NTS LogoSkeptical News for 21 March 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hypocritical gomers of Oklahoma, unite!

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/03/hypocritical_gomers_of_oklahom.php

Category: Creationism

Posted on: March 15, 2009 11:18 AM, by PZ Myers

Those creationists sure do love their hypocrisy: on one day, they whine about their version of "academic freedom", which means demanding that creationism be given equal time with legitimate science in the classroom, and the next they throw a hissy fit because someone they disagree with is speaking, such as Barbara Forrest or Richard Dawkins. After failing to block Dawkins from speaking at OU, the Oklahoma legislature is looking for excuses to retroactively punish the university for spending money on his visit. They seem to have this idea that academics they dislike should always work for free, while the ones they like ought to be unquestioningly showered with honoraria.

That's not the way the system works. Everyone in academia knows that student groups get small allotments of cash to use as they see fit to promote their organization and ideas; this usually works in the conservatives' favor, because if you look at any university's roster of student organizations, there'll be a dozen or more Christian clubs at the trough and maybe one or two, if you're lucky, freethought clubs. If they want to play that game, bring it on — let's make Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ squeal when we apply the restrictions uniformly and cut them off. Or perhaps the Oklahoma legislators are intending to apply a religious bias to their disbursement of funds?

Likewise, academic departments have small pots of money for bringing in speakers. Is Oklahoma going to meddle directly in the decisions of every unit on a campus? Is their version of "academic freedom" just a fancy justification for micromanagement?

It's all moot anyway in this case. Dawkins waived his speaking fee for the Oklahoma event. Meanwhile, recently Ben Stein billed OSU $60,000 to speak — where's the investigation there?

Science and faith: the conflict

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/scienceandtechnologydebates/4999924/Science-and-faith-the-conflict.html

A new film opening at the Cambridge Science Festival this evening attempts to demonstrate that the divide between religion and science is not as great as it has been portrayed.

By Richard Gray
Last Updated: 12:12PM GMT 16 Mar 2009

Charles Darwin: the conflict between science and religion continues Brain-scanning experiments carried out by scientists last week revealed that religious faith is embedded deep within key parts of the brain. This suggests that belief in a higher power evolved at some early point in human history.

Scientists argued that it explained the widespread nature of religion among human cultures, but the findings also highlighted a growing tendency for science to be used as a way of attacking religion.

As the scientific community celebrates 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009, and 150 years since the publication of his famous work that explained how life evolved on Earth, the conflict between religion and science seems to be escalating.

Darwin's own life could be seen as almost synonymous with the battle that is now raging between faith and science. As a student he joined Cambridge University with the intention of studying to become a clergyman, but found himself distracted by an interest in collecting beetles.

His hobby led him to become the greatest naturalist of all time. But throughout his life he struggled to reconcile his religious views with his theories on evolution through natural selection.

Today, many leading scientists who hold religious beliefs now face a similar internal struggle as they wrestle with mounting scientific evidence that forces them continually to reassess their view of the Bible.

The mounting debate over evolution and creationism has now left many people asking whether science and religion can ever coexist, or even if scientific research will eventually bring an end to religious belief entirely.

This week, however, leading scientists will debate the issue at the Cambridge Science Festival at the premiere of a new film that attempts to demonstrate that the divide between religion and science is not as great as it has been portrayed.

A growing number of scientists who also hold religious beliefs are now speaking out against the growing antagonism that is emerging between scientists and members of the religious community in many parts of the world.

"The perceived conflict between religion and science belongs much more to the current millennium than any time in the past," said Dr Denis Alexander, a committed Christian and a biochemist at Cambridge University (until last year when he became director of the university's Faraday Institute for Science and Religion).

"I think some of the polarisation of faith and secular society following 9/11, combined with the last US administration, goaded the new atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, to start a campaign attacking religion.

"Their strategy has been to use science like evolution in an ideological way by equating it with atheism. This has created unnecessary conflict."

The antagonism between religion and science is certainly not new. The man now credited with being the father of modern physics, Galileo, spent much of his life in conflict with the Catholic church.

His assertion that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe, now an accepted fact, was considered heretical and he was forced to recant his ideas by the Inquisition while spending the last years of his life under house arrest.

Darwin's own theories were both embraced and condemned by different parts of the church for implying that mankind evolved from a common ancestor.

Unlike the time of Galileo and Darwin, however, outspoken criticism of the church is no longer punished or taboo in the modern world.

Indeed, the most outspoken critic of religion, Professor Richard Dawkins, former professor for public understanding of science at Oxford University, has even gone so far as to describe God as a "delusion" and religion as a form of "child abuse".

Professor Dawkins attacks on mainstream religion and creationism have forced the apparent dichotomy between science and religion into the public consciousness. He contends that the existence of a supernatural curator is a delusion that can be scientifically tested and falsified.

Professor Dawkins stoked controversy at the end of last year by supporting a campaign by the British Humanist Society to place adverts on buses that declared "there's probably no God".

Previously he has expressed regret that many scientists choose to combine their professional lives with religion. In one interview he said: "Unfortunately there are many good scientists who do this. Although, I do not clearly understand their position in life, it seems to me, either they act like religious people consciously for some other purpose or compartmentalise their views based on the context."

The controversy surrounding the mixing of science and religion is such that one leading academic was forced to resign from his position as head of education at the country's most influential scientific institution, the Royal Society, after expressing a view on the way creationism is taught in schools.

Professor Michael Reiss, a biologist and Anglican cleric, suggested that creationism should be discussed in school science lessons "not as a misconception but as a world view".

The Royal Society immediately issued a statement clarifying the organisation's opposition to creationism and Professor Reiss resigned from his post. Many leading scientists have since criticised the Royal Society for failing to stand by Professor Reiss.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the public themselves seem deeply confused on the issue of God and science.

A recent poll carried out on behalf of the theology think tank Theos revealed that one third of people in the UK believe God created the world in the last 10,000 years. More than half said that intelligent design, the idea that a divine designer intervened in the creation of the universe because evolution cannot explain the complex structures of living things, was probably or definitely true.

Yet despite this apparent support for faith over science, most Christian scientists are very clear on their views on creationism.

"Creationism is not helpful at all," explained Professor Malcolm Jeeves, a neuropsychologist at the University of St. Andrews and former president of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is currently president of Christians in Science, an association of British scientists who believe in Christianity.

"I think Creationism is wrong and so do my colleagues in Christians in Science.

"You have to understand that the bible is not a textbook of geology or of science but is revealing something crucially important about God and his world and uses history, poetry and a variety of literary forms to do this.

"It has been possible to misinterpret the early chapters of Genesis so one has this very sad spectacle of creationism that is held so widely in America.

"As a scientist and a Christian, I regard this as extremely sad as I think they are misunderstanding the evidence."

In many parts of the United States, it is not religion that is under threat from science, but in many states science that is under threat from religion. Over the past 10 years the number of schools teaching creationism and intelligent design as a science has soared.

Dr Jennifer Wiseman, an astrophysicist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre, who is leading research on finding planets outside our solar system, said: "The emphasis on trying to perpetuate the idea of a conflict between science and faith is wrong and is robbing many people the excitement of scientific exploration.

"I am an astronomer and I think that by studying the magnificence of the universe, if you believe God was responsible for the universe, it only makes that sense of wonder and faith even stronger when you contemplate how many billions of galaxies and how many other habitable worlds there might be out there."

Most scientists who hold religious beliefs agree that there is little conflict between their research and their faith.

Speaking on the new documentary, Test of Faith, which was produced by researchers from the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Dr Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project and a Christian, said he found no conflict between his work on genetics and the fact it helped prove Darwin's theories.

He said: "Once you set aside an insistence on an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, you can arrive at a conclusion which is quite comfortable for me as a believer and as a scientist, that yes Darwin was right."

In fact, the future of science and religion may see theologians and researchers working closer together as they start to wrestle with the knotty ethical and moral questions that emerge as scientific research progresses.

Already religion has played an important role in drawing up the ethical guidelines that govern research on cloning and genetic testing.

For Professor Jeeves, the solution is clear.

"You cannot generate morals from science," he explained. "That is not what science is about.

"This is certainly where Christians and other religious faiths can work with scientists to make the best informed judgments they can."

'Sowing Atheism' Book Impacts Crucial Texas Evolution/Creation Debate

http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/70679739.html

Contact: Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr., 410-757-4630, RBowieJ@comcast.net

ANNAPOLIS, Md., Mar. 16 /Christian Newswire/ -- Solving Light Books announced today that Don McLeroy, controversial Chair of the Texas State Board of Education, has recommended "Sowing Atheism" (ISBN: 978-0-9705438-5-1) by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr., to other board members and to the general public. McLeroy's timely recommendation could influence the board's final decision on the science curriculum scheduled for March 27. The Texas decision will determine what is printed in science textbooks nationwide.

McLeroy extols Johnson's succinct demonstration that natural selection, the vaunted lynchpin of evolutionist reasoning, is not a scientific principle at all, but rather a mere figure of speech that adds nothing to our understanding of nature. McLeroy has said he plans to raise this issue in the March 26-27 meetings.

Johnson, who holds a general science degree from West Point, wrote "Sowing Atheism" in response to the propagandistic book, "Science, Evolution, and Creationism" published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2008. According to Johnson, McLeroy expects that "Sowing Atheism" will focus the Texas board's attention on the "theft of true science" by the atheist-dominated NAS hierarchy.

