evolution is falsified by the absence of any transitional forms between cats and dogs -- was reported by the Express-News as saying that he was not going to rubber-stamp the recommendations of the experts who revised the standards. And he was also quoted by the Morning News as complaining, "The other side has a history of fraud. Those arguing against us have a bad history of lies." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, who was blogging from the meeting, reported that Mercer cited "the bogus and misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings, the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird, half-dinosaur that were all 'evolutionary frauds'" -- all of which are familiar staples of creationist literature attempting to discredit evolution.
Ultimately, as the Morning News reported, "The amendment failed to pass on a 7-7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat -- who would have opposed the amendment -- was absent." The significance of the vote was apparent to the Texas media: for example, the headline of the story in the Morning News was "Texas Board of Education votes against teaching evolution weaknesses"; the San Antonio Express-News began its story with the sentence, "A 20-year-old Texas tradition allowing public schools to teach 'both the strengths and weaknesses' of evolution succumbed to science Thursday when the State Board of Education voted to abolish the wording from its curriculum standards"; and the headline of the story in the Austin American-Statesman (January 23, 2009) was "State board shuns disputed language on evolution."
And the momentousness of the vote was not lost on NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who explained in a January 23, 2009, press release: "The misleading language [in the original science standards] has been a creationist loophole in the science TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] for decades. Its removal is a huge step forward." Similarly, the Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller commented in a January 23, 2009, statement, "This is a very important victory for sound science education. A board majority stood firmly behind 21st-century science and should be applauded." Even the Free Market Foundation -- the state affiliate of Focus on the Family -- in effect conceded the significance of the vote by issuing a press release on January 22, 2009, expressing outrage at the vote and pointedly identifying the members of the board who voted for and against the amendment to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language.
The victory was not complete, however. A flurry of amendments introduced by creationist members of the board sought to compromise the treatment of evolution in the biology standards. Terri Leo successfully proposed a revision to the standards to replace verbs such as "identify," "recognize," and "describe" in section 7 of the high school biology standards with "analyze and evaluate" -- no other section of the standards was treated similarly. Worse, Don McLeroy successfully proposed a revision to section 7 to require that students "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It is significant that "sudden appearance" is a creationist catchphrase, associated in particular with young-earth creationist Wendell Bird. During oral arguments in Edwards v. Aguillard, for example, Jay Topkis observed, "those buzzwords come right out of Mr. Bird's lexicon. ... They're his."
Just as worrying were the amendments introduced by creationist members of the board that sought to compromise the treatment of evolution and related concepts in the earth and space science standards. Barbara Cargill successfully proposed revisions to the standards to add, in her words, "humility and tentativeness; in the view of Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, however, "All five of the changes ... are not needed and were proposed to weaken and damage the ESS TEKS." The worst change was to a requirement that students "evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution," which now reads, "evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence."
NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, who was at the meeting and observed the board's confusion over these amendments, commented in NCSE's January 23, 2009, press release, "They didn't ... have time to talk to scientists about the creationist-inspired amendments made at the last minute. Once they do, I believe these inaccurate amendments will be removed." The Texas Freedom Network concurred, observing on its blog, "Board members -- none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists -- appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That's why it's foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they're scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall." With respect to McLeroy's revision, the TFN added, "What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists do."
All of the action -- the vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language and the flurry of amendments from creationist members of the board apparently eager to salvage a small victory from the defeat -- occurred on the second day of the board's meeting. On the third day, January 23, 2009, there was virtually no discussion as the board voted unanimously to adopt the science standards as revised on the previous day, without hearing any further comments from those in attendance. The vote, again, is only a preliminary vote, with a final vote on the standards expected at the board's March 26-27, 2009, meeting. The Houston Chronicle (January 23, 2009) reported, "Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March"; since a survey demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution, there ought to be no shortage of scientifically competent advice for the board to heed.
Reports in the press recognized that the overall result was a qualified victory for science, with the Houston Chronicle (January 23, 2009), for example, reporting, "Texas schools wont have to teach the weaknesses of evolution theories anymore, but the State Board of Education ushered in other proposed changes Friday that some scientists say still undermine evolution instruction and subject the state to ridicule," and reporting Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science as concerned that McLeroy's revision, if not reversed, would make the standards a laughingstock. David Hillis, a distinguished biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, added, "This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert. He also told The New York Times (January 24, 2009), "Its a clear indication that the chairman of the state school board doesnt understand the science."
