NTS LogoSkeptical News for 23 July 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Steven C. Meyer and the modern day "monkey trial"

http://www.examiner.com/x-13390-Austin-Independent-Examiner~y2009m7d21-Anniversary-of-the-Scopes-Monkey-Trial

July 21, 4:02 PM

This month marks the anniversary of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" which took place in Tennessee in 1925. John T. Scopes was charged with violating the Butler Act which made it "unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." The guilty verdict of the Dayton court was overturned a year after the trial by the Tennessee Supreme Court which, according to University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Douglas Linder, commented, "Nothing is to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case."

The Scopes Monkey Trial accomplished little more than to bring the debate over Evolution and what was then called "Creation Science" into the public consciousness, a debate that is no closer to being reconciled eighty-four years later.

Stephen C. Meyer, Vice President of the Discovery Institute, recently took another swing at Darwin's theory in the philosophical battle between Evolution and Intelligent design with the publication of his new book Signature in the Cell. For those who don't know, Meyer served on the advisory panel when the Texas State Board of Education reviewed the issue of Intelligent Design in high school biology textbooks at the end of last year. On July 15, he published an editorial on the Boston Globe online in which he argues for Intelligent Design from both constitutional and scientific viewpoints.

Meyer's constitutional argument:

Meyer quotes Thomas Jefferson from a letter written to John Adams in 1823. Jefferson says, "when we take a view of the Universe . . . it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design," which may be true for many people. But, perception and feeling are far different from empirical evidence. I believe Jefferson was probably very religious, but it's too bad for proponents of Intelligent Design that Jefferson didn't write his perceptions and feelings (as he expressed them to John Adams) into the constitution.

Jefferson had a relatively private religious life but, despite some debate over his outlook on Christianity, let's assume that he was a devout Christian. Why did he insist on separation being written into the constitution? In a letter to John Adams in 1820, he said "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise. . ." Thomas Jefferson may or may not have been religious, but he respected the absolute nature of empirical evidence over philosophy.

Meyer's scientific argument:

Meyer's new argument for Intelligent Design is based on the information coded in DNA. In his Boston Globe article, he writes "Information – whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal - always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of digital code in DNA provides a strong scientific reason for concluding that the information in DNA also had an intelligent source."

Is this a testable hypothesis? To say that the information in DNA is a scientific reason for his conclusion is misleading. He uses the term "scientific reason", because it cannot be called a "scientific theory". A scientific theory is a hypothesis that has been tested numerous times and has not been disproven. His is an intuitive inference, but it lacks the same thing that other arguments for Intelligent Design lack—proof.

Science versus spirituality:

The debate over Evolution and Intelligent Design is about philosophical views, not scientific ones. At the core, it is about religion and constitutionalism, not scientific theories. It is possible, in my opinion, that Evolution and Intelligent Design are not mutually exclusive. But until there is some sort of empirical evidence to support it, Intelligent Design remains a hypothesis, and until that hypothesis has been tested, reviewed and has held up against the scrutiny of the scientific community through the scientific process, it has no place in a science curriculum.

Author: Sean P. Harris

Sean P. Harris is an Examiner from Austin. You can see Sean P.'s articles on Sean P.'s Home Page.

More Discovery Institute bulldung on the way to my door

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/more_discovery_institute_bulld.php

Posted on: July 23, 2009 8:32 AM, by PZ Myers

Supposedly, the Next Big Thing in the Intelligent Design creationism movement is Stephen Meyer's new book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Meyer is wandering about the country, peddling absurd op-eds and flogging his book in bad talks. Here's a good summary of one of his presentations in Seattle:

To sum up, Meyer's argument is as follows:

(1) According to Bill Gates, DNA is like a computer program.
(2) Because I am unfamiliar with the field known as genetic programming, every computer program I've ever heard of has had a developer.
(3) Charles Darwin once used the principle of Inference To The Best Explanation.
(4) Even though Darwin was a wicked, wicked man, I'm going to use that same principle to refute him. It will be, you know, irony.
(5) I say that intelligent design is the best explanation for the computer-program-like-ness of DNA.
(6) Therefore, by Darwin's own reasoning, intelligent design must be true.
(7) Please buy my book.

I've read excerpts of this book. I've seen reviews and summaries of its argument. I've seen the freaking title. I know what is in this book — "ooooh, it's so complex, it must have been…DESIGNED!!11!" — and I know that Stephen Meyer lies and makes up pseudoscientific babble, so I have very poor expectations of this book: I anticipate bad biology and even worse information theory, and a mangled pretense of science by a contemptible poseur. I do have a review copy on the way, though, and I will read it from beginning to end, taking notes and snorting in derisive laughter all the way, and I will take David Klinghoffer's ridiculous challenge to make a serious response. I won't win, though: my review will be too long for him, and unless there's some magic ju-ju that will completely reverse my opinion of ID creationism hidden in the text (which, strangely, none of the favorable reviews have bothered to highlight), it will most likely not be the kind of positive cheerleading for creationism that Klinghoffer favors.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Greatest Trick Intelligent Design Ever Pulled

http://www.campusprogress.org/fieldreport/4263/the-greatest-trick-intelligent-design-ever-pulled

One of the architects behind the unscientific intelligent design movement is finding success in referencing its greatest enemy: Charles Darwin.

By Matt Zeitlin
July 6, 2009

Lehigh University biochemistry professor Michael Behe is scheduled to testify in a landmark trial in Harrisburg that will determine whether a school district can insert a reference to intelligent design in its biology curriculum. (AP Photo/Rick Smith)

Last month, while speaking at McLean Bible Church, a megachurch in McLean, Virginia, intelligent design superstar Dr. Stephen Meyer rolled out a magnetic white board adorned with block letters spelling out "DC ROCKS." John Donahue, the head of McLean's apologetics ministry and a domineering man whose closely trimmed beard makes him look more like Chuck Norris than Jeremiah, introduced Meyer. A self-described "celebrity-geek," Donahue first warning the attendees that "our faith has come under attack" and that "no doctrine or ideology has had a more negative effect that the 'so-called' theory of evolution." Evolution, Donahue continued with the passion of a true believer, was supported by "fraudulent research, cherry-picked data, fabricated drawings, and scientific fraud." Meyer, Donahue insisted, was "one of the finest scientific authors of our time," and was there to show how the "scientists" got it all wrong.

Meyer's "DC ROCKS" demonstration served to show what all those evolutionary scientists were missing. The fact that the letters stuck down the board was the result of the laws of magnetism, Meyer said, but the letters arrangement, in a way that bore meaningful information, was the product of intelligence.

This is the core argument that Meyer makes in his new book about an old debate. The book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, is perhaps the longest, most detailed, and most "scientific" of any works produced by the Intelligent Design movement. And it's not surprising that Meyer is the author of this doorstop work. He co-founded the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) at the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank that has been at the center of the ID debate for more than a decade. Despite Meyer's self-presentation as someone who derives his belief in an intelligent designer purely from observable scientific evidence, Meyer's connections to the religious community show he can't abide the theory of evolution because of its purported ideological consequences.

If there were ever anyone that could put a respectable face on the Intelligent Design movement, it's Meyer. He began his scientific carrer as a geophysicist, and he went on to Cambridge where he received a doctorate in the History and Philosophy of Science in 1991. Meyer wrote his dissertation on the different explanations of the origin of life. And while his background in the methodology and history of biology gives a certain heft to his arguments, it's also important to note that he isn't a biologist. His defense of intelligent design and his attack on Darwinian evolution is not entirely scientific, no matter what Meyer might purport.

The origins of the ID movement can be found in the so-called Wedge Document, a founding manifesto and fundraising document for the CSC, which lays out a broadly ideological agenda. It sets out a multi-decade plan for "the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" and for the acceptance of "the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God." Although the Wedge Document inveighs against secularism and materialism, Meyer still presents himself as a scientist who is just following the evidence.

Since Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 court case in which Judge John Jones ruled that the city of Dover, Pennsylvania could not teach intelligent design in their classrooms because "the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult, or child," the question seemed to be put to rest. But Meyer—despite authoring a "Note to Teachers" in the discredited textbook—has kept on promoting the theory that evolution and natural selection are not sufficient explanations for the appearance of life on earth and, moreover, insisting that his work is purely scientific.

Meyer's presentations come equipped with props for his demonstrations: a set of large plastic blocks, made "for students ages 2-4" that snap together to represent chains of amino acids that form proteins in DNA. Meyer exhaustively calculates how the 20 amino acids that form proteins and ten sites where the proteins can be linked combine into 10 trillion possible combinations. He confidently concludes that "no scientist believes blind chance can do this."

After casting sufficient doubt into an audience over the question with his tricks of whether life could have come about without input from some greater intelligence, Meyer pulls his best rhetorical trick—he references Darwin. You see, Darwin, like Meyer, wasn't around to witness evolution, he said, so he instead had to depend on "inference to the best explanation," which is just a fancy way of saying that you look at a bunch of possible explanations for some phenomena and then pick the best one. Meyer cites the Victorian geologist Charles Lyell, to demonstrate that computer programmers producing code and we haven't observed a similar natural process, then DNA could only be the product of a designer.

Meyer, while speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation recently in Washington, D.C. said, almost as an aside, that the "denial of design is the foundation of this worldview in the west of physical materialism." The only mention of God while at Heritage was in reference to the so-called New Atheists.

When I asked him to speculate on the nature of this designer, Meyer hedged and carefully said that his argument left open two possible agents for creation of life on earth, "aliens of God." He just so happened to favor the God hypothesis. Sidestepping the tricky question of the origin of this great intelligence, Meyer assured me that God could very well be prior to the universe because of the apparent "fine tuning of the universe." Meyer also argued that the big bang theory means there was a non-material cause; God had to be there.

But when asked at the McLean church if young earth creationists—i.e., those that follow a literal biblical timeline stretching back roughly 10,000—had "fueled New Atheism by giving it something to caricature," Meyer said the Discovery Institute takes a "neutral position on this" and that the prevalence of young-earth creationist views didn't matter because "we would have been treated exactly the same way."

It's no surprise that Meyer remained open, or at least didn't condemn, such an anti-scientific belief. Creationists are the ID movement's base. A 2006 Gallup poll showed that 46 percent of Americans believed that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so"—a position that is totally out of line with basic scientific knowledge of geology and archaeology. The Discovery Institute specifically targets these very people. Part of the long-term plan in the Wedge Document is to "build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Christians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars." McLean Bible Church, for example, hosted an apologetics event a month before Meyer's to discuss how Noah's Ark actually could have held all those animals. So it made sense that Meyer avoided offending his "natural constituency."