"I'm delighted with Mr. McLeroy's endorsement of 'Sowing Atheism,' and hope all the board members read it thoughtfully before they vote. Our nation cannot progress morally, spiritually, or politically so long as we permit the NAS to teach our children that they are descended by chance from worms," Mr. Johnson said.

In his book, Johnson shows that the NAS cannot pick any one of the two million or so living species and identify the species from which it allegedly evolved, nor can the NAS produce any evidence for the alleged evolution of the sexes. Further, Johnson points out, the NAS admits it lacks a "plausible hypothesis" for the origin of life.

How, then, does the NAS sustain its "evolution is a fact" charade? Johnson answers: "The NAS resorts to intimidation and outright seductions which include repetitive false affirmations, disguised tautologies, authoritative obfuscations, and slapping 'sciency' lipstick on their no-evidence pig."

"Sowing Atheism" is available on Amazon and at www.solvinglight.com where it is also available as a free pdf download.

A chapter-by-chapter summary, and Don McLeroy's recommendation, below it, may be found at: www.solvinglight.com/blog/2009/03/

Why Evolution Is True

http://features.csmonitor.com/books/2009/03/16/why-evolution-is-true/

An academic argues that evolution must be embraced as fact.

Why Evolution Is True By Jerry A. Coyne Viking 271 pp., $27.95

Book reviewer Todd Wilkinson talks with author Jerry Coyne.

Jerry A. Coyne is left utterly incredulous whenever he hears the term "theory of evolution." As a point of fact, he suggests, the phrasing is an inaccurate and unfortunate pairing, though the word in question is not the one synonymous with pioneering British naturalist Charles Darwin.

In Why Evolution is True, his new book, the University of Chicago professor expresses sharp disdain for the modern portrayal of evolution as mere speculation and biological conjecture.

"The battle for evolution seems never-ending," he writes. "And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers to society."

Nearly a century has passed since the "Scopes Monkey Trial" pitted celebrity attorneys Williams Jennings Bryant, a self-described Christian, against Clarence Darrow, an agnostic, in a Tennessee courtroom. Famously, they squared off over the legality of teaching evolution in a Bible Belt public school.

Although the Scopes case ultimately helped establish evolution as a bedrock element of public science education in America, the clash between Darwinism and religious creationists rages on.

Coyne says the proponents of intelligent design often leave out a critical detail in their challenges to evolution: the ever-growing body of empirical evidence, which he insists is irrefutable, that moves evolution squarely from theory to scientific fact.

He opens his provocative narrative by visiting a 21st-century version of the Scopes trial. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania, involves members of a local school board mandating that intelligent design be treated as evolution's equal in explaining the origin of species on Earth.

Coyne methodically lays out the complete trail of evidence supporting evolution, ranging from the fossil record of dinosaur bones to sophisticated DNA analysis, and many decades of rigorous peer-reviewed scrutiny in between.

In this 200th anniversary year of Darwin's birth, "Why Evolution Is True" ranks among the best of new titles flooding bookstores.

For those who may embrace Darwin's hypothesis but have a difficult time defending it, Coyne, a university professor of evolution and ecology, supplies readers with more ammunition than they ever will need.

He makes the case for evolution in a way that is eminently understandable, colorfully articulated, and relevant to our time.

Mentioned are politicians and pundits, including former Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas and conservative fireball commentator Ann Coulter, both of whom he finds guilty of gratuitously pitting evolution against organized religion.

"Critics of evolution seize upon [the controversies], arguing that they show that something is wrong with the theory of evolution itself. But this is specious," Coyne writes. "Far from discrediting evolution, the controversies are in fact the sign of a vibrant, thriving field. What moves science forward is ignorance, debate, and the testing of alternative theories with observations and experiments."

He notes: "A science without controversy is a science without progress."

Coyne celebrates the amazing wonder of a world that is not eviscerated by scientific inquiry but further illuminated. The special ways that life adapts and perpetuates itself is a marvel to behold, he writes.

It is apparent, he notes, in the shapes and behavior of species, differences between sexes, and special relationships such as the one between faunal pollinators (bees, butterflies, bats, and birds) and blossoming flowers that yield not only food but also beauty. Even the book's cover illustrates the descent of birds from dinosaurs millions of years ago.

In the end, Coyne does not find science and those who practice it to exist in exclusion from those who seek spirituality in either nature or a church sanctuary.

He quotes Albert Einstein, who once remarked: "The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science…. [I]t was the experience of mystery – even if mixed with fear – that engendered religion."

Todd Wilkinson is a freelance writer who lives in Bozeman, Mont.

Darwin debate evolves into House bill

http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2009/03/darwin-debate-evolves-into-hou.html

4:42 PM Mon, Mar 16, 2009
Terrence Stutz

Some lawmakers are unhappy with the State Board of Education's recent decision to scrap a requirement that high school teachers cover "weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in science classes. So they are backing legislation that would require Texas teachers to discuss strengths and weaknesses of all major scientific theories, including evolution. One "strengths and weaknesses" bill was filed Friday by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center.

State board members are scheduled to take a final vote on the issue later this month, and social conservative groups have been pressing some members to switch their voters. Groups representing science teachers and academics have urged the board to drop the requirement, arguing that it falsely indicates there is some dispute in the scientific community over Darwin's theory that all species have common ancestors and that humans evolved from lower life forms. Elimination of the rule was approved by board 8-7 in January.

How do you find something that doesn't exist?

http://www.times-news.com/opinion/local_story_076083958.html?keyword=secondarystory

Published: March 17, 2009 08:38 am

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

I read with interest the article in the i written by Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center ("Darwin remains controversial," March 12 Times-News).

He brings to light a battle being fought, and lost, in many venues across the United States: The Theory of Evolution versus Creationism or Intelligent Design. Indeed Evolution is taught as "fact" in our schools. Public Television promotes the theory of evolution as "fact" or at least on the same plane as the theory of electricity.

The Smithsonian Channel in many of the nature programming we see simply states that the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago.

Haynes' article displays some of the failings in those who teach the theory of evolution. Please indulge me as I expose a couple of them.

Quoting here "The new language requires student to 'analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing.' "

How does one use experimental and observational testing with the theory of evolution? How can we use repeatable methods to prove an element of evolution? How can we pin the ears back on a "missing link" that does not exist?

The empirical evidence and logical reasoning used in evolutionary theory is simply observation blended with human reasoning which cannot be objectively tested. (Please spare me the Carbon-14 argument which, since the nuclear testing in mid 20th century, has more holes than Swiss cheese!)

Haynes says, "Yes, there are questions still to be answered about evolution, just as there are unanswered questions about any scientific theory."

That gives me pause. In repeatable scientific conventions we may not fully understand the "why" of certain things but we know they are repeatable and they work. In repeatable scientific theories we know that they indeed work and work every time.

Think about that with the theory of electricity. We throw the light switch, turn on a TV or computer and hey, it works. The theory is repeatable.

Try that with evolution. And with many truly scientific theories involving things from electricity to quantum mechanics, we know they work and most of the "why" questions are indeed answered. This is not so with evolution.

I have to confess here that, as a Christian, I indeed ascribe to the Creator being just that: The Creator. Intelligent Design somehow just makes more logical sense to me as a person.

Darwin wasn't entirely wrong in some of the things he observed and much of what he was promoting was trying to give a plausible explanation for what he observed and what might have made the world we live in what it is. He functioned from an empirical standpoint without repeatable observable results.

The error I see in modern evolutionary theory is the massive effort to remove The Creator as a viable, logical explanation for our existence. Just from a purely logical standpoint, sans theology, even this makes more sense to me.

It takes a lot more faith and lack of reasoning to believe evolutionary science when compared to that of a Creator designing and structuring the ecosystem and the symbiotic relationships that surround us.

Lastly, evolutionary science is wont to tell us from where matter originated. It's somewhat like the story of God speaking to the evolutionary scientist. The bantering goes back and forth for a time as the scientist retorts by cloning fish, sheep, plants, until they work backward to planting a cloned seed. As the scientist begins to plant the seed, God stops him and says "Hey, make your own dirt!"

Charles E. Pariseau, D.C.C.

Oakland

Councillors agree to keep Creationism out of science lessons in Southampton

http://www.thisishampshire.net/news/hampshirenews/4220771.Creationism_on_agenda_in_schools/

3:36pm Friday 20th March 2009

SOUTHAMPTON councillors have agreed that God should be kept out of the science classroom.

They backed a motion demanding science and religion should continue to be taught separately.

It comes as 70 Hampshire secondary schools have been issued advice on how to teach 11 to 14-year-olds creationism alongside Darwin's theory of evolution.

Hampshire County Council's multifaith advisory panel for religious education backed guidance which suggests they could be debated as in both science and RE lessons as part of a joint syllabus.

Southampton councillors agreed to send a message to the city's own RE advisory panel, as well as school governors, that the two should not be mixed. Lib Dem group leader councillor Jill Baston, who proposed the debate, said she was "hoisting a warning flag".

She said: "It's important to know about world religions. But science and religion need to be kept separate."

Councillor Parvin Damani, chairman of Southampton's Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, said she believed in the "theory of Adam and Eve". But she promised teachers would be involved in the debate when her panel considered it and that it was important not to "undermine people's intelligence".

Creation Museum opens exhibit to promote natural selection

http://www.sltrib.com/faith/ci_11958666

By Karin Hamilton

Religion News Service

Updated: 03/20/2009 01:59:24 PM MDT

A Kentucky museum that advocates creationism unveiled an exhibit on March 15 that affirms Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection even as they reject his teachings on evolution.

