NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 March 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Vatican signals its embrace of science


But atheist's idea is called 'absurd'

By Nicole Winfield
Associated Press / March 4, 2009

ROME - The Vatican sought yesterday to show that it isn't opposed to science and evolutionary theory, hosting a conference on Charles Darwin and trying to debunk the idea that it embraces creationism or intelligent design.

Some of the world's top biologists, paleontologists, and molecular geneticists joined theologians and philosophers for the five-day seminar marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the Catholic Church doesn't stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, saying there was a "wide spectrum of room" for belief in both the scientific basis for evolution and faith in God the creator.

"We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God is the creator of all things," he said on the sidelines of the conference.

But while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as "absurd" the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God, he said.

"Of course we think that's absurd and not at all proven," he said. "But other than that . . . the Vatican has recognized that it doesn't stand in the way of scientific realities."

The Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the conference at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University was a key demonstration of its efforts to engage with the scientific community.

"The false contraposition between Darwinism and the Church," is how the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, headlined its story on the conference.

Church teaching holds that Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds.

Pope John Paul II articulated the church's position most clearly in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, in which he said the theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

He noted the results of several independent discoveries across several disciplines, saying that convergence alone "constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."

But the Vatican's position became somewhat confused in recent years, in part because of a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece signed by a close Benedict collaborator, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

In the piece, Schoenborn seemed to reject traditional church teaching and backed instead intelligent design, the view that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, and that a higher power has had a hand in changes among species over time.

He said John Paul's 1996 speech was "rather vague and unimportant."

Vatican officials later made clear they did not believe intelligent design was science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school science classes only created confusion.

Francisco Ayala, a former priest and professor of biological sciences and philosophy at University of California, Irvine, called intelligent design and creationism "blasphemous" to science and to the Christian faith.

"It is not only not compatible with Christian faith, it is just blasphemous because it predicates from the creator attributes that we don't want to have from the creator," he said.

He cited as an example the fact that the human jaw is too small for all its teeth, requiring wisdom teeth to be extracted. "An engineer who designed the human jaw would be fired the next day. Are we going to blame God for that?"

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company

Reject evolution as religionStaff Writer


Posted: 03/04/2009 10:26:40 PM MST


The Bloomfield schools have been ordered by the state education secretary to stop teaching a sectarian curriculum. We have a law on the New Mexico books that says that this is illegal.

However, it is still legal to teach evolution as fact, rather than theory. While some have "accepted" evolution, it is still theory and has never been proven by the true scientific method. The word "acceptance" infers religion in itself as in "to accept one's savior."

In fact, evolution has now become a sect or cult in itself with people placing their full faith in it. It just hasn't yet been identified as a cult, but it is.

Charles Darwin is one of the few who were honest about this. He stated that he had to believe in evolution because: "The alternative is not acceptable." In saying this he meant that he refused to accept the idea that the universe and all life were created by an intelligent being. What Darwin and many don't like is the requirement to make an effort to learn about this being, to apply what they learned and then make a commitment.

Darwinism requires that a person believe that inert matter and energy are superior to intelligence. Everything is just a massive accident, followed by a massive series of more accidents. Accidents have no intelligence, logic or reason. They just bumble along.

Those who believe in a supreme intelligence that has planned and executed creation and life are now discriminated against. It is curious to say the least.


Researchers Look to the Past -- and the Future -- in 'Evolution: the First Four Billion Years'


"Evolution: The First Four Billion Years" is the name of a new, nearly 1,000-page book edited by Joseph Travis and Michael Ruse.

Newswise — One is a biologist; the other is a historian and philosopher. Together, two Florida State University professors from very different backgrounds have assembled what many are already calling the definitive work on the subject of evolution.

"Evolution: The First Four Billion Years" is the name of a new, nearly 1,000-page book edited by Joseph Travis, the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Biological Science and dean of Florida State's College of Arts and Sciences, and Michael Ruse, the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and director of the university's Program in the History and Philosophy of Science.

Working together over more than six years, Travis and Ruse enlisted some of the world's top scholars from a variety of fields -- genetics, paleontology, epidemiology, theology and philosophy, to name a few -- to write a series of "big picture" essays describing their particular areas of expertise as they relate to evolution. What emerges is a multifaceted picture of what is perhaps the most discussed and debated scientific concept of the past 150 years.

"We wanted to provide a single source where we could make a definitive statement about all that we currently know about evolution, as well as what we don't know," Travis said. "We also wanted to look forward at where modern science is going as it pertains to the study of evolution. People have this idea sometimes that evolution is just some dusty old relic from the 19th century, but in fact our knowledge base is growing every day."

Ruse said that the variety of disciplines contained in "Evolution: The First Four Billion Years," and the new ideas that such a mix can inspire, make the book unique.

"I'm a historian and philosopher, Joe's a biologist, and we collaborated," he said. "A lot of the articles in the volume reflect this interdisciplinary perspective. We have history, we have philosophy, we have religion, but we also have world-class biologists like Francisco Ayala, who's one of the leading, still-active evolutionary biologists today."

While the first half of "Evolution: The First Four Billion Years" is composed of contributors' essays, the second half -- more than 500 pages' worth -- is an encyclopedic compendium containing "almost everything you'd want to know about evolution," Travis said. Concise, accessible entries include traditional topics such as mass extinctions, challenging ones such as the evolution of altruism, and controversial ones like industrial melanism or race. Also featured are summaries of the works of historic figures ranging from Aristotle to Charles Darwin, as well as modern leaders such as E.O. Wilson and David Jablonski.

You might fear that a body of work this comprehensive is not for everyone, Travis acknowledged.

"I would envision that the book would have its greatest appeal to graduate students, advanced undergrads and secondary school teachers," he said. "However, we wanted this book to be something fun and informative for the layperson as well."

Ruse added: "Keep it by your couch or bedside table and dip into it whenever you have a few minutes. The ideas are compelling and the personalities intriguing."

Appearing at the beginning of the Darwin Year of 2009 -- the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking "On the Origin of Species" -- "Evolution: The First Four Billion Years" couldn't have come out at a better time.

"Obviously, much of what we now know about evolution has its roots in the truly revolutionary work of Darwin," Travis said. "Hopefully our book will honor his legacy in this landmark year."

The book also comes out as The Florida State University prepares to honor Darwin and others whose discoveries in science, religion, philosophy, history and the arts have shaped our understanding of life and of humanity. "Origins '09: Celebrating the Birth & Life of Beginnings," will be held from March 17 to March 28. It will bring to Tallahassee such world-renowned scholars as biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson and anthropologist David Johanson, co-discoverer of "Lucy," one of the most important fossils ever found. Visit www.origins.fsu.edu for a complete schedule of events.

© 2009 Newswise

Rome meeting snubs intelligent design, creationism


By NICOLE WINFIELD – 9 hours ago

ROME (AP) — A Vatican-backed conference on evolution is under attack from people who weren't invited to participate: those espousing creationism and intelligent design.

The Discovery Institute, the main organization supporting intelligent design research, says it was shut out from presenting its views because the meeting was funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, a major U.S. nonprofit that has criticized the intelligent design movement.

Intelligent design holds that certain features of life forms are so complex that they can best be explained by an origin from an intelligent higher power, not an undirected process like natural selection.

Organizers of the five-day conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University said Thursday that they barred intelligent design proponents because they wanted an intellectually rigorous conference on science, theology and philosophy to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

While there are some Darwinian dissenters present, intelligent design didn't fit the bill, they said.

"We think that it's not a scientific prospective, nor a theological or philosophical one," said the Rev. Marc Leclerc, the conference director and a professor of philosophy of nature at the Gregorian. "This makes a dialogue very difficult, maybe impossible."

He denied the decision had anything to do with Templeton's funding for the conference. "Absolutely not. We decided independently within the organizing committee, in total autonomy," Leclerc said.

The Pennsylvania-based Templeton Foundation, which has an estimated endowment of $1.5 billion and awards some $70 million in annual grants, seeks to fund projects that reconcile religion and science.

At least three of the conference speakers, including two members of its scientific committee, serve on the Templeton Foundation's board of advisers.

The Templeton representative at the conference, Paul Wason, director of the foundation's science and religion programs, said the grant had no strings attached.

"They sent us the proposal after they had most of the speakers already. We decided to make the grant in part because it is a really good speakers' list," he said.

The foundation has criticized intelligent design in the past and says on its Web site that it doesn't support any research or programs that "deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge."

An official with the Pontifical Council for Culture, which is backing the conference, said the Templeton grant covered almost half the meeting's budget. But the official, the Rev. Tomasz Tramfe, also denied Templeton put any restrictions on who was invited to speak.

The Discovery Institute's president, Bruce Chapman, said he wasn't surprised intelligent design was kept out. But in an e-mail, he said the conference didn't speak for the Vatican as a whole, where he said evolution and intelligent design "remain in serious and fruitful dialogue."

Indeed, some influential cardinals have indicated they support intelligent design, including Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, a close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI.

In addition to intelligent design, creationism has come under disdain at the conference. In his opening address, Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke dismissively of fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. who want schools to teach biblical creationism alongside, or instead of, evolution.

Muslim creationists also complained about the conference.

Oktar Babuna, a representative of a prominent Turkish creationist, Harun Yahya, was denied the right to speak at the opening session Tuesday. Participants took the microphone away from Babuna when, during a question-and-answer session, he challenged them to give proof of transitional forms of animals in Darwinian evolution.

Organizers said he hadn't formulated a question and was just stating his point of view.

Babuna said afterward that the conference was clearly undemocratic. A statement from Yahya said, "Although there are discussion parts, they want this discussion to be one-sided."

Vatican teaching holds that Roman Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds. The church under Benedict has been trying to stress that, along with its overall belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason.

Pope John Paul II articulated the church's position most clearly in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, saying the theory of evolution is "more than a hypothesis."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Creation of Christian Soldiers a Chilling Sidelight of Darwin Bashing


February 18, 2009 05:56 PM ET | Robert T. Pennock | Permanent Link

Guest blogger Robert T. Pennock is professor of philosophy, computer science, and EEBB at Michigan State University and author of the books Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives.

