NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 February 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, February 14, 2009

British Celebrate Charles Darwin but Are Still Skeptical of Evolution


On the 200th anniversary of his birth, evolution is still a hard sell to many

By Thomas K. Grose
Posted February 12, 2009

LONDON—On Thursday, February 12, a large crowd gathered around a huge iced fruitcake topped with 200 candles in a park in central Shrewsbury to sing "Happy Birthday, Dear Charlie." The honoree? Shrewsbury's most famous son: Charles Darwin. The candle-blowing is the photo-op part of a celebratory, monthlong Darwin Festival in the naturalist's hometown, a series of events that also include lectures and guided walks.

Shrewsbury, a historic market town set among the rolling hills of England's West Midlands, is hardly alone in using the occasion of Darwin's bicentenary to pay him tribute. Nationwide, Britain is pulling out all the stops to honor not only the man who first expounded the theory that natural selection is the basis for millions of years of evolving life on Earth but the coincidental 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of Species. A year's worth of commemorations and events will essentially make 2009 the Year of Darwin in the United Kingdom.

"It's a fantastic response," says Bob Bloomfield, director of Darwin200, the umbrella group for many of the planned activities. And why not? he asks. "Darwin's ideas have influenced virtually every aspect of human thought," from science to art to religion. The man who revolutionized modern biology and his legacy "are a huge national heritage" worthy of all the attention.

Darwin's stern visage already adorns the back of the 10-pound note, but this week the government issued a new 2-pound coin that features Darwin and a chimpanzee—a visual reference to his theory that man and ape have a common ancestry. The Royal Mail is issuing a series of six stamps to commemorate Darwin. And British composer Michael Stimpson is premiering throughout the year a new, four-part classical work inspired by Darwin's life.

Already underway since November and running until mid-April at London's Natural History Museum is the special exhibit Darwin: Big Idea, Big Exhibition, and through March the museum has also scheduled a series of evening discussions. On Friday, English Heritage is reopening Down House to the public: Located just southeast of London in Kent, it's where Darwin lived for the last 40 years of his life. It now includes a new, permanent exhibition, and the government is lobbying UNESCO to make the house and grounds a World Heritage Site. Cambridge, where Darwin attended the university, also has several events scheduled, including a lecture series, a cross-disciplinary art exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and a weeklong festival in July. And throughout the year, the BBC is broadcasting a series of television and radio programs examining his life and work.

Proud though Britain may be for having produced such a famous, pre-eminent, albeit controversial, scientist, Darwin's theory of evolution is a hard sell here—even though the United Kingdom is a rather secular society where church attendance has fallen to negligible numbers. A January ComRes poll taken for the religious think tank Theos found that 51 percent of Britons say that evolution alone can't explain complex life, and 32 percent believe that life on Earth began within the past 10,000 years—a basic tenet of creationism.

While disdainful of the Darwin celebrations, calling them an effort by atheists and humanists "to give Charles Darwin a sainthood," Randall Hardy, spokesman for Creation Research UK, claims that efforts to promote Darwin and natural selection in Britain have backfired because a growing number of Britons now embrace creationism. Perhaps that's why proponents of creationism and intelligent design have scheduled only a handful of relatively low-profile counterevents—though Hardy's group has a lecture set for Saturday night at a Shrewsbury church. Bloomfield agrees that it's "a fair point that a good proportion of society does not accept evolutionary biology" and that much of the public, regardless of personal views, has only a "very shallow" understanding of the theory.

Which is why many of the planned events—though certainly designed to entertain—clearly are intended to also raise public acceptance of Darwin's theory and the strong preponderance of evidence supporting it. The Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity, is donating kit boxes of experiments to every secondary school in Britain "that illustrate the evidence for and contemporary examples of evolution."

John King, organizer of the Shrewsbury Festival, says that because the town can lay claim to Darwin's early years only, the focus of many of the planned events is Darwin's youthful interest in science and is squarely aimed at a young audience. In a country where enrollments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curricula are falling, King says, it's hoped that the Darwin celebrations will help persuade more students to—naturally—select more science courses in school. "That's the legacy we want."

Evolution vs. Creationism: Whitehall weighs in


By Lyndsey Teter
Published: Thursday, February 12, 2009 5:18 PM EST

As if it wasn't already clear that God abandoned Whitehall a long time ago, atheist types are attempting to confirm it with a billboard that went up at the city's borders this week.

"Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief," says the billboard at Main and Fountain streets.

The $950 purchase was the latest move in an out-of-state group's theological battle with the City of Whitehall, particularly its mayor, who has thus far withstood pressure to axe the yearly tradition of displaying a Nativity at city hall.

The debate over creationism vs. evolution found a strange forum in the chambers of Whitehall City Council earlier this month when members voted 6-1 against a resolution to declare February "Science Month," in honor of scientists Charles Darwin and astronomer Galileo Galilee.

"It came down to not wanting to single out two scientists when there are so many good ones out there," said Ward III Councilman Leo Knoblauch, who voted against the measure.

But other council members seemed reluctant to celebrate the work of Darwin, who celebrates his 200th birthday today.

"It's a theory," Councilman Bob Bailey told the Whitehall News of evolution.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which purchased the billboard, thinks Whitehall is pushing a pro-Jesus agenda.

"Members of Whitehall city government seem intent on mixing religion and government. The large Christian-only display on the steps of city hall each December serves to remind us that we must be ever-vigilant of the unfortunate mixing of religion and government," said David Russell, a state and church separation activist in the organization's press release.

The Wisconsin-based foundation captured the ear of at least one member of Whitehall's city council. Bringing the "Science Month" issue to the table was Jacquelyn Thompson, who said she hoped only to spur additional education and to provoke new thought among the community's children. Thompson has amassed a list of legislative hot-button hits, including the debate over whether to ban pit bulls in Whitehall.

Still, her attempts to sponsor "Science Month" got heated when her colleagues expressed concern over the time spent on the measure.

"This is the place where anything can be discussed, but it doesn't have to turn into a pissing match," Ward IV Councilwoman Leslie LaCorte said of her colleague's failed Darwinian promo. She defended Thompson's right to sponsor the resolution.

"Anything can be brought forward," she said.

Thompson intends to do just that.

"I will continue to use my council position to bring forward ideas," she said Tuesday.

Founders of Creation Science Respond to Worldwide Darwin Celebrations


Contact: Lawrence Ford, Director of Communications, Institute for Creation Research (ICRGS), 214-615-8300

DALLAS, Feb. 12 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Institute for Creation Research, founded by Dr. Henry Morris 40 years ago, addresses the influence of Charles Darwin in their special issue Acts & Facts magazine.

Much of the world will celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin during his 200th birthday on February 12. "Celebrate" is an understatement; "worship" better describes the veneration given to the man who popularized the notion that God had nothing to do with the origin or development of the universe and all it contains.

"Notion" is an appropriate description; "theory" is too generous. For the philosophy of science called "evolution" is just that--a philosophical system of belief that cannot be substantiated by any observable evidence, either in action today or through nature's record of the past. Even Darwin admitted that certain evidence might later be uncovered that would contradict his conclusions.

To say that Charles Darwin influenced his world greatly cannot be disputed. To say that he was a great man is an unfortunate exaggeration.

The special February issue of Acts & Facts magazine focuses on Darwin's dangerous influence, not his supposed greatness.

For instance, Dr. Randy Guliuzza reports on the thousands of people victimized right here in the United States due to eugenics, the evolution-based practice that sought to genetically purify the races by eliminating those considered unfit. (Sounds eerily similar to the deeds of another person of influence in the 20th century.)

The great men of science like Newton, Kepler, Maxwell, and others were unashamed to acknowledge design in nature. These are the men who founded the modern disciplines of scientific study, the work upon which all scientists stand today. And yet, while these patriarchs of modern science sought to extol the Creator through their work, few scientists follow in their footsteps, choosing rather to base their research upon unsubstantiated stories of accidental design. Don't miss Christine Dao's "Man of Science, Man of God" article on ICR founder Dr. Henry Morris.

In honor of Dr. Morris, we have presented his article "The Vanishing Case for Evolution," which succinctly lays out overwhelming evidence--using the words of evolution's most ardent purveyors--that slams the door on Darwin's inventive story of origins by accident.

As an aside, it is interesting that February is also Black History Month in the United States. So, while African-Americans are celebrating those who bravely fought for their equality in society, scientists around the world are celebrating the man who sought to demonstrate the inferiority of certain races by declaring them to be less than human. Remember, the title Darwin gave to his treatise on evolution was "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Contrast this message with the other famous birthday in February: Abraham Lincoln, the man who fought to set the slaves free.

Dr. James Johnson describes the dangerous predicament of many Christians today who seek to please men rather than God by giving false testimony about the creation, allowing evolutionary ideas to interpret (and thus contradict) Scripture. Sadly, many leaders in ministry and Christian education have adopted a syncretistic approach to theology, satisfied that experts in science today know much more than the Expert of Genesis 1:1.

In American schools, as Dr. Patti Nason explains, the danger of Darwin's philosophy of evolution is seen in the erosion of sound science education and an alarming increase in lobbying efforts to curb critical thinking skills in the classroom. More and more state legislatures are wrestling with science education standards and finding that atheist organizations are pushing to eliminate any mention of evolution's weaknesses in school.

