NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 March 2009

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Darwinists on Design: Jumping to Confusions


I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design.

-- Charles Darwin, in an 1860 letter to his friend Asa Gray, a designist

What if you were lied to all your life that a square was a circle? Oh yes, you were told, it's natural to have contrary thoughts, but you must not be deceived by appearances; those things that look like squares are not. They are merely apparent squares. And in reality, you are politely informed, they not only are circles, they must be, because an all encompassing Theory of Circumfusion requires them to be, and you must believe the Theory of Circumfusion. And what if you did? Despite all that was in you; despite what you instinctively and empirically knew, what if you believed? What if?

Imagine that you really bought the lie. You began to see reality not as circles and squares, but as circles and the illusion of squares. And suppose over time you trained yourself, through constant reminder that what you see as squares are not squares, but circles; you actually saw only circles. Now where others see circles and squares you see only circles and imperfect circles. In fact, you find you are somewhat proud of the fact that you seem to be one of the very few people that can understand the Theory of Circumfusion to the extent that you see reality so wonderfully enveloped with circles. You teach with grand authority that your discipline is that of the study of circles that give the appearance of being squares. In fact, your reality becomes so self-evidently true you almost forget that others still see squares.

But you can't forget. Picture your constant chagrin, if not downright irritation, at the constant use among lay people and uninformed (redneck, you say) scientists of the language of squareness. To make matters worse, squareness is always insisted on by the "straight" and "square" crowd, those who speak in vexatious pleonasms such as reference to "straight-edged squares" (as if there are any other kind). They are not squares! you want to shout, they are circles that only have the appearance of squareness! You try your best to be nice, but you find yourself blogging about imbeciles and the mentally ill who adamantly refuse to believe the scientific Theory of Circumfusion and persist in the delusion of the existence of true squareness.

Finally, you hit upon the perfect answer. A brilliant solution! The answer, so stunningly elegant a resolution that you are surprised it has not already been tried: simply remove the term "square" and the concept of squareness from the vocabulary! Simply deem the concept of squareness "inappropriate" and require that no one ever again use the term "square" when speaking, writing, or, you hope, even thinking about reality. Certainly then, you hope, all reality would be seen properly as circles, and the Theory of Circumfusion would finally be free of all the endless parade of pesky detractors.

Sound absurd? It is absurd. But absurdity is the natural destination of wrong ideas pressed against an unyielding reality. And such absurdity represents the pinnacle of thinking darkened by Darwinism, where a reality plain to all stands starkly against an insistent muddle all too plain. The problem for Darwinists lies with the term "design". The term best describes everything we see in nature, but, insist Darwinists, it simply cannot be; The Theory will not allow it. Never mind what your eyes see, never mind what your hands touch, never mind what your ears hear, you must, as atheist co-discoverer of DNA Francis Crick insists biologist do, constantly remind yourself that what you see was not designed but evolved.

On the question of design, Darwinists from Darwin to Dawkins struggle with language developed for reality as we see it, to communicate reality as they wish us to see it. For years, in addition to preaching the gospel of "apparent" design, Richard Dawkins tried a muddled attempt at coining the term designoids to describe the Darwinian requirement of non-designed design. His concept of designoids, like most of his truth claims, not only reeks of tautological nonsense (designoids are things that look designed, and things that look designed are designoids), it sounds dorky. By his definition he is a designoid. So be it, the rest of us will pass on such rubbish demanded by science beholden to an imagined reality. And "apparent" design? Dawkins seems too slight a thinker to realize that deeming design "apparent" is not only linguistically problematic, it is a scientifically useless contradiction in terms. Something is either designed or it is not. And like knowing someone is "apparently pregnant", knowing something is "apparently designed" imparts no useful knowledge.

The latest gift of Darwinian absurdity came in the pages of the gloriously serious-sounding Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research where Columbia University's W.J. Bock surrendered to an Orwellian coward's solution: simply eliminate the troublesome "D" word altogether. Rather than have biologists distracted repeating the mantra, "it is not designed, it is not designed, it is not designed," Bock's solution is to remove even the "concept of design" from all "biological explanations". Design is "inappropriate" in biology, according to Bock, and "should not be used in evolutionary theory." Bock's necessary retreat to absurdity is doubly ineffective, as it does not solve his problem. Because, as he recognized indirectly by admitting that "substitute terms are awkward and not really informative", if you remove the concept of design from biology, there is nothing informative left! All is awkwardness because biology is design. As atheist Richard Dawkins admits, "biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."

Biological things look designed! Remove design and there's nothing left to look at in biology. But importantly (and correctly), according to Bock and others, keep design and there's nothing to talk about in evolutionary theory. This dilemma is exactly what muddled Darwin himself: keep the theory in spite of the empirical evidence, or yield to the evidence and ditch the theory. Unwilling to forsake their chosen theory, and unable to marshal language appropriate to Darwinian surreality, Darwinists have decided to change what they can in vain hopes of altering what they can't. Like little gods attempting to remake nature into their own image, Darwinists believe that by banning the term "design" from explanations in biology, design itself will not need explaining.

Good luck. But here's a workable compromise: drop the term "design" in evolutionary theory where it makes no sense and keep it in biology where it makes perfect sense. The two really have little need for each other. Biology can continue to operate (as it does, truth be told) in terms of design, and because there is no English word for "apparently-designed-yet-actually-unintelligently-caused" with respect to observed objects, evolutionary theory can adopt a more proper substitute term: adesign. Adesign is quite simply the absence of design. Adesign leads to adesignism, which, like its linguistic counterparts atheism and agnosticism, is a belief system defined by what it denies. By creating a clear contrast between design and adesign, the new terminology precisely captures the heart of the origins inquiry: nature exhibits either some design which is true design requiring intelligence, or all adesign which is simply an occurrence requiring no intelligence. There is no other logical choice.

Darwinists will resist the term adesign, because ironically it is too perfect of a description, and will drive the kind of clarity they resist to continue hiding behind an obfuscation of pseudo-science and religious motivation. Bock himself, for example, laments about design that, "the term carries with it too many undesirable connotations, such as the existence of a creator, and should not be used in evolutionary theory." Undesirable connotations? Perhaps, just as to one who believed a lie that he could fly might find gravity burdened with too many undesirable connotations. But with the new terms of debate, science controls: a designist is one who believes the design evident in nature is exactly that--true design. An adesignist is one who holds that what others see as design in nature is not design of any kind; it is simply an unlikely occurrence of unintelligent natural processes. Game on! Let the science begin.

And for those like Bock who apparently have religious motivations for their views, the new terminology of adesign has the added benefit of ferreting out the hidden religious component of the debate, and forcing clarity at a scientific level. A designist need not be a theist, but he or she may be a theist without inconsistency. Likewise, an adesignist is not required to be an atheist, but he or she may be an atheist without inconsistency. Further, the new terminology will drive logical precision directly at the point of greatest confusion, the supposed conflict between religion and science. A religious designist who claims to be a scientific adesignist (e.g., a theistic evolutionist) would seem to be taking a contradictory position, and should be required to explain. Likewise, a scientific adesignist who claims to be a religious designist (e.g., a Darwinist claiming to believe in a creative God) must explain this position clearly, because such a position is contradictory on its face.

Bock concludes his paper by saying: "Actually the living world as we see it is the result of chance because all of the attributes of these organisms evolved and the process of evolution is stochastic. To paraphrase a well-known statement by Einstein, God apparently does play with dice." Aside from the blatantly sophomoric tautology posing as a scientific explanation here ("the living world is the result of chance because all the attributes evolved by chance"), one must wonder--why do Darwinists care about God, much less his dice?

Adesignists, including Darwinists who believe in God and theistic evolutionists (there is no practical difference) risk embarrassing themselves talking about God for one reason: to keep the confusion alive regarding the Darwin-busting fact of design in nature. Confusion is the ally of a wrong worldview, and those who deny design in biology, particularly for fear of the "connotations" of a designer, must rely on silly thoughts about God and dice as they spin their worldview in a whirlwind of illogic and ever-growing deception.

Tell me, Darwinist: Are you intelligently designed?

Roddy Bullock is a freelance writer and the Executive Director of the Intelligent Design Network of Ohio and is the author of The Cave Painting: A Parable of Science, published by and available from Access Research Network.

Send comments to: roddybullock@idnetohio.com.

If you like this essay, go here for many more.

Copyright (c) 2009 Roddy M. Bullock

Does God truly exist? A critical review


By Douglas Anele
Published: Sunday, 8 Mar 2009
Continued from last Sunday

THE author asserts dogmatically (p.40) that "it is a fact (universally undeniable truth) that there was an eternal being without whose existence and deliberate decision the universe would have failed to come into existence." This claim is definitely false, because there is no iota of scientific evidence that supports the actual existence of an eternal being called Yahweh or whatsoever, let alone establishes that the Jewish god is the creator of the universe. As a matter of fact, an increasing number of scientists and non-scientists, with good reasons, believe that the best scientific theory of the universe available today, that is, the Big Bang theory, is closer to the truth than traditional theological accounts of the origin of the universe.