After the Dover, Pa., trial that burst the balloon of the intelligent design (ID) creationist movement, we had a few years of relative peace. But here we are amid the scientific celebrations of Darwin's 200th birthday (http://www.happybirthdaydarwin.org) having to deal with a renewed attack on science and yet another repetition of the old creationist arguments as yet another Discovery Institute urban cow-dude tries to resuscitate the dead ID horse under the guise of "academic freedom." Casey Luskin's claims (one can hardly call them arguments) have been rebutted many times before, so there is no point in doing so again here. However, for the record, there are a few other important misstatements in his personal attack on me that necessitate a reply.

First, however, I want to correct a misstatement I made myself about Ralph Seelke, whom I had observed testify with such brazen misinformation in favor of one of the Discovery Institutes's recent disguised ID bills in Michigan. Casey Luskin sent me an E-mail saying that Seelke is not and never was a Discovery Institute (DI) Fellow. My mistake. It is a sign of just how much of a liability the DI name has become post-Dover that it is no longer in its interest or that of its supporters to have even an "honorary" affiliation. I E-mailed Luskin and asked him to let me know whether I was also misinformed that DI has funded Seelke's trips to testify or his other work, but he has not replied. Whatever the case may be, Seelke has become a regular ID advocate and the substantive links to DI are clear: Seelke repeats all the DI talking points, he cowrote an ID text together with several DI fellows, appears on their podcasts, and testifies in favor of their initiatives. Again, its not what name they use (or don't use), but the content of their views that matters, and that hasn't changed.

Now on to Luskin's claims. Commenting upon myself and Richard Katskee, Luskin writes that we and other "Darwinists" aim to "stifle debate" and that we use a "poison pen" and "name-calling" as "intimidation tactics" to silence anyone who dares speak up in favor of ID.

Even on the face of it, Luskin's claims are absurd. Stifle debate? Through almost two decades of studying intelligent design and other forms of creationism, I've not only published books and numerous articles on the topic but given over a hundred invited talks at universities and conferences, participated in and organized symposia, testified to state government committees, and taught courses on the subject. In the past, I have invited ID advocates to speak and have published their articles. I have had public exchanges on stage, online, or in print with all the major ID advocates. I have never tried to oppose creationists' right to advocate for their position, nor would I want to; I'm a staunch advocate of their constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Poisonous name-calling and intimidation? I don't hesitate to point out misstatements, deceptions, and fallacious arguments, but I keep the focus on the claims themselves and avoid attacks on individuals. Many of the over fifty reviews of my book Tower of Babel mentioned explicitly how my tone was consistently "calm," "non-condescending," and "gentle and rational ... a welcome respite from the volleys of abuse that usually characterize the debate." The Journal of Religion's review noted "Pennock's courtesy when describing creationist views is exemplary."

So on what basis does Luskin accuse me of wielding the poison pen of name-calling and intimidation? He quotes an E-mail I wrote that referred to an article he posted on a DI blog protesting a talk I had been invited to give at University of California San Diego. Contrary to Luskin's claims, the truth of the matter is that my E-mail was a brief, private reply to an E-mail I received from the dean's office following my talk, drawing my attention to Luskin's article (which mostly consisted of disparaging claims about what he predicted I would say in my talk) and requesting my advice as to whether they should reply. I pointed out that Luskin's article was deceptive and contained factual errors (and gave an example), but my recommendation to them was to not respond in kind, and to let it pass. Neither I nor UCSD made any public objection, let alone engaged in any name-calling or intimidation, to Luskin's attack. And how did my out-of-context quote become public? Some unknown person at UCSD forwarded my private E-mail, without permission, to the Discovery Institute. It was Luskin himself, also without asking permission, who published this out-of-context quotation on a DI blog to attack me personally. So who is the character assassin here?

Luskin's second example is of a kind. I did indeed write to Bradley Monton about a paper in which he criticized the judge's opinion in the Kitzmiller v . Dover case, but not for the reasons Luskin recounts. Posted barely a week after the decision came out, Monton's manuscript contained basic factual errors. Most errors in philosophy are just ridiculous, but some can be harmful, if only to the philosopher's own reputation or that of the profession. Monton would have been wiser to wait to correct his errors through the peer-review process or at least to include the standard disclaimer for unreviewed manuscripts that they should not be quoted, but that was his own business. The reason I asked Monton to take down the paper was that in one place he seemed to make a libelous insinuation about myself and others in the case. I took that apparent accusation very seriously. Monton wrote back to apologize and to say that he had not intended to suggest anything offensive to me or anyone in particular. He agreed that his sentence was written in a way that could have been misconstrued, however, and promised to remove it. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the matter and I made no further objection to his post.

Monton has since become known as an ID apologist (from an odd atheist perspective), and I periodically get unsolicited E-mail from scientists and philosophers about his participation in their activities. Sadly, he is harming more than his own reputation. Just a few months ago I received a call from a member of Monton's department at Colorado asking for my assistance in repairing damage to the department's relationship with science colleagues caused by a talk he gave on the subject. I sympathize with the department, but can no longer give Monton the benefit of the doubt in the way I did when he posted his draft while still a graduate student. So far as I know, he hasn't stooped to publishing out-of-context quotes from private E-mail without permission (no reputable publisher would allow that, in any case), but I was told recently that, like Luskin, he has been making personal attacks on me in talks and a series of Discovery Institute podcasts. I have turned the other cheek to this calumny as well. Again, who is the character assassin?

Contrary to Luskin's claims, it is actually ID proponents who engage in name-calling and intimidation. ID activists are well known for rattling legal sabers and personally attacking their opponents (www.antievolution.org documents representative examples of some of the name-calling and also provides useful information that rebuts many common ID arguments). They think nothing of blaming "evolutionism" and "Darwinists" for everything from abortion and homosexuality to the killings at Columbine and more. They compare those who write against them to Hitler and Goebbels. Indeed, the climax of Ben Stein's ID movie Expelled blamed evolutionary science for Nazi atrocities, including the Holocaust. Stein explained the central message of the film in an interview on Trinity Broadcasting Network: The Holocaust is "where science leads you," he opined. "Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people."

Really? History shows that it is religious and political extremism that are more to blame for such atrocities. Unfortunately, such extremism is all too close at hand.

Following his decision against ID in the Kitzmiller case, Judge Jones received death threats. He and his family had to be put under the protection for a week by federal marshals. "If you would have told me when I got on the bench four years ago that I would have death threats in a case like this as opposed to, for example, a crack cocaine case where I mete out a heavy sentence, I would have told you that you were crazy," Jones said in a speech about this, "But I did. And that's a sad statement." When I returned home after giving my own testimony against ID as an expert witness in that same case, I found two threatening messages waiting on my answering machine. Although neither made an explicit threat, both were sufficiently disturbing that the police had to be brought in and my phone had to be set up with caller-ID as a precaution.

I don't believe that creationist activists themselves would makes such calls; no doubt such threats come from individuals who are mentally unstable. But creationist leaders regularly say things that encourages such individuals. Following the Arkansas court's decision against creation-science in 1982, Norman Geisler (a witness for creation-science in that case who later was important in remaking creation-science into the ID movement) wrote in an article in Christianity Today in which he referred to a call to arms by the Evangelical Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer, who inspired many early ID advocates:

"Although I would not go as far as some in these matters, one can understand why Francis Schaeffer... has called upon Christians to engage in civil disobedience and even use force to overcome the tyranny he sees implied in a negative decision in the Arkansas creation-evolution issue." [emphasis added] (Geisler, N. L. (1982). "Creationism: A Case for Equal Time." Christianity Today 26(6): 26-28.

ID creationists regularly make similar militaristic statements today; they see this not as a debate, but as part of what they call a culture war. I've written about this before, most recently in "The Pre-modern Sins of Intelligent Design" (Pennock 2006, in Clayton, Phillip (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, pp. 732-748), and there are numerous additional statements I could cite, but let me just briefly mention a few.

Philip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement, described evolutionary biologists as being like Napoleon's army in Moscow, "They have occupied a lot of territory, and they think they've won the war. And yet they are very exposed in a hostile climate with a population that's very much unfriendly," ("The Dick Staub Interview: Philip Johnson," Christianity Today 2002.) Following their loss in the Dover case, ID leader William Dembski wrote that the decision would ""galvanize the Christian community"; school boards and state legislators "may tread more cautiously" he said, "but tread on evolution they will—the culture war demands it!" (Dembski, "Preface" to Darwin ' s Nemesis: Philip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement.) ID propagandists then put up a new website "Overwhelming Evidence [OE]" aimed at recruiting high school students to the ID movement; it characterizes Judge Jones as an "activist" and "a rogue" and encourages students to "Join the OE Army!" Elsewhere Dembski has written a call to unapologetic apologetics and martyrdom: "[T]his is our calling as Christian apologists, to bear witness to the truth, even to the point of death (be it the death of our bodies or the death of our careers)." To be worthy apologists and to never give in to the ground rules set by the secular academy, Dembski and fellow ID-advocate Jay Wesley Richards wrote, is "perhaps not a martyrdom where we spill our blood (although this too may be required)." (Quoted in Pennock 2006).

As I wrote in a recent op-ed about Expelled and the ID culture wars, it is hard to know how to respond in a civil manner to such ignorant extremism. Let me go further here: Such views (and I do here mean views, not people) do not deserve a civil response. They deserve more than disapproval and ridicule. They deserve the moral outrage of all who are friends of reason and truth.

Darwin shares his birthday with Abraham Lincoln, and the famous conclusion of Lincoln's first Inaugural Address is relevant to the culture war that creationists and other extremists would inject into our children's science classes. Let us forthrightly reject those false and polarizing views and hope that the better angels of our nature will eventually prevail and bring this war to an end.

Darwin Divides


Christian college professors split on Texas science standards.
Bobby Ross Jr. | posted 3/03/2009 09:52AM

A Texas-sized battle over scrapping a longtime requirement that Lone Star State students be taught weaknesses in the theory of evolution has split politicians, parents, and professors who teach biology at the state's Christian universities.

"I hope to reach others on the weightier matters of the Resurrection, hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven while I work out how evolution does not have to conflict with Christianity," said Daniel Brannan, a biology professor at Abilene Christian University.

