NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 October 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, October 16, 2009

Smithsonian to Open Evolution Hall, Launch Dialogue with Faith

http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2009/10/smithsonian-to-open-evolution.php

Thursday October 15, 2009

(RNS) The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural history will open a new permanent exhibit on to the "discovery and understanding of human origins" next March and convene a panel of experts to bridge the gap between religion and science.

With input from more than 50 scientific and educational organizations and 70 distinguished scientists and educators, the museum launched a Broader Social Impacts Committee to address the interaction between religion and science.

"There's a long history of very dynamic interaction between religious ideas and the introduction of Darwin in America," said Jim Miller, co-chair of the committee.

According to Miller, who is also an official with the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith, the evolution exhibit is "a scientific exhibit so it's not there to make a religious point."

Still, the committee will help educate museum volunteers on how to answer questions visitors may have and to "encourage folks to engage the material there in a constructive way."

Miller has witnessed many religious people in America who divorce their religious beliefs from their understanding of the world's origins.

He hopes the exhibit will provide an opportunity "for sound scientific discovery to enrich religious experience."

The 15,000-square-foot exhibition hall will offer visitors a "unique, interactive museum experience" that documents some of the major landmarks in human evolution. It will include several features, including a display containing more than 75 cast reproductions of skulls, an interactive human family tree illustrating 6 million years of evolutionary evidence, and an area that addresses climate change and humans' impact on the earth.

The opening of the $20.7 million exhibition hall will occur March 17, 2010, a date that also marks the museum's 100-year anniversary on the National Mall.

By Angela Abbamonte
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service


Thursday, October 15, 2009

New creationist tactic: telling the truth?

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/10/14/new-creationist-tactic-telling-the-truth/

Young Earth creationists can be sneaky. First, years ago, they loudly proclaimed their religious beliefs. Then when they got smacked hard in the courtrooms when they wanted to teach religion in schools, they evolved: they changed their snake oil to Intelligent Design and tried again.

And again they got whooped. ID was shown to be creationism in disguise — what some might call a bald-faced lie — so that again fundamentalists could attempt to teach religion in the classroom, despite the Constitution of the United States.

I have wondered aloud what they would do next. After all, when facts are slippery things, able to be misused as openly and ridiculously as so many creationists do, then clearly they won't just give up. They'll move on to the next deceptive technique.

And now I have to wonder if we're starting to see it. Could this new tactic be: telling the truth?

Greg Fish of the blog World of Weird Things clued me in to a post on the execrable Answers In Genesis website talking about black holes. In this essay, creationist astronomer Jason Lisle discusses the topic with clarity and actual accuracy. He uses decent analogies, doesn't let them run away from him, and makes a good case for the existence of black holes.

Wha wha whaaaa?

Of course, in the end, he says this:

Black holes provide an observable confirmation of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Such physics is the basis for several young-universe cosmologies, which allow light from the most distant galaxies to reach earth in thousands of years or less. Scientific discoveries, such as black holes, are not only interesting, but they give us a small glimpse into the thoughts of an infinite God (Psalm 19:1).

Well, he certainly drops the ball there, letting it fall down (ha! haha!) a black hole. Cosmologies which abuse basic physics to change enough to allow a young Universe tend to be wrong in their basic assumptions.

But the point here is that the article itself is pretty much factually correct, making me wonder what's going on here. Maybe the folks at AiG are hoping that by writing an article not filled with fallacious reasoning, they'll reap the benefits of Google links (though not from me, since I put a rel=nofollow in the above link to the site). It's hard to say. But given the sheer amount of nonsense on their site, it's hard to ascribe noble motives to them.

And let me add an irony: on that page is a description of dark matter. I find that humorous, because dark matter was originally proposed to solve the mystery of how individual galaxies in clusters can move so quickly but still stay bound to the cluster itself. The gravity from the visible matter in the cluster was too weak to hold on to such rapidly-moving galaxies, and therefore, if the clusters are to not fly apart over the age of the Universe, there must be invisible matter holding them together.

So dark matter was originally proposed because we know the Universe is old. Of course, now we know that dark matter has influence all over the place, and would have been found even if we hadn't studied clusters. But the irony still tickles me.

Anyway, what do we do here? Well, if creationists want to actually describe the Universe for what it really is, then I guess we let them… as long as they do so, pardon the pun, faithfully. But as soon as they step over that broad, broad line into territory clearly denied by the evidence, then they need to be called on it.

Eternal vigilance.

Evolution's attacker made a case for theory, instead

http://romenews-tribune.com/pages/full_story/push?article-Evolution%E2%80%99s+attacker+made+a+case+for+theory-+instead%20&id=3922823-Evolution%E2%80%99s+attacker+made+a+case+for+theory-+instead

by Roy Tressler

A letter writer urged Roman voters to ask candidates for the school board to state their position on evolution in order for the city to avoid wasting time and money debating creationism (Sept 22). A second letter writer (Sept. 29) offered a critique of the first. I want to congratulate the writer of the latter for demonstrating so clearly why the first writer was correct.

In his first paragraph, the second writer appears to state that cases in several states were not about "deciding between evolution and creation/intelligent design," but instead addressed issues regarding "the weaknesses of evolution as well as its strengths." But this is merely a code that creationists use to conceal their true intentions. The same is true of using "the party line" to describe scientific consensus. The writer goes on to argue against evolution on the basis of Werner Gitt's "In the Beginning was Informa-tion." The problem is that Gitt's work has been rejected by other information theorists as wrong, for various reasons. (Refer to Mark Isaak's "The Counter-Creationism Handbook" and http://talkorigins.org.)

The writer compounds this error by stating that evolution has not been confirmed, which is, again, not the case. He justifies his contention by arguing "the question of origins is a history question that deals with world views. It is not really a biology question." But the question of origins is an empirical question. History, as a discipline, is empirical. Evolutionary biology (along with paleontology, geology and cosmology) to name only a few) is a historical science. So the question of biological origins is indeed a question of biology. (Refer to Robert M. Hazen's "Origins of Life," available from The Teaching Company at http://teach12.com.)

But the question of origins deals with worldviews only indirectly, since scientists, as scientists, do not posit a worldview. (Scientific naturalism is a methodological assumption. It is metaphysical only in the sense that methodology is an epistemological discipline, and epistemology is a metaphysical discipline.) Creationists, on the other hand, do posit a worldview, and that is why creationism, even in its intelligent design avatar, is ultimately a question of theology and metaphysics, but not science.

The writer concludes by stating "evolution has greatly hampered scientific endeavors ... by chasing improbabilities." But evolutionary biologists have not ignored research into vestigial organs or "junk" DNA, which the writer would know if he read any of the popular scientific magazines (such as http://scientificamerican.com). Moreover, it is the creationists who have gone chasing after improbabilities; for whether your creator/designer is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God or extraterrestrials, referring to them begs the question of their origins.

Science is not religion. Religion is not science. Creationists distort this distinction for political purposes, namely, to attain an unconstitutional establishment of religion based on a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I encourage people who are interested in this issue to refer to the book, lecture series and websites noted above. Also, I recommend http://ncseweb.org, the website of the National Center for Science Education.

ROY TRESSLER, Rome

Evolution v. Creationism in Christian Colleges

http://phibetacons.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YmI5NmExYTRhYWYzZDcyOGFlZjhjMGEzZTU4Yjk4ZWY=

[David French]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Scott Jaschik has a long and interesting story in today's Inside Higher Ed about efforts to spur greater dialogue within Christian colleges and universities between those Christian biologists who (broadly defined) believe that God created the heavens and earth through evolutionary processes, those who believe in a six-24-hour-day creation and a "young earth," and those who fall somewhere in between. Scott does a better job than most at reporting these kinds of issues, avoiding the "rational and respectable Christians versus fundamentalists" slant that so many reporters take. I have a few thoughts:

First, when biologists find themselves "under fire" for allegedly defying the "literal" creation story, the actual events are often much, much more complex than the simple "I took on the creationists and they sacked me" tale told after the fact. As one commenter notes, there was in fact more to the story of the professor who resigned from Olivet Nazarene College, and there is evidence from within the college that it hardly bans teaching different scientific perspectives.

Second, while civil, intramural debates can be quite healthy, it is important to note the institutional academic freedom interests in play. Different Christian universities have different mission statements and statements of faith. This is, of course, their right, and it is their right — as independent religious organizations — to adhere to those mission statements and ask their faculty to do so as well. No one is required to attend any religious school, no one is required to teach at any religious school, and you are not treating faculty unfairly if you ask them to uphold the school's mission. In many ways, the community of Christian schools represents a "marketplace of ideas" far more open than the parallel community of secular schools — where ideological orthodoxy is rigidly enforced not just within but among the institutions.

Third, I would be surprised if the principles of evolutionary biology were not taught even at schools dominated by a "young Earth" viewpoint. Professors know evolutionary biology and students learn it. They may learn it from a critical standpoint, but they still learn it. It's hardly the case that students at Christian universities leave with yawning gaps in their knowledge. After all, many of them go on to receive doctorates from secular universities. Thus, while the theological/scientific debate is important, the actual impact on classroom instruction — as a rule — is far less material than what outside observers believe.

Finally — and this is a pet peeve of mine — I hate the use of the term "literal" or "literalist" when describing those who believe the Bible is God's word. I have never in my entire life met any single person who believed there was no metaphor in the Bible. So, the actual debate within orthodox Christianity is not between "literalists" and others; it's between those who disagree over the meaning and intent of words, when both sides believe those are the words God intended to use.