On the theory of evolution, Mr. Oyetomi presents what he considers the similarities between it and biblical creationism. He created the impression that somehow evolution is really compatible with the creation myth in The Bible. But this is a false impression, because whereas the theory of evolution is corroborated by well documented scientific researches, the creation myth in the book of Genesis has no scientific support whatsoever. Efforts by some states in the United States to place creationism at the same level as evolutionary theory in the school curriculum failed simply because unlike evolution, which is rich in ideas for empirically decidable research, creationism is intellectually and scientifically barren. The institute for Creation Research in America has not recorded any significant breakthrough since it was founded several decades ago. Meanwhile, researches guided by the evolutionary paradigm in palaeontology, molecular biology, genetics and other biological sciences have recorded significant discoveries which have deepened our understanding of biological reality. I recommend the following texts to Mr. Oyetomi so that he can improve his knowledge on the theory of evolution: Charles Darwin, Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Henry Plotkin, Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge, Laurie Godfrey (ed), Scientists Confront Creationism, Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable and the Blind Watchmaker, and Steve Jones, The Language of the Genes.

The author makes some arbitrary claims without solid arguments to back them up. For example, on page 40, he says that a free-minded person would certainly reach the conclusion that evolution cannot rationally deny the existence of God as the first and eternal being. Creationists are fond of postulating a deity to explain phenomena that could be explained naturalistically. The theological argument or argument from design, for the existence of God, much beloved by theologians – and particularly by the Jehovah's Witnesses – was undermined by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. In addition, David Hume and Immanuel Kant have proved that the theological argument cannot establish the existence of an almighty God who created the universe ex-nihilo. Recent developments in various biological sciences have shown in great details how the evolution of species over time could have occurred, by explaining in-depth the mechanisms of evolutionary processes. The conclusion which follows from these developments is that the "design" seen in biological phenomena is the product of selection and other natural processes which began on earth more than three billion years ago. Therefore, there is no need to postulate a supernatural designer to account for the "fit" between living things and their ecological niches.

Mr. Oyetomi's claim that he relied on a broad spectrum of disciplines – theology, science, philosophy, metaphysics and, above all, logic and common sense in fairness to all – is insincere. His treatment of the scientific theories he selected is not rigorous. He already has a core of Christian beliefs which, I suspect, he would be unwilling to jettison, no matter the weight of scientific evidence to the contrary. For instance, if he was not already biased in favour of the book of Genesis, he would have realised that the questions about "control" and "deciding factor" also apply to creationism: Why did God decide to create the universe at the time he did? Why did God create the sort of universe where phenomena are controlled by the known laws of physics? Was God limited by these laws of physics in the creation of this kind of universe and, therefore, was prevented from creating another universe where other laws different from the ones known to physics and chemistry are operative? Oyetomi would also have known that the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics have rendered classical physics on which he relies out of date and inappropriate for analyzing phenomena at relativistic and sub-atomic levels. If he took philosophy serious, his book would have reflected the usual debate on the ontological, cosmological, teleological and moral arguments for the existence of God. It appears that the author is not aware of these debates. The literature on God is immense. However, F. Sontag, and M.D. Bryant's God: A Contemporary Discussion, J. I. Omoregbe's What is God? A Critical Inquiry and Philosophy of Religion provide a good starting point for fruitful engagement with the question of God's existence or nonexistence.

Logically speaking, if, as Oyetomi argued, the material universe needs an eternal nonmaterial being to account for its existence, one can still inquire about the source of the eternal being itself and why it decided to make the universe come into existence at time t1 rather than t2. At any rate, there is no logical reason to rule out the possibility that the universe has always been and would continue to be in one form or another. Eminent scientists such as Herman Bondi, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle proposed the Steady-State Theory which asserts that the universe is eternal.

However, the latest empirically-grounded cosmological researches tend to favour the idea that the universe had a beginning. But on logical grounds alone, the Steady-State Theory cannot be ruled out. Evidently, the immensity of the universe revealed by contemporary astronomy makes the overly anthropomorphic God of the Bible a very unlikely source of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible universe. From Einstein's relativistic equations, it is estimated that the maximum diameter of the universe is about 40 billion light years. (Light travels approximately 330,000km per second which translates to 330,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 km in one year). Its total life span is reckoned to be around 63 billion years. Reading through the Genesis account of creation, it is impossible to believe that Yahweh of the Jews, who J.I. Omoregbe rightly described as a tribal god, is the creator of such an astronomically gigantic universe.

As we suggested earlier, the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution are incompatible with creationism, because while the former make testable predictions, the latter is completely bereft of any empirically verifiable consequences. Thus, Oyetomi's attempt to show that the two scientific theories do not contradict creationism is unsuccessful. None of the most eminent scientists who accept the Big Bang theory and evolution believes in Yahweh of the Jews as the creator of the universe. Even Einstein, who was fond of using theological terms in his writings, interpreted God impersonally as the synthesis of the laws or regularities that determine the occurrence of phenomena. His concept of God bears close resemblance to Spinoza's notion of God as the totality of the harmony in the universe.

Other claims made by the author about Jesus Christ, heaven and hell, resurrection etc. are beyond the scope of this review. Mr. Oyetomi seems unfamiliar with well-researched texts that undermine the fundamental dogmas of Christianity. For his education in this regard I recommend the following: Alfred Reynolds, Jesus Versus Christianity, Barbara Thierring, Jesus the Man, Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, and Michael Baigent et al, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. This review would be incomplete if it fails to address the author's claim that the fulfilment of the dreams and prophecies of prophets is an indication that God exists. The claim is false. In most cases the so-called prophetic dreams and prophecies are sublimations of the fantasies, hopes, fears, aspirations, and overall mental and physical condition of the prophets concerned. Again, the prophecies and dreams are usually couched in obtuse and vague expressions that can be interpreted to suit any situation to support the alleged fulfilment of the prophecies. As Bertrand Russell argued, if someone has the inclination to believe in prophecies, he will be willing to interpret virtually anything as the fulfilment of one prophecy or another. Therefore, it is not surprising that Oyetomi and other believers in biblical prophecies are prone to the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

On the whole, Oyetomi's book, Does God Truly Exist?, is difficult to read, because of the numerous grammatical infelicities and unnecessary repetitions which I referred to earlier. It is remarkable that a book whose title suggests a serious engagement with the question concerning the existence of God did not mention, let alone discuss thoroughly, traditional arguments for and against the existence of God. As a matter of fact, the issue of God's existence was dealt with in less than one third of the book. As I suggested before, the effort to make the Big Bang theory and evolution compatible with the Christian version of creationism failed, mainly because the Big Bang and evolutionary theories belong squarely to the domain of science, whereas creationism is fundamentally a religious or faith-based concept.

As a piece of Christian apologetics, Does God Truly Exist? is not well argued. Its handling of the scientific theories which the author used in his presentation lacks depth and rigour. Modern creationists, in general, study the Bible and the books written by scientists, with bias against the latter. They try as best as they could to make their beliefs about the empirical world consistent with biblical stories, and select quotations from scientific literature which they misuse in their campaign against science and evolution. Creationists hardly examine critically the nature of creation myths which they believe. Unlike evolutionists, who have no other choice but to study biological phenomena rigorously to ascertain the facts, creationists merely rely on dogmas contained in one allegedly revealed scripture or another, and on personal speculations that are not backed by solid evidence. Like some creationists, Mr. Oyetomi thinks that if scientific cosmology and evolutionary theory are false, then creationism is true, and afterwards tries to establish that the scientific accounts of the emergence of the universe and living things require a supernatural agent to be rationally acceptable. This is fallacious; it shows the extent to which dogmatic acceptance of religious ideas based on faith can warp our sense of reasoning.

In terms of the packaging of the book, I commend the author and the publishers for a good product. However, I suggest that if there will be a second edition, Mr. Oyetomi should send the book first to knowledgeable editors whose input can improve both its content and language of presentation. As it stands right now, Does God Truly Exist? requires serious modifications to improve its quality.

Anele, PhD, is of the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos, Akoka.

Education board leader set to challenge evolution


McLeroy is point man in fight over Texas' science curriculum.

By Laura Heinauer


Sunday, March 08, 2009

COLLEGE STATION — Some go to church to find answers. Bryan dentist Don McLeroy, chairman of the State Board of Education and point man in the fight over Texas' science curriculum, goes to teach.

"Oh, this is cool," he says, launching into a Sunday school lesson that ranges from the importance of sharing the gospel to the existence of God.

"Everything that had a beginning we can say had a cause," he tells his class of fourth-graders at Grace Bible Church. "And now science definitely says that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, the universe had to have a cause. And that cause is God."

But this is church, not science class. And McLeroy, an avowed creationist who is convinced that evolution taught uncritically undermines faith, knows that it will take a different kind of argument to win the debate about what should be taught in science classes in Texas public schools.