Meyer more or less goes along with literal interpretations of Biblical texts; such an attitude is indicative of bait-and-switch behind ID. On one hand, ID-ers rise money and outline their goals by framing their research in terms befitting an ideological crusade. But Meyer maintains that his belief in God is based on scientific evidence of "fine-tuning" in the universe. But Meyer says that basic scientific tenants of "phyla, class, [and] order can not be explained" by evolution and natural selection. Meyer, in online debates, will go on to say that he thinks the Cambrian explosion or mammalian radiation "exceed evolutionary explanation."

Meyer, despite his thin scientific coating, is trafficking the half-baked, over-motivated arguments that have always been peddled by creationists for as long since Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Meyer's focus on the mystery of DNA is just a distraction. Stephen Meyer is not a scientist. He is an ideologue in the truest sense, someone who is willing to abide any distortion or untruth in order to maintain support for his crusade. His book may be new, his evident fascination with the inner workings of DNA maybe be appealing, but is just another in a long line of clever people who can't stand the science of Darwin.

Matt Zeitlin is an editorial intern at Campus Progress and a sophomore at Northwestern University.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Intelligent design is creationism

http://www.examiner.com/x-16844-Phoenix-Evolution-Examiner~y2009m7d12-Intelligent-design-is-creationism

July 12, 11:58 AM

It should be clear by now that intelligent design is, in fact, religious in nature. This can be seen throughout the writings of some in the movement. In my article Intelligent design: giving science a wedgie I demonstrated how Phillip E. Johnson used religious language in one of his books; he used the word "Creator"; in the Wedge document the Discovery Institute made references to God, and in the first sentence it says very clearly,

"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built."

The pseudo-science textbook Of Pandas and People has been proven to originally be a creationism textbook. The co author, Percival Davis, who as I mentioned in my article What is creationism and intelligent design?, admitted the religious nature of intelligent design is more proof of the religious nature of I.D.. This is proof of the I.D. movement's goal to get religion in schools in order to fight the tide of "materialism" and "godlessness" that's supposedly being forced on all our children. However, this isn't just about religion but some of the founding principals of our government, namely the separation of church and state, since there are many Christians who could rightfully be called historical revisionists. They rewrite history claiming that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian Nation" so they can more easily get religion in schools. Their thinking is to convince people that it was never the intention of the Founding Fathers to have a separation of church and state so it's perfectly OK to have religion in our schools. [1]

The fact that intelligent design is creationism (and hence religion) was brutally exposed during research for the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial when original drafts of Of Pandas and People were subpoenaed and The National Center for Science Education found the "missing link" proving that intelligent design was creationism. Here is a short video about the find:

That video amply demonstrates the deceit of those in this movement, and as I'm fond of saying, how can people trust these individuals when they've been exposed for the hucksters they are?

Now that the term for their religious beliefs, intelligent design, has once again been exposed, it's been noted by some experts on I.D. that the movement has begun to back away from using the term intelligent design, and instead use terms like "academic freedom" or "critical analysis of evolution" when writing policy proposals for science standards in various schools across the country. [2] Some might be familiar with the term "academic freedom" if you've watched the poorly made 2008 documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed [3] about intelligent design (though they don't say this explicitly), the main theme being that teachers' "academic freedoms" are being threatened when they are disciplined and disallowed to teach "evidence against" evolution, which is actually I.D. trying to pass under the radar.

Due to the evolving nature of the intelligent design movement we must be more diligent than ever because I fear these ideologically driven individuals will not stop and all of us who stand for science and the founding principals of this country must come together to continue to expose and discredit this deceptive and unethical movement.

1. arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2009/04/more-lies-from-christian-revisionists.html

2. Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse - Video with Barbara Forrest, presented Saturday June 16th 2007 at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst N.Y.; accessed 7-12-09

3. http://www.expelledthemovie.com/video.php; accessed 7-12-09

Author: Ken Hoover
Ken Hoover is an Examiner from Phoenix. You can see Ken's articles on Ken's Home Page.

Zogby Poll: Most Americans Want Strengths and Weaknesses of Darwinism Taught In Schools

http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=50607

Monday, July 13, 2009
By Christopher Neefus

A Zogby poll commissioned by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute says more than three-quarters of Americans would like teachers to have the freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution, with an even higher number reported among Democrats.

According to the report, which was commissioned by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, respondents were given the two following statements:

Statement A: "Biology teachers should teach only Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it."

Statement B: "Biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it."

Of those surveyed, 78 percent said Statement B came closest to their own point of view on the issue, representing a 9 percent increase over 2006, the last time the question was asked.

More striking, though, was the finding that 82 percent of Democrats also chose statement B, versus 73 percent of Republicans.

Self-identified liberals showed stronger support than self-identified conservatives, 86 percent to 72 percent. Those who did not identify with any Christian or Jewish denominations supported teaching evidence against Darwinian evolution at a level of 82 percent.

When young adults age 18-24 were posed with the same choice, the poll said no respondents -- 0 percent -- thought only Darwinism and its supporting evidence should be taught.

Another question, asked in the same poll but released separately, showed a corresponding skepticism of pure natural selection as the basis of human evolution.

Respondents were asked whether they believed "the development of life came about through an unguided process of random mutations and natural selection" or "the development of life was guided by intelligent design."

A slim majority, 52 percent, said they believed intelligent design played a role in evolution, but only 33 percent alternatively believed evolution was an unguided process. 8 percent were unsure and 7 percent chose "Other."

Dr. John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture, said the findings contradict the prevailing notion that "a small group of the uneducated" – as critics charge -- drove skepticism over Darwin's theory.

"Media reports insinuate that a right-wing conspiracy of know-nothings and religious-extremists is afoot," he said. "But the new Zogby poll represents a broad-based and well-informed public consensus for academic freedom on evolution. The Darwin lobby has isolated itself from public opinion."

But Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), told CNSNews.com the poll was "meaningless" because the phrasing of the questions skewed the results.

Branch said asking whether or not respondents believe all evidence should be taught puts them in the position of being for or against freedom of information.

"(I)f you commission someone to do a poll asking whether we should teach the evidence for and the evidence against heliocentrism, they'd say yes, too," he argued, "even though it's scientifically established that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than the other way around.

"The very terms of the question presuppose that there is credible scientific evidence against evolution, which there isn't," he said.

Branch also said the poll muddles the distinction between "evidence against" Darwin's theory of evolution and "intelligent design."

The second question "presupposes that evolution is incompatible with guidance by a divine being," Branch alleged, pointing out that many scientists accept Darwin's theory and believe in God.

"There are plenty of people [who believe both], including for example, Kenneth Miller, who is a biologist and also the coauthor of one of the most widely used high school biology text books in the United States," he said.

In a 2005 Gallup survey, 52 percent said they were "not too familiar" or "not familiar at all" with the term "intelligent design."

Similarly, a 1999 FOX News poll found 26 percent of respondents said both the Bible's account of creation and Darwin's theory of evolution, conflicting ideas, were accurate.

In the Gallup poll, only 35 percent disagreed with the notion that evolution should be presented as the most convincing theory for how humans developed.

Chris Mooney of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has criticized Zogby polling methodology in the past, agreeing that their wording accounts for the disparity in their poll numbers.

"The answer to the first question is a no-brainer for anyone who believes in open-mindedness, no matter what they think about evolution," he said. "Sure enough, Zogby-Intelligent Design polls have shown overwhelming support for option B."

As for general polling on the subject of evolution, Mooney says steps need to be taken to clear the confusion, and Americans need to be better educated on these terms.

"Taken as a whole, polls about evolution certainly do suggest that we need much better science education in this country," he said, and "Americans need to understand the difference between evolution and its pseudoscientific rivals."

But John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, defended his poll, saying that he wasn't polling people about pseudoscience.

"[W]e're polling people's perceptions and attitudes, not their level of knowledge," Zogby told CNSNews.com.

"I know that one might quibble with the scientific evidence against Darwin's theory . . . but the fact of the matter is, in terms of the public response to the way this question was asked, the public just says, 'If there is scientific evidence against it, it should be taught.' It doesn't make a premise, it doesn't lead, it is statement A vs. statement B."

He pointed out that problems with the fossil record – what he called the "Cambrian explosion" and current studies on the mutations of bacteria pose purely scientific challenges to the natural selection explanation at the root of Darwinian evolutionary theory – and have nothing to do with creationism.

West also denied that intelligent design factored into the question about science curricula.

"We don't advocate requiring people to learn about intelligent design," he said.

"[W]e don't favor mandating it, although we think teachers should be free to discuss it."

West told CNSNews.com this year was the first time Discovery and Zogby had asked the intelligent design question, so he could not say whether the results corresponded to a desire for it to be taught in classrooms.

"What we do know is there was a nine point jump in people who thought you should teach both sides and a corresponding six or seven point drop in the minority who thought you should just teach one side," he said.

"I think we certainly have been seeing more openness on the part of the general public to wanting to get all the evidence."

In a press release distributed with the poll West said, "There seems to be a backlash against the strong-arm tactics that have been used in recent years to censor and intimidate scientists, teachers, and students who raise criticisms of Darwin."

With regard to the 52 percent of respondents who said they subscribed to the perhaps-confusing intelligent design concept, Zogby said, "I think more today know about [intelligent design] than two years ago," and "folks need to understand there's a lot of conservatives in this country."

The Zogby poll, conducted in January among 1,053 people, has a margin of errors of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

The new poll was conducted ahead of the 150th anniversary this November of the publication of Darwin's seminal book, On the Origin of Species. The book outlined the scientist's theory about natural selection as the engine of biological evolution.

The evolution of intelligent design in Texas schools

http://www.examiner.com/x-13390-Austin-Independent-Examiner~y2009m6d20-Evolution-and-Creationism-in-Texas-schools

June 20, 9:36 AM

Members of the scientific community have historically rejected the notion that intelligent design has a place in science curriculums while supporters of intelligent design claim that the theory of evolution lacks enough factual support to be widely accepted. The proliferation of the argument from both sides is staggering and passionate, both often unwilling to see the others' point of view. But, are the two ideas mutually exclusive?

