NTS LogoSkeptical News for 03 November 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ray Comfort Responds to Genie Scott on Creationist 'Origin of Species'

November 02, 2009 12:57 PM ET | Dan Gilgoff

In the third installment of a debate between creationist Ray Comfort and scientist Eugenie Scott, Comfort defends his new version of Darwin's On the Origin of Species against a critique from Scott. Scott will rebut tomorrow. And just a reminder: Neither God & Country nor U.S. News necessarily endorses their views. -Dan Gilgoff

By Ray Comfort

A major concern of Genie Scott was that the copy of On the Origin of Species sent to her by my publisher was missing "four crucial chapters," as well as Darwin's introduction. She will be pleased to know that the second printing of 170,000 copies (the one that we will give to students) is the entire book. Not one word will be omitted.

Scott quoted a famous geneticist, who said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." I would like to drop one word, so that the quote is true. It should read, "Nothing in biology makes sense in the light of evolution." For example, evolution has no explanation as to why and how around 1.4 million species of animals evolved as male and female. No one even goes near explaining how and why each species managed to reproduce (during the millions of years the female was supposedly evolving to maturity) without the right reproductive machinery.

Nor does any evolutionary believer adequately address the fact that all those 1.4 million species managed to evolve into maturity together in our lifetime. Nothing we have in creation is half evolved. The cow has a working udder to make drinkable milk. The bee has working apparatus to make edible honey. We don't find a half-evolved cow or bee. None of the 1.4 million species on the Earth has half an eye. All have the necessary functioning equipment, from the brain, to the teeth, to the eye, to limbs, to reproductive necessities. Everything that we see in creation is in full working order—from the sun, to the mixture of the air, to the seasons, to fruit trees and vegetables, to the animal kingdom—from the tiny ant right up to the massive elephant.

But not only do we see this mature completion in creation; we see it displayed in the fossil record. It reveals that each animal was complete. Historical and present creation stands as a stark testimony to the folly of Darwinian evolution.

Darwin was certainly on to something when he said, "Often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may have not devoted myself to a fantasy."

My second point is that Scott is happy for students to read the first eight and the last 10 pages of the Introduction, but she doesn't want them to waste their time on the meat in the sandwich. She says that this portion is my weakest, most tasteless of arguments. If that is true, shouldn't she then encourage students to read that portion to prove the weakness of my case? Instead, she says not to read it. I wonder why?

Scott continues, "There are more specimens of 'Ardi' (the newly described Ardipithecus ramidus) than there are of Tyrannosaurus . . . We and modern chimpanzees shared a common ancestor millions of years ago . . . ." But that's another evolutionary "Oops!" if you believe the learned scientists on the Discovery Channel. In a recent two-hour documentary about Ardi, the scientists said, "Ever since Darwin, we have bought into the idea that humans evolved from ancient chimplike creatures. That's because modern chimps seemed to share a lot of anatomy and modern behavior with humans. So the idea that we evolved from something like chimps seemed to make sense. But now, the discovery of Ardipithecus shows that this idea is totally and completely wrong." Did you hear what they said? This idea that we evolved from ancient chimplike creatures is totally and completely wrong.

I am aware that it is the learning process of evolutionary "science" to continually discover itself to be wrong. So there can never be a time when believers can claim they have the truth. This is just as well, because each new and believed hypothesis, like the crazy fashions of a superficial teenager, is in time discarded in favor of the new.

After addressing my arguments from the portion of the Introduction she doesn't want students to read, Scott says, "More fossils will provide more details, but this outline of human evolution is not in serious doubt among scientists." Hear her own words: "More fossils will provide more details." In other words, they still don't have the undisputed fossils. That's what Darwin lamented 150 years ago! He said that when a skeptic "may ask in vain, 'Where are the numberless transitional links?' " Darwin's answer was that the missing links "may lie buried under the ocean." They are still buried somewhere, 150 years later. Scott said that "human evolution isn't in serious doubt among scientists." But I say, it should be.

She also says, "There are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs—and even feet." But she doesn't give me any details of such splendor. Where are they? Instead, she quotes the Bible: "Oh foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not." However, Jeremiah is speaking of Israel's rejection of the message of the Gospel (not Darwinian evolution), something Scott dismisses as "rather heavy-handed evangelism."

She then encourages doubters to consider museums where "you will find transitional fossils galore." I went to the Smithsonian to see the fossils galore, and they were there—millions of fossils that were evidence of special creation. The Smithsonian didn't have any transitional fossils that proved evolution (staunch believers claim that they have them, but not on display). I also visited the evolution museum in Paris (Grande Galerie de L'Evolution). I took a camera crew, and we spent an hour looking for the evolution exhibit. It didn't have one. All it had were millions of fossils of fully formed animals that God created.

There are so many gaps and holes in the theory of evolution that you could drive a fleet of a thousand fully laden 18-wheelers through them. The irony is that I can see them, and I'm not an expert on the subject of evolution. So, what does that say about the theory's experts, whoever they are? It says (as a wise man once said) that man will believe anything . . . as long as it's not in the Bible.

3-part PBS series showcases fascinating DNA research


By WALT BELCHER | The Tampa Tribune

Published: November 3, 2009

Creationists probably aren't going to like "Becoming Human," a three-part "Nova" series about how humans evolved from apes.

Apparently there are no missing links anymore. "Nova" reports on how science is rapidly closing in with evidence that makes evolution the most plausible theory. Some of the DNA research being done on this subject is fascinating.

Many people in our science-challenged country may not be aware of the discoveries that have been made in the past decade.

A lot of us are stuck in the evolution versus creationism debate that dates back 84 years to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.

It wasn't about monkeys, but the nickname made a sensational headline in 1925 when John Scopes, a biology teacher in Dayton, Tenn., was charged with violating a state law that made it illegal to teach evolution.

The jury trial that followed captured the nation's attention, pitting the country's two greatest lawyers, Clarence Darrow (for Scopes) and William Jennings Bryan (for the state) in a debate over Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Scopes lost. But eventually science won out in the classroom. Through the years, states dropped anti-evolution legislation and the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism violated the separation of church and state.

However, pro-creationism education initiatives continue. Since 2007, school boards in a dozen Florida counties have passed resolutions calling for evolution lessons to be balanced by "alternatives," a euphemism for religion-based explanations of life.

Debuting tonight at 8 on PBS, "Becoming Human" looks at the latest research and the most recent discoveries, including fossilized bones of ape/human creatures.

The first hour, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused human-like creatures to split from the other great apes including a changing environment that resulted in the need to come down from the trees and walk on two legs.

The program recounts the discovery of the skull of a child that died 3.3 million years ago. It offers clues on how human brains began to change from those of apes.

The second hour (8 p.m. Nov. 10) tackles the mysteries of how the early humans lost their body hair and became long-distance hunters, developing skills like making spears. It also offers theories on how early humans became social creatures around campfires.

Part three (8 p.m. Nov. 17) looks at cutting-edge DNA analysis that reveals new insights into how humans became creative.

To accompany the program, "Nova" launched an evolution Web site: www.pbs.org/nova/evolution.

LOOKING BACK AT BARACK: A new documentary that tracks Barack Obama's race for the presidency debuts at 9 tonight on HBO — one year after he won the election.

"By the People: The Election of Barack Obama," is the work of two filmmakers, Alicia Sams and Amy Rice, who take viewers inside the workings of a spirited and expertly run campaign.

Although it recalls a historic victory and the excitement that Obama inspired, it also reminds us that being president has turned out to be a lot harder than running for president.

Creationism, Minus a Young Earth, Emerges in the Islamic World Sign in to Recommend


Published: November 2, 2009

AMHERST, Mass. — Creationism is growing in the Muslim world, from Turkey to Pakistan to Indonesia, international academics said last month as they gathered here to discuss the topic.

But, they said, young-Earth creationists, who believe God created the universe, Earth and life just a few thousand years ago, are rare, if not nonexistent.

One reason is that although the Koran, the holy text of Islam, says the universe was created in six days, the next line adds that a day, in this instance, is metaphorical: "a thousand years of your reckoning."

By contrast, some Christian creationists find in the Bible a strict chronology that requires a 6,000-year-old Earth and thus object not only to evolution but also to much of modern geology and cosmology, which say the Earth and the universe are billions of years old.

"Views of scientific evolution are clearly influenced by underlying religious beliefs," said Salman Hameed, who convened the two-day conference here at Hampshire College, where he is a professor of integrated science and humanities. "There is no young-Earth creationism."

But that does not mean that all of evolution fits Islam or that all Muslims happily accept the findings of modern biology. More and more seem to be joining the ranks of the so-called old-Earth creationists. They do not quarrel with astronomers and geologists, just biologists, insisting that life is the creation of God, not the happenstance consequence of random occurrences.

The debate over evolution is only now gaining prominence in many Islamic countries as education improves and more students are exposed to the ideas of modern biology.

The degree of acceptance of evolution varies among Islamic countries.

Research led by the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University, in Montreal, found that high school biology textbooks in Pakistan covered the theory of evolution. Quotations from the Koran at the beginning of the chapters are chosen to suggest that the religion and the theory coexist harmoniously.

In a survey of 2,527 Pakistani high school students conducted by the McGill researchers and their international collaborators, 28 percent of the students agreed with the creationist sentiment, "Evolution is not a well-accepted scientific fact." More than 60 percent disagreed, and the rest were not sure.

Eighty-six percent agreed with this statement: "Millions of fossils show that life has existed for billions of years and changed over time."

The situation in Turkey is different and changed only in the past couple of decades. One of the conference participants, Taner Edis, said he never encountered creationist undertones when he was growing up in Turkey in the 1970s. "I first noticed creationism when I came to America for graduate school," said Dr. Edis, now a professor of physics at Truman State University in Missouri. He thought it an American oddity.

Some years later, while browsing a bookstore on a visit to Turkey, Dr. Edis found books about creationism filed in the science section. "It actually caught me by surprise," he said.