Darwin's Dilemma: Evolutionary Elite Choose Censorship Over Scientific Debate

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/55479

Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Casey Luskin

When a conservative group, the American Freedom Alliance (AFA), recently contracted to premiere a new documentary entitled Darwin's Dilemma at the Smithsonian-affiliated California Science Center, they couldn't imagine the brouhaha that would ensue.

As soon as word of the screening went public the Darwinian thought police started complaining about a government-supported science center renting its facilities to a group showing a film that challenges Darwinian evolution.

Why the outrage? Isn't there academic freedom to express scientific viewpoints that dissent from the evolutionary "consensus"?

To give some background on the controversy, the fossil record shows that about 530 million years ago, nearly all major animal groups (called "phyla") abruptly appeared on earth. Dubbed the "Cambrian explosion," this dramatic burst of biodiversity without clear evolutionary precursors has created headaches for evolutionists ever since Darwin's time.

There are two ways that modern evolutionists approach the Cambrian explosion, or what has been called "Darwin's dilemma":

A. Some freely acknowledge that the Cambrian fossil evidence essentially shows the opposite of what was expected under neo-Darwinian evolution.

B. Others deal with the Cambrian explosion by sweeping its problems under the rug and trying to change the subject.

Succumbing to pressure from Darwinian elites, the California Science Center chose option B.

The AFA had contracted with the Science Center, a department of the California state government, to show Darwin's Dilemma on September 25th at the Center's IMAX Theatre. The film explores the eponymous problem of how the Cambrian explosion challenges Darwinian theory, and features scientists arguing that the best explanation is intelligent design (ID).

Apparently this was too much for the California Science Center, which abruptly cancelled the AFA's contract just a couple weeks before the screening. The Center claims it cancelled the event "because of issues related to the contract," but refuses to identify the issues.

Contract "issues" always make a nice pretext for censorship. But a little digging into history uncovers what likely took place.

The California Science Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, which has a long history of opposing academic freedom for ID.

In 2004, a pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific article authored by Stephen Meyer was published in a Smithsonian-affiliated biology journal. Once the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) realized it had published a pro-ID paper, it repudiated Meyer's article, alleging the paper "does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings." Of course the BSW cited no factual errors in the paper; they just didn't like Meyer's conclusions.

Then in 2005, a critical New York Times story inspired anti-ID censors to pressure the Smithsonian to cancel the screening of a pro-ID film, The Privileged Planet. To its credit, the Smithsonian honored its contract to show the film, but publicly disclaimed the event, stating "the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution." Smithsonian spokesman Randall Kremer said the institution objected to the documentary's "philosophical conclusion."

(Of course, when the Smithsonian featured Carl Sagan's Cosmos documentary in 1997, it volunteered no objections to the film's bold opening statement that "The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.")

The story picks up in 2006, when a congressional staff investigation found that "Smithsonian's top officials permit[ted] the demotion and harassment of [a] scientist skeptical of Darwinian evolution." The persecuted scientist was Smithsonian research biologist Richard Sternberg, who experienced retaliation for overseeing the publication of Meyer's paper.

The Smithsonian Institution seems willing to go to great lengths to oppose ID and send the message that scientists who sympathize with ID will face consequences. But how does this relate to the current debacle with the California Science Center?

For one, Drs. Sternberg and Meyer are featured in the Darwin's Dilemma documentary advocating ID. And second, Smithsonian spokesman Randal Kremer has reappeared, stating that he "spoke" with the California Science Center after becoming "concerned by the inference … there was a showing of the film at a Smithsonian branch."

Though Kremer officially denies it, all appearances indicate pressure was applied from on high at the Smithsonian, and the California Science Center caved in and cancelled the event. Once we move past the customary pretexts, this is an open and shut case of censorship and the banning of free speech that dissents from evolution.

Darwin's dilemma isn't just about a lack of transitional fossils in ancient rocks. It's about how the guards of evolutionary orthodoxy will treat contrary scientific viewpoints.

Will they silence minority views, or will they grant dissenting scientists freedom of speech and scientific inquiry to make their case?

That is the real question posed by Darwin's dilemma. Let's hope the California Science Center reverses its decision to cancel the contracted screening of Darwin's Dilemma and chooses freedom of speech over evolutionary dogmatism.

Casey Luskin is an attorney with a graduate science background working at the Discovery Institute in public policy and legal affairs. He is also co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, helping students to discuss evolution and intelligent design by starting student-run IDEA Clubs on college and high school campuses worldwide.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evolution All Around

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/books/review/Wade-t.html

From "The Greatest Show on Earth"

By NICHOLAS WADE
Published: October 8, 2009

The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology. The phenomena that Darwin understood in broad brush strokes can now be accounted for in the precise language of DNA. And though biological systems have attained extraordinary levels of complexity over the passage of time, no serious biologist doubts that evolutionary explanations exist or will be found for every jot and tittle in the grand script.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
The Evidence for Evolution

By Richard Dawkins

470 pp. Free Press. $30

To biologists and others, it is a source of amazement and embarrassment that many Americans repudiate Darwin's theory and that some even espouse counter­theories like creationism or intelligent design. How can such willful ignorance thrive in today's seas of knowledge? In the hope of diminishing such obscurantism, the prolific English biology writer Richard Dawkins has devoted his latest book to demonstrating the explanatory power of evolutionary ideas while hammering the creationists at every turn.

Dawkins invites the reader to share the frustration of an imaginary history teacher, some of whose students refuse to accept that the Roman Empire ever existed, or that Latin is the mother tongue from which the Romance languages evolved. Instead of concentrating on how Western culture emerged from the institutions of the Roman state, the teacher must spend time combating a school board that insists he give equal time to their alternative view that French has been spoken from time immemorial and that Caesar never came or saw or conquered. This is exactly analogous to the plight of the biology teacher trying to acquaint students with the richness of modern biology in states where fundamentalist opponents of evolution hold sway.

Dawkins has a nice sense of irony, deployed without mercy on the opponents of evolution. If the creationists think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, rather than 4.6 billion, he asks, shouldn't they assume, by the same measure, that North America is less than 10 yards wide? The book is even more enjoyable when Dawkins forgets the creationists and launches into evolutionary explanations, whether of the hippopotamus's long-lost cousin the whale, or of the long-tongued moth that Darwin predicted must exist to pollinate a Madagascan orchid with a nectary 11 inches in length. He gives striking examples of "unintelligent design," forced on evolution because it cannot ever start from scratch but must develop new structures from older ones.

He describes a beautiful thought experiment to demonstrate a rabbit's cousinship to a leopard. Imagine a chain of rabbit generations, daughter-mother-grandmother, stretching back into evolutionary time. The creatures become less and less rabbit­like until one reaches the early mammalian species from which both rabbits and leopards evolved. Now do a hairpin bend and follow the generations forward in time down the lineage that leads to leopards. The trunk and branches are long gone, but all living species are the twigs of a single tree.

There is one point on which I believe Dawkins gets tripped up by his zeal. To refute the creationists, who like to dismiss evolution as "just a theory," he keeps insisting that evolution is an undeniable fact. A moment's reflection reveals the problem: We don't speak of Darwin's fact of evolution. So is evolution a fact or a theory? On this question Dawkins, to use an English expression, gets his knickers in a twist.

Evolutionary theory is a mansion that has been under vigorous construction for the last 150 years and is still far from complete. A ballroom-size controversy is whether natural selection can operate at the level of groups as well as that of individuals. The evolutionary theory of aging, which predicts that many genes must be involved in determining life span, recently collapsed when researchers found that the lifetimes of laboratory organisms can be tripled or better by changing a single gene. If the theory of evolution is still in full flux — as befits any scientific theory at the forefront of research — how can evolution be said to be a fact?

Dawkins is aware that evolution is commonly called a theory but deems "theory" too wishy-washy a term because it connotes the idea of hypothesis. Evolution, in Dawkins's view, is a concept as bulletproof as a mathematical theorem, even though it can't be proved by rigorous logical proofs. He seems to have little appreciation for the cognitive structure of science. Philosophers of science, who are the arbiters of such issues, say science consists largely of facts, laws and theories. The facts are the facts, the laws summarize the regularities in the facts, and the theories explain the laws. Evolution can fall into only one of these categories, and it's a theory.

Nicholas Wade is a science reporter for The Times. His book "The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures" will be published next month.

Lecture Series To Challenge Darwinian Evolution

http://www.thebulletin.us/articles/2009/10/10/news/local_state/doc4ad0dfa039f9b539463662.txt

Michael Behe, Ph.D., professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University will speak at the International Institute for Culture lecture series at the Villanova Conference Center on Oct. 24. (Courtesy of Michael Behe)

By ERIN MAGUIRE, For The Bulletin
Saturday, October 10, 2009

The questions of "Where did we come from?" and "Where are we going?" have intrigued man since the beginning of time. The International Institute for Culture (IIC) lecture series "Evolution: The Untold Story" will provide a forum for Intelligent Design based answers to these queries at the Villanova Conference Center in Radnor on Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Leading Catholic scientists, ethicists and cultural analysts will present information that supports the event's theme: "Latest Scientific Discoveries Challenge Darwinian Evolution's Fitness to Survive." The IIC is a non-profit educational and research center dedicated to Catholic cultural renewal.