Brannan joined hundreds of scientists in signing a 21st Century Science Coalition petition that supports new curriculum standards for the state's 4.7 million public-school students. The petition states that "evolution is an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt."

Among other petition signers were science professors from Baylor, Hardin-Simmons, McMurry, and Texas Christian—all Texas universities with Christian ties.

But other Christian biology professors have aligned themselves with the Discovery Institute in signing a petition titled "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism."

"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged," declared the hundreds of dissenters, including biology professors from Baylor, Lubbock Christian, LeTourneau, and other Christian universities.

The state board of education has given preliminary approval to new standards that remove wording that schools teach evolution's "weaknesses." A final review of the new standards was scheduled for March.

Proponents of focusing on evolution's strengths say their goal is simple: Teach science in science class. But dissenters say that teaching science requires including weaknesses, since new information constantly arises from research.

LeTourneau biology professor Amiel Jarstfer said he testified before the state Board of Education in January that "good science is based on continuous questioning and critique.

"I would side with Newton in that I believe that the existence of a Creator gives me reason to search for order in the universe," Jarstfer said. "The more I study molecular cell biology, the more I am in awe of the majesty of the Creator."

While many took sides, some—including Jim Nichols, chair of Abilene Christian's biology department—declined to sign a petition.

"[Petitions] too often oversimplify causes," Nichols said. "I suspect [the curriculum debate] is really more of a political/religious showcase than something that will really affect public education.

"I and many others live relatively comfortably in both camps and tire from attacks from both sides," he added. "With all the real problems in the world, this is a serious waste of energy to keep beating on this topic."

Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today.

Michael Egnor pounds his shoe


Category: Creationism
Posted on: March 4, 2009 11:55 AM, by PZ Myers

"WE WILL BURY YOU!" seems to be his message in his latest complaint. He is very upset that The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology is boycotting Louisiana, and he informs us all in a long argumentum ad populum that the ignorant outnumber us, addressed to the president and members of SICB.

Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don't accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life. And they think that they ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools. They don't share your passion for ideological purity in science classes. They have a quaint notion that science depends on the freedom to ask questions, and their insistence on academic freedom is catching on. They don't want religion taught in the science classroom, but they know that students are not learning about all of the science surrounding evolution. Seventy-eight percent of Americans support academic freedom in the teaching of evolution in schools, and that number is rising fast -- it's up 9% in the past 3 years. People clearly resent your demand for censorship. After all, it's their children in their schools, and they aren't happy with a bunch of supercilious Darwinists telling them that they can't even question Darwinism in their own classrooms. So if you're going to boycott all the creationists who despise you, you'll eventually have to hold all of your conventions in Madison or Ann Arbor. Keep up the arrogance and eventually you won't have to boycott people at all. People will boycott you.

Whoa. I'm impressed.

Note the open admission that the Discovery Institute's audience are the god-fearin' creationists, and that the people they regard as "on their side" are plain-and-simple, unmodified creationists, not just the usual Intelligent Design creationists. That's useful to see.

There's also the usual distortions. People ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in the public schools — that's what science is all about, and I would encourage kids to raise their hands and speak out in class. However, none of this argument is about squelching inquiry: it's about whether weak and discredited ideas, like ID, ought to be given special privilege and elevated to the standard curriculum. They shouldn't.

We're also seeing the usual deprecation of expertise. SICB is an organization of thousands of scientists who have invested years of their life in the study of biology. They are experts. Against that, we have millions of people in Louisiana who, while competent in their own areas of work, have very little knowledge of biology. According to Michael Egnor, the people we should listen to on this relatively rarefied subject are the majority who know nothing about it. Would he be quite so sanguine if we dismissed his specialization, neurosurgery, and suggested that he needed to follow the suggestions of a roofer from Baton Rouge? Is it "censorship" that he doesn't allow his patients' families into the operating room to give him a hand?

Madison and Ann Arbor are both lovely places to have conventions, and I certainly wouldn't complain if SICB held their meetings there — it's much closer to home, for one thing. But Egnor left out a few cities. How about Berkeley and Eugene, Seattle and Tucson, New York and Philadelphia, Austin and Cleveland, Champaign-Urbana and Chapel Hill…and I could go on. These cities and university towns are all part of America, too, and they are places where we find majorities who do not accept the ideology of creationism…because their populations are better educated and less shackled to religious dogma. These are good things.

I'm also confident that the people of Louisiana are a mix of the uninformed and the scientifically competent, and that many are good people who deserve better than the falsehoods institutions like the Discovery Institute will ladle out. It would be great to have more scientific conventions in New Orleans (if nothing else, because the cuisine is fabulous). However, when the government of the state promotes policies that are damaging to science, scientists have no choice but to reject them in any way they can.

If you're not careful, "creationists" (80% of Americans) might notice this irony: you boycott their states, but you forgot to boycott their money. If one percent of the people you've censored and boycotted wrote letters to their congressmen demanding a defunding of evolutionary research -- a boycott of you -- the grant money currently allocated to advancing Darwinist ideology (it's ideologues, not scientists, who censor) would be re-allocated to genuine non-ideological science.

There's a word for this: demagoguery. What Egnor proposes here is nothing less than a naked threat to use the ignorance of the mob to attack science. And you haven't heard anything yet. Look at this attitude:

Your arrogance and disrespect for academic freedom demeans the scientific profession, and your boycott of people who don't capitulate to your censorship is risible. You're actually debasing Darwinism, which, after eugenics and a century and a half of third-rate science, is no mean accomplishment. Most people don't see your refusal to visit their state as a "threat." Honestly, they'd rather you made your boycott all-inclusive, so you'd miss all of their legislative sessions and federal court hearings as well. So back off the "boycott" stuff. Just say you misspoke, or pretend you never said it at all. You Darwinists are good at covering your tracks (remember "junk DNA"?). Keep in mind that you're living off the people you're censoring and boycotting. Your livelihood is dependent on their largesse, and, in "comparative biology" vernacular, it's unwise for parasites to boycott their hosts.

My advice: just keep suckling at the public teat and pretend the boycott never happened.

Now we see exposed the Discovery Institute's opinion of scientists: they are parasites, suckling at the public teat, and that a scientific organization's boycott of a state is just fine…and that we should be divorced from civic responsibilities altogether.

We also see his ignorance of biology on display. Evolutionary biology is a third rate science. Why is "comparative biology" in quotes? When did parasitism become the provenance of comparative biology? It's a concept in common use, you know. And of course we remember junk DNA — we know that most of the human genome is junk. There is no covering of any tracks there, so I have no idea what he's talking about. It's probably yet another delusion of the creationist mind, like a schizophrenic babbling about his satellite-based mind control rays.

What we really have to remember henceforth is exactly what the Discovery Institute's agenda actually is, and there it is in Egnor's freely expressed opinion: the incitement of an intentionally misinformed public to silence scientific inquiry, all in the guise of ending an imaginary censorship.

But let's leave laughing. There's a convention in much of the kook email I receive that they howl at length at me, and then sign off with a conventional and inappropriately friendly signature that is entirely at odds with everything they wrote. Egnor fits right in.


Mike Egnor, M.D.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

US scientist hails Darwin's achievements


An American scientist and co-founder of the renowned Discovery Institute says Shrewsbury should be proud of its most famous son Charles Darwin - despite disagreeing with many of his ideas.

Although being among those responsible for forming the intelligent design movement, which challenges Darwin's theory of evolution, Stephen Meyer, of Seattle, said he had huge respect for the work carried out by the naturalist.

On his first visit to Shrewsbury, Mr Meyer said Darwin was the most famous scientist in the world, whose ideas rocked the established beliefs of Victorian society. But he said he did not accept parts of Darwin's theory and his idea that life evolved simply by natural selection.

Mr Meyer promotes a school of thought that life is so complex that it must have been designed by a superior being and cannot simply have evolved.

He said: "We think some things Darwin explains well, such as aspects of living systems, but it doesn't explain everything. It certainly doesn't explain the origin of information that we need to make life in the first place."

However, Mr Meyer said Darwin was a great man who achieved great things.

He said: "Absolutely Shrewsbury should be proud, he is the most famous scientist in the history of the world. He brought real insight to the processes that take place." Mr Meyer has come to the county for the Honest to Darwin conference at Shrewsbury Town Football Club's Prostar Stadium with his second of two lectures coming tonight at 7.30pm.

This year will see Shrewsbury attract worldwide attention as the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth is celebrated.

Tickets for tonight's lecture cost £5 and are available on the door. For more details visit www.honesttodarwin.org

Letter: Not all scientists agree on evolution


March 1, 2009

In Sunday's, Feb. 15, newspaper article entitled "Controversy? What Controversy?" Steve Goble writes with the presupposition that evolution is a scientifically established fact. It is not, and his article is extremely misleading. For example, more than 760 courageous scientists (Christian and non-Christian alike) have already signed the petition "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism." They would take exception to Mr. Goble's claim that evolution "has withstood every test, and ceased to be a bone of contention among scientists decades ago."

In addition, consider the following:

Nanoscientist James Tour says that he feels the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and finds it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes.

Science historian Frederick Burnham states that scientists would consider the idea that God created the universe "a more respectable hypothesis at this point in time than at any time in the last 100 years."

Dean Kenyon, a molecular biology professor and co-author of "Biochemical Predestination," an evolution-based biology textbook, states: "I no longer believe that the arguments in 'Biochemical Predestination' and in similar books by other authors add up to an adequate defense of the view that life arose spontaneously on this planet from nonliving matter." He argues that the world is too complex to be explained by Charles Darwin's mindless natural forces.

Fred Hoyle, who discovered the nuclear arrangement of the carbon atom, states regarding his discovery, "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."

Paleontologist Colin Patterson asked a prestigious body of evolutionists at a seminar in Chicago this question: "Can you tell me anything we know about evolution, any one thing ... that is true?" The only answer he got was silence for a long time, until one person said, "I do know one thing -- it ought not to be taught in high school."

Donnell Smith

Creationism may divide church leaders, faithful


March 2, 2009

Ron Eachus, in his commentary on Feb. 16, tells us that despite the polls favoring creationism over evolution, the churches are accepting it and incorporating it into their religious doctrine.