In the same vein, editorials in Texas and nationally have praised the omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language but lamented the creationist revisions. The Austin American-Statesman (January 24, 2009) seemed pleased if not excited about what it termed "an incremental step away from dogma-driven curriculum decision-making," while the Waco Tribune (January 26, 2009) was happy about the omission of a phrase that "was meant to open the door to the undermining of evolution theory" but dismayed by McLeroy's revision, which it described as "a fall-back attempt by the right wing of the board to hang tough in its effort to undermine evolution theory." The New York Times (January 26, 2009), for its part, editorialized, "The lesson we draw from these shenanigans is that scientifically illiterate boards of education should leave the curriculum to educators and scientists who know what constitutes a sound education."
In addition to the newspaper reports cited above, a variety of on-line sources provided detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings: Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman blogged, and posted photographs, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog, the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs), and the Houston Press blogged the first day of the meeting. For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will continue to monitor the situation as well as to assist those defending the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star State.
For the Dallas Morning News's story, visit:
For the San Antonio Express-News's story, visit:
For the Austin American-Statesman's story, visit:
For NCSE's, TFN's, and the Free Market Foundation's press releases, visit:
For the McLeroy revisions to the standards (PDF), visit:
For the oral argument in Edwards v. Aguillard, visit:
For the Cargill revisions to the standards (PDF), visit:
For the Houston Chronicle's story, visit:
For the story in The New York Times, visit:
For the editorials mentioned, visit:
For the various blog reports, visit:
For the Texas Education Agency's minutes and audio recordings pages, visit:
For the websites of organizations supporting science education in Texas,
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
EXPLORE EVOLUTION AS CREATIONIST NOSTALGIA
Even as the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer was trying to convince the Texas state board of education of his scientific bona fides, the antievolution textbook he coauthored was receiving a scathing review in a top scientific journal. Reviewing Explore Evolution for Evolution & Development (2009; 11 : 124-125), Brian D. Metscher of the University of Vienna described it as "159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia," adding, "All the old favorites are here -- fossils saying no, all the Icons, flightless Ubx flies, irreducible flagella, even that irritating homology-is-circular thing. There are no new arguments, no improved understanding of evolution, just a remastered scrapbook of the old ideas patched together in a high-gloss package pre-adapted to survive the post-Dover legal environment. The whole effort would be merely pathetic if it did not actually represent a serious and insidious threat to education."
Unimpressed by Explore Evolution's advertised "inquiry-based approach," Metscher remarked, "The point-counterpoint organization is used to give the appearance of a comprehensive treatment, but the substance is thin, fragmented, and demonstrably biased. ... All of the topics are treated in a manner much more appropriate to discussions of theological contentions or political positions rather than to scientific discourse." (Similarly, reporting on a Biola University event to train teachers to use the textbook, NCSE's Louise S. Mead concluded, "Explore Evolution fails on every front with respect to claims of being an 'inquiry-based' curriculum.") Metscher further observed that "the 'evidence' given in this book is almost all in the form of inappropriate examples, inept analogies, unattributed intimations, and credibility-enhancing quotes from mostly nonrelevant scientific works (carefully referenced, in case you want to look up the context they're being taken out of)."
As a specialist in evolutionary developmental biology, Metscher took particular exception to Explore Evolution's misrepresentations of his field, writing, "More or less everything we call 'evo-devo' is meant to augment evolutionary theory to include factors other than the coding genome, and so these authors cite evo-devo works by real scientists as 'critiques' of 'neo-Darwinism.'" In one particularly egregious case he discussed, a claim in Explore Evolution about the evolution of the four-chambered heart "is supported by citing a single article ... which does not mention heart development, but does discuss developmental (non-neo-Darwinian) sources of evolutionary novelty. The next paragraph refers to it as a 'critique of neo-Darwinism.' And this after giving an explicit warning against the logical fallacy of equivocation." He also complained of the book's "outright abuse" when it comes to its citation of the scientific literature.
Metscher's review thus confirms John Timmer's assessment of Explore Evolution: "anyone using this as a source of information about science in the classroom will leave their students with a picture of modern biology that is essentially unrelated to the way that science is actually practiced within the biological science community." Citing Nick Matzke's 2006 discussion in Reports of the NCSE of the impending debut of Explore Evolution, Metscher expressed concern that "Together with new state education bills allowing local groups to push this stuff into classrooms, it will help dilute and weaken the already thin preparation students receive for dealing with a world full of information they need to be able to think about." Louisiana, where the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the Louisiana Science Education Act, is the most salient case in point.
For Metscher's review, visit:
For Mead's, Timmer's, and Matzke's discussions, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
THREE JOURNALS CELEBRATING THE DARWIN ANNIVERSARIES
Three journals -- Science, The Lancet, and National Geographic -- are celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species. They join Nature, which recently released "15 Evolutionary Gems," a new resource summarizing fifteen lines of evidence for evolution by natural selection, and Scientific American, which took "The Evolution of Evolution: How Darwin's Theory Survives, Thrives and Reshapes the World" as the theme of its January 2009 issue -- including NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott's discussion of the newest mutations of the antievolutionist movement in "The Latest Face of Creationism." And NCSE looks forward to a host of further journals joining the celebration!
