NTS LogoSkeptical News for 21 February 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Islamic creationism


By Rony V. Diaz

TWO anniversaries will be celebrated this year.One is the birth 200 years ago this month of Charles Darwin, author of modern evolutionary theory.

The other is the publication 150 years ago in November of the book that set forth the theory: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

The evidence in support of evolu­tionary theory is overwhelming. It derives from disciplines as diverse as paleontology, geology, biogeogra­phy, ecology, population genetics, mole­cul­ar biology, developmental biology and, more recently, geno­mics. All this is now subsumed under the heading evolutionary biology.

Despite the preponderance of evidence there are still people and organized groups that refuse to accept the validity and explanatory power of evolutionary theory.

In the US, federal courts have prohibited the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in biology courses.

But local school boards and legislatures in about half a dozen American states are continuing the battle to keep the classrooms open to "views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory."

The battleground has shifted to academic freedom, in particular the requirement to explore "the strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories.

A main advocate of this strategism is the Discovery Institute in Seattle whose director, Stephen Meyer, told the New York Times on January 23, 2009 that the Institute is not pushing for a biblical version of creation. Rather, "it is fighting for academic freedom and against . . . a fanatical loyalty to Darwin among biologists, akin to a secular religion."

The twists and turns of this campaign are being reported in both the local and foreign press but what is not generally known is that a similar struggle is brewing in Islamic countries and communities.

In the December 12, 2008 issue of Science, Salman Hameed published an essay on Islamic creationism in which he predicted that "the next major battle over evolution is likely to take place in the Muslim world." With rising educational standards and the increasing importance of the biological sciences, a serious debate on evolution could happen in the coming decade in Muslim countries.

Like Christianity, Islam is not a monolithic religion. Its various sects have not yet arrived at a common view of evolution.

A big step towards this direction was taken with the publication in 2007 of a beautifully printed 850-page book called Atlas of Creation by Harun Yahya, the pen name of a wealthy Muslim creationist, Adnan Oktar, who lives in Turkey.

There are verses in the Koran that talk of the creation of the universe and of living things, but kept the age of the universe open to various interpretations including a very old universe that contrasts with the young-earth creationism of the Christian faiths.

Adnan Oktar "borrowed" his ideas from the Institute for Creation Research.

Since Muslims are comfortable with the idea of an earth that's billions of years old, they are inclined to accept random mutations as a mechanism for biological change.

Oktar focuses his opposition on "the social and cultural threat posed by evolution in the form of materialism and atheism."

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, thinks that "[t]he theory of evolution is the peg of the tent of modernism. And therefore it is kept as an ideology and not as a scientific theory which has been proven."

Even a trained biochemist, Muzaffar Iqbal, who edits the journal Islam & Science: Journal of Islamic Perspectives on Science wrote in 2006 that "not only does species preserve [their] characteristics but also receive[s] Divine command . . . and act[s] accordingly, the Koran tells us. The ant and the honeybee have always been the ant and the honeybee and will always remain so."

Some Islamic scientists, Maurice Bucaille for one, can accept animal but not human evolution. Animals evolve up to early hominid forms and then human evolution takes another path.

Surveys of six Muslim countries in 1996 and 2003 showed that only 16 percent of Indonesians, 14 percent of Pakistanis, 8 percent of Egyptians, 11 percent of Malaysians and 22 percent of Turks agreed that Darwin's theory is true. Surprisingly, only 28 percent of Kazakhs thought that evolution is false. This is much lower than the 40 percent of adult Americans who told a 2003 survey that evolution is not true.

Biology textbooks in these Muslim countries teach evolutionary theory as a scientific fact but accompanied with the relevant Koranic verses on the creation of life.

It would not be amiss for the two major conferences on Darwin's bicentenary—the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference and the Darwin Festival in Cambridge—to discuss with Muslim scientists alternative ways of teaching evolutionary biology without offending Islam.


Evolution education update: February 20, 2009

Louisiana's antievolution law lost the state a major biology conference. There's good news and bad news on the legislative front, with a new antievolution bill introduced in Missouri but a similar bill dead in Oklahoma. NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller is honored by the AAAS. And a few further noteworthy articles for the Darwin bicentennial.


The executive committee of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology decided not to hold any future meetings in New Orleans owing to "the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula," according to a February 5, 2009, letter (PDF) from SICB's president, Richard Satterlie, to Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal. Noting that the last SICB meeting, held in Boston, attracted over 1850 scientists and graduate students to the city for five days, Satterlie observed, "As you might imagine, a professional meeting with nearly 2000 participants can contribute to the economic engine of any community." But in 2011, those economic benefits will accrue to Salt Lake City rather than to New Orleans.

Particularly of concern to SICB was the Louisiana Science Education Act -- originally introduced as Senate Bill 561, then renamed as Senate Bill 733, and finally enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1. As NCSE previously reported, the law threatens to open the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes. The development of a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the law was not reassuring, especially when a provision that "[m]aterials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes" was deleted.

Taking note of SICB's decision, the Louisiana Coalition for Science wrote in a February 13, 2009, press release (PDF), "The first tangible results of the Louisiana legislature's passage and Gov. Bobby Jindal's signing of the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act have materialized, and these results are negative both for the state's economy and national reputation." Observing that Governor Jindal signed the bill over the protests of educators and scientists in Louisiana and nationally, the press release concluded, "The citizens of Louisiana, whose educational well-being the governor claims to be so concerned about, are now paying the price -- literally -- for his loyalty to his conservative Christian base."

The Louisiana Coalition for Science also noted that SICB may not be the only scientific organization considering taking its business elsewhere. In the August 2008 issue of ASBMB Today, Gregory Petsko, the president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, called for a boycott by scientific organizations of Louisiana and of any state adopting antievolution legislation, writing, "As scientists, we need to join such protests with our feet and wallets. ... I think we need to see to it that no future meeting of our society [the ASBMB was already committed to holding its 2009 meeting in New Orleans before the LSEA was enacted] will take place in Louisiana as long as that law stands."

SICB's decision to shun Louisiana was in the headlines, both in Louisiana and nationally. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (February 16, 2009) led its story with, "A national organization of scientists has informed Gov. Bobby Jindal it will not hold its annual convention in Louisiana as long as the recently adopted Science Education Act remains on the books," and quoted a spokesperson for Governor Jindal as saying, "That's too bad. ... New Orleans is a first-class city for a convention." In its report, The New York Times (February 17, 2009) quoted Barbara Forrest -- a member of NCSE's board of directors as well as a leader of the Louisiana Coalition for Science -- on the evasive language of the LSEA: "They're using code language, which is not new ... Creationists have done it for decades."

For SICB's letter (PDF), visit:

For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's letter (PDF), visit:

For Petsko's editorial in ASBMB Today, visit:

For the story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visit:

For the story in The New York Times, visit:

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


House Bill 656, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on February 10, 2009, and not yet referred to a committee, is the latest antievolution "academic freedom" bill. The bill would, if enacted, call on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including such subjects as the teaching of biological and chemical evolution," and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." "Toward this end," the bill continues, "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution."

Where a predecessor, HB 2554 from the 2008 legislative session, attempted to immunize itself from the accusation of unconstitutionality by saying, "This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," however, HB 656 is interestingly specific, saying, "This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote philosophical naturalism or biblical theology, promote natural cause or intelligent cause, promote undirected change or purposeful design, promote atheistic or theistic belief, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or ideas, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. Scientific information includes physical evidence and logical inferences based upon evidence."

The chief sponsor of HB 656 is Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155), joined by Mike Sutherland (R-District 99), Ed Emery (R-District 126), Therese Sander (R-District 22), Brian Nieves (R-District 98), and Stanley Cox (R-District 118). Cooper was the sponsor of numerous failed antievolution bills in the past. In 2008, he introduced the similar HB 2554. In 2006, he introduced HB 1266, which if enacted would have required that "If a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount." In 2004, he introduced two bills, HB 911 and HB 1722, that called for equal time for "intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools. HB 911 moreover contained idiosyncratic definitions of various scientific and philosophical terms as well as the draconian provision, "Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract."

For the text of Missouri's HB 656, visit:

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


Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320, the so-called Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, died in committee on February 16, 2009, according to a report in the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009). The bill, if enacted, would have required state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies" and permitted teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The only topics specifically mentioned as controversial were "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

In its critique of the bill, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "This is a 'Trojan horse' bill intended to open the door for the teaching of specific religious concepts in school science classes," observing that "[p]romoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest ... Evolution as a process is supported by an enormous and continually growing body of evidence. Evolutionary theory has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution."

The bill's sponsor, Randy Brogdon (R-District 34), told the Tulsa World that the bill was needed because science teachers in his district were confused and fearful about how to address controversial topics, but Owasso Public Schools Superintendent Clark Ogilvie told the newspaper, "I don't think our teachers are confused at all, and I'm somewhat puzzled because Sen. Brogdon and I have never had any dialogue on the subject." Richard Lerblance (D-District 7), who sits on the Senate Education Committee, called the bill "subterfuge," adding that it was one of the worst bills he has seen. Lerblance was among the eight members of the committee to vote to kill SB 320; under the rules of the Oklahoma Senate, the measure is dead for two years.

For the story in the Tulsa World, visit:

For OESE's critique (PDF), visit:

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


Kenneth R. Miller was named as the winner of the 2008 Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of "his sustained efforts and excellence in communicating evolutionary science," according to a February 11, 2009, press release. He received the award during a February 14 ceremony at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago. A Supporter of NCSE who testified for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Miller "made an extraordinarily persuasive public case for the power of science in general, and the validity of evolution in particular, to explain the natural world," AAAS reported in announcing the award. "He did the scientific community an immeasurable service" by helping to uphold the integrity of U.S. science education. Miller is Professor of Biology and Royce Family Professor for Teaching Excellence at Brown University, coauthor of the most widely used high school biology textbook in the country, and author, most recently, of Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, 2008).