Michael Behe, Ph.D., professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University and author of Darwin's Black Box (1996) and The Edge of Evolution (2007), will begin the talks with his speech, "Why random mutation and natural selection are not capable of building the complex, coherent, molecular machinery recently discovered in the cell."

"Life is a lot more complicated than what we've been led to believe," Mr. Behe said. "And the standard story of evolution we've been led to believe is not the entire story."

Mr. Behe espoused Darwinian evolution as an associate professor of chemistry, but later had a drastic conversion when he researched the theory.

"I was shocked. I thought there would be reams of evidence for Darwinian evolution," he recalled. "But there were no real explanations. I was angry that much of our view on the way the world works is based on sociology – what we're expected to believe versus hard scientific evidence."

Through his research, Mr. Behe concluded, "So far, Darwinian evolution has not been able to account for the complexity of the cell."

Hugh Miller, research chemist, and co-author of the paper "Recent C[arbon]-14 dating of fossils including dinosaur bone collagen," will also challenge generally accepted thinking in his speech titled, "Removing the Darwinian fig leaf: what modern carbon dating reveals about the true age of the dinosaur."

John Sanford, Ph.D., founder of Sanford Scientific, Inc., Feed My Sheep Foundation, and author of Genetic Entropy (2005) will provide countercultural mathematical evidence of man's de-evolution. His talk is called, "Taking an axe to the primary axiom: mathematical proof that man is devolving, not evolving and why random mutation and natural selection are powerless to stop it."

The notion of Darwinian evolution as it relates to Catholicism is also central to the event.

Hugh Owen, historian, writer and director of the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, will discuss how the Vatican weighs in on evolution in his speech, "Catholics engage in the Great Debate. Rome considers the evidence and articulates guidelines."

John Haas, Ph.D., president of both the IIC and National Catholic Bioethics Center, will speak about "The importance of the evolution dialogue to Catholics and the implications for our children."

"Fundamentally, the belief in strict Darwinian materialist evolution offers a world-view in which God cannot be acknowledged," Mr. Haas explained. "The belief in the 'survival of the fittest,' when applied to man and his personal choices, can lead to an approach to the moral life where the notion of 'might makes right' substitutes for the nobility of human nature as manifested in the strong being willing to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the weak."

Regarding the impact of Darwinian evolution on Catholics, Mr. Haas said, "Materialist evolutionary theory is one of those largely unquestioned 'cultural coordinates' which undergirds many of our ideas about the nature of human beings, human relationships and the social order. These are often radically at odds with a Catholic vision and can even, at times, contribute to a loss of faith."

Conversely, the speeches would hopefully demonstrate the harmony between purposeful creation and science, Mr. Haas said; "There is fundamentally no opposition between science and religion."

Following Mr. Haas' speech, Brian Gail, speaker and author of Fatherless (2009) will facilitate a response to all the lectures in a discussion titled, "What do we do with this information? What is the impact on us as Catholics and on our children?"

Timothy Murnane, event organizer who presented "Intelligent Design – scientific advances confirm Catholic teaching on creation" at an IIC lecture last year, emphasized the need for this lecture series now.

"It is important for young Catholics to hear both sides of the story to assist them in their own accountability in faith decisions," he said. "I believe Darwinian evolution will be discredited this generation. We want to reach as many decision makers and educators as possible."

To find out more or register for "Evolution: The Untold Story," visit www.iiculture.org.

Erin Maguire can be reached at erin.cb.maguire@gmail.com.

God, in books: Richard Dawkins, R. Crumb and making the case for God

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/10/god-in-books-richard-dawkins-r-crumb-and-making-the-case-for-god.html

October 10, 2009 | 8:59 am

In books this Sunday, we look at God. And may lightning not strike us by beginning with Richard Dawkins, mobbed by fans at an atheist convention. Susan Salter-Reynolds talks to him about his new book.

In "The Greatest Show on Earth," he's more proactive, laying out the issue of evolution and natural selection with subheads like: "WHAT IS A THEORY? WHAT IS A FACT?" He writes of "softening up" his readers, as if kneading dough. By mid-book, however, Dawkins is his old scientist self, delighted by his subject, tossing off phrases such as: "What happened next is almost too wonderful to bear."

This is the upside of popular science writing. It's why Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking left their labs to write. They trade in awe, the desire to restore to science the sense of sublime wonder that drew them to it in the first place....

Dawkins is very keen to establish that his new book is not "The God Delusion." He wants, as much as possible, to distance it from conversations about God. "I have a strong feeling that the subject of evolution is beautiful without the excuse of creationists needing to be bashed," he says.

Two other books also take on evolution... the evolution of religion. Reviewer Jack Miles writes:

Can the later scriptures of West Asia -- the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Koran -- be read as the record of a process of human domestication, a further taming and gentling of mankind over time? In "The Evolution of God," Robert Wright argues laboriously that they can indeed be so read.... Karen Armstrong would unhesitatingly dismiss Wright's vision of a deity inferred from the evidence of human evolution as a lamentable instance of the mistake lying at the core of the West's disaffection from received religion -- namely, regarding the case for God as one to be made from such evidence. "The Case for God" is in fact largely an elaborate history of the spread of this mistake from the late Middle Ages to the present.

These authors are probably not the readers R. Crumb is worried about when he writes that he may offend with his new "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb." David L. Ulin writes:

In Crumb's interpretation, [Tamar's] is the story of a "fiercely determined woman, [who] takes it upon herself to ensure the survival of her lineage." That is what Genesis is about, and by portraying it in all its messy humanity, with blood, fear, violence and even graphic sex, Crumb strips away millennia of interpretation, returning this core text to an unexpected accessibility.

See our preview of "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb," in bookstores on Oct. 19. The excerpt opens with the story of Lot in the town of Sodom.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Evolution education update: October 9, 2009

A bill in the Massachusetts legislature would encourage discussion of creationism in public school science classes, according to a cosponsor. A useful collection of articles on teaching evolution in the college classroom is now available on-line. And the Pontifical Academy of Sciences upholds the scientific and educational importance of evolution.

ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN MASSACHUSETTS?

Will a Massachusetts bill entitled "An Act Relative to Protecting the Religious Freedom of Students" encourage the discussion of creationism in public school science classes? That's what a cosponsor of the bill, Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-14th Bristol), told the Cape Cod Times (October 7, 2009). The bill, House No. 376, received a hearing on October 6, 2009, at which, according to the Times, "No one testified against the bill, which has bipartisan support and is expected to pass favorably through the Joint Committee on Education."

Evolution is in fact not mentioned in the bill, which would require school districts in the state to "adopt and implement a local policy that allows for a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious views at school events, graduation ceremonies, and in class assignments, and non-curricular school groups and activities. ... Districts shall treat such expression ... in the same manner as the expression of a secular view. Districts are prohibited from discriminating against any student on the basis of a student's expressed religious views."

In commenting on a similar bill in Virginia (HB 1135 in 2008), Americans United's Dena Sher urged legislators to amend the bill to ensure that classwork is still "graded according to academic standards of substance and relevance," observing that otherwise "this statute could be understood to force biology teachers to give equal credit to students who, when asked questions about evolution, answer with religious views about creation." The version of the bill that was eventually passed and enacted in Virginia was amended along the lines that Sher suggested.

For the story in the Cape Cod Times, visit:
http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091007/NEWS/910070320/-1/NEWSMAP

For the text of the bill, visit:
http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/house/186/ht00/ht00376.htm

For Sher's comments on the Virginia bill, visit:
http://www.au.org/media/church-and-state/archives/2008/04/states-of-confus.html

TEACHING EVOLUTION EFFECTIVELY AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL

A special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, a peer-reviewed electronic journal devoted to the discussion of teaching excellence in colleges and universities, is devoted to the topic of teaching evolution in the college classroom. Featured are Randy Moore, Sehoya Cotner, and Alex Bates's "The Influence of Religion and High School Biology Courses on Students' Knowledge of Evolution When They Enter College"; Katherine E. Bruce, Jennifer E. Horan, Patricia H. Kelley, and Mark Galizio's "Teaching Evolution in the Galapagos"; Patricia H. Kelley's "A College Honors Seminar on Evolution and Intelligent Design: Successes and Challenges"; Alexander J. Werth's "Clearing the Highest Hurdle: Human-based Case Studies Broaden Students' Knowledge of Core Evolutionary Concepts"; Aditi Pai's "Evolution in Action, a Case Study Based Advanced Biology Class at Spelman College"; and Caitlin M. Schrein, John M. Lynch, Sarah K. Brem, Gary E. Marchant, Karen K. Schedler, Mark A. Spencer, Charles J. Kazilek, and Margaret G. Coulombe's "Preparing Teachers to Prepare Students for Post-Secondary Science: Thoughts From of a Workshop About Evolution in the Classroom." All are freely available in HTML and PDF format.

For the special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, visit:
http://www.uncw.edu/cte/et/articles/Vol9_2/index.htm

THE LATEST ON EVOLUTION FROM THE VATICAN

A recently published statement on current scientific knowledge on cosmic evolution and biological evolution from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences concludes: "The extraordinary progress in our understanding of evolution and the place of man in nature should be shared with everyone. ... Furthermore, scientists have a clear responsibility to contribute to the quality of education, especially as regards the subject of evolution." The statement appears in the proceedings of "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life," a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held from October 31 to November 4, 2008.