The current curriculum requires students to study the "stengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories in general. In January, a majority of the state board voted to move away from that language. McLeroy is among board members who want the standards to require a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution. It's a theory that McLeroy, 62, believes lacks the empirical data required to be taught without discussion of its particular insufficiencies.

Evolutionary biologists study fossils to trace the origins of species. In addition to asking teachers to engage Texas students in a discussion of how gaps in the fossil record might undermine the notion of common ancestry, McLeroy says he will ask board members to adopt a curriculum standard that would ask students to explain how the complexity of cells does or does not support the idea of natural selection, an explanation of how organisms evolve.

Whatever the board decides will have a large impact across the country given Texas' ability, because of its size, to influence what is printed in textbooks. The board is expected to make a final decision on the science curriculum March 27.

McLeroy's critics, who include many Texas scientists, accuse him of trying to undermine a multitude of scientific evidence that supports evolution and replace it with a discussion of the supernatural in public schools.

University of Texas professor David Hillis helped form a group called the 21st Century Science Coalition to combat the effort to include the weaknesses of evolution in the public school curriculum.

"If Chairman McLeroy is successful in adding his amendments, it will be a huge embarrassment to Texas, a setback for science education and a terrible precedent for the state boards overriding academic experts in order to further their personal religious or political agendas. The victims will be the schoolchildren of Texas, who represent the future of our state."

More than 600 Texas science faculty members have signed a petition supporting the group'seffort.

McLeroy — an avid reader of philosophers and theologians, including Christian theologian Norman Geisler and Dutch reformist Abraham Kuyper — said that in his Sunday school lessons, he seeks to give his students the tools they need to form their own arguments. In Texas public school classrooms, McLeroy says, he doesn't want religion taught. He just wants to let science be science. "If you want to tell (students) there are not weaknesses to evolution and it's as sure as the Earth going around the sun, it's not," he said. "You've got to be honest. You ask why I'm so passionate about this? I don't want America to lose its scientific soul. I feel I am the defender of science."

The role, as ironic as it may seem to some, is one that McLeroy takes seriously.

Growing up, McLeroy and his family — which included his mother, engineer father and twin brother — attended a Methodist church in Dallas every Sunday, but he wasn't overly involved.

McLeroy said that it wasn't until he met his future wife, Nan, that he decided to rethink his faith. She said she would date him only if he were a Christian.

At the time, McLeroy was a 29-year-old dental student in Houston. His response was to first write up a list of reasons that he could not accept Christ. Some things he read in the Bible didn't make sense with what he was learning in dental school, he said. And he wondered why God would allow innocent people to die.

One by one, he said, his questions were answered by pastors and in Bible studies. The conversion took four months. Over the next year, he began taking seminars on creationism and biblical principles. He is now a young earth creationist, meaning that he believes God created Earth between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The tenet in Christianity that says people were created in the image of God became one of the principles that McLeroy held most dear, he said.

"When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted," he said. "I was totally convinced the biblical principals were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically."

McLeroy married Nan in 1976. They have two grown sons who attended public schools in Bryan. He said the arrival of his first son got him thinking politically.

Don't all children, being that they are created in the image of God, deserve a first-rate education, McLeroy asked. The question propelled him to run first for the local school board and later for the State Board of Education. (McLeroy said he first ran for the state board with the help of San Antonio businessman JamesLeininger, who supports vouchers that allow students to use public money to go to private schools, but has not depended on major donors since then.)

That same idea — that children are created in the image of God — has caused him to seek out weaknesses in evolution. Theologically, McLeroy sees a lack of consistency in the ideas of people like Kenneth Miller, a Catholic author and biology professor at Brown University who says evolution is not inherently atheistic.

"We live in a universe bursting with creative possibilities for life," Miller said, explaining his theory. "A fair question is why is that so. And one perfectly reasonable answer is that the universe itself is the product of the work of a creator who wished it to be so."

Sid Hall, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Austin, which recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of naturalist Charles Darwin's birth with an "evolution Sunday" event, said he finds this kind of mixing of science and religion disturbing. Hall said that it is disingenuous to attack the fossil record and ignore carbon dating and dangerous to adhere to only the most literal interpretations of the Bible.

"I would never want to discount those works, but to take (the passage that humans were made in the image of God) to mean something about how the universe is created is a stretch to me," Hall said. "That's code to me for 'I'm going to take my particular myth of creationism and make it part of the science curriculum.' That's scary to me."

While recovering from prostate cancer last year, McLeroy said, he studied what Miller and others have written on the topic. His research led him to what he believes are scientific weaknesses that he wants to see included in the state's curriculum standards.

"If you want children to become good scientists, to become excited about that, you've got to be honest with them. And to be honest with them, you've got to show them the data," he said.

McLeroy, who was elected with about 59 percent of the vote in 2006, said he has numerous letters from constituents encouraging his efforts.

These days, he carries with him the books he has read on the topic, many of which are well-marked in the margins, and a large binder that is adorned on the front with a picture of Albert Einstein.

The binder contains hundreds of articles attacking McLeroy that are organized by tabbed topics such as "name-calling," "logical fallacies," "non-sequiturs" and "red herrings."

It also holds numerous passages from books — such as Miller's and others on evolutionary theory — and articles that he plans to use as ammunition in the fight this month over what should be in the state's science standards.

One page in particular, titled "The Empirical Demonstration of Science," represents his arguments with two illustrations. One is of a cell, and one is of Miller's depiction of the fossil record.

McLeroy wrote in pencil: "What do we see?" "Sudden appearance" of species. "Amazing Complexity."

Asked about what the diagram of the fossil record was meant to express, Miller said, "That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It's really quite the opposite."

Cindy McMichen has worked toe-to-toe with McLeroy for the past 20 years. McMichen, his chair-side assistant at his dental practice, said McLeroy likes to bounce ideas off his patients, so she has heard many of the arguments on education over the years. His organization of the information that he has prepared for the fight over evolution mirrors the way he runs the office, she said.

"We have everything ready to go and do everything systematically and quickly," McMichen said. "I've never been around anyone that researches things the way he does. And he loves to hear other people's opinions.

Daniel Romo, a Texas A&M University chemistry professor whose children have attended McLeroy's Sunday school class, said McLeroy is not only a great listener, but also a great educator. "He really gets students to start asking questions," Romo said. "And to me, that's one of our greatest challenges: getting people to ask questions and not just taking things at face value."

State board member David Bradley said McLeroy "loves everybody, even his political enemies."

"There are certainly people who disagree with him, but he's well-respected," said Bradley, R-Beaumont.

In January, the board voted 8-7 to reject a requirement that students be taught the weaknesses of evolution. However, McLeroy was able to get some amendments passed.

"He waited until all 14 members spoke and then handed the gavel off ... and said, 'Look, I've got an opinion.' He was really careful to try and shepherd the process without bias, and I think that's a real strength," said Bradley, who voted with McLeroy.

McLeroy's amendments included adding a requirement that students analyze and evaluate the insufficiencies of the theory of common ancestry to explain gaps in the fossil record.

He has succeeded in rewriting the state's definition of science as it pertains to teaching to require "testable explanations" of nature. McLeroy said the change should allow the questioning of all scientific explanations and opens the door to the possibility that the universe was created by God. But he wants more.

McLeroy says he intends to pitch another idea that he says should be taught in public schools: the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of cells.

Hillis said the language that McLeroy has proposed to add to the standards does not make sense.

"The language of science needs to be precise; McLeroy's amendments are not even intelligible. I wonder if perhaps he wants the standards to be confusing so that he can open the door to attacking mainstream biology textbooks and arguing for the addition of creationist and other religious literature into the science classroom," Hillis said.

Miller said, "The attitude (that evolution has weaknesses) does Texas a disservice on two levels. The first thing is it implies a false sense of uncertainty on evolution ... and the reality is exactly the opposite. Evolution is very solid and increasingly accepted.

"The second point is even more dangerous," Miller said. "It implies a false sense of certainty about everything else in biology. ... I think it presents a really distorted view of the biological sciences to tell students that 'we're pretty sure of everything else in biology, but evolutionary theory, kids, is a little shaky.' "

McLeroy said he is ready to debate those points.

"What I see is they're rejecting the data for ideological reasons; they're the ideologues in this debate, not us," he said.

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Faith factor


Sunday March 8, 2009
Art of Healing

Can faith really work miracle and heal the body?

ANNA is a beautiful expatriate lady who has fallen in love with Malaysia. She loves our people and our culture so much that she often wears the baju kurung. She was even featured in a local magazine wearing a resplendent white designer piece.

She practices yoga and is a motivational speaker for personal development as well as health. She has also done counselling work for cancer patients.

Unfortunately, a few months ago, she fell victim to snatch-thieves, and was hospitalised with broken ribs and a smashed-up left elbow. She was advised surgery, but after careful consideration, decided to rely on God and her body's own innate healing ability to heal itself.

After several months of prayer, meditation, relaxation, creative visualisation and good nutrition, her bones have healed well, but she still has to continue physiotherapy sessions to regain full strength and flexibility.

