NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 April 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Helping Students Answer a Professor's Challenge to "Find a Fact" That Supports Intelligent Design (Part 2)

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/helping_students_answer_a_prof_1.html#more

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, some students from a university biology class have e-mailed us trying to answer a challenge from their professor to "Find a fact (observation, data) that supports" intelligent design or evolution. These students wanted to find facts supporting intelligent design, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I told them that ID meets their professor's definition of a theory: something that is "supported by a large amount of data (observations in the physical world)" and has a "broad application to explain a wide range of phenomena" and "a framework that allows the development of novel hypotheses (questions about nature)." In this second installment I'll provide the rest of my response to these students, discussing in more detail exactly how intelligent design meets their professor's definition of a scientific theory:

So let's now return to how intelligent design is a "theory" (under your professor's definition). There are innumerable data and observations of the physical world that support intelligent design from a wide variety of fields. For me, the most compelling fact (in biology) is the presence of highly complex and specified information in the genome (see Axe, 2000 and Axe, 2004), and specified and complex information is a reliable indicator of design (Dembski, 1998). In fact, I think that another student from your class emailed me asking the same question, and here's the answer I gave (expanded here).

If you'd like a more comprehensive discussion of this evidence and how ID provides a framework for developing novel hypotheses, you might enjoy my article, "The Positive Case for Design." To summarize that paper, ID theorists start by observing how intelligent agents act when they design things. Some of their observations show that:

(1) Intelligent agents think with an "end goal" in mind, allowing them to solve complex problems by taking many parts and arranging them in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).

(2) Intelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of information into systems:

(3) Intelligent agents 're-use' functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and airplanes).

(4) Intelligent agents typically create functional things.

Keeping our numbering straight, we can use those observations to generate hypotheses based upon testable predictions in a variety of different fields:

(1) Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).

(2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.

(3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.

(4) Much so-called "junk DNA" will turn out to perform valuable functions.

Thus, intelligent design can predict and explain a broad range of observations in many scientific fields. Below is a discussion of some of the fields where ID provides a framework for predicting, understanding, and explaining data from a wide variety of scientific fields:

  • Biochemistry, where ID explains and predicts the presence of high levels of complex and specified information in proteins and DNA (Axe, 2000; Axe, 2004; Behe & Snoke, 2004);
  • Genetics, where ID predicts and explains function for so-called "junk" DNA while neo-Darwinism stifles such research (Sternberg, 2002; Wells, 2004; Makalowski, 2003; Gibbs, 2003);
  • Systematics, where ID explains why there are similarities between living species, including examples of extreme genetic "convergence" that severely conflict with conventional evolutionary phylogenies (Lönnig, 2004; Nelson & Wells, 2003; Lawton, 2009);
  • Cell biology, where ID explains why the cell resembles "designed structures rather than accidental by-products of neo-Darwinian evolution," allowing scientists to better understand the workings of molecular machines (Wells, 2005; Minnich & Meyer, 2004; Behe, 1996; Lönnig, 2004);
  • Systems biology, where ID encourages biologists to look at various biological systems as integrated components of larger systems that are designed to work together in a top-down, coordinated fashion, which is what biologists are finding is the case (Lönnig, 2004; Bract 2002; Kitano, 2003);
  • Animal biology, where ID predicts function for allegedly "vestigial" organs, structures, or systems whereas evolution has made many faulty predictions here (Wells, 2002; Dembski & Wells, 2008);
  • (Note: your professor says that the appendix "do[es] not seem to have any purpose" and is "useless," but he's mistaken. There is in fact extensive evidence of immuno-function for the appendix. See Martin, Loren G., "What is the function of the human appendix?" Scientific American (October 21, 1999), and Bollinger, R. Randal et al., "Biofilms in the Large Bowel Suggest an Apparent Function of the Human Vermiform Appendix," 249 JOURNAL OF THEORETICAL BIOLOGY: 826-31 (2007); Duke University Medical Center, "Appendix Isn't Useless At All: It's A Safe House For Good Bacteria," SCIENCEDAILY (October 8, 2007). Your professor says you "can't use the appendix," but you don't want to use the appendix as evidence for evolution because it has been demonstrated to NOT be "useless" and your professor is uncritically promoting Darwinian urban legends, providing you with an object lesson for how Darwinian assumptions and predictions stifle scientific progress.)

  • Bioinformatics, where ID explains the presence of new layers of information and functional language embedded in the genetic codes, as well as other codes within biology (Wells, 2004; Meyer, 2004b; Voie, 2006; Abel & Trevors, 2006);
  • Information theory, where ID encourages scientists to understand where intelligent causes are superior to natural causes in producing certain types of information (Dembski, 1998; Dembski & Marks, 2009a; Dembski & Marks, 2009b; Voie, 2006; Trevors & Abel, 2004; Abel & Trevors, 2006);
  • Paleontology, where ID's prediction of irreducibly complexity in biological systems explains paleontological patterns such as the abrupt appearance of biological life forms, punctuated change, and stasis throughout the history of life (Meyer, Ross, Nelson & Chien, 2003; Meyer, 2004a; Meyer, 2004b; Luskin, 2005; Luskin, 2008);
  • Physics and Cosmology, where ID encourages scientists to investigate and discover more instances of fine-tuning of the laws of physics and properties of our universe that uniquely allow for the existence of advanced forms of life (Gonzalez & Richards, 2004; Brumfiel, 2006).
  • Your professor stated that the "fact can be any observation in biology that is substantiated by publication in a scientific journal," and in this regard I've listed many of the references cited for you below. In my opinion, ID explains quite a broad range of data and provides us with a powerful framework for predicting and understanding data from a variety of different fields. Thanks for your time and I hope this helps.

    Sincerely,

    Casey Luskin

    References Cited:

    Douglas D. Axe, "Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors," Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 301:585-595 (2000)

    Douglas D. Axe, "Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds," Journal of Molecular Biology, 1-21 (2004)

    Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Free Press, 1996)

    Michael J. Behe & David W. Snoke, "Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues," Protein Science, Vol 13:2651-2664 (2004)

    Geoff Brumfiel, "Outrageous Fortune," Nature, Vol. 439: 10-12 (Jan. 5, 2006)

    Bract, "Inventions, Algorithms, and Biological Design," in Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (Vol. 1.1, 2002)

    William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

    a. William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, "Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success" (In publication, 2009)

    b. William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, "The Search for a Search: Measuring the Information Cost of Higher Level Search" (In publication, 2009)

    William Dembski and Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Living Systems, (FTE, 2008) (see www.thedesignoflife.net)

    Wayt T. Gibbs, "The Unseen Genome: Gems among the Junk," Scientific American (November, 2003)

    Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, The Privileged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, (Regnery, 2004)

    Graham Lawton, "Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life," New Scientist (January 21, 2009)

    Hiroaki Kitano, "Systems Biology: A Brief Overview," Science, Vol. 295: 1662-1664 (March 1, 2002)

    Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, "Dynamic genomes, morphological stasis, and the origin of irreducible complexity," in Dynamical Genetics pp. 101-119 (Valerio Parisi, Valeria De Fonzo, and Filippo Aluffi-Pentini eds., 2004)

    Casey Luskin, "Human Origins and Intelligent Design," Progress in Complexity and Design, (Vol 4.1, November, 2005)

    Casey Luskin, "Intelligent Design Has Scientific Merit in Paleontology," part of the "Does Intelligent Design Have Merit?" debate at OpposingViews.com (September, 2008)

    Wojciech Makalowski, "Not Junk After All," Science, Vol. 300(5623) (May 23, 2003)

    Stephen C. Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson & Paul Chien, "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (John A. Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer eds., Michigan State University Press, 2003)

    a. Stephen C. Meyer, "The Cambrian Information Explosion," in Debating Design (edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski; Cambridge University Press 2004)

    b. Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004)

    Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer, "Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece (M.W. Collins & C.A. Brebbia eds., 2004)

    Paul Nelson and Jonathan Wells, "Homology in Biology," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, (Michigan State University Press, 2003)

    Richard v. Sternberg, "On the Roles of Repetitive DNA Elements in the Context of a Unified Genomic– Epigenetic System," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 981: 154–188 (2002)

    J.T. Trevors and D.L. Abel, "Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life," Cell Biology International, Vol. 28: 729-739 (2004)

    D. L. Abel & J. T. Trevors, "Self-organization vs. self-ordering events in life-origin models," Physics of Life Reviews, Vol. 3: 211–228 (2006)

    Øyvind Albert Voie, "Biological function and the genetic code are interdependent," Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Vol. 28:1000–1004 (2006)

    Jonathan Wells, "Using Intelligent Design Theory to Guide Scientific Research" Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (Vol. 3.1.2, November 2004)

    Jonathan Wells, "Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force?," Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum, Vol. 98:71-96 (2005)

    Posted by Casey Luskin on April 22, 2009 8:20 AM | Permalink

    Jerry Coyne Recycles: Why Darwinism Is False, Part I

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/jerry_coyne_recycles_why_darwi.html#more

    On Earth Day 2009, we are reminded of the ecological importance of recycling. As a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago, Jerry A. Coyne must be keen on recycling: He even recycles worn-out arguments for Darwinism.

    If "evolution" meant simply that existing species can undergo minor changes over time, or that many species alive today did not exist in the past, then evolution would undeniably be true. But "evolution" for Coyne means Darwinism — the theory that all living things are descendants of a common ancestor, modified by unguided natural processes such as DNA mutations and natural selection.

    Coyne discusses the fossil record, embryos, vestigial structures, the geographic distribution of species, artificial and natural selection, and the origin of species. In the process, (1) he ignores the Cambrian explosion — which Darwin considered a "serious" problem — and he rearranges the fossil record to fit Darwin's theory; (2) he defends Ernst Haeckel — who faked some drawings of vertebrate embryos to provide support for Darwinism — and he dredges up the doctrine that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny; (3) he claims that much human DNA is useless junk — despite abundant recent evidence that this is not true — and he relies on theological arguments that have no legitimate place in natural science; (4) he invokes "the well-known process called convergent evolution" to explain many cases of the geographic distribution of species — even though the "well-known process" is merely speculation — and he again falls back on theology to justify a supposedly scientific theory; and (5) he describes examples of natural and artificial selection — none of which show anything more than minor changes within existing species — and he misrepresents experimental evidence to make it sound as though the origin of species by natural selection has been directly observed.