In Turkey, officially a secular government but now ruled by an Islamic party, the teaching of evolution has largely disappeared, at least below the university level, and the science curriculum in public schools is written in deference to religious beliefs, Dr. Edis said.

Harun Yahya, a Turkish creationist of the old-Earth variety, has gained prominence in Turkey and elsewhere. A quarter of a world away, most of the biology teachers in Indonesia use Mr. Yahya's creationist books in their classrooms, the McGill researchers found, although some said they did that to provide counterarguments to materials their students were reading anyway.

In the McGill research, fewer students in Indonesia than in Pakistan thought evolution a well-accepted scientific fact, yet 85 percent agreed that fossils showed that life had existed for billions of years and changed over time.

The quality of biology education "varies highly depending on what country you're in and what school you're in," said Jason R. Wiles, a professor of biology at Syracuse University and associate director of the McGill center.

In addition, the situation in countries with a Shiite majority may be far different than in places where Sunnis are more numerous. There is no single leader, like the Roman Catholic pope, who can dictate an official view that holds for all Muslims.

Even finding out how different countries teach evolution can be difficult, Dr. Hameed said. Saudi Arabia, for example, does not let foreigners see the biology textbooks. "We don't have much information," he said.

For many Muslims, even evolution and the notion that life flourished without the intervening hand of Allah is largely compatible with their religion. What many find unacceptable is human evolution, the idea that humans evolved from primitive primates. The Koran states that Allah created Adam, the first man, separately out of clay.

Pervez A. Hoodbhoy, a prominent atomic physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan, said that when he gave lectures covering the sweep of cosmological history from the Big Bang to the evolution of life on Earth, the audience listened without objection to most of it. "Everything is O.K. until the apes stand up," Dr. Hoodbhoy said.

Mentioning human evolution led to near riots, and he had to be escorted out. "That's the one thing that will never be possible to bridge," he said. "Your lineage is what determines your worth."

Biology education, even in places like Pakistan that otherwise teach evolution, largely omits the question of where humans came from.

Some academics at the conference worried that the rejection of some aspects of evolution might leave Islamic countries at a disadvantage in scientific education. Dr. Hameed said a negative reaction to evolutionary theory could reflect a struggle to retain cultural traditions and values against Western influences, even though Islamic creationists readily borrowed many of the arguments from Western creationists, just removing the young-Earth aspects.

There is some indication that in the West, where non-Islamic influences are strongest, Islamic creationism may be stronger in reaction to the outside pressure. For example, high school students at Islamic schools in and near Toronto were far more doubting of evolution than students in Indonesia or Pakistan, the McGill researchers found. A majority of the students at the Canadian Islamic schools disagreed that a significant body of data supported evolution and that all life came from the same common ancestors.

At the same time, many of the Canadian Muslims even acquired young-Earth creationist beliefs, which are thoroughly Western in origin. Only half the students surveyed at the Islamic schools in the Toronto area thought fossils showed that life had existed for billions of years and had changed over time, compared with the 86 percent of the students in Pakistan.

In a study financed by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Hameed and his colleagues will survey the beliefs of Muslim doctors in five Muslim countries — Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey — and compare them with Muslim doctors in non-Muslim countries — Turkish doctors in Germany, Pakistani doctors in Britain, and Turkish and Pakistani doctors in the United States.

"We actually expect, especially in Europe, where they have a harder time merging in the culture," Dr. Hameed said, "harsher rejection of evolution in England and Germany" than in Muslim countries.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Sunnis constitute a majority of the population in Iraq.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Scott vs. Comfort


Category: Creationism

Posted on: November 1, 2009 8:51 AM, by PZ Myers

You've probably all heard by now that Ray Comfort is coming out with his own butchered version of Darwin's Origin, with big chunks cut out of it, and a deeply stupid introduction slapped on. It's within his rights to do that, since the book is in the public domain now (as is, say, the KJV Bible), but it's also a metaphor for the sleaziness of creationism. They have no original ideas, so all they can do is steal the work of real scientists; their ideas are contradicted by the evidence, so their only strategy is to delete the parts that make them uncomfortable, and put a false spin on what's left. Ray Comfort also has a lot of gall; he doesn't understand the concepts Darwin discussed, so he's got no foundation on which to base his editorial decisions. What next? Will he decide to put out a special creationist edition of Relativity: The Special and General Theory with the math chopped out and his own clueless introduction that calls it all bunk?

Anyway, Ray Comfort tries to defend his act of intellectual vandalism online in a written debate with Eugenie Scott, who shreds him. This is going to be interesting, since what's up so far is only part 1; next week, they're going to reply to each other's initial argument.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

UCI law dean Chemerinsky to represent teacher sued by student


Constitutional scholar to assist in James Corbett's appeal.
The Orange County Register

Nationally renowned constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's law school, will represent high school teacher James Corbett in appealing a federal court ruling that found Corbett violated a student's First Amendment rights.

Corbett, who referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a fall 2007 classroom lecture, filed his appeal today with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Chemerinsky was named in the filings as a member of Corbett's new, four-person defense team. All of the attorneys will work on a pro bono basis.

"Dr. Corbett has rendered an extraordinary service to the Capistrano Unified School District and its students for many, many years," said one of the attorneys, Craig Johnson, who works in Riverside, "and I think that it is a disservice to his record and his legacy to allow the current ruling on summary judgment to stand."

Chemerinsky did not immediately return a request for comment.

Corbett, a history teacher at Mission Viejo's Capistrano Valley High School, has been represented for the past two years by attorneys retained by the Capistrano Unified School District and the California Teachers Association union. Some issues – including who will pay court costs and attorneys fees – have yet to be decided at the trial court level.

Corbett's original legal team will continue to represent him on those issues, while Chemerinsky and the others will work on his appeal.

Meanwhile, attorneys for student Chad Farnan – who initiated the lawsuit against Corbett two years ago – simultaneously appealed the case today to the Ninth Circuit. They believe U.S. District Judge James Selna should have found Corbett liable for more than just the Creationism comment; the original lawsuit presented 22 statements attributed to Corbett that were purported First Amendment violations.

"We will ask the court to reconsider all 22 statements," said Farnan's attorney, Robert Tyler. "We hope that the Court of Appeals will recognize that comments like, 'Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool,' are truly a violation of the establishment clause, when used in the context used by Dr. Corbett."

The First Amendment's establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion" and has been interpreted by U.S. courts to also prohibit government employees from displaying religious hostility.

Farnan's attorneys also are appealing a ruling by Selna last month that found Corbett not financially liable for his actions under a qualified immunity defense.

"Chad really believes he's doing the right thing," said his mother, Teresa Farnan, of Mission Viejo. "He's not getting any money out of this; he had to leave a class that could have helped him get into college. Any student should be able to sit in the classroom without having their beliefs attacked."

Because both sides appealed the case today – which was the legal deadline to file an appeal – it's not immediately clear which side appealed and which side cross-appealed. Both sides say they cross-appealed.

In the end, though, it won't matter, as both sides are asking the 9th Circuit to reconsider essentially all of the facts of the case.

"What we're looking for is an opinion that more broadly articulates the doctrine of hostility in the public school classroom," Tyler said.

Farnan, 17, will continue to be represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the Murrietta-based Christian legal group that has represented him on a pro bono basis since his lawsuit was filed.

Tyler said he was not concerned about Corbett's new defense team.

"It is of no concern that a liberal law school dean is taking Dr. Corbett's side in this case," Tyler said. "It is no surprise, just as it is no surprise that Advocates for Faith & Freedom is taking a conservative role in this case on behalf of Chad Farnan."

Johnson said Corbett has spent the past few months assembling a defense team for an appeal, in case Corbett did not get a ruling in his favor.

"In the event of an adverse ruling, he said he wanted to assemble an appellate team," Johnson said. "His statements were all taken out of context. As a father of two high school students in the district (Capistrano Unified), I believe European history lends itself so well to independent thought and critical reasoning. That is the very end Dr. Corbett seeks in trying to prompt his students through the Socratic method."

Contact the writer: 949-454-7394 or smartindale@ocregister.com

More People Flock to Second Day of Colorado Conference to Hear Behe and Berlinski


More than a thousand people attended the second day of the Legacy of Darwin ID Conference this weekend in Castle Rock, Colorado. Saturday morning started off with a strong talk by Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who synthesized the main points of his books Darwin's Black Box and The Edge of Evolution. Behe, in his usual winsome and accessible style, drove home just how much empirical evidence has accumulated in recent years demonstrating the sharp limits to the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random mutations.

During the question period that followed, two people offered long-winded "questions" to Behe that seemed to come straight from the talking points of the National Center for Science Education.

The first person offered a laundry list of the ways Judge Jones and the Darwinist witnesses in the Kitzmiller case supposedly refuted intelligent design (including the shibboleth about the Type-Three Secretory System). The second person read off a list of scientific organizations such as the AAAS that have denounced of ID and then demanded to know how ID claims could be scientifically tested.

Behe patiently explained how Darwinists in the Kitzmiller case far from refuted the evidence from intelligent design and described how Judge Jones uncritically cut-and-pasted his inaccurate analysis of ID from a brief written by lawyers for the plaintiffs. Regarding the ritual condemnations of ID by "scientific" lobbying organizations, he pointed out that science isn't determined by political statements; it's determined by the evidence. As for how to test ID, Behe noted that his ideas about irreducible complexity could be tested by genetic knock-out experiments. During my later session, I added my two cents, pointing out that Judge Jones' opinion was riddled with errors and misstatements—such as his phony claim that ID scientists have not published any peer-reviewed publications. I also mentioned how University of Idaho biologist Scott Minnich presented evidence at the Kitzmiller trial of his own genetic knock-out experiments corroborating Behe's ideas. I suggested that people read Traipsing into Evolution or some of the other responses to the many urban legends that have grown up about the Kitzmiller case (see here, here, here, and here for additional responses). Regarding the AAAS's well-publicized denunciation of ID, I mentioned how I had surveyed AAAS board members at the time about what books and articles they had actually read by ID proponents before issuing their statement. Of the four board members who responded, none could cite a single article or book, although one board member did say that she had perused various unnamed sources on the internet! (Wikipedia, perhaps?!)

