NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 November 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dawkins: Evangelist an 'idiot' on evolution

By Peter Wilkinson, CNNNovember 25, 2009 7:34 a.m. EST


London, England (CNN) -- A Christian evangelist branded an idiot by atheist biologist Richard Dawkins for trying to refute Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has brushed off the criticism.

Speaking to CNN on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's seminal work "On the Origin of Species," Dawkins said the evidence to support the theory that life on earth came about through natural selection, and not design by God, was "now massively buttressed by molecular evidence."

And referring to U.S.-based evangelist Ray Comfort, who argues that the universe and life is the result of an intelligent creator, Dawkins said: "There is no refutation of Darwinian evolution in existence. If a refutation ever were to come about, it would come from a scientist, and not an idiot.

"Hunches aren't interesting, hunches aren't valuable. What's important is scientific evidence. It doesn't matter what mister whatever his name is, Comfort ... what his opinion is. It doesn't matter what my opinion is. What matters is evidence. And the evidence is clear. The evidence is in favor of evolution."

Comfort's California-based Living Waters ministry says it plans to distribute 120,000 copies of Darwin's theories on leading university campuses with a 50-page introduction in which he says he provides evidence for intelligent design.

If a refutation ever were to come about, it would come from a scientist, and not an idiot.

Responding to Dawkins' criticism, Comfort issued a statement to CNN. "If the views expressed in my introduction of 'On the Origin of Species' are 'idiotic,' why would Mr. Dawkins tell students to rip them out of the book, as he did recently?

"Surely he should encourage them to read the introduction to see how foolhardy it is, and that would strengthen students' faith in the theory of evolution."

Dawkins, who came to prominence with his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene," which explores the origins of life, has been dubbed in the media as "Darwin's rottweiler."

He maintains that science has proved the 19th century English naturalist's theory of evolution right in almost every respect, adding that "Darwin also cleverly anticipated just about all the arguments against that have ever been proposed."

"Dan Dennett, the U.S. philosopher said it was the best idea anyone ever had. It explains the whole of life, the diversity, the beauty of life, above all the illusion of design. Living things look as if though they've been designed at a fantastically complicated level. What Darwin showed is you can get illusion of design with virtually nothing, with a simple idea, using ordinary, blind laws of physics."

He added: "You can't prove there's no God, no fairies, no leprechauns, or that Thor or Apollo don't exist. There's got to be a positive reason to think that fairies exist. Until somebody does, we can say technically we are agnostic about fairies. We can't disprove them, but we think it's a bit of a waste of time trying. And the same goes for God."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Evolution education update: November 20, 2009

NCSE was busy conducting a campaign to counteract the distribution of copies of the Origin of Species with a creationist introduction. Plus a chance to hear a panel of scientists discuss the frontiers of evolution on-line.


Does Darwin's On the Origin of Species need a special introduction? Creationist Ray Comfort thinks so. During the week of November 16, 2009, Comfort and his allies distributed free copies of the Origin on college campuses across the United States -- including a "special introduction" by Comfort which claims, among other things, that evolution is scientifically false and that Darwin was a misogynist racist whose ideas inspired Hitler.

To put Comfort's claims in perspective -- and to aid scientists, teachers, students, and other concerned citizens in protesting Comfort's distortions -- NCSE created a special site, Don't Diss Darwin, chock-full of advice, analysis, background information, flyers and signs, a Safety Bookmark (a tongue-in-cheek tool for separating Comfort's introduction from the rest of the Origin), and even a not-quite-serious public service announcement video.

Reporters across the country (and a few from abroad) asked NCSE to comment on the distribution, with quotes from NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, Robert Luhn, and Steve Newton appearing in the Los Angeles Daily News (November 18, 2009), the Gainesville (Florida) Sun (November 19, 2009), the Santa Barbara (California) Independent (November 18, 2009), and even the Sheaf, the student paper of the University of Saskatchewan (November 18, 2009).

NCSE worked with a number of individuals and organizations in responding to the distribution, including the Center for Inquiry and the Secular Student Alliance. Also noteworthy are the filmmaker Randy Olson's video poking fun at the creationist campaign ("The Kirk Cameron Action Kit"; the former child star is a partner of Ray Comfort) and Scientific American's podcast (November 17, 2009) with Steve Mirsky describing the situation as "Darwin in Battle of Wits against Unarmed Man."

For Don't Diss Darwin, visit:

For the US News & World Report debate between Comfort and Scott, visit:


For the cited newspaper articles, visit:

For the Secular Student Alliance's response, visit:

For the Center for Inquiry's response, visit:

For Randy Olson's video and the Scientific American podcast, visit:


Hear E. O. Wilson and Everett Mendelsohn discuss "Frontiers of Evolution" on-line! Starting at 1:00 p.m. (Eastern) on November 24, 2009, a panel of scientists led by Wilson and Mendelsohn will discuss Darwin's legacy and the frontiers of evolutionary biology, as part of the 150th anniversary Origin of Species lecture series, hosted by The Reading Odyssey and the Darwin 150 project -- and the whole event 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. Previous speakers in the series included Mendelsohn, Jonathan Weiner, and NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll.

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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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Anti-Evolution Actor Modifies Darwin's Work With Questionable Intro


Jason Mick (Blog) - November 22, 2009 12:12 PM

Kirk Cameron poses with students at Purdue University, holding copies of "On The Origin of Species", containing a controversial intro he helped pen. (Source: Living Waters)

The scientific community offers up a rebuttal offering colorful evidence of evolution in a new book of photos. (Source: Amazon.com)On the 150th anniversary of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" there's hot debate between critics and scientists

Technology and evolutionary science often meld harmoniously in disciplines such as molecular evolutionary biology and paleontology. New discoveries of missing link fossils have been enabled by advanced software tools and lab equipment, as has new evidence of the path of evolution in the genome provided by advanced sequencing equipment. While the wealth of scientific evidence has the scientific community virtually convinced that Darwin's Theory of Evolution proposed in the On the Origin of Species and later refinements provide a framework to understanding how life grew and changed throughout the Earth's history, there are many in the public that remain critical of the theory.

With next Tuesday marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's momentous work, tensions are high between the scientific community and anti-evolution activists. Some of these critics argue that the Earth is as little as 6,000 years old. Others argue that the Earth is older, but that evolution never occurred -- that life on Earth merely appeared.

Such theories have been given a voice by actor Kirk Cameron, who is best known for his role in the 1985 sitcom "Growing Pains". Mr. Cameron has taken a curious tactic, touring the country handing out 100,000 free copies of Darwin's On the Origin of Species on college campuses, with one significant catch -- the book comes with a critical 50-page introduction co-written by Mr. Cameron.

Mr. Cameron recently popped up on Purdue University's campus, handing out copies with California-based Christian minister Ray Comfort. States Mr. Cameron to People, "Atheism has been on the rise for years now, and the Bible of the atheists is The Origin of Species. We have a situation in our country where young people are entering college with a belief in God and exiting with that faith being stripped and shredded. What we want to do is have student make an informed, educated decision before they chuck their faith."

Local pastor Jared Brothers of Stringtown Church of God in Covington, an Indiana church, helped with the distribution. He stated, ""I don't believe in evolution. I am all about a personal relationship with God. The main thing is to get some literature into people's hands and to get God's word out. That's the goal."

The controversial introduction claims Darwin's work fathered Nazi eugenics and overall misogyny. Describes Mr. Cameron, "You can see where [Hitler] clearly takes Darwin's ideas to some of their logical conclusions and compares certain races of people to lower evolutionary life forms. If you take Darwin's theory and extend it to its logical end, it can be used to justify all number of very horrendous things."