    Why Evolution Is True reads like a recycled old biology textbook that shamelessly exaggerates the meager evidence for Darwinism, blatantly ignores the mounting evidence against it, and lamely falls back on theological arguments to make its case. Students with access to the evidence and freedom to think critically might nevertheless find Coyne's book useful — as an example of how not to do science.

    In the next few days I will post a series here at ENV detailing the problems with Coyne's book.

    Posted by Jonathan Wells on April 22, 2009 1:26 PM | Permalink

    Who Is James Le Fanu? Part IV: Taking Away the "Comfort Blanket" of Darwinism

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/who_is_james_le_fanu_part_iv_t.html#more

    We have a 2 year old, Saul, who is very attached to his comfort jacket. It's like a security blanket for him, blue and quilted and thoroughly stained. He doesn't wear it, since it is too small for him by now anyway. He holds it and sleeps with it, and if you try to take it away from him when he's in bed — say, to put it in the laundry — watch out. He will be extremely ticked off, crying, fussing.

    In an important new book, Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (Pantheon), British physician and historian James Le Fanu speculates that Darwinism works that way for many people. It's a "comfort blanket," explaining everything about living creatures in tidy materialist terms without having to appeal to mysterious, unknowable forces outside nature. Maybe that's why scientists and laymen alike get so very upset and even abusive when you try, however gently, to tug it out of their arms.

    Darwinism hasn't been aired out or laundered in about 150 years. It's a closed loop, effectively unquestionable, despite the fact that major chunks of biological evidence are against it. Le Fanu, about whom I've been writing this series, focuses on DNA and the human brain. Darwinism stands for the belief that everything can be explained in natural terms, but these two features of biology unyieldingly defy such comforting explanations.

    Consider the Hox "master" genes that determine the spatial configuration of the front and back ends of creatures as diverse as frogs, mice, and humans. The Swiss biologist Walter Gehring showed that "the same 'master' genes mastermind the three-dimensional structures of all living things….The same master genes that cause a fly to have the form of a fly cause a mouse to have the form of a mouse." Stephen Jay Gould admitted the "explicitly unexpected character" of this discovery.

    Unexpected is right. The physically encoded information needed to form that mouse, as opposed to that fly, isn't there. Instead, "It is as if the 'idea' of the fly (or any other organism) must somehow permeate the genome that gives rise to it."

    Biologist Rupert Sheldrake puts a little differently, hypothesizing "the existence of some 'field' by which an organism knows itself, and its parts, in their entirety." But neo-Darwinism's proposed mechanism of evolution can only, even in theory, affect a physical entity — the genome. How could it produce an "idea" or a "field"?

    Same goes for the brain. Again, physical explanations of how it gives rise to the mind consistently explode upon takeoff. The brain is no computer, where every operation can be traced to physically describable events: "Neither the findings of the PET scanner nor Professor [Eric] Kandel's scientific explanations can begin to account for the power of memory to retain…visual images over decades and retrieve them at will, any more than they can account for remembering the words of a familiar hymn or recalling a telephone number."

    That's just for starters. The brain-computer analogy utterly fails to clarify how "just a few thousand genes might instruct the arrangement of those billions of neurons with their 'hardwired' faculties of language and mathematics."

    And a good thing that is, too. Because if the mind really did reside entirely in the brain, if the mind were genuinely reducible to the brain, that would mean the end of free will -- a computer ultimately can do only what it's programmed to do (in this case, programmed by a mindless nature) — and that in turn would spell the end of moral responsibility.

    In fact, materialist scientists and other thinkers have often denied the reality of free will. Le Fanu quotes Britain's leading neuroscientist, Colin Blakemore: "We [may] feel ourselves to be in control of our actions, but that feeling is itself a product of our brain, whose machinery has been designed by means of natural selection."

    But cognitive science has demonstrated clearly that non-material things — thoughts — can change the brain itself. This is the scientifically confirmable reality behind cognitive therapy where altering the way you think about your own thoughts can remake brain circuitry in ways that anyone can see by a glance at "before" and "after" PET scans of brain activity.

    On this point, Le Fanu discusses the research of UCLA's Jeffrey Schwartz, another Darwin doubter: "Professor Schwartz and others [demonstrate] how 'beliefs and expectations' can 'modulate' the physical activity of the brain," thus "restor[ing] the notion of personal responsibility."

    Fascinatingly, Le Fanu describes an enigmatic dance between physical and non-physical forces that drive life's development, whether historically in the formation of species or individually in the growth and maturing of a single human being. It's clear however that while life has a physical basis, it's something beyond the merely physical that drives it all.

    Le Fanu is not being coy when he writes that this observation provides "no direct evidence for a Creator." But he finds "there is vastly greater evidence of 'design' — for those who would wish to interpret it as such — than for the supposition that the vast panoply of nature should be the incidental consequence of…numerous random genetic mutations."

    Why that matters, not just to science but to the way we live, Le Fanu takes up at the end of the book. More on that tomorrow.

    Posted by David Klinghoffer on April 23, 2009 8:00 AM | Permalink

    Coyne and the Meaning of Evolution: Why Darwinism Is False, Part II

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/coyne_and_the_meaning_of_evolu.html#more

    Read Part I here

    Jerry A. Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago. In 0670020532, he summarizes Darwinism—the modern theory of evolution—as follows: "Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species—perhaps a self-replicating molecule—that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection." 1

    Coyne further explains that evolution "simply means that a species undergoes genetic change over time. That is, over many generations a species can evolve into something quite different, and those differences are based on changes in the DNA, which originate as mutations. The species of animals and plants living today weren't around in the past, but are descended from those that lived earlier."2

    According to Coyne, however, "if evolution meant only gradual genetic change within a species, we'd have only one species today—a single highly evolved descendant of the first species. Yet we have many… How does this diversity arise from one ancestral form?" It arises because of "splitting, or, more accurately, speciation," which "simply means the evolution of different groups that can't interbreed."3

    If Darwinian theory were true, "we should be able to find some cases of speciation in the fossil record, with one line of descent dividing into two or more. And we should be able to find new species forming in the wild." Furthermore, "we should be able to find examples of species that link together major groups suspected to have common ancestry, like birds with reptiles and fish with amphibians." Finally, there are facts that "make sense only in light of the theory of evolution" but do not make sense in the light of creation or design. These include "patterns of species distribution on the earth's surface, peculiarities of how organisms develop from embryos, and the existence of vestigial features that are of no apparent use." Coyne concludes his introduction with the bold statement that "all the evidence—both old and new—leads ineluctably to the conclusion that evolution is true."4

    Of course, "evolution" is undeniably true if it means simply that existing species can change in minor ways over time, or that many species living today did not exist in the past. But Darwin's claim that all species are modified descendants of a common ancestor, and Coyne's claim that DNA mutations and natural selection have produced those modifications, are not so undeniably true. Coyne devotes the remainder of his book to providing evidence for them.

    Fossils

    Coyne turns first to the fossil record. "We should be able," he writes, "to find some evidence for evolutionary change in the fossil record. The deepest (and oldest) layers of rock would contain the fossils of more primitive species, and some fossils should become more complex as the layers of rock become younger, with organisms resembling present-day species found in the most recent layers. And we should be able to see some species changing over time, forming lineages showing 'descent with modification' (adaptation)." In particular, "later species should have traits that make them look like the descendants of earlier ones."5

    In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin acknowledged that the fossil record presented difficulties for his theory. "By the theory of natural selection," he wrote, "all living species have been connected with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see between the natural and domestic varieties of the same species at the present day." Thus in the past "the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great." But Darwin knew that the major animal groups—which modern biologists call "phyla"—appeared fully formed in what were at the time the earliest known fossil-bearing rocks, deposited during a geological period known as the Cambrian. He considered this a "serious" difficulty for his theory, since "if the theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed… and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures." And "to the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer." So "the case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained."6

    Darwin defended his theory by citing the imperfection of the geological record. In particular, he argued that Precambrian fossils had been destroyed by heat, pressure, and erosion. Some of Darwin's modern followers have likewise argued that Precambrian fossils existed but were later destroyed, or that Precambrian organisms were too small or too soft to have fossilized in the first place. Since 1859, however, paleontologists have discovered many Precambrian fossils, many of them microscopic or soft-bodied. As American paleobiologist William Schopf wrote in 1994, "The long-held notion that Precambrian organisms must have been too small or too delicate to have been preserved in geological materials… [is] now recognized as incorrect." If anything, the abrupt appearance of the major animal phyla about 540 million years ago—which modern biologists call "the Cambrian explosion" or "biology's Big Bang"—is better documented now than in Darwin's time. According to Berkeley paleontologist James Valentine and his colleagues, the "explosion is real, it is too big to be masked by flaws in the fossil record." Indeed, as more fossils are discovered it becomes clear that the Cambrian explosion was "even more abrupt and extensive than previously envisioned."7

    What does Coyne's book have to say about this?

    "Around 600 million years ago," Coyne writes, "a whole gamut of relatively simple but multicelled organisms arise, including worms, jellyfish, and sponges. These groups diversify over the next several million years, with terrestrial plants and tetrapods (four-legged animals, the earliest of which were lobe-finned fish) appearing about 400 million years ago."8

    In other words, Coyne's account of evolutionary history jumps from 600 to 400 million years ago without mentioning the 540 million year-old Cambrian explosion. In this respect, Coyne's book reads like a modern biology textbook that has been written to indoctrinate students in Darwinian evolution rather than provide them with the facts.

    More on Coyne tomorrow.

    Notes
    1 Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (New York: Viking, 2009), p. 3.
    2 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 3-4.
    3 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 5-6.
    4 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 18-19.
    5 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 17-18, 25.
    6 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Sixth Edition (London: John Murray, 1872), Chapter X, pp. 266, 285-288. Available online (2009) here.
    7 J. William Schopf, "The early evolution of life: solution to Darwin's dilemma," Trends in Ecology and Evolution 9 (1994): 375-377.
    James W. Valentine, Stanley M. Awramik, Philip W. Signor & M. Sadler, "The Biological Explosion at the Precambrian-Cambrian Boundary," Evolutionary Biology 25 (1991): 279-356.
    James W. Valentine & Douglas H. Erwin, "Interpreting Great Developmental Experiments: The Fossil Record," pp. 71-107 in Rudolf A. Raff & Elizabeth C. Raff, (editors), Development as an Evolutionary Process (New York: Alan R. Liss, 1987).
    Jeffrey S. Levinton, "The Big Bang of Animal Evolution," Scientific American 267 (November, 1992): 84-91.
    "The Scientific Controversy Over the Cambrian Explosion," Discovery Institute. Available online (2009) here.
    Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2002), Chapter 3. More information available online (2009) here.
    Stephen C. Meyer, "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," pp. 323-402 in John Angus Campbell & Stephen C. Meyer (editors), Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2003). More information available online (2009) here.
    8 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 28.