Nobel laureate Christian de Duve summarized the plenary session: "The participants unanimously accepted as indisputable the affirmation that the Universe, as well as life within it, are the products of long evolutionary histories," noting that there was also wide agreement among the participants on the common ancestry of life on earth. "Evolution," he added, "has acquired the status of established fact. In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, it is 'more than a hypothesis'." The centrality of natural selection to evolution was also recognized, although de Duve acknowledged "the need to refine some of the conceptual bases" of natural selection "in the light of recent findings."

"On the other hand," De Duve added, "no one, at least among the scientists, defended the recently advocated theory of 'intelligent design' ... Several of the arguments cited in support of this theory were shown to ignore recent findings. In particular, the theory was rejected as intrinsically non-disprovable, resting, as it does, on the a priori contention, neither provable nor disprovable, that certain events cannot be naturally explained. These views did not satisfy some theologians who stressed the role of design in creation, an affirmation which, in turn, raised the questions of where and how design is manifested. The issue was not settled during the meeting."

"Intelligent design" was also the topic of Maxine Singer's contribution to the plenary session. Singer traced the history of the antievolution movement in the United States, from Scopes-era attempts to ban the teaching of evolution, through the McLean, Edwards, and Kitzmiller cases, to the present spate of "academic freedom" bills such as Louisiana's, which "permits teachers to speak of evolution as 'controversial' and is an invitation to teachers to present alternative, nonscientific explanations." She added, "The young governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the bill, making it law although he had been a biology major at Brown University."

"Intelligent design is one of the more recent subterfuges used to try to get creationist idea into school science curricula," Singer explained. Its proponents "say their methods are scientific. But they do not describe experiments or systematic observations and do not publish in recognized, peer-reviewed journals." In the face of resistance to evolution exemplified by "creation science" and "intelligent design," Singer concluded, "we are unlikely to convince those who view their religious faith as in fundamental conflict with scientific evolution. ... The most important task for scientists and the only one that has a chance to succeed is assuring that science and evolution are taught properly in school science classes."

For the proceedings, visit:
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/documents/rc_pa_acdscien_doc_20020103_index_general_en.html

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.
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Faith and Belief: 'The Evolution of God' by Robert Wright and 'The Case for God' by Karen Armstrong

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-karen-armstrong11-2009oct11,0,4977378.story

How religion tamed the human species; how a form of theological expression from the Middle Ages could help us recover our understanding of God.

Karen Armstrong

In her new book, Karen Armstrong traces "The Case for God." (David Zentz, Associated Press)

By Jack Miles

October 11, 2009

The Evolution of God
Robert Wright
Little, Brown: 576 pp. $25.99

The Case for God
Karen Armstrong
Alfred A. Knopf: 432 pp., $27.95

Until the discovery of DNA's double helix by James Watson and Francis Crick, prehistory was entirely the province of paleontologists and archaeologists. "But in the past few years," Nicholas Wade wrote in his 2006 book, "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" (a work praised by Watson himself, among many others), "an extraordinary new archive has become available to those who study human evolution, human nature and history. It is the record encoded in the DNA of the human genome and in the versions of it carried by the world's population."

In the lost history whose DNA-aided recovery Wade chronicles, one of the most interesting chapters covers "gracilization" -- that is, "a worldwide thinning of the human skull" starting around 40,000 years ago. Why was it that, millenniums before the agricultural revolution, our ancestors became progressively lighter-boned and smaller? A crucial clue: The fossil record and contemporary breeding experiments alike confirm that domestication, whether accidental -- as in the evolution of the dog from the wolf -- or deliberate, induces pedomorphism, or the retention of juvenile features into adulthood. "Gracilization . . . occurred because early modern humans were becoming tamer," Wade writes. "And who, exactly, was domesticating them? The answer is obvious: people were domesticating themselves. In each society the violent and aggressive males somehow ended up with a lesser chance of breeding. This process started some 50,000 years ago, and, in [primatologist Richard] Wrangham's view, it is still in full spate."

For a student of ancient mythologies, this reference to human self-domestication -- sine qua non for the sedentary life that began 15,000 years ago -- brings to mind the oldest of all epics, the 5,000-year-old, originally Sumerian "Epic of Gilgamesh," in which the civilized, city-dwelling title character, though he has much to learn from the wild and hairy Enkidu, finally defeats him. Gilgamesh sleeps with any city woman he chooses, when he chooses. Enkidu makes do in the fields with a single woman, and her a prostitute.

Perhaps the "Epic of Gilgamesh" crystallized memories of the long human self-domestication that Wade writes of, but of equal interest is the possibility that rather than merely recalling the change, this and kindred myths may have contributed to it. If such a literary work were recited repeatedly, honored as supreme truth, taught to the young and this over centuries of time -- if, in short, it were turned into sacred scripture, then could it not create social pressure, then behavioral changes and, finally, over a sufficiently lengthy period, even genetic modification?

And setting gracilization aside, can the later scriptures of West Asia -- the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Koran -- be read as the record of a process of human domestication, a further taming and gentling of mankind over time? In "The Evolution of God," Robert Wright argues laboriously that they can indeed be so read. After a brief and dated discussion of pre-literate religions, he makes a reading of the three mentioned scriptures in the retrospective light of the steadily growing, gradually more peaceful world community to which they seem to lead. Despite the frequent violence of this three-stranded history, Wright discerns a vector tending distinctly toward unity and away from division. Globalization, for him, is the culmination of this process.

Wright never seeks to demonstrate, however, how in actual practice the scriptures were or might have been deployed to this end. Rather than explain epochal social integration by extrinsic human agency, he looks for an intrinsic explanation -- one written into evolution itself, and the more appealing to him, it seems, the more it defies explanation. Thus, he explains, as natural selection begot cultural evolution and cultural evolution begot successively more comprehensive forms of social organization, "there appeared a moral order, linkage between the growth of social organization and progress toward moral truth. It is this moral order that, to the believer, is grounds for suspecting that the system of evolution by natural selection itself demands a special creative explanation. . . . And if the believer . . . decides to call that source 'God,' well, that's the believer's business. After all, physicists got to choose the word 'electron.' "

Wright's title notwithstanding, his God does not evolve. He is rather a constant, the C-factor without which human evolution does not compute. His book, despite many protestations to the contrary along the way, is finally an argument from design for the existence of God, and as such it does not convince.

Karen Armstrong would unhesitatingly dismiss Wright's vision of a deity inferred from the evidence of human evolution as a lamentable instance of the mistake lying at the core of the West's disaffection from received religion -- namely, regarding the case for God as one to be made from such evidence. "The Case for God" is in fact largely an elaborate history of the spread of this mistake from the late Middle Ages to the present. The alternative she offers -- the case she finally makes -- is for an ancient way of talking about "God, Brahman, Dao, or Nirvana." For her, these are conceptually different names for the reality that exceeds human comprehension and escapes human language, including all human predication of existence or nonexistence. The story she tells is primarily about the Christian and post-Christian West because it is here that the ancient way fell first and deepest into oblivion.

The earliest Christian theology was apophatic. Apophatic theology -- the theology of the original, Greek-speaking Christian church -- was "naysaying" theology, a kind of religious language whose difficult task it was to acknowledge in human language the very inadequacy of human language. Whatever it said, apophatic theology immediately took back, and then it took back the taking back. Ordinary language -- the language of evidence and inference, of instance and generalization -- was fine for ordinary matters. But to confess the universal human experience of a final failure in this language is to take back the confession. It is to lose the game before it begins.

In an ambitious work clear in outline and rich in detail, Armstrong writes the history of how apophatic theology was forgotten in the late Middle Ages; how rational and then quasi-scientific Newtonian theology rose to replace it in early modernity; how, when others were recognizing this as a mistake, fundamentalists tightened their embrace of it; and how, in the wake of the passing of modernity and the failure of both its theism and its atheism, postmodern theology may point toward the recovery of what was lost. A god whose existence you can prove is a god to whom you cannot pray, postmodern theology argues, and prayer -- not proof -- is where religion rises or falls. Armstrong's very considerable service is to show how this novel idea is a very old idea newly recovered.

Miles is distinguished professor of English and religious studies at UC Irvine and general editor of the forthcoming "The Norton Anthology of World Religions."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Is evolution true?

http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20091009/ARTICLES/910099913?Title=Is-evolution-true-

The Rev. Rene Monette
Columnist

Published: Friday, October 9, 2009 at 12:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 9, 2009 at 12:40 p.m.

Charles Darwin based his theory of evolution on the idea that out of the murky deep, by random chance cells came to life. Then these cells progressed over billions of years to more complex life forms until finally man came into existence. The very root of this theory is impossible.

Each cell is made up of thousands of specific proteins necessary for life. Each protein has up to 1,000 amino acids in a specific sequence. A simple protein, not even a complex one, needs 500 amino acids in a very specific order. For these 500 amino acids to line up in a specific order by chance is impossible.

To illustrate this, you can put 20 letters in a box and draw one at a time until you come up with a specific order. You can use A. B. C. D. E. F., in that order. First, an A is picked. After about 20 tries, you can finally get the A. Next, you must pick a B., and if you fail on the first try, you must put all the letters back in the box and start over again with A. This random chance must continue until you get all 20 letters in their proper order, starting over from A. every time you get one wrong.