Scientists on campus rallied against the handout with a handout of their own, passing out pro-Darwin fish stickers emblazoned with "I Support Science." And a significant book summarizing the collected visual results of evolutionary biologists has also been launched in support of the theory, written by Mary Ellen Hannibal and featuring photography by Susan Middleton.

The book titled, Evidence of Evolution, is not free -- it costs $29.95 (though it's available for just under $20 on Amazon.com). It features collections of photographed animal specimens of closely related animals, tracing the path of evolution through the world's jungles and forests. Many of the specimens photographed look similar, but have been shown to be different species, thanks to evolutionary subtleties inside their bodies. The book focuses primarily on such examples of microevolution, but also offers photographic evidence of macroevolution.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday Five: Dr. Stephen Meyer, Discovery Institute


by Kim Trobee, editor

With the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species fast approaching, Dr. Meyer explains the holes in the theory of evolution and the magnificent ode to intelligent design.

Dr. Stephen Meyer is director and senior fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. After completing undergraduate degrees in physics and geology and working in the oil industry, he went to Cambridge in 1986 to pursue a degree in the philosophy of science. Fascinated with the question of how life began and the possibility of intelligent design, Meyer embarked on a journey to find the answer. His book, Signature in the Cell, is the story of that journey.

1. Darwinism has been around for 150 years. How has the theory affected our culture?

Darwin, along with Marx and Freud, other 19th century thinkers, provided the basis of a comprehensive materialistic worldview. Many people associate materialism with spending sprees, supermalls and the slogan, "he who dies with the most toys, wins," but materialism is more than a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. It is also a philosophy that treats the material world as the whole of reality. Materialism asserts that matter and energy, not God, are the things from which everything else comes. As the late Stephen J. Gould put it, "Matter is the ground of all existence; mind, spirit, and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity."

This materialistic worldview made belief in God seem less plausible to educated people; it also changed our conception of human nature. The materialistic conception of human nature ultimately infected almost every area of Western thought and culture, from politics and law to literature and personal mores. Materialists denied objective moral standards, claiming that the right and wrong evolved to suit societal needs and personal preferences. As Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson put it in The Evolution of Ethics: "Morality ... is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends … Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes." Materialistic thinking undermined belief in personal responsibility. If human behavior is determined solely by genetics and environment, then everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable. Materialists also devised utopian political schemes. Thinking they could manipulate people like mathematical variables, social theorists advocated coercive government programs that promised heaven on earth, but often produced the opposite.

2. Your latest work, Signature in the Cell, presents a new case for intelligent design. Tell our readers about that.

The foundations of scientific materialism are in the process of crumbling. In Signature in the Cell, I show how the digital code in DNA points powerfully to a designing intelligence behind the origin of life.

For example, in 1953 when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, they made a startling discovery. The structure of DNA allows it to store information in the form of a four-character digital code. Strings of precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotide bases store and transmit the assembly instructions — the information — for building the crucial protein molecules and machines the cell needs to survive. Francis Crick later developed this idea with his famous "sequence hypothesis" according to which the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code. As Bill Gates has noted, "DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created."

This discovery has made acute a longstanding scientific mystery that Darwin never addressed or solved: the mystery of how the very first life on Earth arose. To date no theory of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the digital information in DNA needed to build the first living cell on Earth.

Yet, modern scientists who argue for intelligent design do not do so merely because natural processes have failed to explain the origin of the information in cells. Instead, they argue for design, because systems possessing these features invariably arise from intelligent causes.

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

3. There have been scientists who have spoken out about intelligent design — with disastrous consequences. Why?

One of my friendly debate partners, Dr. Michael Ruse, has explained this very well. He has explained that Darwinism has, for some time, functioned as a secular religion. Like many people, when Darwinists have their beliefs challenged by arguments they can't answer, they often respond emotionally, sometimes using the power at their disposal to suppress dissenting scientific opinions. This phenomenon was vividly documented in the movie Expelled, starring Ben Stein.

4. Some say Darwin refuted his own claims on his death bed. Is that true, or just an urban legend?

All the evidence suggests that he remained committed to his theory right to the end of his life.

5. What will it take for the scientific community to open up to the possibility of intelligent design?

While there is still resistance, I think the scientific community is increasingly becoming more open to the evidence and the case for intelligent design. I was pleasantly surprised when my book received endorsements from a number of prominent scientists that had not yet publicly weighed in on intelligent design, such as Dr. Phillip Skell, a member of the National Academies of Science, and Dr. Norman Nevin, a prominent British geneticist. There are many more endorsements and reviews of the book at www.signatureinthecell.com that show a growing interest in intelligent design based on the information bearing properties of DNA.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Did Palin Misrepresent Her Creationist Beliefs to Get on the McCain Ticket?


By: Blue Texan Thursday November 19, 2009 10:30 am

Before she got the veep nod, Steve Schmidt grilled Palin about her views on evolution, apparently to ensure she wasn't a flat-earther creationist.

The CSM provides this exchange from Going Rogue.

[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn't believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

"But your dad's a science teacher," Schmidt objected.


"Then you know that science proves evolution," added Schmidt.

"Parts of evolution," I said.

"But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt."

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.

But that's not how the McCain people remember that conversation.

In "Sarah From Alaska," we reported that contrary to Palin's description of a pair of sunglasses shifting ominously atop Schmidt's head, both Schmidt and Salter were actually quite satisfied with Palin's answer, which dovetailed with the theory of Intelligent Design.

Two former McCain aides each independently maintained that Palin's recollection of the conversation in "Going Rogue," was inaccurate.

"If she had been, 'I am a creationist,' she would not have been the nominee," one former aide said. "McCain wouldn't have gone for that."

But here's Palin– who attended Wasillia Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church that I'm guessing isn't too big on Darwin — during a televised 2006 debate:

Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject – creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

Given that a 2005 Pew poll found that 70% of evangelicals reject Darwinism, and in light of her previous creationist advocacy, it's hard to believe that Palin was telling the McCain campaign the truth.

Creationists hand out Darwin's book with a twist


Students received free editions of "The Origin of the Species" that featured an introduction explaining creationism.

Matt Mead Published: 11/19/2009
By Katherine Lymn

Many University of Minnesota students jumped at the chance for a free copy of Charles Darwin's "On The Origins of Species" being handed out on Pleasant Street Thursday. But they were met with a surprise when they opened to this edition's introduction.

The books, 1,000 of which were distributed on campus Thursday, feature a 50-page "special introduction" written by evangelical Christian Ray Comfort. The introduction cites the Bible as well as works by Darwin himself and argues for creationism before the book turns to the unadulterated Darwin text.

First-year Clare Simonis was one recipient of the book, which was published 150 years ago this month.

"It is kind of deceiving," Simons said of the creationism introduction.

However, she said she has seen other groups on campus try to get students to take a handout by misleading them.

Four families paid for the special edition of the book and stood outside Eddy and Wulling Halls Thursday distributing it.

The books cost $4.99 individually, but can be sold for as low as $0.99 if bought in bulk.

Quotes prompting the investigation of both sides of an argument line the first page of the book where one would normally expect to see excerpts from positive book reviews.

One man, David, who refused to give his last name, was a supervisor for the group and said they had been distributing the books to students from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. that morning and 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. that afternoon.

"We wanted to break [the times] up to get different types of students," David said.

The group planned to return at 6 p.m. — if any books were left to distribute.

David said student reception has been "98 percent" positive, and the majority of students have been "very polite."

First-year Cassie Annis, a Christian, said she thought the handout was a smart idea.

"I think it's good to have … both [viewpoints] there," she said.

The University is one of more than 90 campuses being targeted this November through "The Origins into Schools Project," said Liz Ebert, an employee of Living Waters, an evangelism resource and training company founded by Comfort.