After Behe's session came Stephen Meyer's lively discussion with the irrepressible David Berlinski. In the wide-ranging conversation, Berlinski poignantly talked about his grandfather who died at Auschwitz and his journey to come to terms with the beliefs of his parents. Berlinski also discussed the back story to his famous essay published in Commentary on "The Deniable Darwin," now the lead essay in his new book The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (just published by Discovery Institute Press). He further talked about his motivation for writing The Devil's Delusion in response to the scientific pretensions of "new atheist" writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Berlinski's barbed and witty comments brought down the house.

Following a break for lunch, I presented a lecture drawn from my book Darwin Day in America, outlining the real-world consequences of Darwinian materialism. Despite the fact that Darwin himself was a kind man who personally espoused conventional morality, I explained how his redefinition of morality and his effort to apply natural selection to human society had far-ranging consequences. At the end of my talk, I discussed the growing efforts to intimidate and censor anyone who disagrees with Darwin—including the outrageous campaign to vandalize and shut down the website of the group that sponsored the Colorado conference in order to prevent people from registering. I called on Darwinists to repudiate such efforts and return to the much more open and fair-minded approach modeled by Charles Darwin himself, who patiently and civilly discussed objections to his theory rather than demonizing and censoring his critics.

The last session included Stephen Meyer, Douglas Groothuis (of Denver Seminary), Michael Behe, and myself discussing practical ways to challenge Darwinian materialism among the next generation. At the end of that session, the conference speakers received a standing ovation. It was a humbling—and encouraging—end to a wonderful conference.

As I noted at the event itself, I am thankful for the fine people at Shepherd Project Ministries for sponsoring and organizing this event and inviting speakers from Discovery Institute to participate. Each year DI Fellows speak at dozens of events sponsored by a wide-range of groups—public and private, academic and general, friendly and hostile, secular and faith-based. We are always happy to present our views when people sincerely want to hear them and are willing to offer us a fair forum. In this case, the staff and volunteers of Shepherd Project Ministries had to surmount an incredibly vicious campaign of disruption in order to hold their event; I am grateful that they persevered.

Posted by John West on November 1, 2009 12:00 AM | Permalink

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Newer Atheist Approach

http://hollywoodrealitycheck.com/ § October 28th, 2009 § Filed under Religion, Uncategorized § Tagged Atheist Nightmare, Banana Video, David Berlinski, Discovery Institute, Intelligent Design, Kirk Cameron § 1 Comment

An Open Letter to Kirk Cameron

Dear Kirk,

We met last night at the Beverly Hills library after I officially "responded" to David Berlinski's talk. (The talk, incidentally, was supposed to be about the "New Atheists," though Berlinski barely touched on that subject during his meandering speech.)

When I first saw you there, I asked one of my fellow atheists "Is that the banana boy?" Sorry to reduce you to that, but I'm sure you've taken more than a bit of razzing for your YouTube video with Ray Comfort that purports to show how a banana is the "atheist's nightmare" because it's a great example of God's handiwork.

Justly so. I quote from the video…

"The banana and the hand are perfectly made one for the other…(it) has a point at the top for ease of entry… just the right shape for the human mouth… curved toward the face to make the whole process so much easier."

Personally, I thought the same attributes apply nicely to a dildo, but I'm sure that wasn't your intention.

The "banana video" notwithstanding, you seemed like a decent guy, and I don't want to define you or judge you by that video or even your enthusiastic Christianity. I know and love lots of Christians even though I disagree with their religious beliefs.

I'm writing because I detected in you the sincerity of a true inquirer. During the Q & A, you asked a good question about whether scientists shun Intelligent Design because they are uncomfortable with the notion of an almighty creator. I answered that the belief in a loving God who could grant eternal life would be more comforting than dealing with the idea of one's simple death and decomposition.

You seemed to listen and ponder what was said, so I want to mention a few other points that might not have made it into last night's discussion. Sometimes we all get so embroiled in our own side's arguments that it's hard to hear what your adversary is really trying to say. So, for what it's worth, please consider a few thoughts…

First, it's ok to criticize or look for fault in the theory of evolution - or any other scientific idea for that matter. The process of science depends on criticism and challenge to keep it honest. Smart people checking the work of other smart people keeps the ship of science afloat and sailing forward. And anyone could and should ask questions.

Critics serve an important function in the world of scientific and philosophical inquiry, but there is a difference between an honest questioner and a gadfly who only attacks ideas because of a preexisting agenda. Like the "researchers" who were hired by cigarette companies to find that smoking doesn't contribute to cancer rates, folks like David Berlinski who shill for the Discovery Institute start with an answer and try to build roads back to a question. Or even worse, they seek only to degrade ideas they find uncomfortable without adding anything to the body of knowledge. This disingenuous strategy is not one of inquiry but of indoctrination and often leads to a myopic view of the evidence. The definition of a closed mind is one that no amount (or quality) of evidence will ever change.

Second, check your emotional attachment to your beliefs - any beliefs. Do you really think the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series next year, or do you want to believe it? Is your belief in God or creation founded on reasonable assumptions, or is it appealing because it makes you feel good. Even though we humans have these (comparatively) advanced brains that can grasp complex concepts, emotions often cloud our judgment.

Finally, please don't paint non-believers as somehow evil or immoral. Most of us in the U.S. are ethical, tax-paying Americans just trying to live a good life. Many of us come from religions that at some point simply didn't satisfy our intellectual side. We come to science and atheism not out of hatred for religion or a disdain for the religious, but out of a search for knowledge and truth - a quest people of all perspectives can relate to.

So there it is. I invite you to the events at the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood, and to feel free to question or even argue your ideas in a safe intellectual environment.

I hope to see you soon.

James Underdown

Executive Director

Center for Inquiry- Los Angeles
(323) 666-9797 ext 101


Darwinists Launch Cyber Attack Against Intelligent Design Website


A Colorado group is the target of malicious computer hackers in what appears to be a coordinated attempt to suppress information about an upcoming conference on Darwin and intelligent design in Colorado.

Earlier this month the Shepherd Project Ministries website was breached using a "brute force attack" to break the password. The hackers then deleted webpages containing information about an upcoming conference featuring Discovery Institute speakers Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, David Berlinski, and John West.

"No question whatsoever about they were targeting," said Shepherd Project Executive Director Craig Smith. "That was brazen. We were a little stunned, to be perfectly honest. We had seen some hostile language about the conference, but honestly we just assumed it was cyber-flaming. We didn't really expect or anticipate any kind of actual attack."

The pages were quickly re-posted and security protocols fixed to prevent further mischief being done, but since then a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack crippled and even crashed the Shepherd Project website, preventing many from registering for the intelligent design conference. These attacks involve multiple people coordinated in an attempt to make a website unavailable, shutting down access to information in a form of modern-day book-burning.

These attacks reveal how even having a discussion about intelligent design is threatening to those who can't countenance free speech on evolution.

In today's ID the Future podcast interview, Craig Smith said, "It's stunning to me how threatened they seem to be about the conversation that is taking place. It's not a matter of, 'I disagree with the content' or 'I disagree with the conclusion,' it's 'I disagree that the conversation should be allowed.'"

That same sentiment was behind the recent canceling of the Darwin's Dilemma by the California Science Center, and you can read it for yourself in the New York Times as Daniel Dennett's recent letter blasted them for daring to be respectful to those who doubt evolution!

The Legacy of Darwin Intelligent Design Conference targeted by these hackers takes place this weekend at Douglas County Event Center in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Posted by Anika Smith on October 28, 2009 2:47 PM | Permalink

Creationism in science classes? Brits give it the green light


According to a Mori poll commissioned by the British Council, more than half the population believes it's OK for children to be told about creationism and Intelligent Design in school science lessons along with evolution. The poll shows 54 per cent of Britons would not object to biology teachers discussing 'alternative perspectives' on the origin of life alongside explanations of evolution.

They also do not object to the introduction of 'intelligent design' into science lessons, although the poll did not ask them whether they even knew what intelligent design was.

The Mori poll, which questioned nearly 1,000 Britons as part of a worldwide study of 10,000 people, was published by the British Council as part of its Darwin Now programme, marking 150 years since the publication of Charles Darwin's work On the Origin of Species.

Simultaneous polling was carried out in Argentina, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain and the United States.

Some 21 per cent of Britons said only evolutionary theory should be taught. Britain's support for giving mythology equal status alongside genuine science is higher than in any of the other countries apart from Argentina and Mexico — but had the lowest proportion, at six per cent — believing that other theories should be taught in preference to evolution.

Worldwide, the survey reveals just over four in 10 (43 per cent) of people believe that evolution should be taught alongside other theories in science lessons, while a fifth (20 per cent) said only evolution should be taught.

In the US, almost a quarter of those questioned (23 per cent) said either other theories but not evolution should be taught, or that no theories should be taught. This figure was 28 per cent in China and 21 per cent in South Africa.

Lewis Wolpert, emeritus professor of biology at University College London said: "I am appalled. It shows how ignorant the public is. Intelligent design and creationism have no connection with science and are purely religious concepts. There is no evidence for them at all. They must be kept out of science lessons."

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at UCL, and a previous winner of the NSS's Secularist of the Year award, said: "This shows the danger of religions being allowed to buy schools, hijack lessons and pretend that they have anything useful to say about science – which, by definition, they do not. The figure seems much too high, although no doubt there is a substantial minority that does think this."