Many people are aware of the heated debate that took place in January of this year over the right to teach intelligent design in public schools. The language that made it into the curriculum in section 7, A-F of chapter 112.34 is that the student is required to "analyze and evaluate" evidence related to evolutionary theory. This could prove to be a beneficial practice in semantics for creationists and textbook authors as well as Texas students.

The Texas Citizens for Science criticized the Texas Board of Education's appointment of anti-evolution proponents to the panel of professional scientists charged with the task of reviewing the issue. The two most heavily criticized members of the panel were Stephen Meyer and Ralph Seelke who are the co-authors of the textbook Explore Evolution which promotes intelligent design (the book was out of print when I looked for it recently). A news release by the Texas Citizens for Science reported that the book "was written in a way that removes any mention of Creationism or Intelligent Design to make it appear to be a secular, nonreligious evolution text [but has an] underlying message of antipathy to modern biology and a rejection of evolutionary science." In any case, the fact that the co-authors of the textbook served on the review panel does seem grossly unethical at the very least.

What disturbed me the most is that Cynthia Dunbar, who moved to nominate Stephen Meyer (undoubtedly, she was well aware of his ideological leanings), appears to have rigid views about the liberal component of our political system, the transparency of which are unequivocal.

Cynthia Dunbar is the board member residing over district 10, the district in which I live. According to Dunbar's website, she is an "outspoken pro-family conservative activist and [has] been in the trenches fighting for our core American values for over 28 years." Thanks, Cynthia. The most overt part of her political and social ideology is her recent book One Nation Under God: How the Left is Trying to Erase What Made Us Great, published in September of 2009. It is rumored that Governor Rick Perry will tap her to replace Don McLeroy who was ousted as chairman last month—six of one, half a dozen of the other.

What this suggests to me is that Governor Perry along with many other conservatives in Texas are trying to impose the religious ideology of the Republican Party on Texas children. As far as religion is concerned, I believe that it is the job of individual families to decide how and whom they want their children to worship. This latest action by the Texas Board of Education shows how the right-wing political faction in Texas is clearly sidestepping the separation of church and state.

However, the liberal-left is often just as rigid as anyone regarding the issue. Spirituality should play an important role in our society (it matters very little which religion you identify with). I was raised by a Christian family in Central Texas. Throughout my early education I attended parochial school (one Baptist and two Lutheran). I had church on Sundays, chapel on Wednesdays, and a religion class that was part of our educational curriculum Monday through Friday. Growing up, I learned a lot about Christian theology. But, it was always explicit that what I was being taught was religion.

Regardless of my mixed religious philosophy and my sometimes ambiguous political ideology, I think that trying to insinuate one's personal beliefs into a scientific curriculum is unacceptable. The teaching of Christian theology is fine, but call it what it is. The practice of religion is generally based on faith in lieu of empirical evidence; the practice and study of science is based on the gathering of facts through scientific inquiry and analysis. They are not the same thing.

I will admit that the theory of evolution is, up to this point, incomplete, but that doesn't make it wrong. The fossil record is inconclusive and scientists constantly uncover new evidence that leads to the revision and rethinking of currently accepted scientific theory. That's what science is, an ongoing attempt to disprove current theories about how our world operates. Therefore, the new language "analyze and evaluate" that was added to the science curriculum in Texas is redundant. The current adoption of instructional materials through 2010 will not be much affected. However, we will have to wait until the following year to "analyze and evaluate" the content of the textbooks that will be adopted for science curriculums in the state of Texas in the coming years.

Author: Sean P. Harris

Sean P. Harris is an Examiner from Austin. You can see Sean P.'s articles on Sean P.'s Home Page.

The evolution of intelligent design in Texas schools (pt. 2)

http://www.examiner.com/x-13390-Austin-Independent-Examiner~y2009m7d14-The-evolution-of-intelligent-design-in-Texas-schools-pt-2

July 14, 11:55 AM

Governor Rick Perry announced on Friday his appointment of board member Gail Lowe to replace Don McLeroy as chairperson of the Texas State Board of Education. Gail Lowe is a Lampasas newspaper editor and has been a member of the State Board of Education since 2002. She is also a proponent of Intelligent Design.

Last January, the board voted on whether ID should be included in high school biology textbooks for the state of Texas. Chapter 112.34.(7a-f) of the curriculum included the language "analyze and evaluate" in accordance with all teachings regarding evolutionary theory.

In my previous article about the evolution of intelligent design in Texas schools, I highlighted the criticism of board members (notably religious conservative Cynthia Dunbar) for nominating well known creationists to the advisory panel. The most controversial advisor on the panel was Vice President of the Discovery Institute, Stephen C. Meyer, a well known scientific philosopher and champion of the Intelligent Design movement. He was the co-author of the textbook Explore Evolution which the Texas Citizens for Science says "falsely [misrepresents] the accuracy and reliability of modern evolutionary science."

Governor Perry's appointment of Gail Lowe coincides with the publication of Steven C. Meyer's new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. The promotional website for the book says that Dr. Meyer shows how "it is precisely our modern scientific age that is in the process of burying materialist theories of life's development." During a speech at the Heritage Foundation to launch the publication of his book, Dr. Meyer argued that the information encoded in our DNA could be proof of ID because the only thing "capable of producing information . . . is intelligent agency."

The aim of Dr. Meyer is to approach the probability of ID from an empirical rather than a religious perspective in order to promote it in the scientific community. The benefit of this approach for supporters of ID is that it contradicts the arguments of Evolution proponents like Richard Dawkins who follow Brandon Carter's "self-selection principle" which says that the origin of life was a "chemical event that forged the first self-replicating molecule and hence triggered natural selection of DNA and ultimately all of life" (Dawkins, 94-95).

If Meyer is able to garner enough support for ID as a scientific theory, future board of education debates over ID in the biology curriculum could go very differently. It would also help the religious right side-step the "separation of church and state" argument. Dr. Meyer stands to benefit monetarily since he is a textbook author and one of the country's leading experts on Intelligent Design.

The Texas Board of Education's current list of adopted biology textbooks expires in 2010. Gail Lowe's term as chair expires Feb. 1, 2011. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Texas State Board of Education revisit the issue of Evolution and Intelligent Design in the near future, especially if Meyer's theory gains momentum. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a new biology textbook from Dr. Meyer or the Discovery Institute in the coming years.

Governor Perry's appointment of Gail Lowe to chair the SBOE and the publication of Meyer's new book could be a turning point in the evolution of Intelligent Design in Texas schools.

Other references:

Pinker, Steven, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Lisa Randall, Marc D. Hauser, and Tim D. White. "Intelligent Aliens". Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement. Ed. John Brockman. New York: Vintage, 2006. p. 92-106.

Author: Sean P. Harris
Sean P. Harris is an Examiner from Austin. You can see Sean P.'s articles on Sean P.'s Home Page.

Caltech-led team shows how evolution can allow for large developmental leaps

http://www.genengnews.com/news/bnitem.aspx?name=58581807

Jul 20 2009, 2:20 PM EST

Contact: Lori Oliwenstein
lorio@caltech.edu
626-395-3631
California Institute of Technology

Researchers demonstrate how genetic mutations and natural variations combine to produce twin spores in bacteria that normally produce only singletons

PASADENA, Calif.How evolution acts to bridge the chasm between two discrete physiological states is a question that's long puzzled scientists. Most evolutionary changes, after all, happen in tiny increments: an elephant grows a little larger, a giraffe's neck a little longer. If those tiny changes prove advantageous, there's a better chance of passing them to the next generation, which might then add its own mutations. And so on, and so on, until you have a huge pachyderm or the characteristic stretched neck of a giraffe.

But when it comes to traits like the number of wings on an insect, or limbs on a primate, there is no middle ground. How are these sorts of large evolutionary leaps made?

According to a team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in close collaboration with Patrick Piggot and colleagues from the Temple University School of Medicine, such changes may at least sometimes be the result of random fluctuations, or noise (nongenetic variations), working alongside a phenomenon known as partial penetrance. Their findings were recently published online in the journal Nature.

"Our work shows how partial penetrance can play a role in evolution by allowing a species to gradually evolve from producing 100 percent of one form to developing 100 percent of another, qualitatively different, form," says Michael Elowitz, the Caltech assistant professor of biology and applied physics, Bren Scholar, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator who led the team. "The intermediate states that occur along the way are not intermediate forms, but rather changes in the fraction of individuals that develop one way or the other."

Partial penetrance is the name given by evolutionary biologists to the degree to which a single genetic mutation may have different effects on different organisms in a population.

"If you take a bunch of cells and grow them in exactly the same environment, they'll be identical twin brothers in terms of the genes they have, but they may still show substantial differences in their behavior," says Avigdor Eldar, a postdoctoral scholar in biology at Caltech and the paper's first author. These sorts of variationsor noise, as the researchers call itcan actually allow a mutation to have an effect in some organisms but not in others. For example, while some genetically variable cells will show the expected effect of the mutation, others may still behave like a normal, or wild type, cell. And still others may do something else entirely.

"These mutant cells don't only show a different morphology," Eldar notes. "They show more variability in their behavior. In a population, you can see a mixture of several different behaviors, with some cells doing one thing and others doing something else."

In their Nature paper, Elowitz and Eldar, along with their colleagues, studied partial penetrance in a species of bacterium known as Bacillus subtilis. Specifically, they looked at the spores B. subtilis produces as a survival mechanism when times get tough. These spores are smaller, dormant clones of their so-called "mother cell." They're attached to the mother, but are separate entities with their own DNA.

A bacterial spore is designed specifically to do nothing but survive. "It doesn't grow, it doesn't do anything," says Eldar. "It just waits for the good times to return."

The wild-type B. subtilis bacterium always sporulates the same way: it creates a single spore, smaller than the mother cell, but with an exact single copy of the mother's chromosome.

What the scientists looked at was a "mutant in which the sporulation process was altered," Eldar explains. "Usually, these cells talk with each other, with the small spore telling the large mother cell, 'I'm here, and I'm doing OK.' In the wild-type cell, this chatter is loud; in the mutant, it's just a whisper, and the mother can't always hear."

When this whispering sort of mutation occurs, the researchers discovered, there are four possible outcomes:

This last possibility, notes Eldar, is something that had never been seen before in B. subtilis. But that doesn't mean this twinning behavior doesn't have its advantages. "In some environments, it might be better for the cell," he says. "We know that because there are other species whose wild types do the same thing that our mutant was doing only once in a while."