Other articles of interest in this special issue are Dr. Steve Austin's account of his recent research project in Argentina for ICR's National Creation Science Foundation. It was there, along the Santa Cruz River, that Charles Darwin made his first wrong turn in science. Also, Dr. Danny Faulkner discusses the bankrupt concepts of evolution-based astronomy. These and other insightful articles are geared to set the record straight on Charles Darwin's influence in science and in society.

Read the special Darwin issue Acts & Facts.

Lawrence Ford
Director of Communications
Institute for Creation Research
(214) 615-8300

Obituary: Professor Michael Majerus - Geneticist who defended Darwin in battle against creationism


Friday, 13 February 2009

Michael Majerus was a gifted Cambridge scientist and teacher, and a doughty defender of Darwin and his theory of natural selection.

His subjects were moths and ladybirds, which he saw as perfect tools for digging into evolutionary questions, but he also loved them for their own sake. He was that increasingly rare phenomenon, a scientist who was also a field naturalist (he was running a moth trap in his garden from the age of 10). Perhaps it was this instinctive "feeling for the organism", allied to his natural vitality and infectious enthusiasm for insects, that made Majerus such a popular teacher, and one in demand by the media.

Majerus was internationally known in the fields of ecological and evolutionary genetics. His best-known work was on the Peppered Moth, whichhas two forms, one light and speckled, the other dark and sooty (knownas melanic), and has long been heldto be an example of evolution in action. The dark form predominates in polluted areas because it is less easilyspotted by birds when at rest ontrees. Stung by a review of his 1997 book, Melanism: Evolution in Action, which rejected the supporting evidence and so became grist to the mill of creationists, Majerus set about proving his case.

It took him seven years of meticulously planned experiments which tested and compared the predation of the moths by birds and bats by release and recapture, and of the respective behaviour of wild and lab-reared moths. He also redetermined exactly where the moths rest by day, a controversial part of the original research which had been criticised on the grounds that the moths never rested on tree trunks. Majerus proved the critics wrong: they do (it is just that they are hard to see). His work is seen as a significant contribution to the evolution versus creation/intelligent design debate, and has helped to swing the international scientific consensus back in favour of the Peppered Moth as a supreme and easily understood example of evolution.

Majerus's other lifelong passion was for ladybirds. His work focused onthe role of sex in evolution. He wasthe first to show that the femalebeetle's mating preferences couldbe genetically determined, thereby confirming a critical aspect of Darwin's theory of sexual selection by female choice. He also worked extensively on "male-killing bacteria"which reduce the number of male ladybirds and have evolutionary consequences in the way that it distorts their behaviour.

Majerus established a system for recording British ladybird species, and encouraged as many people as possible, including children, to join in. Hence Britain was well placed to monitor the invasion of the non-native Harlequin Ladybird in 2004 and its steady advance over much of England. For a while Majerus was omnipresent in the media, which he much enjoyed. He was, however, pessimistic about the likely ecological consequences of the invasion, believing, with good reason, that it would result in reduced numbers of native ladybirds.

Michael Majerus (known to his friends as "Mike") was born in the old county of Middlesex in 1954, the second of three brothers. His father, Fernand, was a Luxembourg national who met his wife, Muriel, in Britain and remained to build a successful family textile business. Mike's love affair with insects probably began at the age of four, when he acquired his first butterfly net, and was strengthened six years later with the present of a moth trap. His parents encouraged him, his mother taking him on weekend mothing expeditions to the New Forest, while his father brought back specimens from his travels to the Far East and Australia. One Christmas coincided with the emergence of his captive Indian Moon Moths which he remembers hanging motionless on the Christmas tree like live decorations.

He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School in London and graduated in botany and zoology at Royal Holloway College, London. He went on to study for his doctorate at the college, choosing as his subject the genetic control of larval colour in the Angle Shades moth. After a brief sojourn as a research demonstrator at Keele University, he began his career-long association with Cambridge in 1980, starting as a research associate in the Department of Genetics, then moving steadily up the academic ladder as demonstrator, lecturer and finally Reader in Evolution. In 2006 he was made Professor of Evolution. From 1991, Majerus was also a Teaching Fellow of Clare College.

Majerus was the author of several books, including Sex Wars: Genes, Bacteria and Biased Sex Ratios (2003) and Ladybirds (1994) and Moths (2002) in the Collins New Naturalist series, both of which successfully combine natural history with accessible experimental science, including his own. His work took him all over the world, fromarctic Lapland to tropical Africa, where Majerus would combine academic conferences and research with expeditions with a butterfly net. He saw his collection as part of his research record on defensive colour patterns, reproductive strategies and genetic variation.

With Mike Majerus the boundaries between life and work, teaching and research, were more than usually blurred. He was a tireless advocate of evolution and always eager to communicate with the widest possible audience, including children. From 2006 he was president of the Amateur Entomologists' Society, and in the same year received the British Naturalist's Association's Sir Peter Scott Memorial Award for his contributions to British natural history.

Majerus was probably happiest when he was trekking through a rainforest, or climbing some mountain, and took great pleasure in sharing these experiences with his students (who will also remember the musicof Genesis, which was played non-stop all the way to his fieldwork sites). "Iam getting old," he said in a recent and memorable lecture on the Peppered Moth controversy (he was 53),"and have spent my life in scientific enquiry and discovery. And it has been a great life."

Peter Marren

Michael Eugene Nicolas Majerus, ecological geneticist: born London 13 February 1954; Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dept of Genetics, University of Cambridge, 1980-87; University Lecturer, 1987-2001; Teaching Fellow, Clare College, 1991-2009, Reader in Evolution, 2001-2009, Professor of Evolution, 2006-2009; Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society; President, Amateur Entomologists' Society (2006-09); married 1979 Vicki Maclean (marriage dissolved), 1988 Tamsin Harris (two sons, one daughter, marriage dissolved), 2005 Christina Poole; died Coton, Cambridgeshire 27 January 2009.

Darwin display at museum angers creationist MLA


Friday, 13 February 2009

A DUP Assemblyman has urged one of Northern Ireland's biggest museums to 'balance out' a forthcoming exhibition on evolution with a display about creationism.

The Ulster Museum is to run a series later this year on evolution and fossils, which is expected to incorporate the work of naturalist Charles Darwin, whose birthday 200 years ago is currently being celebrated.

Darwin's views on the theory of evolution and natural selection shocked the worlds of science and religion when first published.

However, North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey has called for a creationist exhibition to be run alongside which explains the origin of life according to a literal reading of the Genesis account in the Bible.

"All I'm saying is that there should be a balance because there are other views out there," Mr Storey said.

"There are people who have a different view to Darwin on creation."

Mr Storey, himself a proponent of creationism, said that he was entitled to express his views on the subject.

"I believe in creationism and intelligent design, I don't believe in the theory of evolution", he said.

Mr Storey also said that a failure by the museum to reflect the views of "other people" could raise the possibility that a legal challenge may be launched under equality legislation.

The museum, which is due to reopen later this year following a major refurbishment programme, responded last night with a statement which read: "The Ulster Museum... will house galleries and exhibitions of international significance interpreted in line with excellent scholarship and research.

"Within the permanent science galleries we will explain the conventional scientific theories internationally accepted by scholars and scientists to describe life on earth from the earliest evidence of fossils.

"This is consistent with approaches taken by museums of renown across the world."

Missing Links in Darwin Day Poll


A new poll just in time for Darwin's 200th birthday (Feb. 12) claims that even liberals support the idea that students need to hear "both sides" of Darwin's Theory of Evolution -- the "strengths and weakness" -- and therefore would support so called "academic freedom" legislation that requires science classrooms be open to all views of creation.

"We need to change Darwin Day to Academic Freedom Day because just when Darwinists are celebrating evolution's triumph, this poll shows that they have been losing the public debate over whether students need to hear both sides," said Dr. John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which commissioned the Zogby poll.

Well, not quite. The poll does show that the Discovery Institute continues to find new and creative ways to advance the cause of intelligent design.

The Discovery Institute is a conservative think tank whose own stated goals are to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God" and "to see intelligent design theory as the dominant theory in science."

The Institute has provided the template that is being used by state legislators across the country to file "academic freedom" bills that either encourage or require public school science teachers to describe evolution as controversial and explain purported flaws in the theory -- evolution's "strength and weaknesses." Ostensibly, this "academic freedom" would also allow for instruction in intelligent design.

So far this year, "academic freedom" bills have been introduced by legislators in Alabama, Iowa, New Mexico, Mississippi and Oklahoma. In recent years, legislators also have tried in Michigan, Missouri and Florida. So far, only Louisiana has enacted the legislation. Next month, the Texas State Board of Education will vote whether to require science textbooks to include the "strengths and weaknesses" approach to teaching evolution.

The Discovery Institute calls it "teaching the controversy" -- a tactic they turned to after U.S. Dist. Judge John Jones's 2005 ruling barred a (Dover) Pennsylvania public school district from teaching "intelligent design" in biology class. Jones cited "overwhelming evidence" that intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." The ruling was seen by many as a major setback for the intelligent design movement.