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, added: "I agree with Lewis Wolpert that this illustrates how grotesquely ignorant the public is on this topic. It would be an abuse of children's education to allow this silly creationist mythology to creep into science lessons and be presented to children as the equivalent of a properly researched and demonstrable theory like evolution. But this kind of ill-informed poll gives creationists new hope that their agenda is gaining credibility. Unfortunately, teachers are now so fearful of contradicting religious perspectives on creationism, especially Islamic ones, that banning them from science lessons is the only way forward."

See the British Council's online poll on perceptions of Darwin

Keib finishes testimony


By Pamela Schehl
October 30, 2009

MOUNT VERNON — As the contract termination hearing for John Freshwater continued Thursday, former Mount Vernon Middle School assistant, then interim, principal Tim Keib was back on the witness stand.

Referring to Wednesday's testimony that Freshwater was an excellent teacher, he said he believes "kids are missing out because John is not teaching." He further testified that he never saw Freshwater try to push his faith or philosophies on students, did not observe Freshwater reading his Bible while students were present and, to his knowledge, never heard Freshwater denigrate or promote any particular religion. He said that by his definition Freshwater is not a "religious man," but understands that other people could find Freshwater religious by their standards.

Keib talked about investigating concerns raised about Freshwater teaching creationism and not teaching the Ohio science standards.

"There's a big difference between citing concerns and having evidence," Keib said. He added he discovered no evidence to support those concerns, even after talking with several students.

"The kids never said 'I learned this [creationism] in Mr. Freshwater's class,'" Keib said.

Former middle school principal Jeff Kuntz was another witness on Thursday. He answered questions about 12 observation reports and evaluation summaries he completed on Freshwater over the years and explained the use of the term "continue" in evaluation reports.

"I never had any doubts about John Freshwater's competence to teach eighth-grade science," Kuntz said. "His classes were always interesting and he used a variety of teaching methods within each lesson."

Kuntz said he did speak with Freshwater about complaints made by high school science teachers that they had to reteach material to students from Freshwater's class and about a parent's complaint about a certain handout. He said he encouraged Freshwater to "stick with board-approved materials," and gave him a copy of the board's policy on religion in the classroom. Upon cross-examination, Kuntz also said he had, at least twice, given Freshwater a handout with guidelines for Fellowship of Christian Athletes monitors.

Kerri Mahan, who testified nearly a year ago on Oct. 31, 2008, returned to the stand to elaborate on her statements made at that time. Mahan, who team-taught with Freshwater, said he was an "awesome" teacher with good rapport with the students. She said she is the individual who e-mailed Freshwater the "Watchmaker" video, and said she wasn't sure whether he showed it in a science class or FCA leadership meeting. She also stated she never saw Freshwater use a Tesla coil with students.

Mahan said Freshwater did teach evolution in class, as evidenced by his students' scores on the eighth-grade Ohio Achievement Test which includes evolution questions. She also said she never heard Freshwater use the words "intelligent design" in class, but on cross- examination admitted Freshwater did use the phrase "I.D." on more than one occasion. She said Freshwater used supplemental handouts to get students to think about the difference between science theory and fact, and, to illustrate the scientific method of proving or disproving an hypothesis.

Concerning a "debate" about creationism and evolution, Mahan said the students initiated the topic and shared their ideas with each other, with Freshwater stepping in only to maintain order and courtesy in the discussion. She said such debates are commonly used to get students to develop higher levels of thinking, and that Freshwater did not give the students his views on the subject.

Without elaborating, Mahan said Freshwater stopped performing science experiments in class after December 2007, although he previously did a lot of experiments.

Additional witnesses on Thursday included Darcy Miller and Maj. Robert Bender of The Salvation Army, both of whom were featured speakers at middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. Each said students invited them to speak and stated Freshwater did not participate in the meetings.

The hearing resumed today in the commissioners chambers in the Knox County Service Center. Additional dates are scheduled for Nov. 17, 18 and 19.


In Defense of Dover


Friday October 30, 2009
Categories: Weekly Feature

Every Friday, "Science and the Sacred" features an essay from a guest voice in the science and religion dialogue. This week's guest entry was written by David Opderbeck. Opderbeck is a professor of law at Seton Hall University School of Law and serves in the school's Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology. His blog Through a Glass Darkly addresses issues in theology and the science and religion dialogue.

On December, 2005, Judge John E. Jones, III (left) issued his opinion in the now-infamous Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District intelligent design case. Like many thoughtful evangelical Christians at the time, I was impressed with intelligent design theory. I had read many of the ID movement's foundational texts, and felt confident that ID offered an intellectually and theological satisfying alternative to the extremes of young earth creationism and atheistic Darwinism. Shortly after the Kitzmiller decision was issued, I blogged and wrote publicly about Judge Jones' opinion, which I thought was largely mistaken.

I still think Judge Jones' opinion in Kitzmiller missed the mark in some important ways, even though I think (and have always thought) the end result was correct. Moreover, I remain impressed with the energy and intelligence of the ID movement's thought leaders. Scholars such as Bill Dembski and Mike Behe have made some interesting arguments about epistemology, divine action, and causation. However, when I dove into the broader ID discussion after the Kitzmiller case, I came to believe that many aspects of the ID movement are not as helpful as I had first thought - and, indeed, that ID rhetoric is often used to hinder positive interaction between the truths of the Christian faith and truths learned through the natural sciences.

What I'd like to start to explore in this post is how my thinking about ID, Kitzmiller, and the interface of faith, science, and the public schools, has, and hasn't, changed since 2005. In order to begin this discussion, we need to consider some legal history.

Most readers of "Science and the Sacred" likely are familiar with the Scopes case from 1926, in which a legal challenge to the teaching of evolution in public schools failed. I won't rehearse the details of the Scopes case here, nor will I attempt to enter into the lively debate about whether the play "Inherit the Wind," based on the trial, really does justice to all the participants. More significant for our purposes is a series of cases in the 1980s in which young earth creationists attempted to introduce "creation science" into the public schools. The key cases include McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255 (1982) and Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).

The "creationism cases" capture a fascinating, if troubling, moment in evangelical cultural history. A decade earlier, Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's famous abortion decision, had galvanized previously complacent evangelicals into social action. The model of engagement evangelicals tended to adopt was one of confrontation through legislation and litigation. By the 1980s, the "religious right" was on the ascendancy. The creationism cases represent a wave front of culture war activity that swept over the popular evangelical subculture and continues to reverberate today.

It's not surprising that the courts in the creationist cases uniformly struck down efforts to introduce "creation science" into public school curricula. The results in McLean and Aguillard were not, I believe, the results of "judicial activism," but rather reflected a standard and appropriate application of Supreme Court jurisprudence under the establishment clause of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was clear from the record in the creationist cases that "creation science" represented a particular interpretation of a uniquely religious perspective on the origins of the universe. The source of young earth creationist beliefs was a supposedly "literal" interpretation of the Bible. In effect, the proponents of "creation science" desired introduce their Biblical apologetics into the public schools.

In the same way, I don't think Judge Jones was playing the role of "activist judge" in the Kitzmiller case. It seems clear from the trial record that the Dover, Pennsylvania school board officials who promoted the ID curriculum did so in an effort to support their belief in a particular form of direct creationism. Although ID is ostensibly a religiously neutral theory, the local pro-ID school board officials in Dover appeared to have specifically religious motives for introducing it into the curriculum. This was enough reason, I think for Judge Jones to have rejected their efforts. (In a separate post, I'll address Judge Jones' ruling about whether ID is "science," which I believe reflects a number of problems in how the law handles the question of how to define "science.")

I've come to believe that the misuse of ID theory by those Dover school board members reflects a common misuse of ID in the Church generally. In my experience, it's widely assumed by evangelical church-goers - contrary to the official statements of leaders in the ID movement - that ID supports belief in God, or more specifically supports young earth creationism, over and against evolution. Countless apologetics programs, websites, and publications designed for evangelicals respond to any suggestion that biological evolution may be true (or that direct creationism may be false) with a passing reference to Mike Behe and Bill Dembski. These would-be apologists are sometimes shocked to learn that many ID theorists accept common descent, which definitely is not compatible with special creationism (or sometimes they know better and conveniently fail to mention that fact in their presentations!).

The unfortunate reality, in my judgment, is that ID theory - or rather, a crude distillation of ID theory - has been reduced to a tool in the culture wars both inside and outside the Church. Whether the leaders of the ID movement intended for this to happen or not, Christian proponents of ID are using it just as they tried to employ "creation science" in the 1980s. Within the Church, this tends to remove ID from the realm of ideas that can be calmly and reasonably discussed, and places it instead into a "hot button" category. Even worse, the Christian believer who has been schooled to view ID as a rock-solid defense against atheism will find his or her faith shaken if the central claims of ID theory fail to withstand scrutiny. This further heightens the perceived stakes in the culture wars: a failure of ID theory is viewed as a public blow to the credibility of the Christian gospel. In my view, this is a grave mistake, underwritten by some highly questionable theological assumptions.

In my next post, I'll discuss problems with how American courts handle the question of "science." In another post to come, I'll unpack what I believe are the problematic theological assumptions underlying popular evangelical appropriations of ID theory for use in the public square.

Evolution education update: October 30, 2009

The first part of a documentary on hominid evolution is about to debut. Norman Levitt, a fierce critic of pseudoscience, is dead. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott joined Scientific American's board of advisers. And a chance to hear Sean B. Carroll on-line.


The first episode of Becoming Human -- a three-part NOVA documentary on what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives -- will air on November 3, 2009, on public broadcasting stations around the country. According to NOVA:


Part 1, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes. The program explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child." Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged spent five years carefully excavating the sandstone-embedded fossil. NOVA's cameras are there to capture the unveiling of the face, spine, and shoulder blades of this 3.3 million-year-old fossil child. And NOVA takes viewers "inside the skull" to show how our ancestors' brains had begun to change from those of the apes. Why did leaps in human evolution take place? "First Steps" explores a provocative "big idea" that sharp swings of climate were a key factor.