The scientists soon realized that this variability was their way in to understanding how evolution makes the leap from one to another phenotype. "You can't switch from 1 to 1.1 spores," Eldar points out. "But it's easy to find a mutation that simply changes the frequency of the behavior. If 10 percent of the population makes 2 spores and the rest makes 1, that works. It solves the need for a quantum jump between 1 and 2 spores."

Once they had seen this rare behavior in a small minority of the bacteria, the researchers took the process one step further, tweaking other players in the sporulation system. For instance, they looked at what would happen if, in addition to dampening the communication between mother and sporemaking the mother think she hadn't yet successfully produced a sporeyou also increased the volume of the signals that tell the mother to replicate its chromosome.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that these sorts of changes increase the percentage of B. subtilis individuals that decide to produce two spores rather than one. In fact, by combining mutations, Eldar says, they were able to up the percentage of bacteria that create twin spores from about 1 percent (in singly mutated bacteria) to as high as 40 percent (in multiply mutated bacteria).

"When you have only a single mutation, twinning shows very low penetrance," Eldar says. "But when you add more and more mutations, you can build up the penetrance to very high levels."

"We showed that some mutations cause a low frequency of twin spores to develop in the same cell, rather than a single spore per cell, as occurs normally," Elowitz says. "The relative frequency of this form could be tuned up to high levels by other mutations."

This study provides a concrete example of a particular scenario to explain developmental evolution. "It illustrates a somewhat unfamiliar mode in which developmental evolution might work," Elowitz adds. "Qualitative changes from one form to another can proceed through changes in the relative frequenciesor penetranceof those forms.

"It's interesting that noisethese random fluctuations of proteins in the cellis critical for this to work," he continues. "Noise is not just a nuisance in this system; it's a key part of the process that allows genetically identical cells to do very different things."

In addition, Elowitz notes, the work shows that "bacterial development can be a good system to enable further study of these general issues in developmental evolution."

###

Other researchers involved in the work included Caltech staff member Michelle Fontes and graduate student Oliver Loson; Piggot, Vasant Chary, and Panagiotis Xenopoulos from Temple University School of Medicine; and Jonathan Dworkin from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

The work described in the Nature paper, "Partial penetrance facilitates developmental evolution in bacteria," was funded by grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the International Human Frontier Science Organization, and the European Molecular Biology Organization.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Teachers can now say 'evolution'

http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/news/local/hillsborough/Hillsborogh_evolution_teachers_071409

Updated: Tuesday, 14 Jul 2009, 5:48 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 14 Jul 2009, 5:48 PM EDT

Tanya Arja

TAMPA - The word evolution has been taboo in Hillsborough County schools for years – teachers were not allowed to say the word. The subject of evolution has been taught, but it was something teachers had to approach very carefully.

All that is about to change. For the first time, teachers can say it, they are now being taught how to handle this controversial subject.

The word evolution appears in student's textbooks.

But when teachers get to that chapter, they say it's always been a juggling act -- how to teach evolution, without actually using the word.

Florida science teaching standards didn't allow the word "evolution" to be used.

Instead teachers had to say the phrase, "biological change over time."

But that's about to change.

"One of the things we can now discuss is human evolution. Which has been a very taboo topic in the past. Now as science teachers, we're excited," explained teacher Kristy Chiodo.

The Robinson High School science chair said they now have the permission and the authority to address the scientific theory.

The Board of Education recently voted to adopt new standards. It doesn't change how teachers teach the subject. But it gives them the right "wording" to do it.

Third-year biology teacher Rebecca Rouch believes it will benefit students.

"Knowledge can never hurt them. And even if they chose to believe something else. If they would like to debunk evolution, they have to know about it. So knowledge can never hurt them. Knowing about something can never hurt you. Ignorance can, hurt you."

Subjects that are not science, like creationism, will not be taught in schools.

Evolution has always been a controversial topic. The Board of Education members barely voted the new standards in, at a 4-3 vote.

But Florida science standards in the past received an F, both nationally and internationally. Many worried students would not be able to compete with fellow students from other states or around the world.

Many Hillsborough County science teachers are going through a four-day workshop. They're hearing topics such as "The Glorious History of Creationism in Florida" and going over the top 10 myths about teaching evolution.

They are also discussing how to handle students or parents who don't agree with the scientific theory of evolution.

Teri Locke, who has taught every science subject in Hillsborough Schools, said teachers should just stick to what they know.

"Teachers need to know as long as they stick with the standards, they're going to be safe. they're not going to have a conflict with society," Locke said.

Most are excited with the prospect. Knowing now, the subject they love, will be taught, they way they believe it should be.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Evolution education update: July 17, 2009

A new chair for the Texas state board of education, and selected content from a new issue of RNCSE.

A NEW CHAIR FOR THE TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

On July 10, 2009, Governor Rick Perry (R) named Gail Lowe to chair the Texas state board of education. Lowe replaces Don McLeroy, who failed to win confirmation from the Texas Senate on May 28, 2009. As the Dallas Morning News (July 11, 2009) noted, "Lowe is one of seven Republicans who make up the board's social conservative bloc, which frequently has clashed with Democrats and moderate Republicans. The most recent disagreement came over the treatment of evolution in science standards -- with social conservatives arguing for more critical coverage of the topic." In a July 10, 2009, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network observed, "It's disappointing that instead of choosing a mainstream conservative who could heal the divisions on the board, the governor once again appointed someone who repeatedly has put political agendas ahead of the education of Texas schoolchildren," adding, "In 2003 and 2009 Ms. Lowe supported dumbing down the state's public school science curriculum by voting to include unscientific, creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards." And in a July 10, 2009, posting on the Houston Chronicle's Evosphere blog, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science commented, "Lowe will do what the radical religious right powers want her to do. She will not stop the continuing politicization of public education in Texas by the Fundamentalist Christians who still have positions of power and influence. It will be business as usual, as as usual, public education and the students and teachers of the state will suffer."

For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/071109dnmetedboard.429d7b7.html

For the blog posts from TFN and TCS, visit:
http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/breaking-news-perry-picks-lowe-to-head-sboe/
http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html

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

CATCHING UP WITH RNCSE

Selected content from volume 29, number 1, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are Sara B. Hoot's discussion of Charles Darwin's botanical work and Dana Fischetti's account of how the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, is celebrating the Darwin anniversaries. Additionally, NCSE's Glenn Branch reviews Randy Moore and Mark Decker's More than Darwin, NCSE's Peter M. J. Hess reviews Mariano Artigas, Thomas F. Glick, and Rafael A. Martínez's Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902, and RNCSE's editor Andrew J. Petto reviews Richard H. Robbins and Mark N. Cohen's collection Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 3) features dispatches from Texas by Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, and Jeremy Mohn, who revealed Don McLeroy's penchant for quote-mining. There's also a story about the crowning of the kilosteve -- Steve #1000 in NCSE's Project Steve -- and a host of reviews, including Peter Dodson on Donald R. Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, Andrea Bottaro on Kenneth R. Miller's Only a Theory, and Donald R. Prothero on Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For the selected content from RNCSE 29:1, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/rncse/29/1

For subscription information, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

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


Friday, July 17, 2009

Accept it: Talk about evolution needs to evolve

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/45594/title/Accept_it_Talk_about_evolution_needs_to_evolve_by_Eugenie_Scott

By Eugenie Scott

"'If man evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?'...That's probably the second most common question I get on talk radio."Steve Mirsky"'If man evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?'... That's probably the second most common question I get on talk radio."

Watch your language! It's a common message from Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist and director of the National Center for Science Education (www.ncseweb.org), an organization dedicated to promoting and defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. Scott recently spoke with Science News writer Susan Milius.

So you urge scientists not to say that they "believe" in evolution?!

Right. What your audience hears is more important than what you say.… What [people] hear is that evolution is a belief, it's an opinion, it's not well-substantiated science. And that is something that scientists need to avoid communicating.

You believe in God. You believe your sports team is going to win. But you don't believe in cell division. You don't believe in thermodynamics. Instead, you might say you "accept evolution."

How does the language used to discuss new discoveries add to the problem?

To put it mildly, it doesn't help when evolutionary biologists say things like, "This completely revolutionizes our view of X." Because hardly anything we come up with is going to completely revolutionize our view of the core ideas of science.... An insight into the early ape-men of East and South Africa is not going to completely change our understanding of Neandertals, for example. So the statement is just wrong. Worse, it's miseducating the public as to the soundness of our understanding of evolution.

You can say that this fossil or this new bit of data "sheds new light on this part of evolution."

So people get confused when scientists discover things and change ideas?

Yes, all the time. This is one of the real confusions about evolution. Creationists have done a splendid job of convincing the public that evolution is weak science because scientists are always changing their minds about things.

So how do you explain what science is?

An idea that I stole from [physicist] James Trefil visualizes the content of science as three concentric circles: the core ideas in the center, the frontier ideas in the next ring out and the fringe ideas in the outermost ring....

[We need to] help the public understand that the nature of scientific explanations is to change with new information or new theory — this is a strength of science — but that science is still reliable. And the core ideas of science do not change much, if at all.

The core idea of evolution is common ancestry, and we're not likely to change our minds about that. But we argue a lot about … how the tree of life is branched and what mechanisms bring evolutionary change about. That's the frontier area of science.

And then of course you have areas that claim to be science, like "creation science" and "intelligent design," that are off in the fringe. Scientists don't spend much time here because the ideas haven't proven useful in understanding the natural world.

You've been on talk radio a lot. What's your sense of what the public understands about evolutionary biology?

The public has a very poor understanding of evolution. People don't recognize evolution as referring to the common ancestry of living things. Even those who accept evolution often don't understand it well. They think it's a great chain ... of gradual increases in complexity of forms through time, which is certainly an impoverished view of evolutionary biology. That view is the source, in my opinion, of: "If man evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?" ... That's probably the second most common question I get on talk radio.

It's like saying, "If you evolved from your cousins, why are your cousins still here?" And of course the answer is, well, in fact, I didn't evolve from my cousins. My cousins and I shared common ancestors, in our grandparents.

What's the current state of the effort to keep schools teaching evolution?