    Posted by Jonathan Wells on April 23, 2009 3:31 PM | Permalink

    Who Is James Le Fanu? Part V: Darwin's Three Monkeys

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/who_is_james_le_fanu_part_v_da.html#more

    Anyone who raises doubts about evolution in public discussions with non-scientists knows the automatic response you always get from the Three Monkeys crowd. Hands wrapped tightly over eyes, ears, and mouth, they chant: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil -- about Darwin!

    That's not exactly how it comes out. People will say things more like: But science has spoken! Scientists say! Science wins! Which sounds reasonable at first, until you reflect that it's a little like a Roman Catholic fending off some challenge to his faith by pointing out that 98 percent of Catholic priests agree with Catholic doctrine, and who knows more about Catholicism than Catholic priests? So it must be true. (Or substitute rabbis and Jewish doctrine, pastors and Protestant belief, etc.) As James Le Fanu smartly notes in his new book Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (Pantheon), there is a similar circularity to the "Scientists say!" case for Darwinian dogma:

    The commitment to Darwin's materialist explanation of the living world would, in time, become a qualification requirement for all who aspired to pursue a career in biology -- where to express doubt (at least publicly) was tantamount to confessing to being of unsound (or at least unscientific) mind.

    I've been writing this week in praise of Dr. Le Fanu's extremely lucid, readable, and unapologetic narration of Darwinism's increasingly obvious failure to account for the evidence of science, with an emphasis on recent advances in our knowledge about the brain and the genome. Then why is the meaning of these advances ignored, greeted with a great, booming silence?

    Scientists themselves, apart from being qualified for the priesthood on the condition of their voicing no doubts about Darwin, are caught in a conflict of interest. Their professional standing is predicated on explaining a purely physical reality:

    Scientists cannot acknowledge the possibility of there being a 'dual' nature of reality, with both a material and a non-material realm, for that would be to subvert their exclusive claims to understand how the world 'works.' Hence the silence. Scientists cannot 'see' the significance of the findings of the recent past because they cannot stand outside their materialist view and conceive of forms of understanding different from those in which they have been trained....

    The dual nature of reality has, in short, been censored, written out of the script as being of historical interest only, a relic of the superstitious ways of thinking of the distant past.

    So you find that the case against Darwin is made by a brave band of professional scientist dissenters, a vocal minority in the scholarly community, but more so by those outside the academic scientific cathedral. Like James Le Fanu, a physician and peer-reviewed writer of medical journal essays, but not the picture of a lab-coated scientist that the Three Monkeys insist on hearing from.

    The loss is all of ours. Le Fanu describes the cost of Darwinism: "We have lost that sense of living in an enchanted world" that was taken for granted 150 years ago. As Richard Dawkins himself puts it, in his world there is "no design, no purpose, no evil and no good -- nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." Or as Isaiah Berlin bizarrely remarked, "As for the meaning of life, I do not believe it has any -- and [that] is a source of great comfort."

    The situation is not irreversible, though: "It cannot be long before a proper appreciation of the true significance of the findings of the recent past begins to sow doubts in inquisitive minds." If as many people read Le Fanu's book as it deserves, the time of that hoped for outcome will have been advanced at least a little.

    Posted by David Klinghoffer on April 24, 2009 10:00 AM | Permalink

    Evolution education update: April 24, 2009

    In the latest from Texas, the ICR filed suit over the state's decision not to certify its graduate school.

    ICR SUES THECB

    The Institute for Creation Research Graduate School filed suit over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's decision to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer a master's degree in science education. The complaint, filed on April 16, 2009, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, named Raymund Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and its members as defendants, in both their official and individual capacities, accusing them of imposing "an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICRGS's academic freedom and religious liberties" (p. 63) and asking the court for declarative and injunctive relief.

    As NCSE's Glenn Branch explained in Reports of the NCSE, "When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, in June 2007, it expected to be able to continue offering a master's degree in science education from its graduate school. ... But the state's scientific and educational leaders voiced their opposition, and at its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer the degree." Subsequently, the ICR appealed the decision, while also taking its case to the court of public opinion with a series of press releases and advertisements in Texas newspapers.

    Although the ICR continues to pursue its appeal, the complaint explains that the ICR deemed it necessary to file the lawsuit now because "(a) waiting a couple months [sic] to do so would miss the Statute of Limitations deadline; and (b) SOAH [the State Office of Administrative Hearings] has insufficient jurisdiction to remedy or otherwise resolve all of the serious legal problems involved" (p. 14). (Unmentioned in the complaint is Texas's House Bill 2800, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on March 9, 2009, which would, if enacted, in effect exempt institutions such as the ICR's graduate school from Texas's regulations governing degree-granting institutions. The bill is still in the House Higher Education committee.)

    The sixty-seven-page complaint teems with various factual claims and legal arguments, leading a blogger for the Dallas Observer (April 20, 2009) to quip that it "reads kind of like stereo instructions." It also teems with unabashed creationist rhetoric, citing articles from the ICR's publication Acts & Facts along with case law, explaining that Paredes — born as he was in 1942 — was not a witness to the Big Bang, asserting that discussions about the origin of life and the formation of the earth "do not become 'empirical science' simply because those discussions emit from the oral cavities of 'scientists'" (p. 33), and insisting that the Big Bang "should not be confused with the 'great noise' mentioned in 2nd Peter 3:10" (p. 21).

    For documents from the case, visit:
    http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/institute-creation-research-graduate-school-v-paredes-et-al

    For Glenn Branch's report in RNCSE, visit:
    http://ncseweb.org/rncse/28/2/setback-icr-texas

    For the blog post at the Dallas Observer, visit:
    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/04/local_creationists_create_mamm.php

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

    Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- 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://ncseweb.org

    Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
    http://ncseweb.org/evc

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

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

    For further options, visit this group at:
    http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news


    Friday, April 24, 2009

    State education chair faces senate panel

    http://www.txcn.com/sharedcontent/dws/txcn/austin/stories/042209kvueeducation-bkm.ff952b8b.html

    10:29 AM CDT on Thursday, April 23, 2009

    By ELISE HU KVUE News

    Most Texans haven't heard of him, but Don McLeroy sits in a powerful post. As chair of the state board of education, he chooses textbooks and sets curriculum.

    But McLeroy is also shrouded in controversy. Critics say he's injected his religious ideology into education policy.

    McLeroy went before the senate nominations panel Wednesday to defend his job.

    "The only reason I got involved in education is because I see all children created in God's image," said McLeroy.

    McLeroy has defied the legislature, and educators, with his decisions. He has also earned national attention for leading the charge to question evolution in Texas classrooms.

    "We don't accept evolution," he said. "But the board's always been split on whether the Earth is old or young. So there's an old Earth view, and a young Earth view."

    As a result, lawmakers are considering a flurry of bills to strip the entire board of its power.

    End poor guidance of Texas education

    http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/04/24/0424senate_edit.html

    Texas Senate should put brakes on Don McLeroy's nomination as chairman of the State Board of Education.

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    It's time for Don McLeroy to step down as chairman of the State Board of Education. Since he won't go willingly (and Gov. Rick Perry apparently won't remove his appointee), it is up to the Texas Senate to remove him from the chair.

    Perry appointed McLeroy chairman in 2007 after the Legislature left town, so this year was the first opportunity for the Senate to exercise the body's power to ratify the appointment. McLeroy's tenure as chairman of the education board has been marked by controversies that have been a magnet for ridicule and rebuke from acclaimed scientists and researchers.

    That kind of embarrassment would be bad enough if it were limited to the 15 members elected to the board from districts across the state. But here's the thing: The board wields real power in devising policies and setting academic standards for Texas public schools. It oversees the $17.5 billion Permanent School Fund. And, unfortunately, it is that same board that selects textbooks that go to the state's 4.7 million schoolchildren.

    Though McLeroy, R-College Station, didn't start the culture wars that have polarized the board, he certainly amped up their volume — to the detriment of Texas students.

    At a time when education leaders are focused on raising science standards, McLeory led efforts to weaken the instruction of evolution. University of Texas biology professor David Hillis said the result of the board's actions will be felt in classrooms: "Texas students now have a weakened science curriculum, and the science reputation of the state has been seriously injured."

    With McLeroy at the helm, some board members have made international news by questioning the theory of evolution, arguing that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and writing that President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer who intends to establish martial law.

    The board needs a strong leader who will stop the bickering and shift the focus back to students' needs.

    Though the board is legally prohibited from editing textbooks, it continues to do so by bullying publishers whose books are rejected if they don't conform to political and social agendas of a seven-member voting bloc that includes McLeroy. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. Publishers are reluctant to develop whole new textbooks — an expensive endeavor — for smaller markets in other states. So those states tend to buy textbooks made for Texas off the shelf.

    It takes 21 votes in the Texas Senate to confirm a nominee. State Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, chairman of the Senate Nominations Committee, wisely indicated he would not permit McLeroy's name to advance to the floor for a vote if that threshold were not met.

    It's clear that the board's dysfunction under McLeroy has done real damage to Texas public education. It is time to put a stop to it.


    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    NPR Interview on Texas Evolution Decision Reveals Media Bias

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/npr_interview_on_texas_evoluti.html#more

    Last week I did an interview with an NPR reporter, Bob Garfield, for his NPR show "On the Media" about the recent Texas decision. I am used to hostile and skeptical questions from the media--and in fact I generally welcome good, hard discussions from reporters. But this reporter was particularly hostile and seemed to have an agenda to paint Darwin-skeptics like crazy religious fanatics. The final story lived up to its expectations.

    The Interview: A string of False Accusations and "How Dare You?" Type Questions

    The interview started with benign questions about the recent decision of the Texas State Board of Education to welcome scientific critique of evolution into the curriculum. This quickly descended into various "how dare you" type questions, about whether this was all a plot by the "Religious Right" to insert religion into public schools, and why I rejected all the fossil and cosmological evidence that shows the universe isn't 10,000 years old. "Huh?," I replied. I quickly informed Mr. Garfield that not only do we oppose advocating religion in science classrooms, but that I'm not a young earth creationist, and that the debate in Texas has never been about young earth creationism. The new Texas Science Standards only require scientific critical analysis of evolution, and in no way shape or form invited biblical creationism or religion into the classroom.