Further information about the film, including a preview, interviews, and interactive features, is available at NOVA's website. Information on finding local public broadcasting stations is available via PBS's website.

For further information, visit:

For information on local stations, visit:


Norman Levitt, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Rutgers University and a fierce critic of pseudoscience, died on October 23, 2009, in New York City, according to the obituary in eSkeptic (October 26, 2009). Born on August 27, 1943, in New York City, Levitt received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1967. After a brief stint at New York University, he spent the rest of his career at Rutgers University, with visiting professorships at Arhus University, Stanford University, and the University of British Columbia; he retired from Rutgers in 2007. A specialist in topology, he authored Grassmannians and Gauss Maps in Piecewise-Linear Topology (Springer-Verlag, 1987), but he was better known to the general public for his critiques of pseudoscience and obscurantism, including Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), coauthored with Paul R. Gross, and Prometheus Bedeviled: Science and the Contradictions of Contemporary Culture (Rutgers University Press, 1999).

While creationism was hardly Levitt's only target, he was certainly concerned about it, especially in its recent manifestation of "intelligent design," which he described -- in a press release announcing SciPolicy's amicus curiae brief for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover -- as "not new science, fringe science, nor even junk science. It is merely window-dressing for a movement that is social, political, and, above all, theological down to its core, and which never had the least intention of doing disinterested science." In the wake of the Kitzmiller verdict, he castigated the sociologist Steve Fuller's testimony on behalf of "intelligent design" in a review of Fuller's Science vs. Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution (Polity Press, 2007) for Skeptic and reviewed Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Times Books, 2006) for Reports of the NCSE. His widow Renee Greene Levitt asks for memorial contributions to be sent to NCSE in lieu of flowers.

For the eSkeptic obituary, visit:

For the SciPolicy press release and brief (both PDF), visit:

For the two reviews mentioned, visit:


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is on the revamped and expanded Board of Advisers of Scientific American, announced in the magazine's November 2009 issue. Acting editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina explained that the advisers "have agreed, as friends of the magazine, to assist in our mission of being for you, our readers, the best source for information about science and technology advances and how they will affect our lives. The advisers give us feedback on story proposals and manuscripts from time to time."

Other members of the board include Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin; Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School and the Center for Internet and Society; Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State University; John P. Moore of Cornell University; Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute; Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania; Nobel laureate David Gross of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Leslie C. Aiello of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research; and Martin Rees of Cambridge University.

Scott's previous involvement with Scientific American includes reviewing Robert T. Pennock's Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism for its August 1999 issue and contributing "The Latest Face of Creationism," coauthored with NCSE's Glenn Branch, to its January 2009 issue on "The Evolution of Evolution." She was also honored as one of the Scientific American 10 for 2009 for her "outstanding commitment to assuring that the benefits of new technologies and knowledge will accrue to humanity."

For Scientific American's announcement, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of Scott and Scientific American, visit:


Hear NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll discuss "The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection and the DNA Record of Evolution" on-line! From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. (Eastern) on November 4, 2009, Carroll will deliver the third lecture of the 150th anniversary Origin of Species lecture series, hosted by The Reading Odyssey and the Darwin 150 project -- and the whole lecture will be webcast live.

Sponsors of the lecture series include the National Center for Science Education, National Geographic, Citrix Online and its HiDef Conferencing Division, Campaign Monitor, the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, SquareSpace, the movie Creation, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Future speakers in the series include E. O. Wilson.

For information on the webcast, visit:

For information about the hosts, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Lewontin and Numbers: Day One of Darwin 2009 at the University of Chicago


"Go to hell!" said Ron Numbers cheerfully to me, as we greeted each other at the front of Rockefeller Chapel last night. "Hey, did I say that loud enough?" he asked, looking around at the various evolutionary biology and history and philosophy of science worthies – Lewontin, Kitcher, Sober, Ruse, Dennett, Richards, and so on – milling about. Ron's smiling insult was a mocking attempt to redress the widespread criticism that he had let me off easy in our notorious Bloggingheads conversation. A spirit of raillery was in the air, given a vigorous kick at the beginning of the evening by Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin. Little of the secular sanctimony of the 1959 Darwin centennial (see below) was in evidence.

To the talks:

Richard Lewontin

Rockefeller Chapel, the venue for the plenary sessions, is a Gothic cathedral, although an oddly Baptist one, almost entirely void of religious symbols. (I'm sure there's a small cross somewhere in the building, but you'd have to look hard to find it.) Lewontin, who has turned down every invitation this year to speak at Darwin celebratory events, accepted the University of Chicago invitation, he said, "because Jerry Coyne [Lewontin's former doctoral student at Harvard] is the best arm-twister around. But I didn't know I'd be speaking in a church," Lewontin continued, "and we should recognize the religiosity of this occasion. There is a certain worship of a great saint, Darwin, and his apostles, who provide the texts for the day." He then cited contrasting chapter and verse from Sir Ronald Fisher and Sewall Wright, and explained that battles between their respective positions – the primacy of natural selection, versus the primacy of random events – had occupied evolutionary theory for decades. "I really wish I could have spoken from there," Lewontin ended his introduction, wistfully pointing to the spectacular high pulpit on the opposite side of the chancel.

"I want to challenge the New and Old Testaments of evolution," Lewontin noted. "The New Testament holds that genes make organisms. The Old Testament says that organisms adapt to their environments. Neither of these testaments is true. It is not true that genes make organisms. Genes don't make anything." Nor do organisms adapt to their environments, he argued, as if they were adjusting – ad-apting, in its original eytmology – to pre-established niches. The outcome of genetic (internal) responses to environmental (external) challenges "cannot be predicted – there is no predictability to how organisms will respond," because that depends in a complex fashion on a range of factors, many unique. Lewontin then illustrated his theme with several examples, from the unpredictability of Drosophila bristle patterns to variations in human fingerprints. One cannot move smoothly from genes to phenotypes: "I made the point," he concluded, "and I'm dogmatic about it."

Lewontin then criticized the Old Testament of adaptation. Organisms don't "fit" into their niches, he said, as if the world could be divided into cubbyholes awaiting organisms to occupy them. There is an infinitude of ways of putting together the world; what actually happens is that organisms construct their niches, taking what is available from their environments to make their living. Lewontin ended with a cautionary critique about the shortcomings of the theory of natural selection, which he said was "in trouble."

All in all, vintage Lewontin. Plainspoken, funny, independent. (And youthful! – Lewontin looks almost exactly as he did when he was a U of C professor in the early 1970s.)

Ron Numbers

On Thanksgiving Day, 1959, at the University of Chicago Darwin centennial celebration, Julian Huxley delivered a speech entitled "The Evolutionary Vision." Predicting the demise of "supernaturally centered religions," Huxley projected the coming of "new religions" that would replace the Abrahamic faiths: "they are destined to disappear in competition with other, truer, and more embracing thought organizations – in this case, with the new religions which are surely destined to emerge on this world's scene" (1960, p. 253). Huxley's lecture is notable for its overt religious tone. Religion, he argued, is the inevitable product of human consciousness, and thus like all biological objects, is destined to evolve to higher forms. (It is fascinating to note that Huxley, unlike Lewontin, did speak from the magnificent Rockefeller pulpit. Talk about religiosity.)

Well – Huxley certainly got the imminent demise of religion wrong. His prediction, at least on a 50-year scale, has failed spectacularly. Ron Numbers began his summary of "Anti-Evolutionism from Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design" by saying, "I feel like I'm crashing the party." Around the world, he observed, a majority of people do not accept Darwinian evolution.

Numbers then sketched the history of American dissent from Darwinism, making two major points: (1) young-earth creationism (YEC) was not the mainstream anti-evolution position until the last third of the 20th century, and (2) intelligent design cannot be equated with creationism. "Although many critics of ID want to say that it is nothing more than the same old creationist bullsh-t dressed up in new clothes," he argued, "there is really only one historical link between 'scientific creationism' and ID, namely, the textbook Of Pandas and People."

ID in Numbers's eyes was actually a far more radical, indeed dangerous, viewpoint. ID proponents, he said, have made methodological naturalism (MN) their target. But MN, so named by a Christian philosopher of science at Wheaton College, has proved its value to the practice of science for 150 years, Numbers urged, by making it possible "for believers and unbelievers to participate alike" in the scientific enterprise. "This [MN] is a compromise that even scientific creationists typically bought," Number said. However, for ID proponents, he went on, MN sacrifices what ought to be the goal of science, the discovery of truth, for what amounts to practical atheism. Numbers then sounded the alarm (as he often does) about the goals and funding sources of the Discovery Institute. (It's a bit mysterious to me how observers can think Ron cuts ID people too much slack. Ron puts the boot into ID with force.) He concluded by discussing the growth, worldwide, of skepticism about Darwinian evolution. "There is yet a lot of work to do."

If Ron and I had talked before his lecture, I would have reminded him of Huxley's failed 1959 prophecy. Maybe a more realistic view of the future of the ID / materialism debate is not to see "work yet to be done" – as in trying for quasi-religious conversions of those unsaved theists who have yet to take Darwin into their hearts – but in recognizing the permanence of dissent from naturalism. If philosophical naturalism were congruent with reality, as Dawkins, Coyne, Dennett, and others argue, it should have won long ago. The fact that it hasn't ought to give its promoters pause.

The last speaker of the evening was Marc Hauser from Harvard, on the origins of morality. His talk – absolutely fascinating, and (I think) counterintuitive to many in the audience – presented so much new data, in a short time, that it deserves its own post.

So that's up next.


Julian Huxley, "The Evolutionary Vision," in Sol Tax and Charles Callender, eds., Evolution After Darwin, volume 3: Issues in Evolution (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960).

Posted by Paul Nelson on October 30, 2009 10:13 AM | Permalink

Evolution: A Theory Headed for Extinction?