Ebert said the company chose to focus on distribution at colleges because most are not private property, so books can be handed out without breaking any laws.

She said campuses feature the "future generation," so "there is a great impact to be made."

More of Stephen Meyer's Bad History of Science


..Last week I noted how much Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell is selling and wondered whether I should start refuting it. This almost instantly triggered a comment from Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, saying, please, please, do precisely that.

Oh well, so much for that idea. If this is what DI wants, this is not what DI is going to get.

There is not much to say about Meyer's "God of the Gaps" argument anyway, now applied to the origins of life just as it has previously been applied to the bacterial flagellum, the Cambrian explosion, and so on. Research is going on into the origins of life, but we have not yet solved the mystery. It just isn't scientifically fruitful to invoke "intelligent design" in this context, as if it solves a problem, rather than just raising another one (who designed the super-complex designer, and so on).

However, I do want to comment on one aspect of Meyer's book that's really jaw-dropping–albeit not in a strictly scientific area.

Meyer is trained as a historian and philosopher of science, not a biologist. So one would think he would know what his own field has to say about the relationship between science, religion, and naturalism.

Yet on the contrary, in Signature in the Cell–and especially in Chapter 6, "The Origin of Science and the Possibility of Design"–he selectively uses historical science research to claim that modern science can still be infused with a sense of the divine. In the process, Meyer selectively ignores important developments from the 19th century and on.

As historians of science like Ronald Numbers have shown, after the Darwinian revolution, science became closely tied to methodological naturalism and a sense of fixed natural laws that are unchanging–and therefore capable of being studied in controlled experiments. In this context, appeals to miracles, divine intervention, intelligent design, and so on, were ruled out by practicing scientists, whether they were personally religious or not–for very good reason. They were seen as an inappropriate hinderance, and not based on testable data or inference. They were vague, and didn't have any explanatory power. They might be religously satisfying, but as science, they were a cop-out.

Granted, we have to go a bit closer into what Meyer is saying, as there is a grain of truth mixed into the sands of dubiousness. In citing early modern scientists like Kepler, Boyle, Newton, and so on, Meyer rightly notes that these pioneers felt that the order in the nature that they could detect was the work of an organizing intelligence–a great clockmaker for the clockwork universe. Therefore, science itself was, in a very strong sense, inquiry into the nature of the divine.

And so Meyer asks:

How could the act of invoking something so foundational to the history of science as the idea of design now completely violate the rules of science itself, as I had repeatedly heard many scientists assert? If belief in intelligent design first inspired modern scientific investigation, how could mere openness to the design hypothesis now act as a "science stopper" and threaten to put an end to productive scientific research altogether, as some scientists feared?

Clearly, the idea of intelligent design had played a formative role in the foundation of modern science. Many great scientists had proposed specific design hypotheses. This seemed to suggest that intelligent design could function as a possible scientific hypothesis. But many contemporary scientists rejected this idea out of hand. Why?

The answer to this question is obvious, and if Meyer is a historian of science, he should know it.

In the 19th century especially–but it began even earlier–science differentiated itself from religion and decided that supernatural appeals were no longer testable or within the purview of science. Great battles were fought on this head, by the likes of John Tyndall, Thomas Henry Huxley, and many more. "The more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become," wrote Darwin in his Autobiography.

This is why, when lightning strikes, we no longer fear it is godly punishment. Rather, we know it is electricity. This is why, if patients' symptoms improve after they pray or are prayed for, we know it is the placebo effect. Or at least, we know that is all that science can say about the matter.

Meyer is right about how Kepler and Newton thought, but modern scientists have long since decided that they don't work in the way Kepler, or Newton, or Paley did. Religious or otherwise, they leave claims about the supernatural out of what they do professionally, because there is no way to test such claims, or get other scientists to agree about them. For instance, you couldn't convince an atheistic scientist, or even many Christian scientists, to accept the idea of supernatural design as a scientific, testable hypothesis. Science has left behind the supernatural for very sound methodological reasons; ID wants to bring it back.

But that just isn't going to happen. Stronger distinctions have been built between science and religion as science advanced and professionalized, and that's a good thing. Vast progress has been made in this way; many pointless discussions have been avoided. There is no way that ID is going to pull science back to the 17th century, and as a historian of science, Meyer ought to know that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Evangelist Distributes Darwin's 'Origin' With Intelligent Design Intro


Thursday, 19 November 2009 07:14 PM EST Valerie G. Lowe with with Christian Retailing News - Featured News

Evangelist Ray Comfort and actor Kirk Cameron joined 1,200 Christians Wednesday in distributing 170,000 copies of Charles Darwin's evolution manifesto The Origin of Species—which features a 50-page introduction refuting Darwin's theory—at 100 universities across the nation.

Comfort initially planned to distribute copies of The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition at college campuses today, but atheists and students had threatened "unilateral resistance," including book burnings and protests, according to Comfort's Living Waters ministry.

"Our agenda was simply to get the books into the hands of the students, without creating a disturbance at universities," the ministry said.

Atheists nationwide blasted Comfort online for distributing the 1859 book, which is in the public domain and was published through a partnership with Bridge-Logos Foundation.

"This is a shameful thing that Kirk Cameron and [Ray Comfort] are doing by altering another person's book in order to push their agenda," reads a post on the "Kirk Cameron has gone too far" Facebook page. "But we can help to restore the book to how it was intended and keep young minds from being brainwashed by misinformation."

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, told students to rip out the book's introduction. One thousand free copies of The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition were also distributed at the University of Oxford, where Dawkins is a professor.

Dawkins has reportedly called Comfort a fool for advocating intelligent design, but the evangelist says his goal was to make students think. "All I want for this generation of kids to do is think about what they believe," Comfort told Charisma. "I don't want them to turn their back on evolution. I want them to doubt it enough to look at the claims of the gospel."

Comfort said he doubts intelligent design will ever be taught in schools alongside evolution. "That's because we have to remember who we are as Christians," he said. "We're the folks who believe in Adam and Eve [and] Noah's Ark ... and so in the name of science, they are going to resist as much as they can."

But the evangelist says his mission goes beyond addressing educational needs. He says when people become atheists, they change their worldview from "I believe in God" to "I'm morally responsible" to "There are no moral absolutes," which "opens the door for fornication and pornography and every vice the human heart so desires."

Ultimately, Comfort hopes the book giveaway will draw unbelievers to Christ. "I want them to have everlasting life," he said. "That's the motive for giving these books out."

Living Waters also supplied some of the $4.99 books to Christian bookstores for evangelistic purposes.

'Going Rogue': Is Sarah Palin a creationist?


In her memoir, "Going Rogue," Sarah Palin reveals that she has creationist leanings, explicitly rejecting the belief that humans and other species evolved from a common lineage.

By Eoin O'Carroll | 11.19.09

In her memoir, 'Going Rogue,' former Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin (not pictured) rejects the notion that humans and apes share a common ancestor.

There's no precise definition of "creationism," but the term generally encompasses those who oppose all or part of the theory – held almost universally by biologists and supported by overwhelming amounts of empirical evidence – that all known species are descended from a common ancestor or gene pool and that complex life arises as a result of random mutation and natural selection.

On the hard-core end of the creationist spectrum are biblically inspired "young-earth creationists," who tend to believe that Earth is less than 10,000 years old, that humans coexisted with dinosaurs, and that God created all species "as is" in their present form. They usually don't mind being called creationists.

On the other end are proponents of "intelligent design." This hypothesis does not reject the timescale of evolution, nor does it reject the belief that all living things share a common ancestor. But intelligent design proponents do hold that certain living structures, such as the bacterial flagella, blood cells, and cellular pumps, are too complex to have arisen by mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.