For the AAAS press release, visit:

For NCSE's collection of materials about Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:

And to buy Only a Theory from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:


The February 13, 2009, evolution education update included a sampling of coverage of the Darwin bicentennial in the mass media. Here are a few further noteworthy articles.

Carl Zimmer, writing in Time magazine (February 12, 2009), noted that amid the anniversary hoopla, "there's a risk to all this Darwinmania: some people may come away with a fundamental misunderstanding about the science of evolution. ... Today biologists are exploring evolution at a level of detail far beyond what Darwin could, and they're discovering that evolution sometimes works in ways the celebrated naturalist never imagined." Yet, discussing some of the ways in which modern evolutionary biology is still in a creative ferment, Zimmer concluded, "Time and again, biologists are finding that Darwin had it right: evolution is the best way to explain the patterns of nature."

Michael Shermer's column in the February 2009 issue of Scientific American offered "A Skeptic's Take on the Public Misunderstanding of Darwin," in which he debunks "two myths about evolution that persist today: that there is a prescient directionality to evolution and that survival depends entirely on cutthroat competitive fitness." (The latter topic allowed him charmingly to quote Lincoln on "the better angels of our nature.") Scientific American further celebrated the Darwin bicentennial by posting a collection of its previous articles, as well as a few articles originally published in the magazine's German version Spektrum, on Darwin and evolution in a special section on its website.

In The New York Times (February 12, 2009), Olivia Judson began her anniversary op-ed with, "My fellow primates, 200 years ago today, Charles Darwin was born. Please join me in wishing him happy birthday!" She urged that Darwin is admirable not only as a scientist but also as a man, describing him as "one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive." In the same issue of the Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg of the newspaper's editorial board reflected on Darwin's life as a scientist, concluding, "Darwin recedes, but his idea does not. It is absorbed, with adaptations, into the foundation of the biological sciences. In a very real sense, it is the cornerstone of what we know about life on earth."

Thanks to all who wrote to suggest their favorites! The version of the list posted on the NCSE website is now updated to include the above.

For Zimmer's article, visit:

For Shermer's article, visit:

For Scientific American's collection of relevant articles, visit:

For Judson's article, visit:

For Klinkenborg's article, visit:

And for NCSE's summary of the Darwin bicentennial in the news, 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!

Friday, February 20, 2009

University of Vermont Biology Prof: Ben Stein Has No Peer-Reviewed Scientific Research!


February 6, 2009

This keeps getting better and better. First the University of Vermont announces that they've replaced Ben Stein with Howard Dean (yes, that Howard Dean) as their commencement speaker.

Then UVM biology prof Nick Gotelli writes an opinion piece in the Burlington Free Press arguing that Stein is unqualified to be a commencement speaker because he has no peer-reviewed scientific scholarship.

I kid you not:

The real issue is not political correctness, but scholarship. I will leave it to my colleagues in the economics department to weigh in on Stein's scholastic achievements as an economist. As far as the sciences go, I am unaware of a single publication by Stein that has appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In the sciences, these peer-reviewed journal articles are the currency by which we judge all scholars, and they form the basis for job offers, promotions and advancement in academia.

Stein's ideas are widely discredited by reputable academic scholars as well as by the mainstream media, and that is the real reason we don't want him to represent us on graduation day.

Hey, if the mainstream media says it, it must be true! Good thing UVM now has that paragon of scientific research, Howard Dean, to restore their honor.

Posted by Anika Smith at 2:55 PM | Permalink

How to respond to requests to debate creationists


Category: Creationism
Posted on: February 18, 2009 4:15 PM, by PZ Myers

A professor at the University of Vermont, Nicholas Gotelli, got an invitation to debate one of the clowns at the Discovery Institute. Here's what they wrote.

Dear Professor Gotelli,

I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I work, has a local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology department, then perhaps you can suggest an alternative.

Ben Stein may not be the best person to single-handedly represent the ID side. As you're aware, he's known mainly as an entertainer. A more appropriate alternative or addition might be our senior fellows David Berlinski or Stephen Meyer, respectively a mathematician and a philosopher of science. I'll copy links to their bios below. Wherever one comes down in the Darwin debate, I think we can all agree that it is healthy for students to be exposed to different views--in precisely the spirit of inviting controversial speakers to campus, as you write in your op-ed.

I'm hoping that you would be willing to give a critique of ID at such an event, and participate in the debate in whatever role you feel comfortable with.

A good scientific backdrop to the discussion might be Dr. Meyer's book that comes out in June from HarperCollins, "Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design."

On the other hand, Dr. Belinski may be a good choice since he is a critic of both ID and Darwinian theory.

Would it be possible for us to talk more about this by phone sometime soon?

With best wishes,
David Klinghoffer
Discovery Institute

You'll enjoy Dr Gotelli's response.

Dear Dr. Klinghoffer:

Thank you for this interesting and courteous invitation to set up a debate about evolution and creationism (which includes its more recent relabeling as "intelligent design") with a speaker from the Discovery Institute. Your invitation is quite surprising, given the sneering coverage of my recent newspaper editorial that you yourself posted on the Discovery Institute's website:


However, this kind of two-faced dishonesty is what the scientific community has come to expect from the creationists.

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars. Creationism is in the same category.

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren't members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

"Conspiracy" is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke, because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and on new empirical studies that overturn previously established principles. Creationism doesn't live up to these standards, so its proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books, blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don't maintain scientific standards.

Finally, isn't it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England? Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.

So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the pages of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn't science and doesn't merit an invitation.

In closing, I do want to thank you sincerely for this invitation and for your posting on the Discovery Institute Website. As an evolutionary biologist, I can't tell you what a badge of honor this is. My colleagues will be envious.

Sincerely yours,

Nick Gotelli

P.S. I hope you will forgive me if I do not respond to any further e-mails from you or from the Discovery Institute. This has been entertaining, but it interferes with my research and teaching.

What Is Hypocrisy, After All?


February 19, 2009

I've been corresponding with Nicolas Gotelli, a University of Vermont biologist. When I received his response to my initial email, I thought it was so ridiculous and hypocritical that I said to myself, Wouldn't it be amusing to publish this on ENV? Then I reflected disappointedly, No, it's a private correspondence, that would be unethical! I can't do it without his permission and, since he'd have to be pretty thoughtless to allow someone to reprint his hysterically bristling letter, it's not worth asking.

Luckily, Professor Gotelli has solved my problem for me. He promptly and without seeking permission sent our emails off to PZ Myers, who immediately published them on Pharyngula. You can read the correspondence there. Thank you, gentlemen.

Gotelli is the fellow who wrote an op-ed in the Burlington Free Press expressing the view that it was only proper that UVM should cancel Ben Stein as graduation speaker because the popular entertainer is also a "notorious advocate of intelligent design" who maintains that Darwinian ideas had deadly consequences in the form of Nazi racist ideology (only too true). Gotelli asserted it was appropriate to invite "controversial" speakers to campus, since "one of the best ways to refute intellectually bankrupt ideas is to expose them to the light of day." But a commencement speaker is someone special, Gotelli went on, someone chosen for his peer-reviewed scholarship.

Someone, it turns out, like the widely published scholar Howard Dean, to whom UVM turned next and who will deliver the commencement address. What, as one online reader of Gotelli's op-ed plaintively asked, "Was Daffy Duck unavailable?"

Prompted by a friend in Vermont who wanted to see Stein speak at UVM, I wrote to Gotelli on the assumption that just possibly he was sincere in his protestations about being for free speech. Perhaps he would agree to advise me on finding a forum for a debate about Darwinism on the UVM campus, on some occasion other than commencement. I suggested that rather than Ben Stein, it might be illuminating to put up a scientific Darwin critic like Stephen Meyer or David Berlinski against a Darwinian advocate like, oh, Nick Gotelli.

It was a pipe dream of mine. These guys always run from debates as fast as they can manage, hiding and shivering behind the excuse of not wanting to grant public recognition to doubts about Darwin -- doubts shared, of course, by most Americans. Sure enough, Gotelli wrote back, all in a huff. First, he was offended by a post on ENV that mildly guffawed at his op-ed and the choice of Dean as commencement speaker -- thinking I had written the post, which actually I didn't. Gotelli had misunderstood the author identification. He called the post "sneering" -- which it hardly was -- and decried my "two-faced dishonesty" in now writing to him in a courteous tone.

I always try to write to and about people in a courteous tone. Not so, Gotelli -- or PZ Myers, or most anyone I can think of in the online Darwinist community, where venom and vulgarity are the norm. Which is interesting in itself. I guess ideas have consequences after all.

After throwing around the scare word "creationism" a number of times and mixing it up with other insults and untruths, Gotelli closes by, first, withdrawing his earlier suggestion that Stein (or anyone associated with ID) would make an appropriate "controversial" campus speaker, and then childishly warning that if I should try to reply to him, he would not answer me or anyone else from the Discovery Institute. In other words, "Nah nah nah, boo boo!" as my kids would put it.

Hypocrisy may be the wrong word for Gotelli's about-face on free speech. Anyone who fails, out of weakness or temptation, to live up to his own openly professed ideals is a hypocrite. That would include most human beings. The normal feeling that goes with this is embarrassment. A hypocrite wouldn't seek to publicize his hypocrisy.