"All we're doing is helping people to understand that natural selection is not evolution [even though] it's portrayed that way in public schools," said Ken Ham, founder of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis, which operates the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

Natural selection was Darwin's explanation for how organisms gain new traits over time. Ham said the exhibit was added to the museum to show that creationists can believe in natural selection without having to embrace evolution.

The exhibit, entitled "Natural Selection is Not Evolution" features a cave aquarium with blind cavefish to show how organisms possess traits specific to their environment. It also features a "Creation Orchard" that shows the family tree of each original kind of created plant or animal as described in Genesis.

Ham believes creatures can gain new traits to fit their surroundings within their own families. He asserts, however, that changing from one organism to another, such as an ape evolving into a human, does not occur.

"Darwin was right about natural selection, right about different species forming and species changing, but wrong that such changes are a mechanism to change one kind of animal into a totally different kind," Ham said.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said natural selection can be decoupled from evolution in a sense and was not surprised by the Creation Museum's new exhibit.

"They have long recognized that natural selection works. They just don't think that it can do anything important," Scott said.

The $27 million museum has drawn international attention and an estimated 650,000 visitors since its opening in 2007, according to the Associated Press.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Evolution education update: March 20, 2009

A new antievolution bill in Texas, and plenty of further news from the Lone Star state, too. Iowa's antievolution bill is dead. And NCSE announces its very own YouTube channel.

"WEAKNESSES" BY THE BACK DOOR IN TEXAS

House Bill 4224, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on March 13, 2009, would, if enacted, require the Texas state board of education to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards. The current standards for high school biology include a requirement that reads, "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." As NCSE previously reported, in 2003 the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the standards was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. When a panel of scientific and educational experts revised the standards, the "strengths and weaknesses" requirement was replaced with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical eviden! ce, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the board gave its preliminary approval to a version of the standards without the "strengths and weaknesses" language; a final vote is expected at the board's March 25-27, 2009, meeting.

Introduced by Wayne Christian (R-District 9), House Bill 4224 would add a section to the Texas Education Code providing, "(a) As part of the essential knowledge and skills of the science curriculum under Section 28.002(a)(1)(C), the State Board of Education by rule shall establish elements relating to instruction on the scientific hypotheses and theories for grades 6-12. (b) Instructional elements for scientific processes: the student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information; (c) Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses; (d) No govern! mental entity shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students to understand, analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

It is already clear that the state's scientific and educational communities are firmly opposed to the inclusion of the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the science standards. According to a survey conducted by the TFN Education Fund in conjunction with Raymond Eve, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, Arlington, professors of biology at Texas's colleges and universities overwhelmingly reject the notion of teaching the "weaknesses" of evolution, with almost 80% regarding it as likely to hinder student readiness for college and 72% regarding it as likely to hinder student ability to compete for 21st-century jobs. Additionally, over 1400 Texas scientists have endorsed the 21st Century Science Coalition's call on the state board of education to approve science standards that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanation! s into science courses." And the president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas described the "strengths and weaknesses" language as "vague and misleading," while also noting that it provides a pretext for the problematic insertion of religious beliefs into the science curriculum.

For the text of Texas's HB 4224 as introduced, visit:
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/81R/billtext/html/HB04224I.htm

For the survey of Texas biology professors (PDF), visit:
http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/FinalWebPost.pdf?docID=861

For the 21st Century Science Coalition, visit:
http://www.texasscientists.org/

For the remarks of the president of STAT (PDF, p. 17), visit:
http://www.statweb.org/STATellite/Dec08.pdf

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/texas

UPDATES FROM THE LONE STAR STATE

With evolution sure to be a hotly debated topic at the next meeting of the Texas state board of education, with a bill just introduced in the Texas legislature aimed at restoring the contentious "strengths and weaknesses" language to the standards, and with a different bill aimed at exempting the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from the regulations governing degree-granting institutions in Texas, there's no shortage of news from the Lone Star state. NCSE, of course, continues not only to report on the antics of creationism in Texas but also to help concerned Texans to combat them: Texans wishing to express their concerns about the standards to the Texas state board of education, which is expected to have its final vote on the standards at its meeting in Austin on March 25-27, 2009, will find contact information and talking points in the Taking Action section of NCSE's website and on the Texas Freedom Network's website.

With Texans still reeling from the detailed profiles of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, published in the Austin American-Statesman (March 8, 2009) and the Texas Observer (February 20, 2009), Texas Citizens for Science (March 14, 2009) recently disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed entitled Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles -- aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim. McLeroy, however, praises Sowing Atheism for showing "how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying -- both secular and religious."

On its blog (March 18, 2009), the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book -- "Scientists are 'atheists.' Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are 'monsters.' Pastors who support sound science are 'morons'" -- and pointedly asked, "Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn 'weaknesses' of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?" Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas state board of education who supports the integrity of science education, wrly commented to the Dallas Observer (March 18, 2009), "So much for neutrality in the chairman's position." Looking forward to the board's impending vote on the standards, she added, "I am confident several of us will hold firm, but it's the swing votes you have to concern yourself with -- and I don't know how much pressure is being put on the swing! voters. ... It definitely won't be boring."

Fox News (March 18, 2009) offered a detailed story about House Bill 2800, which would, if enacted, exempt institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from Texas's regulations governing degree-granting institutions. Although the ICR is not named, "[the bill's sponsor Leo] Berman says ICR was the inspiration for the bill because he feels creationism is as scientific as evolution and should be granted equal weight in the educational community." Berman was also quoted as saying, "I don't believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago." NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott responded, "Their science education degrees are greatly inferior to those at, say, the University of Texas or Baylor University or even a good community college, frankly," adding, "Teaching that the Earth is only 10,000 years old is a little irregular in modern science."

Concern about HB 2800 was not confined to worries about the ICR's graduate school. A spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which denied state certification to the ICR's graduate school in 2007, argued that "HB 2800 appears to open the doors of Texas to predatory institutions ... Were the bill to become law, it could have the effect of leaving students defenseless against exploitation by diploma mills and other substandard institutions." Similarly, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science warned, "This would open the door to other fly-by-night organizations that come in and want to award degrees in our state, because the bill is highly generalized," and NCSE's Scott added, "It would certainly open the door to all kinds of chicanery ... I mean, all you have to do, it looks to me from the bill, is start a non-profit organization, don't take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want."

Discussing House Bill 4224, which would, if enacted, require the Texas state board of education to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language to the Texas state science standards, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (March 19, 2009), reported, "The bill does not address evolution specifically, but that seems to be its target. ... [The bill's sponsor Wayne] Christian said he filed the bill to allow teachers to continue to teach the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science told the newspaper that the language was removed from the proposed new standards because it is not scientifically based, and warned that HB 4224 was likely to encourage teachers to teach creationism in violation of the constitutional strictures against doing so. He also said that for Texas to compete nationally and globally, the education standards must be based on "good science and not get bogged down with these religious interventions into our s! ecular schools."

A further concern about HB 4224 discussed in the Star-Telegram's article was the bill's provision that "Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses." (The article reports, incorrectly, that the bill would afford the same protection to teachers; it is in fact silent about the beliefs of teachers, although it explicitly allows them to present "strengths and weaknesses" -- a creationist catchphrase -- to their students.) Schafersman commented, "Students could claim they believe anything they wanted in anything in science and if that's what they say, the teacher would be forced to give that student an A," but Christian countered that students would still be responsible for learning the material presented in the curriculum: "They can be lazy if they want to ... but teachers ! are still in charge of the grading system," he contended.

For information about taking action in Texas, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/taking-action
http://www.tfn.org/

For the profiles of McLeroy, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/03/08/0308mcleroy.html
http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2965

For information about Science, Evolution, and Creationism, visit:
http://www.nap.edu/sec
http://ncseweb.org/news/2008/01/kudos-science-evolution-creationism-002137

For the reports on McLeroy's endorsement of Sowing Atheism, visit:
http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html
http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/what-does-don-mcleroy-really-want-to-teach/
http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/03/in_advance_of_next_week.php

For Fox News's story about HB 2800, visit:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,509719,00.html

For the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's story about HB 4224, visit:
http://www.star-telegram.com/state_news/story/1264169.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/texas

ANTIEVOLUTION BILL DEAD IN IOWA

House File 183, the so-called Evolution Academic Freedom Act, died in committee in the Iowa House of Representatives on March 13, 2009. The bill purported to protect the right of teachers in the state's public schools and instructors in the state's public community colleges and state universities to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological evolution," providing that they "shall not be disciplined, denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against" for doing so. Also, the bill added, although students "shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through standard testing procedures," they "shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution."

The Iowa State Education Association -- the state affiliate of the National Education Association, representing over 34,000 education employees in Iowa -- was opposed to HF 183, and over two hundred faculty members at Iowa's colleges and universities endorsed a statement calling on Iowa's legislature to reject it, arguing, "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." In a March 13, 2009, guest post at The Panda's Thumb blog, Hector Avalos of Iowa State University, one of the faculty members who drafted the statement, commented, "Although the bill was given little chance of passing from the start, the petition helped to inform legislators and the public of the depth of resistance to such a bill within the academic and scientific community. Iowa faculty wanted to nip this bill in the bud before we had another Louisiana on our hands."

Avalos was alluding, of course, to the Louisiana Science Education Act, enacted (as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) in 2008 over the protests of the state's scientific and educational communities; as the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 19, 2008) editorially recognized, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms." The LSEA is the only "academic freedom' antievolution bill to have been passed, despite attempts to pass such bills elsewhere. So far in 2009, there have been six: Alabama's House Bill 300, Florida's Senate Bill 2396, Iowa's House File 183 (died in committee), Missouri's House Bill 656, New Mexico's Senate Bill 433, and Oklahoma's SB 320 (died in committee). Such bills are typically based on a policy adopted in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, in 2006 and/or a model bill promoted by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" crea! tionism.