Instead, they posit a powerful being at the beginning of the process who consciously designed and built these structures. Intelligent design supporters generally don't like being called creationists, but a US federal court has ruled that they are.

Palin – whose father taught high school science – seems to fall somewhere in between, and is probably closer to the "young earthers." She doesn't reject Darwin's theory wholesale. She says that she believes in small evolutionary changes over time, but she clearly doesn't buy into common descent of different species, a concept central to modern biology.

Page 217 of "Going Rogue" recounts a conversation between her and McCain aides Mark Salter and Steve Schmidt, who at the time were vetting Palin as a potential running mate for McCain.

[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn't believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

"But your dad's a science teacher," Schmidt objected.


"Then you know that science proves evolution," added Schmidt.

"Parts of evolution," I said.

"But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt."

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.

Science says she is not. All the available evidence, from the fossil record to DNA to comparative anatomy and biochemistry, point to a common ancestor of all species.

Evolutionary anthropologists would agree with Palin on at least one point though – humans did not evolve from monkeys – but rather an ancestor of monkeys, apes, and humans. But scientists are almost certain that all vertebrates are descended from fish.

Others remember Palin's conversation with Schmidt and Salter differently.

Writing on the website for CBS News, Shushannah Walshe and Scott Conroy, coauthors of the book "Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar," published earlier this month, note that, if Palin was a creationist at the time, she wasn't exactly advertising that fact.

Palin's version of the conversation contradicts the reporting we conducted for our own book, "Sarah From Alaska," which was published earlier this month.

"I'm the daughter of a science teacher. My father showed me fossils. I know about evolution, and I accept evolution," Palin said, we report in our book. "That doesn't mean that God didn't set everything in motion."

In "Sarah From Alaska," we reported that contrary to Palin's description of a pair of sunglasses shifting ominously atop Schmidt's head, both Schmidt and Salter were actually quite satisfied with Palin's answer, which dovetailed with the theory of Intelligent Design.

Two former McCain aides each independently maintained that Palin's recollection of the conversation in "Going Rogue," was inaccurate.

"If she had been, 'I am a creationist,' she would not have been the nominee," one former aide said. "McCain wouldn't have gone for that."

Another former McCain campaign aide maintained not to have recalled ever hearing Palin use the word "creationism" and said that it had been Palin, not Schmidt, who had raised the issue of her father's occupation as a science teacher.

Walshe and Conroy's account of this conversation is closer to what Palin said in her much-scrutinized interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric. If you watch this YouTube clip starting at about 2:10, you'll hear Palin say that she thinks evolution "should be taught as an accepted principle."

Palin adds that she sees "the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth," but that "science should be taught in science class." In this interview, she doesn't qualify her acceptance of evolution, nor does she suggest that creationism should be taught alongside the science.

Two years earlier though, that's exactly what she said. During a televised debate for the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial race, she was asked whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms. Here's her response, according to the Anchorage Daily News:

"Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject – creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides."

The ADN spoke with Palin after the debate:

Asked for her personal views on evolution, Palin said, "I believe we have a creator."

She would not say whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact.

"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she said.

So it looks like Palin was skeptical of evolution in 2006, but that she dialed back her creationist beliefs for the 2008 presidential campaign, only to let them loose again in 2009. This isn't surprising: as this blog noted last year, her thoughts on climate change are similarly slippery.

Palin's beliefs about our origins may be vague and contradictory – as Slate's Christopher Beam points out, she has no reservations about describing people as "Neanderthals" – but she's in excellent company. A Gallup poll taken in February 2009 shows that only four in 10 Americans believe in evolution. Another 36 percent have no opinion, and 25 percent said that they do not believe in evolution.

A large number of Americans seem to have scant understanding of how mutation and natural selection can give rise to complex life: When Gallup asked which scientific theory Charles Darwin is associated with, only 55 percent were able to answer correctly.

Palin's rejection of human's evolutionary kinship with other species expresses itself in other ways. In a line that tweaks vegans, Palin quipped: "If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?"

Humans, she seems to believe, are made of something else entirely.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Muslim creationism is back in the news, this time in Egypt


November 16th, 2009
Posted by: Tom Heneghan

Muslim creationism is back in the news. There's been a spate of articles in the U.S. and British press recently about the spread of this scripture-based challenge to Darwinian evolution among Muslims, mostly in the Middle East but also in Europe. The fact that some Muslims have embraced creationism, a trademark belief of some conservative American Protestants, is not new. Reuters first wrote about it in 2006 — "Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey" – and this blog has run several posts on the issue, including an interview with Islam's most prominent creationist, Harun Yahya. What's new is that these ideas seem to be spreading and academics who defend evolution are holding conferences to discuss the phenomenon.

There are too many recent articles about Islamic creationism out there now to discuss each one separately, so I'll have to just link to them in the … New York Times … Washington Post … Boston Globe … Slate … Guardian … National … Beliefnet … … Many of these articles highlight the role of Harun Yahya, the once secretive Istanbul preacher and publisher who has gone on a PR offensive in recent years and turned very media-friendly (as Steve Paulson describes in that Slate article). But as Michael Reiss, a London education professor and Anglican priest told the Guardian, "what the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries. These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries."

(Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal) Over the weekend, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt hosted a conference on "Darwin's Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society" with the British Council. The simple fact of holding a conference on Darwin in the heart of the Middle East, where his theory of evolution is widely rejected, is already noteworthy. According to the Guardian's Riazat Butt, Nidhal Guessoum, professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, told the conference that only three Muslim or Muslim-majority countries out of a possible 22 taught evolution. Another participant, astronomer Salman Hameed, who is professor of integrated science & humanities from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, wrote on his informative science-and-religion blog Irtiqa: "It is incredible that this conference is taking place in Egypt. I don't know what will be the reaction here. Simply by its location, it may remove some of the stigma regarding evolution in the Muslim world, or it may end up generating a backlash. Frankly, I have no idea about the reaction."

In an update on Sunday, Hameed wrote: "There have been some anti-evolutionary comments made in the sessions that dealt with religion and evolution - but overall, the reception seems to have been quite positive - both in Egyptian newspapers and among the local participants."

As a example of what they're up against, another participant was Zaghloul El-Naggar, a leading proponent of the theory that the Koran foresaw scientific theories and discoveries, including the Big Bang and a possible cure for AIDS. He was quoted prominently in a recent Al-Jazeera report on the discovery of the 4.4 million year old skeleton known as Ardipithicus or "Ardi." The report claimed that the find disproved Darwinian evolution — the opposite of what scientists said about the spectacular discovery of the most complete early hominid specimen we have. The report only appeared in Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language television channel, which is very popular in the Middle East, and not in its English-language broadcast. "The presence of El-Naggar totally polarized the debate and evoked an equally polarizing reaction from the audience," wrote Hameed, who promised further posts from the conference ending today.

Last month, Hameed's Hampshire College hosted a conference on Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World. Webcasts of presentations there can be found on the conference website.

What do you think? Is the spread of creationism among Muslims a matter for concern? Is it the same as the battle between creationism and science in Christianity?

An ID Proponent Denies Global Warming


..Wow. The Medved Show today went very differently than I expected. I was all prepared to talk about evolution and intelligent design; instead, Stephen Meyer of the anti-evolutionist Discovery Institute spent far more time attacking climate science than evolutionary science. In this endeavor, he pulled out all the old chestnuts: the Oregon Petition, cooling during the 1970s, the alleged end to warming in this decade, satellite versus ground temperature measurements…egads.