Maybe, then, the right designation for someone like Gotelli is a cynic. That's someone who treats ideas as chess pieces. When it suits your purposes, you advance an idea -- like "free speech." When it doesn't suit your purpose, the same idea becomes expendable, a useless pawn.

But no, that's not quite it either. A cynic is typically smart enough to try to keep his cynicism a secret. That's part of his game strategy. A cynic wouldn't forward his correspondence to a buddy with a popular website, so that everyone could see how little trouble he takes to consider the words he writes.

The person who would do that isn't a hypocrite or a cynic. He's a fool.

Posted by David Klinghoffer at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Utah policy on evolution helps land science conference


Biologists cite Louisiana's anti-evolution law.
By Brian Maffly

The Salt Lake Tribune

Posted: 02/18/2009 06:00:00 PM MST

A national biological society has diverted its annual meeting to Salt Lake City, snubbing New Orleans because of Louisiana's recent embrace of a law widely panned as anti-science.

The Louisiana Science Education Act -- similar to a measure Utah lawmakers rejected three years ago -- allows local school boards to introduce creationist materials into the classroom under the guise of promoting "critical thinking" toward the theory of evolution, critics say.

"This law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana," wrote Richard Satterlie, president of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, in Feb. 5 letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who signed the controversial bill into law last June.

"Utah, in contrast, passed a resolution that states that evolution is central to any science curriculum," the letter continued. "As scientists it is our responsibility to oppose anti-science initiatives."

The 2011 event will bring up to 2,000 biologists to Salt Lake City for the first week of January. For Satterlie, it was a tough call to bail on New Orleans, which twice hosted the society before Hurricane Katrina's devastating 2005 visit.

"It has been a very popular venue. The people are nice and there's lots to do," said Satterlie, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. "It's a city in recovery. The city can use the business. And taking away a conference like ours from the state where the teachers and students could benefit really weighed heavily."

One of Salt Lake's selling points, besides its great snow, is Utah Board of Education policy, Satterlie said.

"Viewing present-day organisms as products of evolution provides the most productive framework for investigating and understanding their structure and function. As such, evolution is a unifying concept for science and provides the foundation for understanding nature," says the board's policy on teaching evolution.

Utah lawmakers have grappled with calls for creationist-inspired teachings in classrooms, but the 2006 Legislature settled the question in favor of science.

"It is great that it's not being held against us. People outside the state see we have gotten past this question," said University of Utah biologist Denise Dearing, a SICB member. "It's wrong to confuse faith with science. It's not a substitute."

Louisiana is now seeing the economic consequences of allowing those with a religious agenda to muddy science education, said pro-science activist Barbara Forrest.

"[SISB's] discipline has been attacked in this state. They made a decision like an industry that wants to relocate here and they can't get the support of the state," said Forrest, co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.


Oklahoma bill promoting discussion of 'alternative theories' to evolution fails


OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Senate's Education Committee has narrowly defeated legislation that would have allowed classroom discussion of alternative theories to evolution, along with other topics where science conflicts with religious or moral viewpoints.

The vote was 7-6 against Senator Randy Brogdon's Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act.

Brogdon, a Republican, said science teachers in his district fear retribution for bringing up alternative theories on a wide range of subjects, such as evolution and stem cell research.

Senator Richard Lerblance, a Democrat, called the measure a subterfuge that would lead to teaching of theories based on religious viewpoints and not science.

"Senate Bill 320 is a wolf dressed in sheep's skin," Lerblance said, predicting it was a first step toward teaching intelligent design in Oklahoma schools.

"This is the biggest case of window dressing that I've seen" and "a direct slap at education," Lerblance said.

The theory of an intelligent design to the universe and life has been advanced to counter court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism as science.

Brogdon said he did not mandate anything in his legislation, other than to allow teachers and students to have "an open dialogue on many types of issues."


The alternative to healing


By Madeline Hyden

Published on Thu., February 19th, 2009

My foot twitched nervously as I sat alone in the quiet waiting room. I was nestled between a sage-colored wall and a stack of tattered health magazines. I watched the ladies behind the reception counter whisper to one another and I tried to convince myself that I wasn't anxious. But I was. Needles were fine when they were used for vaccinations or blood tests, but seemingly arbitrarily jabbing them into my flesh? I wasn't buying it. Just when I was about to bolt, Dr. Khosh walked out to greet me. He shook my hand and smiled warmly.

"Don't be nervous," he said, and led me back to his office.

Alternative medicine is the use of unconventional techniques to alleviate discomfort and illness, without disrupting the body's natural flow of energy. This means swapping cough syrup for herbs and anti-anxiety drugs for meditation.

Alternative medicine consists of ancient healing processes that have been in practice for thousands of years. It is considered any practice that deviates from orthodox medical treatments, such as prescription drugs and surgery, and can be used to replace or used alongside standard medical care. Alternative medical practices include acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, herbal medicine, meditation and yoga.

Seeing the whole picture

Shanna Nguyen always felt like something was missing from her pre-medicine studies at KU.

"I didn't want to be a conventional doctor and I didn't want to do conventional practices," the Kansas alumna says. "I constantly asked my professors, 'What are my alternatives? What can I do in the 21st century to better the health care system?'"

After graduation, she skipped medical school and looked into other options. While she was a student at KU in the mid-'90s, alternative medicine was considered an afterthought to traditional medicine, but she found a niche in alternative medicine education on the East Coast. She now attends the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut for a master's degree in acupuncture. Her concern with the health care and insurance industries led her to believe the general public was being deprived of proper medical care. She says modern medicine forces patients to adhere to an "industrial complex" that uses invasive procedures and unnecessary chemicals that don't treat the body as one interdependent entity.

Alternative medicine focuses on holistic healing. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the body is made up of 14 meridians, along which qi (pronounced "chi") flows. Qi is vital energy that is essential for living a healthy life. If there is pain or a blockage in the body, the qi flow is disrupted. Alternative medicine works to keep qi flowing freely along patients' meridians at all times.

* * *

"May I see your tongue?"

Dr. Khosh furrowed his brow as he stared at my mouth.

"You have a qi spleen deficiency," he said.

He told me I had severe discolorations on the back of my tongue, which led him to say that the qi flowing through my spleen was blocked. Dr. Khosh explained to me that the human body is a huge jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces have to fit together perfectly in order for it to work to its full potential. If one piece is missing or broken, the puzzle isn't complete.

* * *

Kristie Martin can tell you if you're congested, if you're wearing the wrong size of shoe, or if you're having digestive problems just by glancing at the bottom of your foot.

Martin is a licensed reflexologist and the owner of A Quiet Sole Reflexology in Overland Park. Reflexology is the practice of applying pressure to various parts of the feet or hands that stimulate correlating organs. She says reflexology shouldn't be confused with a simple foot or hand massage. The bottoms of the feet and palms of the hands act as roadmaps for the rest of the body, and by stimulating those areas of the feet and hands, energy can flow more easily to other parts of the body. While acupuncture clears qi by stimulating meridians with needle pressure, reflexology clears qi by stimulating pressure points on the feet and hands.

"As cliché as it sounds, the soles are the windows to the soul," she says. "If a client doesn't tell me something about their health, I'll find it on their feet."

Martin sees clients with a range of health concerns and oftentimes works with people undergoing cancer treatments. She currently has a client in the midst of chemotherapy for leukemia, and regular reflexology sessions help relieve pain from her patient's chemotherapy side effects, such as nausea, fatigue and muscle pain. In fact, the First International Symposium on Reflexology and Cancer was held last October, and reflexologists from around the world discussed reflexology's effect in aiding cancer treatment symptoms.

"I know I can't cure her with reflexology. But I'm helping her body heal itself," Martin says.

Dara Sims, Olathe senior, notices immediate results after her regular reflexology treatments. She says that after looking at her feet, her reflexologist noticed she had sinus congestion. After the reflexologist stimulated the areas of her feet connected to her sinuses and lungs (usually the second toe and central area above the arch), she felt her congestion lift. Sims also noticed nausea during her refexology treatments.

"If you sit up too fast you can end up throwing up. [Reflexology] stimulates all of your organs and bodily functions," Sims says.

A different approach

When Dr. Khosh led me back to his office, I wasn't greeted with cold medical tools or lab coats, but rather a cozy, warmly lit room. I sat down on a cushy leather couch, and Dr. Khosh asked me about myself. He asked about my eating habits, my stress levels, my lifestyle. He asked how much time I spent on my feet and how many hours of sleep I was getting.

He asked about my balance and any sort of pain—physical, emotional or spiritual—I was experiencing. It felt more like a therapy session than a consultation. My fear and anxiety quickly melted away as I spilled to Dr. Khosh about my chronic neck and shoulder pain and my severe allergies.

The actual acupuncture room was anything but the oftentimes intimidating exam rooms I was used to visiting in a doctor's office. There were no boxes of latex gloves, blood pressure monitors or tongue depressors—not even a stethoscope around Dr. Khosh's neck—just a bed, a peaceful painting of an ocean on the wall and a tray of glistening needles.

He told me to lie on my stomach. I barely felt the prick when he pressed six thin needles into the back of my neck and ankles—I felt more relaxed than anything else. Dr. Khosh turned off the light and told me to breathe deeply and let my body heal.

He stopped to put a blanket on my feet before walking out the door.

"I don't want you to get cold."

Because alternative medicine relies on holistic healing, practitioners examine every aspect of a person's physiology and mental health—even if it's just to alleviate a headache. Extensive consultations are necessary before an initial visit.

Amanda Assaf, Wichita junior, became interested in alternative medicine after she started regularly doing yoga and began receiving acupuncture for shoulder pain.

"I think that the fact that I was becoming more conscious of my body made me not want to put anything into it that would disturb its natural balance," she says.