    Mr. Garfield was also reminded that many of the 13 members of the Texas State Board of Education who voted for the new science standards both professed to accept evolution and stridently opposed the teaching of creationism, and thus it would seem highly unlikely that the new Texas standards were a "Trojan horse" for teaching religion. Nonetheless, the final story favorably quoted members of the evolution lobby saying this is all a ruse for creationism.

    But during our interview, having lost his argument that the new Texas Science Standards were a conspiracy to bring religion into the curriculum, Garfield shifted our conversation to the science. Again, he asked various "How dare you?" type questions, making assertions like virtually "100%" of scientists accept evolution, or that evolution comprised the unchallengeable "consensus," or that there is no fossil evidence that challenges evolution. I reminded him that a critical mass of well-credentialed scientists in fact don't support neo-Darwinian evolution, and that a number of Ph.D. biologists testified in Texas about scientific weaknesses in evolution. He then accused me of cherry-picking data because, outside of the Texas hearings, he asserted that essentially the "universe" of scientists support evolution. Not true, I told him. I replied that while surely majority of scientists do support evolution, there are credible scientists who dissent from it--hundreds of Ph.D.s in fact--and that there are plenty of discussions of doubts about core claims of neo-Darwinism in the scientific literature. I also discussed some of the reasons for these doubts-ranging from the inability of empirical evidence of natural selection to be extrapolated to bolster the grand claims of neo-Darwinism to the lack of confirming fossil evidence.

    Mr. Garfield's reply to my discussion of the science was that we were getting outside of his field, and he cut all of my discussions of the scientific weaknesses in neo-Darwinism from the final story. There's no shame in him not knowing much about science, but it's troubling that despite his self-professed ignorance on the science, he acted like he knew for a fact that skeptics of Darwinian evolution had no scientific basis should be treated like crazy religious fanatics.

    As a last ditch attempt to discredit Darwin-doubters, Garfield compared teaching critique of evolution to teaching Holocaust denial. I replied that not only is there a world of difference between the two (hundreds of serious Ph.D. scientists doubt neo-Darwinism, and one cannot find such credibility supporting something as pernicious as Holocaust denial!), but I also told him that given that I (as well as many other Darwin-skeptics) am Jewish and had close friends impacted by the Holocaust, his comparison was not just fallacious, but out-of-line. I mentioned that even more scientists would come out of the closet to express their doubts about evolution were it not for the intolerance in the scientific community towards dissent from Darwinism. His reply was to twist my position into allegedly arguing that scientists don't really believe in evolution, they're just forced to pledge allegiance to it due to pressure. I replied that this was not at all what I was saying, because of course a great many scientists harbor purely bona fide scientific support for evolution. My point was that were it not for the climate of intolerance, we'd see far more doubters and skeptics breaking their silence. However, in the final story, Garfield apparently sliced and diced my response so that it sounded like I affirmed his assertion that any "consensus" over evolution is the result of intimidation, when that is not at all how I responded to his question and false characterization of my views.

    NPR Reporter Lets Ken Miller Play Spokesman For Discovery Institute

    Rather than letting me accurately state my own views, the final story interviewed Ken Miller and quoted HIM as the expert on Discovery Institute's positions. Wow. Most amusingly, Miller couldn't even get the name of our ID program correct, as he misstated the name of the Center for Science and Culture as the "committee on science and culture." Would-be spokesman Miller also apparently speaks for Discovery Institute's finances, as he called us a "very well-funded think tank," even though his own biology department's budget dwarfs our ID-budget.

    Garfield also allowed Miller to speak for Discovery Institute regarding its involvement in the Dover case, stating that "It's clear that their [Discovery Institute's] arguments and their publications and their ideas were very much behind what the school board wanted to do, and were part of the reason for the trial happening in the first place." Somehow Miller, in his new NPR-given role as spokesman for Discovery Institute, failed to mention that Discovery Institute opposed Dover's policy to mandate ID from the very beginning. In fact, I explained all of this to an "On the media" staffer who interviewed me, but none of my discussion of our actual involvement with Dover made it into the final story. Instead, Ken Miller was granted the privilege of speaking for Discovery Institute and Dover.

    NPR's Garfield Touts Chris Comer as a "Victim" But Neglects to Mention One Supremely Important Fact

    The final NPR story showed one additional evidence of gross media bias. Garfield closed by interviewing Chris Comer about the purported discrimination she faced at the hands of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Garfield stated that Comer "could be labeled a victim of the culture of intolerance, but not for being a creationist." Garfield then let Comer tell her story of alleged discrimination, claiming that the TEA was "firing me over evolution. ... it was as if I had committed murder," when in fact she wasn't even "fired"! There's nothing wrong with Garfield letting Comer tell her side of the story, even if it's not entirely accurate. But the offense came when Garfield somehow forgot to report one minor detail that listeners would probably want to know, namely the fact that a few days before his story aired, a federal judge threw Comer's discrimination lawsuit out of court on its merits.

    Mr. Garfield apparently didn't want to let a little fact like that get in the way of his touting Comer as a "victim of the culture of intolerance." (Garfield also neglected to mention Comer's history of insubordination and misconduct at the TEA.)

    Fin

    Throughout his interview with me, the mindset of Mr. Garfield was basically 'If you doubt Darwinian evolution, you're a crazy religious fanatic who is equivalent to a Holocaust denier.' Based on my experience in the interview, it was unsurprising when I heard the final story and saw how it sliced and diced my quotes to misrepresent my position, let Ken Miller speak for (and misrepresent) Discovery Institute, and forgot to mention that Garfield's centerpiece evidence of "intolerance" against evolutionists was just thrown out of court.

    I guess when you're trying to paint Darwin-skeptics as intolerant religious fanatics to the public, stereotypes and caricatures are far more important than the facts.

    Posted by Casey Luskin on April 10, 2009 9:48 AM | Permalink

    New York Times Book Review Fears Intelligent Design Everywhere

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/nyt_book_review_fears_intellig.html

    Anika Smith

    NYT Book Review editor Gregory Cowles has attacked William Steig's Yellow & Pink. It seems that not even children's books are safe from Darwinian scrutiny at The New York Times. Posted by Anika Smith at 3:38 PM | Permalink

    William Steig's Creationist Fable

    http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/william-steigs-creationist-fable/

    April 14, 2009, 3:07 pm
    By Gregory Cowles

    Now that my son is learning to read — happy day! — he has the same question for me that my older acquaintances often do: what books do I recommend? But being a book review editor, or a dad, doesn't make it any easier to match reader to title; and on our last family trip to the library, I fell back helplessly on the early-reader authors I knew from my own childhood. "William Steig!" I said, grabbing an unfamiliar picture book. "He wrote 'Shrek'! And 'The Amazing Bone'! And 'Sylvester and the Magic Pebble'! You'll love him!" (Against my better instincts, and the current recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I often use exclamation points when I talk to my children. Accents and funny voices too.)

    The book I had grabbed was called "Yellow & Pink." In it, a couple of carved wooden figures awaken in a field and start talking about how they came to exist. Someone must have made us, says Pink. Ridiculous, says Yellow: I think we're the result of a series of happy accidents that took place over millions of years.

    It is, in other words, a picture book about creationism and evolution. And the farther you read, the clearer it is that Steig is on the side of the creationists. As a proponent of evolution, Yellow comes off looking addled and self-important, his claims increasingly far-fetched. Pink even raises that old intelligent-design objection: how could our eyes be an accident, huh? To cap it, on the final page a woodcarver approaches the two, checks to make sure their paint is dry, then tucks them under his arm and walks off. Who's this guy? Pink asks. I have no idea, Yellow says.

    It's not the pro-religion stance that bothers me here so much as it is the anti-science one. Steig sets up evolution as a straw man, and gleefully knocks it down. Little surprise, then, that "Yellow & Pink" turns up on various intelligent-design reading lists. And little surprise that from now on we'll stick to "Shrek" in our household.

    Who Is James Le Fanu?

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/who_is_james_le_fanu_i.html#more

    Part I: Darwin Doubter Signals Paradigm Shift in Evolution Debate

    Though he's fairly prominent character, I admit James Le Fanu was not till recently on my radar screen or that of anyone else around here that I know of. A British medical doctor who publishes in peer-reviewed medical journals like the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and the British Medical Journal, a columnist for the London Telegraph, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for his book The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine (2001), Dr. Le Fanu turns out to be a flaming Darwin doubter, too. He comes out with a vengeance in his new book, Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves," which hammers scientific materialism to bits. It really is a book you shouldn't miss buying and reading.

    What's so notable? First of all, the man writes like an angel. Second, his book appears under the imprint of Pantheon, a very mainstream venue that I've never associated with conservative, religious, unconventional, or other dangerous types of authors. Third, while in his Acknowledgements, Le Fanu thanks a bunch of fellow writers who will be well known to readers of ENV — Michael Behe, Jeffrey Schwartz, Jonathan Wells, Phillip Johnson, and others — again, as far as I know his acquaintance with them was not personal but through reading their books and then thinking his own thoughts.

    Le Fanu doesn't mention intelligent design or Discovery Institute, which is just as well. It probably explains how he flew under not only our radar but that of Pantheon Books.

    Before getting to the content of his book in future posts in this series, a word about how paradigms shift. The appearance of this book is significant as a cultural event. Unknown to us, Dr. James Le Fanu has been assimilating the scientific critique of Darwinism and adding to it his own insights about the history of science. He now appears before us, fully formed in his views — kind of like the periodic sudden radiations of novel forms of life that have been going on, contrary to Darwinian expectations, for the past 500 million years or so. Of course there are multitudes of other Darwin doubters — including most Americans — but Le Fanu is a surprise doubter because of his previous credits and his professional associations, someone that, if we knew nothing else about him, you'd assume to be most likely another unthinking go-along Darwinist.

    If his thoughts and doubts were quietly bubbling all this time without our knowing it, there are surely many other such individuals from backgrounds like his own whose doubts about Darwin, similarly, will emerge in due time. When enough have done so, the whole framework in which people who like to think of themselves as smart and educated will massively shift, almost overnight.

    As Le Fanu himself writes, "It cannot be long before a proper appreciation of the true significance of the findings of the recent past begins to sow doubts in inquisitive minds."

    More on those recent findings in the next installment.

    Posted by David Klinghoffer on April 15, 2009 6:46 AM | Permalink


    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Evolution education update: April 17, 2009

    The potential consequences of the Texas state board of education's decision to adopt a set of flawed state science standards are in the news, as are disquieting poll results from Louisiana. And the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology described the new Texas standards as "a step backward."