I'll have more to say here about what I meant to say there, but for now, just an observation: If I were Meyer, and I wanted to make the case for intelligent design as good science, I would not tie my position at all to global warming denial, much less in such a close way as I heard him doing today. That's two wildly controversial scientific positions to explain, instead of one; it starts you down the Tom Bethell road of denying almost everything, including HIV/AIDS and even relativity and even even Shakespeare's authorship of his plays. Not good for credibility….and it makes me wonder, how many folks from the Discovery Institute also attack climate science?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Report: In her memoir, Palin says she doesn't believe in evolution.


In the past, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been cagey about her views on creationism and evolution, saying that she believes "we have a creator" but she didn't want "to pretend I know how all this came to be." But in her new memoir, Going Rogue, Palin apparently writes that she doesn't believe in evolution. New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani writes:

Elsewhere in this volume, she talks about creationism, saying she "didn't believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea" or from "monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees." In everything that happens to her, from meeting Todd to her selection by Mr. McCain for the Republican ticket, she sees the hand of God: "My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over."

While running for governor in 2006, Palin said that she was "a proponent of teaching both" evolution and creationism in Alaska's schools. " In September 2008, she told Fox News' Sean Hannity that because she grew up "in a school teacher's house with a science teacher as a dad," she has "great respect for science being taught in our science classes and evolution to be taught in our science classes."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Evolution education update: November 13, 2009

A host of interesting reading and watching, as the sesquicentennial of the Origin approaches, the third episode of Becoming Human is aired, EvoS Journal makes its debut, five videos expounding "Evolution in Two Minutes or Less" are posted at Discover magazine's website, and a symposium on "Evolution in Extreme Environments" is webcast.


As November 24, 2009, the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, approaches, celebrations are continuing around the country and around the world, as well as in the literature and on the internet. As NCSE previously reported, Science is allocating a special section of its website to "a variety of news features, scientific reviews and other special content." Similarly, Nature is providing "continuously updated news, research and analysis on Darwin's life, his science and his legacy." Herewith a sampling of further celebrations in the literature -- and let NCSE know of any worthwhile contributions to add!

To celebrate the anniversary, the journal BioScience is making James T. Costa's article "The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea," from its November 2009 issue (59 [10]), available on-line free of charge. "The idea of evolution by natural selection formulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace is a cornerstone of modern biology, yet few biology students or professionals are familiar with the processes of discovery behind the idea," Costa writes. "I suggest that in teaching evolution today, educators could profitably draw on both Darwin's personal intellectual journey in coming to his ideas, and the compelling argument structure he devised in presenting his theory."

"Darwinian Revolutions" -- written, directed, and narrated by Allen MacNeill of Cornell University -- is a new series of six on-line videos that together provide a brief introduction to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications. On his blog, MacNeill observes, "the theory of evolution is more dynamic, more exciting, more widely accepted, and more widely applied than at any time in the past century and a half. With the accelerating pace of discoveries in evolutionary biology and their applications in biology, medicine, psychology, economics, and even literature and art, the 21st century shows all indications of being what the founders of the 'modern synthesis' called it back in 1959: the 'century of Darwin' and his theory of evolution by natural selection."

A special issue of the journal Naturwissenschaften (2009; 96 [11]) commemorates the anniversary with papers by Ulrich Kutschera on "Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, directional selection, and the evolutionary sciences today"; Hartmut Follmann and Carol Brownson on "Darwin's warm little pond revisited: From molecules to the origin of life"; Rolf G. Beutel, Frank Friedrich and Richard A. B. Leschen on "Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics"; Simon Conway Morris on "The predictability of evolution: Glimpses into a post-Darwinian world"; and Ulrich Kutschera and Karl J. Niklas on "Evolutionary plant physiology: Charles Darwin's forgotten synthesis." All articles in the special issue will be freely available on-line until December 30, 2009.

For the special on-line features from Science and Nature, visit:

For Costa's article in BioScience, visit:

For "Darwinian Revolutions" and MacNeill's blog post about it, visit:

For the special issue of Naturwissenschaften, visit:


The third episode of Becoming Human -- a three-part NOVA documentary on what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives -- will air on November 17, 2009, on public broadcasting stations around the country. According to NOVA:


How did modern humans take over the world? New evidence suggests that they left Africa and colonized the rest of the globe far earlier, and for different reasons, than previously thought. As for Homo sapiens, we have planet Earth to ourselves today, but that's a very recent and unusual situation. For millions of years, many kinds of hominids co-existed. At one time Homo sapiens shared the planet with Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and the mysterious "Hobbits" -- three-foot-high humans who thrived on the Indonesian island of Flores until as recently as 12,000 years ago.

"Last Human Standing" examines why "we" survived while those other ancestral cousins died out. And it explores the provocative question: In what ways are we still evolving today?


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:


The first issue of EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium -- a new open-access on-line peer-reviewed journal designed to promote the education of evolutionary theory in colleges and universities -- is now available. The journal is published by the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, of which NCSE is a member institution. The consortium seeks to "facilitate the development and implementation of Evolutionary Studies Programs at colleges and universities across the United States"; the original model for such programs is David Sloan Wilson's Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University.

Correspondingly, EvoS Journal seeks to "publish peer-reviewed articles related to evolutionary theory in higher education" as well as to "publish undergraduate peer-reviewed publications that have arisen from courses offered through Evolutionary Studies Programs." In their editorial introduction to the first issue, Rosemarie Sokol Chang, Glenn Geher, Jennifer Waldo, and David Sloan Wilson write, "The contents of EvoS Journal will be doubly exhilarating. First, there is the exhilaration of expanding evolutionary theory throughout and beyond the biological sciences, including all aspects of humanity. Second, there is the exhilaration of incorporating this expansion into higher education and public life. We look forward to your participation, as readers and contributors."

For EvoS Journal, visit:

For information about the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, visit:

For information about the Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University, visit:

For the editorial introduction to the first issue (PDF), visit:


NCSE congratulates Scott Hatfield on winning Discover magazine's "Evolution in Two Minutes or Less" video contest, for "Evolution: The Song." The contest's judge, biologist and blogger P. Z. Myers, explained, "He turned evolution into a rock anthem. And it's a very catchy one, too. ... Scott jumps out in your face and grabs your attention with a musical version of the big concepts. It's great stuff." Also winning honors were Stephen Anderson's "Evolution in 120 Seconds" (the viewer's choice winner); Maggie Tse, Tony Cheng, and Stella Chung's "Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going?" (the runner-up); Benjamin's "It's ... EVOLUTION"; and Whitney Gray's "Why Elephants Do Not Have Wings." A member of NCSE, Hatfield is a high school biology teacher in Fresno, California.

For all five of the videos and further information, visit:


A live webcast of "Evolution in Extreme Environments" -- a symposium cosponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and held at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference -- will be available on-line from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Mountain Time) on November 13, 2009. (That's today!)

Cynthia M. Beall will speak on "Human Evolution and Adaptation to High-altitude"; Steven Haddock will speak on "Life in the Deep Sea: Only the Fragile Survive"; William R. Jeffrey will speak on "Cavefish: Evolution in the Dark"; Jody W. Deming will speak on "Arctic Winter Sea Ice: A Biological Museum or Evolutionary Playground?"; and Kirsten Fisher, Kristen Jenkins, and Anna Thanukos will lead a teacher workshop on "Plant Desiccation Tolerance."

Classrooms all over the world will even be able to submit their questions on-line and have the speakers respond in real time! For those who aren't able to view the webcast live, all of the talks will be recorded and placed on NESCent's website for free access after the conference. The website also will contain supplemental resources, videos, and links so students and teachers can learn more about evolution in extreme environments.