She also tried acupuncture, and it improved her mobility significantly.

In a way, her decision to not go for surgery was a sort of personal challenge, where her teachings and beliefs were put to the test.

And now that she has proven to herself that it worked for her, she is keen to share her experience with others, especially those with serious illnesses and cancers. Those who are interested to listen to her Pathways to Self-Healing talk can write to me.

Faith and healing

Time ran a special feature on How Faith Can Heal recently. In a scientific world commemorating the 150th anniversary of Darwin's Theory of Evolution (which has become the scientific world's primary argument against the existence of a creator God), the prospect of proving that faith can heal looks daunting.

But after more than 6,000 scientific studies on the subject in the last eight years alone, scientists have become more receptive to the fact that faith does heal.

Perhaps the most famous study often quoted by faith healing protagonists is the study carried out at the San Francisco General Hospital (US) in 1988 which found that heart patients who were prayed for recovered better than those who were not. Unfortunately, a larger 2005 study at Harvard University (US) found no difference at all whether prayer was involved, and so it was back to square-one.

Since then, more studies have tilted the balance towards the believers. Studies at the University of Miami (US) showed that people who attend religious services have a lower risk of dying compared to those who don't.

Studies at the University of Texas (US) showed that those who never attend religious services have twice the risk of dying (within eight years) compared to those who attend weekly.

Another study at the University of Pittsburg (US) found that regular church attendance extended life by two to three years. In comparison, maintaining normal cholesterol levels extends life by 2.5-3.5 years, and regular exercise gives you three to five extra years. Perhaps if you are religious, have normal cholesterol levels and exercise regularly, you may have a 10-year advantage over those who are not.

There are many variables that may explain the healthy effects of being religious. It has been suggested that those who attend religious services regularly are also more likely to be more disciplined in other aspects of life, including taking care of their health, going for health screenings, and seeing their doctors regularly. When ill, they also get good group support from fellow worshippers.

Secular scientists tend to attribute the positive effects to a placebo effect – actual healthy effects that result from mere expectation (for example, in one study in China, up to 40% of men with erectile dysfunction improved when given a dud pill). According to these scientists, those who pray to God for healing do get some healing because they believe and expect it to be so.

The believers (including believing scientists) assert that belief and prayer work because of divine intervention, something which is hard to prove.

So even if many more studies show that faith works even after excluding other variables, the effect will most likely be attributed to the placebo effect, and not miracles.

Neurobiology of faith healing

Nevertheless, scientific studies delving into the effects of faith and prayer on healing continues unabated, with neurobiologists and radiologists joining the fray. Modern medical machines like cutting-edge scanners now enable us to actually see what happens in the brain during prayer and meditation.

While several parts of the brain are involved (eg thalamus and frontal lobes), it is the parietal lobe which is where our "spiritual cells" reside. Neurons here are the most excited when we pray, meditate or chant.

To put it in a more simplistic manner, much of the benefits can be explained by the fact that the calmness achieved through belief, prayer and meditation results in lowered stress hormones, including cortisol, which then results in a myriad of healthy effects.

However, there is now too much evidence to simplistically explain everything just by the calming hormonal effect. For example, one study on HIV patients showed that those who claim that they are spiritual have higher levels of CD4 immune cells.

The growing amount of evidence showing that faith and spirituality are beneficial in the management of patients have prompted many hospitals to include religious or spiritual advisors or counsellors as part of the team managing patients with critical illnesses like cancer.

For example, HealthCare Chaplaincy is a multi-faith group of religious counsellors which serve many hospitals in New York City, working hand-in-hand with medical staff.

A survey by Indiana State University (US) showed that while doctors are ill-prepared or reluctant to broach the subject of critical illness, death and religious matters to their patients, 90% of patients actually welcome such discussion, and 75% said it would be useful.

Since doctors are not expected to be well-trained to handle the subject, they should be reminded to refer patients to the appropriate religious counsellors.

The body is the temple of the soul and spirit, and the temple must be kept clean and healthy for the inner self to shine through. It is therefore a religious duty to keep the body healthy.

From these studies about faith and health, it would seem that being religious benefits both the spiritual and physical bodies simultaneously.

Science and religion

Science and religion have always been at loggerheads. The Theory of Evolution is a classic case. Spirituality is most often linked to religions (though not always) and spiritual practices like prayer, chanting and meditation have turned out to be an unexpected bridge between the two otherwise irreconciliable schools (science vs religion).

Many scientists like me continue to accept scientific evidence while at the same time accepting the religious/spiritual evidence of the existence of a creator God, and that everything in the universe is under his control.

We believe that scientific laws are also established by the Creator. We do not deny the scientific observations on evolution and other phenomena, but two people making the same observations may still make different conclusions.

For example, nuns shown the scanned image of a brain taken while the subject was praying will say that it proves the power of God. Atheists shown the same image will say that it proves that religion is just biology.

Non-believing scientists interpret evolution as the proof of random mutations resulting in better-surviving species through the process of "natural selection".

Believing scientists interpret the same observations as evidence of Intelligent Design (that there is an Intelligent Designer or God behind what we have observed) or Creative Evolution (that the evolutionary changes are not random, but enforced by a creator). We believe that there is no contradiction between science and religion.

After 150 years, the debate continues ...

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Disco. Inst. gets insulted again


Category: Policy and Politics
Posted on: March 6, 2009 6:13 PM, by Josh Rosenau

In the AP's coverage of OK state Rep. Thomsen's efforts to … expel … Richard Dawkins, the Disco. Inst. gets dissed. "We're all for the freedom of Richard Dawkins to speak," says an interviewee, who adds "Where is a similar high-profile person debating him?"

This person must not be aware that John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and Casey Luskin, who is decidedly not a fainting dachshund, also of the Discovery Institute were both at the University of Oklahoma recently, presenting a view decidedly contrary to Dawkins'. What're they, chopped liver? Who would dare…

Oh, wait, that quote comes from John West. He apparently either forgot that he already had a chance to respond to Dawkins' basic line of argument, or who doesn't think he's of the same stature.

Now, I agree. Dawkins is a widely-published biologist who has now branched out in a different direction later in his career. John West, … umm, … He runs the creationist branch of a conservative think tank, and I think he wrote a book last year for a Christian conservative publisher, but like so many books, it sank beneath the waves. So I certainly wouldn't say that he's of Dawkins' high profile.

But usually when anyone dares mention that the Disco. gang aren't quite top-tier, they go berzerk. Perhaps they've come to their senses.

But beyond that, who do they think is of equally high profile and would disagree with Dawkins in the ways that Disco. seems to think especially relevant? There are no professionally active and widely recognized scientists who reject evolution or want anything to do with ID creationism. And if we're looking outside of science, what about the debater's profile is meant to be equal to Dawkins'?

And furthermore, when did it become a requirement of free speech that every perspective be balanced? Disco. boss Bruce Chapman certainly doesn't seem enthused by the idea when he satirized it in this op-ed from two summers ago. Unless the parts that seem like they're supposed to be funny but aren't are actually serious.

Evolution is not to blame for atheism, says U.S. professor



By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Evolution is not to blame for attempts to remove God from the story of life, said a U.S. professor speaking at a Vatican conference.

Scientism, or the use of science beyond its proper sphere of investigating physical nature, is what has reduced the place of the divine in the world, said Robert J. Russell, founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif.

"Evolution is not the problem. The problem is scientism; it's people like (Richard) Dawkins who use evolution as an argument for atheism," he told Catholic News Service March 5.

Russell was one of dozens of experts in science, theology and philosophy invited to speak at an international conference in Rome to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species," in which Charles Darwin put forth his theory on evolution.

The March 3-7 gathering was sponsored and organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture's Science, Technology and the Ontological Quest project, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and several of Rome's pontifical universities.

"If you claim evolution makes you an atheist or legitimates atheism or is the route to atheism, then you're really moving beyond the constraints of science," Russell said.

While people of faith are right to criticize scientism, proponents of creationism or intelligent design are wrong to attack science, he said.

He said if people want to "attack evolution they should do it in an intelligent way, not in an embarrassing way" by putting forth arguments that the scientific community addressed years ago.

Intelligent design, which accepts that life has evolved over eons but asserts that it is so complex that its development must have been guided by a supreme being or intelligent agent, or any other kind of interventionist theology "is really unethical" from a pastoral point of view, he said.

Proponents of intelligent design and creationism offer "a kind of fool's gold" claiming they are the only ones who can keep God's role in explaining the origins of life since "those nasty atheists have co-opted it" with the theory of evolution, he said.

"Well, they should attack the atheists. You don't attack the victim," which in this case has been the scientific theory of evolution, he added.

Darwin's scientific theories have been co-opted for decades by unscrupulous people who use them to put forth and justify "absolutely horrendous social policies," he said, such as Nazi Germany's eugenics program.

But Russell said it is wrong to blame Darwin or his theory of evolution for their being manipulated by others.