He cites the Catholic Church and four mainline Protestant bodies.

I contend that the resolutions passed by church administrators and the statements of seminary professors do not necessarily express the will of the membership — and of official church doctrine.

The great divide between leadership and the faithful on issues like this may explain why the mainline churches cited have lost from 8 percent to 27 percent of their membership since 1965, according to research I read a few years ago.

Those who contend for creation may not just be lagging behind scientific realities, but may have solid scientific support and may believe that faith and science can harmonize in their position.

— Les Jones, Silverton

Vatican conference a sign church, evolution co-exist


Sunday, March 01, 2009
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A conference on evolution to be held this week at the Vatican is a sign that for many devout Christians, there is no conflict between the ideas of Charles Darwin and faith in God.

Devout Christians often are portrayed as if they view evolutionary biology as an attack on the Bible's account of creation, and scientists are portrayed as atheists. While there are high-profile examples of both, a truce was reached long ago in most major Christian traditions, including some streams of evangelicalism.

The Vatican conference, which marks the 150th anniversary of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," is one example of scientists and theologians working together to transcend the culture wars and forge a lasting peace.

At the conference, which runs Tuesday through Saturday, scientists and theologians will discuss how to collaborate without trespassing in each others' area of expertise.

Locally, Duquesne University will mark the anniversary with an address by Francisco Ayala, a professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He will address similar issues at 7 p.m. March 18 in the Power Center ballroom.

The Catholic Church has never had a rigid reading of Genesis. The third century theologian, Origen, pointed out that the Bible says God created light three days before creating the sun, moon and stars.

"He concluded that the passage was speaking figuratively about realities other than scientific truth claims," said Bill Wright, who teaches biblical studies at Duquesne.

"These chapters in Genesis are an answer to fundamental questions about who God is and what a human being is, but they address those questions in symbolic and figurative language."

There was a lapse in 1633, when the Vatican forced Galileo to recant his theory that the earth orbited the sun. That later embarrassed church leaders, who formally approved his work in 1741. Later popes were more careful in response to Darwin.

While objecting to scientists who strayed into theology if they claimed evolution disproved God, the church did not condemn the scientific theory. But for 90 years it kept a tight lid on theological discussion of it.

"It was a protective reaction," said George Worgul, chairman of Duquesne's theology department.

As Catholic theologians quietly pondered into the 20th century, a consensus grew that what mattered was not the origin of the human body, but of the human soul, he said. Belief grew that God could have willed evolution as the dynamic of creation, then crowned humans with a soul that mirrored his image.

"So there was an attempt to work out a way to recognize the legitimate data from science that human beings have evolved, while affirming that this is not apart from God," he said.

In 1950 Pope Pius XII brought discussions into the open when he called evolution a theory worthy of exploration. Pope John Paul II went further in 1996, calling it "more than a hypothesis."

In 2006 Pope Benedict hosted a small conference, published as "Creation and Evolution." He falls within the camp of theistic evolution, the belief that God created the process of evolution.

Evangelicalism covered similar ground by a twisting path.

Evangelical intellectuals of the 1860s accepted evolution, said Mark Noll, a historian of American evangelicalism at the University of Notre Dame. Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield, who drafted a classic doctrine stating that the original manuscripts of the Bible had no factual errors, had no quarrel with the idea.

"He was always very careful to say that it's a God-ordained and God-directed process. But he doesn't think that the science, per se, is a problem," Dr. Noll said.

Reaction against Darwin was more common among those without advanced theological education, particularly if they had come to faith through the popular books of Anglican priest William Paley, who argued for the existence of God based on evidence of design in nature.

But by the 1930s, even fundamentalists were trying to harmonize biblical literalism with evidence of a very old earth. Despite hype over the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925 -- in which a Tennessee science teacher was fined for teaching evolution -- the real battles began in the late 1950s, Dr. Noll said.

As the space race launched, Washington overhauled science education. Local curricula were replaced with textbooks that lacked sensitivity to students' religious beliefs, Dr. Noll said. Many conservative Christians felt science classes promoted atheism. They pushed back with books that attacked evidence for evolution.

"That wasn't new, but it hardened into a cultural position," Dr. Noll said.

Denis Lamoureux, 54, an evolutionary biologist who teaches on science and religion at the University of Alberta, Canada, has written extensively on the religious conflict over evolution. He has fought on both sides.

He was raised Catholic, but with no knowledge of his church's nuanced views on evolution. His first college biology class convinced him that the Bible was ridiculous. He graduated from dental school as an atheist.

Later he turned back to Jesus, this time as an evangelical. He blamed evolution for his earlier loss of faith, and decided to earn a doctorate in evolutionary biology to disprove it.

Along the way he also earned two master's degrees from an evangelical seminary. There, he was shocked to conclude that he had been reading Genesis wrong. He initially had read it as a technical document. But study of ancient literature convinced him it was intended to tell truths about humanity and God that had nothing to do with biology.

He clung to the belief that evolution was wrong until his own studies of fossil teeth showed him that creationists were wrong when they said no one had ever found a fossil in evolutionary transition.

"I started seeing tons of those, over and over and over again. I started seeing that there is a process that allows us to evolve," he said.

He flirted with the intelligent design movement, but rejected it. He is a theistic evolutionist, who believes God chose to create through the process of evolution. He views intelligent design as requiring God's direction from outside the natural process, and remains a strong evangelical.

Among theologians from many Christian traditions, conversations have moved beyond the fact of evolution to its moral implications for humanity, Dr. Worgul, of Duquesne University, said.

"The whole question of evolution is an ethical question. We are now in a position where, in some cases, we are able to manipulate creation. That gets us into questions of should we be able to manipulate ourselves as part of creation," he said.

"That is why this third stage is going to be the most important question of all. If you see the human being apart from God or in relationship to God, you may arrive at very different answers to those questions."

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.
First published on March 1, 2009 at 12:00 am

Idea of evolution exists to rid society of God


March 2, 2009

Ron Eachus's Feb. 16 column praising Darwin and evolution and blasting creationists as ignoring "overwhelming evidence," shows ignorance of actual facts.

Evolution is an unproven hypothesis, as Darwin, its modern founder, admitted. He said, though, that field research would turn up fossils. His 200th birthday has passed and there has been no fossil proof of evolution. Men have searched the earth and even the skies. No fossil proof!

Nobody has seen evolution, it is not testable, it is not falsifiable, it contradicts known laws of science, yet it has faithful followers. Without doubt, it is a religion.

These followers have captured our schools and colleges and allow no controversy. Scientists who disagree (and there are many) are denied grants and recognition by evolution-controlled boards and societies. Why? Because evolution gets rid of God.

Evolution is inherently atheistic. To not believe the literal, clear story of creation as told in God's instruction book, the Holy Bible, denies God's power and man's accountability to Him.

So we have a choice: God or Humanism, as personified by evolution. There is no middle ground.

— Barten V. King, Salem

Study of fossils shows prehistoric fish had sex


By MICHAEL CASEY, The Associated Press 1:49 p.m. February 25, 2009

In this artist rendition released by Peter Trusler, Placoderms are depicted mating in what once was a giant lake in southern Australia. The fossilized remains of two pregnant fish shows that the mating practices of modern day sharks and rays go back hundreds of millions of years, researchers said Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009. The scientist from Australia and Britain said the presence of embryos in the armored placoderm fish called Incisoscutum richiei offers proof that internal fertilization, in which babies are born alive, took place as much as 30 million years earlier than previously thought. (AP Photo/Peter Trusler) - APBANGKOK, Thailand — The fossilized remains of two pregnant fish indicate that sex as we know it – fertilization of eggs inside a female – took place as much as 30 million years earlier than previously thought, researchers said Thursday.

Scientists from Australia and Britain studying 380 million-year-old fossils of the armored placoderm fish, or Incisoscutum richiei, said they were initially confused when they realized that the two fish were carrying embryos. They originally thought the fish laid their eggs before fertilization.

"Once we found embryos in this group, we knew they had internal fertilization. But how the hell are they doing it?" said John Long, the head of sciences at the Museum Victoria in Melbourne who wrote a paper on the discovery that appeared in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

The answer came when the scientists re-examined the pelvis of the male placoderm, armed with the new information about fertilization. After looking at specimens at the Natural History Museum in London and the Museum Victoria, they realized the pelvis had a fin not seen on the female fish, and surmised it was likely used to grip its mate during fertilization, much as sharks do.

"These fish have an extra large bone that attaches to the pelvic bone," he said. "It had been overlooked and hadn't been identified. So in a nutshell, we have reinterpreted the structure of the pelvic bone in these placoderms to show they had a method for copulation."

Zerina Johanson, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum who also took part in the study along with the University of Western Australia's Kate Trinajstic, said findings of internal fertilization showed that "sex started a lot sooner than we thought."

"We expected these early fishes would show a more primitive type of reproduction, where sperm and eggs combine in the water and embryos develop outside fish," Johanson said in a statement.

Per Ahlberg, a professor of evolutionary organismal biology at Uppsala University in Sweden who did not take part in the study, said the discovery "may prove to have far-reaching implications for our understanding of early vertebrate evolution."

"Every once in a while, a discovery comes along that puts our biological understanding of some extinct group of organism on much firmer footing," Ahlberg wrote in Nature. "Long and colleagues present such a discovery."

Long first became enamored with the reproductive skills of this ancient fish last year, when his team identified the first placoderm containing embryos at the Gogo dig site in Western Australia.

The 380 million year old fossils were hailed as one of the most important discoveries in Australia and the fossil represents the world's oldest known vertebrate mother. The site, which Long has worked since 1986, is believed to have once been the home of an ancient tropical reef that would have rivaled the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers hope to use the fossils to better understand where placoderms fit into the evolutionary history of jawed vertebrates and determine whether they are more closely linked to sharks and rays or other boney fish like tuna and swordfish.


On the Net:
Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature

Prints Show a Modern Foot in Prehumans


Published: February 26, 2009

Footprints uncovered in Kenya show that as early as 1.5 million years ago an ancestral species, almost certainly Homo erectus, had already evolved the feet and walking gait of modern humans.