Sometimes it feels like the Red Queen around here, where we're running as hard as we can to stay in the same place. The thing is, creationism evolves. And for every victory we have, there's pressure on the creationists to change their approach. We constantly have to shift our response. Ultimately the solution to this problem is not going to come from pouring more science on it.

What should scientists and people who care about science do?

I'm calling on scientists to be citizens. American education is decentralized. Which means it's politicized. To make a change ... you have to be a citizen who pays attention to local elections and votes [for] the right people. You can't just sit back and expect that the magnificence of science will reveal itself and everybody will ... accept the science.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jefferson would not have supported intelligent design

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17471-jefferson-would-not-have-supported-intelligent-design.html

17:23 15 July 2009 by Ewen Callaway

For a newspaper fighting for its survival, The Boston Globe has picked a peculiar time to run an absurdly-reasoned opinion piece supporting intelligent design.

Penned by the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, the essay makes the ridiculous assertion that Thomas Jefferson – author of the Declaration of Independence and the third US president – espoused intelligent design.

Meyer sees supports for this claim in an 1823 letter Jefferson wrote to the second US president John Adams: "It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion."

Fair enough. Though he may not have been a Christian in the strictest sense, Jefferson was deeply spiritual, and he invoked a creator in arguing for universal human rights – "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

But Jefferson was also a dogged supporter of the separation of church and state. Meyer brushes this aspect of his biography aside: "By invoking Jefferson's principle of separation, many critics of intelligent design assume that this visionary Founding Father would agree with them."

Public schools didn't exist in their current form in America during Jefferson's time, but Meyer never pauses to consider whether Jefferson would have supported the teaching of ID – a religious philosophy – in government-funded schools. He wouldn't have.

Meyer's argument eventually devolves into ID gobbeldy-gook:

"Of course, many people assume that Jefferson's views, having been written before Darwin's Origin of Species are now scientifically obsolete. But Jefferson has been vindicated by modern scientific discoveries that Darwin could not have anticipated."

Vindicated how? By the discovery of DNA, of course.

Meyer cannot accept that the genetic code evolved naturally. Never mind the fact that the building blocks of DNA and its cousin molecule RNA existed on early Earth and even in space. Scientists are also making increasing progress in understanding how these chemicals might have stitched themselves together and how they began replicating and evolving.

Instead Meyer pulls out the same lazy, wrongheaded argument that intelligent design supporters have been pushing since the philosophy was adapted from creationism – if something looks designed, it must have been:

"DNA functions like a software program. We know that software comes from programmers. Information – whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal – always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of digital code in DNA provides a strong scientific reason for concluding that the information in DNA also had an intelligent source."

Newspaper opinion pages are wise to challenge their readers and present a diversity of opinions. But the Globe's decision to publish Meyer's piece shows a serious lapse in editorial judgment.

Not only does it get evolutionary science wrong – not a wise move in science-savvy Boston – but it also misrepresents the religious beliefs of one of America's greatest thinkers to peddle a thoroughly debunked explanation of the natural world.

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

Any 5 year olds want to explain the problem to the Discovery Institute?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/any_5_year_olds_want_to_explai.php

Posted on: July 15, 2009 7:22 PM, by PZ Myers

Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute has published an opinion piece in the Boston Globe in which he makes a rather anachronistic argument for ID: Thomas Jefferson was a supporter. I knew the creationists were sloppy scholars and had a poor grasp of history and science, but this is getting ridiculous.

Here, I have to help them out.

Date    Jefferson                               Darwin

1743    born                                    -

1776    Writes the Declaration of Independence  -


1809    Ends his term as President of the US    born


1823    Writes the quote Stephen Meyer
        will find so appealing:
        I hold (without appeal to
        revelation) that when we take a
        view of the Universe, in its
        parts general or particular,
        it is impossible for the human
        mind not to perceive and feel a
        conviction of design, consummate
        skill, and indefinite power in
        every atom of its composition.          14 years old.

1826    Dies.                                   Darwin is a student at
                                                the University of
                                                Edinburgh.

1831    Dead.                                   Voyage of the Beagle

1859    Still dead.                             Publishes the Origin.

1882    Still very dead.                        Darwin dies, too.

They do overlap a bit in time, but Jefferson was 33 years in the grave before Darwin got around to explaining how we don't need a designer to explain the living universe. I rather suspect that no ship was dispatched from Virginia to Shropshire to get young Charlie Darwin's rebuttal of the 1823 claim, either. It's even less likely that Jefferson's zombie rose up in 1859 to take a quick gander at these new ideas spreading through biology and decided, nah, he likes intelligent design better.

I could be wrong. Maybe the Biologic Institute has been holding seances and has received Jefferson's imprimatur — I wouldn't put it past them. Otherwise, though, Meyer is making a ludicrously stupid argument.

By the way, even if the DI had Jefferson's revivified head in a jar, and it was making anti-evolutionary pronouncements, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to evolutionary biologists. Doctors might be excited, though.

Jefferson's support for intelligent design

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/07/15/jeffersons_support_for_intelligent_design/

By Stephen C. Meyer
July 15, 2009

IN THE battle over how to teach evolution in public schools, Thomas Jefferson's demand for a "separation between church and state'' has been cited countless times. Many argue that the controversial alternative to Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, is an exclusively religious idea and therefore cannot be discussed under the Constitution. By invoking Jefferson's principle of separation, many critics of intelligent design assume that this visionary Founding Father would agree with them.

But would he? For too long, an aspect of Jefferson's visionary thought has been ignored, hidden away as too uncomfortable for public discussion - his support for intelligent design.

In 1823, when materialist evolutionary ideas had long been circulating, Jefferson wrote to John Adams and insisted that the scientific evidence of design in nature was clear: "I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition.'' It was on empirical grounds, not religious ones, that he took this view.

Contemplating everything from the heavenly bodies down to the creaturely bodies of men and animals, he argued: "It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion.''

The "ultimate cause'' and "fabricator of all things'' that Jefferson invoked was also responsible for the "design'' of life's endlessly diverse forms as well as the manifestly special endowments of human beings. Moreover, because the evidence of "Nature's God'' was publicly accessible to all and did not depend upon a special appeal to religious authority, Jefferson believed that it provided a basis in reason for the protection of individual liberty. Thus, the Declaration of Independence asserted that humans are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.''

Of course, many people assume that Jefferson's views, having been written before Darwin's "Origin of Species,'' are now scientifically obsolete. But Jefferson has been vindicated by modern scientific discoveries that Darwin could not have anticipated. For example, in 1953 when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, they made a startling discovery. The structure of DNA allows it to store information in the form of a four-character digital code. Strings of precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotide bases store and transmit the assembly instructions - the information - for building the crucial protein molecules and machines the cell needs to survive. Francis Crick later developed this idea with his famous "sequence hypothesis,'' according to which the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code. As Bill Gates has noted, "DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created.''

This discovery has made acute a longstanding scientific mystery that Darwin never addressed or solved: the mystery of how the very first life on earth arose. To date no theory of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the digital information in DNA needed to build the first living cell on earth. Yet modern scientists who argue for intelligent design do not do so merely because natural processes have failed to explain the origin of the information in cells. Instead, they argue for design because systems possessing these features invariably arise from intelligent causes.

DNA functions like a software program. We know that software comes from programmers. Information - whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal - always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of digital code in DNA provides a strong scientific reason for concluding that the information in DNA also had an intelligent source.

Design is an inference from biological data, not a deduction from religious authority. Jefferson said just that, and based his political thinking on it. The evidence for what he presciently called "Nature's God'' is stronger than ever. Our nation's existence, with its guarantee to protect each person's "inalienable rights,'' may be counted among the fruits of Jefferson's belief in intelligent design.

Stephen C. Meyer is director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. His new book is "Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.''

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Law Review Article Surveys Case Law on Teaching Evolution

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/07/new_law_review_article_surveys.html

In May, pro-Darwin-only education advocates issued a press release lamenting that "25 percent of biology teachers do not know it is unconstitutional to teach creationism." Then last month the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) publicized its new "Creationism and the Law" web page, which states that "Since 1968…, U.S. courts have consistently held that 'creationism' is a particular religious viewpoint and that teaching it in public schools would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution." While these statements are legally correct, they leave out a crucial point of law that the NCSE may not wish to publicize: "scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories [may] be taught provided that such curricula are enacted with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." That latter quote comes from the abstract of a new law review article, "Does Challenging Darwin Create Constitutional Jeopardy? A Comprehensive Survey of Case Law Regarding the Teaching of Biological Origins," that I recently published in the Hamline Law Review (Vol. 32(1):1-64 (Winter, 2009)).

Who Is This Article For?

I wrote this recent Hamline University Law Review article as a primer for anyone -- but especially for an attorney or legal scholar -- who seeks a quick yet comprehensive Matrix-style brain-upload of the case law related to the evolution debate. My hope is also that the article will prove useful in its attempt to survey all of the major court cases dealing with education on biological origins, and most of the minor cases as well. The article surveys 21 cases (the full list is given below), and with each, there is an objective review of the facts followed by some commentary giving my view of the important legal implications of that decision.

Readers will find that the article distinguishes itself from advocacy pieces put out by the Darwin lobby. It's a serious review of current law, dealing frankly with the actual case law that supports evolution, such as the extensive case law supporting the constitutionality of teaching evolution and the numerous cases that expound upon the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism. It also delves into something that the NCSE and the rest of Darwin's public defenders are probably hesitant to admit: not one court case finds that it is illegal to engage in scientific critique of evolution in public schools, and significant authority (including a number of long-standing educational policies requiring critical analysis of evolution that the Darwin lobby has lacked the stomach to challenge) supports the constitutionality of such.

Why Does the Darwin Lobby Basically Ignore the Law on Hot Educational Policy Questions?

Despite what you may read in the media, the big debate in public schools today isn't about teaching creationism, and it isn't even about teaching intelligent design (which is of course different from creationism). The real question that most commonly faces schools is whether to strictly indoctrinate students in Darwinian evolution, or whether instead to inform them about the scientific evidence both for and against modern Darwinism.