She says her pain subsided immediately after her first treatment and she began understanding the importance of natural healing.


Because alternative medicine practices have only been included in the Western medical realm since the 20th century, they have generated skepticism from both the general public and the medical community. Though acupuncture needles have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as medical tools, most herbs and herbal supplements have not been approved because of high testing costs of the FDA and many alternative medicine practitioners' inability to receive patents on their products.

Some think alternative medicine is based on nothing but a placebo effect. I'll admit finding medical evidence to back up the claims of alternative medical success was nearly impossible. Qi and meridians are not defined as anatomical processes; they are explained as more of a guidance tool for practitioners. It's clear that people have found huge success from alternative medicine, but figuring out how exactly that success is attained is a little fuzzier.

It wasn't until the next afternoon after my appointment that I noticed my shoulders felt better. I sat through a lecture for the first time in years without feeling a twinge of pain shoot down my scapula. I immediately wondered if it was all in my head because I just couldn't find a way to explain the absence of discomfort. A pain that had become a sort of hated companion in my life was just … gone.

Shanna Nguyen is aware of the stigma and assumption of a placebo effect attached to alternative medicine.

"People label it as some sort of witchcraft or voodoo practice," she says. "And I do think about a possible placebo effect, like we're just helping the person believe they can help themselves."

But its followers swear alternative medicine has life-changing abilities and month-long waiting lists at acupuncture centers, chiropractors and reflexologists give evidence that there may be something to all of this "voodoo witchcraft."

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released last December, indicated that four out of 10, or 182 million, U.S. adults and children had used some form of alternative medicine treatments in the past year, compared with the 2002 survey where three out of 10, or 101 million people, sought alternative medicine care.

Sims cannot pinpoint how her reflexology treatments have provided her with relief, but she knows something positive is happening to her body.

"I don't know how to explain it other than saying that I simply feel healthier," she says. "And when I do get sick I feel like the reflexology, through the stimulation of organs, helps me to recover quickly and without medications."

Many practitioners strive to combine alternative medicine with traditional, Western medicine. Kim Nguyen, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, works for East West Medicine in Falls Church, Virginia, where an M.D. works downstairs and licensed acupuncturists work upstairs.

"My goal and vision is that they can exist is the same realm, offering health care services to the public," she says.

She says having a medical doctor under the same roof has given her exposure to traditional medicine, which enhances her own alternative medicine practices. Medical care should always be the choice of the patient. She says it's not up to any particular field to decide what path of healing is best for a person.

Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, opened its Integrative Pain Management clinic six years ago and offers patients alternative medicine options such as acupuncture, reflexology, therapeutic massage and hypnosis as an adjunct to their traditional medical treatments. Joy Weydert, M.D. and chief of the clinic, says patients' underlying problems aren't often addressed with medical care alone. She says alternative medicine brings balance to a person's life by attending to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components of his or her being.

The beauty of alternative medicine is that it is what it says it is: an alternative choice. Health is not black and white and the path to wellness may require different options and different attitudes.

After talking to Kristie Martin about her reflexology business and hearing story after story of people finding relief from her services, she said to me before we hung up, "You have a promising future, Madeline. I can just feel it."

Pain or no pain, I'll take that kind of reassurance over an immunization any day.

Liberty faculty take part in creationism events


February 19, 2009

Throughout the month of February, Liberty University continues to participate in events promoting the biblical view of creationism to counteract the 200th anniversary celebration of Charles Darwin's birthday (Feb. 12).

Thomas Road Baptist Church's Answers for Darwin Conference closed Tuesday night with a lecture by Dr. Marcus Ross, assistant director of LU's Center for Creation Studies. Ross spoke on the evidence in fossils that support a creation view and in what areas the theory of evolution falls short. Dr. David DeWitt, director of LU's Center for Creation Studies, spoke Monday night on how evolution is based on an interpretive framework and why a creation model of life makes sense.

Creationism events will continue as the Liberty University School of Law will be showing films on creation in the Supreme Courtroom. "Expelled" will be shown on Feb. 20; "Unlocking the Mysteries of Life" will be shown on Feb. 27. The films will begin at 7 p.m.

LU's Center for Creation Studies is an educational and research center and includes professors DeWitt, Ross, Dr. Terry Spohn and Dr. Douglas Oliver. Now offering a Creation Studies minor to students, the center's primary focus is the Creation Studies 290 course. In addition to speaking at several colleges and churches, the members of the center regularly publish several articles and books supporting the biblical view of creationism (most recently DeWitt's "Unraveling the Origins Controversy").

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New experiments push evolution in ways Darwin never expected


Column: Advances in DNA research enhance basic concepts of evolution.

By Robert C. Cowen| Columnist for The Christian Science Monitor/ February 18, 2009 edition

Science columnist Robert C. Cowen discusses what Charles Darwin didn't know and when he knew it.

Science columnist Robert C. Cowen

As scientists celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th birthday this month, it's worth considering what Darwin did not know. He hadn't a clue about genetics or DNA. That knowledge has extended Darwin's evolution research to include the fundamental information that underlies our planet's organic life. He also knew nothing of combinatorial chemistry in which robots carry out thousands of simultaneous experiments. This modern technique has enabled scientists to explore the formation and evolution of the first living cells.

David Deamer at the University of California in Santa Cruz is one of those scientists. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that ended Monday in Chicago, he explained why he thinks the origin of life on Earth is the result of combinatorial chemistry – millions of simultaneous "experiments" operating on a global scale. He described how his laboratory mimics that era in an array of thousands of individual compartments in which different molecule mixtures undergo reactions. He noted that critics doubt that the right molecules would randomly come together to jump-start life. But, he added, the possibility that combinatorial chemistry provided millions of opportunities for this to happen on primitive Earth "gives us a better way to think about the probability of life emerging from this process."

While Darwin knew nothing of DNA, modern geneticists readily admit that they have a lot to learn, too. Research published in the journal Nature on Feb. 12 (Darwin's birthday) illustrates this point. Evan Eichler at the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues have taken a fresh look at genetic changes that shaped the emergence of humans and modern apes from their common ancestors 8 to 12 million years ago. It turns out that change due to mutations in individual genes, which drives much evolution, had slowed down. Instead, those ancient ancestors were undergoing a burst of duplication of whole swatches of their genomes. This resulted in mix and match rearrangements of DNA that led to significant structural changes in the animals themselves.

This research gives a new perspective on the question of why humans differ strikingly from close ape relatives with whom they share so much of the same genome. The difference at the level of genetic information now appears to lie in the mix and match rearrangements of genetic duplication. The researchers say they discovered "striking examples of gene-containing duplications within the gorilla and chimpanzee that are absent in the human lineage."

Meanwhile, Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany shared the latest results from Neanderthal DNA research at the AAAS meeting. Neanderthals appeared about 300,000 years ago. Yet their DNA shows common roots with humans reaching back at least 880,000 years. Also Neanderthals and humans share a gene called FOXP2 that is related to speech, suggesting that Neanderthals may have been able to speak. Other genetic differences suggest that humans and Neanderthals did not interbreed.

Darwin's concept of evolution through natural selection of inheritable changes is the overarching theme of biology today. Yet modern researchers, who know so much more than Darwin did about the history and mechanism of those changes, have only begun to explore the theme's full implications.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Creationist Conference on Refuting Darwin Draws 4,500


By Elena Garcia
Christian Post Reporter
Tue, Feb. 17 2009 08:59 AM EST

A conference hosted by a creationist ministry to help Christians defend their faith against evolution drew over 4,500 people during its opening evening on Sunday.

Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis, which hosted the three-day "Answers for Darwin" conference, told the crowd in the opening session that America is becoming less of a Christian nation everyday and that it is due in part to the influence of Darwinism.

He cited statistics by research firm The Barna Group, showing that at least 60 percent of students raised in church-going homes who attend public schools will walk away from church.

Referring to the culture war, Ham said there are increasing pervasive attacks in America, including abortion and the removal of the Bible, prayer and creation from public schools.

"What is wrong?" he asked the audience at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. "I suggest to you the foundation is being taken out of this nation that was once here and we see the structure collapsing."

Ham compared Christianity to a building, which without a foundation would collapse. For Christianity, that foundation is the authority of the Bible, he contended.

But the evolutionary theory proposed by Charles Darwin has helped to undermine biblical authority by challenging the account of creation in Genesis, according to Ham, who believes in the literal interpretation of the six-day creation story in Genesis.

"When you take out Genesis 1-11, it's like taking out the foundation to a building and you would expect it to collapse," he explained.

Ham noted the widespread negative influence of Darwinism.

Darwinism has been used to support racism and by Hitler to justify his actions, Ham claimed.

In Finland, the theory was cited by a student who shot a number of students and said it was a way of putting back to play natural selection and survival of the fittest.

Ham said that if children are taught about natural selection and natural processes, they are being taught in effect that they are just an animal.

"Is that ethically relevant?" he asked rhetorically.

The Young Earth Creationist urged the participants at the free event to not lose biblical authority, starting with what they teach their kids at home.

Many people in their homes have "imposed Christianity from the top-down on our kids but most of them go to schools where they give them a foundation to rebuild the structure," he explained.

He said it was important that Christians raise their children to be able to give answers to a secular world and speak with authority.

Following Ham's address, the crowd also listened to talks by Dr. Andrew Snelling, a scientist with Answers in Genesis who holds a Ph.D. in geology, and Liberty University professor Dr. David DeWitt, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

The "Answers for Darwin" conference, which runs until Wednesday, is being held in response to the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his fundamental work The Origin of Species. Answers in Genesis hosted a similar conference in California earlier this month.