An international team of scientists, in a report on Friday in the journal Science, said the well-defined prints in an eroding bluff east of Lake Turkana "provided the oldest evidence of an essentially modern humanlike foot anatomy." They said the find also added to evidence that painted a picture of Homo erectus as the prehumans who took long evolutionary strides — figuratively and, now it seems, also literally.

Where the individuals who made the tracks were going, or why, is beyond knowing by the cleverest scientist. The variability of the separation between some steps, researchers said, suggests that they were picking their way over an uneven surface, muddy enough to leave a mark — an unintended message from an extinct species for the contemplation of its descendants.

Until now, no footprint trails had ever been associated with early members of our long-legged genus Homo. Preserved ancient footprints of any kind are rare. The only earlier prints of a protohuman species were found in 1978 at Laetoli, in Tanzania. Dated at 3.7 million years ago, they were made by Australopithecus afarensis, the diminutive species to which the famous Lucy skeleton belonged. The prints showed that the species already walked upright, but its short legs and long arms and its feet were in many ways apelike.

Studying the more than a dozen prints, scientists determined that the individuals had heels, insteps and toes almost identical to those in humans, and that they walked with a long stride similar to human locomotion.

The researchers who made the discovery, as well as independent specialists in human origins, said the prints helped explain fossil and archaeological evidence that erectus had adapted the ability for long-distance walking and running. Erectus skeletons from East Asia revealed that the species, or a branch of it, had migrated out of Africa as early as 1.8 million years ago.

The lead author of the journal report, Matthew R. Bennett, a dean at Bournemouth University in England, analyzed the prints with a new laser technology for digitizing their precise depths and contours. The tracks were excavated over the last three years by paleontologists and students directed by John W. K. Harris of Rutgers University in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya.

Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard who studies the evolution of human locomotion but was not a member of the research group, said the prints established what experts had suspected for some time. Erectus, he said, "probably looked much like us, both walking and running over long distances."

Although the discoverers were cautious in attributing the prints to Homo erectus, Dr. Lieberman and other experts said in interviews that it was highly unlikely they could have been made by other known hominid contemporaries. "The prints are what you would expect from the erectus skeleton we have," said Leslie C. Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, which supported the research.

William L. Junger, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, said the footprints were further evidence that erectus had "undergone a major structural change in body plan, and it's much like our own." One obvious exception: the erectus brain, which was more advanced than those of previous ancestors, but was still much smaller than the Homo sapiens brain.

No erectus foot bones have been found anywhere, but other well-preserved, yet incomplete, skeletons showed the species to be taller and less robust than earlier hominids. The strides of these footsteps suggest that the individuals were an average of 5 feet, 7 inches tall; one, presumably a child, was 3 feet tall.

The site of the discovery is about five miles east of Lake Turkana, near the village of Ileret, in northern Kenya.

Dr. Harris of Rutgers said that excavations from 2005 through last year yielded scores of animal tracks as well as the erectus footprints. Geological evidence indicates that they were made on the muddy surface of a floodplain in a time of nearby volcanic eruptions. Layers of volcanic ash, mixed with silt deposits, were examined to date the finds.

The tracks were confined to two layers of sediment, vertically separated by 15 feet and about 10,000 years. The upper layer contained three footprint trails, two of two prints each and one of seven prints, as well as several isolated prints. The lower layer preserved one trail of two prints and a single isolated print.

Dr. Bennett joined the project in 2007 to make three-dimensional digital records of the footprints. He also scanned the tracks of local people who walked through soil from the excavations. He said their prints, like those of other modern humans, were remarkably similar to the erectus prints. Later, digital images of casts of the prints from Laetoli showed marked differences in foot shapes.

Anatomists analyzing the Ileret prints said the heel, instep, balls of the foot and short toes were considerably distinct from the prints discovered in Tanzania and almost identical to modern humans. Most obviously, the big toe is in line with the rest of the toes, not angling away from other toes, as on an afarensis foot.

The footprints discovered in Kenya, researchers said, indicated that the erectus foot functioned much as a human foot does: the heel contacts the ground first; weight transfers along the arch to the ball of the foot; and the push-off is applied by the forefoot. In apes and apparently earlier hominids, this force comes from the midfoot.

The discovery is "even more explicit evidence," Dr. Harris said, that the erectus species extended its range into more diversified habitats, camping and discarding stone tools at sites far from the sources of the stone.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 27, 2009, on page A10 of the New York edition.

Four out of five Britons do not believe in creationism


Four out of five Britons do not give any credence to creationism, a survey of beliefs about the origins of mankind has revealed.

Last Updated: 6:07PM GMT 02 Mar 2009

Four out of five Britons do not believe in creationism, a study has found. Most prefer Charles Darwin's evolutionism. Photo: AP

The survey of more than 2,000 people found the east has the largest proportion of people in the UK who believe that the theory of evolution removes any need for God (44 per cent).

Almost half of adults there believe the theory of evolution makes God obsolete but just over half are unaware that Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species.

Three per cent even believe that he wrote The God Delusion, which is by Richard Dawkins.

The study, which claims to be the most comprehensive research project ever carried out into UK public opinion on evolution and the origins of mankind, produced a regional map of beliefs.

Wales has the largest proportion of theistic evolutionists - the belief that evolution is part of God's plan (38 per cent).

Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of people who believe in 'intelligent design' (16 per cent), which holds that holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection

Researchers also examined people's opinions on the relationship between human beings and other living things.

They found that 14 per cent of people think that human beings are just another species of animal and have no unique value or significance.

Meanwhile 43 per cent believe that human beings are like other animals but are particularly complex giving us 'value and significance'.

Four in 10 believe that human beings are uniquely different from other living things and so have a unique values and significance.

The report, published by religious think tank Theos, also throws light on attitudes towards Charles Darwin.

Paul Woolley, director of think tank Theos, which carried out the research, said: "The publication of this research is very significant. It gives, for the first time, a clear picture of public opinion on a controversial set of issues.

"The research clearly indicates that there is a great deal of confusion about what people believe and why they believe it.

"It will be interesting to see what impact the Darwin celebrations have on public opinion by the end of the year.

"There are two lessons in particular that we can learn from Darwin . The first is that belief in God and evolution are compatible.

"Secondly, in a time when debates about evolution and religious belief can be aggressive and polarised, Charles Darwin remains an example of how to disagree without being disagreeable."

Humans may be primed to believe in creation


12:29 02 March 2009 by Ewen Callaway

Religion might not be the only reason people buy into creationism and intelligent design, psychological experiments suggest.

No matter what their religious beliefs, college-educated adults frequently agree with purpose-seeking yet false explanations of natural phenomena - finches diversified in order to survive, for instance.

"The very fact of belief in purpose itself might lead you to favour intelligent design," says Deborah Kelemen, a psychologist at Boston University, who led the study

Kelemen has documented the same kind of erroneous thinking - called promiscuous teleology - in young children. Seven and eight-year olds agree with teleological statements such as "Rocks are jagged so animals can scratch themselves" and "Birds exist to make nice music". These mistakes diminish as kids take more science classes and learn causal explanations for natural events.

Quick-fire questions

To see whether education erases teleological tendencies or whether they instead represent our brain's default mode, Kelemen and colleague Evelyn Rosset presented 230 university students with various teleological statements, such as:

• Earthworms tunnel underground to aerate the soil

• Mites live on skin to consume dead skin cells

• The Sun makes light so that plants can photosynthesise

• Earthquakes happen because tectonic plates must align

Students saw a sentence flash onto a computer screen and had either 5 or 3.2 seconds to answer true or false. A third group had no time limit.

To make sure students were paying attention and could read quickly, the researchers threw in some obviously true statements: "Flowers wilt because they get dehydrated" or "People buy vacuums because they suck up dirt", for example.

'Education failure'

A first round of experiments suggested that adults make more teleological mistakes when pressed for time than when not. Yet Kelemen and Rosset also noticed that no matter how much time they had, test subjects tended to endorse false statements implying that the Earth is designed and maintained for life. "The earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV rays", for instance.

A second round of tests with a new group of students added more biological and geophysical questions to probe these inclinations further. Kelemen and Rosset also asked volunteers about their religious beliefs.

People continued to agree with false teleological statements, particularly those that endorsed an Earth intended for life. But non-believers were just as likely to make these errors as religious students, they found.

Education goes only so far in extinguishing mistaken beliefs about the physical world, Keleman says. "It suggests that we're quite explicitly failing in science education, certainly with these undergraduates."

Creationist tendency

"What her work suggests is that the creationist side has a huge leg up early on because it fits our natural tendencies," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University. "It has implications for why most people on earth are creationists, I think."

For this reason, it's not surprising that non-religious, college-educated adults fall back on purpose-seeking explanations. Many people have little understanding of evolution and instead view it as a cultural belief, thinking: "'I'm a good secular liberal, I'm no yokel, I believe in Darwin,'" Bloom says.

He also wonders if extensive science education could blunt the tendency to fall back on teleological explanations. "It might turn out that if you put Richard Dawkins or Einstein or whomever [to the test], no matter how expert or educated they are, they might still make these mistakes."

Indeed, Kelemen is running similar experiments on volunteers with stronger science backgrounds to see if they, too, fall back on such childlike reasoning.

Journal reference: Cognition (DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.01.001)

Evolution of Darwin's reputation continues 150 years later


Leanne Larmondin

Toronto (ENI). The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth is being marked by hundreds of events around the world, not to mention scores of writers and scientists who are weighing in about his impact on science and religious belief. Sometimes Darwin is used as a luminary of non-believers, but his theories are accepted by many of those who have faith.

And, 150 years after Darwin published his book, "The Origin of Species", creationists and evolutionists continue to debate Darwin's theory of evolution: that living beings are related by common genealogical descent, and plant and animal species adapt according to their environment.

Bitter divisions separate many who espouse Darwin's theory that species, including humans, evolved through natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years, and others who, interpreting the Bible literally, say the world was created in six days by God, who also made man in his own image.

In Rome, on 3 March a five-day Vatican-sponsored academic conference to mark the anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species" opened. Present are scientists, philosophers and theologians who are discussing Darwin's theory of evolution in relation to belief in divine creation.