Not so, the Institute claims, offering the new Darwin Day poll as proof that "support for the Darwinists' position has dropped significantly while support for teaching the controversy over evolution has risen."

Depends how you ask the question. Here's the way the Zogby poll phrased the question:

QUESTION: I am going to read you two statements about Biology teachers teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view -- Statement A or Statement B?

Statement A: Biology teachers should teach only Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it.

Statement B: Biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.

Most of the 1,053 people who were polled (78 percent) chose B. Strangely, Democrats (82%) and liberals (86%) were even more likely than Republicans (73%) and conservatives (72%) to choose B. Those results should give pause to any conservative think tank trying to make a point.

I got better grades in physics than biology, so I asked an expert on the subject what he thought of the poll.

"It is indeed a stupid poll," Dr. Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist (and On Faith panelist) told me in an email. "Actually I think I'd say a dishonest poll -- because the QUESTION PRESUMES that there is scientific evidence against evolution. Of course, if we have a theory where there is evidence for and against, it would be ridiculous to teach only the evidence in favour.

"Now, if there really is evidence against evolution, the Discovery Institute should go into the laboratory, or the field, and find it, and publish it in the scientific journals. Instead, they mislead the public, by phrasing a question which presumes that there is evidence against."

Perhaps those who responded to the Institute's poll should have given a third option:

Statement C: Biology teachers should teach the theory of evolution, but also creationism, intelligent design and other religious views of how life began.

Personally, I'd ask this question: Do we want biology teachers to teach science or religion or both?

Just 4 in 10 Americans Believe in Evolution


A Gallup poll released this week shows that 39 percent of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution," while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent don't have an opinion either way, CNN reported.

This follows an earlier Gallup poll on the issue, conducted in May 2008, that found 44 percent believe God created human beings within the past 10,000 years.

"There are certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection," Michael Egnor, a professor of neurosurgery at the State University of New York, told CNN. Egnor is affiliated with the Discovery Institute.


Candi Cushman, education analyst at Focus on the Family Action, argues that both intelligent design and Darwin belong in the classroom.

(NOTE: Referral to Web sites not produced by Focus on the Family is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the sites' content.)



There's been some touting of a Gallup poll, on the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday, showing that only 39% of Americans say they believe in the "theory" of evolution.

Gallup phrased the question: "Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in evolution, or don't you have an opinion either way?" Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they believed in evolution, 25% did not, and 36% had no opinion.

Of course if you tell someone who doesn't know enough about a concept to have an opinion about it that it's only a "theory," it's not likely they're going to say they believe it. But if you were to present them with the shocking news that it's an accepted scientific concept, perhaps they'd be more likely to give it some credence.

At his Washington Post Under God blog, David Waters breaks down a Zogby poll, commissioned by the pro-creationist/"intelligent design" Discovery Institute, that claims that "support for the Darwinists' position has dropped significantly while support for teaching the controversy over evolution has risen." The Discovery Institute promotes the "academic freedom" bills I discussed in yesterday's FundamentaList that seek to require the teaching of what the Zogby polling question termed "the scientific evidence against" evolution, which, of course, isn't scientific at all.

--Sarah Posner

Posted by Sarah Posner on February 12, 2009 5:12 PM | Permalink

Faith and evolution: Mathematician: Questioning Darwinism doesn't make you a fool


By Peggy Fletcher Stack

The Salt Lake Tribune

Posted: 02/13/2009 06:00:00 AM MST

Jim Keener is a Darwin agnostic.

The major elements of Darwinism are spot-on accurate, with evidence of evolution all around, says Keener, who teaches mathematics at the University of Utah but has studied biology extensively. Yet he is not convinced that random mutation on the genome is responsible for "all the variation and improvements in the staggering complexity we see."

Keener is not looking to prove that God exists, he says, but would like more scientists to challenge what he sees as Darwinian dogma.

To that end, Keener was one of 700 scientists nationally (three in Utah) who signed the following statement being circulated by Discovery Institute in Seattle: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

Though he describes himself as a religious conservative and is a member of Salt Lake City's First Presbyterian Church, Keener hates being controversial. He is neither a fundamentalist nor an anti-evolution activist.

"I don't read the Genesis story as literal science," he says. "I believe there's truth being communicated but it's not scientific truth. It's about human nature, human relationships with God and human relationships to creation. It is telling us how to relate to our environment."

Keener feels that those who question the all-encompassing nature of Darwin's conclusion have been branded unfairly as fools.

"It is very challenging to have a discussion of this nature with people in the scientific community. When you have been attacked, you cannot admit to your own uncertainties. This is true in all faith positions and every endeavor," he says. "I don't want to get in arguments with my [scientific] colleagues. I just want people to think about Darwinism and ask questions."

Darwin at 200 and the evolving cancer fight


By Faye Flam

Inquirer Staff Writer

Evolution may still provoke controversy in some classrooms, but in the laboratory, Charles Darwin's theories are propelling new research.

As the world celebrates his 200th birthday today, Carlo Maley of Philadelphia's Wistar Institute is using the evolutionary prism to understand not a species, but a disease: cancer.

Maley views cancer as an evolutionary process. At the root of the disease is our distant ancestry as single-celled organisms and the tendency for our cells to occasionally revert to their old ways.

Our resemblance to organisms such as amoebae might not seem obvious until you examine a human cell in detail. Among other things, we share a system of storing and encoding information in DNA and many of the same genes.

The big difference is that human cells are programmed to cooperate, thus working together to make an organ or a body work, while microbes are selfish, each one competing for better ways to survive and reproduce.

But such selfish capacity is latent in our own cells, and sometimes one of them starts to revert to its ancient ways.

"The breakdown of cooperation is what we call cancer," said Maley, who will speak on Darwin's relevance to cancer research this Sunday at the Darwin Day celebration of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Many scientists like Maley are using evolution. Some are viewing our immune systems and nutritional needs through human evolution. Others focus on the evolutionary forces acting on the bacteria that infect us, often endowing them with resistance to the best drugs.

The way Maley and a few others see it, malignant tumors are diverse colonies of mutant human cells, slowly being honed by natural selection to grow more quickly, invade new tissue, gobble up oxygen and nutrients, and evade chemotherapy drugs.

"That gets at the heart of why we haven't been able to cure cancer," he said.

We multicellular creatures have evolved several lines of cancer defense: genes that prevent mutations when cells divide, instructions for damaged cells to commit suicide, and strict limits on the types of cells allowed to divide and the number of divisions they can make.

40 percent of us

But most such safety measures are all relatively recent add-ons, built into cells that evolved as selfish beings for about three billion years - the bulk of life's history on Earth. That may help explain why these malignant rebellions are so common - more than 40 percent of us will probably be diagnosed with some cancer in our lives.

Maley says it was Penn professor Peter Nowell, who, in 1976, wrote a paper that synthesized the emerging notion that cancer is an evolutionary process and that natural selection makes cancer so malignant.

And while the idea goes back a long ways, it's just starting to catch on as a major line of attack.

"Evolution offers a higher-level construct to think about the disease and begin to structure new approaches to controlling it," said Anna Barker, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute.

'Top of everyone's list'

At recent conferences, she said, "evolution was at the top of everyone's list in terms of a direction we should be taking in cancer."

In theory, natural selection should also be helping us survive all kinds of threats, including rebellion by our own cells. But our protections have a downside, limiting the ability of our cells to regenerate. Cancer protection makes us grow old.

"The largest evolutionary principle here is that there's a trade-off between the ability to have cells divide and fix things, and the dangers of having them divide out of control," said Randolph Nesse, a biologist at the University of Michigan and co-author of Why We Get Sick.

A good case for this trade-off can be seen in the ends of chromosomes. There, strings of DNA called telomeres are essential for cells to divide, but each time this happens they shrink. After about 50 divisions, they disappear like a fuse burned to the end.

So telomere shrinkage and other protective measures allow our total cells to divide trillions of times in our lifetimes, making inevitable errors without giving us cancer. But sometimes we get unlucky and a mutation strikes a key part of the defense - say, a gene governing DNA repair.

Then, a whole new colony of cells can start to grow far more promiscuously than our healthy cells, allowing yet more errors to build on one another. Natural selection in this case favors the most aggressive, thus leading to cells with even more power to spread at our expense.

Over time, the cells become more diverse as they divide and make new mistakes. Once free of some of the body's control mechanisms, they can evolve ever more malignant forms.

Seen this way, genetic diversity is good for the cancer cells - and disastrous for the host.

Maley has tested his approach on a type of tumor called Barrett's esophagus. These benign growths are associated with acid reflux and very occasionally evolve into cancer.

These tumors can't be easily removed without damaging the esophagus and risking the patient's life, he said, so it's considered safer to leave them alone.

Therefore, it would be extremely helpful to know which ones are destined to become malignant and should be removed. Maley suspected genetic diversity could offer a clue.

So he looked at tumor samples from a group of 268 patients and compared them with health histories taken over 81/2 years. He found the tumors with the most genetic diversity were most likely to become cancerous.

The evolutionary history of a cancer may eventually inform doctors on the best possible treatments, said Darryl Shibata, a computational biologist at the University of Southern California.