For Avalos's post on The Panda's Thumb blog, visit:
http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/03/iowa-gives-the.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Iowa, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/iowa

LIGHTS! CAMERA! EVOLUTION!

NCSE is expanding its on-line video presence with its new YouTube channel! Here you'll find reports from the evolution/creationism wars -- footage of contentious testimony, landmark and illuminating speeches, conference coverage, excerpts from television appearances, and presentations. In the future, look for classroom videos, tutorials for teachers, videos contributed by NCSE members, and much more.

When you visit our YouTube channel, check out a couple of key areas. At top right you'll see the latest, hot video. (In this case, executive director Eugenie C. Scott explaining evolution to the Texas Board of Education.) Below this video window you'll see the Playlist area.

We've broken down our initial offerings into different categories -- Genie Scott's testimony before the Texas Board of Education; the board's chairman, Don McLeroy, expounding why evolution is false; and some light-hearted coverage of our recent Project Steve celebration.

Please explore the site, tell us what you like (and don't), and suggest improvements and changes. Send your comments to Robert Luhn at luhn@ncseweb.org.

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd

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.

Sincerely,

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership

Confused Darwinists Play Coroner with IDEA Center

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/01/confused_darwinists_play_coron.html

[Author's Note: This is a fun statement that I recently posted on the IDEA Center's website. Since it discusses the latest Darwinist rhetorical trends regarding the entire ID movement, I thought readers of ENV would be interested in reading it as well. The original article is posted on the IDEA Center's website, here.]

IDEA Center: "I feel happy, I feel happy"

2009 is the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species, and Darwinists seem more obsessed than ever with death. In particular, they seem suspiciously over-eager to proclaim the alleged death of the intelligent design (ID) movement. The New York Times (an unashamedly pro-Darwin media outlet) recently tried to jump on the current cultural infatuation with vampires by publishing an article titled "Four Stakes in the Heart of Intelligent Design" (the article merely touts four lightweight books for the lay reader that critique ID). NCSE affiliates Nick Matzke and Kevin Padian also recently published an article in a scientific journal claiming that the "case for ID" has "collapsed," gleefully asserting their hope that "no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [ID] seriously in future."

The somewhat rough-and-tumble internet Darwinist choir, which tends to live in its own world, has also jumped on this bandwagon of declaring ID dead. In fact, they recently decided to play coroner over the IDEA Center. To give a couple examples, one internet Darwinist wrote a blog post eagerly calling IDEA "dead" (this internet Darwinist also had the maturity to call ID "stupidity" and William Dembski "either delusional or a bald-faced liar"). The internet Darwinists at PandasThumb apparently believe the conspiracy theories they read on these sorts of blogs, and proceeded to write their own amusing post rejoicing over an alleged "IDEA obituary."

It's hard to take these kinds of people seriously, not only because of their hyperbolic rhetoric and their obsession with the death of ID, but also because of all the exciting activity occurring presently at the IDEA Center! To say the least, we at the IDEA Center got a good laugh reading these IDEA Center death certificates fabricated by these highly imaginative internet Darwinists.

For example, one piece of evidence they cited to declare IDEA "dead" was their assertion that IDEA hasn't published all of its "quarterly" issues of The Light Bulb. Perhaps that's because our Light Bulb newsletter isn't published quarterly, it's published semi-annually (i.e. it comes out 2 times per year, not 4 times). As our newsletter page has long stated, "The IDEA Center publishes a semi-annual newsletter called, 'The Light Bulb,'" and it lists both issues for 2008 (to see those issues, click here or here).

Another assertion was their claim that IDEA has no listserves--but members of the general public have been welcome to join our IDEA Center's Member Listserve for years, and in fact our members listserve currently has over 1200 members hailing from over a dozen countries! Feel free to submit your request to join our IDEA Center Member's listserve today!

The internet Darwinists' main piece of evidence that IDEA is "dead" was their claim that our IDEA Club chapter locations page is out-of-date. It is out-of-date, and we're actually working on revamping the entire page which is a long-term project requiring the production of new hyperlinked maps that we hope to complete in the coming months.

But IDEA Clubs are certainly not "dead." In fact, the IDEA Center's primary program is helping students to start extra-curricular IDEA Clubs on university and high school campuses around the United States and the world. In August of 2008, the IDEA Center hired its first full-time staff member, Mr. Brian Westad, as its new IDEA Club Director, to oversee the IDEA Club program.

Right now, as of January 2009, there are about a dozen IDEA Club chapters that are active or in-formation. In fact, since the Darwinists first started proclaiming the false death of IDEA, we've received over eight inquiries into starting new IDEA Clubs. Not only are rumor's of IDEA's death greatly exaggerated, but the more the internet Darwinists declare IDEA to be dead, the more IDEA seems to be growing. If you're interested in learning more about starting an IDEA Club, please contact Brian at brianw@ideacenter.org.

Quite amusingly, these kinds of Darwinists seem to alternate between proclaiming the death of ID, and crying that the sky is falling because ID allegedly threatens to impose theocracy and destroy science, democracy, and free, modern civilization. You can't destroy civilization if you're dead, so which is it? Forgive us if we at the IDEA Center somehow doubt that these Darwinists actually believe what they are saying.

Regardless, it seems clear that these Darwinists wish not to see the contradictions in their own arguments, so our advice is this: if you need a coroner, don't call the internet Darwinists because they're not very good at assessing whether something is dead. After all, the Darwinists have been wrong before. In the volume Intelligent Design 101, Phillip Johnson tells the story of how Darwinists declared a false victory over their opponents during the 100th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species 50 years ago in 1959:

[A]s 1959 approached, evolutionary scientists thought that the mid-century would be an ideal time to hold a triumphant celebration. A professor at the University of Chicago organized the Darwin Centennial Celebration and landed the most prominent Darwinian speaker, Sir Julian Huxley to keynote the event.

Huxley was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, the British naturalist who pushed for public debates in favor of Darwinism in the early years. Grandfather Huxley became known as "Darwin's bulldog," because of his spirited advocacy for Darwin's theory. Grandson, Huxley was a prominent zoologist in his own right and one of the founders of what would later come to be called the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, the modern version of Darwinism. He was also an international statesman, a founding father of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Huxley was also the would-be founder of a new religion of evolutionary humanism. He wrote a book called Religion Without Revelation (Harper, 1957) that attempted to found a religion upon the scientific way of thinking. Science replaced revelation as the source of knowledge, and humanity, rather than God, sat at the top of Huxley's scala naturae.

This centennial was held at the University of Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend, 1959. It attracted so much press attention that it seemed to signify to the world, as intended, that Darwinism was triumphant everywhere. Huxley, in his keynote address, made it clear that this was a triumph in science and in religion. He said that there is now no room for a divinized father figure, an imaginary god who is really just a projection of our human father. Huxley was branding a new religion in which "[i]n the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created: it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion."4 Essentially, then, one religion is replaced by another—triumphant evolutionary science explains everything.

At that point, many scientific authorities had the view that only a minor "mop-up" operation was necessary in the cultural war against theistic religion. Christianity, in particular, had been beaten. Science, the new religion, would replace it, with evolution as the creator.

[...]

Each of these events were said to make the case for the triumph of scientific materialism and Darwinism. That triumph fell apart, however, once people started scrutinizing the evidence.

(Phillip Johnson, "Bringing Balance to a Fiery Debate," Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain the Key Issues, pgs. 24-26 (H. Wayne House, ed., Kregel, 2008).)

Of course anyone who knows their history of the evolution-debate knows what happened next: serious scientists rose up and started publicly questioning Darwinism, leading to the birth of the creation science movement in the 1960s, and later, the birth of the intelligent design movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

The IDEA Center doesn't promote creation science, and intelligent design is of course very different from creationism, but it will be interesting to see how opposition to Darwin surges in the coming years now that Darwinists are using this current anniversary as another occasion to wrongly declare their opposition to be dead. Perhaps in another 50 years, future historians of evolution will be once-again writing that "That triumph fell apart, however, once people started scrutinizing the evidence."

Posted by Casey Luskin on January 26, 2009 7:42 AM | Permalink

Trying to Put Intelligent Design Under a Taboo

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/03/making_intelligent_design_tabo.html

It's always amusing how evolutionists continually proclaim, and then re-proclaim, the apparent demise of intelligent design (ID) (i.e. 'no really, this time ID actually is dead!'!). We're pretty used to that, but then it gets a little creepy when they exude what appears to be an unhealthy pleasure in ID's (purported) demise. Such was recently the exact case when National Center for Science Education (NCSE) president Kevin Padian and former NCSE spokesman Nick Matzke, in a January issue of Biochemical Journal, published a "review article" claiming that the "case for ID" has "collapsed," gleefully asserting that "no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [Discovery Institute or ID] seriously in future."

I challenged Nick on his words and he replied "I stand by that comment" (see here for the exchange). And Biochemical Journal clearly wants the world to read the Padian/Matzke article, as they're making it available free on their website, and I am told they reprinted it in the February issue of their more popular journal, The Biochemist, the membership magazine of the Biochemical Society.