For information about the webcast, 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

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Democracy & Creationism in Turkey


Posted on: November 8, 2009 1:43 AM, by Razib Khan

To John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, however, the news could hardly be more encouraging.

"Why I'm so interested in seeing creationism succeed in Turkey is that evolution is an evil concept that has done such damage to society," said Morris, a Christian who has led several searches for Noah's Ark in eastern Turkey. Members of his group have addressed Turkish conferences numerous times.


After a decade in the trenches, Kence said he believes aggressive creationism "is part of a larger plan to convert people to a more conservative Islam."

The Islamic-oriented government, elected in 2002 and reelected in 2007, has telegraphed its views on evolution by adding doses of creationism to a required public school course on "Religion and Morals," proponents of evolution say. This year, the editor of one of the nation's prominent science journals, Science and Technology, was fired by government officials over her magazine's plans to put Darwin on its cover.

Without more longitudinal data it is hard to say, but I think this is wrong to view this a renaissance of Creationism driven purely by the government or outsiders. Turkey isn't becoming more religious, the majority of Turks who have always held to Islam as it is practiced in most of the Muslim world are becoming more assertive at the expense of the secular elite. Kemal Ataturk was an autocrat who leveraged his incredible victories against European powers in the wake of Word War I, which preserved the Turkish state from being cannibalized, into enough personal authority to wage a one man culture-war in which he was mostly victorious. But he's been dead for 70 years.

Americans should not be surprised at democratization shifting a political culture toward more religiosity. In the American republic expansion of suffrage to all white males resulted in a more evangelical religious political class. It is likely that the first five American presidents, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe would not be considered Christians by the American public today because of their personal beliefs (or lack thereof).* In many nations the anti-clerical and laicist faction tends draw strength from a segment of the elite which perceives itself as progressive or liberal in thought, at least before more widespread secularization percolates across the society.

* This is not to say that they themselves would have viewed themselves as non-Christians. John Adams for example was a Unitarian Christian in good standing. Thomas Jefferson seems have been the most personally dismissive of the claims orthodox Christianity, but he surely considered himself Christian insofar as he espoused the ethical message of the Christian gospels.

'Evolution's Fatal Flaw: The Inevitable Consequence of the Need to Ensure Species Survival': New Book Challenges Creationist Beliefs and Warns of the Dangerous Results of Human Evolution


LACEY, Wash., Nov. 9, 2009 — The evolution controversy rages hot as ever, with aggressive initiatives from popular secular scientists and best-selling authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins in fighting deep-seated religious beliefs of Creationism and Intelligent Design. But according to Lawrence Wood, author of "Evolution's Fatal Flaw: The Inevitable Consequence of the Need to Ensure Species Survival" (published by iUniverse), evolutionists have failed to address evolution's critical "fatal flaw."

Wood takes a unique approach in "Evolution's Fatal Flaw," explaining both the science and historical development behind evolution as a means of understanding the world. "Some of the most perplexing questions concerning people today are 'Where do we come from?' and 'Where are we going?'" says Wood. "The latter question is perhaps the most important."

Wood focuses on eight Gallup Polls that list approximately 40 percent of Americans as believing in Creationism, 40 percent in Intelligent Design and 20 percent in Evolution as the origin of species. Discover why three drastically different human origin explanations still exist, and follow Wood's meticulous blend of facts and reasoning to conclusively rule out Biblical and religious explanations of origin and support evolution. The author also describes the historical phases leading up to the discovery of evolution, as well as social and cultural reasons why some might reject the strong evidence that favors evolution.

So, what is evolution's "fatal flaw"? "Evolution has been too successful," says Wood. Evolution's solution to ensuring a species' survival - sexual desire and reproduction - has led to population explosions. While strong sexual desire cannot be reduced, there are readily available means for reducing its effects. Wood writes:

Unfortunately, the principal driver of reproductive genetic mixing is an occasionally overriding desire for sexual activity, also provided by evolution's natural selection filter. While the overwhelming desire for sexual activity cannot be realistically controlled, there are readily available means for preventing the results of sexual activity from producing too many offspring. If we are unable and/or unwilling to exercise this option, the devastating population growth plaguing the earth today will continue and, as mentioned above, ultimately doom evolution's greatest achievement [life].

About the Author: Lawrence Wood became interested in the area of science history while working on his MS and PhD in physics at the University of Alabama. Wood has worked as a product development manager for companies like NASA and helped develop a sophisticated military electronic system that many said could not be built. He now resides in Lacey, Wash., and enjoys hiking, cycling, kayaking, skiing, traveling and the occasional opera.

"Evolution's Fatal Flaw: The Inevitable Consequence of the Need to Ensure Species Survival"

Available from: http://www.iuniverse.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com, and http://www.amazon.com

ISBN: 9781440171512 - 6 x 9 - Paperback - 492 pages - $29.95

EDITORS: For review copies or interview requests, contact:

Sandra Dunwoody, Publicist
Tel: 1-800-AUTHORS ext. 5507
Fax: 812-961-3133
Email: sdunwoody@authorsolutions.com
(When requesting a review copy, please provide a street address.)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The message of evolution


Dinesh D'Souza

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is there life after death? One way to answer this question is to examine whether nature reveals some kind of a plan for life. We're seeking not just any plan, but one that shows a progression from perishable things to imperishable things. Yes, a plan that develops from something like inert matter to something like consciousness or the mind would do very nicely. That's because consciousness and the mind have qualities very different from those of material bodies, and it's possible that they can survive even after bodies perish.

Most biologists emphatically deny that there is a plan. Evolution, they say, is based on chance and random accident.

Several years ago, biologist Stephen Jay Gould famously argued that if we could re-run the tape of evolution from an identical starting point, there wouldn't be humans but rather radically different creatures populating the planet. Insisting that we are material products of a random process, science historian William B. Provine concludes that "when we die, we die, and that is the end of us."

Not so fast. The conclusions of Gould and Provine reflect the conventional wisdom in biology, but some leading biologists are challenging it. Two of them are Christian de Duve, who won the 1974 Nobel Prize for his study of cells, and Simon Conway Morris, who is a leading expert on the fossils of the Burgess Shale.

De Duve and Morris insist that evolution is not purely random but rather follows predictable pathways. Eyes, for example, have evolved on separate evolutionary lines on multiple occasions. Placental and marsupial mammals are not closely related, and yet they have developed with similar structures and forms.

De Duve and Morris contend that evolution routinely produces "convergent" solutions, and the clear implication is that if we could re-run the tape of evolution, we'd find a similar pattern emerging all over again.

In "Vital Dust," de Duve reveals evolution's obvious plan and direction: For all the disruptions and cataclysms, there is a clear progression from simple creatures to complicated ones. De Duve's "The Tree of Life" has eubacteria and archaebacteria at the root, then simple eukaryotes, then more complex multicellular organisms, then fungi and plants, then fishes, then reptiles, then mammals, and finally humans.

Strikingly, de Duve speaks of an "arrow of evolution" that moves biological history through successive stages, from the "age of chemistry" to the "age of information" to the "age of the single cell" to the "age of multicellular organisms" and finally to the "age of the mind."

The age of the mind: an arresting concept. It reveals that evolution has gone beyond increasing complexity; it has provided the catalyst for a new order of being in the world - a being that can discover evolution. Through the human mind, nature has unfolded a plan for nature itself to become known. This undeniable evolutionary trajectory from matter to mind opens up a tantalizing possibility.

Material things like bodies are perishable but immaterial things like ideas aren't. So we, like nature, might have a built-in progression from perishable matter to imperishable mind. The time will come when our bodies will irretrievably break down, but it is possible, indeed suggested within the script of nature, that a part of us might outlast these mortal coils.

Dinesh D'Souza is the author of "Life After Death: The Evidence" (Regnery, 2009).