    CONSEQUENCES OF THE FLAWED STANDARDS IN TEXAS?

    Since the March 2009 decision of the Texas state board of education to adopt a set of flawed state science standards, media coverage has increasingly emphasized the possible consequences. As NCSE previously reported, although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms -- such as "sufficiency or insufficiency" and "supportive and not supportive" -- and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe. The result, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, was "a triumph of ideology and politics over science."

    The board's antics seem to have caught the attention of legislators in Texas. There are now no fewer than six bills in the Texas legislature -- HB 710, HB 2261, HB 3382, SB 440, SB 513, and SB 2275 -- that would reduce the state board of education's power. As the Wall Street Journal (April 13, 2009) reported, "The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency, a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board's control of a vast pot of school funding." To be sure, it is not only with respect to evolution that the board's actions have been controversial, but the recent decision about the state science standards seems to have been the last straw.

    Gaining the most attention recently is SB 2275, which would transfer authority for curriculum standards and textbook adoption from the board to the Texas Commissioner of Education; the bill received a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on April 14, 2009. The Dallas Morning News (April 15, 2009) reports that one of its sponsors, Senator Kel Seliger (R-District 31), told the committee, "The debate [over the science standards] went on with almost no discussion of children," adding, "The fact is there is nothing that makes the board particularly qualified to choose curriculum materials and textbooks." The Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller was among the witnesses at the hearing testifying to "the state board's unfair processes, divisive ideological history and outright ineptitude." Texas Citizens for Science's president Steven Schafersman (writing on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog on April 14, 2009) and the Waco Tribune (in its April 17, 2009, editorial) have both expressed their support for the bill.

    Unless such a bill is enacted, it seems likely that the board will pressure textbook publishers to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks submitted for adoption, probably in 2011. As Lauri Lebo explained in a story on Religion Dispatches (April 14, 2009), "With almost $30 million set aside in the budget, Texas is second only to California in the bulk purchase of textbooks. But Texas, unlike California, approves and purchases books for all the state's school districts. Publishers often edit and revise textbooks in order meet the specific demands of the Texas board members." NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, coauthor (with Joe Levine) of several widely used textbooks published by Prentice-Hall, told the Wall Street Journal that "We will do whatever we think is appropriate to meet the spirit and the letter of Texas standards," but firmly added, "We will never put anything in our books that will compromise our scientific values."

    Lebo discussed the possibility of litigation over the board's decision: "Now the issue is whether there is enough prima facie evidence to challenge the Constitutionality of the wording now, or wait for the textbook review process in two years." It is not surprising that she thought of the possibility, since she wrote a book, The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008), about the Kitzmiller case, which she covered for a local newspaper, the York Daily Record. That newspaper's report (April 6, 2009) on the situation in Texas opened with a memorable quotation from one of the eleven plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, which established the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools: "Steve Stough was silent. He had just heard a passage from Texas' new public school science standards, and was processing. Then: 'Oh ----,' he said. 'That's intelligent design without using the nomenclature. It really, truly is.'"

    For the story in the Wall Street Journal, visit:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123958070369412153.html

    For the text of Texas's SB 2275, visit:
    http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=SB2275

    For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit:
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_15tex.ART.State.Edition1.4acfccf.html

    For TFN's report on Kathy Miller's testimony, visit:
    http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/reckoning-approaches-for-state-ed-board/

    For Steven Schafersman's blog for the Houston Chronicle, visit:
    http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html

    For the Waco Tribune's editorial, visit:
    http://www.wacotrib.com/opin/content/news/opinion/stories/2009/04/17/04172009waceditorial.html

    For Lauri Lebo's story at Religion Dispatches, visit:
    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/religiousright/1308/

    To buy Lebo's book at Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1595582088/nationalcenter02/

    For the story in the York Daily Record, visit:
    http://ydr.inyork.com/ci_12066278

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

    POLLING EVOLUTION IN LOUISIANA

    "Just in time for the bicentennial observance of Charles Darwin's birth, a new survey of Louisiana residents shows 40 percent of the respondents believe evolution is not well-supported by evidence or generally accepted within the scientific community," the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 14, 2009) reports. The Louisiana Survey, sponsored by the Manship School of Mass Communication's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State University, asked, "Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community, or that it is not well supported by evidence and many scientists have serious doubts about it?" Of the respondents, only 38.8% preferred the correct option, with 40.3% thinking that evolution is not well supported and 20.9% listed as saying they don't know. The survey also asked, "When teaching students about human origins, would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools?"; 57.5% of the respondents said that they favored teaching creationism, 31% said that they opposed teaching creationism, and 11.4% were listed as saying they don't know.

    The Advocate was editorially appalled, commenting, "The level of belief that evolution is not supported by scientific evidence is startling. Equally amazing is the percentage who believe evolution is not generally accepted within the scientific community," and adding, "Such indifference to basic principles of science doesn't position Louisiana very well to embrace the knowledge-based economy it needs to advance its future." (As Barbara Forrest recently observed in a post at the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog, the state is next-to-last in the nation with respect to student educational success and economic prospects.) In a jab at Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act into law in 2008, thus opening the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes in Louisiana, the Advocate also remarked, "How ironic that Jindal's wife, Supriya, has launched a private foundation to promote math and science education in Louisiana's classrooms. We encourage the governor to promote science education by working to keep religion out of science classes in public schools -- something he's been unwilling to do so far."

    For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:
    http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/42943697.html

    For the Louisiana Survey (PDF), visit:
    http://www.survey.lsu.edu/downloads/2009lasurveyreport_final.pdf

    For Barbara Forrest's post at the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog, visit:
    http://lasciencecoalition.org/2009/03/22/laissez-bon-temps-rouler/

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

    WHITE HOUSE SCIENCE ADVISOR DEPLORES TEXAS STANDARDS

    John Holdren, the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology, told the ScienceInsider blog (April 8, 2009) that the recent adoption in Texas of a flawed set of state science standards was "a step backward." Asked "do you think that the Texas state school board's recent decision to add a skeptical view of the study of evolution and the fossil record weaken the state's science standards and weaken national efforts to improve science education?" Holdren replied, "Well, I have not reviewed that decision carefully. But my impression from reading about it is that it was not a step forward but rather a step backward. Of course, all science needs to be skeptical. It's hard to be against skepticism. But when you get into the domain of promoting particular views about the basis for skepticism of evolution, and those views are not really valid, then I think we have a problem. I think we need to be giving our kids a modern education in biology, and the underpinning of modern biology is evolution. And countervailing views that are not really science, if they are taught at all, should be taught in some other part of the curriculum." He added, "I'm not aware of any leverage we have, at OSTP or within the federal government, over the science curriculum in Texas, other than exhortation. We can argue and we can beg and we can try to educate. But we have no authority to act."

    For the ScienceInsider blog post, visit:
    http://blogs.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2009/04/in-full-intervi.html

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

    Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://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://ncseweb.org

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

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

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


    Friday, April 17, 2009

    My Reply to Timothy Sandefur: The teaching of only the strengths of Darwinism in public schools is inherently the propagation of atheist belief.

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

    Timothy Sandefur, a Panda's Thumb contributor and an atheist, is a leader in the Darwinist crusade to censor balanced discussion of evolutionary theory in science classrooms. Mr Sandefur responded to my open letter to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, a Darwinist organization that lobbies for censorship of discussion of the weaknesses of evolution in public schools and has boycotted the citizens of Louisiana because they recently passed legislation protecting academic freedom in public schools.

    Mr. Sandefur begins his post with a sneer:

    With the possible exception of Casey Luskin, no Discovery Institute fellow seems more eager to embarrass himself in public than Michael Egnor…

    I always strive to be more embarrassing than Casey, but now it seems I'll have to try harder. Here goes.

    Mr. Sandefur asserts:

    The problem with creationism is precisely that creationists like Dr. Egnor want their religion to be taught in government classrooms.

    Mr. Sandefur misrepresents my views, which I have explained at length on this blog for several years and will now explain again.

    This is my viewpoint on evolution:

    I am a Christian and I believe that God created man and the universe. The Bible isn't a science textbook, although it does offer insight into truth about the natural world. Reason, one form of which is science, can lead us to important truths about nature. I believe that faith and reason cannot ultimately be in conflict, because God is the source of both.

    I believe that the earth is ~4.5 billion years old, and the universe is ~14 billion years old. Universal common ancestry is a reasonable inference from the evidence, and life evolved over several billion years. Some aspects of life arose by random variation and natural selection, and some aspects of life (e.g. the genetic code, molecular nanotechnology) show evidence for design by intelligent agency.

    I'm not a young earth creationist. I respect young earth creationists and I strongly support their right to participate fully in public discourse, but I do not share some of their scientific viewpoints.

    I believe that teaching public schoolchildren that the first two chapters of Genesis are literally true as science is unconstitutional, because it would constitute teaching a particular form of theistic religion on the public dime.

    I also believe that teaching public schoolchildren and students that...

    The diversity of life [all life] on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments...

    or

    By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life superfluous. … Darwin's theory of evolution, followed by Marx's materialistic (even if inadequate or wrong) theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, that provided a crucial plank to the platform of mechanism and materialism--in short, to much of science--that has since been the stage of most Western thought.

    or

    Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products.

    is unconstitutional, because it is teaching atheism on the public dime.

    I believe that teaching schoolchildren about intelligent design (which is not young earth creationism) is constitutional, because it is intrinsically part of the scientific debate about biological origins. It is part of the debate because intelligent design and Darwinism are affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: is there teleology in biology? The Darwinian assertion of unguided processes is meaningless unless lack of unguidedness — design — can be tested scientifically. If a scientific question can meaningfully be answered in the negative, then there must be the logical possibility of answering the question in the affirmative. If intelligent design isn't science, then Darwinism can't be tested empirically, and is merely dogma.

    I do not advocate teaching intelligent design in public schools, even though it is obviously constitutional to do so. The reason I don't is that most teachers don't presently understand ID well enough to teach it accurately to students, and mandating ID tends to politicize the debate. As a scientist, I want to see intelligent design be developed as a science, not as political tool, and thus, like Discovery Institute, I oppose forcing it into public school curricula. Hopefully this approach will cut down on the Expelled effect while allowing ID to progress as a science.

    I advocate teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory in public schools, and I believe that such an evolutionary curricula should be implemented by states and local school boards, using traditional legislative and administrative processes, without undue interference by federal judges and litigious atheists. I believe in the democratic process, and I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and academic freedom. I abhor censorship.