Fair enough. I have no objection whatsoever to scientists publishing views that criticize ID in scientific journals. ID-critics have every right to try to persuade people with reason and scientific arguments. But the Padian/Matzke lead review article, the kind that's supposed to summarize the state of a field, does not try to persuade with mere reason and arguments, but with veiled threats (and with a few less-veiled insults thrown in, just for good measure). This affront to academic freedom should concern everyone, whether you oppose or support ID. Let me explain further.

Imagine that you're a pro-ID research biologist and you see leading research journals publishing lead review articles (not editorials, and not letters to the editor, but review articles) declaring that anyone who has "scientific or philosophical integrity" will not take intelligent design "seriously in the future." What is the effect of such statements? The effect is that the authoritative reviewers send a message to you and others in the community that if you merely hint that you even so much as "take intelligent design seriously," then you will be subject to all kinds of ridicule and your integrity will be tarnished.

In this style, reason and arguments are secondary, for it's all about attacks on the person — if you support ID, you lack integrity. Period. Since reputation and integrity means so much in science and academia, this effectively puts a taboo on anything that hints of ID. The message is this: "Taking ID seriously could be harmful to the health of your career, so banish these thoughts from your mind (or keep them to yourself), and fall into line."

This message is dangerous to freedom of inquiry and the progress of science on a general level. But this is of course the precise message that is being comunicated by the NCSE. And certain influential factions in the scientific community seem more than happy to oblige them in these efforts

In any case, a pro-ID Ph.D. research biologist — the kind of biologist whose career could be negatively impacted by the kind of veiled threats being promoted by the Padian / Matzke/ Biochemical Journal review article — wrote me a response to the piece. This biologist, who wished to remain anonymous, has printed their reply below:

Junk Science

The Biochemical Journal is a respectable journal publishing articles and reviews about serious scientific research. Their masthead lists various areas of biochemical research, including cell biology, disease, energy, genes, plants, signaling, and structures. In their guideline to authors the journal editors state:

The Biochemical Journal publishes papers in English in all fields of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, provided that they make a sufficient contribution to knowledge in these fields.... All work presented should have as its aim the development of biochemical concepts rather than the mere recording of facts.[1]

Reviews are usually solicited from eminent scientists in their particular fields. For example, recent issues include a review by Chothia and Gough[2], and another by Gustavo Caetano- Anollés et al.[3] all of whom are well known for their work in the area of protein evolution. Why then, I wonder, did the journal see fit to publish a "review article" titled "Darwin, Dover, 'Intelligent Design' and textbooks" by Kevin Padian and Nicholas Matzke[4]?

The "review article" in question contains nothing of scientific merit. There are no interpretations of experimental results, no theories advanced, no biochemical concepts developed. There is no review of the current state of a particular scientific field, either. Instead, the review by Padian and Matzke is a one-sided retelling of a legal trial[5] with some simplistic historical analysis and ersatz theology thrown in. The article conflates creationism and intelligent design, misrepresents the views of intelligent design scientists and the Discovery Institute, and engages in vicious character assassination. It is a blatant attempt to scare people away from intelligent design by proclaiming that "no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [ID] seriously in future."

The simple reality is that this article is a polemical hit piece. It's not a scholarly work of history or theology, let alone science. It is biased and prejudicial in its retelling of events, imputing motives to people without first-hand knowledge of events. It makes sweeping statements and broad generalizations with no independent verifiability. It puffs the credentials of one of its authors while snidely referring to the "allegedly peer-reviewed books" of a scientist it attacks and calling him "chicken".

There have been, and continue to be a stream of articles attacking intelligent design published in science journals, especially in this so-called year of Darwin. But this article is the nastiest I have seen. So my question remains — why did a respectable scientific journal print it? It would appear that, contrary to their guideline to authors, they'll print anything as long as it denigrates and disparages the right people. And that's no way to do science.

References Cited:

1. http://www.biochemj.org/bj/bji2a.htm

2. Chothia C and Gough J (2009) Genomic and structural aspects of protein evolution. Biochem J 419: 15-28.

3. Caetano-Anollés G et al. (2009) The origin, evolution and structure of the protein world. Biochem J 417: 621–637.

4. Padian K and Matzke N (2009) Darwin, Dover, 'Intelligent Design' and textbooks. Biochem J 417: 29-42.

5. There is another side to the story on Dover. To learn about it, see TraipsingIntoEvolution.com.

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 20, 2009 8:26 AM | Permalink

More From the High School Student Who Blew the Whistle on Intelligent Design

http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2009/03/more_from_the_high_school_stud.php

By Damon Agnos in Education Thursday, Mar. 19 2009 @ 12:06PM

Yesterday, we wrote about Colin Moyer, the Curtis High School senior who was awarded an ACLU scholarship for getting his school to stop teaching creationism—when he was in tenth grade.

Today, we got a chance to talk to him about the curriculum battle and his decision to start a student paper—something we neglected to mention yesterday.

"The class was always taught back and forth, with students asking questions," says Moyer. "When we got to evolution, we were no longer allowed to ask questions in class, and there were no tests or quizzes or homework." So Moyer went to the library, read up on the evolution/intelligent design debate and the Dover case in Pennsylvania (prohibiting the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes there), and made his case to the administration. Were any other students concerned?, we asked. "A little bit," he says. "But none of them were too annoyed about it. Would you expect a student to complain for not having a test or homework?"

As for the Viking Underground, the student paper of which he is manager and editor-in-chief, "It was kind of a response to everything I did with the evolution/creationism stuff. I thought if students actually knew what was happening at the school, they wouldn't be duped into those kinds of things." He explains it in detail in his scholarship application essay:

I realized that one of the reasons teaching of illegal material had been allowed to go on for so long was because most people were unaware of the problem. The community works hard to maintain a perfect image, and control of information is key to their goal. This control extends to the high school where encouraging student journalism is not a priority; this led to the death of the student newspaper. Despite multiple attempts by students to revive the official newspaper, the school administration continued to drag its heels.

Emboldened by my previous dealings with the district, I decided to circumvent the school and take this matter into my own hands. I recruited a small staff of dedicated students who worked over the summer to produce an underground newspaper. None of us had any journalism experience, but we shared a passion for the truth and a belief that the student voice has a right to be heard in the community. Our mission is to serve as an open forum for student expression and to inform and entertain the students while remaining accurate and professional. Because we are not affiliated with the school, we do not publish under the veil of school policies or censorship; this also means we do not receive school funding. I have personally financed the majority of publication costs out of my own savings from my summer job and by selling my letterman's jacket. It is a fair price to pay to ensure that students have a voice to report on the news, including investigative reporting as necessary.

Moyer says he'll be off to college next year (with $12,500 of tuition covered by the ACLU), though he doesn't know yet where. He plans to major in something that is itself struggling with natural selection: journalism.

Updates from the Lone Star state

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/updates-from-lone-star-state-004669

March 19th, 2009 Texas anti-evolution 2009

With evolution sure to be a hotly debated topic at the next meeting of the Texas state board of education, with a bill just introduced in the Texas legislature aimed at restoring the contentious "strengths and weaknesses" language to the standards, and with a different bill aimed at exempting the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from the regulations governing degree-granting institutions in Texas, there's no shortage of news from the Lone Star state. NCSE, of course, continues not only to report on the antics of creationism in Texas but also to help concerned Texans to combat them: Texans wishing to express their concerns about the standards to the Texas state board of education, which is expected to have its final vote on the standards at its meeting in Austin on March 25-27, 2009, will find contact information and talking points in the Taking Action section of NCSE's website and on the Texas Freedom Network's website.

With Texans still reeling from the detailed profiles of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, published in the Austin American-Statesman (March 8, 2009) and the Texas Observer (February 20, 2009), Texas Citizens for Science (March 14, 2009) recently disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed entitled Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles — aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim. McLeroy, however, praises Sowing Atheism for showing "how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying — both secular and religious."

On its blog (March 18, 2009), the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book — "Scientists are 'atheists.' Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are 'monsters.' Pastors who support sound science are 'morons'" — and pointedly asked, "Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn 'weaknesses' of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?" Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas state board of education who supports the integrity of science education, wrly commented to the Dallas Observer (March 18, 2009), "So much for neutrality in the chairman's position." Looking forward to the board's impending vote on the standards, she added, "I am confident several of us will hold firm, but it's the swing votes you have to concern yourself with — and I don't know how much pressure is being put on the swing voters. ... It definitely won't be boring."

Fox News (March 18, 2009) offered a detailed story about House Bill 2800, which would, if enacted, exempt institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from Texas's regulations governing degree-granting institutions. Although the ICR is not named, "[the bill's sponsor Leo] Berman says ICR was the inspiration for the bill because he feels creationism is as scientific as evolution and should be granted equal weight in the educational community." Berman was also quoted as saying, "I don't believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago." NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott responded, "Their science education degrees are greatly inferior to those at, say, the University of Texas or Baylor University or even a good community college, frankly," adding, "Teaching that the Earth is only 10,000 years old is a little irregular in modern science."

Concern about HB 2800 was not confined to worries about the ICR's graduate school. A spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which denied state certification to the ICR's graduate school in 2007, argued that "HB 2800 appears to open the doors of Texas to predatory institutions ... Were the bill to become law, it could have the effect of leaving students defenseless against exploitation by diploma mills and other substandard institutions." Similarly, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science warned, "This would open the door to other fly-by-night organizations that come in and want to award degrees in our state, because the bill is highly generalized," and NCSE's Scott added, "It would certainly open the door to all kinds of chicanery ... I mean, all you have to do, it looks to me from the bill, is start a non-profit organization, don't take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want."