Unfortunately, he said, intelligent design and creationist proponents are not addressing the real problem evolution poses, which is how to explain the existence of suffering, disease, death and extinction before the historical event of the creation and fall of man.

The fall represents the first act of disobedience of Adam and Eve whereby humankind lost its primal innocence and happiness and entered into its present condition of sin and suffering.

But evolution demonstrates that suffering and death are not the consequence of the fall, but were part of life "far before humanity came onto the scene and is in fact a part of how we got here," he said.

How to account for the problem of why God would allow all his creatures to suffer is "the really hard challenge of evolution," he said.

One response is that pain and suffering are a consequence of freedom, he said.

But while the father of a child lets her be free to run, fall and scrape her knee, if she were to pick up a gun and start playing with it, "I'd take that gun away," he said.

How then does the heavenly Father allow the extent and horrendousness of suffering seen throughout the world and in history? he asked.

The brutality Darwin witnesses in his studies of nature along with the tragic death of his 11-year-old daughter were two major circumstances that drove the Anglican scientist to abandon his faith in God, Russell said.

"But this doesn't mean that his theories are atheistic," he emphasized.

Almost everyone sees the same cruel world Darwin saw, but he "was tempted and his faith was challenged like mine is and yours is" in the face of seemingly inexplicable evil, he said.

"But we all have the same choice: to see (life) as meaningful or meaningless," said Russell.

Lousiana legislative attack on science sparks opposition


Saturday, March 7, 2009
By: Andrew Cheramie

Leading scientific group announces boycott of New Orleans

In February, a leading scientific group, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, announced a boycott of Louisiana, citing a 2008 law that allows for creationism to be taught in the public schools. The 2,300-member group will no longer hold its 2010 convention in New Orleans, but in Salt Lake City instead.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Louisiana Senate Bill 733 into law in the summer of 2008. The law allows public school teachers to "use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials" in order to have "open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

The law claims it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion." Notwithstanding its claims, the legislation is clearly designed to do otherwise. It appropriates language such as "critical thinking," "logical analysis" and "open and objective discussion"— the backbones of science—to mischaracterize its anti-scientific basis.

Creationism is not a scientific theory. A scientific theory is the generalization of scientific observation that has been tested with such reliable results as to be considered a reasonable explanation for an observed phenomenon.

Darwin's theory of evolution, on the other hand, is a true scientific theory. It has not only been tested, but also repeatedly reaffirmed. Technological developments since Darwin's time have led to the discovery of DNA and leaps in the understanding of genetics, all of which have added to the body of evidence supporting the theory of evolution.

Creationism has different monikers—intelligent design, specified complexity and the fine-tuned universe, among others—but it cannot be called a scientific theory. Advocates of this idea seize on phenomena that have not yet been explained by evolutionary theory as evidence for the work of a god-like being.

The Louisiana law is a clear example of the Wedge Doctrine championed by the creationist Discovery Institute. Unable to directly confront scientific claims, creationists instead introduce controversy and doubt in order to open the door for gradually more overtly religion-based curricula across the board.

The conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum, whose 1997 bill to introduce creationism in classrooms was defeated by the ACLU, penned the new Louisiana legislation.

The real purpose of these laws, and the organizations that advocate for them, is to strengthen Christian fundamentalist arguments that not only challenge science but promote a broad reactionary agenda. Right-wing Christian fundamentalism has been used as a weapon against gains made in the struggle for women's and LGBT rights. It has fostered racist and anti-Muslim propaganda to support U.S. imperialist wars.

Interestingly, Gov. Jindal is a Brown biology graduate. Above all, Jindal is a savvy politician who is not about to let science get between him and his right-wing political base. Jindal has been a consistent opponent of same-sex marriage and a woman's right to choose, very much in line with the conservative Christian forces that have been promoting "intelligent design."

In Louisiana, the Department of Education hopes to achieve a high school graduation rate of 80 percent by 2016. Those students have a right to a materialist education in science. The government of Louisiana should focus on the well-being of its citizen, not on subverting science to strengthen right-wing ideology. Louisiana should use its wealth to ensure that all have a chance at a productive life and intellectual fulfillment.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Evolution education update: March 6, 2009

A new antievolution bill in Florida. It's the seventh so far in 2009, joining bills in Alabama, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi (already dead), New Mexico, and Oklahoma (already dead). Meanwhile, faculty in Iowa decry the antievolution bill in their state. And a fresh crop of scientific and educational journals celebrating the Darwin anniversaries.


Senate Bill 2396, filed on February 27, 2009, would, if enacted, amend a section of Florida law to require "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." The bill is sponsored by Stephen R. Wise (R-District 5), who was in the news earlier in February when he announced his intention to introduce a bill requiring "intelligent design" to be taught in Florida's public schools. "If you're going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking," he told the Jacksonville Times-Union (February 8, 2009). Wise acknowledged that his bill was likely to invite a legal challenge, but contended, "Someplace along the line you've got to be able to make a value judgment of what it is you think is the appropriate thing." Evidently he changed his mind about how to accomplish his goal, since "intelligent design" is not mentioned in the bill.

But the phrase "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" is familiar from the previous legislative session in Florida. House Bill 1483, which originally purported to protect the right of teachers to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution," was eventually amended -- due to concerns about its constitutionality -- to require the public schools to provide "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." Challenged to justify the measure, its sponsor Alan Hays (R-District 25) claimed that it was necessary to protect teachers seeking to "provide a critical analysis" of evolution, although the St. Petersburg Times (March 6, 2008) reported that it was unable to substantiate any claims of persecution.

During the previous legislative session, the House of Representatives preferred the "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" language of HB 1483 -- voting 71-43 to adopt the language on April 28, 2008 -- while the Senate preferred the "full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution" language of SB 2692. Wise was then dismissive of HB 1483's language, telling the Sarasota Herald Tribune (April 24, 2008) that Hays "must be hitting the sauce if he thinks he's going to send the bill back" to the Senate. In any case, the two chambers were unable to agree on the wording of a bill before the legislative session expired, prompting the Tampa Tribune (May 3, 2008) to comment in its editorial reviewing the accomplishments of the legislature, "The session will be remembered for what wasn't done to compromise the quality of education in Florida."

The phrase "critical analysis" was used to undermine the teaching of evolution situation in Ohio from 2002 to 2006. As NCSE's Glenn Branch explains in Reports of the NCSE, in 2002 Ohio adopted a set of state science standards that included a controversial indicator calling for students to be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." At the time, it was feared that the indicator would provide a pretext for the introduction of creationist misrepresentations of evolution; in 2004, those fears proved to be justified, when the state board of education voted to adopt a model lesson plan riddled with scientific inaccuracies and pedagogical infelicities. But after the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover and the revelation that the lesson plan was adopted despite warnings from experts at the Ohio Department of Education, the board voted in 2006 to rescind both the model lesson plan and the indicator.

For the text of Florida's SB 2396 as introduced (PDF), visit:

For the story in the Jacksonville Times-Union, visit:

For the story in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:

For the story in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, visit:

For the editorial in the Tampa Tribune, visit:

For RNCSE's account of "critical analysis" in Ohio, visit:

For the website and blog of Florida Citizens for Science, visit:

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


Over two hundred faculty members at Iowa's colleges and universities have endorsed a statement calling on Iowa's legislature to reject House File 183, the so-called Evolution Academic Freedom Act. Responding to the bill's contention that "current law does not expressly protect the right of instructors to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution," the statement explains, "It is misleading to claim that there is any controversy or dissent within the vast majority of the scientific community regarding the scientific validity of evolutionary theory. Since there is no real dissent within the scientific community ... 'academic freedom' for alternative theories is simply a mechanism to introduce religious or non-scientific doctrines into our science curriculum."

HF 183 contends that "instructors have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution," and its sponsor, Rod A. Roberts (R-District 51), told the Iowa City Press-Citizen (February 27, 2009) that his bill is "about the freedom that an instructor and students can engage in without fear of criticism, censure or fear of losing one's job." But such claims of persecution have not been substantiated, the authors of the statement -- Hector Avalos of Iowa State University and James W. Demastes and Tara C. Smith of the University of Iowa -- explained to the Ames Tribune (February 25, 2009).

NCSE's Glenn Branch told the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 25, 2009) that the new Iowa statement is apparently the first organized response to such a bill by college faculty members throughout a state. Between the opposition from college and university instructors and the opposition of the Iowa State Education Association -- the state affiliate of the National Education Association, representing over 34,000 education employees in Iowa -- the bill's prospects are dim. Although the University of Iowa is not taking a position on the bill, its legislative liaison was quoted by the Press-Citizen as saying, "From what I've heard, I don't anticipate it making it past the first funnel. We have concerns about the bill, but we are not expecting it to move."