Obviously, getting this order by random chance is unlikely. How unlikely? The chance that a single, simple molecule can come together by chance in its proper order is one chance in a number so big there is no name for it. It is the numeral one with 950 zeros behind it. Scientists have agreed that anything with one and 50 zeros behind it is mathematically and scientifically impossible. Those who believe in evolution have chosen to believe in something that, according to their own laws, is impossible.

The truth is that God created this world. Our world could be created only by design because random chance is impossible. Evolution is a theory by a man who refused to believe in God.

Today the lie behind evolution continues to be spread as if it is unquestioned truth. It is amazing to me that true scientists defy their own laws by being unwilling to consider the possibility of an answer other than evolution. The truth is that there are much more scientific facts to support creation by design rather than by random chance.

The Genesis account of Adam and Eve tells us that we are all related. Acts 17:26 says, "And he has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth."

Nearly 15 years ago scientists finally unraveled the DNA genetic code for man. It was so complex it took years to figure out. When the code was unraveled, it was found that each person has a unique DNA code assigned to him alone. Many crimes are solved today because we can trace DNA to a specific individual. One thing that was discovered along with man's DNA code is that all the DNA codes originally came from one code or one individual. This information clearly agrees with what we read in Acts 17:26, that we all came from one blood.

Our world is designed by God for our habitation. Isaiah 45:18 tells us, "For thus says the Lord, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: 'I am the Lord, and there is no other.' "

The Earth is 93 million miles from the sun, which just happens to be the perfect distance. If it were 92 million, it would be too hot for life to exist. If it were 94 million, it would be too cold for life to exist. Was that by chance? I doubt it.

The Earth's atmosphere is 21 percent oxygen. If it were 23 percent, it would be too much to allow life. If it were 19 percent, it would be too little to sustain life. Was that by chance? I doubt it.

The ocean has 3.4 percent salt content, which is the same as our human body. If it were 4 percent, there would be no life on Earth. If it were 2 percent, there would be no life on Earth. Was this by chance? I doubt it.

The Earth has a 23.5 degree tilt toward the sun. If the tilt were any greater or lesser, our world would be unstable and our temperature would be too cold on one side and too hot on the other. Was this by chance? I doubt it.

Why is evolution pushed by so many if it is so weak? If a lie is repeated enough, people will believe it. Today the myth of evolution is so well ingrained in science and education that few are willing to buck the trend, regardless of the facts.

When someone says, "I know that evolution is a fact," he makes himself out to be a fool. Romans 1:22 says, "Professing to be wise, they became fools."

These people have rejected all the evidence that so clearly points to intelligent design. Believing in evolution takes far more faith than believing in creation by God.

As the evidence for intelligent design mounts and the evidence for evolution falters, each of us must make a decision. Whom will we listen to? Who is speaking the truth?

The Rev. René Monette is pastor of Living Word Church, 109 Valhi Blvd., Houma. He can be reached at 851-6915 or mone4222@bellsouth.net. Columns represent the opinions of the writer, not necessarily this newspaper.

Faith and Belief: Richard Dawkins evolves his arguments

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-richard-dawkins11-2009oct11,0,4602534.story After taking acceptance of evolution for granted, the author addresses Darwin doubters in 'The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.'

By Susan Salter Reynolds

October 11, 2009

Richard Dawkins, best known as the author of "The Selfish Gene" (1976) and "The God Delusion" (2006), is at the Atheist Alliance International Convention in Burbank to discuss his new book, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" (Free Press: 470 pp., $30), but he can't get from one banquet hall to the next without someone asking to take a picture with him.

Modest and professorial, Dawkins is mobbed, celebrity-style, no matter which audience he tells there is no God. As for Mother Nature, he adds, she doesn't care either -- natural selection is not a good-natured process, but one that favors mutant efforts to get ahead. The evidence for evolution, he concludes, is irrefutable; all living things evolved from a common ancestor, so grow up and stop whining. There is no master plan. We (our genes, that is) are on our own.

No wonder the creationists want to kill the messenger. Dawkins has been accused of aggression, militancy, arch-adaptationism and even -- don't say it -- reductionism. His critics hurl themselves against him in article after debate after full-length book, peppering him with questions: What about the gaps in the fossil record? How about the possibility of an intelligent designer? Would you believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old?

Forty percent of Americans, according to polls taken by Gallup at regular intervals since 1982, "deny that humans evolved from other animals and think that we -- and by implication all life -- were created by God within the last 10,000 years." Such figures vary around the globe. A full 85% of Iceland's population believes we developed from earlier species, but only 27% share that view in Turkey, an Islamic country. In Britain, Dawkins' home turf, 13% of the population actively denies evolution.

Dawkins has come to know such people intimately since "The God Delusion" became a cause célèbre. (The book has sold 2 million copies in 31 countries.) Prior to its publication, he assumed the fact of evolution, believing most readers were on board. In "The Greatest Show on Earth," he's more proactive, laying out the issue of evolution and natural selection with subheads like: "WHAT IS A THEORY? WHAT IS A FACT?" He writes of "softening up" his readers, as if kneading dough. By mid-book, however, Dawkins is his old scientist self, delighted by his subject, tossing off phrases such as: "What happened next is almost too wonderful to bear."

This is the upside of popular science writing. It's why Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking left their labs to write. They trade in awe, the desire to restore to science the sense of sublime wonder that drew them to it in the first place. They share a contagious belief in the beauty of the universe. Readers eat it up.

"You can't imagine how gratifying it is to have a reader come up to you and say, 'You changed my life,' " Dawkins says, surrounded by clattering dishes in a Burbank cafe, after leaving the atheist convention to find a little peace. He has a bit of a lost, blinking demeanor, balanced by his precision of language and insistence on clarity. Asking him what he does for fun is certain to bring on a kind of befuddlement. "Ah yes, the recreation question," he says.

Dawkins was born in Nairobi in 1941 and left for England when he was 9. His father, an agricultural civil servant, inherited a dairy farm that had been in the family since 1723: Jersey cows, some pigs, some "arable." Though he's not the sentimental type, Dawkins admits to "an English nostalgia for village life, including church. I never go, find it excruciatingly boring, but still, I have some nostalgia for evensong on a summer evening."

He had his first doubts about God the same year he left Africa, and he fell for Darwin in his mid-teens. "Who wouldn't be drawn to such a powerful explanation?" he asks. "A good theory explains a lot but postulates little. Natural selection explains everything about us; our brains, bodies, eyes, and yet what it postulates is childishly simple. And no one got it until the mid-19th century!"

After studying zoology and animal behavior at Balliol College, Oxford, Dawkins taught zoology at Berkeley before returning to Oxford as professor for the public understanding of science, a fellowship endowed by Hungarian software billionaire Charles Simonyi. He only recently left this post to write, lecture and run the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, an organization dedicated to rationalist, humanist research and science education.

Dawkins is very keen to establish that his new book is not "The God Delusion." He wants, as much as possible, to distance it from conversations about God. "I have a strong feeling that the subject of evolution is beautiful without the excuse of creationists needing to be bashed," he says. He has a history of releasing his ideas into the world and letting others carry them. In this way, his books are his laboratories. "The Selfish Gene," in which he developed the idea of "memes" (cultural genes; units of cultural evolution), has spawned countless books and courses and even social movements -- conversations, he says, "that I haven't participated in but cast a fond eye upon."

Each book has been a response to some fallacy, an effort to dispel a common misconception. "The Selfish Gene" was meant to unravel the notion of group selection; "The Blind Watchmaker" to respond to the idea that natural selection is random; and "The God Delusion" to expose the dangers of insistence on God. Dawkins searches for the simplest, most powerful explanations. In his own intellectual evolution, he has peeled off, one by one, from his mentors to arrive at a lonely, beautiful place -- the non-beneficent universe. "Life seems so incredibly complicated," he says.

From such a perch, what are the possibilities for the future? "Biological evolution is a slow process," he says, "much slower than cultural evolution. The vast majority of species go extinct, but we are a remarkable species. Given our advances in technology, we have good reason to think we might survive extinction. It's possible that in 10 million years our descendants will still be here."

Dawkins is less sanguine about the fate of science. Despite exciting new discoveries, a dearth of students are going into scientific fields. And for all the crowds who come to see him and other science writers, there doesn't seem to be a lot of private money going to independent research.

"They flock to hear us," he says of the wealthy young entrepreneurs who are often in his audience. "We draw better crowds than bestselling novelists." And yet, children around the world are not getting the science education that would inspire them to careers in science -- the sense of awe, the "vastness of space and time."

To counteract this, Dawkins' next book will be for 12-year-olds, an expansion on a letter about the importance of critical thinking that he wrote to his daughter, Juliet, now a medical student, when she was 10. In it, he describes the dangers of "tradition," "authority" and "revelation" as reasons for believing anything.

"Dear Juliet," this new book begins. "Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me. Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know? How do we know, for instance, that the stars, which look like tiny pinpricks in the sky, are really huge balls of fire like the sun and are really far away? And how do we know that Earth is a smaller ball whirling round one of those stars, the sun? The answer to these questions is 'evidence.' "

Salter Reynolds is a Times staff writer.