The conference is organized by Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and it is one of two in 2009 sponsored by the Vatican to examine the work of scientists such as Galileo and Darwin whose ideas seemed to challenge religious beliefs. In presenting the conference, the Vatican said that the Roman Catholic Church, unlike many Protestant churches, never condemned Darwin's theory.

In Britain, commemorative events included a "Darwin Day" party at London's Natural History Museum and free admission to the Bristol zoo to anyone sporting a beard (real or fake), a cheeky reference to Darwin's bushy white whiskers.

The anniversary has been observed with a lecture in Canada by a professor of biochemistry from the University of Toronto. Calling Darwin "the best scientist who ever lived", Professor Larry Moran discussed is impact on science. He noted that Darwin's significance underwent a rehabilitation of sorts in 2002, when Britain's Natural History Museum moved his 2.2-tonne statue from a cafeteria to a place of prominence in the building's central hall.

National Geographic magazine also commented on the anniversary, devoting its February cover to the story, entitled, "What Darwin didn't know". Calling "The Origin of Species", the "most incendiary book in the history of science", the magazine notes that while evolution was widely accepted during Darwin's lifetime, his theory of natural selection did not "triumph" until about 1940, when it was integrated with discoveries about genetics.

Considered a national hero in his native England, Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809. He attended a Church of England (Anglican) school in Shrewsbury and studied at Cambridge University for the priesthood. His theology studies fell by the wayside and in 1831 he set off on a five-year expedition on the ship HMS Beagle as an unpaid naturalist. It was on that South American journey that he observed the behaviour of different plant and animal species.

Darwin eventually lost his faith and wrote in the 1830s, "I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete." Despite his own lack of faith, it is speculated that he suppressed publishing his theories of evolution and natural selection because he feared the reaction of religious leaders and even his own devout wife.

When The Origin of Species was released in 1859, many Europeans still believed that the Earth was created in seven days, as related in the Bible's Book of Genesis.

Although early church response to Darwin's theories was hostile, he was given a state funeral and was buried at London's Westminster Abbey, near the grave of Isaac Newton.

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Cardinal says atheist's theories "absurd"


By NICOLE WINFIELD – 9 hours ago

ROME (AP) — The Vatican sought Tuesday to show that it isn't opposed to science and evolutionary theory, hosting a conference on Charles Darwin and trying to debunk the idea that it embraces creationism or intelligent design.

Some of the world's top biologists, paleontologists and molecular geneticists joined theologians and philosophers for the five-day seminar marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the Catholic Church doesn't stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, saying there was a "wide spectrum of room" for belief in both the scientific basis for evolution and faith in God the creator.

"We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God is the creator of all things," he said on the sidelines of the conference.

But while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as "absurd" the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God, he said.

"Of course we think that's absurd and not at all proven," he said. "But other than that ... the Vatican has recognized that it doesn't stand in the way of scientific realities."

The Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the conference at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University was a key demonstration of its efforts to engage with the scientific community.

"The false contraposition between Darwinism and the Church," is how the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, headlined its story on the conference.

Church teaching holds that Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds.

Pope John Paul II articulated the church's position most clearly in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, in which he said the theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

He noted the results of several independent discoveries across several disciplines, saying that convergence alone "constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."

But the Vatican's position became somewhat confused in recent years, in part because of a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece signed by a close Benedict collaborator, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

In the piece, Schoenborn seemed to reject traditional church teaching and backed instead intelligent design, the view that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, and that a higher power has had a hand in changes among species over time.

He said John Paul's 1996 speech was "rather vague and unimportant."

Vatican officials later made clear they did not believe intelligent design was science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school science classes only created confusion.

Francisco Ayala, a former priest and professor of biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, called intelligent design and creationism "blasphemous" not only to science but to the Christian faith.

"It is not only not compatible with Christian faith, it is just blasphemous because it predicates from the creator attributes that we don't want to have from the creator," he said.

He cited as an example the fact that the human jaw is too small for all its teeth, requiring wisdom teeth to be extracted. "An engineer who designed the human jaw would be fired the next day. Are we going to blame God for that?"

Proponents of intelligent design say theirs is merely a theory to detect whether the apparent design in nature is a genuine design or the product of a process like natural selection. They reject being labeled as creationists and say recent research suggests that design is the best explanation for complexity in the natural world.

In his remarks, Levada referred to both Dawkins and those Christians who have a "fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible which they want to see taught to their children in the schools alongside evolution or instead of it."

But he declined to pinpoint the Vatican's views on intelligent design, saying merely: "The Vatican listens and learns."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dobzhansky, Evolution and Me at AAAS

Category: Culture Wars Posted on: February 23, 2009 6:26 PM, by Josh Rosenau

At the AAAS meetings in Chicago two weeks ago, I was privileged to be on a panel with such luminaries as Olivia Judson, David Deamer, Neil Shubin, and this year's winner of the AAAS Award for the Public Understanding of Science, Ken Miller. It was a great occasion, and afterward I got to shake hands with the original Tiktaalik fossil at Neil Shubin's lab, conveniently located catty-corner to my old dorm at the University of Chicago.

I plan to make slidecasts of several of those talks to post on Youtube or Slideshare when I get the time.

Until then, we can anticipate a multi-part series from another graduate of the U. of C. Young earth creationist Paul Nelson, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, has posted a reply to my talk at the Disco. Inst. blog (which admirably strives to live up to its Actual Motto: "The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site").

I describe Nelson's post as a response rather than a description, despite his claim that "I was attending the session as a reporter." His account of the action bears little resemblance with actual events during the panel, and have a great deal to do with what he apparently wishes we'd been talking about. Consider:

You won't find any well-known intelligent design advocates among the speakers at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held recently in Chicago. But that does not mean ID was not there -- quite the contrary. Like the social outcast left uninvited … ID was on the lips of most of the speakers at [the session]. One could be forgiven for leaving the session thinking that evolutionary biology was defined largely by its opposition to ID.

Whether or not one is forgiven, one would be sorely wrong. Some of my fellow panelists mentioned that creationism could not explain certain phenomena, but focused (like Dobzhansky) on the fact that evolution makes sense of biology. That creationism does not make sense of biology is a notable fact, but hardly a defining fact of those talks, let alone the field of evolution. As for my talk, which Nelson purports to be reporting on, I only discussed creationism to observe that creationist attacks on science education continue to grow, and that this has dire effects on public understanding of science, as measured by polls of the US and in poor performance of American students on international science tests. I then exhorted the audience to help improve this situation by actively engaging their students, their institutions, and the general public, in a campaign to increase understanding of evolution. Paul seems to have missed most of this:

Rosenau took his theme from T.H. Dobzhansky's famous (1973) aphorism, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." After showing data indicating that most Americans remain skeptical of Darwinian (undirected) evolution -- a skepticism, he noted, that does not exist for other scientific theories or claims, such as continental drift or the uselessness of antibiotics against viruses -- Rosenau gave examples of findings in a variety of fields that (he said) could only be understood via evolution. The development of the medicine Taxol™ , for instance, or the engineering of General Electric jet turbines and radio antennae by evolutionary algorithms, or integrated pest management (IPM) methods, make sense only in the light of evolution. Evolution is for everyone, said Rosenau, flashing a slide with the cover of David Sloan Wilson's book Evolution for Everyone (Delacorte, 2007).

I was attending the session as a reporter, and felt it would be out of place to engage Rosenau in an argument (we are friendly acquaintances). But his recommendations, both of Dobzhansky (1973) and Wilson (2007), show why NCSE policy and educational advice is doomed only to prolong the controversies Rosenau and his colleagues so earnestly wish to lay to rest.

At this point, having devoted barely a paragraph to the actual content of my talk, he launches into a disquisition on Dobzhansky's excellent 1973 essay for The American Biology Teacher. That parenthetical "he said" inserted in passing is never explained. Nelson is free to disagree that an understanding of common ancestry was essential to producing enough Taxol to treat hundreds of thousands of patients, but he never explains why. He might dispute that evolutionary algorithms actually did improve the efficiency of everything from antennae on spacecraft to turbines on jets and down to the USB drive in your pocket, but he never explains why. He may dispute my claim that farmers' application of evolutionary knowledge and principles through Integrated Pest Management has made farming more efficient and safer for the environment and consumers. He might even disagree with my claim that "Dobzhansky actually understated the case: evolution makes sense of sciences that Darwin and Dobzhansky could never have imagined." Does he agree with my call to participate in Science Cafes, science blogs, Wikipedia, SciVee and Youtube, and to follow Jay Hosler's example by drawing comics, all in service of a simple goal, to "make sense of evolution"? Does he think medical students, pre-meds, and biology majors need required courses in evolution? Does he disagree that introductory biology courses for nonmajors should use evolution as their organizing principle? Does he agree that the mediocrity of American students in science classes can be traced, at least in part, to a culture of evolution rejection? We don't know, because Paul neither reports the details of what I said, nor does he address the details of anything at all that I said.

Rather than engage what I actually said, Nelson leaps to the claim that Dobzhansky's "essay represents [a] passionately-argued theological case against intelligent design and for evolution as God's method of creation." (Emphasis added.) Let us set aside the anachronism of putting "intelligent design" into an essay written over a decade before the birth of ID creationism, simply applauding Nelson's tacit acknowledgment that IDC is the same thing as the "creation science" prevalent in the 1970s, and move on. Given the energy that Disco. Inst. fainting dachshund Casey Luskin invests in denying that readily demonstrated bit of history, I'll let Paul's Disco. masters sort that out.

It is simply and demonstrably false, however, to claim that Dobzhansky's essay is any sort of theological argument. To defend that claim, Paul quotes the second half of the concluding paragraph of the second section of the paper, which Dobzhansky begins by stating:

Anti-evolutionists fail to understand how natural selection operates. They fancy that all existing species were generated by supernatural fiat a few thousand years ago, pretty much as we find them today.

He then goes on to point out that this fails to explain important aspects of biology, aspects which, as he emphasizes throughout the essay, "make sense … in the light of evolution." His point is not theological, but pedagogical (which is why he wrote for ABT, rather than for a theology journal). Lots of things can explain optimality, goes his argument, but it is the non-optimal aspects of the biological world that evolution also illuminates. Thus, the passage that Nelson's quotation introduces in mid-sentence begins: "The organic diversity becomes, however, reasonable and understandable if the Creator has created the living world not by caprice, but by evolution propelled by natural selection." Dobzhansky may be talking about theology, but he is not talking theology. He is talking pedagogy.