For the statement, visit:

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

For the story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, visit:

For the story in the Ames Tribune, visit:

For the story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, visit:

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


Scientific and educational journals are continuing to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species. As NCSE previously reported, Science is allocating a special section of its website to "a variety of news features, scientific reviews and other special content." Similarly, Nature is providing "continuously updated news, research and analysis on Darwin's life, his science and his legacy." A special issue of The Lancet for December 2008, entitled Darwin's Gifts, was "dedicated to Darwin's life and work and the enduring legacy of his theory of evolution" and is freely available in a special Flash-based format. And Evolution: Education and Outreach is devoting the whole year to the celebration. Herewith a sampling of further celebrations in the literature -- and let NCSE know of any worthwhile contributions to add!

The February 2009 issue of The American Biology Teacher is focusing on Darwin and evolution, including articles on "The Struggle for Existence: 1859 & Today," "The Influence of Darwin on Evolutionary Algorithms from 'Dinner with Darwin'," "Putting Darwin in His Place: The Need to Watch Our Language," "Spork & Beans: Addressing Evolutionary Misconceptions," "A Suggested Project-Based Evolution for High Schools: Teaching Content Through Application," "Darwin, Earthworms, & Circadian Rhythms," and "Teaching Evolution Through Inquiry-Based Lessons of Uncontroversial Science." Two of the articles -- Randy Moore and Sehoya Cotner's "Rejecting Darwin: The Occurrence & Impact of Creationism in High School Biology Classrooms" and Paul M. Beardsley, Stephen R. Getty, and Paul Numedahl's "Explaining Biogeographic Data: Evidence for Evolution" -- are freely accessible on-line.

The American Journal of Botany is celebrating by dedicating a whole issue (2009; 96 [1]), as its editor-in-chief explains, "to one of the number of botanical issues about which Darwin thought and wrote, the rapid appearance and diversification of the angiosperms, his so-called 'abominable mystery.' Invited Special Editors Ruth A. Stockey, Sean W. Graham, and Peter R. Crane have assembled a group of articles that review thinking and research on this subject from approaches as diverse as the history of science, anatomy, morphology, paleobotany, pollination biology, molecular systematics, genetics, and ecology. Authors of these papers variously address traditional or historical understanding of angiosperm origin, spread, and diversification, current thinking on these topics, and unresolved issues to stimulate future research." Subsequent issues of the journal in 2009 will include invited papers addressing botanical topics considered by Darwin.

Current Biology (2009; 19 [3]) features "(Re)Reading the Origin": "Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species is much referenced, especially in this double anniversary year. But, does anyone still read it? And, if so, what is the book itself like as a text? We have asked biologists from a range of fields -- evolutionary biologists, but also geneticists, ecologists, paleontologists and molecular biologists -- to re-read (or read) The Origin for Current Biology. Below are the responses, contributed by: Andrew Berry, Matthew Cobb, Simon Conway Morris, Jerry Coyne, Hopi Hoekstra, Peter Lawrence, Robert May, Christiane N|sslein-Volhard, Mark Ptashne, Matt Ridley and Marlene Zuk." The same issue includes a discussion of the celebrations in Darwin's home town of Shrewsbury.

The journal Heredity commemorates the sesquicentennial year of the publication of the Origin of Species with a special issue (2009; 102 [1]) on, appropriately, the genetics of speciation. R. K. Butlin and M. G. Ritchie explain in their editorial introduction, "As we approach the milestone of 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, many questions concerning the causes of speciation remain open and speciation continues to be one of the most actively studied topics in modern evolutionary biology ... the papers in this special issue of Heredity reveal the breadth of current studies into the genetics of speciation. They contain a fascinating mixture of studies of familiar questions and issues in evolutionary biology, as well as new and exciting ideas and insights." All of the articles in the special issue are freely accessible.

And the open-access Journal of Biology (2009; 8 [2]) features Paul Harvey's "Q&A: What did Charles Darwin prove?" -- posing and answering various questions about Darwin and his significance to modern biology. Answering the question What was so special about Darwin, Harvey commented, "Any of us can pick up one of his books and read it with ease and for pleasure. And we'll fairly rapidly find places where Darwin's clarity of style reveals errors of logic, and whether those are because we have learned more in the years since he wrote or because he made some obvious mistakes is for us his readers to decide. If we are up to it." In the same issue are Laurence D. Hurst's "Evolutionary genomics and the reach of selection," James F. Crow's "Mayr, mathematics and the study of evolution," Charles F. Stevens's "Darwin and Huxley revisited: the origin of allometry," and Jonathan C. Howard's "Why didn't Darwin discover Mendel's laws?"

For Science's array of Darwin anniversary resources, visit:

For Nature's array of Darwin anniversary resources, visit:

For the special issue of The Lancet, visit:

For Education: Evolution and Outreach, visit:

For the table of contents and articles (PDF) from The American Biology Teacher, visit:

For the table of contents and introduction to the American Journal of Botany, visit:

For the articles from Current Biology, visit:

For the table of contents and introduction to Heredity, visit:

For the articles from the Journal of Biology, visit:

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Darwin's bicentennial passes without much debate


By: Keeley Smith Posted: 3/6/09

For most, Thursday, Feb. 12, was just another day. A blip on the radar. A precursor to Valentine's Day.

However, for those in the science world, Feb. 12 was much more. It was the father of evolution's birthday: Charles Darwin turned 200.

"It's a good time to give people a reason to stop and reflect on how far we've come, and how our views have changed over the last 200 years," said Estelle Hrabak, a professor in the department of molecular, cellular, and biomedical sciences at UNH.

Darwin, born Feb. 12, 1809, pioneered the idea of natural selection, in which all species on Earth evolved over time from common ancestors - humans included.

His scientific basis for the creation of man, known as evolution, was and continues to be seen by some as a denial of the Bible's account of the creation of man, which tells of man's creation taking place in six, 24-hour days.

But the number of people who care enough to heatedly debate his ideas today is questionable, according to a number of Durham professors and religious leaders.

Terry Sharbaugh, the senior minister of Durham's Evangelical Church, said when he first came to Durham, the debate against evolution and creationism was more intense.

Today, he said it was something his church "doesn't really deal with anymore."

"When I first came here, in 1986, there was a debate between UNH professors and a biochemist from Berkeley representing the Creation Research Institute that packed out the Granite State Room," said Sharbaugh. "If we had the same thing today, would anyone show up? I just don't think many people care anymore."

Hrabak noted many in the scientific community have acknowledged Darwin's bicentennial, although she wasn't aware of anything at UNH that celebrated his ideas and accomplishments.

"It's not like there were primetime television specials or anything, but it was widely covered in the scientific press," she said. "National Geographic and Scientific Journal each had specials."

Hrabak suggested that more of the public discussed arguments for or against Darwin's theories in the '80s because of a number of cases passing through the courts at the time.

In fact, the debate over teaching evolution over creationism in schools has been going on for 70 years, originating with the trial of John T. Scopes in 1925, who was arrested for violating the Butler Act; an act that made it unlawful to "teach any theory that denies the story of Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible." His case was dismissed, and the law was repealed in 1967.

In the '70s and '80s, more than 20 states introduced bills to include the requirement of teaching creationism along with evolution in schools. Arkansas and Louisiana passed their respective laws, but both were eventually overturned.

"Things in the media come and go, but that doesn't mean the controversy about the subject has gone away," Hrabak said.

Churches on a national level have come together to discuss what looks like an increased acceptance of evolution. During the week of Darwin's birth, churches across the country met in Atlanta to discuss an increased acceptance of evolution and identification of Darwin's ideas as compatible with religious philosophies.

Pastor Mary Westfall of the Durham Community Church on Main Street said her congregation was open to diverse perspectives. In fact, her congregation celebrated Darwin's bicentennial in last Sunday's Lenten litany.

"We don't see [Darwin's] ideas as a contradiction to religious beliefs," said Westfall. "Science gives us certain things, and so does the Bible."

She said being aware of scientific ideas was important in relating to the world.

"I think that over time, churches have become more open to what science offers," said Westfall.

Even Durham's Evangelical Church maintains a hands-off policy when dictating what their congregation should believe. Sharbaugh said that while many in his congregation recognize the possibility that humans have changed over time, the extent to which Darwin proposes humans have changed is contested.

"Evangelical camps tend to go two directions," said Sharbaugh. "There is a strong camp of young earth individuals, which is very representative of the evangelical scientists, and another camp who believe in the old-age world."

The young earth movement takes the interpretation of god's creation in Genesis more literally, where god created man in a short period, a contradiction of Darwin's evolution theories.

"If you did a national poll, a massive amount of people still say they don't believe in evolution," said Sharbaugh. "I think in different parts of the country, there's definitely a certain sway toward a certain ideology."

Because Durham is a college town, the academic community influences a large proportion of the population.

"Any college town is going to have a heavier academic belief," said English professor James Krasner, who teaches a Bible as Literature course. "I think it's puzzling that Christian churches don't accept Darwin's ideas, because it really just stems from human vanity. It's the notion that we're special that keeps us from accepting Darwin's ideas. Human hearts aren't all good - human hearts can be lousy."

He remembered his mother, a devout evangelical Christian, who incorporated Darwin's theories into her religious beliefs.