Given the actual nature of most policy debates, why does the evolution lobby spend so much time talking about how courts have banned the teaching of creationism? It's simple: They want you to think that anything that challenges evolution entails teaching creationism, which in turn would imply that teaching anything but the pro-evolutionary viewpoint is unconstitutional. I submit that not only is this a wholly inaccurate representation of the law, but it entails an abuse of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment was intended to protect both freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The latter means, in part, that the government cannot adopt policies whose primary effect advances religion. That is why courts have rightly banned the advocacy of creationism in public schools. But the Darwin lobby tries to relable anything that challenges evolution as "creationism," thereby twisting the First Amendment, reversing its meaning, as if it had been intended as a tool for censorship. While creationism should not be advocated in public schools, there is nothing illegal about teaching students about legitimate scientific challenges to modern evolutionary biology, a pedagogical approach that is quite different from teaching creationism, has clear secular educational benefits, and that should be supported by anyone who truly upholds freedom of scientific inquiry.

The abstract of the article is below, followed by a list of the cases I survey.

Abstract: The teaching of biological origins in public schools remains a contentious scientific, cultural, and legal debate. With the increase of public interest in this topic, it is essential for attorneys, legal scholars, and educational authorities to have an awareness of the full breadth of case law on this issue. Yet at present, a comprehensive collation and summary of the relevant cases is absent from the literature. Moreover, few have bothered to engage in a careful review of the case law to determine if evolution actually is beyond scrutiny in public schools. This article attempts to exhaustively survey the case law relevant to the teaching of biological origins, dividing the cases into three major categories: (1) Cases upholding the right to teach about evolution; (2) Cases rejecting the teaching of alternatives to evolution; and (3) Cases rejecting disclaimers regarding the teaching of evolution. The range of constitutionally permissible policies for teaching evolution can also be understood by studying policies that have not engendered lawsuits. Twenty-one cases will be reviewed, as well as various policies that have not faced legal challenges, revealing that while courts have firmly upheld the rights of educators to teach evolution and have rejected attempts to teach creationism, none of these cases stands for the proposition that a curriculum that teaches scientific critiques of evolution would necessarily place a school board in constitutional jeopardy. Indeed, case law and the public policy history of this issue suggest precisely the opposite: curricular policies in public schools need not unilaterally support evolution. Rather, as the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, "scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories [may] be taught" provided that such curricula are enacted with the "clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." Educators that choose to improve science education by teaching both the scientific evidence supporting modern Darwinian theory, as well as the scientific evidence that challenges this view, can rest assured that they are on firm legal ground and that Darwin himself may even be smiling approvingly from whichever realm of the afterlife he resides today.

Cases surveyed:
1. Scopes v. State
2. Epperson v. Arkansas
3. Wright v. Houston Independent School District
4. Moore v. Gaston County Board of Education
5. Crowley v. Smithsonian Institution
6. Segraves v. California
7. Peloza v. Capistrano Independent Unified School District
8. Moeller v. Shrenko
9. LeVake v. Independent School District
10. Hendren v. Campbell
11. McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education
12. Edwards v. Aguillard
13. Webster v. New Lennox School District
14. Bishop v. Aronov
15. Helland v. South Bend Community School Corporation
16. Kitzmiller v. Dover
17. Hurst v. Newman
18. Daniel v. Waters
19. Steele v. Waters
20. Frieler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education
21. Selman v. Cobb County Board of Education

Posted by Casey Luskin on July 9, 2009 8:15 AM | Permalink

Francis Collins as Culture War Statement

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124718874130520769.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

By STEVEN WALDMAN

President Obama's appointment of Francis Collins to run the National Institutes of Health is significant as a culture war statement. A devout Christian, Collins is one of the foremost advocates for the notion that science and faith are compatible. The former head of the Human Genome Project, Collins is also the author of The Language of God. He's a strong believer but he doesn't let that weaken his scientific rigor (for instance, he's been critical of Creationism and Intelligent Design).

In Science and the Sacred, a blog on Beliefnet published by Collins and his foundation, Biologos, Mr. Collins wrote:

"Suppose God chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create animals like us, knowing this process would lead to big-brained creatures with the capacity to think, ask questions about our own origins, discover the truth about the universe and discover pointers toward the One who provides meaning to life. Who are we to say that's not how we would have done it? If you believe that God is the creator, how could the truths about nature we discover through science be a threat to God? For many scientists who believe in God -- including me -- it's just the opposite. Everything we learn about the natural world only increases our awe of the God the creator....

I urge us all to step back from the conflict and look soberly at the truth of both of God's books: the book of God's words and the book of God's works. As people dedicated to truth, let us resolve to move beyond a theology of defensiveness to a theology that celebrates God's goodness and creative power."

Mr. Collins was mocked by Bill Maher in his movie Religulous, so perhaps Mr. Collins' appointment will generate suspicion among secularists. And because he's advocated "theistic evolution" -- the idea that God set in motion the laws of the universe, including natural selection -- there are some more fundamentalist Christians who may sniff at Mr. Collins.

But to me, Mr. Collins is not just a scientific leader, he's a Christian role model. He shows that being a believer doesn't mean checking your brain at the church door, that people of faith have just as much intellectual heft as seculars and, most important, how faith and science can happily co-exist.

Survey Shows Gap Between Scientists and the Public

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/science/10survey.html

By CORNELIA DEAN

When it comes to climate change, the teaching of evolution and the state of the nation's research enterprise, there is a large gap between what scientists think and the views of ordinary Americans, a new survey has found.

On the whole, scientists believe American research leads the world. But only 17 percent of the public agrees, and the proportion who name scientific advances as among the United States' most important achievements has fallen to 27 percent from nearly 50 percent in 1999, the survey found.

And while almost all of the scientists surveyed accept that human beings evolved by natural processes and that human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is causing global warming, general public is far less sure.

Almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists. Only about half of the public agrees that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent does not believe there is any warming at all.

According to the survey, about a third of Americans think there is lively scientific debate on both topics; in fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution and there is little doubt that human activity is altering the chemistry of the atmosphere in ways that threaten global climate.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest scientific organization, involved about 2,000 members of the public and 2,500 scientists drawn from the rolls of the science advancement association, which includes teachers, administrators and others involved in science as well as researchers.

The survey, made public Thursday, is available at people-press.org.

It found that at least two-thirds of Americans hold scientists and engineers in high regard, but the feeling is hardly mutual.

The report said 85 percent of science association members surveyed said public ignorance of science was a major problem. And by large margins they deride as only "fair" or "poor" the coverage of science by newspapers and television.

Only 3 percent of the scientists said they "often" spoke to reporters.

In a telephone news conference announcing the survey, Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the science association, said scientists must find new ways to engage with the public.

"One cannot just exhort 'we all agree you should agree with us,' " Mr. Leshner said. "It's a much more interactive process that's involved. It's time consuming and can be tedious. But it's very important."

What is creationism and intelligent design?

http://www.examiner.com/x-16844-Phoenix-Evolution-Examiner~y2009m7d9-What-is-CreationismIntelligent-Design

July 9, 7:45 PM

For readers who are unaware of this movement that's been an almost constant fixture in American life since the mid 1800's I'm going to give some brief background information to get everyone up to speed.

Creationism, and its most recent form, Intelligent Design (I.D.), is a religiously based movement that is a reaction to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that has been attempting to find scientific evidence for "Creation" ever since Darwin published his most famous book Origin of Species in 1859.

What exactly is "Creation"? It is a belief that God (most notably the Christian God here in the states; other religions, such as Islam, replace the Christian God with their particular god) created all life in seven days, which takes Genesis, the first book of the bible, literally.

One of the first publications about "Creation Science" (another term for Creationism) was from 1961 with the publication of John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris's Genesis Flood, which sought to find scientific evidence for the great flood as told in the bible.

Fast forward several years to the 1880's and 1890's and this is when many Christians began to become very alarmed with the idea of evolution gaining greater and greater acceptance, and even before then began protesting that evolution was being taught in our public schools. This caused many religiously-minded parents to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools, which they accomplished in several states.

One Christian in particular, William Jennings Bryan, a Presbyterian layman and a three-time Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States, condemned evolution because it preaches that "man has a brute ancestry" and how it's "substituting the law of the jungle for the teachings of Christ." [1]

Many Christians believed that a belief in evolution would cause a lack of morality and would be disastrous to society, and to Christianity itself.

Unfortunately, things have not changed much since that time.

Fast forward again to 1987 with the court case Edwards v. Aguillard, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was unconstitutional for Creationism to be taught in schools. [2]

This was a devastating blow to the Creationists but they weren't done yet and had other tricks up their sleeve. In the early 1990's a new theory cropped up; it was called Intelligent Design. It's proponents argued that life was "too complex" to have evolved only through naturalistic means, and that life required some kind of "intelligent agent" or "designer" to help the natural processes along. Most of the arguments used by Intelligent Design proponents are the same as the Creationists, the only difference being they don't admit (at least most of them [3]) that the "intelligent agent" is the Christian God. They do this to skirt the 1987 Supreme Court ruling because everyone knows that Creationism is religion in disguise and isn't true science. In order to get around the ruling they simply deny Intelligent Design is religiously motivated at all, but they've failed at this as well, which I'll get to in the next piece.

In reality Creationism and Intelligent Design are very much alike. Only the details differ. For example, there are "Old Earth" and "Young Earth" Creationists. Old Earthers accept that the earth is roughly four and a half billion years old, while Young Earthers follow the bible religiously (pun intended) and believe that the world is roughly six to eight-thousand years old. Intelligent Design proponents agree that the earth is old and do not take the bible literally, however there are some who take the bible literally. Both Creationists and I.D.ers use essentially the same tactics. Just as in the 1800's many Intelligent Design proponents believe that evolution is responsible for moral decay [4] and that if you teach children in schools that they're basically upright apes, then they will act like animals. This same argument is in use today by many advocates of I.D., of course, no theorist has been able to come up with any data proving this.

Probably the greatest similarity is the fact that both Creationism and I.D. attempt to undermine good science and inject supernatural explanations in favor of materialistic ones, but this is a completely illogical view since no I.D. advocate has been able to demonstrate that there is anything but a completely naturalistic world.

In the second piece, I will address the Intelligent Design movement's underhanded tactic to sneak religion into schools and go into more detail about their views.

Notes:

1. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, by Ronald L. Numbers; 56

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Aguillard; accessed 7-9-09

3. One person who clearly admitted the religious nature of Intelligent Design is Percival Davis, co-author of Of Pandas and People, a Creationism textbook masquerading as a science book.