Dobzhansky also mentions theology at the end of the essay, again denying a necessary conflict between science and religion. He quotes Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on this point, but emphasizes that "Of course, some scientists, as well as some philosophers and theologians, disagree with some parts of Teilhard's teachings; the acceptance of his worldview falls short of universal." Dobzhansky emphasizes that he is not writing to advocate for this theology, merely to make the point that it is not necessary to set Christian faith at odds with evolution. This is hardly a theological argument for or against Teilhard de Chardin, merely an empirical argument that such compatible views do exist in the world, with both theologians (Teilhard de Chardin) and scientists (Dobzhanky) sharing that view. Three paragraphs out of ~75 can hardly be claimed as proof that Dobzhansky is mounting a theological case for anything.

In any event, Nelson proceeds to discuss the views of David Sloan Wilson. He feels the warrant to do so in this context because I made fleeting reference to his Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives and to the Evolutionary Studies program he initiated at Binghamton in this paragraph (text as prepared, and I know I diverged from the precise phrasing, but not from the gist):

But as we enter a century where biology will be as politically and economically significant as physics was in the 20th, even non-scientists will be expected to have a firm grasp of the basic concepts in biology, and that means evolution has to be front and center. Students deserve introductory biology classes that present evolution, regardless of their major. Whether they're applying IPM as farmers, advising a loved one with cancer, developing more efficient USB thumb drives, electing school boards, or voting on budgets for NSF and NIH, they need to know what evolution is, and why it matters. David Sloan Wilson and Binghamton University have been developing approaches that run evolution not just throughout the sciences, but through the whole curriculum. You can find out how to apply his approach from that web site.

From this text, Nelson somehow feels it necessary to launch into a discussion of what Wilson says about religion in the text of a book that I barely touched on in my talk. Paul Nelson notes that Wilson writes in his book that "Evolution and religion can no longer occupy opposite corners of human thought," and concludes that, since I used a picture of a book to illustrate a point about the author's program to introduce evolution throughout the curriculum, the logical conclusion to draw from my talk is that "a biology classroom is exactly the correct venue to raise theological issues, such as God's method of creating, or the content and function of religious belief." This logical trainwreck hardly deserves reply.

Nelson carries on,

Simultaneously telling people, however, that the science classroom is off limits to theology -- except for this God-used-evolution-and-it's-blasphemy-to-suggest-otherwise view, advocated by a leading neo-Darwinian biologist, and maybe a couple of other tolerable theologies -- guarantees an ongoing controversy. A philosophical rule decreed by those holding institutional power (whether in the courts or national science and education organizations), but violated by those very same institutions in practice, is not a rule anyone else will follow -- nor should they.

But what most belied the NCSE approach was the remainder of the symposium.

This is absurd, of course. Nowhere in my talk nor in Eugenie Scott's remarks as organizer/moderator, did we discuss theology. I made reference to creationist attacks on science education, and emphasized that this was partly a legacy of poor science education in general, and of the Balkanized nature of the American educational system. Other speakers made the point that there are many aspects of biology that seem absurd if you treat the human body as if it were crafted de novo, but which make perfect sense when we consider the pattern of common descent which unifies all of life. Hardly an invitation to scrutinize pinheads in search of dancing angels.

In claiming that Dobzhansky's essay, David Sloan Wilson's book, or NCSE in general advocates for any particular theological view, however, Nelson is making a trivial error. NCSE does not take the view that theistic evolution is correct. Our Faith Project Director, a Catholic theologian, certainly holds that evolution and other natural laws are the tools God used to express his creative powers. Our Executive Director is an atheist, and in theological debate, would reject that and any other claim to God's divine action. As an institution, however, we do not advocate for either of those theologies. Regardless of personal theology, one can certainly make the anthropological observation that there are a wide range of theological beliefs in the world, that most of them do not see any conflict with evolution at all, and that even within Christianity, many denominations argue against that conflict. Without arguing for the merits of any theological claim, one can make empirical claims about what sorts of religious beliefs exist, and what relationship they have to evolution; the conclusion from such a survey is unavoidable: Christianity need not be set in conflict with evolution. Christians are free to disagree on this and other points, and such disagreements are theological. But the observation that conflict between faith and science is not inherent to Christianity is not a theological observation. It is anthropological.

Similarly, Wilson's claim "that evolution and religion, those old enemies who currently occupy opposite corners of human thought, can be brought harmoniously together" is not theological (Nelson's essay notwithstanding). He is arguing that evolution can be used to explain why religion exists, and that religion, like many other fields outside of biology, can be illuminated by evolution. In an essay for Skeptic magazine, Wilson explains that his interest is "in culture as an evolutionary process in its own right." Wilson is an atheist, which again makes his theology relatively trivial. As an observer of society, though, he knows that religion exists and plays an important role in human society. He argues that "evolutionary theory provides a powerful framework for studying religion," both as a way of explaining its existence, and in terms of explaining its details.

Dobzhansky points to the examples of "superfluous creatures," like "a species of the fungus family Laboulbeniaceae, which grows exclusively on the rear portion of the elytra of the beetle Aphenops cronei, which is found only in some limestone caves in southern France," to illustrate his point that, while many things could explain optimal an necessary aspects of biology, only evolution allows us to make sense of the seemingly superfluous or dysfunctional aspects of biology. Similarly, Wilson observes that evolution makes sense of cultural phenomena which "appear[] obviously dysfunctional based on a little information." Understanding biological and cultural evolution illuminates those otherwise nonsensical phenomena.

I went into none of this in my talk. I could have, but it would have been irrelevant and off-topic. It would have been relevant in a reception the day before, held by AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, where theologians and scientists discussed efforts to foster productive dialog across those disciplines, and where the relationship of science to religion actually was discussed.

If Paul Nelson wanted to participate in a discussion about science and religion, he should have known that a session called "Evolution Makes Sense of Biology" would only disappoint. And if he cares to report on that session, he might actually engage with the substance of the remarks there, and not drift off into conversations with himself.

Letter: Sees evolution differently than recent columnist does


Joseph Moore, Asheville • updated February 28, 2009 3:15 pm

Who is Charles Haynes trying to deceive? He claims in his syndicated column, "Darwin at 200: Still controversial after all these years," (AC-T, Feb. 20), that the only justification for questioning the theory of evolution is to open the door for the introduction of creationism. Evolution is so riddled with holes that it would not strain a pot of wet noodles. Nobody who studies Darwinism with an open mind can walk away without a myriad of unresolved questions.

Anti-religious zealots, like Haynes, cloak all who dispute biological evolution with the mantle of creationism. Doubtful disputations are, therefore, forced out of the classroom. To be accepted, evolution must be approached with the premise that it is unadulterated fact. Supporters know that their pet theory will not stand honest scrutiny. The whole concept is unreasonable and flies in the face of common sense. It has not been proven to me by the fossil record or laboratory experimentation.

Students must be allowed freedom of expression to doubt and question a theory with such profound weaknesses.

Joseph Moore, Asheville

Associated Press Corrects Misreporting on Iowa Evolution Academic Freedom Bill


The Associated Press has corrected an inaccurate article about the Iowa Academic Freedom bill which had stated that "The bill asserts that teaching religious theories of evolution falls under academic freedom. It would let teachers at all education levels teach religious theories as science and forbid them from discounting non-science based answers from students." The bill, of course, says precisely the opposite, as it expressly states: "This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion." Thankfully, after being shown the actual text of the bill, the AP realized that it was erroneous to claim that the bill allows the teaching of "religious theories" and it has now printed a correction stating:

In a Feb. 26 story about a legislative bill that protects criticism of evolution, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the measure would let educators teach religious theories as science. The bill would prohibit promotion of religious doctrine, and the question of whether religious-based arguments would be allowed in classrooms is a matter of debate among supporters and opponents.

This just shows that when the media uncritically repeats the talking points of Darwinist critics of academic freedom, that the truth is not heard. The AP should be commended for fixing their error.

Posted by Casey Luskin on February 27, 2009 2:06 PM | Permalink

Former priest is a Darwin disciple


Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 28, 2009, 5:39PM

is a former Dominican priest and passionate defender of evolution.?

As part of the festivities surrounding Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala spoke last week at Rice University, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Baylor College of Medicine. Ayala is a passionate defender of evolution. But, as a former Dominican priest, he also has a unique viewpoint on how science and religion need not collide. Science writer Eric Berger caught up with Ayala at Rice to find out why.

Q: What message are you bringing to Houston to mark Darwin's birthday?

A: That Darwin is one of the most important scientists in the history of the world, and some of my colleagues would say the most important scientist. In any case, he is in the same league as Einstein and Newton.

Q: That's pretty high praise, no?

A: The reason why he is so important is that he completed the scientific revolution. Physical scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and others have studied science in the modern sense, that the natural world can be explained by natural laws, which have universal application. But they left organisms out, because organisms seemed so obviously to be designed. Darwin discovered natural selection, and as he was aware, he brought organisms into the realm of scientific explanation. So it was a major achievement in the history of ideas and science. Science, at some level, became complete, because everything in the world was subject to scientific explanation.

Q: As a former priest and man of deep faith, are you trying to reach religious people who question evolution?

A: I am trying to talk to people of faith and to try and persuade them that the theory of evolution is not anti-religious. In fact, it is more consistent with faith than these theories that have evolved under the name of creationism or intelligent design. These have implications with respect to the creator that are completely unacceptable.

Q: Such as?

A: With respect to intelligent design, if we have been designed by God, God has a lot to account for. There are many aspects of human beings that are very poorly designed, starting with our jaws. The human jaw is not big enough for our teeth, so we have to have wisdom teeth removed, and other teeth grow crooked, because there is not enough room for them. An engineer who designed the human jaw would be fired the next day for incompetence. Are we going to blame God?

Q: How have you found that fundamentalists respond to this sort of a message?

A: They usually don't respond. They run away from the message. People of good faith, like the majority of the audience I had at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, are at first puzzled, and one hopes that as they hear more and more about it, they feel enlightened, and that they come to understand it is not evolution that is anti-religious. But it is intelligent design that is anti-religious.