A fresh look at science-and-religion tension


"Theistic evolution." Now, here's a term that's new to me.

But in a essay for Harvard Divinity Bulletin religion writer and author Mark Pinsky captures a fresh way of talking about how some of the world's most glittering scientists, famed for their research from the genes to the stars, reconcile evangelical faith with their passion for rigorous research.

During a fellowship in science and religion last year at Cambridge, Charles Darwin's alma mater, Pinsky had searching conversations with biologists, cosmologists and physicists such as Simon Conway Morris, Sir John Polkinghorne, Sir Brian Heap and Sir John Houghton -- all evangelical believers. He writes:

By and large, they reject creationism and intelligent design, embracing the concept of "theistic evolution," a God-created, billions-years-old universe. None numbered themselves among any of the apocalyptic American evangelical tribes of arrogant dominionists or fanciful premillennial dispensationalists of the "Left Behind" stripe.

Pinsky burrows into a particular area of the science-and-religion tensions. What is the role of faith in shaping how one views stewardship of the earth? It's a "hot" question now that many scientists say global warming is rising more rapidly.

Theological opponents of "creation care," Pinsky writes,

... agree with the late ultraconservative theologian R. J. Rushdoony, that science must first serve religion: "If Jesus Christ is Lord of the family, he is also Lord of the laboratory."

By contrast, reproductive biologist and ethicist Heap, who belongs to the British group Christians in Science, told Pinsky,

The religious foundation comes from the Christian motivation to seek the best for others ... for the world we too easily damage."

Calvin DeWitt, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, has an eloquent way of putting this:

Scientific inquiry in some settings can even be a form of worship, I believe -- a kind of singing a living psalm to the Lord of creation.

Now, I'll give it to Pinsky here. I met most of these same scientists in 2005 when I attended the same fellowship program, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, but I never burrowed so deeply or so well into how they balance science and belief.

Lucky for me, I'll be back to Cambridge in April for a seminar on evolution and the brain. (I'm fascinated with the definition of consciousness, the possibilities of a physics of thought). What do you think I should ask the scientists and theologians I'll meet?

Dembski: evolution hypothesis, not theory


Posted on Feb 16, 2009 | by Benjamin Hawkins

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--On the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, William Dembski, research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged Darwin's famed theory of evolution during a seminary chapel service.

Christianity and Darwinian evolution put forward "radically different worldviews," Dembski said Feb. 12 at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary. "I think the real challenge for the church now is not the atheistic Darwinists ... but it is now the church itself and Christian higher education embracing this semi-materialistic worldview."

According to Dembski, every worldview involves a creation story, a problem, a solution for that problem and an expected culmination. For Christians, this involves a world created by a wise God and marred by the sinfulness of man. As the solution to sin, the Son of God entered the world as Jesus Christ and died for the redemption of man. In the end, Christ will return and the creation will be renewed.

"Evolution comes to us and challenges us right at the point of creation," Dembski said, calling evolution a "secular creation story." Darwin wasn't the first to think of a creation that evolved, Dembski added. In fact, some ancient Babylonian myths recount how the waters commingled and evolved "into higher gods." Similarly, Darwinian evolution explains that the process began "with material forces moving about and evolving into something higher."

This materialistic worldview, Dembski said, has been infused even into Christian culture. However, he added, "If you get your starting points wrong, you can count on everything downstream going amiss as well." As a result, some theistic evolutionists, who believe in God while also supporting Darwin's theory of evolution, hold to an unbiblical theology. For example, some have denied the fall of mankind and argue that man's problem is a selfishness caused by the process of natural selection, Dembski said.

The widespread acceptance of Darwin's theory can be seen in the support it has gained in academic circles, even at schools and universities with Christian backgrounds. Some schools even refuse to teach any alternatives to Darwinism, he said.

This same concern was aired in the 2008 documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." In the film, host Ben Stein tracked down scholars, including Dembski, who have been persecuted -- or "expelled" -- by the academic community for their support of Intelligent Design, a research discipline that flies in the face of Darwinism.

Despite this widespread support of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dembski noted that it is a hypothesis. A theory, he said, should both explain what a scientist observes while also gaining support from independent evidence.

"In fact, there is very little evidence for the power of natural selection," Dembski said, adding that the existing evidence concerns small-scale evolutionary changes like the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

As for Intelligent Design, "It is not creationism," Dembski said. "It's engineering." ID entails research that seeks to discover evidence of design, or engineering, within nature. For example, no human engineer has designed technology that can hold as much information in such a compact way as the DNA found in cells, he said.

After Dembski's message, Paige Patterson, Southwestern's president, noted that the College at Southwestern encourages students to explore all worldviews so that they may examine them according to a biblical worldview. Students in the college learn about Intelligent Design, Patterson said, but also are required to read Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."


Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To access Dembski's chapel message, access Southwestern Seminary's chapel archives at www.swbts.edu/chapel.

Boycott by Science Group Over Louisiana Law Seen as Door to Teaching Creationism


Published: February 16, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — A leading scientific group has announced its intention to boycott Louisiana because of a new state law that could open the door to teaching creationism in the public schools.

The measure, signed into law last summer by Gov. Bobby Jindal, allows teachers to "use supplemental textbooks" in the classroom to "help students critique and review scientific theories."

A leading Christian conservative group here, the Louisiana Family Forum, championed the law; a member proposed the bill to its legislative sponsor.

Scientists denounced the law as a back-door effort to sneak creationism into the classrooms.

In response to the law, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, formerly the American Society of Zoologists, wrote to Mr. Jindal this month to announce it would not hold its 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans, opting for Salt Lake City instead.

"It is the firm opinion of S.I.C.B.'s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana," the president of the society's executive committee, Richard A. Satterlie of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, wrote to the governor, a Republican.

The group has more than 2,300 members, mostly academics who teach across the spectrum of biological sciences. It said its most recent convention, in Boston last month, brought together more than 1,800 scientists and graduate students for five days.

"The S.I.C.B. leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula," Dr. Satterlie wrote. "As scientists, it is our responsibility to oppose anti-science initiatives."

The letter was first reported on Monday by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature last June — unanimously in the Senate, and 94 to 3 in the House — despite warnings that it could harm the state's reputation.

Supporters of the bill were careful to include a line saying that it did not "promote any religious doctrine."

The sponsor, State Senator Ben Nevers, said at the time that "there's no hidden agenda, there's no code language."

But Mr. Nevers, a Democrat, also referred to "intense debate in the scientific community" on "some of the information" in the bill. Some of that "information" mentioned in the bill includes evolution, among other theories. Scientists, however, say there is no debate about evolution.

"They're using code language, which is not new," said Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University who testified against the bill and is co-author of a book about creationism. "Creationists have done it for decades."

A citizens' organization that Dr. Forrest helps lead, the Louisiana Coalition for Science, commented in a news release that "the citizens of Louisiana, whose educational well-being the governor claims to be so concerned about, are now paying the price — literally — for his loyalty to his conservative Christian base."

Mr. Jindal's office had little to say on Monday about the boycott.

"That's too bad," a spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said in an e-mail message. "New Orleans is a first-class city for a convention."

Evolution in Black and White


The alternative color forms of some animals are providing new insights into how animals adapt and evolve

By Sean B. Carroll
Smithsonian.com, February 10, 2009

Shortly after he completed his second term as president in 1909, Teddy Roosevelt took a year-long hunting safari in Africa under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. Many of Roosevelt's trophies wound up as exhibits in the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Roosevelt's safari experiences, regaled in his book African Game Trails (1910) gave him strong opinions about how animals blended, or did not blend, with their surroundings:

"Black and white are normally the most conspicuous colors in nature (and yet are borne by numerous creatures who have succeeded well in the struggle for life); but almost any tint ... harmonizes fairly well with at least some landscapes, and in but a few instances among the larger mammals, and in almost none among those frequenting the open plains, is there the slightest reason for supposing that the creature gains any benefit whatever from what is loosely called its 'protective coloration.'"

Roosevelt's scoffed at notions of the protective value of coloration for two reasons. First, the horse-mounted hunter extraordinaire had little difficulty spotting, stalking and bagging big game; his hunting party shot more than 500 mammals. Clearly animals' colors did not protect them from him. And second, while at the time the fact of evolution was widely accepted by scientists (and Roosevelt), Darwin's explanation of the primary role of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution was not. Natural selection had fallen out of favor, in particular over the matter of animal coloration. Many naturalists in the 1890s had criticized Darwinian explanations of coloration as wholly lacking evidence, and offered other explanations. For instance, some suggested that coloration was directly caused by external factors such as climate, light or diet.

These alternative ideas were soon quashed by the emergence of the science of genetics and the demonstration through breeding experiments (such as those originally conducted by Gregor Mendel) that coloration is an inherited property of plants and animals. But until the past few years, we did not know how genes determine animal coloration or how variation in genes affect variation in coloration in nature. New understanding of how animal colors are made, particularly simple patterns of black and white, and field studies of the benefits and drawbacks of color schemes in different habitats, are now providing some of the best examples of how natural selection and evolution work.

One of the most widespread phenomena in the animal kingdom is the occurrence of darkly pigmented varieties within species. All sorts of moths, beetles, butterflies, snakes, lizards and birds have forms that are all or mostly black. Perhaps most familiar are the dark big cats, such as the black leopard and black jaguar. These beautiful animals are often displayed in zoos as curiosities, but they also occur in the wild in significant numbers.