Say you go to the doctor and get a biopsy that reveals cancer, he said. If you ask the doctor how long it has been there, he is unlikely to know.

And yet, a long-festering tumor might have accumulated more genetic diversity than a newer one and may be more resistant to chemotherapy.

Some of the same tools biologists use to trace the history of species can also reveal the tumor's history, Shibata said. DNA analysis, for example, has helped scientists trace humanity's origin to Africa about 100,000 years ago.

Likewise, the DNA found in different tumor cells may reveal how and when the tumor started and how diverse its gene pool has become. "We're adding the dimension of time," he said.

Maley hopes evolutionary ideas will lead to novel treatments. While chemotherapy cures many people, others suffer a resurgence if the new cells are resistant to the drugs.

So perhaps a combination of drugs would first encourage the growth of drug-sensitive cells over drug-resistant. Or a drug might encourage the proliferation of nonmalignant cells over the malignant ones, giving them a competitive edge.

"One of my messages to the larger community is that evolution is central to medicine," he said, "and in order to develop the best medicine, we need to train people in evolutionary biology."

Contact staff writer Faye Flam at 215-854-4977 or fflam@phillynews.com.

Darwin the Liberator


How evolutionary thought undermined the rationale for slavery.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln have been spotted together a lot recently -- in a book by the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, in a George Will column, even on the cover of Newsweek -- because they happen to have been born on the same day 200 years ago: Feb. 12, 1809. After noting that coincidence, however, commentators often miss the most direct connection between the bicentennial birthday boys: Each, in his own way, fought vigorously against slavery.

Contrary to myth, Lincoln was late to adopt the cause of emancipation. His goal at the outset of the Civil War was to save the Union, not to free the slaves. Darwin, though born into a family of dedicated British abolitionists, was similarly slow to rise in opposition to the worldwide trade. He did not become passionate about it until he saw slavery up close in South America during his expedition aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. But his contribution to the cause, though more philosophical and less immediate than Lincoln's, was no less profound.

In Darwin's Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore contend that abhorrence of slavery inspired and shaped Darwin's theory of evolution. To grasp his grand project, we have first to understand one of the great scientific battles of the mid-19th century. "Polygenists," such as the American physician Samuel George Morton, held that the human races were each a distinct species, and each the result of a separate act of creation. They considered Anglo-Saxon whites superior in every way to the "debased" and "savage" darker races, which were relegated to a supposed natural position of servitude. Darwin, a man of his time, also believed in the superiority of whites. But he was convinced that all humans were one species, and that those not born to English manners could be improved through education. With growing horror, he observed slavery in Brazil and the genocide of indigenous peoples in Argentina, and decried both in his Voyage of the Beagle: "It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty," he wrote in the 1845 edition of his popular travelogue.

Fourteen years later, when he published On the Origin of Species, Darwin described the evolution of plants and animals but not of humans. This famous omission has been variously ascribed to an abundance of caution, concern for his wife Emma's religious sensibilities or even a preference for bugs and finches over his own species. But Desmond and Moore make the case that human evolution was at the forefront of Darwin's thinking. By proving that all animal species descend from common ancestors, Darwin hoped to undercut the biological rationale for slavery without the need to draw distracting fire by addressing human origins directly, especially before he had amassed all the data he would need to prove decisively that humans also evolved.

"Human evolution wasn't his last piece in the evolution jigsaw; it was the first," Desmond and Moore write. "From the very outset Darwin concerned himself with the unity of humankind. This notion of 'brotherhood' grounded his evolutionary enterprise."

In lesser hands, this recasting of Darwin's life as an extended anti-slavery campaign could seem like a stretch, perhaps to justify a book for the Darwin-Lincoln double anniversary. But Desmond and Moore, professional historians of science who are widely regarded as Darwin's finest biographers, barely mention Lincoln (though they do show Darwin reading the news of America's Civil War with great interest). More to the point, the authors follow Darwin's example by deciding that the best way to prove a controversial point is "to pile on crippling quantities of detail." Drawing on his manuscripts, notebooks, letters and even marginal jottings in books, they construct a theory of both broad scope and meticulous documentation, leaving critics with few holes to probe.

A small example: Polygenists maintained that mixed-race children would be sterile, much like mules. Darwin queried his contacts around the world to collect first-hand reports to disprove the point. Desmond and Moore also found that he marked up a copy of Intermarriage, an 1838 book on miscegenation, and made a fragmentary note to himself "on advantages of crossed races of Man." What emerges from hundreds of such finds, as from Darwin's own theory, is a suddenly clarifying new view of a familiar picture. Darwin's intellectual "starting point," according to this book, was not the exotic wildlife he observed on the Galapagos Islands. It was "his hatred of the slavers' desire" to make "the black man . . . sub-human, a beast to be chained." By observing Darwin's life and work anew, Desmond and Moore give us "the reverse of the fundamentalists' parody" of him as anti-God, inhuman and immoral. They describe a humanitarian who was "more sympathetic than creationists find acceptable, more morally committed than scientists would allow."

And therein lies a paradox. Two centuries after his birth and 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin's memory is kept alive as much by his status as a lightning rod in the culture wars as by his scientific legacy. He ranks among the most famous scientists of all time, but how much do most of us really know about his work and the research it has inspired?

For those who want to understand the evidence for evolution, Jerry A. Coyne's Why Evolution Is True is a fine place to start. As his unsubtle title suggests, Coyne's purpose is to banish the arguments of creationists and their intelligent design fellow travelers. Much as Darwin did, he draws upon geology and the fossil record; biogeography, or the distribution of plants and animals; and the similarities and differences among living species. But gaps that once frustrated Darwin, such as so-called "missing links" in the fossil record, can now be filled. Coyne cites the 2004 discovery of Tiktaalik, a 375 million-year-old shallow-water creature caught in mid-transition from fish to amphibian, with delicate aquatic bones thickening into an air-breather's sturdier frame. "There is no reason why a celestial designer, fashioning organisms from scratch like an architect designs buildings, should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones," Coyne writes. "But natural selection can act only by changing what already exists."

Coyne also has the advantage of 150 years of scientific progress in genetics and molecular biology, much of which would have amazed Darwin. He misses the opportunity to explore the latest insights from genome science, which is allowing scientists to observe the process of evolution at the level of individual DNA changes. But he builds a strong case for the fact of evolution, and for Darwin's theory of how it works. (That species change over time isn't theoretical; how and why the changes occur is the subject of "evolutionary theory.") Coyne addresses many of the common creationist arguments head-on, outlining how complex systems such as eyes and biochemical pathways can evolve by natural selection. To his credit, however, the author acknowledges his strategy's fatal flaw: The refusal to accept evolution has precious little to do with reason, logic or evidence. Like the introductory college courses it too-closely resembles, Why Evolution Is True is packed with facts and clear explanations but is unlikely to change many minds.

If Darwin's intent was to prove the biological connectedness of all humanity, then he succeeded brilliantly; he demolished the scientific justification for slavery prevalent in his time. Yet, ironically, more than a few bigots and crackpots have tried to use his ideas to justify further racism, starting soon after the publication of On the Origin of Species with the vogue for "social" Darwinism. Darwin detested those attempts, which were so at odds with what Desmond and Moore call his "sacred cause."

Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin has been vilified by some, sanctified by others and, perhaps, misunderstood by most. Rich in detail, remarkably readable and engaging, Desmond and Moore's reassessment may do no more than other books to convince evolution's deniers of the grandeur of Darwin's view of life. But by revealing the motive behind his work, Sacred Cause is the finest birthday tribute to Charles Darwin in many years. ·

Thomas Hayden is co-author of "Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World."

US churches to discuss evolution vs creation


By DIONNE WALKER – 18 hours ago

ATLANTA (AP) — After a lifetime in the church, the Rev. William L. Rhines Jr. lately has started to question one of the Bible's fundamental teachings, that God created man.

It's an especially touchy topic in his Wilmington, Del., congregation, where generations of black worshippers have leaned on faith to endure the indignities of racism.

But as the world marks the 200th birthday of evolution theorist Charles Darwin on Thursday, Rhines figures its time for even the most conservative congregations to come to terms with science.

"We're becoming more middle class, upper middle class, so we have more free time ... to ponder these eternal issues," said Rhines, who will encourage a discussion at Ezion-Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church.

Hundreds of churches this week will revisit the question of whether man evolved from lower order species or was created whole by a higher being as part of Evolution Weekend.

Participation through sermons, Sunday school lessons and even evolution dances has expanded into 974 congregations across the country, more than doubling since the weekend began in 2006, said founder Michael Zimmerman, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Organizers said the churches include a growing number of conservative groups, among them black and Muslim groups typically linked to more traditional views.

Participants say they're not abandoning the Bible's story of Adam and Eve. Rather, they want to blend theories in a way that helps today's faithful reconcile their modern world with Biblical teachings.

"We have to give God a lot more credit than we give him now — we need to give him the benefit of the doubt that his word includes evolution," said Mike Ghouse, president of the World Muslim Congress, a Dallas-based union of 3,000 Muslims that hosted its first ever Evolution Weekend discussion Friday.