Q: So where is the place for God in your conception of the universe?

A: Everywhere. It is about our relationship to God, the meaning of life, the purpose of life. Moral values. Science has nothing to say about these things. Science is not about excluding God. Those who try to use science to prove God does not exist are misusing science. …

You can go to the very beginning of Christianity and find the message I have been telling you in St. Augustine, in his commentary on the genesis. Remember, this is 1,800 years ago, and he very explicitly says, 'As a Christian, why do we care if the Earth is a disc or a sphere? It doesn't help me to reach salvation. The Bible is there to teach me how to go to heaven, not how the heavens were made.' He's saying it's a categorical mistake to take the Bible for an elementary textbook on biology or chemistry or geology.


Does God truly exist?


By Douglas ANELE
Published: Sunday, 1 Mar 2009

THE book, Does God Truly Exist?, is a 356-page Christian apologetics written by Temitope O. Oyetomi who, according to the blurb, is the coordinator of the Joy and Truth Christian Ministries, with headquarters in Akure.

Baal Hamon Publishers published the repackaged edition of the book in 2006. Structurally, speaking, the book is divided into three parts. It has a title page, a page containing table of contents. Also, there are acknowledgements, Foreword, Preface, Appendix and Index. Part one of the book, entitled "The Root of Sin," has eight chapters. Here, the author explains why the book was written: to re-examine, clarify and disseminate several difficult fundamental doctrines and beliefs of Christianity. Next is Part Two, with the title "The Kingdom of God."

It runs from chapter nine to chapter fourteen. The author deals with some basic distinctive claims of Christianity, such as the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the only root route to the restoration of man's spiritual aliveness, the doctrine of "Kingdom of God," the doctrine of grace, and the significance of prayer and evangelism to the Christian faith. The hope of Christians to enjoy everlasting life in heaven was also discussed. Part III is on how to make what the author considers a prudent choice in favour of Christianity. Its title "Make a Wise Choice" adumbrates the principal focus of chapter 15. In it, the author claimed that God has assigned to him the duty to inform his readers about, and draw their attention to, issues concerning their personal one-to-one relationship to God: He quoted with approval Deuteronomy 11: 26-28, and Joshua 24: 15 where Joshua presented Israelites with two choices; that is, either they choose to worship Yahweh or choose to serve other Gods. The author declared himself a born-again Christian, and enjoined his readers to become born again Christians as well.

In presenting his arguments, the author repeatedly referred to the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution, two influential theories in cosmology and biology respectively, and the creation story of the Bible, in order to explain how the universe came into being. According to Oyetomi's account of the Big Bang theory; matter came into existence when a certain particle not quite the size of the proton of an atom suddenly appeared in space and continued to expand rapidly until it exploded. For creationists, the author says, the Big Bang theory is a fraud. He asserts that the scientists who invented the theory defended it with "the weak apology that further inquiry into the Big Bang theory could be carried out, or a let-us-not-bother-about-that excuse." Oyetomi argues that the theory appears inconsistent with some other well established scientific laws, for example, the law of inertia (Newton 's first law of motion) and the law of conservation of mass. On the strength of this, Oyetomi argues that if space was absolutely empty, it is impossible for matter, no matter how infinitesimal in size, to have come into being without a source of energy to power the process.

For the author, the tiny bit of matter which expanded to form the universe could not have had a mass equivalent to the mass of Mount Everest , let alone the mass of the entire cosmos. The only way the theory can be scientifically true is if tiny bit of matter which exploded was vastly bigger than it is thought to be. However, if matter, no matter its size, underwent a big bang at a particular point in time billions of years ago, why did the explosion not occur earlier? The Big Bang theory cannot explain why the explosion occurred when it did. Whatever is responsible for the appearance of matter in space must have used energy to generate it, since space was empty at the time. Also the energy that generated matter in space must have been controlled by something; otherwise the question of why the Big Bang occurred when it did would remain unanswered. According to Oyetomi, "the energy that produced matter in space must have had some kind of intelligence or mind that can enable it to decide when to trigger off the Big Bang. It is only an eternal being with eternal intelligence and eternal energy that can cause the Big bang. The intelligent spiritual being responsible for the creation of the universe is God."

Oyetomi, unlike most Christian apologists, does not deny outright the possibility of the big bang and evolution occurring. His fundamental claim is that if the two events occurred, there must be a God responsible for their occurrence. He then reiterates the attributes of God contained in The Bible. God is a spirit, an immortal "eternal intelligence. Having argued that the Big Bang theory and evolution do not necessarily contradict the idea of an immortal, eternal, spiritual creator of the universe, Oyetomi presents a comparative analysis of creationism and the theory of evolution. He argues that both The Bible and evolution agree that man is just one of the animals on earth. Both agree that plants emerged before animals, and that homo-sapiens is at the apex of the pyramid of living things on the planet. Nevertheless, whereas evolution is mainly concerned with the "what?" "how?" and "when?" of reality, creationism focuses mainly on the questions of "who?" and "why?" of things. Oyetomi believes that the fulfilment of the prophecies and dreams of "prophets of God" strongly indicates that God actually exists.

Apart from the justification of the existence of God from a Christian perspective, there are other topics treated by the author which presuppose the existence of God. For example, the reality and significance of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, Christian eschatology, and the necessity to adopt "narrow road" Christianity, were discussed. I shall concentrate on his interpretation of the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution, because it is important for appraising the validity of his major argument that both theories cannot rationally contradict the creationist account of the origin of the universe. But before I go into that, it is pertinent to draw attention to many grammatical infelicities, ambiguous, clumsy and vague formulations, unnecessary repetitions, misuse of punctuation marks, and disappointing lack of reference to relevant source materials especially on the scientific theories discussed in the book. Any careful reader of the book can easily see that these errors are rampant, particularly in Parts One and Two of the book.

The author's handling of the Big Bang theory and evolution is superficial and unsatisfactory. He lacks adequate knowledge of the details of both theories. Oyetomi makes so much fuss about the infinity of space and time and about what he called the "deciding factor" in the origin of the universe. He is unaware of the progress made by physicists and cosmologists in further articulating the theory since the time of General Relativity (1916) to the present time, and of experiments carried out with particle accelerators which have produced evidence relevant to events that occurred at the earliest stages of the big bang. Easily readable texts the author could have consulted for reliable information on the theory and its implications for scientific cosmology include Alan H. Guth, The inflationary Universe (1997), Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe (2003), John D. Barrow, The Origin of the Universe (1994), George Smoot and Keay Davidson, Wrinkles in Time (1993) , Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (1983), Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1988), and Nigel Calder, Einstein's Universe (1979).

The history of the big bang model of the universe can be traced to the 1920s when physicists began exploring the implications of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which gave a more satisfactory explanation of gravitational effects than Newton 's theory. Einstein demonstrated that space and time respond to the presence of mass and energy. The distortion of space-time affects the motion of nearby objects. Using the non-Euclidean mathematical paradigm pioneered by the nineteenth century mathematician, George Reimann, as the pivot of his analysis, Einstein described the mutual evolution of space, time and matter quantitatively. His equations implied that the overall size of the universe increases with time. Solid evidence that the universe is expanding was provided by the American astronomer, Edwin Hubble who analysed the red-shift of light form distant galaxies, which he explained in terms of the Doppler Effect; the increase in observed wavelength of light occurs because the light source is receding from the observer.

Cosmologists suggest that the Big Bang (a term coined by the British astronomer, Fred Hoyle, in the 1940s) occurred about 15 to 18 billion years ago from a point of infinite density, infinite pressure and infinite pressure – the very instant of the explosion, mathematically expressed by cosmologists with the equation "t=0"(where t represents time). It is also called a singularity. Although cosmologists admit that extrapolation from the present state of the universe backwards to the exact moment of singularity when t=0 is not yet conclusively established, the study of reactions known as big bang nucleosynthesis prove that the formation of elements in the universe can be explained on the basis of the known laws of physics operating at the macro and micro (quantum) levels of reality. Oyetomi is definitely ignorant about recent developments in the Big Bang theory and quantum mechanics which throw some light on the origin of the universe. One of such developments, pioneered by Alan Guth, a professor of theoretical physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the inflationary theory.

The theory proposes an ultra-rapid ultra-brief explosion within the big bang, which occurred around 10-43 seconds after the big bang itself, when the temperature of the universe was 1032 degrees Kelvin. Although there is no general agreement among scientists on the details of the initial conditions leading up to the big bang, some scientists such as Edward Tryon and Alexander Vilenkin postulate that the universe originated from quantum processes or false vacuum fluctuations, before inflationary processes took over. The question of what existed before the big bang does not arise because both space and time were generated after the primeval explosion. The conditions present in the early universe, especially when the three fundamental laws of nature – the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism – were united into one indistinguishable force, means that the laws of inertia and conservation of mass which Oyetomi cited against the big bang model were not operative at the time. I am sure, judging from the author's sketchy comments on the Big Bang theory, that he is not conversant with contemporary particle physics where quantum effects relevant to cosmogenesis are studied. The inflationary theory explains the uniformity of the early universe revealed in the smoothness of the cosmic background radiation, the rarity of magnetic monopoles, and the flatness and mind-boggling size and of the universe. The inflationary theory does not require the postulation of a supernatural cause of the big bang.

Florida anti-evolution bill introduced for science education


by Trina Hoaks, Science Examiner

Florida has joined the ranks of the states that have again introduced anti-evolution bills this year. Their goal is to open science education up to include the teaching of creationism.

The difference in the case of Florida is that while other states to introduce such bills try to hide their true motives, Republican Senator Stephen R. Wise made no bones earlier in February about the fact that he is all for the teaching of "Intelligent Design."

According to the News Jacksonville.com Web site, Wise said that he planned to "introduce a bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also discuss the idea of intelligent design." He went on to say, "If you're going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking."

However, the language of Senate Bill 2396 is not quite so bold as to directly require the teaching ID. What it says, that the National Center for Science Education is calling anti-evolution language, is: "...thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution...."

According to some groups, this unequivocally opens the door for the teaching of creationism.