Movie Review: "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

http://blog.newsok.com/staticblog/2009/10/09/movie-review-whats-the-matter-with-kansas/

Posted by staticblog
on October 9, 2009M at 1:54 pm

Whats The Matter WIth Kansas

Rating:74

Based on Thomas Frank's best-selling political book on the socio-political conflicts, contrasts and contradictions of his home state, Joe Winston's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" explores how real people live, work, think and vote in Oklahoma's neighbor to the north. While it addresses clearly the fractures in Kansas' body politic, it is the rare political documentary in which no one is labeled the enemy, leaving it up to the viewer to reach a conclusion.

Frank's 2004 book, named for a famous 1896 political column in the Emporia Gazette, covered the rise of conservatism in Kansas, a state that was ground zero for 19th century left-wing populist politics, but beginning with the presidential election of 1968, it has been one of the most reliably conservative states in the Midwest. One of Frank's main points is that conservatives in Kansas are mostly working or middle-class citizens voting against their economic self-interest out of their support of the Republican Party's stand on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and creationism.

But using Frank's book as a jumping off point, director Winston takes a less strident view of the state. In fact, it would be entirely possible to watch Winston's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" from either extreme on the political bell curve and see it as a plain-spoken depiction of life as it is. Liberal populists such as farmer Donn Teske have their view of the demise of their livelihood at the hands of conservative economic policies, but then fellow farmer Angel Dillard, a conservative Christian, sees only good coming from conservatism and mostly evil coming from liberalism.

How the viewer sees "What's the Matter with Kansas?" could serve as a Rorschach test of their own leanings. In this sense, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" is an unusually straightforward documentary in these times: there's no agitprop, no snarky use of public-domain education films from the '50s or a narrative spin in either direction.

Winston takes his cameras to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kan., and gives dispassionate voice to people who believe that Earth was created 6,000 years ago. Again, depending on the viewer, this is likely to elicit a "You've got to be kidding" or an "Amen" — Winston is just depicting Kansas attitudes as they are.

But the film recognizes that Kansas politics is not monolithic: Winston trains his cameras on a Republican watch party on Nov. 7, 2006, and while the supporters of Rep. Todd Tiahrt saw the 4th District Republican congressman sail to easy victory, they also saw a Democratic victory in the state's attorney general race, and the shift of both national legislative bodies to Democratic control. One young Republican, looking for an explanation, claims his party cannot get out the vote as well as the other side, but that is a claim made by both parties of their opponents.

"What's the Matter with Kansas?" is unlikely to change anyone's mind, but it feels like the truth. No one on either side is treated like a caricature, and that in the current social and political environment, a wind blowing right down the middle of the plains can be a refreshing breeze.

The worst article on Ardipithecus yet

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/the_worst_article_on_ardipithe.php

Category: Creationism • Media

Posted on: October 9, 2009 1:04 PM, by PZ Myers

The dishonor goes to ABC News, which put together an appalling mess of an article that gives credibility to creationist denialists. Right from the beginning, you know this article is bunk.

But despite the excitement from the paleontology community, another group of researchers, many of them with advanced degrees in science, are unimpressed by Ardi, who they believe is just another ape -- an ape of indeterminate age, they add, and an ape who cannot be an ancestor of modern man for a range of reasons, including one of singular importance: God created man in one day, and evolution is a fallacy.

The whole article is like that: they cite Creation Ministries International, the Institute for Creation Research, and Answers in Genesis, puffing up the credentials of these loons and credulously reporting their dissent. None of these fellows is any kind of researcher, all are looked upon as utterly crazy, and there is no reason to consult any of them on a science story, let alone dedicating a long article solely to their batty position (they quote one of the real researchers just once, saying that the discovery was an important find — but it is more to lend weight to the parade of nutcases declaring it trivial.)

They give a lot of space to Answers in Genesis, especially to one of their pet frauds-with-a-degree, David Menton.

"What creationists believe about human origins we get from the Bible," said David Menton an acclaimed anatomist and also a creationist. "The creation of the world takes place on page one of the Bible. If you throw out the first page of the Bible you might as well throw out the whole thing. If you can't live with the first page then pitch out the remaining thousand pages."

Menton is not an acclaimed anatomist. His sole claim to fame is his weird belief that the earth is only 6000 years old. Although, I must say, I agree with his sentiment here: the first page is metaphorical, poetical nonsense and should be thrown out, and the rest should be tossed right after it. But what really annoys me is the patent disrespect for knowledge in these people. Ardipithecus is a genus that lived over 4 million years ago. Shouldn't there be a little bit of awe at that? Not from the ICR.

"This is a meaningless discovery of another ape. As far as the creationist community is concerned, this is a big yawn. There is nothing about Ardi that has anything to do with the evolution of man," said John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas.

Menton just keeps on bringing the dementia.

Menton believes scientists sat on the Ardi discovery for over a decade just to roll it out during the Darwin anniversary. He questions the ability to accurately date any fossils more than a few thousand years old, let alone millions, and he said the condition of the skeleton was so incomplete and fragile that serious research was almost impossible.

Menton said Ardi's skull and feet are exactly the kind of skull and feet you would expect an ape to have and have none of the features of modern humans.

"Evolutionists want to call Ardi 'ape-like.' This creature is ape-like, because she is an ape. Just call it an ape," he said.

The biggest problem Menton has with Ardi is her estimated age. The Earth, he says, is no more around 5,000 years old, a number creationists have estimated by counting the generations of man named in the Bible from Adam to Jesus.

"Evolution is supposedly based on science, but the science does not prove what they want it to. Creationism is not based on scientific observation but on God's word. God created everything in six days, and that's it."

Errm, the scientists all agree: Ardi was an ape. They say it right out. They'll also tell 'acclaimed' anatomist Menton that, based on the anatomy, we humans are also apes. We also regard the even older last common ancestor of chimps (which are apes) and humans (also apes) to have been an ape. Therefore, any transitional form between an ancient ape and a modern ape is expected to be an ape.

What did Menton expect? A frickin' giraffe?

As for the rest…anyone in the 21st century who rants about the earth being 6000 years old and unthinkingly accepts the scientific authority of an ancient book cobbled together by tribes of sheepherders really needs to be shuffled off to a rubber room.

So what is ABC News doing getting a story on a serious scientific issue from a series of lunatic asylums? I don't know. Who is this 'journalist,' Russel Goldman, who scribbled up this gullible slop? I don't know and I don't care, except that I'll know to throw anything else he writes in the rubbish.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Darwin's Evangelist

http://www.walrusmagazine.com/blogs/2009/10/09/darwins-evangelist/

October 9th, 2009 by Nav Purewal in The Shelf

It is the lot of public intellectuals to be simultaneously admired and loathed, and few evoke either feeling as intensely as British biologist Richard Dawkins. The pugnacious professor established his reputation in 1976 with the release of his first book, The Selfish Gene, a modern classic that, like all the best popular science writing, relates complex ideas in nuanced terms comprehensible to any educated layperson. Dawkins has written nine other books since then, including 2006's best-selling atheist polemic The God Delusion. His latest text, The Greatest Show on Earth, is his first substantial attempt to catalogue the evidence for Darwinian evolution; it combines his talent for scientific explication with his disdain for religious fundamentalism. I spoke with Dawkins last week as he began a North American tour to promote the book, which is a riveting, humbling, and stunningly informative read.

Who is the audience for this book?

I don't think it's going to change the minds of dedicated creationists, but there are lots and lots of people who have never been exposed to the evidence of evolution before. They may be sufficiently gripped by the book. I'm hoping to not exactly change people's minds, but to draw people off the fence — people who haven't really thought about it much before.

What is the greatest misconception about evolution not among creationists, but among people who believe in Darwinism?

That Darwinian evolution is a theory of chance. That's probably the largest one of all. There are many people who say, "I simply refuse to believe that anything as complicated as the human body — or any living body, for that matter — could be a result of chance." Well, of course it's not the result of chance. That's the whole point.

Your book debunks many creationist myths, from the suggestion that natural selection is only a theory, to crocoduck, a canard about missing links in the fossil record. What are creationists' most pernicious mistakes about evolution, and why do they persist?

For creationists as well, the most pernicious mistake is the one about it being a theory of chance. Darwin's Theory of Evolution doesn't mean Darwin's Tentative Hypothesis Concerning Evolution; it means theory in the scientific sense, which is a body of knowledge gathered together and widely accepted. The crocoduck one is a bit of a joke. There are people who misunderstand evolution so much that they think it means there should be intermediates between not just ancestors and descendants, which would be reasonable, but intermediates between any animal and any other animal, like a crocodile and a duck. Or a fronkey! "Where are your fronkeys between frogs and monkeys?" And that, of course, is a truly grotesque misunderstanding.

That's a mistake many people make about missing links. Any species that is the halfway point between two other species is still going to be classified as one of those two species, or as a third species. Nothing is classified as mid-species.

That's right. We're lucky that we have fossils at all. It's an extremely fortunate circumstance that corpses do fossilize. Even if they didn't — if we had not a single fossil — we would still know that evolution had happened from other evidence. What's really telling is that there's not a single fossil in the wrong place. If there were mammal fossils from before fish evolved, for example, that would totally and utterly disprove evolution. But not a single fossil of that kind has ever been discovered in the wrong place.

The book details how easy it would be to falsify the theory of evolution. In your dealings with creationists, how do they account for the lack of such falsifying evidence?