Friday, October 30, 2009
By Guy Berthault

Charles Darwin Why in this year of the anniversary of Darwin's birth and the publication of his Origin of Species is Darwinism coming to an end? Of course, it should have come to an end over a century ago when its flaws were first being brought to the attention of the scientific community. But too many philosophical interests were at play.

Give a natural reason for the origin of life, as did Darwin and others that followed him, and the constraints of morality fall. One of his many followers was humanist Julian Huxley, secretary of the Zoological Society of London (1935-42), first director of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

He expressed his feelings on evolution and those of his contemporaries and successors in writing, "The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a superhuman being is enormous." (Essays of a Humanist, 1966, p. 223).

Each time an objection was made to the theory of evolution on scientific grounds a modification was introduced. Normally, any standard scientific theory would have been abandoned after two or three legitimate objections had been raised. This was not, however, the case with evolution. The continuing series of 'ad hoc' modifications made since the theory was launched in 1859 to this day distinguishes it from any theory claiming to be scientific.

Too many vested ideological interests of scientists and philosophers alike looking for a natural explanation of origins have interfered with a balanced objective scientific approach to Darwinism. As a simple change in wind direction at the battle of Lepanto in 1571 brought victory to Christianity over the Ottoman Empire, so new winds of change in scientific data are about to bring defeat to the errors of Darwinism.

Although the volume of scientific evidence against evolution theory has been accumulating ever since Darwin's theory was introduced, the certainty about its downfall arises from recent discoveries in stratigraphy. Whereas in the past, every time a valid criticism was levelled against the theory a new 'ad hoc' modification however weak was made to counter it, this time there is no possible way round.

The geological time-scale: The very roots from which Darwinism draws its rationale, has been invalidated. This is not just another model, but laboratory experiments whose peer-reviewed reports have been published by academies of sciences. The experiments have been tested in the field and hold true in every case.

Sedimentary rocks formed of sediments laid down by moving currents of water do not take millions of years to form and the fossils in them are not, therefore, millions of years old. It is the velocity of current that determines the time for strata to form.

The empirical proof that rocks can and do form rapidly is unassailable. The experiments can be observed and repeated in any university laboratory. They show that rock strata do not form one upon the other in succession but laterally and vertically at the same time. This fact in itself falsifies the basic principle of superposition upon which the entire geological time-scale was constructed.

Of course, there are critics, but invariably they are those who resort to 'ad hominem' remarks about the experimenter. They say he can't be right because all geologists accept the time-scale. But that is not a scientific argument.

All that has to be done to disprove the experimental results is for the critics to produce a single experiment demonstrating that in moving water strata form according to the principle of superposition. Anybody knowledgeable in mechanics has to admit that this is impossible.

The obvious question is why this empirical evidence is not taught in our places of education? The reason is the same as why criticisms of Darwin's theory are not part of school programs: they challenge ideologies.

But in this instance papering over the cracks doesn't work because they are chasms, not cracks. The best defense against such evidence is to give it the silent treatment. Such a method can, of course, only be temporary. The truth will eventually be known.

To hasten it, a series of conferences is being held to draw the attention of, at least, some of the less ideologically motivated members of the scientific community to a situation that is retarding the advance of science.

One of these conferences is taking place in Rome at the St. Pius V University on Nov. 9, 2009. There is no charge for admittance, but it is recommended that students and other interested persons make a reservation by email to wilderspeter@gmail.com or noevolutioninfo@gmail.com

Guy Berthault is a researcher in fundamental physics and sedimentology and a graduate of the L'Ecole Polytechnique de Paris. His research has been published in both the French and Russian Academy of Sciences.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Washed-Up Actor Leads Cause to Distribute Christianized Version of Darwin's Evolution Theory


By Randy Olson, Island Press. Posted October 29, 2009.

Attempting to subvert the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's groundbreaking 'Origin of the Species,' 50,000 copies will be handed out.

Last year comic actor Ben Stein bamboozled evolutionists with his anti-evolution movie "Expelled!". He hoodwinked evolutionists, even Richard Dawkins, into appearing in a movie that attacked them.

Now Kirk Cameron -- Mike Seaver in the 80s sitcom Growing Pains -- is lending some star power to the vocally anti-evolution ranks with a plan to distribute 50,000 copies [on Nov. 22] of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" modified to fit his Christian beliefs and subvert the 150th anniversary of its publication.

Both Stein and Cameron invoke the dishonest and inaccurate suggestion that Darwin inspired Hitler. Both are celebrities playing the lead role for the anti-evolution forces. And both will elicit the same response from the world of science: thousands of furious, hateful comments on the science blogs crying foul -- and in both cases, all that ranting and rage won't compete with the anti-evolution messaging.

There are only three options for the science world in dealing with this new phenomenon of the very vocal and savvy anti-science movement: repression, cooperation or competition.

Repression is out, though some scientists don't seem to realize it. We live in an open society. Other nations have tried to shut down debate and some even created gulags to deal with those who speak out against the orthodoxy. We don't want that, and it's simply not going to happen.

Cooperation is ultimately distasteful and futile. Most creationists are nice folks, at least at first. But after a while they are criticizing things they don't know about with an irrational passion. I don't know that joining them in a search for a common ground is possible. There is no compromise position on science. Facts are facts. And as Lewis Black said long ago on behalf of evolutionists, "We have the fossils, we win!"

In the end, there is only one option: the anti-evolutionists need to be out-competed in the open arena of mass communication. How to do this? It starts by coming out of the ivory tower and understanding that broad communication to the general public is not the same as college lectures. There are some basic rules that matter, starting with popularity -- a concept that is anathema to scientists.

Carl Sagan, the last great mass communicator of science in America, knew this. He appreciated the need to sit on Johnny Carson's couch and make light banter, the need to restrain the hyper-critical instinct that made him a great scientist and present a persona that was "likable," to tell great stories (he wrote a bestselling novel!), and even bring in celebrities as a means of capturing the attention of the broader, less innately science-interested public.

If watching Kirk Cameron expound on the "crockoduck" made you angry or laugh out loud, Kirk is not talking to you. He's got another audience in mind, and we ought to have that audience in mind, too, because it's most of America.

Dealing with communication challenges, such as celebrity spokespersons, is not an impossible task for the science world. The National Academy of Science is working with Hollywood through their new Science and Entertainment Exchange.

And I am up to my neck in working with Hollywood to communicate cutting edge science -- this week we are releasing a public service announcement with Pierce Brosnan, John C. McGinley and other celebrities supporting the new science of Marine Protected Areas for the oceans (www.mpaswork.org).

These changes are happening, and the science world does not have to sit by idly being out-communicated by Kirk Cameron, Ben Stein or anyone else trying to drag us backwards. It simply needs to follow a phenomenon scientists have documented so well -- it needs to evolve.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More reasons not to debate creationists


PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

Category: Creationism • Local
Posted on: October 27, 2009 12:48 PM, by PZ Myers

I'm going to be in this silly debate on "Should Intelligent Design Be Taught In The Schools?" with creationist kook Jerry Bergman on 16 November, sponsored by CASH and the local Kook Central. The latest hangup, though, is that the creationists want to have a pre- and post-debate survey, and they plan to give the audience these questions:

I think intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in all schools, public and private.

Strongly Disagree Disagree Undecided Agree Strongly Agree

I think intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution by teachers who support it, without punishment.

Strongly Disagree Disagree Undecided Agree Strongly Agree

I think that as a minimum, the evidence against evolution should be taught alongside evidence for evolution.

Strongly Disagree Disagree Undecided Agree Strongly Agree

I've told them that that last question is simply unacceptable: it's misleading, prejudicial, and begs the question. There is no evidence against evolution. If there were, I'd agree — teach it. However, until they can say something specific, I'm not going to let them get away with sneaking in a stupid loaded question to their audience ahead of time.

I explained that as is, I'd answer that question with "strongly agree", because I think that evidence should be taught…but that I know they want to use it to pretend that there is some substantial support for teaching creationism, which is not the case.

Much waffling is going on on their part. I've put my foot down: cut the question out. They're trying to weasel in some fuzzy alternative that will have the same effect. The first two questions are fine, they directly address the subject of the debate more specifically (that is, "Intelligent design"), but the last is just an open-ended bit of noise that they want to use to justify their anti-science agenda.

Dealing with these charlatans is aggravating on so many levels.



Santee City Council

October 27, 2009 (Santee) – Santee City Council will hold public hearings on Wednesday Oct. 28 for three hot topics. First, Council will hear public testimony on a cable ski park and restaurant at Santee Lakes, proposed by Padre Dam Municipal Water District. Second, Council will weigh whether to issue a conditional use permit for a freeway-oriented sign for the Creation and Earth History Museum, a facility promoting Creationism and denouncing evolution. Third, Santee Council members will consider a general plan amendment to incorporate the 2009 Bicycle Master Plan.

Case Involving Harsh Words About Religion Heads to 9th Circuit


October 27, 2009, 6:26 PM ET.

By Ashby Jones

Here's a strange little constitutional riddle for you: When can a spoken statement constitute a violation of the First Amendment?

Answer: When the speaker is a government employee and the spoken statement amounts to an "establishment" of one religion over another.

Granted, it's a bit of a trick question, as the First Amendment violation involves the Establishment Clause rather than the Free Speech Clause, but we still think it's kind of fun.

We came across this little quirk earlier today while reading about an interesting lawsuit heading up to the Ninth Circuit.

The backstory: In 2007, a public high-school teacher in Orange County, Calif., made some provocative statements in an AP history class slamming religion pretty hard.

The teacher, James Corbett of Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo (which graduated former Los Angeles Raider Todd Marinovich) referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a 2007 lecture. Corbett made a host of other controversial statements as well. One of his students, Chad Farnan, sued Corbett and the school district, alleging a violation of his First Amendment Rights.