The evolution vs. creation debate has simmered for at least the last 150 years since Darwin's "On the Origin of Species." That volume first suggested populations evolve over generations through a process of natural selection.

Zimmerman argues the faithful can accept parts of creationism — the notion that a higher being created man whole — and evolution.

"Faith is related to one's belief system ... science, on the other hand, is in a different domain," said the Rev. Gerald Kersey, who planned a Sunday school lesson and discussion of Darwin's theories at Avondale Estates First Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta.

He blamed religious intolerance for causing many faithful to feel they must choose between science and the Bible.

"I'm presenting the idea that science or evolution is compatible with faith," he said.

Still, many Americans believe that God created man. A 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life found 63 percent of Americans believed humans and other animals have either always existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the guidance of a supreme being.

That percentage is especially high among the nation's black churchgoers, who have been taught for generations to cope with everything from slavery to Jim Crow by using the Bible's teachings, Rhines said.

"We don't want to tamper with what grandma taught us — we've come this far by faith," Rhines said.

At one of the nation's oldest black churches, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., the Rev. Thurmond Tillman doesn't oppose evolution.

But he argued black Americans have other social issues to address, and the faithful should focus on uniting mankind — not dividing his origins.

"What we're judged on his how we first relate with Him," Tillman said. "And the test of how we relate with Him is how we relate with one another."

Birthday coincidence: Lincoln and Darwin, 200 years ago



NEW YORK -- Coincidences of the calendar don't have much real significance, but they do play a role in our national mythology. The most prominent of these, known to students of history, are the deaths within hours of one another of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams -- the lead author and advocate, respectively, of the Declaration of Independence.

The date they died? July 4, 1826 -- the 50th anniversary of the declaration.

It was interesting to note, this week, a coincidence that had gone less noticed: the shared bicentenary birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. At first glance, these two men would seem to have little to do with one another. But what connects the American of humble birth and the son of a prosperous English doctor, the Great Emancipator and the groundbreaking scientist, is the world we live in today. Both these men played a profound role in shaping modernity, and the historical forces each set in motion reverberate still, 200 years after their births.

The Civil War over which Lincoln presided stands as such a stark dividing line that historians speak of antebellum America as a distinctly different place. Emancipation is the most obvious difference between what came before and after, but it is far from the only one. Modern warfare, our national identity, our continent-spanning geographic unity and our conception of presidential powers -- to name a few items on a long list -- all follow a trajectory traceable back to that war.

So complete was America's transformation under Lincoln that some speak of it in biblical terms, casting the Civil War as a redemptive scouring akin to Noah's flood, or the Crucifixion. This last notion was reinforced by another coincidence -- that Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday, a fact seized upon by countless preachers across the land as they prepared their 1865 Easter sermons.

And then there is Darwin, a man popularly identified with religion primarily in opposition. As Lincoln unified the nation, in life and death, Darwin's work unified the life sciences upon a common foundation. Unlike Lincoln, who was unpopular in life but who has few detractors today, Darwin remains reviled by a segment of the population that sees an embrace of evolution as apostasy. Apostate or no, Darwin transformed our understanding of the world and its natural history. His descriptions of the mechanics of evolution continue to undergird biology and medical science.

If there is a lesson in the coincidence of the Lincoln and Darwin bicentennials, it may be that, in the words of William Faulkner, "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past." In a nation not much inclined to looking back, and in an age when a minute often seems like a long time, 200 years can feel like an irrelevant eternity.

Yet just a few weeks ago, an African-American president, who had declared his candidacy by invoking Lincoln, delivered an inaugural address in which he pledged to "restore science to its rightful place." He follows a president whose administration, in its defense, invoked Lincoln's wartime suspension of civil liberties.

The battle of evolution versus creationism, long settled in scientific circles, rages to this day in popular discourse. Our red-blue electoral divides echo the divisions of the Civil War. And in the debate over the future of Guantanamo Bay, Lincoln's legacy continues to stir controversy. We still live in the shadows of the world that two men born 200 years ago played a mighty role in bringing into being.

Dan Rather is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

Vatican conference on evolution will include discussion of intelligent design


11:57 AM Fri, Feb 13, 2009 | Permalink

Bruce Tomaso

Catholic News Service reports that a Vatican-sponsored conference on biology and evolution next month will include some discussion of so-called intelligent design -- but not as science (which it isn't).

Instead, the conference will examine how the notion of intelligent design "appeared and developed as a cultural ideology."

Intelligent design -- as I understand the concept -- is the belief that some higher power must have created the world, including the animal world, since nature is so exquisite in its design. Many people who embrace this belief argue that it ought to be considered alongside evolution, or as an alternative theory to evolution, in discussions of how the biological world came to be.

Opponents of the "equal-time" approach argue that there is no scientific evidence to support a belief in intelligent design (which is not to say that it isn't true; just that it can't scientifically shown to be true) and that people who want it taught in science classes are really pushing for teaching creationism.

The story notes that many Christians mistakenly hold Darwin's theory to be incompatible with a belief that God created the universe. The Vatican says no such conflict exists between faith and science.

"No evolutionary mechanism is opposed to the affirmation that God wanted and, therefore, created humankind," the Rev. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, a professor of theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, is quoted as saying.

"Basically, evolution is the way in which God created" the cosmos, he says.

Faith and evolution: Mormonism teaches why God created the world, not how, scientist says


By Peggy Fletcher Stack

The Salt Lake Tribune

Posted: 02/13/2009 06:00:00 AM MST

Daniel Fairbanks knows the exact day and place he was converted to Darwin's theory of evolution: Jan. 30, 1979, in Clayton White's vertebrate zoology class at Brigham Young University.

White convinced Fairbanks by laying out a compelling case for evolution as a powerful idea that best explains biological observations.

The moment transformed the recently returned LDS missionary, who had spent his childhood believing evolution was wrong even as he sketched bugs and other creatures that crawled out of a pond near his home.

"I went to talk with Professor White, who answered all my questions," says Fairbanks, associate dean of science and health at Utah Valley University in Orem. "He became an important example to

Daniel Fairbanks, a biologist at UVU, a devout Mormon and a sculptor, gives a lecture on evolution and the legacy of Charles Darwin while sculpting a bust of Darwin. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune)me of a first-rate scientist and a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Now Fairbanks believes with most biologists that evolution is the unifying theory in the field. And he is the same kind of mentor as White was to new generations of Mormon would-be scientists, helping them understand the importance of evolution without losing their faith. At BYU until last year, Fairbanks helped build one of the best evolutionary biology departments in the country, says fellow BYU professor Duane Jeffery. "I can't think of a time when we didn't teach evolution, the same way we would teach it at any other university."

As a bonus for students, Fairbanks often sculpts a bust of Charles Darwin while lecturing on evolution. It's a skill he learned from his grandfather, the renowned Mormon sculptor Avard Fairbanks.

Last year, Fairbanks published an acclaimed primer called Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA . It has been hailed by scientists and religious figures alike.

"We are obligated to examine experimental data and interpret it in an objective way, without allowing nonscientific beliefs to influence our interpretations," Fairbanks says. "As more information comes along, we revise those interpretations."

But that is no reason to reject God or Mormon scriptures, which, he says, explain why God created the world, not how.

"You run into a problem if you try to interpret scriptures too literally. Where do you draw the line?" Fairbanks asks. "I just don't bother to draw the line. I look at the Bible as a guide on how to lead my life. I don't try to fit it within a particular historical framework."

Evolution and LDS


Public Forum Letter
Posted: 02/13/2009 06:00:00 PM MST

Tribune reporter Brian Maffly's article on Charles Darwin could lead a reader to believe that Brigham Young University's and the LDS Church's "teachings seem incompatible with Darwin's idea" of evolution ("Why can humans run great distances? U. biologist asks," Tribune , Feb. 9). Not so.

A 1931 letter from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declared: "Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of souls of mankind, to scientific research."

Why should anyone allude to controversy when there is none? And why did an LDS state senator draft a bill in the 2006 legislative session to teach intelligent design or creationism in our schools, which is not only contrary to the LDS position but is not good science?

Clarke Lium

Salt Lake City

Kirby: Believing in evolution does not eliminate God from my life


By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Posted: 02/13/2009 06:00:00 PM MST

Robert Kirby is on vacation. This is a reprint of an earlier column.

Sixty-eight million years ago, a female Tyrannosaurus rex fell over dead in Montana. She was probably pregnant. Evidence found in her fossilized bones suggests she was ready to lay eggs. She was almost certainly oblivious to the fact that her fossilized remains would one day contribute to a raging debate among a more evolved -- although not necessarily smarter -- species.

Today, scientists studying the T-rex fossils claim to have found evidence that solidifies the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, strengthening the belief that birds were once big enough to use billboards as cuttlebones.

Ultra-serious creationists don't like this one bit and have accused scientists of everything from laboratory dimwittedness to being in deliberate league with Satan.

Personally, I believe in evolution. I don't completely understand it, but I prefer this view of how I physically came to be to the Adam and Eve version.

This is not to say Adam and Eve never existed, only that I don't buy the literally interpreted notion that one popped into existence and the other was a biological knockoff.

Believing in evolution does not eliminate God from my life. God working through evolution simply offers me a better explanation for what I see today than does the notion of a literal six-day creation of the Earth some 10,000 years ago.