All of these so-called "melanic" forms result from increased production of the pigment melanin in the skin, fur, scales or feathers. Melanic pigmentation can serve many roles. Melanin protects us and other animals from the ultraviolet rays of the sun; it can help animals in colder climates or higher altitudes warm their bodies more quickly, and, contrary to Roosevelt's skepticism about protective coloration, black pigment does conceal some animals from predators.

In the deserts of the southwestern United States, for instance, there are outcrops of very dark rocks that were produced by lava flows over the past two million years. Among these rocks lives the rock pocket mouse, which occurs in dark black and a light, sandy color. Naturalists in the 1930s observed that mice found on the lava rocks were typically melanic, while those on the surrounding sand-colored granite rocks were usually light-colored. This color-matching between fur color and habitat background appears to be an adaptation against predators, particularly owls. Mice that are color-matched to their surroundings have a survival advantage over mismatched mice in each of the two habitats.

Recently, Michael Nachman and his collaborators at the University of Arizona have undertaken detailed field and genetic studies of rock pocket mice. They have found that the mice interbreed with mice from other habitats and migrate between rock types. The mice are clearly one species, not two. So what makes fur black or light? Just a few differences in the code of a single gene. This simple basis of inheritance means that the origin of black mice from light-colored parents happened in just one or a very small number of mutational steps. But for mice invading the previously alien habitat of black lava rocks, those small genetic steps were a giant leap in terms of evolution. Nachman and Hopi Hoekstra (now at Harvard University) estimated that dark mice have about a 60 percent or greater survival advantage over light mice on the dark lava rocks. In other words, fur color in this species is clearly under very strong natural selection.

The gene involved in the origin of melanism in rock pocket mice is called melanocortin receptor 1, or MC1R or short. That is not a very interesting nugget of information, until I tell you that the melanic forms of jaguars, snow geese, arctic fox, fairy wrens, banaquits, golden lion tamarins, arctic skua, two kinds of lizards, and of domestic cows, sheep and chickens are caused by mutations in this very same gene. In some species, precisely the same mutations have occurred independently in the origin of their dark forms. These discoveries reveal that the evolution of melanism is not some incredibly rare accident, but a common, repeatable process. Evolution can and does repeat itself.

Melanism is not only a matter of concealment. The lesser snow goose also occurs in two forms, a white and a melanic "blue" form. In this species, the mating preference of individuals follows the color scheme of their parents. Apparently, young birds learn their parents' color and choose mates along family lines–birds from blue families prefer blue mates and birds from white families prefer white mates. Mating preferences among arctic skuas have an additional twist, in that females generally prefer darker males. Both of these bird species are evolving under sexual selection, a process also first described by Darwin, in which traits that are advantageous in the mating game are favored. Because sexual selection has such a strong effect on mating success, it is a very strong form of selection in nature.

Another common form of animal coloration is the lack of pigmentation–or albinism. This condition is frequently observed in natural populations of cave-dwelling animals, including fish, crayfish, insects, spiders and other species. The common occurrence of albinism in cave animals is thought to represent the flip side of evolution under natural selection. That is, with little or no light, natural or sexual selection on pigment color and pattern is relaxed. Mutations that abolish pigmentation, and that would generally be harmful to animals in other habitats, are tolerated in the darkness of these caves.

Albinism, too, appears to have a simple genetic basis that makes it "easy" to evolve. Recently, Meredith Protas and Cliff Tabin at Harvard Medical School, Bill Jeffery at the University of Maryland, and their collaborators pinpointed the genetic basis of albinism in the Mexican blind cavefish. These albino fish are found in about 30 caves in the Sierra de El Abra region in northeastern Mexico. Each population is derived from a pigmented, fully sighted surface- or river-dwelling form. The researchers have investigated the genetic basis of albinism in populations from the Pachón and Molino caves and found that albinism in each population was caused by mutations in the same pigmentation gene, but different specific mutations in each case. Here again, in these fish, evolution has repeated itself twice in the origin of the same trait. Furthermore, the specific gene mutated in these fish is also the same gene responsible for albinism in humans, pigs, mice and other fish species.

The natural histories of the rock pocket mice and cavefish vividly demonstrate how animals have adapted to new surroundings; no matter how alien those habitats once were to their ancestors. These obscure animals have also provided the concrete links between specific genes, natural selection and evolution in the wild that have long been sought by biologists. While not as majestic as the game animals of the African savanna, these animals illustrate larger lessons that would have been appreciated by Roosevelt, and perhaps even warranted their own, albeit small, trophy case for displaying the continuing progress in understanding how evolution works.

Author Bio:

Sean B. Carroll is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin. His new book, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), chronicles the experiences and discoveries of intrepid naturalists who developed and advanced the theory of evolution.

Why Darwin matters: evolution and American society


By: Sam Koch '11
Posted: 2/18/09

As a stereotypical political science major, I could tell you very little about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution other than some grouping of court cases and a Wikipedia-like synopsis of natural selection. Even with a year or so of biology in public school and a little bit of reading off to the side, I still find it difficult to comprehend the idea of monkeys transforming slowly, bit by bit, into the human beings seen perusing their iPhones at Starbucks.

The truth is, though, I'm not alone. In fact, compared to the rest of the country, I'm quite the expert on Darwin.

A recent Gallup poll found that 55 percent of Americans could not identify Darwin to his theory of evolution. Only 39 percent embraced the theory itself (which, if you do the math, means that a good chunk of Darwin-groupies don't actually know what evolution is). The numbers are fairly surprising, especially given the fact that Darwin has received something of a post-mortem birthday bash from a whole host of media outlets including the New York Times and ABC News.

Historically, however, 39 percent is pretty impressive. In the century and a half since "On the Origin of Species" was published, Americans have argued, acquiesced, and toiled with the idea of being a chain in the link of natural selection. As one of the most religious nations on earth, it's no wonder that the people in the United States continue to turn toward creationism and intelligent design as explanations for our existence; Darwin's theory does not include, among other things, a supervisory God.

Devout faith in the supernatural isn't the only explanation for our nation's consistent rejection of evolution, though. Dr. Jeffrey Hyson, a history professor here at St. Joe's, believes that the structure of our education system might also have had an influence in how the debate surrounding evolution has been played out through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

"We have a tradition of education being controlled on the state and local level, whereas in other industrial countries it's been historically top down. That's meant a couple things for the United States. It's meant that there have been countless fights over the teaching of evolution over the past century as opposed to one battle at the top, or maybe a series of battles at the top."

The fight against evolution has, in fact, been a grassroots movement to fight for the right of parents to determine what little Johnny or Susie reads in the classroom. According to Hyson, "it's very focused on: 'These are my kids, they're going to be taught what I believe. No outside authority is going to tell me what to do.'"

But perhaps more than anything, Americans' unwillingness to warm up to evolution may stem from the same problem I've had in dealing with the theory: evolution is a pretty difficult thing to grasp.

Partly because of America's culture of faith and partly because of an easy explanation, evolution appears as a strange concept from the get-go. Add to it the moral complications that result from realizing you were, in essence, an accidental product of sex drive, environmental factors, and biological mutations, and you have a theory that will not sit well in the American conscience.

It's true that there is nothing comforting about the theory. Its consequences, for the most part, can be quite disheartening. When you sign on to evolution, it becomes difficult to sign onto the idea that each of us has a purpose, that we are different from our neighbors. In a sense, we become like every other animal on the planet-our biological paths just happened to swerve in a different direction than, let's say, fish or cats.

But like many things in life, the discomforting truths are often the most beneficial. If we want to move forward, as a nation, towards a higher standard of education and science-as President Obama has alluded in several speeches-we are going to have to face the facts, no matter how much of a headache we get while doing it.

© Copyright 2009 The Hawk

Monday, February 16, 2009

Going Where Darwin Feared to Tread


Scientists Begin to Decode the History of Human Evolution

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009; A01

In biology's most famous book, "On the Origin of Species," Charles Darwin steered clear of applying his revolutionary theory of evolution to the species of greatest interest to his readers -- their own.

He couldn't avoid it forever, of course. He eventually wrote another tome nearly as famous, "The Descent of Man." But he knew in 1859, when "Species" was published, that to jump right into a description of how human beings had tussled with the environment and one another over eons, changing their appearance, capabilities and behavior in the process, would be hard for people to accept. Better to stick with birds and barnacles.

Darwin was born 200 years ago today. "On the Origin of Species" will be 150 years old in a few months. There's no such reluctance now.

The search for signs of natural selection in human beings has just begun. It will ultimately be as revelatory as Newton's description of the mathematics of motion 322 years ago, or the unlocking of the atom's secrets that began in the late 1800s.

The inundation of data since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, and the capacity to analyze it at the finest level of detail -- the individual DNA nucleotides that make up the molecule of heredity -- are giving us a look at humanity's autobiography in a way that was once unimaginable.

In small, discrete changes in our genes that have accumulated over time, we are seeing evolution's tracery, as durable as it is delicate. It is slowly revealing how climate, geography, disease, culture and chance sculpted Homo sapiens into the unique and diverse species it is today.

Biologists are discovering that the size of our limbs and brains, the enzymes in our spit and stomachs, the color of our skin, the contour of our hair, and the armament of our immune systems are each to some degree the products of evolutionary adaptation. They are the hard-earned, but unintended, bequests of our ancestors' struggle to survive.

This, of course, is no surprise. Darwin knew it was so -- and he'd never heard of a gene.

The surprise is our capacity to see the mechanical changes -- for genes are nothing more than little machines operating in water -- that are evolution's working material. Natural selection has moved beyond metaphor. We can see the thing itself.

"Why are we the way we are? That has always been a sort of fundamental question, hasn't it? But it is only now that we can really begin to address it," said Carlos D. Bustamante, a professor of computational biology at Cornell University. "Over the ages we catalogued the anatomical differences between people and eventually biochemical differences, too. Now we can get down to the molecular differences. We really mean it this time."