Discussing House Bill 4224, which would, if enacted, require the Texas state board of education to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language to the Texas state science standards, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (March 19, 2009), reported, "The bill does not address evolution specifically, but that seems to be its target. ... [The bill's sponsor Wayne] Christian said he filed the bill to allow teachers to continue to teach the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science told the newspaper that the language was removed from the proposed new standards because it is not scientifically based, and warned that HB 4224 was likely to encourage teachers to teach creationism in violation of the constitutional strictures against doing so. He also said that for Texas to compete nationally and globally, the education standards must be based on "good science and not get bogged down with these religious interventions into our secular schools."

A further concern about HB 4224 discussed in the Star-Telegram's article was the bill's provision that "Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses." (The article reports, incorrectly, that the bill would afford the same protection to teachers; it is in fact silent about the beliefs of teachers, although it explicitly allows them to present "strengths and weaknesses" — a creationist catchphrase — to their students.) Schafersman commented, "Students could claim they believe anything they wanted in anything in science and if that's what they say, the teacher would be forced to give that student an A," but Christian countered that students would still be responsible for learning the material presented in the curriculum: "They can be lazy if they want to ... but teachers are still in charge of the grading system," he contended.

UNL Symposium "Celebrating Darwin's Legacy

http://nebraska.statepaper.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2009/03/20/49c34c6349a00

March 20, 2009

"Celebrating Darwin's Legacy" will be the theme of the 35th interdisciplinary symposium sponsored by the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Randy Moore will open the March 26th conference with a presentation entitled: "The Creationist Down the Hall: The Extent and Impact of Teaching Evolution and Creationism in Public Schools."

He will speak at 7 p.m. at the Great Plains Art Museum.

Moore is the H.T. Morse-alumni distinguished teaching professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches courses about evolution and creationism. He has written several books about the evolution-creationism controversy, including "Evolution 101," which he co-wrote with Janice Moore.

Moore's talk is free and open to the public. A reception at the museum starts at 6 p.m.

On March 27, David Quammen, Wallace Stegner professor in western American studies at Montana State University, will present a second keynote lecture: "Charles Darwin: The Secret Life of a Cautious Revolutionary."

His talk starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Nebraska Union and is free and open to the public.

An award-winning science, nature, and travel writer, Quammen's work has appeared in National Geographic, Outside, Harpers Magazine, RollingStone magazine, and The New York Times Book Review.

He is the author of 11 books including "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution," and "The Song of the Dodo."


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bill Would Allow Texas School to Grant Master's Degree in Science for Creationism

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,509719,00.html

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 By Nora Zimmett

A Texas legislator is waging a war of biblical proportions against the science and education communities in the Lone Star State as he fights for a bill that would allow a private school that teaches creationism to grant a Master of Science degree in the subject.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas' Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.

Berman's bill would allow private, non-profit educational institutions to be exempt from the board's authority.

"If you don't take any federal funds, if you don't take any state funds, you can do a lot more than some business that does take state funding or federal funding," Berman says. "Why should you be regulated if you don't take any state or federal funding?"

HB 2800 does not specifically name ICR; it would allow any institution that meets its criteria to be exempt from the board's authority. But Berman says ICR was the inspiration for the bill because he feels creationism is as scientific as evolution and should be granted equal weight in the educational community.

"I don't believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago," Berman told FOXNews.com. "I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution.

"But when you ask someone who believes in evolution, if you ask one of the elitists who believes in evolution about the gaps, they'll tell you that the debate is over, that there is no debate, evolution is the thing, it's the only way to go."

But critics say that Berman's bill will be disastrous if it passes.

"This would open the door to other fly-by-night organizations that come in and want to award degrees in our state, because the bill is highly generalized," said Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.

"Right now, we don't have this problem in Texas. Texas is not a center for degree mills, because our laws allow only the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve the granting of graduate degrees."

"It would certainly open the door to all kinds of chicanery," says Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. "I mean, all you have to do, it looks to me from the bill, is start a non-profit organization, don't take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want."

Schafersman fears that amending state law to accommodate institutions such as ICR would devalue Texas graduate degrees.

"The degrees would substandard, worthless, but they would be certified by Texas," he said.

All colleges and universities granting degrees in Texas currently must be issued a certificate of authority by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The certificate allows that institution to grant a higher education degree that is recognized by the state – a degree a graduate would need to apply for a teaching position in a Texas public school.

ICR was denied a certificate of authority in 2007.

HB 2800 would pave the way for institutions like ICR to grant science degrees equal to those of other Texas universities. And that possibility has critics fuming.

"Their science education degrees are greatly inferior to those at, say, the University of Texas or Baylor University or even a good community college, frankly," says Scott. "Teaching that the Earth is only 10,000 years old is a little irregular in modern science."

The ICR issued a statement affirming that it is a legitimate educational institute that employs credentialed Ph.D. scientists from around the country. It insisted that the "THECB has acted discriminatorily against the ICR's application both in process and in the substance of fact," and it said "THECB allowed influence of evolution-biased lobbying efforts to influence process and outcome."

The coordinating board denies any wrongdoing and says Berman's bill is a slippery slope for higher education in Texas.

"HB 2800 appears to open the doors of Texas to predatory institutions," says De Juana Lozada, assistant director of communications for THECB. "Were the bill to become law, it could have the effect of leaving students defenseless against exploitation by diploma mills and other substandard institutions.

"The Coordinating Board just last year eased restrictions on legitimate institutions of higher education desiring to operate in Texas. For legitimate institutions, the legislation is completely unnecessary."

Berman sees the board's decision to deny ICR certification as a double standard.

"If a school's teaching all evolution, would that be a balanced education?" he asked. "So it's the same thing on both ends of the stick."

But advocates of more conventional science education say the THECB was right to deny ICR certification and that Berman's motives in introducing the bill were simply to reward an institution loyal to him.

"You just can't play fast and loose with the rules that everyone has to follow just to favor a constituent," says Scott. "I think the people of Texas should be very concerned about this issue."

While HB 2800 makes its way through the legislature, ICR and the THECB will continue their mediation before a Texas state judge. Insiders say that if the mediation does not go their way, ICR will sue the board.

Creationist could be in charge of science portfolio: Minister

http://www.canada.com/Life/Creationist+could+charge+science+portfolio+Minister/1402828/story.html

National PostMarch 18, 2009

TORONTO — The federal minister responsible for science and technology said Wednesday there would be nothing wrong with a creationist holding the position.

Conservative MP Gary Goodyear, who reiterated Wednesday that he does believe in evolution, said it was "ridiculous" to think that personal beliefs would play a role in government funding.

"My personal beliefs are not important," he said, after speaking to the Economic Club of Canada on the government's plan for research and development.

"What is important is that this government is doing the right thing for science and technology, to support scientists."

Earlier this week, Goodyear refused to answer a question on whether he believes in evolution.

Members of the science community said that was an indication the Christian MP believed in creationism.

Scientists protested that the minister, who is responsible for science and technology funding, did not believe one of the fundamental foundations of modern science, evolution theory.

Goodyear dismissed their concerns Wednesday.

"My entire background has been in science and my personal beliefs are not important," Goodyear said.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Creationist museum thinks Darwin got something right

http://www.chinapost.com.tw/art/arts/2009/03/19/200812/Creationist-museum.htm

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- A controversial museum in Kentucky that trumpets the Bible story of creation and rejects evolution is making room for an odd guest: Charles Darwin. A new exhibit at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum argues that natural selection — Darwin's explanation for how species develop new traits over time — can coexist with the creationist assertion that all living things were created by God just a few thousand years ago.

"We wanted to show people that creationists believe in natural selection," said Ken Ham, founder of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis and a frequent Darwin critic.

The exhibit might seem peculiar to many who have watched the decades-long battle between evolution scientists and creationists, who take the Bible's Genesis account as literal truth.

But the idea that creationists can accept natural selection "isn't really new in creationism, though it's interesting that Answers in Genesis would have an exhibit on it," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California.

The US$27 million museum has drawn international attention — and, the ministry says, more than 650,000 visitors — since its opening in Petersburg, Kentucky, just south of the Ohio border in 2007. Its exhibits match the high production value of popular natural history museums. But in its version of history, Adam and Eve are considered the first humans, Noah rescues humanity from a worldwide flood and early man frolics with dinosaurs.

Ham said the new exhibit features live blind cave fish, models of bacteria and recreations of Darwin's famous finches, whose variant beaks helped inspire the British naturalist's theories on natural selection.

Darwin proposed in 1859 that new species appear through the process of evolution. He attributed evolution to natural selection, when randomly occurring traits — like the change in body color of a beetle — give a species a survival advantage over competitors.

Ham said he agrees that natural selection can give an organism an advantage in its environment, but creationists do not believe that the process can lead to new species, such as fish evolving into amphibians.

Visitors to the exhibit are greeted by a large sign that reads: "Natural Selection is not Evolution."

"The exhibit is to clearly show that natural selection is not a mechanism to change one kind of animal into a totally different kind," Ham said. For example, he said, dogs can develop new traits from one generation to the next, but they remain dogs.

Ham isn't the only creationist who holds that view. A Web site, CreationWiki, developed by the Northwest Creation Network, says natural selection "explains the mechanism by which traits are selected and organisms adapt to their environment." Like Ham, the Mountlake Terrace, Wash., group argues that natural selection is only responsible for "small adaptations."

But Scott, whose organization advocates evolution education, said the fossil record proves that one type of body plan can give rise to another through evolution. She said the recently discovered fossil Tiktaalik — a prehistoric fish with some traits like those of four-legged animals — shows an adaptation toward a life on land.