Science is allocating a special section of its website to "celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of the author's birth with a variety of news features, scientific reviews and other special content, all collected here." Also Included are a new blog, Origins, and a monthly series of essays tackling major evolutionary questions, with January's essay, by Carl Zimmer, addressing the origin of life. Science editorially explains, "In marking his bicentenary, we reaffirm the values and practice of science, and the generous spirit of inquiry, observation, experiment, and discussion that Darwin himself exemplified. These values, and their fruits, need continued public promulgation. ... This year's bicentennial celebrations will only be a success if they meet this challenge."
A special issue of The Lancet for December 2008, entitled Darwin's Gifts, was "dedicated to Darwin's life and work and the enduring legacy of his theory of evolution" and is now freely available in a special Flash-based format. Among the topics discussed are Darwinism's fantastic voyage, The Origin of Species, Art and evolution, Evolution: medicine's most basic science, The evolution of fruit-fly biology, Socioeconomic inequalities in ageing and health, Forebears and heirs: a sketch, Synthetic biology, Darwin's charm, Bold flights of a speculative mind, Race, genetics, and medicine at a crossroads, Epigenetics in evolution and disease, Antibiotic resistance: adaptive evolution, and 21st century eugenics? The foreword is by Steve Jones, who argues, "Darwinism is the grammar of biology and should have the same role in medicine."
And Darwin is also the theme for the February 2009 issue of National Geographic. In "Darwin's First Clues," David Quammen explains, "Darwin's first real clue toward evolution came not in the Galapagos but three years before, on a blustery beach along the north coast of Argentina. And it didn't take the form of a bird's beak. It wasn't even a living creature. It was a trove of fossils. Never mind the notion of Darwin's finches. For a fresh view of the Beagle voyage, start with Darwin's armadillos and giant sloths." And in "Modern Darwins," Matt Ridley reviews how Darwin's insights have been refined, expanded, and deepened by scientists in the 150 years after the publication of the Origin. National Geographic's website also contains a video of Quammen discussing his article and even a Darwin trivia quiz.
For Nature's "15 Evolutionary Gems" (PDF), visit:
For the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, visit:
For Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit:
For the articles and resources from Science, visit:
For the special issue of The Lancet, visit:
For the articles and resources from National Geographic, visit:
DARWIN DAY APPROACHES
Less than a month remains before Darwin Day! And since 2009 is the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, it promises to be a particularly exciting celebration. Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And don't forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day Celebration website!)
And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in Evolution Weekend, February 13-15, 2009, by presenting sermons and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science. Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 889 congregations in all fifty states (and fourteen foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.
In a January 27, 2009, story at Religion Dispatches, Lauri Lebo -- the author of The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008), the latest book about the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial -- discusses the genesis of Evolution Weekend and the Clergy Letter Project. Michael Zimmerman told her that after organizing a number of letters in Wisconsin to counteract a local attempt to undermine the teaching of evolution, it struck him: "All of a sudden, here it was ... I realized, OK, I have this letter signed by 200 people in one state. I did the calculations, and figured I could come up with 10,000 signatures nationwide. I thought if I could get the signatures, I could put an end to this silliness." He added, "It never crossed my mind how big 10,000 is." (There are presently 11,814 signatories.) Lebo continues, "Despite its success, Zimmerman is under no delusion that the Clergy Letter Project will end the attacks on evolutionary education by those of fundamentalist faiths. ... Instead, hes trying to reach out to people of more mainstream faiths, who are open-minded but scientifically illiterate."
Writing on the Beacon Broadside blog in February 2008, NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch asked, "Why make such a point of celebrating Darwin Day, as opposed to, say, Einstein Day on March 14?" He answered, "A crucial reason, particularly in the United States, is to counteract the public climate of ignorance of, skepticism about, and hostility toward evolution," citing a number of current attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The onslaught continues in 2009, with struggles in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. "So thats a fine reason," as Branch recommended in 2008, "for you to devote a day -- at the museum or in a pew, at a lecture hall or in a movie theater, out in the park or indoors on a badminton court -- to learn about, discuss, and celebrate Darwin and his contributions to science, and to demonstrate your support of teaching evolution in the public schools."
For the Darwin Day Celebration website's registry of events, visit:
For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:
For Lebo's article at Religion Dispatches, visit:
For Branch's Darwin Day 2008 blog post, visit:
The January 16, 2009, evolution education update's story on Louisiana used the wrong term to describe what was adopted (it was a policy, not a set of guidelines) and was unclear about the exact sequence of events. Thanks to Barbara Forrest for the corrections.
For the corrected version of the story, 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.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!