Understanding which of our 25,000 genes have changed since we climbed out of the trees may have practical results as well. Many of mankind's most common health problems -- hypertension, diabetes and obesity are examples -- may partly be consequences of natural selection that occurred long ago, in a world far different from today's. Identifying which genes have undergone the most rapid evolution, and then figuring out what they do, may shed important light on these ailments.

Out of this research may come one other tantalizing insight: How, if at all, are we still evolving?

Promising Leads, Few Complete Answers

At the moment, though, there are a lot more promising leads than mysteries solved.

More than 300 human genes show strong evidence of recent mutations that favored survival in the face of new threats or novel environments, and consequently spread quickly through populations. For only a few, however, have researchers nailed down the full story of what the mutations did and how they helped our ancestors.

"We are really just beginning to see the landscape of human evolution. We're working toward a coherent picture of how we evolved over time," said Pardis Christine Sabeti, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

Some of that landscape is visible on a map of the world. Many of the differences in appearance and physiology between ethnic groups are products of natural selection that occurred eons ago in the geographic regions those groups still inhabit.

Natural selection, of course, didn't begin just when human ancestors and chimpanzees diverged 6 million years ago and we became our own, distinct lineage. Much of what makes us special (at least in our own eyes) was already underway.

Take our brains.

The marvelous things they can do -- and the use of language is right at the top of the list -- didn't leap fully formed from a profoundly inferior predecessor. Instead, our brains are the result of small structural changes, some more important than others, accumulating since deep in evolutionary time. That appears to be the case of a gene called FOXP2.

When a mutation occurs in that gene in people (a rare event), they lose the ability to make sense of language and to produce coherent speech. When the gene is knocked out in birds, their songs are incomplete and inaccurate. In bats, it seems to be involved in echolocation.

Across many species, the gene appears to play a role in processing sound and using the information to perform an action -- making an intelligible grunt, singing the right song or avoiding a collision with a cave wall. And it turns out that human beings have two mutations in the FOXP2 gene that chimpanzees don't. What do they mean for the functioning of our brain cells? Nobody knows, but the betting is: something that may be key to humans' unique capacity for language.

Curiously, sometimes evolution lurches forward when a gene stops working. Making room in our skulls for our outsize brains may have been helped by such an occurrence.

Humans have completely lost the function of a gene called MYH16. It's still there, but scientists can tell from the DNA sequence that it underwent a "frameshift mutation" and no longer works.

MYH16 codes for a protein that is a component of some muscles. In chimpanzees and other primates, it is active only in muscles of the head, especially ones used for chewing. Some scientists speculate that the mutation that disabled the gene freed our skulls of the physical constraints required to anchor large, powerful jaw muscles. That, in turn, may have helped make room for the brain's rapid enlargement.

Brain size itself appears to be controlled by at least four other genes; mutations in them cause microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by a small head and mental retardation. These genes have been changing more rapidly in primates than in rodents, and the pace of that evolution has been especially fast in humans and chimps. That's no surprise; they're smart and we're smarter.

Beneficial Traits Spread

It takes time for a mutation that produces an advantageous genetic trait to sweep through a population. How quickly that occurs depends, in part, on how big an advantage the change provides.

With many traits -- big brains, upright posture, scant body hair, color vision -- the advantage is so great that the DNA sequence for them reaches what geneticists call fixation. Everyone has it.

But fixation isn't always the endpoint. A gene-altering mutation can sweep through one population but remain virtually absent in another. That's because all that's required for a mutation to spread is for it to improve its carriers' chance of surviving and reproducing under their current circumstances. And circumstances are not the same for all people and can change over time.

That was certainly the case 2,000 generations ago, when groups of modern humans began to leave Africa and settle nearly every corner of a geographically, climatically and botanically diverse planet. Their genes changed as a result of their journeys, and the genes of people who stayed in Africa continued to evolve, too, as life there changed.

All of this occurred by chance, and the result is the world of human diversity we see today.

"Evolution in a pure Darwinian world has no goal or purpose," biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote in the introduction to a collection of Darwin's writings a few years ago.

In other words, evolution is not like an arrow shot at a target, but like a blind dog stumbling across an obstacle-strewn landscape. This is what caused Darwin to shy away from talking about evolution and mankind in the same breath, at least at the beginning. It is still the heresy that quickens the creationist's pulse.

The current conservative estimate is that 10 percent of our genome has undergone "positive selection" since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago. Not surprisingly, the changes that tell the clearest stories involve basic needs -- food, protection from the elements, resistance to disease.

The adaptation to malaria is the best and oldest example.

Children and pregnant women are at highest risk of dying from malaria (and about 900,000 still do each year). Any mutation that protects victims from early deaths and lets them reproduce will spread widely, because the survivors are more likely to carry it -- and therefore pass it on to their descendants.

Over the past 10,000 years, such protective mutations have arisen and been "naturally selected" not once, but several times. They emerged in places where malaria was endemic -- West Africa, Southern Africa, the Middle East -- and took hold independently of one another.

So great was their value that they became widespread, even though they can cause problems of their own -- sickle cell anemia, thalassemia and G6PD deficiency, diseases most prevalent in places where malaria was a scourge.

Matching Skin Tone to Sunlight

Non-living threats have also exerted heavy pressure on our genes over the eons. Sunlight is the most obvious one.

Several mutations that lighten skin swept through the out-of-Africa migrants, though different populations have different "suites" of altered pigment genes. That probably explains why fairness in Europeans often extends to hair color, while in Asians it almost never does.

Curiously, the reason sunlight is such a driving force isn't entirely clear.

Too much sun can burn the skin and damage folate, a vitamin essential to fertility and embryo growth. Too little blocks formation of Vitamin D, which is crucial for absorbing the calcium necessary for bones and muscle. Whatever the reason, having the right skin color for one's home latitude has clearly been a huge evolutionary task.

Of course, it's possible it could have happened by chance.

The random death of individuals carrying some genes and the chance survival of people bearing others -- called genetic drift -- has also shaped our genomes, most biologists believe. But the fact that so many mutations affecting skin color occurred in non-African populations and went to fixation (or close) makes chance an unlikely explanation.

"A big thing that makes you think this is natural selection is when you see 'convergent evolution' -- different mutations with the exact same biological function," said Sabeti, the Harvard geneticist. "Lightning strikes once, but it doesn't often strike twice."

Researchers are now showing that culture -- what humans have created -- also can drive natural selection with as much force as disease and the environment.

The ability to digest milk in adulthood, called lactase persistence, exists in more than 90 percent of Scandinavians but only 1 percent of Chinese. It is much more common in places where cattle, goat and camel herding are common -- and milk is a big part of the diet -- than in populations (such as hunter-gatherers) where herding is more rare.

Most Europeans have a mutation in the lactase gene that allows them to digest milk as adults. But it is virtually absent in Africans, many of whom can also drink milk.

In 2006, scientists found three previously unknown lactase mutations that swept through East African herding cultures in the past 5,000 years, long after the European one emerged.

"The reason for the advantage is not entirely clear," said Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who made the discovery. "It could be the protein in the milk; it could be the fat; it could be that it's a source of water in an arid region -- or none of the above."

Are Humans Still Evolving?

Which brings us to the question: In a world of intensive-care units, vitamin pills, sunscreen, down jackets and (for many) too much food, has evolution ground to a halt? Or will global warming, urban crowding, HIV infection, the obesity and diabetes epidemics, and the galloping changes in technology crank it up again?

The answer seems to be: Nobody knows. But something is probably still happening.

"I definitely think people will come under new pressures," said Eugene E. Harris, a biological anthropologist at Queensborough Community College in New York. "There are going to be micro-evolutionary adjustments that occur over time. Culture is imperfect and is not going to buffer all of us."

But Bustamante, the computational biologist from Cornell, cautions that it takes 200 generations for natural selection to show its hand -- and that's when it's working full tilt.

"What is going to happen in 200 generations? I don't think we have any mathematical models to answer that," he said.

Darwin, like evolution, took his time. He is the patron saint of dawdlers.

He got off the HMS Beagle, the ship that took him on the trip that taught him almost everything, on Oct. 2, 1836. He then spent 22 years in study, experiment and cogitation -- capped with the equivalent of an all-nighter -- to come up with his theory. He crashed it into print in a dead heat with Alfred Russel Wallace, a young man in a hurry, presenting it on the night of July 1, 1858, before the Linnean Society of London.

The truth is that even 200 years from today, on Darwin's 400th birthday, when we're all dead, our descendants still won't have a clue as to what the traits just now starting to evolve may be.

Evolution moves slowly, and it grinds exceeding small. Darwin knew this, and wouldn't be surprised.

What Darwin should stand for


The Echo Chamber Roger Sheng


Published: Sunday, February 15, 2009

Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009

The 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln also was the bicentennial of Charles Darwin. The media, with its love of pseudo-events and contrivances, was ready to talk about how Darwin's legacy lives on. Every article that day on general news Web sites mentioned how Darwin's writings pushed science forward and were the basis of modern biology today. Yet the articles decided to give a generous amount of lip service to how some people do not believe in evolution.

The reporting on the history of science ends up suffering from the same problems as current events politics. Similar to how the media prefers to report on people's perceptions of political actors rather than what they would do if elected, the media decided to give as much commentary on how people feel about Darwin as what he actually did. These commentaries on the naturalist's bicentennial shied away from calling out critics by telling them that they were, at least from a scientific perspective, essentially wrong. They merely just say critics of evolution are merely and dramatically outnumbered, as if the majority was guilty of mob rule.