They don't discuss it, or they try instead to make a big deal out of gaps in the fossil record, which is only negative evidence. You expect to find gaps. What you don't expect to find is evidence of something in the wrong place. Creationists basically ignore the fact that that hasn't happened. Or they make [things] up. There are some fake fossils. There are allegations of human skulls in rock measured from the Carboniferous Era. There are allegations of human footprints interspersed with dinosaur footprints. I'm happy to say that most creationists have now explicitly disavowed that particular one. The leading creationists have said, "No, we can't use that anymore, it's too obviously wrong."

You label creationists "history deniers," intentionally likening them to Holocaust deniers. There's considerable rhetorical power in this. Do you worry, however, that it might alienate some readers?

It hadn't occurred to me that it would be alienating or seen as a strong pronouncement. Maybe it's because I'm a scientist and I don't latch onto the political implications of it. To me, it's a perfectly good parallel. The historical evidence in favour of the Holocaust having happened is overwhelmingly strong, obviously, and the historical evidence in favour of evolution being a fact is also overwhelmingly strong. There are deniers of both. Why not link them as a good analogy?

The Greatest Show on Earth was only just released in Canada, but it's been out a little longer in Britain. What sort of reaction have you gotten from creationists?

The book went straight to number one on the British, Australian, and Irish bestseller lists, and I have great hopes for the Canadian bestseller list. But I haven't specifically heard any reaction from creationists. The kind of creationists you may be talking about are the young earth creationists, those who think the world is only 6,000 years old. I don't think they really read books anyway, do they?

There's at least one book that they read.

Yes, one book. And not much of it, by the way. If they read all of the Bible, they would get a nasty shock.

What is the most compelling piece of evidence for the theory of evolution?

That's a difficult one to answer because there's so much evidence that's very, very compelling. The single most compelling piece probably comes from molecular genetics compared across all living creatures: all living creatures have the same genetic code. That means you can quantitatively compare the genes of any creature with any other creature… Whether you take similar animals — rats and mice, or humans and chimpanzees, or moles and hedgehogs — or you take more different animals, you find a beautiful, hierarchical pattern: a tree. The tree is, of course, a tree of life. It's a family tree. It's a pedigree. These animals are all cousins of one another. Every single molecule you look at produces the same tree.

Is the sense of wonder with which you write and speak about evolution a conscious strategy, or simply unavoidable when describing this material?

The material is awe inspiring. It dwarfs Genesis or any other creation myth. It is an astonishing story that on this planet — and maybe on other planets, but we don't know about other planets — the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry could do this extraordinary thing from the arising, at some point more than three billion years ago, of a self-replicating molecule. From this everything followed. We now have the most staggering elegance, beauty, and illusion of design that, as Hume said, ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated it.

Richard Dawkins Runs From a Good Fight

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/10/richard_dawkins_runs_from_a_go.html

Today on the Michael Medved show, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth, was asked point-blank by Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman why he wouldn't debate Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell. His response? Weak sauce:

I have never come across any kind of creationism, whether you call it intelligent design or not, which has a serious scientific case to put.

The objection to having debates with people like that is that it gives them a kind of respectability. If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned.

Hm. Did Professor Dawkins have these same scruples when he went up against John Lennox in 2007?

No matter — Professor Dawkins made his position clear enough: address young earth creationism, then tell your audience that you've destroyed intelligent design... which of course, even Richard Dawkins admits, is not the same thing as young earth creationism.

Read the transcript of the entire exchange below — and note Bruce Chapman's great line about Expelled:

Bruce Chapman: … Dr. Dawkins, this is Bruce Chapman from Discovery Institute calling. [Dawkins, muttering under his breath: "Right."] I was frustrated with this conversation because most of the time I hear straw man arguments about intelligent design. Your new book apparently doesn't really deal with intelligent design. But it seems to me, that in your previous book, you said that it's a question of science, that it is a scientific argument – I congratulate you for that -- But if it is, how about having a debate with Stephen Meyer, who is the author of another new book, Signature in the Cell, which deals with this question, and have this in a respectful, civilized, scholarly fashion where you look at the scientific arguments, pro and con?

Richard Dawkins: Now, when you say that I don't deal with intelligent design, I do, because I deal with creationism and, of course, intelligent design is simply another name for creationism invented for political reasons.

Chapman: Well, if it's another name for creationism, why did you distinguish between intelligent design and creationism very early in this program?

Dawkins: I don't.

Medved: You did, earlier on, when we were talking about the Holocaust denier analogy, you said you applied that analogy to old earth creationists. Intelligent design advocates are not old earth creationists.

Dawkins: Sorry, um, I applied the history-deniers to young earth creationists.

Medved: I'm sorry, young earth creationists, yes, but you know intelligent design advocates are not young earth creationists.

Dawkins: I do, and that was precisely the distinction I was making. That's why I said that I was not accusing intelligent design people of being history deniers, in that sense.

Medved: But you just said intelligent design is another name for creationism.

Dawkins: It is another name for creationism, but not young earth creationism.

Medved: Bruce Chapman?

Chapman: In that case, you've got an argument with your previous caller also, because that would be a theistic evolutionist proposition, which is also, by your definition, if it's not Darwinian evolution, it's creationism in some fashion. There isn't any other kind of evolution, as far as you're concerned.

Dawkins: Where do you guys think – do you think that God did it?

Chapman: I don't know, I don't think that the intelligent design people—

Dawkins: That's what you say, you always pretend, you always pretend that an alien in outer space or something, but you know very well that what you mean is God.

Chapman: No, I think that was your line in Expelled. But I think that the thing that you really ought to consider, in all seriousness, is that by your own definition there is a scientific argument. Put that scientific argument to the test, not with somebody who's a straw man that you bring up, but have somebody like Meyer, who has written a very scholarly book, to actually debate this topic with you…

Medved: All right, the proposal's on the table, response from Professor Dawkins, thank you, Bruce.

Dawkins: I will have a discussion with somebody who has a genuinely different scientific point of view. I have never come across any kind of creationism, whether you call it intelligent design or not, which has a serious scientific case to put.

The objection to having debates with people like that is that it gives them a kind of respectability. If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned.

Posted by Anika Smith on October 8, 2009 4:28 PM | Permalink

Cancellation of Darwin film creates uproar

http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_13520040

DEBATE: Alliance claims it was censorship; science center says no.
By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Updated: 10/08/2009 10:51:02 PM PDT

As the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's landmark book on evolution approaches, a brouhaha has erupted in Los Angeles County over a planned series of events exploring the conflict between his theories and "intelligent design" advocates.

A group that favors "intelligent design" had planned to premier a new documentary film at the California Science Center in Los Angeles later this month, but the center later canceled the event.

The group claims the cancellation was an act of censorship, made after the center was pressured by the Smithsonian Institution, but the center chalked it up to a contract issue, without elaborating.

Coined "The Darwin Debates: A Forum for Dialogue," the nonprofit American Freedom Alliance had planned to premier a new Illustra Media documentary, "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion," at the California Science Center on Oct. 25.

The Los Angeles-based alliance describes itself as a "nonpolitical, nonpartisan, movement of concerned Americans which identifies threats to western civilization." Those threats, according to the group include "the Islamic penetration of Europe" and "the growth of radical environmentalism."

California Science Center president Jeff Rudolph said Thursday the premiere was canceled "because of issues related to the contract." Rudolph declined to elaborate on those issues.

"We don't discuss contract issues in public," Rudolph said.

Avi Davis said the cancellation had nothing to do with contract issues, but rather a press release touting the film issued a few days ago by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based "intelligent design" think tank.

The institute's release announced that some of its fellows were featured in the film to be screened at a location they described as the "Smithsonian Institution's west coast affiliate."

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, said he understands officials at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History pressured the CSC to cancel the film.

"I think this is an outrageous example of censorship and ideological discrimination," West said. "The thing about a contractual dispute is just a pretext and it's bogus. This really should be disturbing to anyone who believes in free speech."

But Smithsonian spokesman Randal Kremer denied that his organization pressured the CSC to cancel the film.

"It's nothing we would get involved in," Kremer said.

However, Kremer said he saw the press release a few days ago and was concerned by its reference to the Smithsonian. He pointed out the CSC is just one of more than 160 Smithsonian affiliates nationwide, adding the CSC is not a branch of the Smithsonian, but "they work with us occasionally on their programs."

"The only reason I spoke with anyone at the California Science Center is I was concerned by the inference (in the press release that) there was a showing of the film at a Smithsonian branch, which is how the California Science Center was portrayed in the news release," Kremer said. "Of course, that is not the case. They are independent and any decisions they make on this are on their own."

As a result of the dust-up, Davis said he's considering showing the film at another venue. But he said the rest of the events are scheduled to go forward as planned.

Those include a debate on Nov. 30 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills between Discovery Institute official Stephen Meyer and Biologic Institute investigator Richard Sternberg and The Skeptics Society President Michael Shermer and paleontologist Don Prothero.

Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species," a foundation of the scientific theory of evolution, was first published in November 1859.

"Intelligent design" is a more modern, controversial theory that proposes to add a role for religion in evolution by attributing diversity in nature to divine causes.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Antievolution legislation in Massachusetts?

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/10/antievolution-legislation-massachusetts-005092

* October 7th, 2009
* Massachusetts
* anti-evolution
* 2009

Will a Massachusetts bill entitled "An Act Relative to Protecting the Religious Freedom of Students" encourage the discussion of creationism in public school science classes? That's what a cosponsor of the bill, Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-14th Bristol), told the Cape Cod Times (October 7, 2009). The bill, House No. 376, received a hearing on October 6, 2009, at which, according to the Times, "No one testified against the bill, which has bipartisan support and is expected to pass favorably through the Joint Committee on Education."