"We have a gradual transition of vertebrate fossils from those who swim to those who have stumpy fins to those who can function well on land," Scott said.

Ham acknowledged that creationists share only a limited common ground with Darwin, and he remains a staunch critic of evolution.

"In regard to Darwin's overall idea, that there's no supernatural involved in formation of life, and that there's a mechanistic, materialistic mechanism to evolve creatures — he's totally wrong," Ham said.

On Evolutionary Monographs [repost]

http://scienceblogs.com/strangerfruit/2006/12/on_evolutionary_monographs_rep.php

Posted on: December 2, 2006 1:56 PM, by John Lynch

For some years now, we have been hearing about Paul Nelson's forthcoming monograph On Common Descent, which one assumes will stem from his now [eight] year old PhD in philosophy Common Descent, Generative Entrenchment, and the Epistemology in Evolutionary Inference. As the DI/CSC website notes, "[h]is forthcoming monograph, On Common Descent, critically evaulates the theory of common descent, and is being edited for the series Evolutionary Monographs." The Wedge document notes:

William Dembski and Paul Nelson, two CRSC Fellows, will very soon have books published by major secular university publishers, Cambridge University Press and The University of Chicago Press, respectively. ... Nelson's book, On Common Descent, is the seventeenth book in the prestigious University of Chicago "Evolutionary Monographs" series and the first to critique neo-Darwinism.

Ignoring that the book has been in press for nearly seven years now (surely a record!), these references had been puzzling me for some while. Though trained as an evolutionary biologist, I had never read "the prestigious University of Chicago 'Evolutionary Monographs' series" and had never seen it referred to in research papers. Indeed, I had - wrongly - assumed that the Evolutionary Monographs series had something to do with the University of Chicago Press. Checking the UCP website revealed no such series. So, off to the library I went.

Evolutionary Monographs was formed in 1979 by the paleontologist Leigh Van Valen. with an initial mission statement as follows:

Evolutionary Monographs is a new monograph series for all the evolutionary half of biology, sponsored by the Society for the Study of Evolution. The series is designed for monographs and other papers that are two long for unsubsidized publication in ordinary journals. (J. Morph 164: 311)

All good. It leads one to wonder what types of "monographs" are intended. In the fifteen years between 1979 and 1994, fifteen monographs appeared, usually in the 60 to 80 page range. Virtually all of these are taxonomic or descriptive works what - for various reasons - usually are eschewed by mainstream journals. This is not to argue that the works below are not valuable or professional, far from it, but that Evolutionary Monographs is a specialized outlet for certain types of publication, chiefly in taxonomy or morphology. Indeed, the published monographs are very similar to papers that would appear in a journal such as Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Are we sensing a pattern here?

While it is clear that the production values of the series are perhaps "second tier," the series does have an editorial board who suggest referees for submissions. In 1994, the board contained some well known names; Gould, Hull, Lewontin, Nevo, Ostrom, Provine, Schopf, Simberloff, Wake, and Wiley.

Regarding theses, the instructions for authors note that "theses are welcomed but must be revised into publishable form. This should be done by the author before submission; otherwise the manuscript will be returned to the author without review." I have Nelson's 241 page thesis of August 1998 in front of me. The Wedge document has been dated to the same year. Thus, Nelson completing his PhD and his submission of a modified manuscript must have been separated by very little time. Assuming referees approved - and the Wedge document and other mentions indicate that the manuscript is in press - Nelson appears to be taking an inordinate amount of time to submit his final version to Leigh Van Valen.

Bill Dembski noted in 2000:

I challenge anyone to read Paul Nelson's "On Common Descent", which critiques Darwin's idea of common descent from the vantage of developmental biology, and show why it alone among all the volumes in the University of Chicago's Evolutionary Monographs Series does not belong there

[Six] years later, we're still waiting. Evolutionary Monographs is not really the "prestigious" outlet that ID supporters would like one to believe; it is largely a venue for taxonomic work, and in that sense On Common Descent does not really belong there. Given that Nelson's manuscript must have passed muster with referees chosen by the editorial board, one is left asking how come a PhD thesis that was good enough for the University of Chicago's Department of Philosophy, has not been submitted to a more prestigeous publisher?

[I originally posted this on April 30th 2005. Nelson offered a reply here and later noted that he and Dembski "have been working on a shorter article, with some of the monograph's main points, which we plan to submit to the best peer-reviewed biology journal we can find." Still waiting.]

My talk at AAAS

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/03/my_talk_at_aaas.php

Posted on: March 18, 2009 8:41 PM, by Josh Rosenau

It was a tremendous honor to be the first speaker at a session on evolution education last February. The session included such luminaries as Ken Miller, Olivia Judson, Neil Shubin, and David Deamer, who each presented a marvelous overview of how evolution illuminates our understanding of biology, from the origins of life to the behavior of beetles, from the workings of the cell to peculiarities of the human body.

While I could not hope to speak with authority matching those great scientists on those particular fields, my opening talk set the stage by showing that, 150 years after the Origin of Species, the teaching of evolution remains controversial, and too few Americans understand the science. As you can see in the 22 minute-long video above, I also defended the thesis that, in claiming that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," Theodosius Dobzhansky actually understated his case: Evolution makes sense of sciences Darwin and Dobzhansky never dreamed of.

Thus, a sound understanding of evolution is not just crucial for biologists of tomorrow, including applied biologists like doctors and biotech workers. Farmers, chemists, cosmologists, and computer engineers all need to understand evolution, as does anyone who hopes to navigate the biotech-rich world of the 21st century.

A few weeks back, I criticized Disco. Inst. fellow Paul Nelson's misreporting of my talk, and I've also criticized his sloppy response to David Deamer's talk. I'll post a slidecast of Deamer's talk in a little while.

Paul has responded to my criticism of his review, and at the risk of descent into navel-gazing pettiness, I feel obliged to reply once again.

Rather than engaging in further discussion about whether, by citing Dobzhansky, I'm instantly responsible for all of his views, I only ask Paul whether his citation of Molie`re carries with it some endorsement of that playwright's royalist views, or his controversial treatment of religion. Of course not. We judge what argument a person is making not by the things he doesn't quote from another work, but by those he does quote, and the context in which he does it. To do otherwise would be dishonest.

In any event, that whole diversion has nothing whatsoever to do with my actual talk, as you can verify by watching it.

I'll put my full (too full, perhaps) reply to him below the fold, since I find his response off-point. In brief, I'll simply note that he's now responded twice to my talk, and I still don't know what he thinks of my central points: that evolution education is under attack, that these attacks are reducing American science literacy, that this lack of science literacy will have serious consequences for our economic and scientific dominance in the 21st century, and that there are a number of things scientists and teachers can do to improve that state of affairs.

To get around the inconvenient fact of what I actually said, Nelson claims that the audience reaction to my talk is better evidence of what I was talking about than what I actually stated. Nelson asserts:

The AAAS audience, given the chance in the Q & A to respond to Rosenau, asked him not about evolution, but about intelligent design (ID) and "creationism."

One question concerned the supposedly creationist views of ABC News medical correspondent Dr. Timothy Johnson, and what could be done about that problem. Another question, from National Academy of Sciences representative Jay Labov, addressed what Labov saw as the relative weakness of the NCSE pro-evolution public relations campaign, compared with effectiveness of the ID slogan "Teach the controversy."

In short, no one asked about the science of evolution.

First, as one can see by watching the talk, I did not set out to speak on "the science of evolution," I spoke about the state of evolution education, and what can be done to improve public understanding of evolution. The question about ABC News was not about the creationist views of its medical correspondent per se, but about the generally poor quality of reporting on scientific issues, and what can be done to address that. Yes, this touches on creationism, but I'd hardly call it a question "about intelligent design (ID) and 'creationism,'" let alone of evidence that the talk was about theology.

Nelson's account of Jay Labov's question seems off-the-mark to me as well. My recollection, and my summary in the talk (which Jay agreed with at the time), was that he was asking how we as defenders of science might be more effective at countering creationist propaganda, in particular that where creationists can speak with one voice and one catchphrase, scientists aren't similarly disciplined. NCSE has collected hundreds of statements from scientific, religious, educational, and civil liberties groups, but in political fights, that leaves us seeming divided, while opponents of accurate science education seem united and on message.

This might be characterized as a question about creationism and therefore theology, but to do so would miss the point. Creationism is not the only situation where this disconnect applies. Global warming deniers do the same thing, choosing one talking point and letting scientists issue numerous statements expressing the view widely accepted based on the scientific evidence. The same thing happens with anti-vaccine activists, whose singular focus has led to a broad public misunderstanding of the overwhelming evidence that there is no link between autism and vaccinations. Scientists are generally bad at speaking en masse, and that makes things politically difficult.

I think my answer to Jay's question addresses these and other issues of anti-science activism, though not as succinctly as I might've liked. The way to find what the scientific community says is to look at the published scientific literature. Speaking of which, how's that monograph coming, Paul?

As to the substance of my talk, Nelson continues to ignore my discussion of the state of public understanding of evolution, but I suspect that our differences there are quite fundamental. I'm troubled that so many American's reject the foundation of modern science, and Paul is, it seems, not. The question of America's standing in the race for the biotechnology innovations which will dominate the 21st century economy and geopolitics should concern anyone, but apparently Paul is unphased.

His only response to what I actually said (as opposed to what people I cited said or what my audience asked) is to claim that my examples of evolution's economically crucial uses are "either question-begging or irrelevant." In particular, he thinks that the example I gave in which Taxol was able to be produced in the quantities needed to save many lives because of evolutionary understanding was based on "a phylogenetic hypothesis not even the most doctrinaire young-earth creationist would challenge. If this is 'evolution,' then everyone accepts evolution."