4. http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2001/0306news.asp - Another school shooting in America: What's needed to bring healing to this land?, by AIG-US Executive Director, Ken Ham; accessed 7-9-09

State Senator Sylvia Allen thinks planet is six thousand years old

http://www.examiner.com/x-8928-Philadelphia-Atheism-Examiner~y2009m7d10-State-Senator-Sylvia-Allen-thinks-planet-is-six-thousand-years-old

July 10, 3:08 PM

Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen This story has been circling the internet for days, but I still think it is worth talking about. Arizona State Senator, Sylvia Allen casually stated in a meeting that the Earth is 6000 years old. The part that I find most interesting is that she stated it casually. She wasn't trying to advance Creationism or make some sort of commentary about fundamentalist Christianity vs. modern science.

No, Republican State Senator Allen seems to actually be oblivious to the controversy between Christian extremists and modern science with relation to the age of the Earth. Instead, she appears to be stating what she considers a well established fact. The really sad part is that she is almost certainly not the only politician who believes that the Earth is six thousand years old. While a State Senator is a pretty important public office, I have little doubt that there are State Senators across the country, US Congress people, and even US Senators who share State Senator Allen's belief that the Earth is six thousand years old.

This is not necessarily an issue of Church/State Separation, but it is an issue of separating ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of legislators and leaders. Quite honestly, legislators like State Senator Allen are an embarrassment to the nation. Not only that, but the people who voted her and others with similar ignorance into office are an embarrassment to all Americans.

In this particular case, the scientifically illiterate State Senator is trying to circumvent environmental laws which protect citizens from radioactive Uranium. She doesn't realize that radioactive Uranium is dangerous because of her scientific ignorance. She doesn't even care about the science of the situation. All she is focused on is money and her religious "Truths."

I am not just holding State Senator Allen in contempt here. I think we need to send a clear message that no politician should allow their religious beliefs to inform them about science. The American people should also not allow scientific ignorance of this magnitude. We need to better educate our fellow Americans on how science works and what we have learned from science. Stupid people elect stupid leaders.

Evolution education update: July 10, 2009

A new report on attitudes toward evolution among scientists and the public. Plus new selected content from the Expelled Exposed issue of RNCSE.

VIEWS ON EVOLUTION AMONG THE PUBLIC AND SCIENTISTS

"Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time," while only 61% of the public agrees, according to a new report (p. 37) from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Asked which comes closer to their view, "Humans and other living things have evolved over time" or "Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," 97% of scientists responding chose the former option, as opposed to only 2% choosing the latter option; 61% of the public responding chose the former option, as opposed to 31% choosing the latter option.

Those who chose the former option were also asked whether they preferred "Humans and other living things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection" or "A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today." Among scientists, 87% preferred the former option and 8% preferred the latter option; among the public, 32% preferred the former option and 22% preferred the latter option. Members of the public were also asked whether scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time; 60% said yes, 28% said no.

"Views on evolution vary substantially within the general public," the report observed (p. 38), "particularly by religion and attendance at religious services." For example, among white evangelical Protestants responding, a majority, 57%, agreed that humans existed in their present form since the beginning of time, and among those respondents attending religious services weekly or more often, a near-majority, 49%, agreed. In contrast, among the religiously unaffiliated responding, 60% agreed that humans evolved due to natural processes. Also correlated with acceptance of evolution were youth and education.

The questions about evolution were part of a larger project, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, investigating the public's attitude toward science and comparing it to the attitude of scientists. The report relied on three surveys, two conducted by telephone among members of the general public in the United States in April, May, and June 2009, and one conducted on-line among members of the AAAS in May and June 2009. The broader significance of the project's results are summarized in the Pew Research Center's overview report, issued on July 9, 2009.

For the full report (PDF), visit:
http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/528.pdf

For the overview report, visit:
http://people-press.org/report/528/

CATCHING UP WITH RNCSE

Selected content from volume 28, numbers 5-6, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. RNCSE 28:5-6 was a special Expelled Exposed issue, with a comprehensive debunking of the recent creationist propaganda movie Expelled. Featured are Eugenie C. Scott's recounting of her rude introduction to Expelled, Gary S. Hurd's discussion of the movie's misrepresentations of scientific research on the origin of life, and reports on the reaction from critics and from organizations with stakes in the creationism/evolution controversy, the controversies over alleged misuses of copyrighted material, and, of course, the box office.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 3) features dispatches from Texas by Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, and Jeremy Mohn, who revealed Don McLeroy's penchant for quote-mining. There's also a story about the crowning of the kilosteve -- Steve #1000 in NCSE's Project Steve -- and a host of reviews, including Peter Dodson on Donald R. Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, Andrea Bottaro on Kenneth R. Miller's Only a Theory, and Donald R. Prothero on Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For the selected content from RNCSE 28:5-6, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/rncse/28/5-6

For NCSE's compendium of information about Expelled, visit:
http://www.expelledexposed.com

For subscription information, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

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


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Intelligent design: giving science a wedgie

http://www.examiner.com/x-16844-Phoenix-Evolution-Examiner~y2009m7d10-Intelligent-Design-Giving-Science-a-Wedgie

July 10, 7:20 PM

For those of you not in the know, what the title refers to is the infamous Wedge document [1] that was leaked onto the internet by Matt Duss and Tim Rhodes in 1999. This document was an internal document of the Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture (currently called the Discovery Institute) that laid out the battle plan of the intelligent design movement. I'm unaware about how Matt Duss got a hold of the document but it was Tim Rhodes who actually leaked it.

The Wedge proposed a three step process in order to essentially change the definition of science to include the supernatural (ie. God). They are as follows:

I. Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity
II. Publicity & Opinion-making
III. Cultural Confrontation & Renewal

The first phase has been taking place for many years (with the exception of "scientific research") and spawned such books as Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box and William Dembski's The Design Inference.

Included in the second step in their strategy are their attempts to confuse the public about what science is. To quote the founder of the movement, Phillip E. Johnson:

"We call our strategy 'the wedge.' A log is a seeming solid object, but a wedge can eventually split it by penetrating a crack and gradually widening the split. In this case the ideology of scientific materialism is the apparently solid log. The widening crack is the important but seldom-recognized difference between the facts reveled by scientific investigation and the materialist philosophy that dominates the scientific culture. What happens when the facts cast doubt on the philosophy? Will scientists and philosophers allow materialism to be questioned, or will they rely on Microphone Man to suppress the facts and protect the philosophy?" [2]

In another book Johnson also had this to say about naturalism:

"Naturalism is not something about which Darwinists can afford to be tentative, because their science is based upon it. As we have seen, the positive evidence that Darwinian evolution either can produce or has produced important biological innovations is nonexistent. Darwinists know that the mutation-selection mechanism can produce wings, eyes, and brains not because the mechanism can be observed to do anything of the kind, but because their guiding philosophy assures them that no other power is available to do the job. The absence from the cosmos of any Creator is therefore the essential starting point for Darwinism." [3]

I would say that Johnson is badly mistaken because first of all, natural selection can be observed and even controlled. In the 1930's a breakthrough called population genetics, which are mathematical models that describe changing gene frequencies through many generations and simulate the effects of mutation and selection. Later on in 1937 geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky published Genetics and the Origin of Species which showed how selection in fruit fly experiments gave amazing demonstrations of evolution in action. [4] [5]

Second, Johnson's argument that natural selection cannot be observed is not only false, but hypocritical. The reason is because Johnson, nor any other intelligent design proponent has ever given any proof or proposed any mechanism by which the Christian God has acted, or will act in a way that "helped" the natural processes of natural selection along.

Third, this claim that there is a non-material world is not supported by the facts. There is overwhelming evidence that materialism is true and that there are no supernatural dimensions, occurrences, or beings simply because of a lack of solid evidence. [6]

Even if there were such a thing as a non-material world, it would be impossible to test such occurrences because there would be no way to determine why or how God chose to "design" something. In order for something to qualify as science it must be testable and must be reproducible. This cannot occur with a being that does what it wants, when it wants. To hammer the matter home further allow me to quote Donald R. Prothero:

"[S]cientists practice methodological naturalism, where they use naturalistic assumptions to understand the world but make no philosophical commitment as to whether the supernatural exists or not. Scientists don't exclude god from their hypotheses because they are inherently atheistic or unwilling to consider the existence of god; they simply cannot consider supernatural events in in their hypotheses. Why not? Because...once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it." (emphasis in original) [7]

This phrase "methodological naturalism" is very important because that's what scientists do, despite their personal religious beliefs. Science must exclude the supernatural not because of some bias, as Johnson claims, but because it's untestable, and therefore, it isn't true science.

So far the Wedge strategy hasn't really gotten past stage two, which is where I hope it will stay, but I'm afraid the damage has already been done. The public has largely already been duped.

Intelligent design proponents usually avoid publishing their views in legitimate scientific journals because they know what they're peddling is religion – not science – and so they avoid the people who actually have detailed knowledge of scientific matters and go after the less knowledgeable: John Q Public.

Real science is done through peer reviewed research, where experts in the field examine and critique other scientists' findings. Intelligent design, with it's outrageous claims, wouldn't last in a real scientific journal (of course there are a few I.D. advocates who have gotten into legitimate scientific journals, but usually it's either through deception [8] or they water down the I.D. aspects of their paper so it's more in line with peer-reviewed research).

Because of this they target the general population, attempt to get their ideas taught in school classrooms across the country (many legal battles have been fought and won against this tactic. Two examples are Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and Edwards v. Aguillard), and appear on national news [9] to get their views heard and influence the populace.

This is why I believe education is so very important. Especially science education. The I.D. movement is preying on peoples' ignorance and I'm sorry to say it's working. With many atheists, educators, and scientists working hard [10] to battle the rising tide of intelligent design it's a battle that's going to continue for a long time to come.

1. The document can currently be found here: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/general/wedge-document ; accessed 7-10-09 I also have an original copy saved if you'd like to see it in its entirety. Just email me.

2. Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, by Phillip E. Johnson; 92

3. Darwin On Trial, by Phillip E. Johnson; 117

4. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero; 93

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drosophila_melanogaster#History_of_use_in_genetic_analysis; accessed 7-10-09

6. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2007/12/evidence-against-supernatural-there-are.html

7. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero; 11

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sternberg_peer_review_controversy; accessed 7-10-09

9. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2009/06/discovery-institute-lies-they-tell.html - The second video refutes Discovery Institute member Casey Luskin's bogus claims.