In May, a federal judge in Santa Ana, Calif., James Selna, granted summary judgment, partly in favor of Farnan and partly in favor of the defendants. Click here for the opinion. Specifically, Judge James Selna ruled that the "superstitious nonsense" comment violated Farnan's rights, but ruled that nearly two dozen statements did not. Both sides appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

Joining Corbett for the appeal: Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Irvine law school. According to this story in the OC Register, Chemerinsky was named in the filings as a member of Corbett's new, four-person defense team. All of the attorneys will work on a pro bono basis.

"Dr. Corbett has rendered an extraordinary service to the Capistrano Unified School District and its students for many, many years," said one of the attorneys, Craig Johnson, "and I think that it is a disservice to his record and his legacy to allow the current ruling on summary judgment to stand."

Chemerinsky did not immediately return a request for comment from the Register.

Meanwhile, attorneys for student Chad Farnan simultaneously appealed the case today to the Ninth Circuit. They believe Selna should have found Corbett liable for more than just the Creationism comment.

"We will ask the court to reconsider all 22 statements," said Farnan's attorney, Robert Tyler. "We hope that the Court of Appeals will recognize that comments like, 'Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool,' are truly a violation of the establishment clause, when used in the context used by Dr. Corbett."

More than half say creationism should be taught in schools


October 27, 2:14 PM Christian Worldview

More than half of Britons say that creationism should be taught in schools, in science lessons, by biology teachers as one of an 'alternative perspective' on human origins.

A survey by the British Council published the findings.

Last year, according to the Daily Mail, "leading science educationalist Michael Reiss lost his job as director of education at the Royal Society - Britain's science academy - in a backlash from members after he said science teachers should address creationism in the classroom."

An emeritus professor at University College London and VP of the British Humanist Association says, "It shows how ignorant the public is. Intelligent design and creationism have no connection with science and are purely religious concepts. There is no evidence for them at all. They must be kept out of science lessons." Gosh, how did the world get along without this guy for so long? Really. Such bloated arrogance!

And for those who say that Creationism isn't a science or supported by science...save your breath.

Creationism teaching supported


October 27

Some 54 per cent of adult respondents to a recent survey believe that teachers in British schools should teach creationism alongside Darwin's evolutionary theories.

A total of 973 Britons were polled for the Ipsos Mori research, and more than half said they believed theories such as intelligent design and creationism deserve to be taught alongside evolution in the school classroom.

The research, which was commissioned by the British Council, questioned adults in ten countries, including Russia and the US.

While more than half believe such theories should be taught alongside evolution, Britain had the lowest proportion of respondents who believed it should be taught instead of evolution.

Currently, the subject of creationism can be discussed in religious studies lessons, while evolution is discussed in science lessons.

Head of the Darwin Now programme being run by the British Council, Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, argued that the poll raised questions over the communication of science both in and outside of the classroom.

News brought to you by TimePlan, First for teaching jobs in the UK

Evolution education update: October 23, 2009

Kevin Padian discusses "Ten Myths about Charles Darwin" and Understanding Evolution is recruiting college instructors of introductory biology to serve on a teacher advisory board.


Kevin Padian discusses -- and debunks -- "Ten Myths about Charles Darwin" in the October 2009 issue of BioScience. "Charles Darwin is one of the most revered (and at times reviled) figures in Western history. A great many 'facts' about him and his ideas are the stuff of textbook myths, others are inaccuracies spread by antievolutionists, and still others are conventional historical mistakes long corrected but still repeated," he writes. "I present 10 such misconceptions, and some quick and necessarily incomplete rebuttals. New scholarship is rapidly clearing away some of these myths." Addressed are:

* As a boy Darwin was good only for "shooting, dogs, and rat-catching"
* Darwin was a "mere companion" to Captain Robert FitzRoy on the HMS Beagle
* Darwin's epiphany about natural selection came while visiting the Galápagos Islands
* Darwin stole the credit for natural selection from Alfred Russel Wallace
* Population thinking
* Dual criteria for classification: Genealogy and similarity
* Gradual change is slow and steady
* Human evolution was shaped mainly by natural selection
* Sexual selection is all about how many offspring you leave
* Darwin was a confirmed atheist who had a deathbed conversion to Christianity

Padian concludes, "Myths will always arise and abound ... It is hoped that this myth-busting scholarship will soon filter down to revisions of textbooks that discuss Darwin and to public discourse about his life and work." President of NCSE's board of directors, Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley and also Curator of Paleontology at the University of California Museum of Paleontology. (Thanks to BioScience for graciously making Padian's article freely available on-line.)

For "Ten Myths about Charles Darwin" in BioScience, visit:


The University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), in partnership with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), has received NSF funding to expand the highly successful Understanding Evolution website (UE) with the aim of improving evolution education at the college level -- and college instructors of introductory biology are needed to serve on a teacher advisory board for the project.

UE's Undergraduate Library would target college instructors of introductory biology to help them clarify evolutionary concepts in pedagogically sound ways, integrate evolution throughout their teaching, and relate evolution to current research and issues that matter in students' everyday lives. Functionalities built into the site would also encourage community building within this population of instructors. The Library will also include the Evo Lab, an area targeting undergraduate students directly which would aim to provide student-centered, media-enhanced experiences that portray evolutionary biology as useful and a cornerstone of modern biological research. The Undergraduate Library will serve as a one-stop-shop for evolution educators and students at the college level -- an approach that has proven successful for UE's K-12 site.

In order to best serve its audience, UCMP is forming a UE Teacher Advisory Board for this three-year project. It is seeking college instructors of introductory biology from a range of institutions (community colleges, four-year colleges, large universities, private and public schools) to serve on this board. Board members will attend two two-day meetings in Berkeley, California, and will receive a stipend for their service, as well as travel reimbursement. If you are interested in serving, visit UE for details and an application form.

For the application form, visit:

For Understanding Evolution, visit:

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
http://ncseweb.org Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics


Editor's note: Skeptic Martin Gardner is author of Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Debunking Pseudoscience.

For today's mathematical puzzle, assume that in the year 1956 there was a children's magazine in New York named after a giant egg, Humpty Dumpty, who purportedly served as its chief editor.

CAREER CHANGE Martin Gardner left a children's magazine in 1956 to do a monthly column on "recreational mathematics" in Scientific American.

Mr. Dumpty was assisted by a human editor named Martin Gardner, who prepared "activity features" and wrote a monthly short story about the adventures of the child egg, Humpty Dumpty Jr. Another duty of Mr. Gardner's was to write a monthly poem of moral advice from Humpty Sr. to Humpty Jr.

At that point, Mr. Gardner was 42 and had never taken a math course beyond high school. He had struggled with calculus and considered himself poor at solving basic mathematical puzzles, let alone creating them. But when the publisher of Scientific American asked him if there might be enough material for a monthly column on "recreational mathematics," a term that sounded even more oxymoronic in 1956 than it does today, Mr. Gardner took a gamble.

He quit his job with Humpty Dumpty.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gardner will celebrate his 95th birthday with the publication of another book — his second book of essays and mathematical puzzles to be published just this year. With more than 70 books to his name, he is the world's best-known recreational mathematician, and has probably introduced more people to the joys of math than anyone in history.

How is this possible?

Actually, there are two separate puzzles here. One is how Mr. Gardner, who still works every day at his old typewriter, has managed for so long to confound and entertain his readers. The other is why so many of us have never been able to resist this kind of puzzle. Why, when we hear about the guy trying to ferry a wolf and a goat and a head of cabbage across the river in a small boat, do we feel compelled to solve his transportation problem?

It never occurred to me that math could be fun until the day in grade school that my father gave me a book of 19th-century puzzles assembled by Mr. Gardner — the same puzzles, as it happened, that Mr. Gardner's father had used to hook him during his school days. The algebra and geometry were sugar-coated with elaborate stories and wonderful illustrations of giraffe races, pool-hall squabbles, burglaries and scheming carnival barkers. (Go to nytimes.com/tierneylab for some examples.)

The puzzles didn't turn Mr. Gardner into a professional mathematician — he majored in philosophy at the University of Chicago — but he remained a passionate amateur through his first jobs in public relations and journalism. After learning of mathematicians' new fascination with folding certain pieces of paper into different shapes, he sold an article about these "flexagons" to Scientific American, and that led to his monthly "Mathematical Games" column, which he wrote for the next quarter-century.

Mr. Gardner prepared for the new monthly column by scouring Manhattan's second-hand bookstores for math puzzles and games. In another line of work, that would constitute plagiarism, but among puzzle makers it has long been the norm: a good puzzle is forever.

For instance, that puzzle about ferrying the wolf, the goat and the cabbage was included in a puzzle collection prepared for the emperor Charlemagne 12 centuries ago — and it was presumably borrowed by Charlemagne's puzzlist. The row-boat problem has been passed down in cultures around the world in versions featuring guards and prisoners, jealous spouses, missionaries, cannibals and assorted carnivores.

"The number of puzzles I've invented you can count on your fingers," Mr. Gardner says. Through his hundreds of columns and dozens of books, he always credited others for the material and insisted that he wasn't even a good mathematician.

"I don't think I ever wrote a column that required calculus," he says. "The big secret of my success as a columnist was that I didn't know much about math.

"I had to struggle to get everything clear before I wrote a column, so that meant I could write it in a way that people could understand."

After he gave up the column in 1981, Mr. Gardner kept turning out essays and books, and his reputation among mathematicians, puzzlists and magicians just kept growing. Since 1994, they have been convening in Atlanta every two years to swap puzzles and ideas at an event called the G4G: the Gathering for Gardner.

"Many have tried to emulate him; no one has succeeded," says Ronald Graham, a mathematician at the University of California, San Diego. "Martin has turned thousands of children into mathematicians, and thousands of mathematicians into children."

Mr. Gardner says he has been gratified to see more and more teachers incorporating puzzles into the math curriculum. The pleasure of puzzle-solving, as he sees it, is a happy byproduct of evolution.

"Consider a cow," he says. "A cow doesn't have the problem-solving skill of a chimpanzee, which has discovered how to get termites out of the ground by putting a stick into a hole.