I suspect that he's right, but this hardly discredits my point. My point was not to "prove" evolution, nor was I worried about having to convince the attendees at the AAAS meeting about the importance of evolution within biology. These are elite scientists, and Paul may well have been the only anti-evolutionist present.

My goal in that section of the talk (as I explain in the talk itself!) was to show that evolution is not just for biology, and not just for biologists. It's well and good to say that biology majors should study evolution, but my claim is that, especially as biology and biotechnology take center stage in geopolitics and business, students who do not think of themselves as biologists need to know about evolution. In this case, an understanding of the hypothesis of common ancestry led to the commercial availability of a lifesaving drug, not to mention billions of dollars in sales for Bristol Myers. In other cases, an understanding of evolution leads to innovative solutions to engineering problems, or to questions about why our universe is as it is (as opposed to the many other forms it could take), or to how we could produce more food at less cost to consumers or the environment.

This is not offered as a defense of evolution against creationism, but as a defense of teaching evolution. With 30% of teachers getting pressure not to teach evolution, with teachers generally spending less than 2 weeks of class time on this central principle of modern biology, how can we prepare the pharmaceutical chemists of tomorrow to find a way to synthesize the next Taxol? How can we be sure tomorrow's oncologists are trained to think about the evolutionary process that cancers go through within a single patient? How can we prepare a workforce to compete with that of other nations, nations where understanding of evolution and, of science in general, is much higher than it is in the United States?

My goal, then, was not to use the example of Taxol as a broad defense of evolution against creationism. There are many better examples for that purpose. My goal there was to defend the importance of the general public understanding evolution (as they clearly do not currently). As a defense of evolution against creationism, the example of Taxus phylogeny is certainly imperfect, but not nearly as imperfect as Paul seems to believe. The same techniques scientists use to trace the ancestry of species within the genus Taxus tell us about the relationships of the yews to other conifers. Those same techniques let us locate conifers within the family tree of all plants. The same techniques connect plants to all life, and help us trace back to the last universal common ancestor (though such ancient lineages need special care to trace accurately). This is a remarkable fact, and given the nature of the techniques, it need not be the case. When creationists accept evolution of numerous species of yew, they really are giving away the store, even if they don't fully realize it.

Nelson's charge about my application of the term evolution "to the origin of life by some unknown natural pathway" is especially confusing, since I did not discuss the origin of life, and am quite careful to distinguish the two in my conversations. Beyond that, he complains that I equivocate because I use the word "evolution" in reference to different things. Which I do. But evolution is a concept that contains multitudes. Unlike Whitman, though, that multiplicity does not contradict itself. Understanding evolutionary mechanisms helps us trace lineages. The techniques that let us trace the patterns of evolutionary change over short time scales continue to work as you extend them back. The hypothesis of common descent of yews is as testable as the hypothesis that all life shares a common ancestor, and both hypotheses remain strong despite over a century of intensive scrutiny. The scientific community, too, contains multitudes, and they contradict one another as often as they can.

Despite all that effort, all the squabbles and disagreement, evolution remains strong and central to modern biology. In its essentials and in its multiplicity, it remains uncontradicted by the many voices of scientists, whether you listen to official statements of societies, or to the deafening chatter in the scientific literature.

Children need to know that. Efforts to prevent them from knowing that are deeply worrisome. That was my talk's point. After two lengthy replies to that talk, I still don't know whether Paul Nelson agrees or disagrees.

Creationism in Cuba?

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=6300

March 19, 2009

In Cuba, officially a lay state since 1992, the theories of Darwin has been part of the obligatory basic education and of our boring conventional stereotypes since the Revolution. The interesting thing is - as almost always - that the Cuban reality as regards the theories of evolution is much more complex.

Since we are currently marking the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth this year, the media and public forums such as the recently concluded International Book Fair became sounding boards for new commemorations of the glory of the British scientist. But there were no public debates regarding creationism, as occurs in other countries. Or, rather, there were very few.

I am an orthodox Christian, but the faith of my church doesn't demand that I believe in a venerable old man bringing the progenitors of our actual species into the world out of nothing, as in Harry Potter.

Of course, I am not affirming that the creationists believe exactly that. I am also a biochemist, and I have discovered that the theories of evolution are much more complex and controversial than what the popular manuals say; but I would also not say that those who believe in evolution today believe in those manuals.

In addition, I have a friend - Mario Castillo the historian - who some years ago wrote an article reporting his investigation into the introduction of Darwinism into Cuba (in the 19th Century).

He proved that from its inception it became converted into a "scientific" orthodoxy in the service of racism and of the illustrious white elites. The work earned him an honorable mention in a contest sponsored by an important social science magazine, but he chose not to publish it since the editors demanded too many changes of him.

What is certain is that in Cuba there are a respectable number of believers in the evangelical Protestant churches, whose principal headquarters are in the US; a great percentage of these are creationists. And their children are subject to the cognitive dissonance between what is taught in Sunday School and the teachings of the Ministry of Education.

But even more interesting is the fact that a little over a month ago I had the luck of attending a "study day" in the Havana Seminary of San Carlos and San Ambrosio, the principal leadership school of the Catholic Church in Cuba. The Church had lent this space to the group "Episteme" for a debate on evolution and creation.

The group is made up not of priests but of three Cuban philosophers and university professors: Tony Correa of the Art Institute who is also a University chair on the Theory of Complexity; Ariel Perez of the Philosophy Department of the University of Havana; and Alexis Jardines of the same department. I recall Jardines' article "Requiem", published in Cuba during the decade of the 90s, where he audaciously took apart Marxist orthodoxy. He also recently published two surprisingly rigorous books on cultural philosophy, involving a type of discourse to which we Cubans are not accustomed.

Perez spoke about the history of the idea of creation in religion and philosophy. Correa spoke about creation in the theories of complexity, and Jardines of the lack of consistency in the current theories of evolution.

Three things surprised me: first, the enormous number of young people in the room the kind who dance to "Reggaeton" music - listening to talks that are supposedly so dry. Second, that evolutionism was criticized not by evangelical Protestant theologians but by philosophers who had studied in Marxist universities.

Third, I was surprised that the Catholic rector of the Seminary praised the peaceful manner in which the debate was carried out, and the usefulness of being able to disagree in public without doing damage to friendship. Finally I noted the quantity of beautiful young women in the salon, contrasting favorably with the lugubrious expression on the face of Felix Varela, a Cuban thinker during the times of independence whose portrait hung on the side wall. Lunch was also good, and included the opportunity to chat with the lecturers; both of these luxuries that are somewhat scarce in today's Cuba.

My Cuban evangelical Protestant friends have on various occasions wanted to push me into a debate on the dilemma of evolution-creation. One time they even invited me to play the "Devil's advocate" (that is, of evolutionism) in an activity of the Seventh Day Adventists. I firmly declined the offer. Friendship is very important to me, and at times we Cubans lack a culture and habit of debate when we try to take on sensitive themes. But it seems that the situation has begun to change. We are evolving.

Fossil hints at fuzzy dinosaurs

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7950871.stm

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Dinosaurs may have been more fuzzy than previously thought

A discovery in China has prompted researchers to question the scaly image of dinosaurs.

Previously, experts thought the first feathered dinosaurs appeared about 150 million years ago, but the find suggests feathers evolved much earlier.

This has raised the question of whether many more of the creatures may have been covered with similar bristles, or "dino-fuzz".

The team describe the fossil in the journal Nature.

Hai-Lu You, a researcher from the Insitute of Geology in Beijing, was part of the team that discovered the fossil. Maybe all dinosaurs, even the predominantly scaled ones, had fuzzy parts

He told BBC News he was "very excited" when he realised the significance of what his team had found.

He described the filaments seen on the body of the new dinosaur, which the team has named Tianyulong confuciusi, as "protofeathers" - the precursors of modern feathers.

"Their function was probably display, as well as to keep the body warm" he said.

Dr You's team noticed that the filaments on the base of their dinosaur's tail were extremely long.

These, they suggest, might have evolved for show, and may even have been coloured.

"The world of dinosaurs would [have been] more colourful and active than we previously imagined," he said.

Muddying the water

Dinosaurs can be categorised into two large families - the Saurischia and the Ornithischia.

The Saurischia family includes the theropods - thought to be the ancestors of modern birds. Fossils of these dinosaurs have revealed that some of them were feathered.

But the newly-discovered dinosaur is a member of the Ornithischia group - all previously thought to have reptilian scales.

Professor Lawrence Witmer, a paleontologist from Ohio University, says this "really muddies the waters" of what researchers know about the origin of feathers.

It suggests that their origin might go right back to the earliest ancestors of all dinosaurs - more than 200 million years ago.

"The bad news is that something we thought was neatly wrapped up is now not so neat," said Professor Witmer.

"We now need to rethink what the coat of the ancestral dinosaurs actually was."

He added: "But the good news is that we can now look at existing evidence with new eyes - going back to old fossils and asking if there is evidence of any of these filaments."

The team, who named the dinosaur after the Tianyu Museum of Nature, where the fossil is housed, also dedicated part of its name to the philosopher Confucius to reflect how it has changed the modern view of dinosaurs.

"Maybe all dinosaurs, even the predominantly scaled ones, had fuzzy parts," added Professor Witmer.

"And if they were covered in a fuzzy coat, what does that tell us about their physiology? Perhaps they were warm-blooded.

"We now need to think completely differently about the evidence we already have."