Does it bother me that my belief runs contrary to the literal six-day creation described in the Bible? Not a bit. Save your e-mail.

I could be wrong about evolution. There is still a lot we don't know about … well, everything. So, I try to keep an open mind. I can't vouch for T-rexes, but truth is slippery stuff to humans. As Francis Bacon said, that which we wish to be true, we preferentially believe.

My preferential view has been assailed many times by people who see evolution as nothing more than blasphemy.

Over the years, family members, seminary teachers and missionary companions have offered alternative explanations of evolution's evidence. Among the more memorable:

» God allowed Satan to spread fossils around the world as a way of determining who was faithful enough to stick to biblical policy.

» God is a recycler and fossils are actually just leftover bits and pieces of former worlds combined to make this one.

» God intentionally tampers with carbon dating so as to provide false information regarding caveman bones, again in order to see who is faithful. Cain was a caveman.

» Being God requires a lot of on-the-job training. Dinosaurs and early man were just practice runs that God made before coming up with the finished product.

OK, you don't have to accept evolution as factual explanation for the fossil record. But please -- please -- come up with better explanations than the sort of stuff that makes it almost embarrassing to be called a believer.

Which came first, the T-rex or the egg? Beats me. Right now, all I know is that simply being here is more urgent business than how I got here.

If I get this tiny sliver of my own evolution right, later, when I'm a fossil myself, there will be plenty of time for arguing over whether God stuck to some plan.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com

Intelligent Design Is Religion, and That's Fine--But Not in Science or Public Schools


February 13, 2009 02:26 PM ET | Richard B. Katskee

Guest blogger Richard B. Katskee is assistant legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C.

Casey Luskin's responses to the commentaries that Robert Pennock and I wrote for this blog are, sadly, characteristic of what passes for scholarship in the intelligent-design movement: Luskin does no original work, but instead crudely strings together out-of-context quotations and debunked creationist canards in order to fabricate the appearance of support for his movement's pretensions to science. In the process, he rejects genuine science as "dogma," and he dismisses careful legal analysis as "judicial activism"—the term that we lawyers use when we really mean, "I don't like that decision." Others have exposed these tactics before, so I won't belabor the point here.

I do feel the need, however, to correct one misstatement in Luskin's article. Perhaps too quick with the cut-and-paste buttons, Luskin incorrectly attributes to me a quotation in an ABA Journal article some years ago that refers to those who advocate for intelligent design as the lunatic fringe of science. I was not interviewed for or quoted in that article; I did not make the statement that so enrages Luskin—and I do not believe it. Intelligent-design creationists are not lunatics. Nor is their endeavor science—fringe or otherwise. Intelligent design's proponents are people with religious beliefs that, though different than my own, are no less sincere. Far from dismissing those beliefs as lunatic, I celebrate the vibrancy of the religious diversity that is, after all, just what James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the other Framers of our Constitution hoped to achieve with the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. It is only because Judge John E. Jones III (the author of the Kitzmiller decision) and others on the federal bench have upheld the principal of church-state separation that Luskin and I are able to practice our respective religions openly, without fear of governmental oppression.

But therein lies the problem with intelligent-design creationism. Luskin and his colleagues are free to believe what they wish in matters of faith; but they should recognize that the rest of us have that same right. Pawning off their religious views as science is not now, nor has it ever been, a genuine attempt to expand the frontiers of scientific knowledge or to improve science education; thus, the fact that intelligent-design creationism lacks any scientific bona fides does not trouble its proponents too much. Their real goal is, after all, to use science class as a forum for indoctrinating our children into their religious beliefs. But that requires getting around the U.S. Supreme Court's consistent rulings that parents have the right to make choices about their children's religious education; public-school teachers, school boards, and state legislatures do not. Beliefs don't become scientific theories just because you label them "science," and they don't cease to be religious views just because you say they aren't. Insist as loudly or as adamantly as you wish—science is still science, and religion remains religion.

Able to claim no original research, no peer-reviewed scholarship, and no successes (or even efforts) in the laboratory, the intelligent-design movement is not a revolution in science. It is a crusade in the classroom. Our children need sound science education if they are to be successful in the modern world. But more than that, they deserve the same respect for their religious beliefs that Luskin and his fellow creationists enjoy.

Court: Creationists should settle outside court


Associated Press
2009-02-14 06:56 AM

A fight between creationists over a magazine must be settled out of court, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ordered Australian-based Creation Ministries International into arbitration with Answers in Genesis, the founder of a popular Kentucky museum dedicated to creationism, over copyrights and control of affiliates in other countries. Answers in Genesis had asked for arbitration.

The dispute highlights a rift between former friends who started a biblical creation ministry three decades ago in Australia before one left to develop a following in the U.S.

Ken Ham settled in northern Kentucky and built the $27 million Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to its exhibits since opening in 2007. The museum outlines the Old Testament's version of creation and asserts that the earth is only a few thousands years old.

Ham's success "caused significant tension" between the groups, "as each vied for control of what was becoming an increasingly international movement to teach creationism," the appeals court ruling said. The decision upheld a lower federal court ruling that also dismissed an attempt by Answers in Genesis to be shielded from a lawsuit filed in Australia.

In that 2007 suit, Creation Ministries International accused Ham of using the Australian ministry's subscription lists to sell his own creationist magazine, "Answers."

Anthony J. Biller, an attorney for Answers in Genesis, said in a statement after the appeals court ruling Friday that Creation Ministries should "stop its lawsuits and resolve these disputes in private, binding arbitration ..."

But Richard Getty, a Lexington attorney representing Creation Ministries, said, "If there's going to be an arbitration, they should have left that to the Australian court."

Ham started the Creation Science Foundation in Australia in 1980 with Carl Wieland, who had been publishing a creation science magazine since the 1970s, according to court records. Ham later moved to the U.S. and started Answers in Genesis, which quickly grew in membership and "eclipsed its Australian counterpart."

The two ministries shared ownership of international affiliate groups until disagreements prompted the U.S. and Australian ministries to meet in 2005 to draw up agreements concerning copyrights, Web site domain names and intellectual property owned by the foundation. Those agreements were approved by both groups' boards but Wieland rejected them, appointed a new Australian board and renamed the group Creation Ministries International, the ruling said.

The Australian lawsuit, filed on the day the Creation Museum opened in Kentucky, alleges Ham used a database containing the names and addresses of 39,000 subscribers to two Australian-produced magazines without seeking permission from Creation Ministries.

A hearing in the Australian suit is scheduled for April, Getty said.

Evolution education update: February 13, 2009

The 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth is in the headlines far and wide. A new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is now available, and so is selected content from a new issue of Reports of the NCSE. On the legislative front, there's a new antievolution bill in Alabama, but the Mississippi evolution disclaimer bill is already dead. And although Darwin Day is over, the celebrations aren't.


In recognition of Darwin's 200th birthday, February 12, 2009, the mass media are again taking notice of Darwin's life, accomplishments, and importance and influence. Writing to Charles Lyell in 1860, Darwin was wryly amused at the sort of newspaper coverage he was receiving in the wake of the publication of the Origin of Species: "I have received in a Manchester Newspaper a rather ... good squib, showing that I have proved 'might is right', & therefore that Napoleon is right & every cheating Tradesman is also right." Fortunately, today's journalists generally exhibit a higher degree of accuracy than their Victorian colleagues at the Manchester Guardian! Herewith a sampling of the recent coverage of the Darwin bicentennial.

The January 31, 2009, issue of Science News contained a number of articles about Darwin and evolution; a special web edition contains expanded versions of articles from the print edition plus two additional features. Included are Tom Siegfried on "Darwin's Evolution," Rachel Ehrenberg on "Evolution's Evolution," Tina Hesman Saey on "Molecular Evolution," Sid Perkins on "Step-by-Step Evolution," Patrick Berry on "Computing Evolution," and Susan Milius on "A Most Private Evolution." Also of interest are three stories about Darwin and evolution aimed at kids: Susan Milius on "When Darwin Got Sick of Feathers," Tina Hesman Saey on "Hitting the Redo Button on Evolution," and Tom Siegfried on "The Man Who Rocked Biology to its Core."

On February 1, 2009, National Public Radio launched a Darwin 200 series, beginning by interviewing Keith Thomson, the author of The Young Charles Darwin (Yale University Press, 2009), about the influences on the young naturalist. Science Friday's Ira Flatow interviewed Matthew Chapman, a great-great-grandson of Darwin, about the ongoing battle over teaching evolution in public schools and how Darwin's legacy continues to evolve on February 6, 2009. A story comparing the Darwin anniversary celebrations in the United States with their counterparts in Britain was broadcast on February 8, 2009. A story about Evolution Weekend was broadcast on February 11, 2009. And there is apparently more to come, so stay tuned!

Observing that "nearly 150 years after Darwin published his groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Americans are still fighting over evolution. If anything, the controversy has recently grown in both size and intensity," the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life unveiled a useful collection of on-line resources on February 4, 2009. Included are discussions of the social and legal dimensions of the evolution debate in the United States, a brief explanation of Darwin and evolutionary theory, a listing of the positions of various religious groups and their members on evolution, and a sampling of controversies over the teaching of evolution across the country.