"She said, 'God could've created the world with one ball that hit another ball, that hit another ball… it doesn't have to happen all at once, it doesn't matter,'" he said.

Hrabak said she saw Darwin's birthday as a time for young people to recognize the role they play in sustaining their own environment.

"We can do things that can prevent the extinction of animals [that occurred with Darwin's theories of natural selection]," she said. "Humans have an impact. There are different things we can do today than the environmental forces that spurred evolution."

© Copyright 2009 The New Hampshire

The Vatican and evolution: Creationist responds


Pete Chagnon - OneNewsNow - 3/6/2009 5:00:00 AM

OneNewsNow recently published an article dealing with the Vatican debate on evolution -- an article that prompted a heated debate in the "reader comments" section. OneNewsNow decided to give Dr. Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis, whose comments appeared in the original article, a chance to respond to readers.

Read original article: 'Vatican, apologetics ministry at odds on evolution'

Latest from AP: 'Vatican evolution conference snubs creation believers'

Comment: To debate over creation vs. evolution diverts us from the most critical point of the Christian Faith. Christ came, he died for us and by his grace, his salvation is available to us. Why do different [C]hristian groups have to focus on minute differences rather than what unites us all as Christians?

Mortenson: Well, I would say that first of all the Book of Genesis is foundational to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that the world was created in perfect condition; there was no sin, no death. Genesis 3 tells us why death came into the world and gives us the very first promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15; and in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks about the fact that Jesus Christ is the last Adam, and Adam is the first Adam, and he says for as in Adam all die even so in Christ shall all be made alive. So Paul connects the work of Christ to what happened in the Garden of Eden. And he builds his doctrine of marriage on the fact that God created Adam and Eve.

So the gospel message is built on the foundational truths of Genesis. We also have the statements of Jesus himself when he was asked about divorce in Mark 10; he took the Pharisees back to Genesis. And when he was talking to the Pharisees on another occasion in John 5, if you believe Moses you would believe my words for he spoke of me. So Jesus and the apostles clearly tie the ministry and the gospel of Jesus Christ to Genesis -- and it is foundational to the gospel.

Comment: Genesis can't even give a coherent account of Creation -- we get two different stories just in the first two chapters. Not to mention oddities like 'light' being created several days before the sun, moon, and stars. Yet you want to take this as inviolate fact? And you think evolution is a total fantasy? Right.

Mortenson: We need to be very careful to pay attention to details of Genesis 1 and 2. They are not two contradictory accounts of creation. Genesis 1 is what I like to call a wide-angle-lens view of the whole six days of creation. Genesis 2, from verse 4 onward, is a telephoto zoom lens looking at some of the events of Day 6. They are not contradictory. Genesis 2 does not say anything about the creation of the earth, the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, the creation of sea creatures; they're just not parallel accounts -- and people who say that just are not reading the text carefully.

Secondly, as far as the sunlight being created before the sun, when people raise that objection I'm sure they're well meaning, but they're really reasoning like an atheist because behind that question is the assumption that God cannot produce the phenomenon of light without the sun. But of course the Bible makes it very clear that God can do that. He blinded Saul on the road to Damascus in the middle of the day. It wasn't the sun; it was another source of light and Paul tells us later on that he saw the risen Christ.

In the book of Revelation it says in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more night; but there will be no sun either -- and God will be our light. Genesis 1, I don't believe the light in verse 3 is God because it is a created thing. He said let there be light and there was light. But it's some kind of light source to create the phenomenon of an evening and a morning, and then on the fourth day that light was either removed and replaced by the sun, moon, and stars or somehow distributed -- we don't know. But the fact that we don't know or fully understand everything that we would like to know doesn't mean that the text is vague or not telling us the truth. The text is very clear that God defines what a day is in verse 5, and then he calls them second day, third day, fourth day and the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20 God says you work six days because I created in six days.

Comment: Background radiation in space proves the universe is about 12.5 billion years old. The big bang doesn't have to contradict the Bible unless you want it to. You just make Christians look foolish when you try to argue that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

Mortenson: Well, first of all the background radiation does not prove the universe is 12 billion years old, the number that seems to be the most quoted by the evolutionists. The background radiation only shows you background radiation, it doesn't say anything except if you interpret as a leftover remnant of the big bang. But then you're assuming the very thing that is in question.

Is it just quibbling over details? Well, no -- the details of Genesis are important; the details of the Word of God are important because every word of God is inspired, and so we have to look at the details and not just gloss over it. And it is impossible to harmonize the big bang scenario with Genesis because God says in Genesis 1 that he created the earth before light and before the sun, moon, and stars. Right there you have a flat contradiction in the order of events. And then the evolution story says that in terms of biological life over millions of years, that sea creatures came into existence before land plants, and dinosaurs came into existence before birds -- those are just flat contradictions with the order of events in Genesis one. And so, the...details matter.

Comment: Is there a difference between Darwinian evolution -- one species changing into a completely different species -- and evolution that involves minor genetic changes within species?

Mortenson: Well, evolutionists are notorious for changing the meaning of the word in the middle of a sentence or an argument. Evolution, Darwinian evolution -- the evolution that all of our universities and schools are teaching -- is molecule-to-man evolution. It is that all of the different plants and animals living today are descended over millions of years from a common ancestor, the first living creature which was a single-celled creature which popped into existence from nonliving matter.

And so in the evolutionary view, all the mammals living today descended from the first mammal which evolved from a non-mammal. All of the birds today are descended from the first bird which evolved from a reptile -- most evolutionists think a dinosaur....What is often confusing is that people will talk about variation within a kind or species. The variation of dogs, we have wolves, dingoes, jackals, wild dogs, and then we have all the domestic dogs. That's not evolution -- that is simply variation within the dog kind. And Genesis teaches us that God created separate kinds to reproduce after their kind. And we can see it in mankind. We don't all look exactly alike, but that diversity was all in the genetic information of Adam and Eve's DNA. And so we're all descended from Adam even though we have people who are very dark-skinned, people that are very light-skinned. That's not evolution -- that is just human variation within the human genome.

Comment: In a previous interview we talked about acceptance of evolution with the Catholic religion in regards to a debate at the Vatican. However, this is not just a Catholic issue. Acceptance of evolution is widespread in the Protestant realm, correct?

Mortenson: Absolutely. Most theologically liberal [people] -- I would probably say all theologically liberal people -- would accept evolution, the whole ten yards. But even among evangelical Christians, there are professing evangelicals who believe in evolution, biological evolution. There are others who reject Darwinian evolution, but accept the geological ages and the big bang. And then there are Christians who reject all of this evolutionary thinking and accept what Genesis says as true and straightforward history.

And so there's a huge controversy within the church, and I've spoken on this subject in 19 countries and it varies from country to country. And in some countries most Christians would believe in young earth creationism, but they wouldn't know how to defend that view. In other countries most of the evangelical church would accept all of evolution, the big bang, geological ages, and Darwin's theory. So it varies from country to country, but it's a worldwide issue.

Mortenson concludes that is possible to be a Christian and believe in evolution. But that belief, he says, is contrary to the Word of God and the details of Genesis. He adds that Christians must build their thinking on the Word of God.

P.Z. Myers: Americans Who Fund Scientific Research Are an "Ignorant Mob"


P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula has responded to my open letter to the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. In my letter, I strongly criticized the Darwinist organization's endorsement of censorship and its disrespect for academic freedom. I reminded its members that they have a responsibility to the millions of taxpayers who fund their grants, and part of that responsibility entails a modicum of respect and a willingness to accept an open discussion of evolutionary theory in public schools.

Myers replies:

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

Scientists aren't parasites. Experimental biologists, physicists, astronomers, chemists, and medical researchers are employees of the people who fund them, generally taxpayers. Most scientists do their work with humility and integrity. They understand, at least implicitly, that they have a responsibility to the public that pays their way. Few scientists engage in censorship, restriction of academic freedom, and boycotts. And they don't consider such anti-science advocacy a 'civic responsibility;' they exercise civic responsibility by welcoming and even encouraging questions about their scientific theories. They respectfully engage those who disagree with their scientific viewpoints. They don't censor and they don't boycott, because boycotts and censorship are ideological tactics, not scientific discourse.

I reserve the appellation "parasites" for Darwinists, at least those Darwinists who oppose academic freedom and who sneer at most Americans for whom scientific explanations in nature need not be restricted to unintelligent causes. Many Darwinists — at least Darwinian fundamentalists like Myers — are atheist ideologues who despise the religious beliefs of ordinary Americans who pay their way. Darwinist 'civic responsibility' consists of denying other people the freedom to act in accordance with their own views of civic responsibility, which include the civic responsibility to establish educational policy for their own children in their own schools.

Darwinists make their living from ordinary people who they ridicule, censor, and boycott. In this respect they're not scientists at all; they're ideologues — atheist fundamentalists — who use science and public funding to advance their metaphysics.