    My views accord with those of the Discovery Institute and the views of most intelligent design proponents. Mr. Sandefur may continue to misrepresent my views and the views of my colleagues, but he cannot do so honestly.

    Mr. Sandefur insists:

    [The Constitution] absolutely forbids the spending of taxpayer money for… the propagation of…religious viewpoints...

    The teaching of public schoolchildren that evolution — "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process" is a 'fact' and not a theory, is the propagation of a religious viewpoint.The teaching of only the strengths of evolutionary theory, and the censorship of discussion of the weaknesses, inherently employs censorship. Evolution can be taught in a constitutional manner — and a scientifically honest manner — only when its strengths and weaknesses are taught.

    Mr. Sandefur wishes to exempt his own religious belief — atheism — from constitutional scrutiny.

    More on Mr. Sandefur's illiberal views to follow.

    Posted by Michael Egnor on March 8, 2009 9:31 AM | Permalink

    Mr. Sandefur's Illiberal Views

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/mr_sandefeurs_illiberal_views.html

    Timothy Sandefur has been waiting anxiously for my reply to his most recent post. He and I disagree on this point: I believe that teaching the strengths and weakness of Darwin's theory in public schools is constitutional and is good science. He believes that teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory is unconstitutional, and that only the strengths of Darwinism may be taught to schoolchildren.

    In his most recent post, he begins with three points.

    First, Mr. Sandefur asserts:

    [Egnor] accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist

    That's an easy one to resolve. The term creationist in this debate refers to young earth creationism. I'm not a young earth creationist. Therefore when Mr. Sandefur calls me a "creationist," he's misrepresenting my views.

    Next:

    [Egnor] claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools

    Again, it is quite revealing that Mr. Sandefur is resorting to misrepresenting his opponent's views. No, I don't believe that it is constitutional for creationists (or anyone else) to advocate creationism in public schools. Likewise, I don't believe that it's constitutional for atheists (or anyone else) to advocate atheism in public school. I don't believe that it's constitutional for public schools to advocate religion.

    But what is "religion"?

    Religion can be defined in two ways. First, religion is a belief in a particular ultimate metaphysical reality. Mr. Sandefur's religion is that there is no God. My religion is that God exists, and that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other peoples' religions are that many Gods exist (polytheism), or all is God (monism, or pantheism), or that God is Yahweh, or that God is Allah, etc. (monotheism).

    The second definition of religion — the definition favored by sociologists of religion — is that religion is liturgy, a set of customs and practices of worship. Traditional religions certainly meet this definition, and atheism ironically comes close as well. Atheists in the French Revolution founded the Cult of Reason, and they seized several Parisian churches and dedicated them to the Cult. Atheism was (and is) the state religion of communist nations, in which worship of leaders and veneration of relics is a bastard liturgy. The modern atheist adulation of Darwin has religious overtones — P.Z. Myers desecrated Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion along with the Koran and the Eucharist. The act of desecration presupposes sacredness.

    Public school advocacy of religion in the first sense — religion as an opinion about ultimate metaphysical reality — is unconstitutional, because it represents the government 'establishment' of a particular metaphysical reality as true. Public schools can't constitutionally teach that God does exist, or that he doesn't exist. They obviously can (and should) teach students about the arguments advanced about these fundamentally important issues. No child should graduate public school without intimate familiarity with Aquinas' Five Ways, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Elohist and Jahwist contribution to the Torah, and the philosophy of Epicurus and Lucretius, the views of Nietzsche and Hume, among many others. The philosophical and theological illiteracy of public school graduates is a scandal. Although public schools cannot constitutionally advocate the truth of any one of these views, students should be aware of all of these perspectives — both theist and atheist.

    Yet instruction in metaphysics isn't limited to philosophy classes. Much of what children learn in science class about evolution has profound metaphysical implications. Again, in this case it's best to teach students about both scientific views for and against evolution, without indoctrinating them in only one view or the other. Mr. Sandefur seems to prefer that students be indoctrinated in only the evidence for evolution. But my argument is simply that it is perfectly constitutional to teach students about scientific critique of evolution as well. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in the case Edwards v. Aguillard, it is not impermissible to "require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught."

    Public school advocacy of religion in the second sense — religion is custom and liturgy — is unconstitutional, because it represents the government 'establishment' of a particular custom and liturgy. However, there is no religion that includes 'strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory' in its liturgy. And teaching students about both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution also establishes no particular metaphysical reality as true (religion in the "first" sense). Therefore there is no reason to conclude that teaching the strength and weakness of Darwin's theory is unconstitutional.

    Mr. Sandefur:

    third, [Egnor] claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids...or something.

    Perhaps Mr. Sandefur desires to indoctrinate children in atheism, perhaps he doesn't. This I know for sure: The method of science is to consider the strength and weakness of all scientific theories. Teaching only the strengths of a theory, and not the weaknesses, is indoctrination, not science.

    Yet Mr. Sandefur insists that public school children be taught only Darwinism's strengths. Thus, it's clear that Mr. Sandefur wants to indoctrinate students, one way or the other.

    He insists that teaching the weaknesses of Darwin's theory, along with the strengths, is unconstitutional. This is unfortunate: the First Amendment was designed to protect freedom of inquiry, but Mr. Sandefur wants to misuse the First Amendment's legitimate prohibition on religious establishment in order to ban scientific inquiry into the weaknesses of evolution.

    Remarkably, Mr. Sandefur's idiosyncratic interpretation of the Constitution — he believes that the Establishment Clause prohibits objective teaching of one particular scientific theory — coincides perfectly with his personal religious beliefs. Mr. Sandefur is an atheist. The atheist understanding of the creation of life — the atheist Creation Myth — is Darwin's theory of evolution. Mr.Sandefur proposes that school children be taught only the strengths of Darwin's theory, and not the weaknesses, and he supports the use of force via federal courts to establish as fact this core tenet of atheism in public schools.

    He might deny it, but it fits "conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids" pretty well.

    Posted by Michael Egnor on April 13, 2009 10:08 AM | Permalink

    Greg Sagan: Texas inches toward science class

    http://www.amarillo.com/stories/041409/opi_sagan1.shtml

    Opinion

    Greg Sagan

    Late last month, the Texas State Board of Education began a retreat from retreating from science.

    In a 13-2 vote the board altered language about teaching science curricula from "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories, a standard which had been in place for 20 years and which was deemed by the science community to be a code phrase for teaching creationism or intelligent design, to a more scientific stance. The final wording adopted by the board, as reported here, is "... in all fields of science, (students shall) analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations ... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

    At least we will have our students critiquing scientific explanations with scientific evidence rather than religious dogma.

    It is a sign of how inadequately we are educated in science and its principles that we accept such criticism as "it's only a theory." We seem to have embraced the idea that anyone's belief is equal to any science's theory, and that is a fatal mistake. While other cultures who do a better job of teaching the science of science teach their children how to think and apply data and rational argument to the phenomena of life, America seems to have shunted itself onto an intellectual siding where we argue on the basis of volume and repetition instead of ratiocination.

    I am reminded of a story I read some years ago about a young astronomy professor teaching a survey class in astronomy to non-astronomy majors. This professor was describing the way Earth moved around the sun in free space. An elderly woman disputed his explanation, so he asked her how she thought the earth moved. She replied that Earth was carried on the back of a large turtle. The professor then asked, "So what is the turtle standing on?" The woman replied, "Nice try, sonny, but it's turtles all the way down."

    As flawed as any scientific theory may be, and some theories are no longer contested, this story illustrates how much poorer an analytical tool a belief can be. While all theories do, in fact, involve some level of belief, it does not follow that all beliefs rise to the quality of even a bad scientific theory. Science has, over the centuries, developed incisive analytical tools for testing and rejecting theories, but in every case one must stand on stronger ground than just, "I believe it's this way." The woman in this example might have pointed to a trail of turtle droppings in the Earth's wake to support her contention, but she declined to even explain why such droppings might not be visible.

    Science and any form of philosophy, even religion, are not naturally antagonistic. In every scientific field, when someone approaches a penultimate explanation of the form, "God must have set it up that way," science declines to commit itself. It labels such explanations as "metaphysical." That is, they transcend physical observation, measurement and explanation. Is it possible that some physical manifestation is "God in action?" Sure. But it just isn't the job of science to make such determinations.

    But some of us seem to want to set them against each other, and I wonder why. No religion improves its position, its appeal or its authority by disclaiming what science explains. Quite the opposite, in my opinion. The Catholic Church suffered an enormous loss of prestige over its dogged rejection of Galileo's support of the theory that the Earth moved around the sun and not vice versa, and part of the problem was caused by the fact that the relative movements would look almost identical either way. We had to look beyond the movement of the sun and our own planet to finally figure out how it really worked. Did God suffer for the adjustment? Of course not. The only real casualty was mankind's bloated ego about his importance in the universe. God is actually more majestic for the inroads science has made about "how it all works," not less.

    In my opinion, private schools who want to teach creationism or intelligent design or mammoth turtles can do so if they like, and their graduates will have to take their chances in the world. But a state school is obligated to confine its teachings to those topics that can withstand the most penetrating logical arguments.

    A former colleague of mine summed it up nicely. He told me once that in this life, we can believe anything we want to. The only catch is that we must be completely accountable for the fact that we are the ones who believe it.

    Greg Sagan is an Amarillo business consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached via e-mail at letters@amarillo.com.

    Who was responsible for the pulled New Scientist story?

    http://www.examiner.com/x-4112-Skepticism-Examiner~y2009m4d13-Who-was-responsible-for-pulled-New-Scientist-story

    April 13, 3:46 PM

    Amanda Gefter

    We managed to create a bit of a stir when we pointed people to a pulled story by one of the magazine's editors, Amanda Gefter, on "How to Spot a Hidden Religious Agenda" in writings on ID and evolution. Demonstrating the Internet's hastiness in pouncing, many people suggested this was an effort to appease creationists. The NS website was update to explain it was the result of a legal complaint that had led to the story being pulled, UK libel laws being what they are.

    Then, the blogosphere demonstrated the same hastiness in completely dropping it as a non-story, convinced the story would return shortly. (A copy can still be found here.)

    Now, weeks later, the story is still "lost", and the editor has been effectively muzzled and can say nothing more than that lawyers are wrangling over it.