One such example was CNN.com's article "Darwin still making waves 200 years later." The top of the article gives us four highlights. One says a Gallup poll reported that 39 percent of Americans believed in evolution. The other is "the debate between evolution and creationism still rages in some places," forcing the reader to search below the scroll for the who's and the what's of this framed conflict. With that, we have another article where the media informs us how we are thinking.

The spokesman that the article chose to represent the anti-evolution (or whatever you want to call it) perspective is Michael Egnor, a neurosurgery professor, proponent of intelligent design and a member of the Discovery Institute. Upon looking up this think tank and similar organizations with equally Orwellian names, I was provided with books that were essentially anti-academic. A better title would be the "Confirmation Institute," as it is clear that it is these folks who are the true perpetrators of ideology in academia, rather than noble watchdogs.

As someone who is not a major in any science, I admit that, at least in the undergraduate student capacity, there is plenty of bullshitting involved in learning about liberal arts and humanities, especially in the Internet age. (This criticism does not extend to professors and academics in liberal arts fields, who take their research seriously and make real contributions to society.) The strategy of people such as those in the Discovery Institute is to portray the scientific "establishment" in the same category as the pseudo-intellectual garbage that unscientific people like me are guilty of preaching in The Daily Targum.

It is not to say Darwin was not wrong. He has been wrong, the same way Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton were wrong. Their models of space and time needed to be revised by later astronomers and physicists. It is despite their mistakes that modern science owes them for their substantial contributions. "On the Origin of Species" is certainly not the holy scripture that subscribers of the so-called "Darwinism" religion blindly subscribe to, despite what Ben Stein wants you to believe.

If the CNN article had any redeeming qualities, it would be how it acknowledged Darwin's "disdain for slavery, prejudice and human suffering," much like Lincoln. The theory he developed was a representation of how he thought life has developed and will continue to develop. Unlike Karl Marx's writings, there was no manifesto of how the world ought to function. Darwin explicitly rejected deliberate social engineering that attempted to use evolution as a moral basis to advance the strong and punish the weak. Altruism, along with competition, is one of many factors in determining what results in evolution.

The media's conflict bias has dangerous effects on scientific reporting. While I can only be so worried about how life developed billions of years ago, issues like energy and global warming have clear importance in what needs to be done in the immediate present. Our politics have not caught up to our science.

Newsweek decided to confront the anti-science efforts with their story "The Truth About Denial" a year and a half ago, pointing the specific institutions that try to manipulate public opinion and manufacture controversy over the truth of global warming. Despite its sensationalistic cover, "Global Warming is a Hoax*" — with an elaboration on the asterisk — it was a service to the public.

Unfortunately, it did not last. Within a week or two, Newsweek gave a platform for those same think tanks with an opinion piece that pretty much undid the previous article if taken at face value. Once again, the noble media that we needed became the spineless media we despised with the surrender to the manufactured controversy.

That is why when people talk about the prospects of science regaining its rightful role in society once again it should be considered more than just pandering toward the science community, which, last time I checked, was not a big voter constituency anyway. Considering how politics and sensationalism have tainted the public's trust in science, it is pretty surprising that the demotion of Pluto was not used as another wedge for the public to rise up against science. Every moment in my limited education in scientific subjects in college and grade school involved a ridiculous amount of lessons as to what science is, what procedures and ethical precautions a scientist must obey. Considering the amount of crap Darwin still receives, it is not surprising.

Roger Sheng is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. His column, "The Echo Chamber," runs on alternate Mondays.

On 'Darwin Day,' many Americans beg to differ


The latest tactic by evolution opponents – 'academic freedom' laws – recently scored its first major victory.

By Jeremy Kutner | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
from the February 12, 2009 edition

This Thursday, celebrations are under way worldwide to mark Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. From Argentina to Australia, people are gathering for film screenings, quiz contests, and museum exhibits on "Darwin Day" – along with at least one "survival of the fittest" cake-eating contest.

In the US, though, Darwin remains a controversial figure. Two centuries after the famed naturalist's birth, more than 40 percent of Americans believe human beings were created by God in their present form, according to recent polls from Gallup and the Pew Research Center – a view impossible to reconcile with evolution propelled by natural selection.

Such creationist beliefs lack scientific merit, educators say, and in classrooms evolution reigns supreme. Opponents have tried an array of challenges over the decades, and the latest tactic recently scored its first major victory. It's a tack that is changing the way the cultural battle over evolution is fought.

In June of last year, Louisiana became the first state to pass what has become known as an "academic freedom" law. In the past, fights over evolution took place at the local school board level, but academic freedom proponents specifically target state legislatures.

Such laws back away from outright calls for alternative theories to evolution, electing instead to legislate support for teachers who discuss the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of issues such as evolution in the name of protecting the freedom of speech of instructors and students alike.

In 2009, bills have been introduced in Oklahoma, Alabama, Iowa, and New Mexico. Their likelihood of success is uncertain: In the wake of the Louisiana result last year, similar bills were introduced in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and South Carolina, all of which failed.

But it's a strategy shift, opponents say, which is disingenuous at best, and dangerous at worst.

"Quite honestly, there aren't any strengths and weaknesses to evolution in the way they say. It's the hook they use to introduce nonscientific explanations," says Robert Gropp, director of public policy for the American Institute of Biological Sciences in Washington. "You have to give [evolution opponents] credit: 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."

Supporters of such legislation, like Oklahoma state Sen. Randy Brogdon (R), who introduced The Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act 10 days ago, wonder how people who claim evolution is iron-clad could object to open debate.

"It befuddles me," Senator Brogdon says. "It's amazing that people who believe in human secularism don't want to have an open discussion.... My gosh, what kind of system do we have if we only teach one set of information, one piece of the puzzle?"

Model legislation is currently being promoted by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that had supported the teaching of "intelligent design," which claims that life is too complex to have simply evolved without the hand of an intelligent designer. The Institute is offering an alternative to Darwin Day that it is calling "Academic Freedom Day." "We're doing sort of a counter to Darwin Day, which has become a sort of quasi-religious celebration," says John West, a senior fellow at the Institute.

Academic freedom arguments echo a long history of defeated attempts to challenge evolution's primacy in the classroom. Calls for equal classroom time for "creation science" gave way to less overtly religious support for "intelligent design." But in 2005, a federal court rejected the teaching of intelligent design in public-school classrooms.

The US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded its ruling by saying: "We have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

"It was a shot across the bow nationally," says Tom Hutton, senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association. "The case was really noticed by school boards." Merely mentioning intelligent design or religious alternatives to evolution became anathema.

Academic freedom laws specifically mention that they should not be seen as supporting a religious viewpoint. Language began to focus on "scientific" objections to evolution itself, something most evolutionary biologists say don't exist in the way such language implies.

"I wish everyone could understand the profound degree to which we understand evolutionary biology," says Elena Kramer, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Professor Kramer says she is often disappointed with the rhetoric of evolution supporters who often dismiss those with religious viewpoints, but adds, "There is no legitimate scientific evidence that evolution has not occurred."

But putting questions about the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution at the heart of the debate makes issues of religious intrusion into science classrooms difficult to evaluate.

Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved its new guidelines based on the law in mid-January, allowing teachers to introduce "supplementary materials" into classroom discussions, though the review process for determining which materials were nonreligious in nature remains unclear.

"This is very, very, watered down from the earlier generation of strategies, and it's harder to deal with that on legal level because it's not about the legislation" but rather about how individual teachers choose to interpret the legislation, says Joshua Rosenau, spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, a leading critic of such legislation.

It's a debate that's currently being played out in Texas. There, the State Board of Education recently voted to excise "strengths and weaknesses" language from the state's science standards, which had been on the books for two decades. But the Board's chairman then succeeded in getting language approved supporting discussion of the "sufficiency and insufficiency" of certain evolutionary principles.

"That shocked a lot of people," says the chairman, Don McLeroy, a self-identified "young earth creationist." But Mr. McLeroy insists such efforts are well within the law. "It's certainly not a religious standard.... People are probably opposed to [the new language] for ideological reasons." Voting on the final wording will take place in March.

Yet activists on both sides acknowledge that, while the debate over science education is far from resolved, school boards have far more pressing issues at hand. "When schools are not worried about laying off a huge percentage of school staff this may loom larger," says Mr. Hutton of the National School Boards Association. "It's taken some of the wind out of the sails."

Find this article at:

www.csmonitor.com | Copyright © 2008 The Christian Science Monitor.

Discovery Institute Responses to PBS/NOVA's "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" Movie


As their birthday gift to Charles Darwin, yesterday many PBS stations apparently re-aired the "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" movie that they first released in November, 2007. The "documentary" purports to re-tell the story of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, but it portrays an extremely inaccurate, biased, and one-sided view of the case. In this regard, below are some links to responses to the "Judgment Day" that Discovery Institute produced when it first came out in 2007:

Darwin's Failed Predictions A Response to Selected Online Materials of PBS-NOVA's "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" Documentary
Judging PBS

PBS Airs False Facts in its "Inherit the Wind" Version of the Kitzmiller Trial

PBS, Darwin and Dover: an Interview with Phillip Johnson [ID the Future Podcast]

The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators

NOVA Program on Intelligent Design Biased, Not by Chance but Because They Designed It That Way

The Truth about the Kitzmiller v. Dover Trial

PBS Encouraging Teachers to Violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, Discovery Institute Reports

Who's on Trial? A Look at NOVA's Judgment Day [ID the Future Podcast]

Paula Apsell's Lessons Not Learned from the History of Science

Posted by Casey Luskin on February 11, 2009 11:06 AM | Permalink