This article appeared on page A - 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Biologists, educators recognize excellence in evolution education


Public release date: 6-Nov-2009

Contact: Susan Musante
202-628-1500 x249
American Institute of Biological Sciences

Leonard C. Yannielli receives 2009 NABT Evolution Education Award

The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) will recognize Leonard C. Yannielli, professor of biological sciences at Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) in Waterbury, Connecticut, with the 2009 Evolution Education Award during the NABT annual professional development conference to be held 11-14 November 2009 in Denver, Colorado.

The Evolution Education Award is cosponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). The award is presented in recognition of innovative classroom teaching and community education efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution. Professor Yannielli will receive a plaque, a $1,000 cash prize, and a set of resources provided by AIBS and BSCS to support the teaching of evolution.

"AIBS, BSCS and NABT are doing important work with this award as it says loud and clear that evolution education is important," said Yannielli. "I'm humbled to be recognized by peers and feel I'm sharing the honor with many educators who have toiled courageously under very difficult situations."

For over 41 years, Yannielli has been teaching biology courses that have placed emphasis on evolution and evolutionary origins. His microbiology courses, for example, highlight the evolutionary interplay between microbes, humans, and disease, thereby encouraging students to shed egocentric approaches to thinking about evolution. "Evolution is the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. Teaching with it is like having a built-in GPS system for navigating life patterns and processes, from what happened to the dinosaurs to the immune response to a microbial invasion," stated Yannielli.

"Students have had quite an impact on both my colleagues and me, having taught us that we need to be sensitive to those students holding religious views…listening to students is important for effective evolution education," said Yannielli upon learning that he had been selected to receive the 2009 Evolution Education Award.

Yannielli began his career teaching evolution in a small-town public high school where he frequently encountered resistance from religious fundamentalists. After several years of working in the precollege arena, Yannielli moved on to NVCC. "I found community college teaching fertile ground for dovetailing all [my] goals," said Yannielli. In addition to teaching biology courses at NVCC, Yannielli has also developed innovative instructional materials and organized numerous discussions about evolution.

Yannielli has worked to educate colleagues across the academic disciplines about the importance of teaching evolution. He presented an active learning approach to evolution education at the University of Oxford and has initiated several panels on evolution education for faculty and students at NVCC. Dr. Bonnie Simon, a colleague at NVCC, said that Yannielli "epitomizes a creative, effective teacher who is dedicated to collaborating and promoting the accurate understanding of biological education."

Yannielli earned his bachelor's degree in zoology with a minor in chemistry from the University of Connecticut and has two master's degrees (one in science education and one in ecology) from Southern Connecticut State University.

Previous honors and awards for Yannielli include the United Way Community Service Award and a NVCC Merit Award for an evolution teaching initiative. Yannielli was also awarded an Earthwatch grant in 2001 that allowed him to work with Chilean colleagues to do field research and prevent the potentially detrimental introduction of non-native salmon on Navarino Island in Chile.


About AIBS:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, with headquarters in Washington, DC, and a staff of approximately 50, AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 5,000 biologists and 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000. AIBS advances its mission through coalition activities in research, education, and public policy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal BioScience and the education website ActionBioscience.org; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs.

About BSCS:

Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) is a non-profit research and development organization that endeavors to improve all students' understanding of science and technology by developing exemplary curricular materials, supporting their widespread and effective use, providing professional development, and conducting research and evaluation studies. For more information, please visit www.bscs.org.

About NABT:

Headquartered in Washington, DC, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) is a non-profit professional association for biology educators. NABT empowers educators to provide the best possible biology and life science education for all students. To date, more than 9,000 educators have joined NABT to share experiences and expertise with colleagues from around the globe; keep up with trends and developments in the field; and grow professionally. For more information about NABT, including information about its publication, American Biology Teacher, conferences and workshops, or regional affiliates, please visit www.nabt.org.

Evolutionist fills the gap


4:00AM Saturday Nov 07, 2009 By Andrew Stone

Professor Richard Dawkins took part in a campaign decrying religion with slogans on London buses. Photo / APRichard Dawkins might be making progress.

The English scientist and best-selling author has for years been a fearless critic of organised religion and makes no bones about his feelings about believers.

Dawkins is one of the big name attractions - if not the biggest - at next year's New Zealand International Arts Festival. He intends to devote his address in March to his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Evidence for Evolution, which has been on the New York Times best-seller list for weeks.

He wrote the book, he says, to fill a rather large gap which he felt was missing from his previous popular science works - namely "the evidence for the fact of evolution".

The Greatest Show on Earth , Dawkins' 10th book and a lavish tribute to Charles Darwin, lays out in 400-odd pages details - from the fossil record to molecular physics to recent genetic discoveries - which state categorically that we are all relatives, no matter how distant, of every other living thing.

Along the way he explains why a particular moth has a tongue that stretches more than 20cm, how wild foxes can turn tame and doglike in a few short generations, why there is no such creature as a "crocoduck" - a jibe at creationists.

He throws in for good measure everything from dogs, chimps, the so-called 'missing link' and even tree rings.

He finds evidence for evolution at every turn. Those goosebumps you experience when things get scary - they derive from hair-raising reactions to fear in animals from primates to dogs.

"Evolution is a fact," he states, with the evidence "at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust".

And: "It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips ... continue the list as long as desired."

Not that Dawkins expects the "history deniers" - his term for people who prefer the creation story - to be persuaded by his account, which was partly driven by his determination to challenge the depth of attachment to creationism.

In the United States, the Gallup polling organisation has consistently found that more than 40 per cent of Americans totally deny evolution, whether or not it is guided by God.

"The implication," writes Dawkins, "is that they believe the entire world is no more than 10,000 years old. As I have pointed out before, given that the true age of the world is 4.6 billion years, this is the equivalent to believing that the width of North America is less than 10 yards [9m]."

He is distressed that surveys in Britain have found as many as 39 per cent favour some sort of creationism.

The evolutionist in Dawkins bristles at the advocates who teach creationism. He is not so much agitated as contemptuous. Why?

"Because they are denying manifest facts of history, denying evidence, and deliberately misleading people, misleading children. Imagine if you were a mathematician and someone tried to persuade you that two plus two equals five. You'd feel a bit agitated."

His explanation for the "40-per centers" as he sometimes calls them is typically blunt.

"Ignorance. I think that's really about it. Ignorance fostered by religious prejudice. What scientists must do is get out there and get the evidence out. The people who believe the world is only 10,000 years old would rather stick their fingers in their ears."

But despite the powerful grip which creationists exert in America, Dawkins packs out halls when he lectures there. "When I go to places which people call the Bible Belt, I get huge enthusiastic audiences. I think they feel beleaguered, a minority in their local community."

As a choice for the arts festival Dawkins ticks the boxes: he has sold books by the thousands, his diatribe against organised religion still reverberates - The God Delusion called the Old Testament God a "capriciously malevolent bully" - and he remains an active supporter of atheist groups.

Last year he helped fund a campaign which stuck banners on English buses declaring: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

As a scientist, Dawkins says he remains far from certain about some things. But he does get exercised about people who are certain of things for "which there is absolutely not a shred of evidence, such as particular religious positions. There are things for which science is certain about.

For example, the world is round, not flat; evolution is a fact. But there are plenty of other things for which we are uncertain. That's very exciting because it gives scientists a lot of work to do."

For Dawkins, the work never seems to stop. His book includes a transcript of an interview from a television documentary he made last year for a programme about Darwin, who the author calls one of his great heroes.

The exchange involved Dawkins and Wendy Wright, a stubborn creationist from a group called Concerned Women for America, who insisted there was no evidence for evolution, while the author kept pleading for her to visit a museum.