Myers writes:

... What Egnor proposes here is nothing less than a naked threat to use the ignorance of the mob to attack science. [emphasis mine]

American taxpayers who fund scientific research are not "ignorant" and they're not a "mob."

The American public is Dr. Myers' employer, and for many years it has patiently underwritten the Darwinist ideological crusade. Americans' patience will run out someday, and they will decide to use their hard-earned tax money to employ ethical scientists who respect academic freedom and who advance real science, not atheist metaphysics.

Posted by Michael Egnor on March 5, 2009 10:55 AM | Permalink

Templeton's Darwin Conference in Rome


"Do you know who funded it?" asked the email from the AP reporter. She and a number of other people read my post from three days ago about the Darwin conference being held in Rome.

I took a deep breath and replied to the AP email, "Yes, I know who funded it." It was the Templeton Foundation.

I took a deep breath because Templeton is a powerful and well-connected. You don't want to cross Charles Harper of Templeton if you can help it. But in public and private Harper has attacked intelligent design and Discovery Institute. He is not just interested in discussion, but in molding the discussion in certain ways. To that end, Templeton funds go to many groups and individual writers who, perhaps coincidentally, could have an interest in how the Darwin versus design issue is discussed.

Here is today's AP story. Among other things, in my email last night to Nicole Winfield of the AP, I pointed out the following:

In any case:

Postscripts to the above post:

1. Reporters often point out that the pope and Church accept "evolution," as if that somehow repudiates criticism of Darwinian theory. But I don't know anyone at Discovery Institute who doubts that some form of evolution has taken place. The questions are whether Darwinian theory or any process of evolution that is inherently unguided, can adequately explain the origin of the universe or the development of life on Earth, let alone man's place in the world. That is a different set of issues, isn't it?

2. The AP story reports that Cardinal Schoenborn supports intelligent design. I don't know of any occasion when the cardinal has said that. He has questioned the way Darwinists exaggerate claims for their theory.

Posted by Bruce Chapman on March 5, 2009 4:12 PM | Permalink

Vatican says Evolution does not prove the non-existence of God


From Times Online March 6, 2009

Evolution and the Biblical account of Genesis are "perfectly compatible" claims the Catholic Church Richard Owen in Rome

The Vatican has rejected the claim by Richard Dawkins, the biologist and campaigning atheist, that evolutionary theory proves that God does not exist, proclaiming that on the contrary Darwinian evolution and the account of Creation in Genesis are "perfectly compatible".

At a five day conference held to mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin's On the Origin of Species this week, Vatican theologians said while Christians believed that God "created all things", the Vatican "does not stand in the way of scientific realities".

Vatican officials joined biologists, paleontologists, molecular geneticists and philosophers for the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, which ends tomorrow. Rafael Martinez, professor of the Philosophy of Science at the Santa Croce Pontifical University in Rome, said although the reaction of Catholic theologians, intellectuals and priests to Darwinian theory had been "generally negative" in the 19th century, "recent declarations by Popes have asserted the full accordance of Catholic doctrine and evolutionary biology".

He said, however, that this was not widely known, and the false impression had arisen "that the Holy See is opposed to evolution". Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which co-organised the conference with Notre Dame University in Indiana and support from the John Templeton Foundation, said there was "no a priori incompatibility between evolution and the message of the Bible".

He noted that Darwin had never been condemned by the Catholic Church, and that On the Origin of the Species had never been placed on the Index of forbidden books. Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the assertion by Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God was "absurd".

Cardinal Levada also attacked "those 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."

Ronald Numbers, professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, said Creationism, the literal interpretation of the Genesis account, and Intelligent Design, its modern descendant, had spread beyond the United States and had become "globalised", with variants springing up within Islam and Judaism as well as Christianity.

However Francisco Ayala, a former priest and now professor of biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine, said ID and Creationism were "blasphemous" to both Christians and scientists.

Marco Politi, Vatican watcher of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said the conference marked "the end of the guerrilla warfare conducted against evolutionism by some sectors of the ecclesiastical hierarchy who had felt they were protected by Pope Benedict".

He noted that the Pope had remarked on the "lacunae" in Darwinian theory at a seminar on evolution at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence, in September 2006, and that the year before Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, who is close to the Pope and seen by some as a possible successor, had appeared to embrace the idea of Intelligent design in an article in The New York Times.

"The music has now changed radically however" Mr Politi said. Gennaro Auletta, who teaches science and philosophy at the Gregorian University, said ID was "not a scientific theory, even if it passes itself off as such".

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said the idea that Darwinism and the Church were at odds had always been "false", noting that in 1996 Pope John Paul II had said in an address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences that the theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

State lawmaker files evolution resolutions


Rep. Todd Thomsen
By The Associated Press
Published: 3/6/2009 3:38 PM
Last Modified: 3/6/2009 5:11 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY — Resolutions filed in the Oklahoma House are critical of plans by a renowned British evolutionary biologist sometimes referred to as "Darwin's Rottweiler" to speak at the University of Oklahoma.

Richard Dawkins, a retired professor at Oxford University and author of "The God Delusion," was scheduled to speak Friday night as part of OU's Darwin 2009 Project to observe the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, a British naturalist who introduced the theory of evolution 150 years ago.

Resolutions filed earlier this week by Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, say the state House "strongly opposes" the invitation and that Dawkins' published statements on evolution and opinions about those who do not believe it "are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma."

They also urge the university "to engage in an open, dignified and fair discussion of the Darwinian theory of evolution and all other scientific theories."

Thomsen, a former punter and kicker for OU's football team and head of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in southeastern Oklahoma, filed the nonbinding resolutions earlier this week and they have not been put to a vote.

Jennifer Monies, press secretary for House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said no decision had been made on whether they will be heard.

Thomsen did not return telephone calls to his office at the state Capitol and his home seeking comment.

The resolutions reflect the political beliefs of some Oklahoma lawmakers that alternative theories on the origin of life should be taught in public school science classes.

Legislation that would have allowed classroom discussion of alternative theories to evolution was narrowly defeated in a state Senate committee last month. It was similar to a bill passed by the state House in 2006 that died in the Senate.

Supporters maintain the measures promote critical thinking by exposing students to all sides of the scientific debate about evolution, a theory they complain is treated as fact in many science books but conflicts with the views of some religious groups.

The failed measures did not mandate the teaching of "intelligent design," creationism or other beliefs based on Christian principles. But critics believe it is an attempt to bring religion into the classroom by introducing ideas that have their origins in the Bible and are based more on faith than science.

Dawkins is a staunch supporter of Darwinian evolution and is critical of alternative theories, said Rob Crowther, director of communications at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that funds research into non-Darwinian concepts like intelligent design.

"From our point of view, Richard Dawkins is a militant Darwin defender, overly dogmatic," Crowther said. "He's often been critical of intelligent design."

"We're all for the freedom of Richard Dawkins to speak," said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. "Where is a similar high-profile person debating him?"

Efforts to contact Dawkins were unsuccessful.

In a statement, OU President David Boren said faculty and students have invited various speakers to OU for the Darwin 2009 Project and that Dawkins' appearance is not a formal university program.

"If individual faculty and students want to extend invitations to those who are critics of Darwin, the university would extend full rights of free speech to them as well," Boren said.

"One of the basic functions of the university is to be a free marketplace of ideas. Free speech on a university campus is protected by the First Amendment just as all Americans have the right to speak and think for themselves."

By The Associated Press

Texas Debate Over Evolution Curriculum Could Affect Nation's Textbooks


Friday, March 06, 2009 By Maggie Kerkman

A battle is brewing in Texas that could change the nation's science textbooks and the way evolution is taught in school.

The State Board of Education is now conducting a formal review of standards it uses in its science curriculum after the board voted in January to drop a 20-year-old mandate that science teachers address both "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution.

That mandate was a compromise between religious conservatives who question evolution and scientists who embrace it. Federal courts have ruled against forcing the teaching of creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design.

The reversal of the mandate prompted the education board's Republican chairman, Don McLeroy, to tack on an amendment to the preliminary draft, essentially restoring the requirement.

"I have a problem with those who say there's no weaknesses to evolution," McLeroy told FOX News.

Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, has argued that the word weaknesses "has become a code word in the culture wars to attack evolution and promote creationism."

The final vote on the new standards will come later this month.

"Anything can happen in the final vote," said Miller. "The board can vote to go back to the old standards with strengths and weaknesses in them. The board can vote to eliminate the amendments that Chairman McLeroy forced into the curriculum standards. Virtually any change can be made."

The significance of the Texas ruling could impact textbooks nationwide.

Since Texas is the second largest consumer of textbooks in the U.S., publishers often create a book that meets Texas standards and then sell the same version to school districts across the country.

Any standards the board adopts when it votes on the new science standards at the end of March won't impact textbooks until 2012.

McLeroy said he hopes to see the original language restored in the final vote.

"I want to see the United States keep its scientific edge," he said. "And I think the way you do that is by being honest with the kids, you teach them the science, you show them the weaknesses and strengths."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.