10. Some excellent references about intelligent design/creationism are the following:

a. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, by Barbara Forrest & Paul R, Gross
b. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero
c. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design - Expanded Edition (2006), by Ronald L. Numbers
d. The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak
e. http://www.talkorigins.org/

DNA: Compelling Evidence of Intelligent Design

http://www.dakotavoice.com/2009/07/dna-compelling-evidence-of-intelligent-design/

By Bob Ellis on July 10th, 2009

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer recently talked with Terrence Jeffrey at CNS News about his new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.

According to the article, Dr. Meyer holds a PhD in the Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University in England. He has also worked as a geophysicist and college professor. Meyer wrote the first ever peer-reviewed article arguing for intelligent design in the creation of life on Earth which was published in the Smithsonian Institution publication The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Meyer is currently the director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington.

A couple of weeks ago, I featured a video of a presentation given by Dr. Meyer at the Heritage Foundation on his new book, and the importance of the question of information.

While there are many aspects of evolution theory that, frankly, evolutionists have no plausible explanation to support key hinge points of their entire theory, one of the most mystifying is the question of where all the biological information in our structures come from. How it gets reliably passed on from one successive generation to the other is interesting enough, but where did that information come from?

If we were to walk along and suddenly come upon a scrabble box spilled on the ground with all the letters randomly tossed around, (ignoring for a moment the question of "who created the scrabble game") we wouldn't think that anyone was trying to tell us something from these randomly scattered letters, we wouldn't think someone was transmitting information to us, would we? But if those same scrabble letters on the ground were arranged to provide the message "THERE IS A RAGING LION AROUND THE NEXT CORNER DONT GO THERE" then we would quite obviously recognize that information was being transmitted to us…and that an intelligent author had done so.

Likewise, if I take a hike through the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota as I often do and I see a beautiful mountain peak or one of the spires along the Needles Highway, I see…rock. But when I visit Mount Rushmore and see carvings of four American presidents engraved into the rock, I see information. It is quite obvious that the features of Mount Rushmore didn't just happen to end up with a remarkable resemblance to four American presidents through the random workings of the wind and the rain.

Yet evolutionists, naturalists and materialists seem oblivious to this simple truth and its implications about the universe. Why? It blows a gaping hole in their ideological and theological contention that the universe and everything in it came to be in the state we currently observe with no intelligent design or intervention. It can be very frightening to contemplate that the edifice of your entire worldview has been built on the sands of unsupported assumptions.

In the interview with Jeffrey, Meyer tells of a realization experienced by a software programmer friend of his:

Meyer: Well, that's where I think the story gets very interesting. I have a software engineer friend. He is doing some work for us; he retired early from Microsoft–means he was about 38 or 40. Young guy. Brilliant architect level programmer at Microsoft. He's writing code for us to–working with our molecular biologists to write a simulation of how genetic information is expressed for us to build proteins. So, we're having an artificial-based, computer-based simulation of what's called the gene expression system. He walks into my office one day, throws a book down on the table. It's called Design Patterns–standard textbook for computer design engineers–and he says, "I get the eerie feeling, when I'm looking at what's going on in the cell, that's somebody's figured this out before us."

And I said, "What do you mean?"

And he says, "Well, it's the design patterns," and then he points to the book. He says, "We have" – design pattern is a term of art for design strategy or design logic, and he says: "We've got design logic for processing information, for doing error correction, for doing distributed data retrieval and reassembly, and for hierarchical organization–we've got files within folders, like on your desktop, you know, in the hierarchical filing system."

And he says, "All those design patterns are inside the cell, except they're using a design logic that's like an 8.0, 9.0, 10.0 version of ours. It's the same basic logic, but it's more elegantly executed," and he says, "It gives me an eerie feeling."

No kidding. I have a fair amount of programming experience in several software languages, so I can relate. I know of no circumstances under which you can dump a bunch of random characters or code strings into an application and ever have a reasonable expectation that a functioning program will come out of it. In fact, software programming is so precise that even a stray single-quote or other character can impair or crash an application. Even if you have a basic functioning program, you can run that application a million times, even copy it a million times, and it will never "evolve" into a program with new functions, capabilities or appearance.

Meyer also talks about the growing realization among many in the scientific community that materialistic evolution comes up woefully short (in fact, the more we learn about the universe, the more clear it becomes that the universe and everything in it had to be intelligently designed), and about the frightened intellectual hypocrisy of the evolutionist movement:

Meyer: Well, as I mentioned, there's a lot of submerged, or suppressed, dissent about the whole Darwinian synthesis, and the materialistic understanding of biological origins generally. So we have I would say a growing minority of scientists who are very sympathetic to intelligent design. I made a trip to Britain in the spring. I spoke at the city of Darwin's birth to commemorate his anniversary, and the day before the meeting we had, or the day before the talk, we had a meeting a number of British scientists, full professors of science, many very prominent British scientists have been following our work on intelligent design, and they told us they were entirely on side.

Jeffrey: But do you have tenured professors at major American universities who are looking into this?

Meyer: Oh yeah, yeah. They're in the minority view. But I think what's really interesting about the nature of the debate is the people who oppose us don't do so because there's, for example, no one says, "We have a better explanation for the origin of the first life." What they do say instead is, "Well, intelligent design isn't science"–and they try to define science in such a way to exclude consideration of the design hypothesis.

Jeffrey: Why would people be upset if objective observation of the physical world pointed to a Creator?

Meyer: Well, they may hold a worldview that excludes the existence of a Creator, and they may hold it very strongly. And for that reason, the evidence that we're pointing to and the argument that we're developing–or that I'm developing in this case–would be a challenge to what is, in essence, a religious or quasi-religious perspective that people may hold, either explicitly or kind of as a default way of looking at the world.

This philosophy surrounding the theory of evolution also ties into the political realm. Meyer and Jeffrey discuss the ties and harmony between Darwin and Marx, and also examines the current culture war in the United States.

For some time in the United States, two opposing sides have been tearing at the integrity of our nation. On one side you essentially have the conservatives, the religious, the Christians, the free marketeers, and so on. On the other you have the liberals, the atheists, the materialists and evolutionists, the Marxists and so on. There is some disagreement in certain areas between the various sub-groups on both sides, but the two sides are generally divided as I outlined.

This division has produced conflict in the historic ideals of the United States (freedom, responsibility, acknowledgement of the Creator, acknowledgement that our rights are endowed by our Creator, understanding that there is a transcendent moral law, embrace of the free market, and so on), and the new order, the "progressive" idealism (state control, state authority, subservience to the state, denial of a creator, a belief that our rights are what we collectively define them to be, moral relativism, and belief in a state-controlled economy).

How does this tie in with the conflict between evolution and creation/Intelligent Design?

Meyer: Well, they have to, because if there's no objective standard above us all to which we must all conform, then power determines what's right.

Jeffrey: And if you live in a society whose creed begins with the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and you refute the idea that in fact there is a Creator that not only designed the way that human beings are physically, but designed the moral order–

Meyer: You've undermined the foundation of the American Revolution.

Jeffrey: So, this Darwinian idea basically can undercut the very founding of our country.

Meyer: It's ironic, but you know, in a country founded on the idea, where our liberties are linked inextricably to the reality of a Creator, we have now used the Founding–this misapplication of the principle of separation of church and state–to actually exclude the idea that there is evidence for a Creator.

Indeed. The ideals of both Marx and Darwin are fundamentally at odds with the principles upon which America was founded, and the principles which enable our form of government and our way of life to function as it was designed to. Ultimately, since no other nation in the world has applied those fundamental principles in the way we have, and no other nation has seen the success, prosperity, and domestic tranquility enjoyed by the United States, it is easy to see why Marxist ideas and the accompanying evolutionist philosophy devoid of a creator and transcendent moral code threaten all that we enjoy in the United States.

The video is nearly 30 minutes long, but I highly recommend it to you. Try to carve out half an hour this weekend and give some serious thought to what is discussed here.

Disco. 'tute: copyright hypocrites

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/07/disco_tute_copyright_hypocrite.php

Posted on: July 10, 2009 3:55 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Back when Yoko Ono was suing the makers of Expelled over their use of John Lennon's "Imagine," the Discovery Institute was a hotbed of copyfighters. Disco. DJ Bruce Chapman called Ono a "censor" and pitched it as a battle for free speech. Chapman complains about an Ars.Technica post which rightly notes that "intelligent design is not a scientific theory so much as an attempt to create the appearance of controversy using flashy PR tactics," and that Expelled "greatly exaggerates the persecution of intelligent design advocates":

Notice the way the writer feels obliged to abuse free speech—by misrepresenting intelligent design—even as he defends it. We still do have free speech protections in America, but we also have the right to tie up opponents in tactical lawsuits, which is just what Yoko Ono did at a crucial point in the screening of Expelled.…

The spirit of authoritarian censorship is all over the cultural left these days. These were the same people who opposed authority back in the 60s, weren't they—people like John Lennon and Yoko Ono? "Imagine"!

I note only in passing that Ars basically agrees with Chapman's broader point, calling it "unfortunate that Lennon's heirs sought to use copyright law to squelch criticism of Lennon's lyrics. No matter how dishonest Stein and company's arguments may be, they have the right to make them, and copyright must give way to the First Amendment."

These days, though, the shoe is on the other foot. Youtubers critical of Disco. are getting takedown notices, having their Disco-averse videos pulled over claims of copyright violation. Precisely what the supposed violation is remains ambiguous, but the most famous such video is a critique of Disco. hustler Casey Luskin's appearance on Fox News. Early speculation was that Casey might be claiming that he controlled the copyright of his own image on Fox. Casey denies that, and denies sending the takedown letters, but refuses to clarify why the takedowns were sent in any event.

In a recent expansion of the Youtube fight, vlogger qdragon1337 called Casey and tried to get the whole story. Casey initially claimed that the caller's account of events was erroneous, but could only justify the claim by saying that other people's reporting on the incident, not qdragon1337's, was inaccurate. He refused to clarify, then threatened legal consequences if the call was recorded. Unfortunately for Casey, qdragon1337 lives in Canada, where (unlike Luskin's Washington state) only one party to a phone call needs to give permission for the call to be recorded.

In any event, this is hardly the tough talk about freedom of speech and the horrors of tactical lawsuits we were hearing from the shining lights of Disco. only a year ago. I'm told that the creator of the video which kicked this all off is standing firm, and hopefully the Disco. dancers will clarify matters.