That fossil record just keeps expanding, as Dawkins reports. On the eve of publication, he managed to include references to a fossil primate found in Germany and an Arctic fossil which could be 20 million years old.

The animal appeared to live and catch food in the water but run on land - Dawkins suggests this was a land animal adapting to life in the water.

Dawkins, 68, is now turning his talents to a myth-busting book for teens.

He plans to debunk legends about the natural world with clear-sighted scientific explanations.

His visit to New Zealand, he says, could furnish him with raw material from Maori myths - which next year might be wilting under the heat of Dawkins' blowtorch.

Creationism teaching varies at Christian universities


09:02 AM PST on Friday, November 6, 2009

The Press-Enterprise

Christian universities take different approaches to how biblical creationism is presented in courses. Some religiously affiliated universities keep creationism discussions in theology, religion and philosophy classes. Others integrate them into biology courses.

Nearly 70 U.S. colleges and universities endorse or teach biblical creation philosophy, according to a list compiled by Northwest Creation Network, a Mountlake Terrace, Wash.-based group that supports creation teaching.

The only Inland-based institution on the list is Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, a two-year, unaccredited college that offers degrees in only biblical studies and theology.

Liberty University, an evangelical Baptist institution in Lynchburg, Va., offers a minor in creation studies and teaches the biblical six-day, 24-hour explanation for creation alongside evolution in biology classes, said David DeWitt, a professor of biology at Liberty. Students discuss what DeWitt views as the flaws in evolutionary theory and in the way most scientists measure the age of fossils.

Steven Newton, a project director for the National Center for Science Education, which defends evolution instruction, said only a tiny minority of scientists doubt that evolution occurred.


Andrea Huvard, a biology professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, said she never brings up religion in her biology classes.

"I teach scientific hypotheses that are testable under the scientific method, not hypotheses that are not testable through experimentation, like matters of faith or religion," Huvard said. "That's in a different building. Those are religion courses."

At California Baptist University in Riverside, students often bring up questions about creationism during lessons on evolution in biology classes, said professor Jim Buchholz, who teaches a course on religion and science.

Instructors are free to answer as they wish, as long as the answers abide by Southern Baptist teaching, which says God created the Earth but does not specify during what time period, Buchholz said.

The Vatican believes scientific evolutionary theory is compatible with Catholic teaching, said the Rev. James Wiseman, a professor of theology and religious studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

"The theory of evolution by natural selection is basically a scientific issue that should be debated among scientists," Wiseman said. "That doesn't mean human beings are purely matter.

"There is a spiritual aspect to human beings. As long as one holds on to that, that human beings are created with the goal of eternal life with God, and that we're not exclusively material, one may certainly accept the Darwinian or neo-Darwinian theory, that our bodies evolved over millions of years," Wiseman said.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Evolution education update: November 6, 2009

NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott tackles a creationist version of the Origin of Species. Islamic creationism is addressed by The New York Times and the Boston Globe. And the second part of Becoming Human airs on November 10, 2009.


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was invited to debate Ray Comfort, a creationist in the news recently for his plans to distribute copies of the Origin of Species with his own introduction, on the God & Country blog of U.S. News & World Report. Comfort began the debate on October 29, 2009; Scott replied on October 30, 2009; Comfort responded on November 2, 2009; and Scott replied on November 3, 2009. The debate, according to Dan Gilgoff, who maintains the blog, elicited "more feedback than any other issue on this blog has received over any similar stretch in its not-quite-one-year of existence."

In her first post, Scott urged students to accept the free copy of the Origin that Comfort is offering, but not to waste time reading Comfort's introduction -- especially the middle section. "[It's] a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments," she observed, "teeming with misinformation about the science of evolution, populated by legions of strawmen, and exhibiting what can be charitably described as muddled thinking." After giving a number of examples of scientific errors in Comfort's introduction, she added, "I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas."

Scott also noted that the copy of Comfort's version of the Origin she was sent by the publisher was missing four chapters as well as Darwin's introduction. In his response, Comfort claimed that the next edition includes the missing material: "Not one word will be omitted." Scott observed, "It's still missing a crucial diagram from Chapter 4 as well as the epigraphs from Bacon and Whewell, which Darwin chose with care," and also wondered about the unexplained change of heart: "Elsewhere he wrote that it was 'abridged because it was too many pages (too expensive) for a giveaway.' But now he's going to try to give away even more copies of this more complete version?"

"I stick by my advice," Scott wrote in her second post. "Students who are interested in learning about science can skip Comfort's introduction, which, despite a few cosmetic revisions, remains a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments." And she concluded, "Anyone who honestly examines the data supporting evolution -- even a young-earth creationist [such as Bryan College's Todd C. Wood, whom Scott quoted as acknowledging, "Evolution is not a theory in crisis"] -- concludes that the science is strong. If you reject evolution, you are doing it for religious reasons. You're entitled to your religious opinions -- but not to your own scientific facts."

For the debate, visit:

For Gilgoff's comments on the reception of the debate, visit:


The phenomenon of Islamic creationism was addressed by two major newspapers, The New York Times (November 3, 2009) and the Boston Globe (October 25, 2009), in the wake of a recent conference at Hampshire College on evolution in the Muslim world. (Webcasts of the conference presentations will be available on-line by November 15, 2009, according to the conference website.)

The Globe's article began arrestingly, with the news that the Arabic-language version of Al Jazeera's website -- a major news source in the Middle East -- triumphantly misdescribed the recently described early hominid Ardipithecus ramidus as "evidence that Darwin's theory of evolution was wrong." "'Ardi Refutes Darwin's Theory,' Al Jazeera announced in an Oct. 3 article."

"It's hard to say exactly how much support the theory of evolution enjoys in the world's Muslim countries, but it's definitely not very much," the Globe noted. The Times added, "The degree of acceptance of evolution varies among Islamic countries," citing Pakistan as a country where evolution is covered in high school biology texts, with the aid of Qu'ranic verses.

In Turkey, however, "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," the Times reported. Both articles attributed the disappearance of evolution in Turkish schools to the activities of Adnan Oktar -- widely known by his pseudonym, Harun Yahya.

"Oktar's work is easy to lampoon," the Globe commented, but added, "Oktar's main concern -- that evolution is the tool of atheists bent on destroying Islam -- does resonate there and in other Muslim countries." Moreover, "in the West, where non-Islamic influences are strongest, Islamic creationism may be stronger in reaction to the outside pressure," according to the Times.

Islamic creationists "do not quarrel with astronomers and geologists," the Times explained, "just biologists, insisting that life is the creation of God, not the happenstance consequence of random occurrences." Both articles also reported that, like their Christian counterparts, Islamic creationists take especial issue with the idea of human evolution in particular.

"[T]he fact that there is a creationist debate at all can be seen as a sort of progress," the Globe observed. "In the most conservative parts of the Muslim world, creationism isn't a political or philosophical force because it doesn't need to be -- there aren't enough people who believe in evolution, or have even been exposed to it, to require a counter-doctrine."

For the stories in the Times and the Globe, visit:

For the information about the Hampshire conference,

For information from Science about Ardi, visit:


The second episode of Becoming Human -- a three-part NOVA documentary on what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives -- will air on November 10, 2009, on public broadcasting stations around the country. According to NOVA:


In "Birth of Humanity," the second part of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA investigates the first skeleton that really looks like us -- "Turkana Boy" -- an astonishingly complete specimen of Homo erectus found by the famous Leakey team in Kenya. These early humans are thought to have developed key innovations that helped them thrive, including hunting large prey, the use of fire, and extensive social bonds.

The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running -- our ability to jog -- was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began.


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:

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

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