    So it appears New Scientist got unfairly maligned, and have done nothing but act responsibly in this matter (even their much ballyhooed cover on "Darwin was Wrong", I think, was overblown). But that doesn't change the fact that someone has caused them to pull an article that appears, on its face, to have nothing objectionable. They may not have acted to appease creationists, but it appears they have been silenced by creationists, which in my book, requires some bile to be spewed in the offender's direction.

    In our googling, we found that one of the two people mentioned by name in Gefter's piece, Denyse O'Leary, has denied it was them. "For the record, I was not the one who complained, although I am not in fact a creationist in any meaningful sense of the word." We were also told by someone in the know that the person suing is not a creationist.

    New Humanist does most of the legwork, here. According to them, there is no legal recourse unless you are named in the article. There are only two people mentioned by name: "Denyse O'Leary, a Canadian writer and blogger who defended Intelligent Design in her 2004 book By Design or Chance, and the other is James Le Fanu, a British GP and writer who, while he is not a creationist, has criticized the theory of evolution and scientific 'materialism.'"

    If O'Leary is to be believed, then that leaves Le Fanu. Add to that the fact that it was "not a creationist", that also seems to point to Le Fanu, who seems to have carved out the same niche in the ID fraud Lomborg has carved for himself in the global warming debate by conceding the Earth is warming due to human activite -- unlike all those quackpot deniers -- yet wants to delay action and shoot down any effort to do anything.

    The fashionable, more sophisticated way to sneak creationism into public education is to be more coy about the religious aspect -- precisely what ID was designed to do. Thus, it needs proponents like Le Fanu who claim not to be creationists while claiming Darwin must be wrong because it robs the living world of unknowable profundity." He's talking out of both sides of his mouth, and was called out for it by Gefter before. His usefulness in the ID movement is rooted in his ability to lend credence to the theory by denying any religious agenda, as ID has done by suggesting there must be an "intelligence" behind life that can't be explained by evolution, without calling that intelligence God. It might be aliens!

    New Scientist editor Roger Highfield has also called Le Fanu out in a review of his book. When Le Fanu says Darwin's theory appears on the brink of collapse, Highfield adds, "Only if you are a creationist who is out of touch with the literature." A fair point, considering that Le Fanu's attacks on the inability of Darwin to explain such things as altruisim reveals either a disengenuousness, or the fact that Le Fanu has written an entire book on evolution without reading any of the breakthroughs of the past few decades. Some of the most exciting research regarding human development deals directly with this subject.

    If it is Le Fanu siccing the lawyers on NS, why did he not sue here? Highfield does point out the nuance (or obfuscation) of Le Fanu's position:

    Le Fanu holds back from invoking a Creator but calls on scientists to "conceive of forms of understanding different from those in which they have been trained". But the point is that science is not prescriptive. You can use emergent, holistic, non-materialist approaches too, so long as they successfully drive the agenda of experiment and theory. A few have taken the doctor's spiritual medicine: the Nobel prizewinner Brian Josephson and Rupert Sheldrake, the biologist who gave us morphic resonance. Alas for Le Fanu, the cold, materialist, rational approach of science is truly wonderful because it works.

    It doesn't seem as though Gefter bothered to explain that Le Fanu's hidden religious agenda is, well hidden. Le Fanu, like ID, is not about pushing creationism, but about opening the door to bring it in. He does not bring in a creator, but a "life force" to explain what Darwin already has. His position is not religious, but to instill "a renewed interest in and sympathy for religion." He even calls upon the old, creationist stand-by of invoking the complexity of the eye to say evolution could not posibly explain such complexity. Then what can? Not God! But "Intelligence". A "Life Force". A "non-material" force. An intelligent, non-material, life force that creates life, but is not a creator.

    Le Fanu's religious agenda, like ID, is more covert, hidden, if you will. If only some enterprising reporter could provide us with a handy guide by which to spot such an agenda?

    So, Gefter's article appears to threaten Le Fanu's ability to play both sides and straddle the fence, and once you've lifted the veil on that particular hypocrisy, why would anyone talk to him? It's his whole schtick.

    Whoever it is who caused the story to be pulled, so far, has been too cowardly to come forward, and UK law appears to have provided an excellent opportunity to remove an article and keep it in legal limbo while pursuing baseless legal maneuvers. If it is him, he has won by losing (and may yet win), and gets to escape any of the fallout New Scientist, so far, has taken the brunt of.

    It may not be Le Fanu who took legal action. It could be a janitor who thinks Gefter stole her idea. In which case, Le Fanu still deserves to be called out for his two-faced approach to an intelligent-non-material-life-force that does not rob the world of its profundity through science, facts and data. A force that keeps the Universe unknowable and mysterious, one whose explanations are arrived at through other means -- just don't call it faith.

    Author: Dylan Otto Krider
    Dylan Otto Krider is a National Examiner.

    Polling evolution in Louisiana

    http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/04/polling-evolution-louisiana-004730

    April 14th, 2009

    "Just in time for the bicentennial observance of Charles Darwin's birth, a new survey of Louisiana residents shows 40 percent of the respondents believe evolution is not well-supported by evidence or generally accepted within the scientific community," the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 14, 2009) reports. The Louisiana Survey, sponsored by the Manship School of Mass Communication's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State University, asked (PDF), "Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community, or that it is not well supported by evidence and many scientists have serious doubts about it?" Of the respondents, only 38.8% preferred the correct option, with 40.3% thinking that evolution is not well supported and 20.9% listed as saying they don't know. The survey also asked, "When teaching students about human origins, would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools?"; 57.5% of the respondents said that they favored teaching creationism, 31% said that they opposed teaching creationism, and 11.4% were listed as saying they don't know.

    The Advocate was editorially appalled, commenting, "The level of belief that evolution is not supported by scientific evidence is startling. Equally amazing is the percentage who believe evolution is not generally accepted within the scientific community," and adding, "Such indifference to basic principles of science doesn't position Louisiana very well to embrace the knowledge-based economy it needs to advance its future." (As Barbara Forrest recently observed in a post at the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog, the state is next-to-last in the nation with respect to student educational success and economic prospects.) In a jab at Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act into law in 2008, thus opening the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes in Louisiana, the Advocate also remarked, "How ironic that Jindal's wife, Supriya, has launched a private foundation to promote math and science education in Louisiana's classrooms. We encourage the governor to promote science education by working to keep religion out of science classes in public schools — something he's been unwilling to do so far."

    Where Evolution Has Gaps, Creation Might Offer Answers—If We Will Listen

    http://norfolk.va.mycitytalk.us/article/News/Science/Where_Evolution_Has_Gaps_Creation_Might_Offer_AnswersIf_We_Will_Listen/22728

    Published 04/15/2009 - 5:19 a.m. EST

    Last year, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times conducted its own poll on teaching creationism in the public schools. Not surprisingly, nearly two thirds of registered voters were not convinced of evolution's merits.

    However, despite public opinion on the issue, creationism, in any form, is not allowed in our classrooms.

    Should it be? Americans seem to prefer it, or at a minimum favor a critical discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Even the National Science Teachers Association—hardly a right-wing fundamentalist group—insists that "teachers must be free to examine controversial issues openly in the classroom . . . to maintain a spirit of free inquiry, open-mindedness and impartiality in the classroom."

    So, what kind of science is being taught to our children today? A philosophy of science, actually, rooted in a worldview that deliberately disbelieves in anything supernatural. No God. No angels. No Intelligent Designer. Everything happened quite by accident.

    The idea of origins by accident (evolution), which Charles Darwin popularized 150 years ago, is now characterized as a bona fide scientific theory. Embarrassingly, this "theory" cannot be scientifically observed in action today, nor can it be forensically observed in nature's record of the past. But it is, nonetheless, believed. And so ardent are its followers that many scientists refuse to admit the weaknesses of this doctrine, let alone "allow a divine foot in the door," as Harvard's Richard Lewontin warns.

    In Texas, state school board officials are debating the language of science education standards for our public schools and whether teachers should even be allowed to discuss evolution's weaknesses. The idea of teaching creation science in the classroom isn't even under consideration.

    And yet, the opponents of creationism would have the public believe that Bible-believing teachers constitute some sort of threat to education.

    For instance, when scientists from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute arrived on the campus of Southern Methodist University in 2007 to present evidence for intelligent design, the SMU science faculty refused to sit down, even behind closed doors, and discuss, peer-to-peer, the scientific data. Perhaps they were afraid a "divine foot" would somehow gain a toehold in this bastion of Methodist education.

    Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins spends more time lecturing about God (and Dawkins's disbelief in him) than he does actually doing science. Dawkins's strange admission in the Expelled documentary that highly intelligent aliens may have seeded life on Earth only compounds the problem that evolutionists continue to have in demonstrating reasonable scientific data for their monkey-to-man theory.

    The question of whether creationism should be part of the educational experience in American schools can best be answered by the father of the modern creation science movement, the late Henry Morris.

    Morris detailed three basic forms of creationism: scientific creationism—the study of scientific evidence alone; biblical creationism—the study of the Bible alone; and scientific-biblical creationism—the study of both science and the Bible.

    Which should be taught in public schools? Quite clearly, Morris stated that "creationists should not advocate that biblical creationism be taught in public schools, both because of judicial restrictions against religion in such schools and also (more importantly) because teachers who do not believe the Bible should not be asked to teach the Bible."

    Teach science in the public schools, but don't conveniently leave out valid scientific evidence or theories that might contradict evolution. But are students genuinely allowed a "spirit of free inquiry" in the classroom? Like in higher education? Think again.

    Ben Stein's Expelled documentary revealed that highly qualified scientists in academia have become victims of viewpoint discrimination for openly acknowledging evidence for design that contradicts evolution.

    The more alarming problem that has arisen in this controversy, however, is the persecution of private schools that choose to teach any form of origins science other than evolution. One case in point is the University of California's refusal to nondiscriminatorily admit students from private Christian schools that included openly creationist viewpoints in their courses.

    Another case is our own Institute for Creation Research Graduate School, which has offered master's degrees in the sciences for 27 years. State officials refused to approve the move of the school's program to Texas because of its institutional viewpoint (see www.icr.org/academicfreedom). Ironically, this is the same Texas agency the Texas Supreme Court ruled against for unconstitutionally violating the First Amendment rights of three other private schools in 2007. Remember, these are private schools that merely wanted to teach curricula reflecting their institutional beliefs. Where's the ACLU when you need it?

    While state legislatures haggle over the words science, theory, and weaknesses, American schoolchildren continue to rank poorly in science education among the nations of the world. Pouring more money into the status quo of evolution-based science education isn't the answer. Teaching the truth is.