From February 5 to February 9, 2009, the BBC's Radio 4 broadcast "Dear Darwin," in which "[f]ive leading scientists address letters to Charles Darwin, expressing their thoughts on his work and legacy." Featured were Craig Venter, telling Darwin "about his own experiences as a collector, medic and geneticist"; Jonathan Miller, describing "the huge advances in the understanding of genetics that have filled the holes in Darwin's understanding of inheritance"; Jerry Coyne, telling Darwin about the evidence amassed since the publication of the Origin that supports evolution; Peter Bentley, explaining the emerging field of evolutionary computing to Darwin; and Baruch Blumberg, telling Darwin "about his work with the hepatitis B virus and his later work at NASA searching for life on other planets." All five letters are available via Radio 4's Darwin website.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Quirks and Quarks show, hosted by Bob McDonald, devoted its program for February 7, 2009, to "a discussion of the life and work of Charles Darwin, and to a discussion of his impact on modern science, with three special guests," namely the science journalist David Quammen, the author of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (W. W. Norton, 2006); the geneticist Steve Jones, the author of Darwin's Ghost (Random House, 2000); and the science journalist Olivia Judson, the author of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex (Holt, 2003). The whole show is available in MP3 format; segments are available in MP3 as well as Ogg formats.

"Charles Darwin would no doubt be surprised to learn that, 127 years after his death, people around the world will be celebrating his 200th birthday on Thursday," Dan Vergano writes in USA Today (February 9, 2009). Describing Darwin Day as "part birthday bash, part thumb-in-the-eye to creationists, part opportunity for publishers rolling out Darwin books like sausages," he proceeds to ask, "who and what are evolution's fans celebrating?" After a summary of Darwin's life and accomplishments, the story turns to the controversial reception of evolution in the United States -- "Public debate over evolution has bounced from the statehouse to the schoolhouse to the courthouse since the Scopes trial" -- before ending with a reminder from NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll that "[t]oday we live in a second golden age of evolution."

The February 10, 2009, issue of The New York Times contained a suite of articles on Darwin and evolutionary biology: Nicholas Wade's "Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential" (arguing that "[i]t is a testament to Darwin's extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views"), Carl Safina's "Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live," Carol Kaesuk Yoon's "Genes Offer New Clues in Old Debate on Species' Origins," Carl Zimmer's "Crunching the Data for the Tree of Life," and Cornelia Dean's "Seeing the Risks of Humanity's Hand in Species Evolution." Additionally, in "Darwin the Comedian. Now That's Entertainment!" John Tierney discussed Richard Milner's one-man musical, "Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert."

US News & World Report, which recently featured NCSE's Glenn Branch's February 2, 2009, op-ed (along with one from the ICR's Henry Morris III) now features four more authors writing op-eds (February 10, 2009) on the topic of teaching evolution. Included are Americans United for Separation of Church and State's Richard Katskee, arguing "Should we teach creationism in public-school science classes? Of course we should -- if we want to violate the Constitution, dumb down our students, and make our nation an international laughingstock," and Michigan State University's Robert T. Pennock, who, after reviewing the evolution of the creationist attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in the public schools, concludes, "Creationism, in whatever guise it has taken to get into the schools, has proven itself to be fundamentally deceptive."

Reporting from Downe, the Los Angeles Times (February 11, 2009) discusses how, despite Darwin's isolation in Down House during the latter part of his life, "200 years after his birth on Feb. 12, 1809, Darwin seems to be everywhere in his native land," with "a yearlong series of 300 events that make up one of the most extensive national commemorations of a single person ever to be held in this country." "It's difficult to overstate how pervasive Darwin's work is," said Robert M. Bloomfield, coordinator of the umbrella organization Darwin200 and head of special projects at London's Natural History Museum. In celebration of the Darwin anniversaries, the story explains, Down House itself "has undergone a three-month, $1.3-million makeover for the bicentennial and is to reopen to local residents on Darwin's birthday, Thursday, and the general public Friday."

The Christian Science Monitor (February 12, 2009) took Darwin Day as the occasion to summarize the ongoing fights over antievolution legislation going under the misleading banner of "academic freedom," with the American Institute for Biological Science's Robert Gropp explaining, "They've gotten crafty about arguments they make. 'Academic freedom' sounds very all-American, but the problem is it sets aside the way science is done, the way we teach science." Referring to the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, so far the only such bill actually enacted, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told the newspaper, "This is very, very, watered down from the earlier generation of strategies, and it's harder to deal with that on [a] legal level because it's not about the legislation" but rather about how individual teachers choose to interpret the legislation.

A special twelve-page Darwin 200 section of the February 2009 issue of BBC Focus, available in a special Flash format, features a welcome by Richard Dawkins, a profile by Carl Zimmer of Michigan State University's Richard Lenski (including a brief discussion of the amusing incident in which a creationist demanded data from Lenski; see Zimmer's blog and The Panda's Thumb blog for further details), a sidebar on industrial applications of evolutionary theory, a spread on what Darwin didn't know (about inheritance, the evolution of eyes, human evolution, and the origin of new traits), a debate between Steve Jones and P. Z. Myers on whether human evolution is at a halt, and Richard Dawkins interviewed on the topic of "How to Win an Argument with a Creationist."

The February 2009 issue of Smithsonian contains Thomas Hayden's "What Darwin Didn't Know" -- coincidentally the phrase used by National Geographic for its February 2009 issue! Despite advances in biology since Darwin's day, Hayden writes, "even the most unanticipated discoveries in the life sciences have supported or extended Darwin's central ideas -- all life is related, species change over time in response to natural selection, and new forms replace those that came before." In the same issue is Adam Gopnik's essay comparing Darwin and Lincoln, based on his new book Angels and Ages (Knopf, 2009). The Smithsonian's website also features a collection of articles on Darwin and evolution appearing in previous issues of the magazine.

And finally, a reminder about the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, which took as its theme "The Evolution of Evolution: How Darwin's Theory Survives, Thrives and Reshapes the World." Featured are David J. Buller on "Evolution of the Mind," H. Allen Orr on "Testing Natural Selection with Genetics," David M. Kingsley on "Diversity Revealed: From Atoms to Traits," Ed Regis on "The Science of Spore," Neil H. Shubin on "The Evolutionary Origins of Hiccups and Hernias," Peter Ward on "The Future of Man -- How Will Evolution Change Humans?" and David P. Mindell on "Putting Evolution to Use in the Everyday World." And NCSE is represented, too, with Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott's discussion of the newest mutations of the antievolutionist movement in "The Latest Face of Creationism."

For Darwin's letter to Lyell, visit:

For the various Science News stories, visit:

For the various NPR stories (transcripts and/or audio), visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:

To buy The Young Charles Darwin from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:

For the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life's collection of resources, visit:

For the BBC Radio 4's Darwin website, visit:

For the Quirks and Quarks show on Darwin, visit:

To buy books by the interviewees from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:

For USA Today's story, visit:

For the various stories in The New York Times, visit:

For information about Richard Milner's Darwin musical, visit:

For Branch's, Katskee's, and Pennock's op-eds in US News & World Report, visit:

For the story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:

For information about Darwin200, visit:

For information about Down House, visit:

For the Christian Science Monitor's article, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of previous events in Louisiana, visit:

For the Darwin 200 section of BBC Focus, visit:

For further details about the Lenski incident, visit:

For the February 2009 issue of National Geographic, visit:

For the articles from the February 2009 issue of Smithsonian, visit:

To buy Angels and Ages from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:

For the previous articles about Darwin in Smithsonian, visit:

For the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, visit:

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


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now available on-line. Throughout 2009, the journal will celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin. Featured accordingly in the latest issue are articles on Darwin: "Why Darwin," "Artificial Selection and Domestication: Modern Lessons from Darwins Enduring Analogy," "Charles Darwin and Human Evolution," "Experimenting with Transmutation: Darwin, the Beagle, and Evolution," "Darwin's 'Extreme' Imperfection," and "The 'Popular Press' Responds to Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species and His Other Works." Studies of teaching and learning are presented as well: "Assessment of Biology Majors' Versus Nonmajors' Views on Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design," "Educational Malpractice: The Impact of Including Creationism in High School Biology Courses," "Teaching Evolution in Primary Schools: An Example in French Classrooms," and the late Michael E. N. Majerus's "Industrial Melanism in the Peppered Moth, Biston betularia: An Excellent Teaching Example of Darwinian Evolution in Action." There are also reviews of Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters and Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall's Human Origins.

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column for Evolution: Education and Outreach, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott and deputy director Glenn Branch argue that in the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, it is especially important not to overemphasize Darwin while talking about evolutionary biology in general. In the abstract, they summarize, "Evolutionary biology owes much to Charles Darwin, whose discussions of common descent and natural selection provide the foundations of the discipline. But evolutionary biology has expanded well beyond its foundations to encompass many theories and concepts unknown in the 19th century. The term 'Darwinism' is, therefore, ambiguous and misleading. Compounding the problem of 'Darwinism' is the hijacking of the term by creationists to portray evolution as a dangerous ideology -- an 'ism' -- that has no place in the science classroom. When scientists and teachers use 'Darwinism' as synonymous with evolutionary biology, it reinforces such a misleading portrayal and hinders efforts to present the scientific standing of evolution accurately. Accordingly, the term 'Darwinism' should be abandoned as a synonym for evolutionary biology."

For Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:

For Scott and Branch's article, visit:


Selected content from volume 28, number 3, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are Steven L. Salzberg's account of how a creationist article almost slipped into a leading proteomics journal and Lawrence S. Lerner's latest update on the state of state science standards. And there are reviews, too: Daryl Domning discusses Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, Andrew J. Petto reviews David P. Mindell's The Evolving World, and Roberta L. Millstein assesses Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan's Making Sense of Evolution.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 1) is a special issue to celebrate the Darwin anniversaries, containing a discussion of Darwin's botanical work by Sara B. Hoot. Also featured is the first installment in a series of creationism/evolution travelogues by Randy Moore. A host of reviews, too, including NCSE's Glenn Branch on Randy Moore and Mark Decker's More Than Darwin, Rebecca Cann on Norman Johnson's Darwinian Detectives, and NCSE's Peter Hess on Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902, by Mariano Artigas, Thomas F. Glick, and Rafael A. Martinez. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For selected content from RNCSE 28:3, visit:

For subscription information, visit:


House Bill 300, introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives on February 3, 2009, by David Grimes (R-District 73) and referred to the House Education Policy Committee, is the latest in a string of "academic freedom" bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution. Previous such bills in Alabama -- HB 923 (which Grimes also sponsored) in 2008; HB 106 and SB 45 in 2006; HB 352, SB 240, and HB 716 in 2005; HB 391 and SB 336 in 2004 -- failed to win passage. In 2004, a cosponsor of SB 336 told the Montgomery Advertiser (February 18, 2004), "This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind." The text of HB 300 as introduced is reproduced in full on NCSE's website.

For Alabama's HB 300, visit:

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


Mississippi's House Bill 25, which would have mandated the state board of education to require every textbook that discusses evolution to include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory," died in committee on February 3, 2009, according to the state's legislative website. At present, the only state to require a textbook disclaimer about evolution is Alabama, which is currently using a disclaimer adopted in 2005. The proposed Mississippi disclaimer was evidently a hybrid of two previous versions of the Alabama disclaimer: its first paragraph is modeled on the first paragraph of the second version (adopted in 2001), while much of the remainder is modeled on the first version (adopted in 1995).

Speaking to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (2009 Jan 24), the bill's sponsor, Gary Chism (R-District 37), was candid about his motivations, explaining, "Either you believe in the Genesis story, or you believe that a fish walked on the ground," adding, "All these molecules didn't come into existence by themselves." But he was pessimistic about the prospects of the bill, telling the conservative Christian on-line news source OneNewsNow (2009 Jan 26), "I am confident that this bill is ... dead on arrival ... I don't think the [committee] chairman will even take the bill up." Yet he also told OneNewsNow that "he would consider drafting another bill next year supporting the teaching of the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory in public school classrooms."

For the status of Mississippi's HB 25, visit:

For the story in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, visit:

For the story in OneNewsNow, visit:

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


Darwin Day is past, but the Darwin celebrations are still ongoing! 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, over 1000 congregations in all fifty states (and fifteen 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 11,837 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:

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 x310
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 education update: February 6, 2009

There are new antievolution bills in Iowa and New Mexico. But it's not all bad news: NCSE's Glenn Branch appeared in US News & World Report, two members of NCSE were honored by the National Academy of Sciences, and Darwin Day is almost here.


House File 183, introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives on February 3, 2009, and referred to the House Education Committee, is the latest antievolution "academic freedom" bill. Entitled the "Evolution Academic Freedom Act," HF 183 contains three sections. In the first, it is contended that "current law does not expressly protect the right of instructors to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution," that "instructors have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution," and that "existing law does not expressly protect students from discrimination due to their positions or views regarding biological or chemical evolution."

The following sections of the bill provide that teachers in the state's public schools and instructors in the state's public community colleges and state universities may "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological evolution" and that they "shall not be disciplined, denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against" for doing so. Also, the bill adds, although students "shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through standard testing procedures," they "shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution."

Presumably attempting to avert a likely challenge to its constitutionality, HF 183 provides that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion." The bill also attempts to avoid a likely charge of inappropriate legislative micromanagement of the curriculum by disclaiming any intention to "require or encourage any change in the core curriculum adopted by the state board of education ... the core content standards ... or the accreditation standards and curriculum definitions" or in "curricula on biological or chemical evolution adopted by the board of directors of a community college or the state board of regents."

The bill's sponsor is Rod A. Roberts (R-District 51), one of the four assistant minority leaders in the Iowa House of Representatives. The Sioux City Journal (February 5, 2009) reports that Roberts, an ordained minister in the Church of Christ, is contemplating a bid for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. HF 183 is apparently the only antievolution bill to be introduced in Iowa within at least the past ten years. As of February 5, 2009, only two lobbyists were listed on the Iowa General Assembly's website as having declared their interest in the bill: the Iowa Christian Alliance favoring it, and the Iowa State Education Association -- the state affiliate of the National Education Association, representing over 34,000 education employees in Iowa -- opposing it.

For the text of Iowa's HF 183, visit:

For the story in the Sioux City Journal, visit:


Senate Bill 433, introduced in the New Mexico Senate on February 2, 2009, and referred to the Senate Education Committee, is the third antievolution bill to be introduced in a state legislature in 2009. If enacted, the bill would require schools to allow teachers to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to biological evolution or chemical evolution," protecting teachers who choose to do so from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimation for doing so."

The phrase "academic freedom" is not present in the bill, but it is clearly in the mold of the recent spate of antievolution "academic freedom" bills. As NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott recently wrote in 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." Oklahoma, with its Senate Bill 320, and Iowa, with its House File 183, joined the list in 2009.

Although SB 433 explicitly states that it "specifically does not protect the promotion of any religion, religious doctrine or religious belief" and defines "scientific information" as "information derived from observation, experimentation and analyses regarding various aspects of the natural world conducted to determine the nature of or principles behind the aspects being studied," it also states that "'scientific information' may have religious or philosophical implications and still be scientific in nature."

New Mexicans for Science and Reason quotes a New Mexican antievolution organization as taking credit for the bill: "State Senator Steve Komadina helped get the NM Biological Origins Education Bill started, and then he sponsored it in the NM Senate in 2007 [as SB 371]. Unfortunately, he will not be able to sponsor the bill again because he was not reelected, but we really appreciate his initiative. Senator Kent Cravens [R-District 27] has agreed to sponsor the bill in the 2009 session. Let's support him in getting this legislation through the Senate."

For the text of New Mexico's SB 433, visit:

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

For New Mexicans for Science and Reason's coverage, visit:

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


NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch answered the question "Should creationism be taught in the public schools?" for the on-line edition of US News & World Report (February 2, 2009) -- in the negative, of course. After reviewing the legal history of attempts to require the teaching of creationism in the public schools, he observed, "Creationism is not just a legal failure. It is a scientific failure as well. Scan the scientific research literature: There are no signs that anyone is using creationism, whether as creation science or its newfangled form of intelligent design, to explain the natural world. In contrast, not a year passes without the appearance of thousands of scientific publications that apply, refine, and extend evolution."

Despite those failures, creationism persists. Branch explained, "Defeated in court and unable to make their mark in science, creationists have increasingly turned to the fallback strategy of attacking evolution without mentioning any specific creationist alternative," citing recent legislation in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi as well as struggles over the treatment of evolution in state science standards in Kansas, Ohio, and Texas. Additionally, he commented, "creationism contributes to a climate of hostility toward, skepticism about, and ignorance of evolution -- and, indeed, science -- in America. ... The sad consequence is students cheated of a chance to attain a proper understanding of the central principle of the biological sciences."

For Branch's op-ed in US News & World Report, visit:


NCSE is delighted to congratulate two of its members, Joseph Felsenstein and John D. Roberts, who are among the eighteen individuals to be honored by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 with "awards recognizing extraordinary scientific achievements in the areas of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, social sciences, psychology, and application of science for the public good," according to a January 28, 2009, press release.

Felsenstein, professor in the departments of genome sciences and biology at the University of Washington, was awarded the John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, which brings with it a medal and a prize of $25,000. According to the press release, Felsenstein is "being honored for revolutionizing population genetics, phylogenetic biology, and systematics by developing a sophisticated computational framework to deduce evolutionary relationships of genes and species from molecular data." He recently contributed "Has Natural Selection Been Refuted?" to Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

Roberts, Institute Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, was awarded the NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society, established by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which brings with it a prize of $20,000. According to the press release, "Roberts is being honored for seminal contributions in physical organic chemistry, in particular the introduction of NMR spectroscopy to the chemistry community." Replying to a congratulatory note from NCSE, Roberts commented, "It would be nice to have an award for service to society for settling the hash of creationism vs. science!"

For the press release from the NAS, visit:

For Felsenstein's article in Reports of the NCSE, visit:


Less than a week 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, 924 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 11,819 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:

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 x310
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!