"Evolution has developed the brain's ability to solve puzzles, and at the same time has produced in our brain a pleasure of solving problems."

Mr. Gardner's favorite puzzles are the ones that require a sudden insight. That aha! moment can come in any kind of puzzle, but there's a special pleasure when the insight is mathematical — and therefore eternal, as Mr. Gardner sees it. In his new book, "When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish," he explains why he is an "unashamed Platonist" when it comes to mathematics.

"If all sentient beings in the universe disappeared," he writes, "there would remain a sense in which mathematical objects and theorems would continue to exist even though there would be no one around to write or talk about them. Huge prime numbers would continue to be prime even if no one had proved them prime."

I share his mathematical Platonism, and I think that is ultimately the explanation for the appeal of the puzzles. They may superficially involve row boats or pool halls or giraffes, but they're really about transcendent numbers and theorems.

When you figure out the answer, you know you've found something that is indisputably true anywhere, anytime. For a brief moment, the universe makes perfect sense.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That

Correction: October 21, 2009

The Findings column on Tuesday, about Martin Gardner, who for a quarter-century wrote the monthly "Mathematical Games" column for Scientific American, misstated his age at the time he started the column. He was 42, not 37. (Mr. Gardner's 95th birthday is today and will be marked by the publication of his second book of essays and mathematical puzzles this year. He has published more than 70 books.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Evolution education update: October 16, 2009

Honors for NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott and for McGill's Brian Alters. Plus new NCSE t-shirts and new ways to support NCSE.


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott will receive the Fellows' Medal, the highest honor of the California Academy of Sciences, in a ceremony in San Francisco on October 13, 2009. According to a press release from the Academy issued on October 8, 2009: "Scott has been a pioneering researcher and activist in the creationism-evolution controversy for over 25 years. ... In 2005, NCSE served as a consultant for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, in which Judge John Jones ruled against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. Dr. Scott has received national recognition for her work and holds honorary degrees from McGill, Rutgers, Mt. Holyoke, the University of New Mexico, Ohio State, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is the author of Evolution vs. Creationism, and co-editor of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools." Scott also was elected to the California Academy of Sciences in 1994. In receiving its Fellows' Medal, she joins such distinguished evolutionary scientists as Peter H. Raven, G. Ledyard Stebbins, and F. Clark Howell.

For the press release from the California Academy of Sciences, visit:


NCSE is delighted to congratulate Brian Alters, a member of NCSE's board of directors, on receiving the prestigious McNeil Medal for the Public Awareness of Science from the Royal Society of Canada, in recognition of "his world-famous work on the promotion of education about evolution." In a congratulatory letter, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum of McGill University described the award as a "wonderful tribute" to Alters's "talents, outstanding achievements and exceptional contributions to public awareness of science."

Alters is the Tomlinson Chair in Science Education and Sir William Dawson Scholar at McGill University, where he also founded and directs the Evolution Education Research Centre. He is the author of several books, including Defending Evolution: A Guide to the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Jones and Bartlett 2001), coauthored with Sandra M. Alters. He testified as an expert witness on science education for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Alters was awarded NCSE's "Friend of Darwin" award in 2005.

For information on the award from McGill University, visit:


At last, the latest iteration of NCSE's pioneering experimental steveometry apparatus -- the Project Steve t-shirt -- is available for order! The names of the first 1099 signatories to Project Steve are printed in white on a quality cotton/poly black t-shirt, along with the slogan, "Over 1000 scientists named Steve agree. Teach Evolution!" For Steves, Stephanies, and anyone who supports the teaching of evolution and likes t-shirts. Sizes run from medium to extra-extra-large; the cost is $14, plus 9.75% sales tax for California orders, plus shipping. Visit the NCSE store to order.

Also available is NCSE's famous "ooze" shirt, with the slogan, "My ancestors spent 3.8 billion years evolving out of the primordial ooze and all I got was this lousy t-shirt," along with a whimsical assortment of Ray Troll's animals. Printed in white on a quality 100% cotton forest green t-shirt, with "Teach Evolution!" and NCSE's logo and website address on the back. Sizes run from small to extra-extra-large; like the Project Steve t-shirt, the cost is $14, plus 9.75% sales tax for California orders, plus shipping. Visit the NCSE store to order.

And while you're visiting NCSE's website, it's now easier than ever before to support NCSE and its mission of defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools. You can now join, renew, or donate on-line, using your Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, or PayPal account. Plus you can now become a sustaining member of NCSE on-line -- automatically donating $10, $20, or whatever amount you choose every month. Visit our brand-new membership page today.

For information about Project Steve, visit:

For NCSE's on-line store, visit:

For NCSE's membership page, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

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

Mismatch of the decade: Thornton vs. Behe


Category: Creationism • Evolution

Posted on: October 16, 2009 12:58 PM, by PZ Myers

One of my favorite examples of the step-by-step evolution of molecules has been the work coming out of Joe Thornton's lab on glucocorticoid receptors. It's marvelous stuff that nails down the changes, nucleotide by nucleotide.

It's also work that Michael Behe called "piddling", despite the fact that it directly addresses the claims of irreducible complexity. Have you ever noticed how the creationists will make grand demands (show me how a duck evolved from a crocodile!) and then reject every piece of fossil evidence you might show them because there are still "gaps"? This is the converse of that argument: when you've got a system where you can show each tiny molecular/genetic change, they dismiss that as trivial. You really can't win.

Well, Thornton has been working hard and coming up with more and more details, while Behe is still sitting there, eyes clamped shut and ears stoppered, insisting that IT CAN'T HAPPEN LALALALAALALALALAAAA. Behe threw together some dreck claiming that not only didn't Thornton's work demonstrate evolution, but it actually supported Intelligent Design creationism!

Boy, did he make a mistake.

Remember how when the creationists started playing games with his work, it roused Richard Lenski to slap down Conservapædia hard? We've got a similar situation here.

Joe Thornton has written a beautiful response to Michael Behe.

Read it. Really. It's a whole lesson in important principles in evolutionary theory all by itself. It exposes the ignorance of Behe through and through, and demolishes the premises of Behe's latest foolish book. And it made me feel soooo gooooood.

Chupacabra? Creationist Museum Displays Mystery Beast


By Benjamin Radford, LiveScience's Bad Science Columnist

posted: 16 October 2009 11:32 am ET

Last week a most unusual animal made its world premiere in an equally strange museum in the small town of Phoenix, New York.

The mounted and stuffed beast is claimed to be the elusive chupacabra (the vampiric "goat sucker" of Hispanic folklore), and is on display for an exclusive engagement through Halloween at the Lost World Museum, run by real estate agent John Adolfi.

Adolfi's chupacabra was found thousands of miles away in Blanco, Texas, in August. A local man presented the dead animal (half jokingly) as a chupacabra to a taxidermist named Jerry Ayer. It had been attacking chickens a few days earlier, and succumbed to poison left as bait. The canid creature weighed about 80 pounds and resembled a coyote or dog. But its front legs were a few inches longer than most coyotes', and it was mostly hairless except for around the feet and along its backbone.

The news got out, and soon the taxidermy school where Ayer works was getting 100 calls a day from people all over the world inquiring about his mysterious carcass. Ayer had planned to display the creature as a conversation piece, or in a museum, but soon realized that the publicity would not go away until he was rid of the chupacabra. It was soon sold to Mr. Adolfi, destined for a place in the spotlight at his museum.

So is the animal really the mysterious bloodsucking beast, the world's third best-known mystery animal after Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster?

Tissue samples were taken, though DNA results have not been revealed.

The two most common explanations are that it is either a hairless Mexican dog breed called Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo for short), or a mangy coyote. Indeed, previous "chupacabras" found in nearby Cuero, Texas, in 2007 were found to be mostly coyote. Ayer himself is quick to point out that he never claimed he had a chupacabra.

"I still don't know what it is; in my opinion it's some sort of genetically defective coyote," Ayer told LiveScience. "I don't believe in chupacabras. I don't believe in any mythical beasts whatsoever. We labeled it that because everyone else was calling it that."

Chupacabra or not, Adolfi wanted to exhibit the beast as an example of the fallibility of science. His Lost World Museum (named after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel in which dinosaurs still exist) features items and artifacts that he believes proves that scientists don't have all the answers. A creationist, Adolfi believes that the Earth was created 6,000 to 10,000 years ago by God. He believes that by displaying the chupacabra, he will cast doubt on the credibility of mainstream scientists: If scientists scoff at the chupacabra's existence, could they be wrong about evolution and the age of the Earth?

It may be that the Lost World Museum holds the world's first stuffed and mounted authentic chupacabra. Or, once the DNA results come in, Adolfi may find that he has purchased and displayed the world's most expensive coyote carcass. Only time — and science — will tell.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and investigator with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. His book on the chupacabra mystery will be published next year. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.

Richard Dawkins on creationists: "I don't think they read books anyway, except for one book"


Friday October 16, 2009

That's a quote from Richard Dawkins hawking his latest book in an interview with Salon.

Doesn't that make it difficult for a creationist to read this book without feeling insulted? Won't that hurt your goal?

No, I'm not really aiming it at creationists. I don't think they read books anyway, except for one book. It's aimed at the intelligent layperson who does read books and who vaguely knows a little bit about evolution and who vaguely knows that there are creationists and maybe even vaguely thinks that he's a creationist himself, but who is curious and wants to know the evidence.

It's just that the evidence is so enthralling, it's so exciting. It is so wonderful that here we are on this planet and we understand why we're here. And it's just a sort of ecstatic feeling to understand why you exist, and I want to share that feeling with other people.

What's so funny about Dawkins' quote is that he knows his last book was purchased by many Christians and he knows that they'll probably buy this one as well (I'm waiting to check it out of the library) no matter how insulting he is to them. We have no problem reading the other sides' point of view. But do they? Here's one of the best books I've read from our point of view for those who really are free thinkers.