    Don't disregard adverse facts

    http://www.dailyevergreen.com/story/28531

    Bible would be more credible if evidence existed
    Nickolas Conrad

    The Daily Evergreen

    Published: 04/16/2009

    Stan Hudson is a wonderfully nice man who gave me an authentic Triceratops tooth he believes to be only about 4,700 years old. The consensus in science is that the tooth is about 60 million years old.

    Hudson is also the one who told me that. He knows the established estimates but believes they are wrong. In his mind, scientists have been misled because they have not been reading their Bibles correctly.

    Hudson is a minister and a Young Earth creationist who believes the earth is 6,000 years old. He believes a large conspiracy of scientists is stuck in an evolution paradigm, destroying religious belief and leading humankind astray.

    My thought on the matter is Hudson should immediately take a flight to China where there are not nearly enough Bibles for the scientists to consult as they do their scientific research – India too, for that matter. There is a whole continent in Asia that is in desperate need of Bibles so they can do proper science. From the viewpoint of Hudson, a large portion of the earth cannot do first-rate science because they have not found the right religion.

    Instead, the rest of the world is going to be fooled by the available physical evidence that evolution is true and the earth is 4.5 billion years old. To correct this terrible fallacy of following the evidence without regard to already assumed religious beliefs, Hudson has hosted an erudite and informative discussion during the last week on evolution and creation. He has named his lecture series, "In the Beginning." To his credit, Hudson reads and studies the current research available and presents both sides of the argument – kind of. His true interest lies in proving evolution false while not straying from the scientific debate. Thus he presents all the problems of evolution without providing all the evidence for it. In this sense, polite and child-rearing Christians can go about their day armed with all the criticisms of evolution without ever having to know its strengths.

    I like questioning all established fact, and I like debate, but Hudson is not having a debate. He is trying to force all the facts into his already assumed-to-be-true biblical story. In his own words, he says radiometric dating and the evidence found within the fossil layers are "a challenge" for creationism. In regards to the age of the earth, he said for creationists, "our problem is with millions." Hudson hopes to find his conception of truth will be vindicated through the evidence, and for that I honor him. That is a noble pursuit. Currently, the only way for Hudson to overturn evolution is to attack present scientific evidence. This gave me the impression that all young earth creationists are sitting on the edge of their seats biting their fingernails in anxiety, fearful of what misguided "fact" science will uncover next.

    Having heard the debates about intelligent design and now creationism, it is clearly evident that science has thrown Christians for a loop. They no longer know how to make sense of reality and the Bible hardly provides any help on the matter. Every Christian seems to have an opinion on it.

    Hudson's religion would be extremely convincing to me if the evidence we found in the material world actually reflected what we found in the Bible. I think we might all believe and most everyone would be convinced. It would tell me that God really wanted people to believe in him.

    Intelligent design brigade suffers another defeat

    http://tigerweekly.com/article/04-15-2009/10907

    By Sean Illing

    The Texas State Board of Education signed off last week on a new science curriculum for public schools which ensures that only the theory of evolution will be taught in biology class. This decision is important not just for Texas but for the country in general, as it is yet another defeat for the flat-worlders who insist on imposing ignorance on American schoolchildren.

    The controversial decision was reached after several weeks of heated debate in which both sides exhausted all resources and attracted national media attention. It was, however, a somewhat muddled verdict, with 7 of the 15 board members lobbying for what they called the "strengths and weaknesses" standard, according to which teachers are to encourage students to question the soundness of specific aspects of evolutionary theory - explaining the complexity that exists at the molecular level, for example.

    This approach is, of course, the latest gimmick of the intelligent design movement, which has shown itself adept at inventing new ways of peddling pseudoscientific drivel. The three-pronged strategy is by now familiar: 1) find the existing gaps in evolutionary theory; 2) grossly exaggerate them in order to throw doubt upon the whole enterprise; and 3) insert into said gaps the latest permutation of the creationist argument.

    Oddly enough, it is only concerning questions of the origins of life that conservative politicians fancy themselves as freelance scientists. They do not, for instance, argue that alchemy is superior to chemistry or that astrology offers a better explanation of the movements of celestial bodies than astronomy. The reason for this is clear: advocates of intelligent design and creationism are simply religious enthusiasts masquerading as disinterested scientists.

    Already one Texas Republican, Rep. Wayne Christian, is introducing a bill to overrule the decision. In an unintentionally amusing statement, the state representative said that "we should discuss all theories and have it open with no threat to teachers or threat to students."

    Well then, Mr. Christian, perhaps we should, in the interest of fairness, give equal time to teaching the stork theory of reproduction or, better yet, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, both of which offer potential explanations as to the origins of life and the cosmos.

    As yet, evolution through natural selection is the best account we have of the diversity of life on earth; in fact, the entire science of biology is organized around this theory. The notion that Adam and Eve are our only precursors in the natural world is perfectly inconsistent with a mountain of evidence accumulated over the last century or so of scientific inquiry.

    Among developed nations, it is only in America that such widespread ignorance still flourishes; this is a national embarrassment, and it goes a long way in explaining why the United States ranks 29th among industrial nations in science literacy, lagging behind such bastions of freethinking as Croatia and Liechtenstein - no offense to any potential Croatian or Liechtensteinian readers. Unless this trend is reversed, America's tenure as the world's leader in science and technology will be short-lived.

    Originally Published: Issue 761 - April 15, 2009

    Michael Tortorich: It's time to evolve

    http://www.wickedlocal.com/medfield/news/lifestyle/columnists/x718257860/Michael-Tortorich-Its-time-to-evolve

    By Michael Tortorich
    Thu Apr 16, 2009, 09:09 PM EDT

    The science community is up in arms, and rightfully so, over the abounding ignorance of many in Louisiana when it comes to evolution.

    Just in time for the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, a new survey of Louisiana residents shows 40.3 percent of respondents believe evolution is not well-supported by evidence or generally accepted within the scientific community.

    As everyone should have learned in grade school, the theory of evolution is well-supported by evidence and well-supported by the scientific community. To deny evolution in the face of overwhelming evidence found in the fossil record as well as in life today is as absurd as denying that gravity holds us all to the face of the planet.

    The survey, conducted by the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University (of which I am a graduate, in the interest of full disclosure), found that 38.8 percent of respondents said evolution is well-supported, while 20.9 percent said they did not know or are unsure.

    A majority of respondents, 57.5 percent, favor teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools in Louisiana. Exactly 31 percent oppose teaching creationism, and 11.4 percent said they did not know or were unsure.

    These statistics show a clear difference from the rest of the nation. A 2007 national survey using the same question found that 48 percent of respondents said that evolution was well-supported by evidence, while 39 percent said evolution was not well supported.

    Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 733 last June, which drew worldwide attention.

    Supporters say the bill opens up academic freedom, but critics call it a thinly-veiled attempt to dredge up old battles on biblical creationism. The New York Times published an editorial calling it "Trojan horse legislation," recalling a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Louisiana law that required biblical creationism and evolution be given equal class time.

    A national scientific society, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, has decided to boycott Louisiana in the wake of the law. The society held its national meetings in New Orleans in 1976, 1987 and 2004. They've now crossed the Big Easy off their list of destinations. Oh well, there goes more money for the state and its most-storied city.

    As Barbara Forrest of the Louisiana Coalition for Science pointed out in a recent blog post, the state ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to children's educational success and economic prospects.

    Jindal graduated with honors in biology at Brown University. Shouldn't he know better?

    "I want my kids exposed to the very best science. I don't want any facts or theories withheld from them because of political correctness," Jindal said in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation.

    But creationism, or intelligent design, or whatever name is attached to the same religious-based explanation for the origins of life, is not science. There is a proper time and place for religion.

    In the legal case Kitzmiller v. Dover, tried in Federal District Court in Pennsylvania in 2005, intelligent design was found to be a form of creationism and therefore unconstitutional to teach in public schools.

    Americans are free to practice any religion they choose. They may choose to be atheist or agnostic. That's what makes this country great. We're free to think for ourselves. Let's let our students do the same.

    Let's keep science in science classes and religion in religion classes.

    Weekly Citizen (Gonzales, La.)


    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Compromise changes Texas teaching of evolution

    http://lubbockonline.com/stories/041109/loc_428039905.shtml

    By Joe Gulick | AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
    Saturday, April 11, 2009
    Story last updated at 4/11/2009 - 1:52 am

    A compromise change written into the state's high school science guidelines may be the last shot in the battle over teaching evolution.

    The compromise, authored by State Board of Education member Bob Craig of Lubbock, replaces a requirement that students "analyze the strengths and weaknesses" of different scientific theories with a requirement that students examine "all sides of arguments."

    The new language cleared the state board last month on a 13-2 vote, Craig said.

    The phrase "including examining all sides of arguments" was added to the way students are expected to examine scientific theories and hypotheses in the version of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) guidelines about scientific processes.

    Houston attorney Kelly Coghlan, who opposed removing the words "strengths and weaknesses," characterized the change as the evolution lobby winning the battle but losing the war.

    "Although the phrase 'strengths and weaknesses' was indeed removed and therefore a win for the militant evolution lobby, the phrase was replaced with an even broader standard requiring teaching all sides of scientific processes - which implicitly includes teaching weaknesses," said Coghlan, a Christian lawyer who wrote the Schoolchildren's Religious Liberties Act.

    All 10 Republicans and three of the five Democrats on the state board agreed on the final version.

    Coghlan said the state was put through an ordeal after Craig and seven other members of the board voted in a preliminary 8-7 vote in January to remove the words "strengths and weaknesses."

    Craig said he cast his vote because he respected the revisions that were determined by a work group - made up mostly of teachers - that had been appointed by the state board to review the current guidelines.

    The "strengths and weaknesses" standard had never been legally challenged in the 20 years it has been part of the science TEKS, Coghlan said. The new standard is basically the same, but the new language could be challenged, he said.

    Coghlan had expressed fears before the final vote that Texas teachers who taught weaknesses of scientific theories, including the theory of evolution, could be sued if the language was changed.

    Craig, who also is an attorney, disagreed that such teachers and their schools could be open to lawsuits, and said Texas Education Agency general counsel David Anderson also doesn't believe it.

    Coghlan was particularly annoyed with Craig and the two other Republicans who voted with the board's Democrats in the 8-7 vote in January. He said the Republicans had run for the board on a platform that supported the language about strengths and weaknesses.

    That was not correct about the platform, Craig said. "I just don't agree with Kelly," he said.