Evolution is in fact not mentioned in the bill, which would require school districts in the state to "adopt and implement a local policy that allows for a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious views at school events, graduation ceremonies, and in class assignments, and non-curricular school groups and activities. ... Districts shall treat such expression ... in the same manner as the expression of a secular view. Districts are prohibited from discriminating against any student on the basis of a student's expressed religious views."

In commenting on a similar bill in Virginia (HB 1135 in 2008), Americans United's Dena Sher urged legislators to amend the bill to ensure that classwork is still "graded according to academic standards of substance and relevance," observing that otherwise "this statute could be understood to force biology teachers to give equal credit to students who, when asked questions about evolution, answer with religious views about creation." The version of the bill that was eventually passed and enacted in Virginia was amended along the lines that Sher suggested.

Science wins fight over evolution in schools, says Case Western Reserve University author

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-10/cwru-swf100809.php

Public release date: 8-Oct-2009

Contact: Susan Griffith
susan.griffith@case.edu
216-368-1004
Case Western Reserve University

If you want to understand how evolution has challenged the constitutionality of the separation of church and state, Mano Singham from Case Western Reserve University provides a concise and chronological history in his new book, God vs. Darwin: the War between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).

God vs. Darwin comes just weeks before the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's landmark book, On the Origins of Species, which has been at the center of the debate over how the diversity of all living things came about. Did it happen largely through the mechanism of natural selection as Darwin proposed or, as religious fundamentalists believe, did some supreme being craft the universe about 6,000 years ago along with all the species we see around us, and in particular, design humans with higher thought processes?

The country's early leaders saw the potential dangers of having religion and religious establishments become too closely aligned with government and penned a Constitution with a First Amendment to protect freedoms of speech and the practice of all religions from Congressional interference. Later the 14th Amendment extended that ruling to state and local governments.

"The First Amendment places limits on what you can and cannot do in the public school classroom," says Singham, director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education at Case Western Reserve University and adjunct associate professor of physics. "That amendment has been fleshed out over time, but many misunderstandings about that history exist."

He set about writing the book to clarify those misconceptions.

"School districts cannot take a position that endorses or opposes religion," he says, and adds that time and again, people have reworked language to try to bypass the Constitution in order to either oppose the teaching of evolution or to bring prayer and Bible readings back into the classroom.

Over the past century, evolution has become the rallying point to bring religion back into schools. Religious groups have stepped up efforts under such curricular guises as creation science, creationism and intelligent design.

Singham traces this history, beginning long before the John Scopes trial in 1925 challenged the teaching of evolution in the schools and made that challenge part of the American popular culture in movies and stage plays such as Inherit the Wind.

What most people may not know is that hostility to evolution did not initially motivate the Scopes trial. It was a publicity ploy to bring attention—and possibly tourist business—to Dayton, Tennessee. Although it never made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case set the stage for other trials that would set precedents to bolster, instead of tear down, the wall of separation between church and state.

Among the major evolution trials were: Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) that found a 1928 Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution to be unconstitutional; Daniel v. Waters (1975) that overturned and found unconstitutional a law requiring the "balanced treatment" of teaching the Genesis story alongside evolution; and Edward v. Aguillard (1987) that found that just changing the balanced treatment mandate to require teaching a more neutral-sounding "creation science" was still unconstitutional because creation science invoked a supernatural agency as having a hand in creation. The last major case, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al., was an attempt to advance the ideas of intelligent design. This was also found unconstitutional because it also had at its core a supernatural force and was thus religion- based.

The intelligent design idea was advocated by the Discovery Institute and attempted to bypass constitutional challenges and possibly make an inroad into the schools by removing all overt references to religion or requiring the teaching of alternative views to evolution. But School officials in Dover, by speaking out openly on behalf of religion, inadvertently sabotaged the Discovery Institute strategy.

The Dover case, says Singham, also brings the curtain down on the long history of religious groups trying to breach the wall between church and state.

According to Singham, losing the Dover case has demoralized the intelligent design movement, and at least for now, has put a nail in the coffin for religious groups to challenge evolution in the schools.

He thinks the issue is now settled, especially as the country's population seems to be shifting somewhat from organized religion to spiritualism or skepticism.

And, more evidence to support evolution continues to be discovered through scientific research, says Singham. "The idea of evolution has caught the imaginations of people, who are interested in such findings as Tiktaalik (fish to amphibian fossil) or Ardi (a 4.4 million-year-old hominid skeleton)," says Singham.

But one message Singham wants readers to take away from his book is that the very Constitutional amendments that bar religion in the schools protect the freedom of religious practices.

"People who try to break down the separation of church and state are undermining the very thing that has served the country well and prevented a lot of interreligious fights," says Singham. Recalling the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, he said, "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

For now the battle between religion and Darwin has been won by science, says Singham.

###

Case Western Reserve University is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case Western Reserve offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work. http://www.case.edu.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Disco. does creationism

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/10/disco_does_creationism.php

Category: Creationism • Policy and Politics
Posted on: October 6, 2009 8:51 PM, by Josh Rosenau

The Disco. 'Stute is upset. Not only has disco been overtaken by that rap music, but you can't even hear the good stuff any more. Also, no one returns their phone calls.

Atheist Richard Dawkins dodges Debate Challenge:

Ray Comfort, author of the Amazon.com's best seller, You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can't Make Him Think – is offering $20,000 to Richard Dawkins (probably the world's most famous atheist) simply for Dawkins to appear in a public debate on the issue of the beginnings of the universe with him. However, it seems Prof Dawkins would rather keep his tirades against God to his website and circle of atheist fans. Dawkins first claimed he will not join the debate as it would only give "credibility to the opponents" and again that as far as the origin of the Universe is concerned, "the debate is over".

Oops, wrong story. I meant…

Leading Darwinist Richard Dawkins Dodges Debates, Refuses to Defend Evolution as The Greatest Show On Earth

Richard Dawkins, the world's leading public spokesman for Darwinian evolution and an advocate of the "new atheism," has refused to debate Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, a prominent advocate of intelligent design and the author of the acclaimed Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.

"Richard Dawkins claims that the appearance of design in biology is an illusion and claims to have refuted the case for intelligent design," says Dr. Meyer who received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge in England.

"But Dawkins assiduously avoids addressing the key evidence for intelligent design and won't debate its leading proponents," adds Dr. Meyer.

In a move I can only describe as a bad attempt at retro fashion, they've not only dredged up the tired creationist tactic of challenging people to useless stage debatea, but they're adopting the same tired rhetoric that always accompanied such challenges.

I mean, Richard Dawkins already dodged Karl Priest and Joe Mastropaolo's debate offer. As did "Unnamed." And everyone else (details here).

"But Josh," you protest. "Stephen Meyer and Anika Smith made it clear that this isn't about creationism. That's why Meyer called Dawkins 'disingenuous': 'Creationists believe the earth is 10,000 years old and use the Bible as the basis for their views on the origins of life. I don't think the earth is 10,000 years old and my case for intelligent design is based on scientific evidence.'"

Ah yes, but you see, Priest and Mastropaolo were all about the science, too:

The rules are like those for a prize sporting event: winner takes all. The evolutionist contestant puts $10,000 in escrow. This will be matched by a creation scientist for a total of $20,000. If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, he wins the $20,000. If the creation scientist proves that creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist collects the $20,000. The standards of evidence will be those of science: objectivity, validity, reliability and calibration. The preponderance of the evidence prevails.

And in fairness to the comparison, as many complex scientific questions have been resolved via debates on stage as have been resolved via prize sporting events.

Never fear, though, Smith/Meyer. You have a way before your list even gets as long as the Priest/Mastropaolo's "Debate Dodgers" (as of 2003):

1. Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Science Professor, Tennessee University.

2. Mr. Andre H. Artus, no credentials

3. Mr. Lee Bowen, no credentials

4. Dr. Angela Ridgel, Case Western Reserve University

5. Mr. Dan Radmacher, Editorial Page Editor, Charleston Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia

6. Dr. James Paulson, University of Wisconsin

7. Dr. Lawrence Krauss, Case Western University

8. Dr. Dennis Hirsch, Capital University

9. Mr. John Rennie, Author of "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense"

10. Dr. Barbara Forrest, Southeastern Louisiana

11. Dr. Steve Rissing, Ohio State University

12. Dr. Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education

13. Dr. Michael Shermer, founder/director of the Skeptics Society

14. Dr. Richard Dawkins, Oxford University

15. Dr. Francisco Ayala, University of California, Irvine

16. Dr. Joe Meert, University of Florida

17. Dr. Kenneth Miller, Brown University

18. Dr. Lawrence Lerner, California State University

19. Dr. Adrian Molott, American Physical Society

20. Dr. Stephen Hawking, Cambridge University

21. Marilyn vos Savant, listed in Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame for highest IQ

22. Dr. Douglas Theobaid, University of Colorado, Boulder

23. Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

24. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

25. National Center for Science Education (NCSE) "Steves" (over 100 evolutionists)

26. WV University, 14 evolutionism activist professors of science

27. Marshall University College of Scoence Huntington, West Virginia

28. California State University, Long Beach, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

29. University of California, Irvine, 11 professors of evolutionism

A nice list to be on.